This blog post is an extract from Zeynep Sahin’s book Refugee Governance, State and Politics in the Middle East published in December 2018. The book examines the patterns of legal, political and institutional responses to large-scale Syrian forced migration and how Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, three of the world’s top refugee hosting countries, responded to the mass influx of Syrians from 2011 to 2018. Why have these countries adopted a particular refugee governance pattern and why does it change over time? The book analyses the motivations behind the policy responses of these neighbouring countries and how these responses have had an impact on regional and global cooperation. In so doing the blog offers insights into the structures of responses to refugees in the three countries also explored by the Refugee Hosts project. The multi-pattern model resonates with the multi-scalar approach taken by the project, and demonstrates the need to challenge assumptions about the scale of responses to refugees in contexts of overlapping, protracted displacement.

If you find this piece of interest please access our Representations of Displacement series or the recommended reading at the end of this piece.

Models for Refugee Governance – Legal, political and institutional responses in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

By Zeynep Șahin Mencütek, Swedish Research Institute, Istanbul.

In Chapter 3 of my book, I propose two original independent but complementary models for refugee governance: a multi-pattern model and a multi-stage model. The multi-pattern model theorizes variations within and across the national refugee governance(s), while the multi-stage model theorizes temporal changes within national refugee governance.

In this post, I explain these two models by drawing examples mainly from governance in the countries hosting a large number of refugees; Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Multi-stage governance includes three stages: emergency, critical juncture and protracted. These insights offer critical insights into the structures of responses to refugees in the three countries explored by the Refugee Hosts project. The multi-pattern model resonates with the multi-scalar approach taken by the project, and demonstrates the need to challenge assumptions about the scale of responses to refugees in contexts of overlapping, protracted displacement.

Multi- Pattern Governance

Multi-pattern governance has four distinct types characteristics; preventative, policy vacuum/inaction, adhoc and regulative. In cases in which destination countries need to respond to mass refugee flows, the first common pattern is prevention. Such countries may close their borders and deny offering protection to those seeking asylum. They legitimize their decision with several arguments around the threats that mass flows pose to national security, sovereignty and the political order of the destination country as well as by emphasizing that they lack the capacity to accommodate arrivals. They may lobby for the provision of shelter and for the monitoring of these people in the respective countries of origin. Many examples of this pattern have been observed in the Global South, for example Turkey’s prevention of Iraqi refugee flow in 1991,Tanzania’s closure of Burundi border for displaced people in1995. The closures of borders of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey against displaced Syrians after 2014-15 also fall under this category.

Inaction or policy vacuum pattern refers to situations in which a destination country does not take preventive measures aimed at halting a mass refugee flow, nor does it take measures to govern reception and protection. During or after the refugees’ entry across the national borders, it shifts the responsibility of reception/protection to a plethora of domestic non-state, local and transnational actors. Inaction as a pattern is rarely observed and it is limited to earlier stages of conflict induced and forced displacement. One example includes Lebanon’s treatment of Syrian refugees in the initial stage from 2011 to 2014. The Lebanese state did not do anything to prevent the entry of Syrians, and did not become involved in reception nor protection.

The ad hoc governance pattern emerges as an immediate policy solution of host countries to refugee migration. It involves little planning and is often based on temporary arrangements instead of concerted policies. Policies can both partially draw on existing regulations as well as, in other cases, diverge from them. The policies can be partial, temporal and provisional. They can also be characterized by ambiguity and contradictions. Turkey’s response to Syrian refugee flow until 2014 shows the characteristics of ad hoc governance pattern.

The regulative governance pattern relates to responding to mass refugee migration with some planning or drawing on already available response schemes. Although regulations cannot be approached as concerted policies at this stage, it is highly possible that efforts for policy institutionalization lay the ground for further concerted policies. Regulative governance can take two forms. The first is restrictive governance, which refers to the adoption of stringent policies that primarily aim to limit, prevent or deter the entry, exit and long stays of refugees within national borders. Second is comprehensive governance, which can be also defined as a distributive and ideal governance pattern. Jordan’s response to Syrian displacement, starting from 2012, can be an example of regulative governance pattern which has strong restrictive elements. It is often the case that a destination country which demonstrates the characteristics of a certain pattern, for example, the preventive policy pattern, could be urged to enact other patterns such as inaction or ad hoc policies in relation with contextual factors. Also, a country pursuing an ad hoc pattern may move to a regulative pattern. So, shifts from one pattern to another often happen over time and it is rather seldom that countries follow a stable pattern.

To reveal changes across time, the book introduces the concept of multi-stage refugee governance. It illustrates the temporal dimension of policy-shaping.

Multi-stage governance refers to the presence of more than one stage of governance in a given country. Stages include the initial (emergency) response stage, a critical juncture and the later protracted stage. Initial responses are given by host countries in the first years (one–three years) of the mass refugee flows, depending on the characteristics of the flow and capacity/interests of receiving states. Policy makers see the refugee flow as an emergency situation and/or a crisis. They believe it is temporary, thus they adopt a crisis-centric approach. If the state did not choose a preventive pattern, usually, inaction or ad hoc patterns are observed in this stage. After initial responses, policy makers of host countries may reach a critical juncture. The juncture occurs when a number of factors interacted. The first factor is the sheer numbers. It may be the perceived numbers, proportion of refugees to the national population, or ratio to a previous mass flow. Host countries that reach the critical juncture start to introduce structured policies and institutional arrangements. These replace previous inaction or ad hoc policies. This also marks a policy transition from the crisis/emergency phase to the regulatory phase. The juncture is where the process of devising new policies, the drafting of concrete national legal and institutional frameworks start.

After reaching a critical juncture, often in the course of three or five years, the refugee situation turns into a protracted stage. In this stage, host countries institutionalize and stabilize policies on the basis of the permanency of refugees, although they may avoid expressing these efforts publicly. In this stage, the temporality and humanitarianism of the initial stage, as well as transitions at the critical juncture, are replaced by a resilience-based approach, which pays attention to hosting communities and the country’s infrastructure along with durable solutions.


If you found this piece of interest please access our Representations of Displacement blog series or access the recommended reading list below:

Carpi, E. 2018 ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ assistance provision beyond the grand narratives: Views from Lebanese and Syrian providers in Lebanon

Davies, D. Hard Infrastructures, Diseased Bodies

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Looking Forward: Disasters at 40

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Thinking through ‘the global South’ and ‘Southern-responses to displacement’: An introduction

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Exploring refugees conceptualisations of Southern-led humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2015 and 2017) South-South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from Cuba, North Africa and the Middle East, Oxford: Routledge. *Paperback published in 2017*

Steinberg, A. Sustaining Protracted Displacement: A brief history of labor policies for Jordan’s refugees.


Featured image:  Cover – Refugee Governance, State and Politics in the Middle East. Zeynep Șahin Mencütek


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