By Khadija Abbasi & Alessandro Monsutti
Migration of young Afghan to Europe is structured by a moral economy that has a twofold dimension. First, it implies a social system of exchange and redistribution between young migrants and their relatives who stayed behind. It is underpinned by a code of conduct implying mutual obligations and collective responsibilities, by a system of values and solidarity, norms and social obligations that defines their success as migrants. Second, migration is characterized by the high pressure to succeed. Prompted by their quest for autonomy and recognition, the migrants become increasingly aware during their journey that only a few of them will be able to settle down in Europe. The relationships among young candidates to asylum are imbued by competition and jealousy. These young migrants are invested in the double mission of preparing a better future for their family and proving their individual value.
In such a context, many young Afghan migrants share their hopes and frustrations on the cyberspace, across geographical, social and gender boundaries. Migration and the status of forcibly being displaced are recurrent topics and are addressed with ambivalent feelings: suffering and separation, but also opportunity and autonomy. When Afghans talk about their experience of mobility, the term āwāragī is mostly used. It means ‘wandering,’ ‘vagrancy,’ while āwāra refers to a person who is in the state of āwāragī, a wanderer, a vagrant. The semantic field also implies the idea of being separated from one’s homeland and having to change one’s location against one’s own will. Ghorbat is another word recurrently associated with āwāragi. It describes the status of being a stranger and lonely in a place different from one’s homeland. The two terms have negative connotations and are often used interchangeably. Two terms with religious connotation, mohājerat, which means ‘migration,’ and mohājer, which designates a person who has migrated out of his/her home country, are nowadays much less commonly used than among the previous generations of Afghans who took refuge in Pakistan and Iran. An online conversation between various transnational young Afghans may serve as an example:
– Zari, a female Afghan whose application for asylum in Germany is currently under review, writes on her page on Facebook: “āwāragī means to be born in Tehran, to be thrown away to Kabul, and, to stay in Berlin; but nowhere you live the life.”
The post triggered many comments. Zari describes herself as an āwāra who cannot enjoy the journeys imposed on her.
– Shafiqa, newly settled in Australia, reacts: “Stay āwāra as there is death in immobility.”
– Zari: “I feel upset when I remember the reality of being an āwāra.”
– Shafiqa: “āwāragī is in the blood of our generation. Just imagine! In three decades, we have experienced the misfortunes of three centuries. Despites this, we still should stay alive.”
– Zari: “In these three decades, three generations became āwāra and the fourth generation is on the way but without home, in suspension, and with no identity.”
– Suraya, based in the United States: “Dear Zari, life is not something beyond this. That’s life.”
– Zari: “Our life is an absolute āwāragī.”
– Hashmat intervenes with a free verse: “We should put the framework of our identity under our arm [as a sign of leaving], as the walls of home have rotted and we are still āwāra in the streets that are not going to warm [welcome] us.”
– Zari: “The streets that did not warm us and the rotted walls that could not bear framework of our identity.”
– Hashmat: “And if these rotted walls collapse, thousands and thousands of the lost people will rise from under soil.”
– Kousha, based in India adds: “āwāragī means to be uprooted.”
– Munirah: “I was born in Kabul, granted asylum in Hamburg, but this is just the beginning of my story... Then, I am thrown to Norway – everything had to start from scratch – and then I am thrown to England – everything from scratch again –, then I am thrown to Scotland – everything from scratch again – and maybe soon I’ll be thrown again to another place. Perhaps life is all about this constant uprooting?”
– Sadiq: “We are an āwāra generation.”
– Shafiqa: “The generation of being in continual āwāragī, moving from one ghorbat to another. Even if you are not thrown from one land to another, the fact that your mind is uprooted is enough to prevent you to rest in one place, even in the land that has granted you asylum. There is death in immobility.”
