Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Patricia Ehrkamp


This doctoral dissertation examines the lived experiences of refuge in Denmark from the perspectives of Syrian refugees. Situated within feminist political geography, it moves beyond examining geopolitics merely from the perspective of the law, the state, and policy makers. Instead, it seeks to grasp the ways in which geopolitics are encountered, experienced, and negotiated on the ground – by the people who are most affected by state policies and practices. It draws on more than ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in Denmark with Syrian refugees, including semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and participant observations, as well as interviews with state and non-state actors providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan. This dissertation brings insights from feminist political geography into conversation with those from critical refugee studies, border studies, geographies of law, and postcolonial studies in order to unsettle core ideas and terms of reference surrounding what refuge is and how it is practiced.

This dissertation makes three distinct but closely related arguments. First, focusing on family reunification of refugees and how this form of protection became a target in the Danish state’s efforts to prevent refugee immigration, I argue that the geopolitics of refuge needs to be examined in a way that includes but also moves beyond the actual territorial border line as well as the legal border (i.e. the moment a person obtains protection and legal status). Second, through an examination of Syrian refugees’ everyday encounters with the Danish state, I draw attention to the disjunctures between idealized notions of refuge with its ostensible ‘humanitarian’ ethos and the practical articulations of refuge as manifested in the everyday lived experiences of refugees. This is what I term lived refuge. I argue, however, that the dissonances between idealized and actually existing refuge point to the persistent presence of governance within refuge, rather than a lack or an absence of ‘true’ humanitarianism - i.e. a promise of freedom, betterment, and prospect that did not fully materialize. Instead, the state practices, which refugees are subject to within refuge, are enabled and normalized through the asymmetrical relationships between the state and the refugee. Third, calling attention to how Syrian refugees experience, articulate and locate war, I trouble prevailing geographical imaginations of “Europe” and Denmark as spaces of peace, safety, and prosperity. Drawing on Syrians’ experiences of war, I argue that attending to everyday experiences of war in refuge prompts a re-articulation of where war is, what counts as war, and who decides.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Social Science Research Council, The Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship

NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (BCS-1558400): Forced Migrants Encountering the Refugee Regime

The Danish Institute in Damascus Research Award