Refugee, Jordanian, and Other Migrant
experiences with integration
The Challenges of Measuring Social Integration: Observations from Pigeoning
One of the ongoing challenges for the study of migrant integration is the lack of measures and indicators for social integration, and the reliance on income as a proxy for economic integration. At the local level, there may be better, if unconventional, qualitative indicators available to researchers with awareness of the local context. Consider pigeoning.
Raising and training pigeons to fly circles in large flocks at sunset is a pastime found across the Levant region, in Jordan, Palestine, and Syria. Pigeoning was common in both Palestinian and Syrian major cities up until conflicts caused mass displacements, and while it is not an inexpensive hobby, even lower income Palestinians and Syrians could participate by building up flocks over many years of small investments. Pigeoning might then act as a pre- and post- test for the wellbeing and integration of these displaced populations.
In downtown east Amman, many Palestinian families have become established enough over the generations to start pigeoning again, and many apartments overlooking wast al balad (the downtown market) have enormous coops on their roofs with collections of hundreds of designer pigeons. A single pet pigeon can cost hundreds of JD, and even thousands for the rarer breeds, and pet shops often have expansive back areas that sell high end pigeons, creating a lucrative market for Jordanians and Palestinians alike.
However, the only birds we’ve seen Syrians keeping in Irbid are chickens, where they are held in tight, shippable cages as a basic livelihood. In Irbid, we have not met or heard of Syrian pigeoners anywhere in the city. In fact, we have only ever seen one pigeon coop on a Jordanian family’s apartment rooftop in the wealthy neighborhood of Jadeed. These birds can be seen swooping through the air at dusk, right around the call to prayer. Perhaps seeing Syrian-owned pigeons circling the skies of Irbid is as good a metric as any of social and economic integration in the city.