For transnational Afghans who took part in this conversation, the conventional concept of home does not suit their situation with a multi-local sense of belonging and loneliness. They question the notion of home for a generation who grew up and reached adulthood in mobility. They contest the notion of home for people who were born as refugees in the country of asylum. Shafiqa used a Sufi trope to respond to Zari’s complaint of being āwāra: “There is death in immobility.” In so doing, she rationalizes her hyper-mobility. Shafiqa and Zari are amongst the generation who were born refugees to Afghan families in Iran. Zari left Iran for Germany and Shafiqa settled in Australia. Both left Iran to Afghanistan in search of home. Both left Afghanistan disappointed and continued migration in search of a better life where their sufferings and exclusion are recognized. But the streets in Germany, Norway, England, Australia, the United States are not welcoming. There is no apparent end to the wandering life of the āwāra generation; āwāragī is not a transient period of life but becomes an ontological status. These young people inhabit mobility. On the one hand, they feel that their plight is not understood by their relatives left back in Afghanistan or the countries of first asylum, Pakistan and Iran. On the other hand, their everyday life is dominated by competition and suspicion among peers, as only a few of them will be able to get a protection status and settle down in Europe. The cyberspace acquires a crucial importance for them, it is the realm where they can express themselves much more freely than in face-to-face relationships, address their dissatisfaction and magnify their aspirations.
by Marija Cubalevska
After mastering often difficult journeys to their destination, refugees face numerous administrative obstacles as they try to adapt to a new life in a different society. As part of Austria’s language policy, they have to sign an ‘Integrationsvertrag’ or ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ (=integration contract / integration agreement). This law was issued in 2003 and has since then been amended several times (the last time in 2017). In order to obtain or extend their residency permit, all citizens of third member states who are not part of the EU (including refugees) are obliged to attain a certain level of proficiency in German within a certain period of time and pass classes on Austrian values called ‘Werte- und Orientierungskurse’.
In my research I explore the question of how these legislative measures are presented and legitimized. My focus is on the most important institution in this area, the Österreichischer Integrations Fonds (Austrian Integration Fund for, henceforth ÖIF). ÖIF is responsible for implementing the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ and ‘Integrationsvertrag’ i.e. financing and evaluating educational institutions, organizing the classes on values and conducting both language proficiency and value tests.
The measures contained in the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ and the ‘Integrationsvertrag’ are presented along (neo-)paternalistic or moralistic lines. Paternalistic lines of argument stress that the measures taken (like the obligation to learn German) are implemented for the migrants’ own good. Neo-paternalism, as defined by Niku Dorostkar (2012, 77ff), is associated with discourses arguing that people should want to learn German on their own accord instead of being forced to acquire it. Rather than through legal measures, the desired effect is to be reached by helping the targeted individuals to take “the right decision”, whereby what is wrong and right has already been defined for them . Stutter/Maasen (2010, 321-333) also describe this phenomenon as “crypto-paternalism”. In this scenario, paternalism takes the form of a top-down prescribed self-help mechanism through which limited autonomy and empowerment can be reached, but only as long as they are used for the “right” cause. This implies that migrants should not only accept the obligation to learn the language; they should also support the measures enthusiastically. In this line of argument, German is often referred to as the language or our language, implying that fruitful communication in Austria cannot occur by means of any other language than German. This moralistic argumentation imagines national communities as culturally singular and homogenous entities. In order to uphold this image, clear boundaries between the own culture and other cultures need to be drawn – any differing cultural expression within one’s own defined boundaries is interpreted as a threat to national identity and unity.
A case in point is the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) election program for the national elections of 2017. It cites a study according to which German is not the primary medium for over 25% of students attending Austrian schools. According to the same study, 70% of the students attending middle schools (Haupt- and kooperative Mittelschulen) in Vienna do not use German as their primary language. (Österreichische Volkspartei 2017, 48) The underlying assumption is that people only resort to one language for colloquial speech. Taken at face value, these statements imply that 70% of the kids in Viennese secondary schools only use a single language in their everyday life, and this is not German. They do not admit the possibility of having two or multiple colloquial languages which are used consecutively or even mixed simultaneously.
