Circumstantial Citizenship: UAE Born Syrians and Their Complex Journeys to Long-Term Security

A number of studies acknowledge the role of a liminal legal status as well as geopolitical factors in constituting a demand for an alternative citizenship. Less is known about the effects of war or political turmoil in countries of nationality for populations who live outside those countries in places with little or no permanent settlement paths. This paper takes the case of Syrian nationals born and raised in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to explore the impact of war in Syria on their considerations about, and for some, experiences of, migration, including through asylum-seeking in Europe. It argues that this migration is less about relocation to the “West” and more about a solution to restrictions tied to their liminality in the UAE, as well as their citizenship by birth. By pursuing “stronger” passports from elsewhere, they seek an ability to choose where they live — including the option to stay “home” in the UAE or maintain links there. This paper introduces the notion of circumstantial citizenship to better understand how, when, and for whom citizenship matters in restrictive migration contexts. By engaging with key debates in migration studies, such as volition, alternatives, and options, circumstantial citizenship conceptualizes people’s complex journeys as they navigate liminality, changing conditions, international borders, and limited resources to access the long-term security of a better passport. Findings provide significant insights into the role of restrictive migration policies in shaping the value and meaning of citizenship and driving onward migration in complex ways today.

İdil Akıncı-Pérez, “Circumstantial Citizenship: UAE Born Syrians and Their Complex Journeys to Long-Term Security“, International Migration Review, 2023.