by Rik Huizinga

In this presentation, I flesh out the context-specific vulnerabilities and responses of young Syrian refugee men in the Netherlands by looking at the intersections of masculinities and everyday spaces.

This presentation builds on an understanding of forced migration as a social, gendered and intersectional process. International migration is embedded in a social web, and thus involves not only the experiences of the forced migrant, but also families, friends and other members of society. Social in nature, the forced migration experience is digested differently between genders as genders take up different social positions in societies and places. Moreover, by applying an intersectional lens different experiences of forced migration can be observed, in particular where gender intersects with age, class, race or religion.

Yet, the wide range of vulnerabilities refugee men experience and the actions they take in host countries remain underexposed. Representations of refugees in immigrant-receiving countries such as the Netherlands tend to be dominated by “feminised and infantilised images of pure victimhood and vulnerability” (Sigona, 2014, p.370; Malkki, 1995). Refugee men, on the other hand, are frequently depicted in political and media discourses as threats to the nation state, which endangers their position as a ‘worthy’ or ‘genuine’ refugee. In particular concerning young Muslim men, one-dimensional stereotypes such as fortune-hunters, rapists or terrorists remain apparent.

I seek to scrutinise these one-sided stories by focusing on the relational and contextual experiences of refugee men face in everyday life. I zoom in on the lived experiences of young Syrian refugee men (18-36y) in the Northern Netherlands and employ the concept of placemaking to understand the role of spaces in their daily integrative activities. Placemaking here refers to the way individuals shape and are shaped by spaces, highlighting their capacities and strengths to engage in bottom-up processes.

I use sedentary interviews and walking interviews to explore how respondents actively seek out particular places and how this process facilitates emotional connections and belongings. By having respondents decide on the pace and directions of the route,  the study seeks to empower respondents by emphasising the knowledge they gathered of their new living environment. Moreover, spatial prompts during the walking interviews act as a stimulus to evoke emotions attached to particular places or to trigger earlier experiences of respondents within these spaces.

My aim is to present the findings using Mapping Software such as ArgGis Story Maps or MapMe in order to give an overview of spaces important to the respondents. I use photographs and excerpts from the interview transcripts to illustrate how everyday spaces are perceived as inclusive or exclusive in the context of social integration and discourses on refugee men. The findings further demonstrate that respondents make use of particular spaces where they can ‘be men’ or where their masculinity can be re-negotiated in the host society. Lastly, the findings focus on transnational spaces that offer opportunities to connect emotionally with local Arab or Syrian communities or to maintain social networks stretching all over Europe and Western Asia.


Rik Huizinga

Rik Huizinga is a PhD candidate at the Population Research Centre, University of Groningen. Trained as a social and cultural geographer, he is interested in the intersections of Gender, Migration and Space. In his doctoral research project, he investigates the lived experiences of recently arrived Syrian refugee men in the Netherlands, with a particular focus on the development of home and belonging.