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Leaving Kabul – what happens next? The experiences of recently arrived Afghans in London during hostile times

Louise Ryan, Maria Lopez and Alessia Dalceggio

In the summer of 2021, both the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Home Secretary, Priti Patel, promised a ‘warm welcome’ for refugees evacuated from Kabul airport and brought to the UK under the Afghan resettlement scheme. Meanwhile, Afghans were also among the largest groups arriving in small boats on British shores. Thus, in both political and media discourse, Afghans were simultaneously praised as heroic allies of Britain in Afghanistan and vilified as an invading ‘swarm’ of ‘illegal’ migrants (Lopez and Ryan, 2023).

Over recent years the government has introduced a raft of immigration measures to address the humanitarian crisis following wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Yet, it seems that such schemes are rushed through on an ad-hoc basis, without any obvious evaluation of their effectiveness and with little evidence that the government is learning any lessons from these resettlement programmes.

Against the backdrop of the ‘hostile environment’, whereby the government is primarily concerned with attempting to control and reduce migration, there seems little appetite to develop effective schemes to support refugees (see contributions by Erel et al; Reynolds et al and D’Angelo in this special issue). When wider geo-political events force the government to act quickly, as in the case of the Afghan evacuation, the results appear chaotic, ill-planned and extremely expensive. 

In 2022, we undertook a research project in partnership with two Afghan community organisations in London, to understand the experiences of recently arrived people from Afghanistan (Ryan et al, 2022). In 2023, we started a new project to understand how evacuees are getting on two years after leaving Afghanistan (Ryan et al 2023). We examine how the Afghan resettlement schemes are working in practice.  

In this article, we begin by briefly reviewing the government’s recent immigration policies, focusing specifically on the Afghan resettlement schemes, and on the protracted periods that evacuees have spent in temporary hotel accommodation. We then present the stories of some research participants to illustrate the impact of such prolonged insecurity. We conclude by arguing for a more coordinated, efficient and effective approach to supporting refugees by properly evaluating previous schemes and learning lessons across these programmes.

A broken asylum system

The UK asylum system has been described as shambolic, ‘broken’ and chronically dysfunctional. Under the hostile environment, the development of policies and legislations that criminalise and stigmatise people seeking asylum, such as the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and the pursuit of forced removal policies (e.g. Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda – see also Blitz in this special issue), led to a “significant regression” in the protection of people seeking safety in the UK (Commissioner for Human Rights 2022).

Meanwhile, inefficiency and understaffing in the Home Office caused a dramatic increase in the backlog of cases with 166,000 people awaiting decision, two-thirds of whom have been waiting for more than six months. These protracted waiting times impact not only on the mental and physical health of applicants, but are also extremely costly. In 2022, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted the cost to accommodate asylum seekers in hotels was £5.5 million a day (Institute for Government 2023).

In an attempt to clear the backlog, the PM announced a new ‘fast track’ system, which will apply to people coming from countries with a 95% asylum grant rate, i.e. Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Under this widely criticised system, 12,000 people will forgo the customary asylum interview and will instead receive an allegedly lengthy and complex form to be completed with evidence of their asylum claim. This system will affect those Afghans who are currently in the asylum system.

However, it was understood that Afghans would be resettled through specific schemes under the government’s ‘Warm Welcome’ operation, i.e. the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). These schemes, aimed at resettling Afghans who worked for the UK government/armed forces and other at-risk people, have to date granted Indefinite Leave to Remain to 12,527 individuals, 6,235 under ARAP and 6,292 ACRS Pathway 1 respectively (Home Office 2023). Although the government claimed the focus of ACRS would be on people who remain in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, so far only 22 people have been resettled under Pathway 2; meanwhile, the number of Afghans arriving in the UK through unsafe routes, including cross-Channel migration, amounted to 8,633 in 2022 (The Guardian 2023).

Instead of finding sustainable solutions to address the shortcomings and deficiencies of the asylum system, as well as providing functional safe routes of passage, the government is continually establishing new, seemingly improvised, resettlement schemes, without a proper evaluation of their impact. We argue that such measures highlight a lack of long-term strategy in relation to asylum and humanitarian response and instead reinforce the government’s commitment to the hostile environment.  

Life in Hotels

While those evacuated from Kabul Airport in August 2021 were moved to bridging hotels, including 5 stars hotels in central London which were empty due to the pandemic, Afghans who arrived around the same time, via unofficial routes, were accommodated in ‘contingency hotels’, often cheaper and lower quality accommodation, with far fewer support services (Ryan et al, 2022). One of our key informants from a local authority suggested that these processes have created ‘two types of Afghans’ when, in reality, there is no difference between them:

‘while those living in bridging hotels will be allowed to work and claim benefits… the others are stuck in limbo, in a hotel where meals are provided with £8 a week’.

Our study participants in bridging hotels expressed their gratitude to British authorities for providing accommodation in comfortable hotels in nice areas of London. There was also praise for NGOs promptly mobilising to assist new arrivals. Visiting bridging hotels, we observed NGOs, including Afghan organisations, providing advice and support.

However, as months passed, participants became increasingly concerned about being moved around the country from one hotel to another at short notice. For example, Liqman, who was living in a hotel room with his pregnant wife, heard from the Home Office that they may be relocated to other hotels in Aberdeen, Leeds or Manchester because London hotels were very expensive. Indeed, through follow up emails, we found that many interviewees had been moved to hotels outside London at short notice disrupting their study and work plans, as illustrated below.

When we completed our first round of interviews in the summer of 2022, both our participants and ourselves were surprised that people were still in temporary hotel accommodation 12 months since the evacuation.

At the start of 2023, 18 months since the evacuation, the numbers of Afghans still remaining in hotels was around 9,000. There is clearly a push from government to remove people from expensive, central London hotels. However, rather than housing people in permanent accommodation, there is evidence that many Afghans are being moved to cheaper hotels in other parts of the country. The Guardian recently reported that 40 Afghan families, who had lived for 18 months in a Kensington hotel, were given only a few weeks’ notice that they were to be moved to another hotel near Leeds, which meant that 150 children suddenly had to move schools.

Since the summer of 2022, the Home Office has encouraged many hotel residents to find their own privately rented accommodation. However, this is difficult because private landlords are reluctant to rent to people on universal credit. Moreover, there is a lack of available properties, especially for larger families, due to the as London already has a housing crisis in London.

The lack of transparency and information from the Home Office about when they might move out of hotels caused issues and further worries among our participants. Slow processing times and uncertainty added to our participants’ anxieties about having left their home country hastily, leaving family and close friends behind. The speed of the evacuation has meant rapid and dramatic changes in our participants’ lives. Nasreen, a law student in her 20s, explained that she tried to keep herself busy to avoid getting too anxious about her situation:

‘In Afghanistan, I was always busy with my training, my studies … It is so hard for you and it’s a new country, new people, nobody is friendly to you… I try to continue and work hard. I try to move forward.’

In March 2023, we followed up with another participant, Liloma, a Hazara woman in her 30s who was evacuated alone. Eighteen months later, she is still living in a hotel. In July 2022 Liloma was moved from her central London accommodation to a cheaper hotel in a small commuter town, south of the capital. Liloma has tried to rebuild her life, attending a course run by a nearby college and securing a job working in the local hospital.

Moreover, Liloma is also desperate to be reunited with her young son. When she was evacuated in 2021, her child stayed behind with her estranged husband, who at that time, was reluctant to let the son leave. Now, as conditions worsen in Afghanistan, especially for the Hazara minority community, her husband has finally relented and agreed that the boy can join his mother in the UK. Liloma hopes her son will be able to come through the ACRS programme, but the process is extremely slow, complex and bureaucratic. Liloma has been waiting many months for a Home Office decision about her son without any indication of when the outcome will be known.

Moreover, Liloma is aware that her stay in the hotel, albeit protracted, is temporary. In line with recent Home Office policy, she has been advised to find her own privately rented accommodation. Liloma is keen to stay in that area to be close to her new job, however private rentals in her town are high and well beyond what she can afford on her salary; as a result, she feels caught in a financial bind.

Malala, a student in her 20s, followed Home Office advice and moved to private rented accommodation in London. However, she informed us, she is now experiencing anxiety about not being able to afford the high costs:

‘I wish I knew the living situation before moving in’.


Our findings highlight that hastily planned, ad-hoc refugee policies are not efficient or effective from a financial perspective, while also heavily impacting on people’s ability to make any plans for their future. Despite high costs, the government appears to favour working with private agencies, rather than coordinating with public bodies and statutory services. Keeping Afghan evacuees in hotels is costing around £1 million per day; instead of being paid into the pockets of private hoteliers, this funding could have been given to local authorities to invest in securing more cost-effective, long-term accommodation. Not only would such a strategy have saved money, it would also have given Afghans a more secure start to rebuilding their lives. Lack of sustainable solutions, coupled with a lack of transparency and information about relocation outside of hotels, add to the protracted uncertainty and anxiety experienced by our Afghan participants.

Issues related to displacement and resettlement are complex and require thoughtful planning. There is an urgent need to learn lesson. Of course, as the recent events in Ukraine illustrate, it is not always possible to predict when and where the next humanitarian crisis will occur. Nonetheless, history has a habit of repeating itself. During the 1960s and 1970s thousands of Asian migrants arrived in the UK fleeing the Amin administration in Uganda (including the parents of Priti Patel). Beyond the ideology of ‘hostile environment’ and the apparent determination to reduce migration, the reality is that, in the coming decades, wider geopolitical events, as well as the climate crisis, are likely to increase the number of displaced people in the world. Therefore, it makes sense to plan ahead and be ready to address these challenges instead of pretending they can simply be legislated to go away.


López, María E., and Louise Ryan. ““What are you doing here?”: Narratives of border crossings among diverse Afghans going to the UK at different times.” Frontiers in Sociology 8 (2023): 1-11.

Ryan, Louise, Maria Lopez and Alessia Dalceggio (2022) Afghan Migrants in London: Accessing Support in Hostile Times.

Ryan, Louise, Maria Lopez and Alessia Dalceggio (2023) An evaluation of the Syrian and Aghan resettlement programmes in Islington.

Louise Ryan is Senior Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre at London Metropolitan University. She has been researching migration for over twenty years and during that time has published numerous highly cited articles in leading international journals. In 2015 she was awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences for her contribution to migration research. Her books include Gendering Migration (with Webster, 2008), Migrant Capital (with Erel and D’Angelo, 2015) and her most recent monograph is Social Networks and Migration (2023). Louise is currently chair of the British Sociological Association.

