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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making home in Little Syria : gendered geographies of refugee placemaking Bragg, Bronwyn


Refugee resettlement is described by the UNHCR as a ‘durable solution’ to the problem of human displacement. Resettlement is also preferred by refugee-receiving states, such as Canada, who prefer resettlement to unwanted migrant/refugee arrivals at the border. Yet, while often framed as a solution, critical scholarship increasingly recognizes the complexity of resettlement as it is experienced by refugees. This dissertation picks up on this theme to understand how one group of refugee women make sense of being resettled. The central question guiding this work is: How have refugee mothers created their worlds and made meaning for themselves? This dissertation draws on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork with Syrian refugee families living in a spatially concentrated community in an economically marginalized and socially stigmatized neighbourhood in one Canadian city. In taking an ethnographically informed, geographically specific approach to understanding refugee resettlement, this dissertation makes the following three arguments: First, processes of refugee resettlement and ‘integration’ need to be geographically informed and take seriously the relations that exist between migrants and non-migrants. I argue that in attending to what Miraftab (2016) calls a “relational sense of place,” we deepen our conceptual understandings of integration to include relations and encounters that are not visible through other methods. This includes understanding the decision-making processes, priorities and agency that refugees bring to where they choose to live. Second, by centering the experiences of refugee women, this research explores the powerful ways migrants make meaning and build lives for themselves and their families even in the wake of violence and dislocation. Syrian refugee mothers find comfort and continuity in their role as mothers and caregivers, while also struggling under the double burden of providing care to relatives overseas and learning how to navigate the work of mothering, as racialized minorities, in Canada. Finally, from the perspective of refugee mothers, resettlement is best understood as a strategy, rather than a solution (Hyndman & Giles, 2017). While human security is largely assured through resettlement, the radical disjunctures caused by ongoing restrictions on mobility and the dramatic reorganization of family life opens up new forms of precarity and displacement.

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