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Mobility control as state-making in civil war: Forcing exit, selective return and strategic laissez-faire

Christiane Fröhlich, Lea Müller-Funk

Mig. Pol. 2, 001 (2023) · published 27 March 2023


This paper addresses the question of how different actors attempt to control mobility during civil war, and how mobility control and processes of state-making interact in such settings. Mobility in civil wars is often considered a political act by the various actors involved: Leaving the country can be perceived as an act of opposition, as can moving between territories which are controlled by different, opposing factions. Drawing on literature on strategic displacement and migration politics and combining this with empirical insights from the ongoing wars in Libya and Syria, the paper identifies three mechanisms of mobility control in civil war settings: forcing exit, selective return as a form of expulsion, and strategic laissez-faire as the intentional absence of regulation regarding displacement and return. The analysis reveals that all three mechanisms are employed by state actor(s), rebels, and militias, and can be understood as elements of a new (post)war order that includes some citizens while excluding others depending on perceptions of political threats. We interpret the three mechanisms as ways in which actors in civil war settings attempt to manipulate a country’s demography in their own favour in a process of state-making. The paper is based on fieldwork conducted between 2018 and 2021 in Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Tunisia.

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