María López is a Reader in Sociology at the School of Social Sciences and Professions and Deputy Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre at London Metropolitan University. She is deeply committed to voicing the needs of gendered, sexualised and racialised communities in hostile global environments, such as the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba, women migrants in Mexico, and Afghan and Syrian refugees in the UK. She is the author of journal articles, book chapters and two books, Homosexuality and Invisibility in Revolutionary Cuba (Tamesis, 2015) and Gender Violence in Twenty-First-Century Latin American Women’s Writing (Tamesis, 2022), co-authored with Stephen M. Hart.

Alessia Dalceggio is a PhD student at the School of Social Sciences and Professions and an awardee of the Vice-Chancellor PhD Scholarship at London Metropolitan University. Alessia’s research focuses on the experiences of forced migrant students in higher education and how they navigate the hostile environment.

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Ryan, Louise, Maria Lopez and Alessia Dalceggio 2023. ‘Leaving Kabul – what happens next? The experiences of recently arrived Afghans in London during hostile times’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (2):

The fortress and the garden: borders and civic stratification in Europe and Britain

Alessio D’Angelo

“Europe is a garden… Most of the rest of the world is a jungle. The jungle could invade the garden.” Josep Borrell, EU Foreign Policy Chief, October 2022

Since the fall of the Berlin wall three decades ago, European countries have built nearly 2,000 kilometres of border walls and fences around themselves. Still, the arrivals of migrants by sea continue to represent one of the most visible and controversial elements of the European migration regime – probably because – as many European politicians have repeatedly observed “we cannot build walls in the sea”.

The defence of the ‘European garden’ has led not just to the erection of physical barriers around its frontiers, but also to the externalisation of borders – most notably in Libya and Turkey – and to an increasingly hostile environment for people living in Europe: targeting migrants, but affecting many more. Behind the surface of political propaganda, this ever-tighter ‘Fortress Europe’ – a term which is regaining popularity – reflects very specific socio-economic models, whereby the stratification of migrants’ rights is the pillar of wider inequalities between and within states.Europe as a walled garden

Borrell’s ‘garden vs jungle’ analogy has been at the centre of a major controversy, with critics arguing his talk at the inauguration of the new European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges (available here) smacked of xenophobia and neo-colonialism. The international backlash forced him to write a blog to clarify his position and strongly – though superficially – distance himself from any form of racism and Euro-centrism. Still, Borrell’s speech – and the concepts and images at its centre – got so much social media traction precisely because they perfectly encapsulate the European approach to international relations and migration policies, past and present. For this reason, it is worth unpacking these a bit more.

The metaphor is not new, going all the way back to the Medieval concept of ‘hortus conclusus’, the walled garden symbolising an ideal of perfection, and the need to keep it impenetrable to the outside word to preserve its purity. In fact, the EU head of diplomacy acknowledged – seemingly with some regret – that “walls will never be high enough in order to protect the garden”; and that is why “gardeners have to go to the jungle”. In Borrell’s view, a plea for more diplomatic engagement; for his critics, a dog whistle call for a new postcolonial effort. In Europe “everything works”, claims Borrell, “It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that humankind has been able to build – the three things together”. It is to defend these three principles that the European garden is worth defending. How ironic, then, that each of these finds its mirror image reflected in the policy regime erected as a defence wall: freedom vs tight borders and hostility, cohesion vs civic stratification, prosperity vs sheer economic inequality.

Bordering freedom

For a long time, the European project has been founded on the idea that tightly closed external borders are necessary to ensure freedom and prosperity within the Union, and are indeed the prerequisite for one of the boldest European achievements: freedom of movement between member countries. Allegedly, we need to build walls around Europe to remove the walls within it. Since the so-called Mediterranean ‘Refugee Crisis’ of 2015, this approach has seen an acceleration, with the defence against irregular migration becoming the priority of the EU agenda on migration.

Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) has seen an exponential growth in size and resources, with its dubious human rights record receiving increasing criticism from international NGOs and the same European Parliament, culminating with the resignation of its Director Fabrice Leggeri in 2022. At the same time, however, we have also witnessed an increase of border tensions between European states, including ever more frequent suspensions of the Schengen area; not to mention the diplomatic strain between France and Britain along the Channel, both before and after Brexit. In other words, the fortress is creeping into the garden, supported by an ever-growing sense of crisis.

As I have argued previously (D’Angelo 2019), if there is a migration crisis this is not in the numbers: it is a manufactured crisis of migration policies and humanitarian values, serving some very specific political and economic objectives. In my own research I have been focusing on two national case studies which are seemingly very different, but which allow us to identify some important elements of convergence: Italy and the United Kingdom.

Italy: the ‘illegality factory’

Italy continues to be the main European country for the number of sea arrivals. After the peak of the 2014-2017 period (with between 100,000 and 180,0000 arrivals each year), the official statistics have registered an average of 34,000 yearly arrivals till 2021, to then see a significant increase in 2022 (105,131). The considerable number of people entering ‘illegally’ is due to the lack of legal pathways for asylum seekers and economic migrants from the global South; something which has got very little to do with Italy’s reception capacity – and indeed its economic and demographic needs.

Nonetheless, media and political discourses have been characterised by xenophobic hysteria, with growing hostility towards NGOs undertaking search-and-rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean and a de-funding of the national refugee reception system since 2018. Strong anti-migration stances have been the defining trait of the main political parties now in government: president Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’ and Matteo Salvini’s League. The dramatic shipwreck of February 26th, off the village of Cutro (in the Calabria region) has marked a new low point, with the Italian authorities under criticism over delayed responses and poor international coordination on search-and-rescue, alongside an ever more tone-deaf communication strategy.

Beyond the anti-immigration rhetoric, however, the outcome of the past few years has not been a reduction in the number of arrivals, but an increased civic stratification of migrants’ rights (Morris 2002). Through tortuous and highly risky journeys, people continue to reach the Italian shores, but are then kept stranded in a legal limbo for a long time, often deprived of rights, including the right to work, the right to access welfare, the right to be visible. This pushes many towards a life ‘off the radar’ and towards illegal employment.

It is a well-documented fact, for example, that a considerable part of the Italian agricultural sector is able to function only thanks to the migrant workers employed in exploitative, largely illegal conditions. It is a system that – whether by accident or by design – creates a direct connection between the so-called migration crisis and the specific socio-economic characteristics of the areas of arrival: something which previously I labelled ‘the illegality factory’ (D’Angelo 2019).

At the same time, Italy has seen the increasing implementation of administrative barriers to access public services, even for those who are present in the country in full accordance with national legislation. Specifically, this has taken the shape of a systematic (mis)use of the status of ‘resident’, which local authorities often deny to asylum seekers as well as migrants and other minority and marginalised people they deemed undesirable. As discussed elsewhere (D’Angelo and Gargiulo 2021), a mix of discretionality, muddled regulations and the nurturing of systemic hostility has produced civic stratification and ‘residential bordering’ for increasingly large populations.

British hostility and a very European Brexit

Brexit is widely understood as a major rupture within the European system: strongly linked to a rejection of the EU migration regime, and triggered by growing hostility towards large-scale immigration following the EU enlargement of 2004 and, later, the moral panic regarding the ‘refugee crisis’ (who can forget UKIP ‘Breaking Point’ posters?). See also Gawlewicz et al in this special issue. Such animosity was not framed simply in terms of xenophobia but, rather, as welfare chauvinism: the long-standing belief that welfare benefits should be restricted to citizens – and that some people are more deserving than others (D’Angelo, forthcoming).

Targets may change; over the years Black people, Muslims, refugees, Eastern Europeans have all been at the receiving end of this, with varying degrees of intensity and media fixation (see also Ryan et al, in this special issue). Following Brexit – with concerns about EU migration largely exhausted – discourses of hostility almost naturally shifted towards migrants crossing the English Channel. The crisis discourse deployed by the Government and right-wing media since late 2018, even when the numbers of yearly arrivals were barely in the thousands, was strikingly similar to what we have witnessed across the Mediterranean for nearly a decade. This includes the declared attempts to externalise borders, in this case with the controversial Rwanda Plan: unworkable, but nonetheless integral to the narrative (see Blitz in this special issue).

Beyond any shift of target, however, the wider objective remains the same: reinforcing the stratification of access to welfare and public services in terms of migration origin, race, gender and class (see Erel et al, in this special issue). This is implemented not so much through external borders controls, but through processes of internal bordering involving all aspects of everyday life and mobilising all sorts of public and private actors, including employers, landlords, banks and the National Health Service (Yuval-Davies et al, 2018).

In turn, welfare chauvinism represents one of the key corollaries of ‘austerity’, the guiding political principle of UK politics for over a decade. The idea that public expenditure should be systematically cut and public services rolled back has its roots in Thatcherism, but has characterized a long era of social policy throughout Europe. In fact, despite the myth of the UK as a reluctant member of the EU, constantly trying to push back and diverge from trends of Europeanisation, another reading is possible.

The history of the past four decades has been marked by major British influences on the European regime. Ideas of ‘Third Way’ welfare models, the vision of a geographically differentiated ‘knowledge economy’ – with the stratification of the European and global space – and the diffusion of practices of ‘internal bordering’, all originated – or first reached the mainstream – in Britain, to then become highly influential in policy discourses and processes across the whole of Europe (D’Angelo, forthcoming). One could go as far as seeing the UK as a trend setter in European policy, and specifically in the redefinition of the migration-welfare nexus – with Brexit the paradoxical results of taking some of these ideas to their extreme consequences.

Needless to say, the UK is also the place where the very term ‘hostile environment’ was coined, and the country in which – because of the Windrush scandal (see Reynolds et al, this special issue) – we have seen more clearly the pernicious effects of chauvinism not just on migrants, but also on people born in the country, or arrived at a very early age in full accordance with the law. To borrow another expression from Borrell, borders and hostility have a “strong growth capacity” (though he used this phrase with regard to “the jungle”). Even when originally deployed to target migrants, they end up infesting every aspect of society and have the potential to affect everyone. In this respect, for example, the recent results of the Civicus Monitor annual global index of civic freedom should come as no surprise. The UK has been downgraded as a result of the country’s “increasingly authoritarian” approach on public protests and the creation of a “hostile environment”, not specifically against migrants, but towards campaigners and civil society organisations at large.

What is the fortress for?

Looking at Italy and the UK it is possible to identify some wider elements of European convergence. Here, like elsewhere, hostility towards migrants is promoted in terms of race, social stability and sovereignty, and it is maintained by finding (or manufacturing) recurrent ‘crises’ – with sea-crossings as a key focus over the last decade. This generates political support which is then used to increase stratification, welfare restrictions and labour precarity.

As I have discussed elsewhere (D’Angelo and Gargiulo, 2021), civic stratification, underpinned by ideas of ‘deservedness’ and a rejection of universalism, pushes the minimum common denominator to the bottom, producing restrictive effects not just for migrants, but for everyone, with exclusionary redefinitions of denizenship and citizenship. Whilst the basic requirement to pursue this is the conditional regulation of rights for those who live within a country, ever-tighter external borders – and, even more so, the rhetoric of ‘Fortress Europe’ – are not just instrumental to this model, but part of its ideological and symbolic foundation.

