• Being outside Afghanistan, Afghan Migration

Being outside Afghanistan

An interdisciplinary workshop exploring everyday Experiences of Social Becoming, Self‐Construction and Resource Mobilisation among Afghans Abroad


Homo itinerans: Afghanistan, a transnational anthropology of politics

Alessandro Monsutti (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)

This lecture draws on my forthcoming book of the same title. It situates the current flow of Afghans to Europe within a broader historical and political framework. I propose the idea that we live in a post-post-Cold War world increasingly characterised by a global landscape of inequality. The so-called refugee crisis cannot only be accounted for by a series of conflicts in the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…). The crisis rhetoric hides more structural causality. Moreover, there are many forms of mobility articulated around Afghanistan: not only refugees leaving the country but also international experts, researchers and consultants, military and militants. I will discuss these multiple forms of mobility.

Session 1

Aspirations, agency and engagements

Yearning for Europe: Solidarity and Competition among Afghans

Giulia Scalettaris (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)

After almost 40 years of conflict that prompted one of the most massive forced displacements of population since World War II, Afghanistan does not appear to be moving towards a better tomorrow. The partial withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014 is the expression of a political and military deadlock rather than the result of the success of the nation-building effort. Concomitantly, the increasingly adverse socio-political environment and the lack of real integration perspectives in Pakistan and Iran have resulted in a high number of Afghans leaving for Europe. New generations of Afghan refugees are driven away by comparable factors as their parents, but they are compelled to seek protection in more distant places and resort to even riskier routes. Indeed, the journey itself entails its share of suffering.

Young men are overrepresented among Afghans arriving in Europe. They feel a tremendous social pressure from their relatives left in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran, which strongly influences their strategies, their trajectories and their relations with fellow Afghans and European societies. They are socially condemned to succeed and to redistribute the fruits of success to their relatives left behind; but too much commitment to their families in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran can have a negative impact on their integration capacity. Moreover, all European countries are not seen as equally attractive. There is a ranking of potential destinations. To settle in Greece or Italy does not have the same symbolic value as reaching the United Kingdom, Germany or a Scandinavian country. Acknowledging failure is a source of shame but appearing to be successful also carries risks and increases expectations from relatives back home. While social networks are key for Afghans before, during and after the journey, they are as much a forum for competition as they are one of solidarity.

Agents of change?: Dimensions of agency in home country relations of Afghan migrants and return migrants

Carolin Fischer (University of Neuchâtel) & Marieke van Houte (University of Oxford)

The literature on migrants as change agents in countries of origin is burgeoning. Transnational engagements and engagements of return migrants are prominent fields of inquiry. Most empirical studies primarily focus on forms and outcomes of (return) migrant engagement, but rarely illuminate how people mobilise agency. This paper examines dimensions of agency in the relationships which Afghan migrants and return migrants maintain with Afghanistan. Based on qualitative case studies of Afghan diaspora groups in Germany, the UK and Afghan return migrants in Kabul, we focus on how people engage with the country, how they articulate ideas of change and how they position themselves as agents of change. Our analysis draws on Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998) three-dimensional model of agency. Conceptualising home country relations as expressions of agency enables us to identify parallels in the way Afghan migrants and return migrants exercise agency in different settings (UK, Germany and Afghanistan) and under changing socio-political conditions. We conclude that focusing on agency helps to disentangle how Afghan migrants in different settings respond to and creatively engage with the complex social and political environments in which they are embedded. Our comparative study also facilitates a more nuanced understanding of social becoming, belonging and engagement among Afghan migrants and return migrants.

COIN-operated Anthropology: The U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign in Afghanistan and the rise of the Afghan-American diaspora

Morwari Zafar (University of Oxford)

This research examines the effect of the encounter between the Afghan-American community and the U.S. military-industrial complex in the production of cultural knowledge for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. It focuses on the narratives mobilized as “expertise” by Afghan-American contractors from the diaspora, who were employed as role-players, translators, and cultural advisors by the U.S. military or defense contractors. I discuss how such narratives gained currency and shaped the perceptions of Afghanistan in the U.S. foreign and security policy communities. The goal of the presentation is to demonstrate the extent to which COIN-centered cultural knowledge production both defined political strategies toward Afghanistan and also reconstituted the Afghan diaspora in America.

