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Human Routers: How Syrian Refugee Brokers Build the Infrastructure of Displacement

By Ann-Christin Zuntz

Cite As:
Zuntz, Ann-Christin. 2023. “Human Routers: How Syrian Refugee Brokers Build the Infrastructure of Displacement.” Cultural Anthropology 38, no. 4: 517–540.


Syrian refugees resort to a rich ecosystem of brokers who not only facilitate border crossings but also move remittances, jobs, knowledge, wives, and more. How are refugees’ circulations made possible, and by whom? Drawing on fieldwork with Syrian brokers in Turkey and the United Kingdom, I put forward the novel concepts of a Syrian infrastructure of displacement and of refugee brokers as a particular infrastructural component, namely, as human routers. Like routers, brokers manage, direct, and control resource flows. Revisiting Julia Elyachar’s concept of communicative channels, I contend that refugee brokers and their clients rely on such pre-existing connections, built on shared experiences of migration, brokerage, and hospitality. Reactivated in exile through brokers’ performances of “Syrianness,” these channels facilitate a shared sense of belonging needed for their business transactions. The ways in which refugee brokers slip seamlessly between business, charitable deeds, and exploitation challenge the abstract ideas of disinterested solidarity that underpin mainstream humanitarianism.


infrastructure; displacement; human routers; refugee brokers; Syrian; borders; circulations


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.