If Europe is – or could aspire to be – a garden, it is not so much the outside world – ‘the jungle’ – that threatens it, but the ‘fortress’: those ideas of internal and external bordering which erode freedom, cohesion and indeed prosperity at local, national and global level. It is a fortress of which Britain has been and continues to be one of the key architects (though by all means not the only one). Not even Brexit has been able to challenge this continental convergence yet. To rethink the European space, more than ‘gardeners’, we need wall-breakers.


D’Angelo, A. (forthcoming), ‘The road to Brexit: intra-European migration and welfare chauvinism in the United Kingdom’, in Finotelli and Ponzo (Eds.). Contesting the North-South Divide: from model convergence to blurring boundaries in migration regimes. Springer

D’Angelo, A., Gargiulo, E., (2021) ‘Residential Bordering: The (Mis)use of Residence Status to Control Migrants’ Welfare Rights in Italy and the UK’, in Autonomie locali e servizi sociali, Quadrimestrale di studi e ricerche sul welfare, 2/2021, pp. 371-39.

D’Angelo, A. (2019) Italy: the ‘illegality factory’? Theory and practice of refugees’ reception in Sicily, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 45:12, 2213-2226.

Morris L., (2002), Managing Migration: Civic Stratification and Migrants’ Rights, Routledge, London.

Yuval-Davis, N., Wemyss, G., & Cassidy, K. (2018), ‘Everyday Bordering, Belonging and the Reorientation of British Immigration Legislation’, Sociology, 52(2), p. 228–244.

Alessio D’Angelo is Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham. He has extensive experience in conducting research on migration, ethnicity, social inequalities and access to public services, with a particular focus on the role of community organisations. Most recently he has been working on EU and UK funded projects on Refugee reception, intra-European migration, the changing shape of diverse neighbourhoods, and the experiences of recently arrived young migrants in Europe. His work employs quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods, including innovative approaches to data mapping and Social Network Analysis. At the University of Nottingham, he is a member of the IcPSP (International Centre for Public and Social Policy) and the ICEMiC (Identities, Citizenship, Equalities and Migration Centre). He is also an associate member of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre (London) and a member of the scientific committee of the ‘Dossier Statistico Immigrazione – IDOS’ (Italy). He is editor in chief of the Journal, Social Policy and Society.

Header Image Credit: Wikimedia


D’Angelo, Alessio 2023. ‘The fortress and the garden: borders and civic stratification in Europe and Britain’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (2):

Editorial: Immigration, Off-Shoring and Resettlement – the lived realities of Britain’s hostile environment

Louise Ryan

This issue of Discover Society brings together discussions of groups who are often considered separately, in order to explore how anti-immigration policies and discourses operate across and within national and ethnic groups.  The authors are all leading researchers and thinkers in their field and use empirical evidence to bring novel insights into this timely and highly topical social issue.

Linking the Windrush scandal, Brexit, asylum regulations and recently proposed ‘off-shoring’, the papers offer a searing critique of how immigration policies are impacting on migrants across a wide range of ethnic, racialised and national groups, as well as impacting on wider society including the UK economy.

The special issue begins with Brad Blitz’s analysis of Off-Shoring policies and critical assessment of how such policies have failed to work when previously implemented by Australia and Israel. Next, Alessio D’Angelo examines the inter-play between the UK and wider EU immigration policies as fortress Europe is invoked once again.  Both these papers demonstrate how deals with other countries are being used to detain and deter migrants from reaching British shores and making asylum claims in this country.

Turning to migrant experiences in the UK, Louise Ryan, Maria Lopez and Alessia Delceggio draw upon their on-going research with Afghans who were dramatically evacuated from Kabul airport in 2021, to assess how the much promised ‘Warm Welcome’ is being developed in practice. As thousands of Afghans still remain in temporary hotel accommodation, they, consider how these refugees will manage in the current cost-of-living crisis.  Sticking with the theme of migrant experiences, Umut Erel, Don Flynn, Erene Kaptani, Maggie O’Neill and Tracey Reynolds reflect on the lived realities of those who have no recource to public funds.  Drawing upon their theatre-based workshops with women migrants, they consider how the hostile environment is negotiated on a daily basis by families who have no access to public funds.

Several papers examine the fundamental contradictions at the heart of immigration policies, as migrants are vilified as ‘invading swarms’, while simultaneously providing much needed labour in the UK economy. Bringing together analysis of Brexit and the Covid Pandemic, Anna Gawlewicz, Kasia Narkowicz and Sharon Wright discuss the vital role played by Polish migrant workers, especially in health care. While their contribution as ‘key workers’ was applauded during the lockdown, their immigration status became uncertain and contested in the post-Brexit context. Tens of thousands of unfilled vacancies within UK health and social care cannot be disconnected from the impact of Brexit.

In recent years, Albanians have emerged as one of the most vilified groups of migrants entering the UK. The paper by Iraklis Dimitriadis uses demographic data to examine the complex and contradictory positioning of Albanians in immigration rhetoric. Although over 100,000 Albanians are settled in the UK, having arrived as EU citizens from other member states before Brexit, negative stereotypes of criminal gangs, people traffickers and drug smugglers continue to shape the public imagination.  The ways in which hostile policies and negative public discourses can impact even on seemingly settled communities is also powerfully revealed through the Windrush scandal. In their paper, Tracey Reynolds, Dave Hockham and Pamela Franklin use rich qualitative data from focus groups with older Caribbean-born residents in London, to show the impact of the Windrush scandal on the everyday realities of people who have lived in the UK for most of their lives. Moreover, Reynolds et al, also show how, as the years go by, the government is pulling back from the promised compensation schemes.

Together, these papers demonstrate the growing hostility towards migrants, including long term residents, as well as recent arrivals. Once again, we see, that as governments come under pressure in difficult economic times, migrants become an easy scapegoat to blame for societal ills. In the run up to the next general election, it is important for researchers to use informed debate and empirical evidence to challenge the negative and inaccurate portrayal of migrants in political and media discourses. This special issue grew out of a symposium hosted by the British Sociological Association in January 2023: Sociological Perspectives on Migration and the Hostile Environment.

Louise Ryan is Senior Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre at London Metropolitan University. She has been researching migration for over twenty years and during that time has published numerous highly cited articles in leading international journals. In 2015 she was awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences for her contribution to migration research. Her books include Gendering Migration (with Webster, 2008), Migrant Capital (with Erel and D’Angelo, 2015) and her most recent monograph is Social Networks and Migration (2023). Louise is currently chair of the British Sociological Association.

Header Image Credit: S.T.A.R.S Adobe Stock


Ryan, Louise 2023. ‘Editorial: Immigration, Off-Shoring and Resettlement –  the lived realities of Britain’s hostile environment’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (2):

Out of sight, offshore, and over there: a disturbing ambition in UK asylum management

Brad K. Blitz

On 13 April 2022 the UK Government agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership with the Government of Rwanda. This included a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for an asylum partnership arrangement. The central aim of the MoU is to provide a mechanism for removing asylum-seekers from the United Kingdom to Rwanda where they will be permitted to apply for asylum in Rwanda, and not the UK.

This experiment in offshore asylum management has antecedents, to varying degrees, in other settings, including in Australia, Israel, and the USA. Overwhelmingly, these experiments have met with failure. In spite of this evidence, the UK aims to contract out the task of asylum to developing states, including Rwanda, as heralded by the March 2023 Illegal Migration Bill. This article seeks to examine the development of current UK policy against this backdrop.

Experiments in Offshore Asylum Management

The introduction of restrictive immigration partnership agreements is not new. The EU-Turkey ‘deal’ of 2016 precipitated the creation of asylum processing centres or hot spots, some of which became long-term detention centres. The island of Lesbos, in particular, housed thousands of asylum-seekers who lingered in sub-standard conditions where they routinely saw their rights abused. More relevant to the Rwanda model, however, is the creation of asymmetric, development partnerships, most notably in Australia, where the phrase ‘stop the boats’ was coined.

Australia famously introduced the Pacific model whereby boat migrants would be detained on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing.  While many arrivals were from refugee-producing states including Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar, Australia contracted out any responsibility for them, and militated to prevent them from entering Australia. The Pacific experiment also had devastating consequences for the wellbeing of the detained asylum-seekers and their families.

In Nauru, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recorded mental health suffering among the worst it had ever seen and reported that children as young as nine were found to have suicidal thoughts, committed acts of self-harm or attempted suicide. Following reports from whistle-blowers, the centre on Manus Island was closed, and residents left in precarious conditions in Papua New Guinea.  The model, though discredited, has left 6 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, and 92 held in Papua New Guinea – mostly in Port Moresby.

In the USA, immigration policy under former President Trump was characterised by a series of policies inspired by the Australian model, but with some notable differences. Much has been written on the Remain in Mexico program, where asylum-seekers would stay in Mexico while their claims were heard by US courts. More relevant, however, were the bi-lateral security programmes that emphasised containment.

Using the threat of heavy tariffs on exports and remittance fees which would disadvantage hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, the US government strong-armed the Guatemalan government to enforce US immigration and asylum policies by means of a new international agreement.  The US government unilaterally designated Guatemala a ‘safe third country’ in July 2019 and pressed it to process asylum applications for nationals from Honduras and El Salvador.  Under this agreement, nationals of those two countries must apply for — and be denied — asylum in Guatemala before they can apply for asylum in the USA.  In a similar vein, Guatemalans need to apply for and be denied asylum in Mexico before they can apply for asylum in the USA.

The rhetoric behind the US and Australian policies is remarkably similar to that used by the UK government now. The former US president suggested that this policy signalled a way to ‘put the coyotes and the smugglers out of business’ and to ‘provide safety for legitimate asylum-seekers, and stop asylum fraud and abuses system (sic)’. In practice, it turned Guatemala into a major receiving state, while thousands of its own citizens sought sanctuary in the USA, leaving some to challenge the notion of Guatemala as a safe third country. 

Indeed, the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council recorded that Guatemala remained ‘among the most dangerous countries in the world,’ and was plagued by organised crime, gender-based violence and has an ‘alarmingly high murder rate’. Moreover, like Rwanda, human rights authorities argued that Guatemala has an ‘embryonic’ asylum system characterised by a shortage of lawyers and a small presence of UNHCR staff.