Session 2

Beyond networks: Friendship, kinship, travel and social life

Social Positioning as Risk Management: Sociality in the everyday lives of Afghan migrants and refugees in Turkey

Esra Kaytaz (Coventry University)

This paper analyses how Afghan migrants and refugees in Turkey manage risks associated with their migratory decisions through their social relations. ‘Migratory decisions’ in this paper refer, at one level, to the choice of seeking legal status as asylum-seekers, irregular migrants, students or residence through Turkic ancestry; and, at another, to actions and inaction within each of these legal statuses. The paper demonstrates how migrants position themselves socially with respect to their immediate communities, to the broader community of local Turks and migrants of different nationalities and to gatekeepers in the state and civil society, are ways of managing risks associated with migratory decisions. The paper identifies isolation, social engagement and leader-like positioning as the three primary modes of social positioning. The paper draws on multi-sited ethnographic research in Turkey mainly in 2011 and 2012.

Outside Insiders: Two Afghans Abroad in the Early 20th Century

Thomas Wide (Freer | Sackler)

This paper offers a study and comparison of the travels and travel-writings of two Afghans in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Mahmud Tarzi was from a prominent Sunni Afghan family, exiled abroad in the late 19th century.  Educated in the Ottoman Empire, Tarzi would return to Afghanistan in the early 1900s to play a key role in the formation of Afghan nation-state nationalism and print literature.  Muhammad Yusuf Reyazi was from a Shi’a merchant family in Herat, western Afghanistan.  Inhabiting an ambiguous political and social position on Afghanistan’s western fringe, and with close mercantile and religious links to Iran, Reyazi’s more troubled experiences of migration and return offer a neat counter-point to those of Tarzi.

Through a micro-study of these two individuals, their travels, and their writings on travel, this paper will explore various themes pertinent to the conference – Afghan migration trends, identity formation, the role of friendship, education, and desire amongst exiles and migrants – in a historical perspective.  It will suggest ways in which an historical analysis of migration can contribute to research on Afghan diaspora and migration today.

Making friends: Afghan migrants and their supporters

Liza Schuster (City University London)

For Afghans abroad, in particular those with few material resources, networks of family and friends are important sources of advice, shelter and sustenance along their routes and on arrival. However, these migrants also draw on the resources offered by networks of campaigners, supporters and volunteers, who in some cases become friends and fictive kin. There is already considerable literature on the bonding and bridging capital of migrants post-arrival and on the fictive kinships migrants bring with them (Ebough & Curry 2000). However, in this paper, drawing on the work of Puttnam (1993, 2004) and others, as well as fieldwork with Afghans in transit and newly arrived in Europe, Schuster focuses on how migrants mobilise and deploy these different forms of capital in situations that are intended to be temporary – that is, in circumstances that would normally mitigate against the formation of bridging capital and fictive kinships. The paper will examine the human resources needed by Afghan migrants to able to form links to migrant supporters in different transit countries, and how those supporters facilitate links to others along the route.

Session 3

Imagined futures and transitions into adulthood

‘Anywhere but Afghanistan’:  Unaccompanied Afghan young people’s experiences of imagining and constructing futures as they ‘become adult’ in the UK…. and beyond

Elaine Chase (University College London), Nando Sigona (University of Birmingham) & Francesca Meloni (University of Oxford)

Current immigration and asylum policies and practice in the UK construct multiple institutional pathways and possible futures for former unaccompanied children from Afghanistan as they ‘become adult’. Seeking places to ‘become’ and secure a future at this point of transition leads them along various paths through which they construct multiple forms of belonging.

Drawing on emerging findings from an ESRC-funded longitudinal study into the wellbeing outcomes of former unaccompanied children becoming ‘adult’ in the UK (www.becomingadult.net), this paper discusses the various possibilities of futures for Afghan young people with differing immigration statuses. It explores how, within the constraints and realities of their circumstances, young people actively create spaces of becoming and belonging which are variably visible and invisible; legal and ‘illegitimate’; liminal and certain.  While for some, these spaces are relatively well-defined, offering opportunities and options to realise imagined futures; for others such spaces are elusive and transitory within the exclusionary systems they encounter. In response, young people may continue their search beyond the borders of the UK, extending the dynamics of becoming across time and geographical space – anywhere, in fact, but Afghanistan.

The role of education in shaping migration aspirations among Afghans

Nassim Majidi (Samuel Hall/Sciences Po CERI)

We begin with an overview of the role of education and literacy in shaping Afghan refugee children and youths’ experiences in Iran and Pakistan. Different approaches to education have led to stark contrasts: in Iran, among the Afghan population, 80 per cent of the 2nd generation refugee youth are literate, with education levels higher than in the first generation. The reality in Pakistan is the opposite. As of 2012, it was estimated that 44 per cent of children and 20 per cent of youth were studying (UNHCR/PPVR, 2012), with out-of-school children being a common trend. In both countries – for educated or out of school Afghans – education leads to different forms of marginalization (Abbasi-Shavazi and Sadegui, 2015). What does this imply in terms of (further) migration aspirations among Afghans? This presentation draws on a longitudinal study: bi-monthly interviews with 40 Afghans interviewed in transit, at destination and upon return. The interviews highlight the centrality of education in decisions to migrate to Europe. Education is a central component of continued migration and wellbeing for Afghans: beyond a humanitarian discourse, it is a question of social becoming, self-construction and universal human right.

