Why Refugees Rebel: Militarization in Jordan and Worldwide

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Why do some refugee groups militarize while others do not? Existing literature focuses on structural explanations and neglects factors related to refugee groups themselves. While acknowledging the importance of exogenous factors in enabling militarization, I fill this gap by proposing a framework of refugee militarization including factors endogenous to refugee groups, which will help explain the motivation of refugees to militarize and the framing used to mobilize them. In this framework, four conditions are necessary and sufficient to lead to refugee militarization in a particular host country at a particular time: a collective project to redeem the homeland from a clear enemy, socioeconomic marginalization from the host state, militancy entrepreneurs and political opportunity.

This framework is applied to in-depth case studies of two refugee groups, Palestinians and Iraqis in Jordan. Why did Palestinians militarize from 1964 to 1970, but not earlier or later? Why have Iraqis not militarized despite fears that they might? What are the implications for the likelihood of militarization by either group in the near future, given the ongoing upheavals of the Arab Spring?

From 2010 to 2011 I conducted 174 interviews of Palestinian and Iraqi households and local experts in Jordan. The results of these interviews reveal that from 1948 to 1963 there was a collective project among Palestinians in Jordan, but most refugees were waiting for powerful states to redeem the homeland on their behalf. From 1964 to 1970 all four conditions were met. From 1971 to 2011 militarization has not occurred mainly due to lack of political opportunity. This suggests that Palestinians would likely militarize again if political opportunity arose. Among ordinary Iraqis, however, there is little collective project, despite the presence of militancy entrepreneurs, so it is unlikely that they would militarize even if given the opportunity.

To extend the global applicability of this framework, I apply it also to cases of Rwandans and Afghans, using secondary literature. I conclude with suggestions for future research, a projection of refugee militarization in the context of the new Middle East, and recommendations to reduce the risk of militarization.