With respect to Rwanda, the most important prior example is the tried, tested, and unsuccessful experiment led by Israel.  After initiating a voluntary departure programme, Israel concluded agreements with Rwanda and Uganda, to remove refused asylum seekers, again with the promise of documentation and access to the asylum system in the receiving state. Yet, Amnesty concluded that such promises were empty, and that these former deportees were only given a temporary migration status which left them at risk of detention, unable to work, and at risk of refoulement to their country of origin. Research conducted by Shahar Shoham, Liat Bolzman and Lior Birger found that returnees were denied the opportunity to apply for asylum in Rwanda. Not surprisingly, the deportees opted to leave.

The UK Context

The introduction of a MoU between the governments of the UK and Rwanda, raised many initial questions, not least, why Rwanda, a country with limited experience of asylum?  UNHCR figures up to 2021, recorded just 204 applications submitted in the previous year. Data on refugee status determination was even less impressive: in 2019, some 62 individuals were granted refugee status, while 124 were refused. Out of 24 appeals, only 2 saw their decisions corrected.  A slightly improved number received refugee status in 2020: out of 489 decisions, 285 individuals were recognised as refugees (58%).

The small number of successful asylum applications raised further questions, when considered against the 127,369, people of concern as reported by UNHCR for 31 May 2022. In the context of Rwanda, the greatest trend in refugee protection has not been asylum, but rather the return of tens of thousands of Burundians, further to a voluntary repatriation agreement between Rwanda, Burundi and UNHCR, which was restarted in 2021.

Other returns have also outpaced the number of successful applications for asylum. We note in particular the trend in resettlement to third countries: some 260 Eritreans and others from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, have been resettled from Rwanda mostly to Sweden, and just over a quarter to Canada. A small number were sent on to Norway, France and Belgium.

In spite of this track record, the MoU sets outs ambitions for the expansion of the Rwandan asylum system, which though improving, remains underdevelopment. The Rwandan government has insisted that deportees from the UK would be well treated and given opportunities to seek asylum. It also promised that upon receiving refugee status, refugees would be eligible to secure jobs including in the government. Yet, a quick review of the Country Policy and Information Note (May 2022), which contains notes on Home Office visits and interviews with Rwandan authorities, records that to date asylum-seekers have only been offered temporary protection, renewable after three months. They do not have the right to work, but rather to apply for a jobseeker visa.

The UNHCR and refugee support organisations criticised the UK government, over the lack of guarantees including in the MoU, and noted that transferring states still had obligations over refugees sent on to third countries, at the very least ensuring respect for the principle of non-refoulement. The UNHCR further added:

‘Arrangements should be aimed at enhancing burden- and responsibility-sharing and international/ regional cooperation and should not result in burden-shifting. Such arrangements need to contribute to the enhancement of the overall protection space in the transferring State, the receiving State and/or the region as a whole. Transfer arrangements would not be appropriate where they represent an attempt, in whole or part, by a 1951 Convention State party to divest itself of responsibility; or where they are used as an excuse to deny or limit jurisdiction and responsibility under international refugee and human rights law.’

The UNHCR concluded that the arrangement failed to meet these standards and specifically found that it ‘did not contribute to burden- and responsibility-sharing, nor enhance international cooperation or enhance the protection space in any State’.

In spite of widespread criticism, in spring 2022, the Home Office under the direction of the former Home Secretary Priti Patel, accelerated the Rwanda removal project. The Home Office issued Removal Directions for 14 June 2022, and a charter flight managed by Privilege Style was waiting on the tarmac. The prospect of removal looked imminent. Last minute legal interventions had proven unsuccessful: the High Court had refused the applicants’ request for interim relief, and the Court of Appeal also rejected an application to appeal against the initial decision.

The UK government was ultimately blocked following an application for Rule 39 (interim measures) by the European Court of Human Rights in N.S.K. v. the United Kingdom (application no. 28774/22), (formerly K.N. v. United Kingdom) and following an appeal from the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, Siobhán Mullally.  However temporary, the decision from Strasbourg was a crucially important victory for both the Iraqi appellant, and the other asylum-seekers who were due to follow him onto the deportation flight to Kigali. Their removal was then stayed by additional last-minute injunctions by the Court of Appeal and Upper Tribunal, and, to date, none of the targeted asylum-seekers has been removed to Rwanda.

The decision by Strasbourg also allowed for the possibility of further judicial review and set a timeline that there should be no removals until three weeks after the conclusion of domestic proceedings, which have continued in the intervening months.  On 19 December 2022, the High Court ruled that the removal plan was lawful. Lord Justice Lewis and Lord Justice Swift ruled that the decision itself was lawful since the Home Secretary had conducted a “thorough examination” of “all relevant generally available information”. In so doing, the court set aside the substantive criticisms made by the UNHCR, Asylum Aid and Care4Calais.  

Since the December 2022 decision, the prospect of removals has been incorporated into the Illegal Migration Bill which increases the state’s powers over detention, the housing of unaccompanied children including in hotels, reduces protections for migrants to seek bail, and as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) notes, strips out almost all protections for victims of modern slavery and trafficking who are targeted for removal.  Most important, in the absence of functioning resettlement schemes, the Bill effectively bans the right to seek asylum in the UK, in favour of third country agreements.

New Directions, Hardened Attitudes

In addition to the Rwanda arrangement, the UK has reportedly explored similar agreements with Peru, Paraguay and Belize.  While Rwanda has made recognised progress on matters of asylum, Paraguay has only recently adopted a comprehensive law on asylum while Peru has passed a range of legislation, some of which would severely restrict the rights of the over half a million asylum-seekers on its territory. The UNHCR records that in the first six months of 2022 the Peruvian Congress passed 14 bills into law, six of which sought to amend the Migration Law (Legislative Decree No. 1350) and curtail the right to housing, and permit immediate expulsions and restrictions to work, among others; though other bills would provide greater access to justice and protection for women and girls’ survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.  Belize, which houses just 4000 asylum-seekers, many of whom have waited 10 years for their applications to be decided, rejected the UK’s offer.

With the introduction of the Illegal Migration Bill, the UK government has signalled its willingness to row back from its existing human rights commitments (see also contributions by D’Angelo, Erel et al and Reynolds et al, in this special issue). Specifically, the Bill disapplies Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and commits only to complying with the European Convention on Human Rights, ‘so far as it is possible to do so’. Immigration and asylum experts have scrutinised the draft legislation, and reported multiple threats to the Rules-Based International System. The suggestion that the UK is not only prepared to remove asylum-seekers to Rwanda, but potentially also to states in Latin America which have even worse human rights records, should set alarm bells ringing. In the case of Rwanda, the suggestion that the UK can pass off its responsibility to receive and review asylum claims, further suggests a dereliction of the duties expected of a liberal democratic state.

Brad Blitz received his Ph.D. from Stanford University and is a Professor of International Politics and Policy at University College London Institute of Education, and Head of the UCL Department of Education, Practice and Society. Until June 2019 was Director of the British Academy/DFID Programme on Modern Slavery. His research focuses on displacement, governance and human rights.

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Blitz, Brad K. 2023 ‘Out of sight, offshore, and over there: a disturbing ambition in UK asylum management’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (2):

Editorial: Woman, Life, Freedom

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi

Iranian women have been struggling for freedom and equality for almost 150 years. The recent killing of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Zhina (Mahsa) Amini by the so-called “morality police” for allegedly not wearing the compulsory Islamic hijab “properly” has ignited ongoing waves of protests in Iran and around the world. The country’s fearless women and girls have been chanting Women, Life, Freedom and leading the fight for change. Women and girls in Iran have been burning their forced hijab as a symbolic gesture of their insistence on gaining freedom. Women around the world (particularly politicians and celebrities) have been cutting their hair to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran.

This special issue of Discover Society explains the current protests in Iran from different angles. In the first article, I explain the characteristics of these protests and argue that they contribute to a democratic system within which everyone is treated equally regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and class. The second article by Nadia Aghtaie examines how the morality police In Iran deprive women from making free choices and constitutes a form of violence against women.

The third article by Atlas Torbati explores the role of generation Z as the driving force behind the current protests in Iran. It explains how young people question the Islamic state by organising and holding mass street protests even in the face of deadly crackdowns. The fourth article is by Zahra Tizro exploring how the politics around the Hijab has involved trauma for Iranian women through Iranian history.

The article by Farshad Kashani examines the Iranian legal system in relation to the hijab. It describes how the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a legal crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran. The final article by Mastoureh Fathi examines a new notion of home, which she calls “the virtual home”. She argues how the current protests in Iran leads to “the virtual home” as a unifying shared space that enables Iranians outside the country to become closer to those inside, and reattached their broken ties to the homeland.

Welcome to our virtual Iranian home.

Discover Society is pleased to feature the illustrations of Roshi Rouzbehani as the header images for this series of articles. Roshi is, an Iranian freelance illustrator based in London, UK.  She is passionate about gender equality and puts women’s empowerment and sisterhood at the centre of her work. We thank her for allowing us to use her images for which she holds the copyright.

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi, is a researcher and visiting lecturer at City, University of London. Her PhD thesis is about “the perspectives of Iranian feminists and women activists on their political identities and priorities”. Twitter: @Pardisasadi1


Asadi Zeidabadi, Pardis 2023 ‘Editorial: Woman, Life, Freedom’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Virtual home as a space of unity

Mastoureh Fathi

In the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini’s murder, an ontological question that was asked repeatedly was “Where is home for Iranian migrants is and what significance the homeland has for them?” The atrocities of the Iranian regime that followed this murder, through imprisonment of thousands, torture and execution of those who were arrested soon posed serious questions about identity and how Iranians living outside Iran identified themselves with their country of origin.

Since the 1979 Revolution, Iranian migrants, or what is generically called ‘the Iranian diaspora’ have been portrayed as infidels or spies by the Iranian regime’s officials. This portrayal separated Iranian migrants into groups and individuals, which interestingly also impacted on conducting research with Iranian migrants outside the country (Fathi, 2017). In this short piece, I discuss a new notion of home, facilitated through the virtual world, that is different to a home that migrants make in migration processes and one that is distinctive from a homeland. ‘The virtual home’, here is a shared space of emotions that unite people through sharing similar expressions in the virtual world.

Virtual home as a space of unity, I propose has been the moving motor of the Zan, Zendegi, Azadi (Woman, Life, Freedom) Revolution in 2022. Before moving on to discuss it, I need to differentiate between virtual home and two concepts of home and homeland in migration studies.

Home and homeland

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there have been several waves of emigration from Iran which created a large group of Iranian migrants dispersed in different locations (estimated around 8 million Iranians are dispersed outside Iran globally). This large group of people (equating to a tenth of Iran’s population) make the concept of diaspora an important theoretical and analytical aspect in understanding the current revolution.