The Afghan Students of Interwar Germany: Transnational Connections between Afghanistan and Germany, 1919-1945

Marjan Wardaki (University of California, Los Angeles)

This paper traces the lives of Afghan students passing through German educational institutions in Germany between 1919-1945 to determine what kinds of ideas students were most attracted to and how their time abroad shaped the cultural and social view. The larger aim of this research is twofold: first, to situate the ebb and flow of everyday life of Afghan migrants in order to trace the production, dissemination, and transformation of their ideas and identities. And second, to follow Afghans in Germany through the course of the interwar period in order to gain some insight into the ways in which mid-twentieth century Afghan subjectivities were shaped by the medium of cultural interchange. The main emphasis will rest on tracing the history of their activities at transnational networks and institutions. Focusing on the lives of individuals passing through such institutions, in lieu of studying international diplomacy or the educational institutions themselves, offers a way to begin reconstructing the impact of transnational relationships, networks, and attendant ideologies that everyday Afghans carried with them as they traveled between Afghanistan and Germany.


Conflict and Migration, Migration and Conflict: Afghan Patterns of Mobility and Mobilisation

Kristian Berg Harpviken (Peace Research Institute, Oslo)

In the context of Afghan migration patterns – and conflict as a main driver thereof – this lecture will look particularly at the political and military mobilization of Afghans in exile and how it has impacted the conflictual politics of Afghanistan over the past four decades.

Session 4

Political mobilisation and politics of belonging

Piety in Motion: Religious Authority and Nationhood among Afghan Shia Migrants

Robert Crews (Stanford University)

This paper will explore interactions between Afghan migrants and Shia clerical authorities.  Investigating a period from the late 1990s to the present, it focuses on migrants’ search for authoritative religious knowledge and pastoral direction in adapting to new milieus. At the same time, it examines the dynamic role of Afghan marjas in framing exchanges about Shia clerical authority, legal norms, and evolving notions of national belonging.

The Hazara Diaspora in Athens, Greece: Cultural Mediators in a Crisis

Melissa Kerr Chiovenda (University of Connecticut)

Greece has become a focal point of the European refugee crisis, with around 50,000 refugees currently in the country. About 10,000 of these are Afghans, and about 60% of these are from the Hazara minority. A much smaller group of refugees, mainly young Hazara men, arrived earlier. The focus of this paper is a group of these refugees who work to assist new arrivals, even as their own legal situation remains unresolved. Most are without family, arrived as unaccompanied minors, and now, as adults, are trying to complete elementary education. And yet, and thousands more Afghans have poured into Greece, they, fluent in the language and familiar with the culture, are positioned to serve as mediators. They work as translators and in management positions in camps, take on activist roles, and work together with Greek leftist-movements to provide non-state alternatives for refugees such as “squats.” Many also work closely with foreign volunteers and researchers, assisting them in their desire to learn about or assist with the refugee crisis. This paper will place these long-term Afghan refugees, now part of a diaspora in Greece, as cultural mediators within a web of contacts, both real and virtual. They connect new refugees with Greek society, volunteers with organizations assisting refugees, and maintain contacts with Afghanistan. They form a family that is close, yet fractured as all families are, and they feel as if they are Afghan, Hazara, and Greek, while also fully none of these things.

The Republic of Silence: An imagined community of Hazaras in diaspora

Khadija Abbasi  (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)

Through an analysis of “The Republic of Silence” – a website developed by Hazaras in diaspora- and its social history and culture, I explore the new possibilities opened up by the new communication technologies for the Hazaras in cyberspace. I’ll demonstrate how the website has helped in creating new public spheres for Hazaras and how it challenges the classic notions of community and citizenship. The new communication technologies, as a democratising tool, have given voices to the long marginalised and persecuted Hazaras of Afghanistan. The freedom of unfiltered communication technologies in the West has given Hazaras the chance to debate about identity, ethnicity, religion, politics, their marginalisation and taboos by contributors with heterogeneous backgrounds.  For instance, I explore how the Republic of Silence has given the opportunity for political participation and civic involvement on distant homeland and the virtual “Hazaristan”. Using its communities worldwide, the website serves as a vehicle for mobilizing political and civic actions in pressing situations in response to the conditions of Hazaras inside Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. Moreover, with local and transnational contributors, the website is a space in which Hazaras constantly produce and negotiate their identities.