What makes the “refugee crisis” a crisis? Displaced Syrians’ reflections on dignity

Wendy Pearlman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In discussions about the connection between migration and the Arab uprisings, perhaps no expression has been more commonplace than “refugee crisis.” Commentators have typically invoked this term to refer to Europe's struggle with large numbers of refugees and migrants reaching European borders since 2015. They sometimes also invoke it with reference to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the overwhelming majority of the region's forced migrants continue to reside in their countries of the first refuge. But what does “refugee crisis” mean for refugees themselves? I explore this question based on open-ended interviews that I have conducted with more than 450 displaced Syrians across five continents since 2012. I discuss a major crisis that emerges repeatedly in those conversations, as it does across various mediums of Syrian self-expression: the crisis of dignity. Weaving Syrians’ reflections on dignity together with my own analysis, this essay discourages analysts and policy-makers from making assumptions about displaced people's concerns and priorities. Rather, I argue, they should listen when displaced people describe and analyze their own experiences, and then work to ensure that those experiences inform policy interventions and service provision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-283
Number of pages6
JournalDomes : digest of Middle East studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • Syria
  • Syrian refugees
  • dignity
  • displacement
  • host societies
  • interviews
  • migration
  • refugee crisis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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