The scholarship between home and homeland directs us to three main distinctions between home and homeland: temporality, geography and practice (time, space and action). Whilst home is being seen as a place of present (time) and one that is made ‘here’ (geography), homeland is mostly about the past and one that is ‘there’.  Of course, these distinctions are not black and white and the wealth of literature in sociology and geography and in particular the book, Uprooting and Regroundings by Sara Ahmed and her colleagues (2003) show that home can be multidimensional and fluid.

The reason for these distinctions between home and homeland, is that home connotes a larger concept than a house or dwelling which can also include the homeland. Additionally, it is a place of settlement and has material and physical aspects (it has a structure, objects, roof, different rooms, warmth and comfort, etc.), it is also about an idea where one feels a sense of permanency (Fathi 2022) and a place of belonging. Homeland, on the other hand, is referred to a place of origin, a place of birth, a geographical location from where a migrant has departed and to which the person may/not return. So the two have shared characteristics, but ontologically they are different in the literature: the former being favoured in migration studies and the latter in diaspora studies.

To reduce home in migration to the concept of homeland is problematic because home connotes positive feelings that do not correspond with all types of migrants’ experiences of homeland. For those who have no option for a return (see the vast literature on forced migration, in particular Brun and Fábos, 2015), homeland connotes a sense of pain and displacement. Here, homeland here becomes the opposite of home.

But this distinction in Iran, since the beginning of 2022 Revolution, has changed. There has been a united sense of community and of solidarity that has brought Iranians together and given them a shared sense of belonging. Indeed, Yuval-Davis (2006) argues that such a sense of belonging is provoked at the time of crisis. Here the belonging to a homeland became a significant identifier once again. This transformation in feelings towards the homeland has changed the above distinction between home and homeland.  But how has this been done?

Virtual home in the making

What has been staggering about this new notion of home was the subversion of homeland from a place of birth to a place that is occupied by brutal forces. Almost every single Iranian migrant I talked to believed that Iran has become an ‘occupied home’: The consensus was that Iran as a home has not lost its significance, but it has become a victim in the hands of the regime.

Imagery of occupied Iran includes increasing inflation, racism faced by migrants living in Iran (mainly Afghan), the destruction of natural resources and endangered wildlife, damage to the historical sites, and distortion of pre-1979 narratives (to name a few). These imageries were combined and contrasted through visual images about glories of the past particularly the economic boom of 1960s and 70s in Iran and juxtaposed to the stark realities of present Iran. Such powerful imagery was even depicted in artworks, music and cartoons. In this way, Iran as a homeland, became present in the lives of Iranian migrants, and the geographical distance it had from the countries where migrants live, was compensated by physical gatherings organised outside the country. For example, on 22 October 2022, tens of thousands of Iranians gathered in Berlin to protest against the regime, making this the largest gathering of Iranians outside the country since the 1979 Revolution (the image).

Various debates, short reels, films, music, art works, short writings and commentaries were and still are being produced on a daily basis and shared by thousands on social media. In this way, occupied Iran found its way virtually to the homes of Iranians inside and outside the country. In doing so, social media platforms played a significant role in organising such lines of thinking, by providing a space to facilitate expression of opinions and feelings that eventually mobilised hundreds of thousands of people.

Here, I would like to draw on the analysis Roger Brubaker (2005) on the shaping of diaspora. I use this in explaining the formation of diasporic groups to offer an understanding how dispersed Iranian migrants found a form of unity through the virtual world.  Brubaker identifies three particular characteristics in a diaspora: a) dispersion, b) homeland orientation and c) boundary maintenance. In my previous writings, I had dismissed this categorisation and argued that such characterisation can be problematic due to its emphasis on a centre. Particularly it is not viable to think of these categories when migrants’ migratory pathways are not from location A (homeland) to B (host country), and journeys are more complex.  However, in the last few months, I realised the importance of the sense of belonging that can be provoked with help of virtual world in reviving a diaspora group. I particularly find the second and third facet of this theorisation helpful.  

Firstly, Iranian migrants are quite dispersed. Almost one tenth of those identifying themselves with Iran live outside its borders and although the majority chose to live in English speaking countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia), there are large communities in other European countries: Germany, France, Italy, Spain. This dispersion has always stopped a coherent form of diaspora (such as Indian diaspora in the UK or Turkish diaspora groups in Germany) to take place. But this dispersion, was overcome by the help of virtual forums which allowed people to debate and share their experiences provided a space for these dispersed groups to come together. This geographical dispersion was also affected by generational differences. Some second or third generation Iranian migrants who were born and/or brought up in a country other than that of their ancestors also became active in pro-revolution and anti-regime protests.

Secondly, Brubaker discusses boundary maintenance that involves the preservation of a distinctive identity vis-à-vis a host society or societies. The brutality that was demonstrated by the regime in the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini’s murder, not only created a sense of belonging that was shared by the Iranians, but also made the Iranian communities seen as distinctively. This characteristic enables consideration of the Iranian diaspora as newly a discrete community held together by their unique active solidarity. The reinforced relationships of people during this time, cut across many long-standing differences among Iranian migrants such as those of political parties, religions, ethnicities as well as gender, class and sexualities.

It is true that restoration and maintenance of a homeland undertaken by a collective commitment would eventually lead to identity and solidarity of its members. However, the sense of belonging and recognition of the homeland that has reappeared after Mahsa Zhina Amini was a new phenomenon that was made possible through sharing feelings, expanding them and re-energizing the protests and activism outside the country.


My aim in this piece has been to draw on the notion of virtual home as a middle ground between home-in-migration and homeland. I have argued that the sense of belonging in the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini as a collective trauma was important in unifying an Iranian diaspora groups together. In this unification, however, the role and definition of homeland has changed. Homeland in everyday communications, art works, music and other means was portrayed as a place that was held captive by the regime. Returning back to the notion of homeland as a useful category helps in understanding why and how migrants’ identification with homeland reinstates a new form of identity among them.

I end with a sentence by Stuart Hall, “Diaspora identities are those which are producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference” (Hall, 1990, p. 235). The Iranian diaspora(s) are not at all similar to what existed before Mahsa Zhina Amini’s death. Her (and others) brutal murder eventually transformed how Iranian diasporas identified themselves. Some events have the capacity to change the mindsets of others. How home and homeland became reattached through the connections were made possible through social media and virtual ways. It is time to rethink the notion of home, homeland and the virtual world together and separate from each other. I suggest a rethinking of the sense of belonging in relation to virtual world is needed if we are to understand how new means of communication are shaping new forms of belonging.


Brun, C. and Fábos, A. (2015). Making Homes in Limbo? A Conceptual Framework. Refuge. 31(1): 5-17.

Fathi, M. (2017) Intersectionality, Class and Migration: Narratives of Iranian Women Migrants in the UK. New York: Palgrave.

Hall, S. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity, Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Belonging and the Politics of Belonging. Patterns of Prejudice, 40(3), 197–214.

Mastoureh Fathi is lecturer in sociology at Department of Sociology and Criminology, University College Cork. She has written extensively on gender, migration, home and identity. Her writings have appeared in journals: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies; Ethnicities; Ethnic and Racial Studies; Gender, Place and Culture among others. Twitter: @Mastourehfathi

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Fathi, Mastoureh 2023. ‘Virtual home as a space of unity’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

How did the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran? 

Farshad Kashani

Protests against compulsory hijab in Iran have taken an unprecedented form 44 years after the establishment of the regime.

Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution and the founder of the Islamic regime, said that the Islamic government was “an adaptation of the absolute authority of the Prophet Muhammad” and could “unilaterally cancel the religious contracts it has established with the people” or “temporarily prevent cardinal obligations such as Hajj when it is against the good of the Islamic state,” the issue of compulsory hijab, which is not one of the basic decrees of Islam, has been implemented and become a pervasive crisis for the Islamic Republic.

The compulsory hijab is a symbol of the innate obligations of  the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it was only enacted as a state law seven years after the February 1979 revolution.

Contrary to claims from many officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as Ebrahim Raisi, who have referred to the hijab as optional, it is compulsory under various laws in Iran. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic failure to comply with the mandatory hijab can be prosecuted and its scope has been extended to such an extent that. in extreme situations, issuing apostasy sentences (which can be punishable by execution) against the offender is possible based on the existing legal system.

The legal axis of compulsory hijab in the Islamic Republic of Iran is “the regulation of violations and punishments of retail clothing which if used in public could be deemed as offensive against sharia and or public chastity”, which was passed in 1986, seven years after the February 1979 revolution.

According to Article 4 of this Act , “those who publicly wear their clothes and makeup in fashion that is deemed offensive against sharia or public chastity, will be prosecuted in a competent court, and could receive sentences as outlined under Article 2.”

The Act imposes penalties, warnings and guidance, rebukes and reproaches, a sentence of between 10 and 40 lashes, and a fine. The compulsory hejab applies to all men and women of any nationality or religion in the land, sea and air territories of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Ten years after the adoption of the above mentioned, a complementary law was passed criminalizing the non-observance of women’s hijab and increased the punishment to imprisonment.

“Women who appear in public without an appropriate hijab are sentenced to imprisonment ranging from ten days to two months or to a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Rials in cash.”

The Act known as Islamic Penal Code  does not clearly define or specify the characteristics of what constitutes an “appropriate hijab”. However, according to the constitution of the Islamic Republic, instances of such ambiguity should be referred to Islamic written sources and, if required, at the next stage fatwas. 

Although some Shi’ite clerics such as Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, do not perceive the hijab as a compulsory Islamic requirement, other views which are the basis of action in the Islamic Republic, clerics consider the definition of hijab based on a wide interpretation which emphasizes the necessity of covering the entire body of a woman except their face and the palms of two hands.

In other words, exposure of all or part of the hair or any other body part, except the face and palms of the two hands, can be deemed as examples of the inappropriate hijab. Therefore, women who are not fully covering their whole body but face and palms of hands, can be charged.

Infiltration of compulsory hijab into other regulations of the Islamic Republic

The compulsory hijab, as a legal basis, has entered subsequent laws such as the Administrative Violations Act and the Disciplinary Regulations of Students in the Islamic Republic. According to the Law on the Investigation of Violations of the Office approved in 1993, the failure to enforce the compulsory hijab by government employees of the Islamic Republic of Iran is an administrative violation and fines can be heavy and include the possibility of permanent dismissal from government organizations.          

Although such violation is not deemed a criminal offense, due to the criminality of not complying with the compulsory hijab itself, the Administrative Code Investigation Board shall send the case of the offending employee to the judiciary system. Even if the judiciary does not convict the individual for the offense, the ruling of the Administrative Violations Investigation Board will not be overruled.

According to the disciplinary regulations of students of the Islamic Republic of Iran approved in the Council of Cultural Revolution in 1995, which is a legislative body outside parliament and the Constitution  Law, fines for not observing the compulsory hijab and appropriate attire enforced by the regulations, can include suspension from studying for up to two and a half years, but the offending case is also sent to the judiciary system in order to be prosecuted.

