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Thesis Spotlights – Social Resilience and Negotiation of the Yazidi Survivors of the Islamic State in Germany

Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1 Tue 2 Jun 2020

Mais Masadeh, PhD candidate, Germany

Email: mais.masadeh[at]
Institution: Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict [IFHV], Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Time: October 2016 – September 2020
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ludger Pries, Fakultät für Sozialwissenschaft, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Funding: Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD)

On 3 August 2014, the terrorist organisation identifying as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] conducted strategic and organised attacks in the Sinjar region of northern Iraqi-Kurdistan, with the intent to persecute and eliminate the Yazidi people, an ethnoreligious group residing in the area. The genocide against the Yazidi population led to the expulsion, flight, and exile of approximately 300,000 persons from their homeland, while an estimated 6,800 people, mostly women and children, were kidnapped by the terrorist organisation. Most of these abductees were subjected to heinous crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, human trafficking, slavery, and torture.

In response to the mass scale of violence and conflict, the German State Baden-Württemberg launched a humanitarian programme in 2015 [Sonderkontingent Baden-WürttembergSchutzbedürftiger Frauen und Kinder aus dem Nordirak”] to receive and assist 1,200 women and children, mainly the most vulnerable and left behind, who survived ISIS enslavement and lost most of their family members in the genocide. These survivors, several of whom were the target of this study, are likely to be affected by the challenges of adapting to utterly foreign societal and cultural contexts in Germany. On the other hand, while continuing to collect themselves and recover in the aftermath of the genocide and enslavement, the lives of these women and children in Germany remain inevitably influenced by and linked to various social, organisational, and political developments in their home region of Sinjar.

The connection between the countries of origin, transit, destination, and of onward and return movement, are integral aspects of today’s migration studies. By applying a transnational perspective in this study, I argue that constructing coping strategies and social resilience in the migration process for Yazidi survivors of ISIS cannot be limited to their current resettlement or arrival place. Instead this work entails constant social interaction and networking between different actors in the country of origin, transit and destination. I further argue that the processes of coping and social resilience in a host country are strongly influenced by events and conditions in the migrants’ country of origin, in this case, Iraqi Sinjar.  

This study focuses on the biographical experiences of these Yazidi women and children before, after, and during resettlement in Germany and addresses three research questions. The first question examines the group’s negotiation of constructing new experiences in Germany. The second question scrutinizes the organisational, social, and political factors which determine how migrant survivors adapt and develop social resilience during the migration process. Considering this target group not only as passive victims but as subjects capable of agency, the third question analyses their perpetuation of resistance and their challenging of the victim’s image while in exile.

For data collection, this study uses biographical narrative interviews, narrative inquiry, participant observations and semi-structured interviews with staff of the programme. The sample of the study has been selected in two ways. First, through the recommendations of Yazidis by the professional staff. Second, by establishing good rapport and trust with the Yazidi targeted group, snowball sampling followed. For data analysis, the study follows a combined method of the Biographical Case Reconstruction and the Qualitative Content Analysis method. Given the significant divergences and differences in the context and scope of resilience in the recent world-challenging migration influxes, this study contributes to the development of conceptual and theoretical findings related to social resilience in migration. Additionally, this study aims to promote better understanding of the biographical experiences of refugees and victims of war, and of the different factors affecting their ongoing and post migration processes.

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