Perhaps even more problematic than the forced language learning are the courses and tests on values. It is assumed that ‘Austrian values’ are something that people who are born as Austrian citizens automatically share and uphold, while newcomers have to study and adopt them. But what exactly are these values and who defines them? No official definition of ‘Austrian values’ has ever been undertaken, which means that the ÖIF gets to specify them. The brochures entitled ‘My life in Austria – opportunities and rules’ and ‘Rot-weiß-rot-Fibel’ outline the basic principles of parliamentary democracy and secularism. They explain some specific Austrian laws and customs, such as the daily ‘Nachtruhe’ from 22.00 – 06.00. They teach basic principles of human behavior and lawfulness, for instance, that it is illegal to hurt another person physically or to use public transport without buying a ticket. The content of this material says more about ÖIF’s perception of migrants and refugees than it says about Austrian values. Refugees are unequivocally portrayed as primitive and ignorant of basic democratic principles.
According to Krumm (2002), the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ has nothing to do with integration, but is simply a euphemism for racist policies. Under the etiquette of ‘integration’ diversity is being suppressed and excluded, elements defined as ‘foreign’ are being silenced and made invisible. Unfortunately, over the years, this tendency has become stronger.
In ÖIF’s publication entitled ‘Perspektiven Integration’ the racist ideology is even more blatantly visible,
‘Migration does not necessarily have to stand in opposition to the social welfare state, but is undoubtedly a big challenge for it. If this societal model is supposed to function in times of impactful migration movements, migrants need to identify and feel connected with Austria, the country in which they live and where a new home is being offered to them.’ [Wolf: 2017; translation by M.C.]
Here, an artificial contrast between participation in the Austrian welfare state and identification with Austria is created. It implies that migrants per se pose a threat to the welfare state and, by extension, a threat to all Austrian citizens. This argumentation obscures the fact that participating in the welfare state (i.e. paying taxes) is not optional but obligatory for everyone working and living in Austria, regardless of their national or cultural identity. These examples demonstrate how culturally racist policy making in Austria is legitimized by construing a homogenous national-cultural identity for Austria and twisting such concepts as integration.
DOROSTKAR, Niku: Linguistischer Paternalismus und Moralismus: Sprachbezogene Argumentationsstrategien im Diskurs über ‘Sprachigkeit. In: Aptum. Zeitschrift für Sprachkritik und Sprachkultur. 8. Jahrgang: 2012, Heft 1, S. 61 – 84.
KRUMM, Hans-Jürgen: One sprachen konten wir uns nicht ferstandigen. Ferstendigung ist wichtig. Entwicklung und Tendenzen in der Sprachlehrforschung im Bereich der Migration und Integration. Vortrag im Rahmen des Symposions “Sprache und Integration” Wien am 22.02. 2002 / Institut für Germanistik / Wien.
STUTTER, Barbara & MAASEN, Sabine: „Bürgergesellschaft“. Der verdeckte Paternalismus eines politischen Programms. In: Bijan Fateh-Moghadam u.a. (Hg.) Grenzen des Paternalismus. Stuttgart : 2010, S. 318-340.
WOLF, Franz: Sozialstaat und Integration. In: Perspektiven Integration 07/2017. Österreichischer Integrationsfonds
Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres (Hg.): My Life in Austria – Opportunities and Rules. Österreichischer Integrationsfonds Lindenau Productions GmbH / Wien: 2013.
Bundesministerium für Inneres (Hg.): Zusammenleben in Österreich (Rot-Weiß-Rot-Fibel) 2013.
Der neue Weg. Aufbruch und Wohlstand. Programm der Österreichischen Volkspartei zu Nationalratswahl 2017.
By Navid Fozi
A cursory survey of the scholarship and the media coverage on migrants and refugees reveals a curious absence of Iranians despite the fact that they have been leaving Iran on a continuous basis since the Revolution of 1979. Between 1999 and 2013, an annual average of roughly 69,000-138,000 Iranians have sought asylum, while 12,000-26,000 have been assisted by the UNHCR. Since 1979, there has been a steady flow of 15,000-30,000 annual Iranian asylum seekers through Turkey, the main transit country neighboring Iran. Data on Pakistan and the Independent Kurdish Region of Iraq, the two other neighboring transit states, are hard to come by. Combined with regular emigrants, the Iranian diaspora has reached a community of about six million, mostly residing in North America, Europe, and Australia.