According to Iranian law, appropriate hijab should be observed in any public environment and failure to do so even if the offender attempts to conceal will not affect the court’s verdict. This is why removing a headscarf in a car, even though it is in privacy, is a criminal act and can be prosecuted. The same goes for not wearing a compulsory hijab at private parties. According to the Iranian law, it is a public environment because of the presence of  unrelated persons, whether women or men (known as non-mahrams in the Islamic term) at the party, and women should observe the appropriate hijab guidelines.

The militias of the Basij force and the police are considered the enforcers of the regulation around hijab, based on a legislation passed in 1990, and have the duty to arrest and file a case against the offenders if they observe violation of compulsory hijab even at a private party or receive reports from two witnesses to a party.  

The same goes for the prosecution of retailers who trade attire deemed “in violation of the appropriate hijab” under “The Act on how to deal with violations and punish sellers of clothes whose use in public is against Sharia or imposes fines on public modesty” (1986).

According to the Act, the Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran or Disciplinary Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran, abbreviated as FARAJA (previously NAJA), the General Directorate for Combating Social Corruption is specifically the arm that enforces and fights against offenses involving violations from hijab mandates. 

Hijab related crimes have a wide scope and can go all the way to apostasy

Resistance against an arrest by hijab law enforcement agents, including the Morality Police, under Article 607 of the Islamic Penal Code is considered “defiance of the order of a state officer”, and if the offender or accused resists arrest and detention, they have in fact committed numerous crimes and will receive a judgments and be punished accordingly.

Hijab related crimes can be tried in both criminal courts and the Islamic Revolutionary Court.  In accordance with Article 5 of the Law on the Establishment of General and Islamic Revolutionary Law courts, all offenses against sovereignty of the state or moral corruption are within the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Court.

During the interrogation and investigation phase, if the Prosecutor’s Office determines the hijab related crime was deliberated in order to morally corrupt the Islamic state and in violation of Islamic values, the offender will be tried in the Revolutionary Court instead of the criminal court.

If the court determines that the offender has antagonistic motives, such as encouraging others to commit the same offense or propaganda against the Islamic state, they will receive judgments in accordance with each of those offenses. In a wide interpretation of the law, if proven that the accused committed the offense, the judge can sentence the accused with apostasy which is punishable by execution.

Hijab related sentences cannot be appealed

Except for the death penalty, which must be upheld by the Supreme Court, in accordance with Article 232 of the General and Revolutionary Courts Code, there is no possibility of appealing the original court’s ruling to those convicted in hijab related cases, and the sentence issued by the original court is “final and irreversible.”

Hijab related offenses are deemed as ‘visible crime’ in accordance with current laws of the Islamic Republic, and those arrested by the authorities are automatically charged. If the arresting officer does not turn the offender in to be tried at criminal court, they have committed a violation of their duties. Once the accused is convicted in court, their sentence is irreversible which is, in fact, in contradiction with the Constitutional Law.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country in the world where hijab is compulsory in its territory and is imposed on citizens and enforced through the police, Basij militias and the judicial system. 

The deep humiliation caused by the imposition of such legislation that is found inadmissible by a large proportion of the country’s citizens, has now led the country to a critical point. 

Farshad Kashani is a jurist. He was the Editor In-Chief of Iranian Diplomacy. He has the experience of managing and writing numerous legal articles and opinions in Iranian and international media outlets and legal journals on the Iranian public law affairs, English and wails legal system. Farshad Kashani has a book about the P5+1 and Iran interpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its legal impacts on the regime’s future and is currently writing a book on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea. Twitter: @FarKashani

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Kashani, Farshad 2023. ‘How did the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran?’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

The Political Psychology of Veiling / Unveiling in Iran    

Zahra Tizro

The ongoing protests in Iran were predictable after almost 44 years of the government’s monolithic rulings on the compulsory hijab and women’s rights since 1979. This is when the Islamists took power and started implementing Sharia law and the Islamification of the nation. As a result, the role of women in the family and society, in general, and the compulsory hijab in particular, have strongly affected by a government which put emphasis on the ‘emancipatory’ role of religion in its Shia version.

The term ‘hijab’ in the literature is widely used to refer to the varieties of face and head-hair coverings in Iran from pre-modern times until the 1960s, it demonstrates the ambiguous nature of its usage on the writings centring on the topic in 19th and early 20th century. Indeed, the word ‘hejab’ does not appear in the Quran in the sense of the head-covering. Some contemporary Shi’i scholars by using the principles of justice and reason challenge the necessity for wearing the mandatory hijab and employ the major jurisprudential principles of ‘time’ and ‘place’ and not religious commands. They believe there is no notion of women wearing the hijab in the Quran, therefore, women should not be forced to cover themselves and they should not be punished either – its wearing must be optional (Ridgeon, 2021).

Other Shi’i scholars employ a far broader concept of hijab as dress code and argue that a Muslim woman’s character should not be made vulnerable to aggression and the lustful gaze of unrelated men, even in their imaginations, and hijab provides such protection. Veiling or hijab in this context is the tangible measure of chastity and modesty (effat/haya). Men are obliged to make sure their female members of the family observe the rule of hijab, otherwise, they are labelled as bi-gheirat or bi-sharaf. These ethico-legal codes of mahram’yat, veiling, gheirat-effat and punishment mechanism are all in place to control women’s sexuality and their conducts and misconducts. These discourses have powerful grip on women and men’s subjectivities and selfhood in a subliminal way that they own these discourses and behave in a way to earn the respect of the family and community members to protect their social relations (Tizro, 2012).  

The emergence of veiling as a key symbol of Islamic nationalism in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s project of ‘nationalizing’ Iran needs to be contextualized in the wider history of the country. In effect, it is the mirror image of the emergence of unveiling as the flag of Persianist nationalism in the earlier Pahlavi project of nationalization (Katouzian, 2004). This was itself a reaction to the dysfunctionalities of the Qajar and the Constitutional eras.

The imposition of veiling in the Islamic Republic led to the emergence of a rising struggle between women who do not wish to observe the compulsory hijab on one side and the morality police on the other. The emergence of the phenomenon of bad veiling or mal-veiling (bad-hejabi or shol-hijabi) can be seen as a symbol of all forms of dysfunctionalities and deformities resulting from the reverse social engineering of Islamification.

The roots of the socio-political crisis in relation to hijab can be understood in the intersection of the what Malinowski called the ‘context of culture’ and the ‘context of situation’. This is captured in the confusion of associated waves of identity crisis and confused preference structures of Persianism, Islam, Western modernity (Gohardani & Tizro, 2019).

A state of bewilderment and perplexity in the interaction with perceived states of belatedness prompts the translation of three regimes of truth into three projects of social engineering, namely, ‘Persianization’, Islamization, and Modernization. In this context the whole of social life is littered with examples of projects of reverse social engineering without considering the context and the social relations that are bound into it.

Generally speaking, the ‘question of women’ and the issue of the ‘hijab’, in particular, has always been, and continues to be one of the most divisive topics giving rise to many discussions amongst (and between) rival groups and ordinary people in all walks of life, often demanding new interpretations of the holy text by modern scholars. This is a far more complex phenomenon which surpasses the simple binary of traditionalists in support of veiling and modernists advocating the modernising of many issues relating to gender relations with both a symbolical and practical focus on the removal of the hijab.

There have been two significant historical trends of women’s veiling and unveiling, both were compulsory in nature and socially/culturally engineered while being formally imposed by the authorities in power at the time. Homa Katouzian  maintains that Reza Shah’s decree in 1936 on the compulsory unveiling of women “was tantamount to a decree in Europe at that time that would have forced women to go topless in public”. Katouzian’s observation is confirmed by an eyewitness, in the following terms: “Suddenly women were faced with having to go out in public unveiled. There were few options: either go out feeling “naked” or stay at home.” (2010, pp.219–20)

Reza Shah was led to believe the path to modernisation and reform of the nation passed through women’s liberation and emancipation in order to maximise their social and political participation and contribution. He used forceful measures to remove hijab and made it obligatory to appear without traditional face and body covering. Meanwhile, his son Mohamad Reza Shah continued his father’s reforms and under his rule more rights were granted to women, such as the right to vote, higher education, working even at the highest levels of ministerial, parliamentary and diplomatic rank. He introduced the family protection acts of 1967, gave the right to abortion in 1973 and enhanced a mother’s custody rights of their children while limiting polygamy and abolishing extra judicial divorce in 1975, among many other changes.

These revolutionary reforms, however, were the first dramatic encounter with modernity. They are interwoven with trauma and traumatic events with their features of being sudden, excessive, comprehensive, importunity, and irremediability can generate the sense of suspicion, fear, despair and resentment. Trauma creates rupture in the fabric of time and partitions it into a ‘before and after’ structure –  here before and after veiling and unveiling or before and after the Islamic revolution.

When Khomeini took power in 1979 many of these laws were abrogated, as a result of implementing Sharia law many of the rights were granted to women during the Pahlavi era were reversed, compulsory hijab was forcefully introduced and women’s role and place in the family and society were defined and practiced according to Sharia laws. While these sudden and fundamental changes were welcomed by some women, mainly those with a religious and conservative background, others were left in a state of shock, disbelief, rage and feeling deep injustice. Yet again, another round of experiencing traumatic events is repeated in a circular manner.

The force and energy behind the most recent women-life-freedom (Zan, Zendegi, Azadi) movement can be understood in the context of the lived experiences of many women who were forced to adopt a publicly cloistered way of life based on Islamic laws against their wishes. Also, at the heart of the women-life-freedom movement lies a wish to provide sanctuary for disadvantaged, marginalised and underprivileged individuals, communities and classes suffering from injustice and inequality. The protest against the compulsory hijab and gasht-e ershad (morality police) is only one of the manifestations of this movement against the discrimination and maltreatment of women.

However, in the spirit of hermeneutic of understanding and the art of overcoming incommensurability through understanding the radical others in their own terms, we should pay attention to all voices, forces and faces. The hijab as a social phenomenon is historically embedded and realized differently within diverse institutional arrangements. The meanings attached to the concepts and lived experiences associated with hijab are subtly but significantly different in both camps – for or against hijab. Those who favour it and support the government’s gender policies, in general, and the compulsory hijab in particular, argue that by de-sexualising women’s bodies, using hijab, women’s mobility and their access to the outside world were/are enhanced. They believe that the gender segregation policies, implemented immediately after the revolution at universities and work places, gave women and girls (most particularly from rural areas) greater chances to travel independently to other cities. This, in turn, had a significant impact in increasing the number of women graduates and women joining the workforce.

