Citizens and Refugees

How can we tell the history of the “refugee crisis” of 2015? When does this history begin? Who are the heroines and heroes of that story? Who has a voice, and in which function? How do we frame this history? What are the political implications of such framings? And what happens if we ask those who fled from Afghanistan and Syria to tell their own stories?

Citizens and Refugees (Routledge, 2022) answers these questions by examining the stories that two dozen refugees who fled from Syria and Afghanistan to Germany tell about their lives. These stories take us to childhoods in Afghanistan and the Syrian Revolution of 2011. They are about political hopes and struggles beyond European borders. These are stories that depict the political lives of people before they became citizens.

Telling these stories, Citizens and Refugees challenges conventional narratives of the “refugee crisis” that typically begin with the moment of people fleeing or arriving at the shores of Europe, but that ignore what happened outside of Europe, before people became refugees. It argues that we need to include these stories into our narrative of the “long summer of migration” to see people as engaged citizens rather than mere refugees in need of support and rescuing. In times of embattled democracy, their courageous acts of citizens ship provide inspiration for democratic struggles.

Citizens and Refugees is the result of numerous conversations with people who fled from Afghanistan and Syria to Germany as well as volunteers in the famous German Willkommenskultur of 2015, in which I was actively involved. The book is part of a larger attempt to question the widespread perception that refugees have a “deficient life” characterized by what is lacking: shelter, food and cloths, rights, the (language) skills to integrate into new societies, or democratic attitudes; and that (usually white) volunteers and Western state agencies need to supply those coming as refugees with what is missing in their lives. Rather, we (in the West) need to recognize “their” politically rich lives, their involvement in struggle for democracy that can be meaningful for us, here in the West: we need to de-provincialize the Syrian Revolution.

If you’re interested in me discussing the book, its making and main arguments regarding narratives of migration and fleeing, please feel invited to get in touch! I’m happy to talk to students, educators, academic colleagues, and anyone else interested, virtually or (if possible) in person. Even more importantly, some of the book’s protagonists, people who fled from Syria and Afghanistan to Germany, would be keen to talk about their stories and experiences.

Reviews of the Book:

Felix A. Jiménez Botta in German History (2023). “By recounting their lives before becoming refugees, their journeys and their struggles and successes in Germany, Häberlen demonstrates that refugees are subjects with agency. This book is a highly original and important contribution to the rapidly expanding field of German migration studies, and to the critical scholarship on human rights and humanitarianism. … Häberlen’s book is highly relevant to understanding contemporary German society. … The accessibility of the writing will make it a useful resource for educators of college undergraduates and high school students. Moreover, Citizens and Refugees is a methodologically innovative book that will enrich graduate methods courses.”