While some statistics exist, research is extremely meager. Inquiries are mostly conducted by members of the Iranian community, focusing on specific political groups. The first fifteen years after the Revolution saw asylum seekers representing the former political system, as well as members of the Communist Tudeh Party, and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Draft evaders followed during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. In addition to these violence-driven exoduses, members of the Baha’i religious community have been escaping persecution since those early years. The last two decades have witnessed a periodic addition of converts (Christian, Baha’i, and Zoroastrian), practitioners of Erfan-e Halgheh (Cosmic Mystics), Kurdish Yaresan (Ahl-e Haqq), and Sabians. Furthermore, groups identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), social activists; and political dissidents formerly belonging to the ruling elites have sought asylum outside of Iran.
It is important to note that none of these groups have picked up arms or resorted to violence, with the exception of the PMOI in the immediate years after the Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq War. Whereas malicious persecutions and summary executions characterized the extrajudicial revolutionary mood, violence subsided substantially in later years as the ruling class sought to reestablish Iran’s membership within the international community. Subsequently, soft modes of harassment without paper trails became a routine practice, for instance, denying documents such as subpoena and official sentences when summoning Cosmic Mystics and Christian converts to court, and preventing Baha’is admission to, and expelling activists from, universities. Brutal methods were reserved for those who contested presidential elections and collectively came to be known as Green Movement in 2009.
Provided the continuous state persecution of such diverse groups of Iranians, what are the reasons for the paucity of academic research on Iranian asylum seekers? A case in point is a recent volume on refugees in Austria that only addresses the Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees. Could it be that physical violence is perceived as an integral constituent of ‘refugee’ as a recognized legal category, implying that those not affected directly do not deserve academic inquiry either? Or, as one of the reviewers of this piece commented, the lack of academic research may be due to the “current visibility and sheer number” of Afghan, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees. Nevertheless, the oppression of religious minorities and political dissidents in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been discussed for forty years. Even if their cause is not as visible, western countries have been receiving Iranian asylum seekers and migrants since the Islamic Revolution and their existence is publicly known.
This lack of coverage could also be linked to an assumed categorical division between the so-called ‘fake’ and ’real’ asylum cases. Such an assumption, for instance, entails that, similar to many claimants from other countries, Iranian asylum seekers acquire certain religious, political, or gender identities in order to build an asylum case. Even if there exist questionable cases, shouldn’t such a phenomenon itself arouse a sense of academic inquiry instead of total dismissal? Those who promote such a division of cases could ask why Shiʿi Muslims are changing religion to escape a government that is founded upon Shiʿi traditions and jurisprudence. Those attacking claims of the LGBTQ communities should acknowledge the equally pressing question of why members of the traditional Iranian culture that frowns upon any sexual behavior violating principles of heterosexual relations would want to fake gender identity. Other inquires could explore why a country that is not involved in direct wars, has regular presidential and parliamentary elections, and is internationally engaged, produces such diverse and continuous flow of asylum seekers? How does the purging of minorities in Iran fit in and contribute to the historical homogenizing project of the Shi’i state?
Finally, what about cases the veracity of which even the skeptics cannot deny? The Yaresan community consists mostly of ethnic Kurds who practice a religion different from Islam. While some of them are Shiʿatized and identified as Ahl-e Haqq, many, mostly concentrated in the westernmost regions of Iran, do not identify as Muslims. They follow the teachings of Sultan Sahak, who was a 14th-century religious leader. They have a distinct social structure, sacred literature, as well as music and musical instruments, and go on pilgrimage to their own local sites. The Yaresans have suffered since the formation of the Islamic Republic, not just for their religion, but also for their Kurdishness. They have been accused of treason and denied government jobs as well as higher education. As they are labeled as Satan-worshipers, their places of worship have been desecrated and their rituals have been banned. While they have used Turkey as a transit country to seek asylum, the Independent Kurdish Region of Iraq has been their main route to Europe.