In this context, by endorsing hijab, women and girls from most conservative families were allowed to have better choices in life which could not be envisaged had it not been for the immunity, liberty and mobility that wearing hijab provides. Subsequently, by enhancing their financial situations their power, agency and status in the family and society have grown to a large degree, thereby emancipating these women in many ways.

In criticising the recent movement, some of the hardcore religious figures have put the blame on the previous government (of President Hassan Rouhani) relaxed policies in relation to ‘bad hijabi women’. When hardliner candidate Ebrahim Raisi won the presidential election, there were calls for tougher polices and punishment against those who do not observe the rules and regulations. Immediately after coming to office, a number of bills regarding population growth and family protection were conditionally passed.

These placed more restrictions on women’s reproductive health programmes such as the ban on antenatal screening tests and abortion rights. The budget for the centre for ‘inviting to vice and virtue and forbidding the wrong’ (amr-e be maroof va nah’ye az monkar) was increased and was intended to put more pressure on women and girls with poor hijab in public. Currently, the law in relation to hijab wearing is stated under article 639 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran:  Article 638- Anyone who explicitly violates any religious taboo in public beside being punished for the act should also be imprisoned from ten days to two months, or should be flogged (74 lashes). Note- women who appear in public without a proper hijab should be imprisoned from ten days to two months or pay a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Ryal.

Most recently, four months since the women-life-freedom movement started, Supreme Leader Ayatallh Ali Khamanei addressed the events and invited his supporters not to employ strong measures against women with lax hijab (or as he called it zaeif-al-hijab): “The hijab is a religious and inviolable necessity, but this inviolable necessity should not mean that someone without a full hijab should be accused of anti-religion or anti-revolutionary.” He advised them instead of using batons and violence against young people, whom as he said are under the influence of worldly temptations, they have to start articulating their perspectives in different shapes and forms (jihad-e tabeen) to reach consensus.

There is some speculation about how these comments would be perceived or interpreted by legislators and law enforcement, but there is a slim chance that the rules and regulations regarding hijab would undergo substantive changes as expected by those who demand reforms. This depends on different interpretations of what is perceived a ‘proper hijab’ by the legal system and morality police.

As both veiling and unveiling are the outcomes of reverse social engineering, lacking an adequate and irreversible level of emergent legitimacy and consensus, their corresponding institutionalized forms of Islamic and Persianist nationalism were beset by debilitating forms of dysfunctionalities. The focus should be on the urgency of reaching consensus on contemporary issues concerning Iranian daily life, more particularly, women’s clothing and their rights. For centuries, knowledge production predominantly was the terrain of men and their understanding and interpretations of the holy text and religious narratives (ahadith) about women had a profound impact on women’s lives.

Nevertheless, we are witnessing the emergence of competent Iranian female scholars producing significant and valuable scholarship in a range of scientific fields. Meanwhile, we need to offer a detailed and scholarly analysis of the workings of the religious orthodoxy. This can be achieved through rigorous research not in a combative way but with a compassionate spirit to explore the capacity of Shi’i jurisprudence to offer a more inclusive, pluralistic and flexible interpretation of Islam and engage more in this jurisprudential venture. Women’s voices within hawza ilmiyya (religious schools) should be heard and considered in order to offer a fuller, inclusive and dialogical approach. To establish gender equality in all walks of life, the riverbed of thought (in Wittgenstein’s metaphor) must be shifted.

A wholesale change in the structures of the dominant hegemonic masculinist discourse is required. We need to see the emergence of a society of “inside outsiders” inside the larger society who practice and believe in gender equality encompassing all aspects of life. Through ‘increasing the sites of resistance’ to privileged knowledges, women-life-freedom movement has the potential to offer polyvocality and a smooth emergence of viable alternative discourses embedded and rooted in the ‘Background’.

Zahra Tizro is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology University of East of London and the author of Domestic Violence in Iran: Women, Marriage and Islam (Routledge, 2012). Her research interests focus on gender and violence from a cross-cultural perspective. Twitter: @ztizro

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Tizro, Zahra 2023. ‘The Political Psychology of Veiling / Unveiling in Iran’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Iranian Zoomers, A Generation of Bravery, Hope and Invincibility

Atlas Torbati

In mid-September 2022, furious and impassioned protests spread across dozens of Iranian cities following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Protests inspired by the demand for personal freedom for women followed by the slogan, ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ erupted, from Tabriz in northern Azerbaijan to southern Bandar Abbas along the Persian Gulf coast, from Sanandaj in the Kurdish west to eastern Mashhad, the pilgrimage city and Iran’s second largest city. Tens of thousands of Iranians came out into the streets and many continue to do so to this day, despite the regime’s violent and deadly crackdowns and threats of arrest.  

For the first time many Iranian men have accompanied women, shoulder to shoulder, chanting ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘we will kill, we will kill the one who killed our sister’, demanding social justice and regime change.  The burning of headscarves is perhaps one of the most public and explicit rejections of the religious restrictions that are imposed forcefully by Islamic Republic upon women since its onset.  The inclusivity and diversity of these protests has made them distinctive compared to the previous ones in 2009, 2017 and 2019 and this is due to the participation of various people from different cultural, religiou,s class and ethnic backgrounds.

These protests were often led by teenage girls and boys and young women and men, known as Generation Z, studying at high schools and universities.  They demonstrated the bravest challenge to the theocracy in more than a decade. Iran’s Generation Z are born between 1997 and 2012 – known as daheye hashtad or the 80s (the 1380s of the Iranian calendar). They form only about 6 million of the country’s population of 83 million, and, to now, they have unarguably been among the primary leaders of the current demonstrations. In fact, a significant difference between the current and previous waves of protests has been the prominent role performed by the country’s Generation Z, also known as Zoomers.

Zoomers grew up more connected, better educated, and more socially active than previous generations. One of the most interesting and important characteristics of this generation is the sense of self- sufficiency. Unlike previous generations in Iran, they freely speak about their interests, beliefs  and disbeliefs, even if it crosses the red lines of traditional, societal and religious norms and practices. According to Jabbar Rahmani, an assistant professor of anthropology at the Tehran-based Institute for Social and Cultural Studies, “this generation does not adhere to idealism and ideological idealizations like the previous generation.”

The zoomer generation are “digital natives” (Csobanka, 2016) since they have had greater access to the outside world and have grown up submersed in the social media and internet. The international language of technology and hashtags have connected them widely.  Their key demand is social justice and achieving their fundamental human rights.

This generation have developed a great analytical skill through being actively present on various platforms such as Club House , Twitter, Youtube, etc to raise their voice and concerns and courageously speak out.  As a result, they tend to question and criticise authority and  do not accept and respect the patriarchal laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic such as the compulsory hijab. For instance a video of Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old You-tuber who was beaten to death on September 22, demonstrates her savvy understanding of the freedom enjoyed by her counterparts elsewhere around the world. She states “We ask ourselves why aren’t we having fun like the young people in New York and Los Angeles?” In a YouTube video, she said, “We are in need of joy and recreation, good spirit, good vibes, good energy. In order to have these, we need freedom.”

The massive engagement of this generation on social media has forced the Iranian officials to introduce the National Information Network, a domestic or “halal” internet apart from the international internet used by much of the world. In fact, Khamenei, in a June speech, pushed parliament to endorse a contentious internet bill, the Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Bill, also known as the Protection Bill. This shows a zero-tolerance policy toward anything considered hostile to the Islamic revolution’s identity.

However, the Generation Z have not limited themselves only to the online world .Through writing graffiti, preparing, and distributing announcements to invite the public to join the protests and national strikes to raise their profile outside of Iran. Another fascinating characteristic of this generation is the sense of responsibility to act collectively in strikes and protests. The similar style of posts and contents on social media, the use of hashtags and the twitter storms that they create, are examples of the strong sense of responsibly they have in order to grow and speed up this movement.

One of the most courageous performances of this generation is when schoolgirls refused to sing a song praising Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after an October 13 raid on a high school in Ardabil. This was a reaction to the death of Asra Panahi, a 15-year-old girl, who was reportedly beaten to death by undercover officers. In Sanandaj, schoolgirls burned pages of their textbooks containing a photograph of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. They also chanted “Death to Khamenei,” the  successor of Ayatollah Khomeini.

In Tehran, schoolgirls airbrushed a photo of Khamenei on a classroom wall and replaced it with a photo of Mahsa Amini. In Tabriz another group of schoolgirls stamped on a picture of the two clerics, then tore it. Following the slogan, “Clerics, get lost,” the students at Al Zahra University, a college for women in Tehran, made bonfires across the streets during President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit on October 8. These are just a few among hundreds of images recently shared on social media by students who are part of Iran’s Generation Z. Such remarkable moments show how courageous they are in the face of political oppression and violence while fearlessly risking their lives to amplify their voice for freedom and justice

However, this is not the first time that the Iranian Gen-Z appeared in public crossing the red lines and resisting the police. In 2016 a large crowd of high school students got together to celebrate the end of school year exams at a shopping mall in the west of Tehran. The gathering was dispersed by the police with tear gas and baton. The authorities’ responses to all these moments were criminal charges, suppression, and detentions, and more recently,  death by execution and a call for re-enforcing Islamic values such as compulsory hijab and increasing restrictions over social media and internet.  

This fear and repression is intended to disempower the Zoomers and is meant to scare them and drive them away from social and political upheavals such as the current protests. However, in Iran, Gen-Z continue to take to the streets in defiance, even organising their own marches against the brutal crackdown of the Islamic Republic. Their willingness to take risks and their sense of entitlement to social justice has spread the message of Woman, Life, Freedom across borders. It is important to say that their bravery has inspired the global community to support the movement through posting stories to bring attention to the oppression faced by Iranians, including extrajudicial killings and torture.

The unexpected participation of this furious generation might be surprising for some and even some authority officials, but in reality, many academics and sociologists had identified such a courageous movement for some time. A few years ago, Saeed Razavi Faqih, a sociologist, and former political prisoner provided an analysis of Iran’s socio-political situation called “The eighties [Gen Z] will pass everyone” and warned about  many of events and scenes that are taking place in the streets of Iran today.

His analysis was that,“this new generation has completely different demands, trends, and views and basically shares no common language with the managers and officials of the country’s administration.” While pointing out to the fact that these young people would start entering universities in 2020, he warned “as soon as they [Iranian Zoomers] become aware of their ability to influence and bring about change, this mass population ruling the universities in big and small cities will transform everything.” This issue has been highlighted by other researchers and scholars such as Zohreh Najafiasl as  a ‘deep generational gap’ (2019) which is defined as detachment and lack of  conformity of children from parents (Najafiasl, 2019) . In her view one of the most important features of this gap is a “sense of rebellion” against anything that is considered tradition by the youth” (Najafiasl, 2019; p.60).

