My book project, Strategic Indifference: Migration and Refugee Policy in the Middle East and North Africa, examines why a host state treats migrant and refugee groups inclusively, exclusively, or without any direct engagement—what I call 'strategic indifference.' More specifically, I seek to provide a better understanding of when a new migration or refugee receiving country comes to conceive of itself as a host state, and what factors—security-related, economic, diplomatic, or societal—cause host state policy toward migrants and refugees to change over time?
While the answers to these questions have been expounded upon in the context of the Global North, it is unclear to what extent these explanations can travel to the Global South where host states may have illiberal or semi-authoritarian government systems in place and lower state capacity. I argue that current classifications of migrant and refugee engagement in Global South host states mistake the absence of formal policy and law for neglect. I propose the concept of ‘strategic indifference,’ meaning that states experiencing increasing numbers of migrants and refugees will proclaim to be indifferent to this development, thereby inviting international organizations and local NGOs to step in and provide services to these populations on the state’s behalf. By allowing migrants and refugees to
integrate locally into large informal economies, and by allowing organizations to provide basic services, host countries receive international credibility while only exerting minimal state resources. However, these states are still aware of and have developed relationships with the international and domestic organizations providing services, regulating how and whether these organizations can operate, monitoring their activities to ensure they do not cross red-lines when it comes to security issues and state sovereignty, and encouraging the use of international funding to not only benefit migrants and refugees but also host country nationals.
Methodologically, I draw on 131 interviews with government officials, international humanitarian organizations, local NGOs and individual migrants and refugees conducted between 2012 and 2015 in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. I utilize qualitative data to classify the type of engagement present in each country over the thirty years, and to examine change in strategy over time. I demonstrate that states in the Global South are capable of choosing migration and refugee policies that best fit their strategic aims, and that when doing so, they consider both domestic political constituents and diplomatic relations with sending countries in the Global South and powerful states in the Global North.
This book is currently under review. I also presented the manuscript at the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) Junior Scholars Book Development Workshop at Princeton University on November 8-9, 2018.
To learn more about the data collection process for this research you can visit my blog.
Moroccan women protesting for the rights of migrants in Rabat.