The Baha’is are another minority group who follow an indigenous religion that began in 1844 in Iran. They come from diverse backgrounds, religiously and ethnically, and are mostly the descendants of early converts who followed Ali Muhammad Shirazi known as the Bab (1819-1850), a young prophet who challenged the Shiʿi religious hierarchy by claiming to be the Twelfth Shiʿi Imam. When he was killed by the Qajar dynasty in 1850, most of his followers turned to Mirza Hosayn Ali Nuri known as Baha’u’llah (1817-1892). Their suffering has been continuous since the inception and only increased in the post-Revolution period. Accused of being foreign elements and spies, many Baha’is were killed in summary courts and purged from jobs and schools. Their homes were burnt, their cemeteries are still bulldozed, and their religious practices are banned. Baha’i youth are deprived of higher education and Baha’i businesses are regularly shut down. As mentioned earlier, they have been leaving Iran since 1979.
Another relatively recent phenomenon is the growing number of adherents of contemporary Persian mysticism, Erfan-e Halgheh. The founder, Ali-Mohammad Taheri has received a death sentence that was later lifted as a result of domestic and international pressure. However, coinciding with the rising numbers of Christian and Baha’i converts and the decline of Shiʿi hierarchy, his followers, are abused and jailed. Their centers and classes are deemed illegal and shut down.
Iranian asylum seekers and refugees might not neatly fit within the scholarship on refugee camps and those fighting genocide, and there may exist questionable cases. Nevertheless, their flight poses important questions regarding the domestic Iranian context, engaging international refugee regimes, asylum processes, border crossings, as well as diaspora identity formation.
 Statistic Data on Iranian Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Updated 2014. http://www.irainc.org/iranref/statistics.php
 See, for example, Fathi, Asghar. Iranian refugees and exiles since Khomeini. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 1991; Ghorashi, Halleh. Ways to survive, battles to win: Iranian women exiles in the Netherlands and United States. Nova Publishers, 2003; Koser Akcapar, Sebnem. “Re‐Thinking Migrants’ Networks and Social Capital: A Case Study of Iranians in Turkey.” International migration 48.2 (2010): 161-196. Moallem, Minoo. “Iranian Immigrants, Exiles and Refugees: From National to Transnational Contexts.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 20.1 (2000): 161-164.
 Schiocchet, Leonardo and Kohlbacher Josef (Ed). From Destination to Integration: Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in Vienna (2017).
 Hamzeh’ee, M. Reza. The Yaresan: A Sociological, Historical and Religio-Historical Studyof a Kurdish Community. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz (1990); In Persian: Safizádeh Borehkeii, Seddiq, Neveshteha-ye Parakandeh Darbareh-ye Yaresan: Ahl-e Haqq [Scattered Essays on Yaresan, Ahl-e Haqq. Khorrami Printing (1982).
 There is a lack of academic research on all aspects of Yaresans’ life in part due to their secretive practices. My information is based on fieldwork research that I have conducted in western Iran in 2005 among the Yaresan of Guran region (Fozi, Navid. “The hallowed summoning of tradition: Body techniques in construction of the sacred tanbur of western Iran.” Anthropological quarterly 80.1 (2007): 173-205), as well as in Turkey among the asylum seekers of the group. See, also, The Danish Immigration Services. Ministry of Immigration and Integration. Iran: The Yaresan. (2017); Kurdish news agencies have in recent years provided some reports: Rudaw. Kurdish Kakai flee state ‘discrimination’ in Iran. (2015). http://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/09092015
 Momen, Moojan. "The Babi and Baha'i community of Iran: A case of “suspended genocide”?." Journal of Genocide Research 7.2 (2005): 221-241. Affolter, Friedrich W. "The specter of ideological genocide: The Baha'is of Iran." War Crimes Genocide & Crimes against Human. 1 (2005): 75-114. Kazemzadeh, Firuz. "The Baha'is in Iran: Twenty years of repression." Social Research (2000): 537-558.
 Among many instances, there are several reports regarding the persecution of Erfan-e Halgheh membership listed on the Center for Human Rights in Iran: https://www.iranhumanrights.org/tag/erfan-e-halgheh/