16 Feb

Geographical Review Preview: Homemaking and Places of Restoration: Belonging Within and Beyond Places assigned to Syrian refugees in the Netherlands

By: I. van Liempt & R. Staring

What is the main purpose of your study? 
The purpose of the study is to issue how refugees’ homemaking processes evolve against the background of Dutch dispersal policy and more in general share insights on processes of incorporation of refugees in welfare societies such as the Netherlands. More specific, describing the consequences of regulatory practices of housing assistance by Dutch governments towards recently arrived Syrian refugees and the negative influence on their incorporation in Dutch society and feelings of belonging while being physically and partially excluded from their social network members living in the Netherlands as a consequence of these dispersal policies

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Implications are directed at the policymakers drawing attention to include some room and agency for refugees to choose and accept housing near family members or friends in order to accelerate belonging and homemaking in the Netherlands. Dutch dispersal policies could have a more positive impact on the social incorporation of Syrian refugees if authorities would take the allocation of their family members and/or close friends in the Netherlands into account.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
It builds on literature on homemaking for refugees and focuses more in-depth on the role of concrete places in the process. The combination of various qualitative research methods (interviews, sedentary and walk-along interviews, pictures taken by the refugees) leads to new insights and theoretical thoughts on the relevance of harmful and restorative places for the social incorporation of newly arriving refugees.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
1. Homemaking for Syrian refugees is a transnational phenomenon that takes place beyond borders but also through concrete ‘sticky’ placemaking, in the public and natural environment. Places can trigger memories and emotions and make you feel at home, they can also heal and have a therapeutic value. As such harmful and restorative places seriously influence the social incorporation of newly arriving refugees.
2. The combination of qualitative interviews with walk-along interviews and the respondents’ self-made pictures contributes to a much better understanding of their lived experience.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
The article contributes to theories on the incorporation of migrants beyond general notions of housing, labor, and education by adding new dimensions as physical and social spaces of restoration and spaces of harm that influence processes of incorporation.
Our approach of seeing refugees as actors within particular places that make their own contributions on top of what and where they have been assigned to is translated into our conceptualization of homemaking as an active process. We stretch the concept of home in this article beyond the domestic scale and introduce a specific focus on physical places and landscapes. This results in new and specific sites of belonging with special meaning to refugees being discussed.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
Home is often associated with rootedness and length of residency in a particular place. For refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and build new connections to place in a new environment, the process of homemaking is more complex. It involves many different contexts at the same time and memories of places and people. Joanna Long (2013) conceptualizes home as an interplay of the house and the world, the intimate and the global, the material, and the symbolic. This deterritorialization of people and place opens up new important ways of understanding the importance of place in a fluid, changing, and contested globalized world. Belonging thus needs to be framed beyond geographically fixed boundaries.
At the same time, this deterritorialization runs the risk of diminishing the important relationship refugees have with particular places in the new context of arrival and overlooks specific lived experiences. This research helps us get a better idea of the meaning of a specific place in homemaking processes for refugees. Concrete places may trigger emotional and affective responses that are part of the homemaking process and new connections are built to new places that have been to a large extent overlooked in the literature on homemaking. Apart from situating homemaking for refugees in the context of transnational migration and global connections, it is thus equally important to recognize that transnational migrations are grounded through attention to the ways in which such processes are locally lived and produced (see also Lamb 2002, Mitchell 1997).

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.