Others consider this gap as the fourth driver of tension and a possible threat to the Islamic Republic’s values. Due to having a pluralistic view, the Zoomers will be hard to govern and their control will not be as easy as with previous generations. This generation is not the ideal Islamic youth that former revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had anticipated. Rather, they baffled the clerics with their western behaviour such as drug use, bizarre outfits, and partying. They are the children of social media who are resisting against the country’s decision-makers and no longer trust traditional media. Instead, they turn to foreign-based media.

However, in spite of years of warnings about the enormous changes and the social dynamics that the generational gap imposes, the Iranian officials have chosen  to close a blind eye to this issue and have refused systematic reforms or adopting any liberal changes and developments to acknowledge uprising Zoomers’ demands and requests. Instead, the Iranian officials are utilising resources and adopting hostile policies to enforce additional constraints on those who abandon the values of theocratic government. Calling the protesters isolated, corrupt and anarchist, the Islamic Republic ostracises this cohort and does not recognise the distinctiveness of their beliefs and behaviours.

Most of the Zoomers are disgusted with the unceasing systemic corruption, hypocrisy, and the general disastrous socio-economic situation . It is important to note that this new generation of Iranian youth are also nurtured under nearly two decades of economic sanctions and international isolation impelled by a nuclear program that Iranians increasingly question. They are hopeless and have no faith in a brighter future. Therefore, the current political upheaval is a great chance for Gen Z to seize the moment to directly oppose the Islamic Republic. Zoomers see no brightness in their future, even in the decreasingly likely event that the Iran nuclear deal is revived.

Some reformist experts such as Mostafa Tajerzadeh believes that in order to resolve this predicament, officials must review and reform many of the policies in accordance with the requirements of a modern society. However, other political activists with  secular views, such as Narges Mohammadi, believe that the Islamic republic is unlikely to comply with the needs of  modern society since  submitting to one demand would pave the way for extensive and far-reaching demands in the future. It seems that the Iranian government can neither completely suppress this new generation, nor it can ignore them. In fact, ignoring the Generation Z will only lead to further radicalization.

The recent executions of young men, and the sentences to death of many others, are the Islamic Republic’s aggressive response.  Majid Reza Rahnavar, Mohsen Shekari, Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini were executed recently for allegedly killing two members of the parliamentary Basij forces and wounding four others. All these young men were convicted of “moharabeh,” or “waging war against God,” and after expedited legal proceedings, were sentenced to death. Human rights advocates have emphasised the impropriety of the trials, dearth of legal representation, and the pervasiveness of “coerced confessions” as the result of the systemic torture.  

Although the outcome of the current protests is far from certain, one thing is clear, Iranian Zoomers are determined to bring change, have radical ambitions for their country’s future, and an influential role in shaping their history. They will have a very active role to play.


Csobanka, Z. E. (2016) The Z Generation. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 6 (2)

Najafiasl, Z., 2015. Intergenerational Gap: An Emerging Phenomenon in Iran. IAU International Journal of Social Sciences, 5 (1), 59–70.

Atlas Torbati is a lecturer on MA Understanding Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse (UDVSA) at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also a senior tutor at the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching the Theories of Gender-based violence, Groupwork studies, National and International Policies of Gender-based Violence and Social Research Methods. Twitter: @atlasi82

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Torbati, Atlas 2023, ‘Iranian Zoomers, A Generation of Bravery, Hope and Invincibility’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Mandatory veiling and morality police: an impingement on women’s liberty

Nadia Aghtaie

After the success of the 1979 Revolution, gender became a focal part of the revolutionary discourse. The State provided a perspective of ideal genders that necessitated the ‘emancipation’ of women from the Western culture and the redefinition of gender relations, which also entailed forced Islamisation and controlling of sexuality, especially women.

The gender model promoted by the State was portrayed as Islamic and, therefore, divine and non-negotiable. The ideal Islamic binary genders, specifically the ‘women question’, was located at the crossroads of almost all policy-making discussions that were soon implemented. All in all, gender as a system of inequality is now embedded in all aspects of Iranian society. In the last 44 years, those who have not performed the (hetero)normative genders in their daily lives have been somehow punished, threatened or excluded in one way or another. 

This is not to say that women were entirely liberated during the previous Pahlavi era. Women, mainly those from the working class or traditional families, were very much limited in their social mobility through legal and customary restrictions. For example, women could not travel or rent a house without the permission of their male kin (Moghadam, 1999). So, you could say that a lot of the post-revolutionary policies had their origins in the past. However, after the Revolution, the State not only systematically took women’s liberty away, but also justified its actions as sanctioned by God and hence irrefutable. Some of the resulting policies have been gender segregation in many public spaces, mandatory veiling and the creation of the morality police.  

Some people argue that the morality police in Iran, and the laws and policies that they enforce, such as mandatory veiling, constitute a form of violence against women, and that the operation of morality police and the way they treat women is wrongly justified using religious discourse. For example, among the most important religious obligations is the duty of Muslims ‘to promote virtue and prevent vice’ (amre beh maroof va nahye az monkar), and the State argues that this is precisely what the morality police is doing. 

One of the first signs of the State’s attempt to deprive women of their liberty and normalisation of violence was through a slogan, ‘either hijab or a smack in the head’ (ya rusary ya tusari). This slogan was shouted out in the demonstration protests after the succession of the Revolution by the conservative Muslims, which explicitly vindicated the existence of the morality police.

The view that women are vulnerable to immorality, the fear of female sexuality and their power to seduce men, which resulted in the enforcement of the hijab, has been justified by high-rank clerics using the verses from sacred texts. For example, Motahhari (1979) argued that the Koran has stated that ‘say to the believing women that they should cast down their eyes, and guard their private parts and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment‘ (Koran, 24:31). 

This statement has been challenged by some Muslim feminists and women’s right advocates. They do not perceive veiling as an obligation and interpret this verse differently. They suggest that the word hijab has not been used in the Koran; therefore, there is a requirement only to cover your breast and decoration. Also, it has been argued that this Koranic verse is not exclusive to women, and it applies to men as well by guarding their eyes to preserve their honour.

Another argument made by clerics, such as the founder of the Islamic Revolution is that the hijab protects women and removes them from the level of objectification to that of respectability and therefore, it is an obligatory duty. The fact that the State has enforced mandatory veiling in female-only spaces, shows that the aim has been to make hijab an inherent part of womanhood.

One of the primary duties of the morality police has been to patrol the streets of Iran to ensure that the nation, specifically women, is adhering to the rules of modesty. It is important to note that what constitutes as modesty and appropriate clothing have not been the same throughout the last 44 years. The laws and regulations in the Revolution’s first decade were more restrictive than in the second, third and fourth decades. However, even in the latter years when the State has been more lenient, in relative terms, there have been times when the morality police have poured into the streets and have clamped down on women’s clothing and appearance in public.

For example, in September of 2022, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Jina (Mahsa) Amini, was killed while in the custody of the morality police. It is important to note this is not an isolated incident. Jina was not the first to be beaten by the morality police and has not indeed been the last. The existence of the morality police has meant that the Iranian State in general, and men in particular, have gained more power over women’s sexuality which has contributed to the institutionalisation of violence against women. For example, Article 630 gives a man the right to kill his adulterous wife and her lover if he catches them in the act.

The State’s interference with women’s sexuality and clothing has not been exclusive to the post-revolutionary policies. In 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab as he perceived it as a sign of backwardness. As Haleh Esfandiari stated: ‘this was certainly a victory for women but a tragedy, too, because the right to choose was taken away from women, just as it was during the Islamic Republic when the veil was officially reintroduced in 1979’. 

Other arguments for mandatory veiling that the Iranian State has put forward are that women’s adherence to hijab is not only a requisite for a healthy society, the prevention of sexual harassment and strengthening the institution of marriage, but it also gives women respect and value. Also, there is a view that veiling has opened various avenues for ‘some’ women and has allowed them to enter the public sphere and gain mobility, especially within the context of Iran. Mehran (2009) suggests that the gender segregation policy and ‘purifying’ the public space through gender segregation and mandatory veiling were some of the main factors in increasing enrolment in higher education after the succession of the 1979 Revolution.

A lot of traditional families who did not agree for their daughters to move away from home and study at the university during the Pahlavi era because they were afraid of exposing them to Western culture, after the Revolution, they were willing for them to obtain a university degree and enter the employment sphere. The increased literacy rates in rural areas were especially striking after 1979. It is fascinating how the Iranian government has used Islam to proclaim that education is every Muslim’s Islamic duty, using the Prophet’s sayings to support this claim and weakening the resistance to educating girls which existed, particularly in the rural areas. In contrast, we can see the opposite in Afghanistan, where women have been banned again from entering secondary and higher education after the Taliban took over in 2021. 

It is noteworthy that the Iranian State endorsed girls’ education because the Islamisation of the education system in Iran would hopefully harvest generations of virtuous and devout women who would convey the culture and tradition promoted by the State to their children. Consequently, it was believed, they  would resist the peripheral pressure of Western culture. The State hoped that the third generation, those born after the Revolution, would be the ideal revolutionary models as they have been nurtured and taught under the Islamic State with no residue of the Pahlavi era in them (Khosravi, 2008). However, this has not been the case.

The young generation in Iran is not what the State was hoping for. This is clearly seen in the recent uprise where women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations. Even high school and middle school pupils have been ripping off their headscarves, standing on top of police cars and shouting slogans such as ‘woman, life, freedom’, ‘death to the dictator’, and ‘justice for Iran. Also, men have stood side by side with their female counterparts from different age groups and ethnicities for the first time.  

Two themes seem to emerge here: can mandatory veiling be seen as impinging on women’s liberty, and secondly, can morality police be conceptualised as a form of state-sanctioned violence? Some argue that the enforcement of veiling is a form of gender-based discrimination, as it requires specific dress codes for women that are not imposed on their male counterparts. This form of gender-based discrimination has a knock-on effect on how women are perceived by those in power and could limit their social mobility and employability, especially within public services. If a woman is perceived as deviant due to her appearance, she is likely to be discriminated against. For example, you will not be able to hold a job in places such as schools, universities, or the parliament, if you are not perceived as pious.

Also, it is argued that the imposition of veiling violates women’s freedom of expression, as it limits their ability to choose how they would like to present themselves in public spheres. There are other additional arguments, such as mandatory veiling can also limit women’s activities, especially within sports or limit their access to certain spaces. For example, if a woman is not properly veiled, she may be refused entry to certain buildings or may be subjected to harassment or abuse from members of the morality police or from other members of the community.

Overall, the laws and policies related to ‘mandatory’ veiling and other issues of moral conduct can create a climate of fear and intimidation for some women in Iran, particularly if they are perceived as not conforming to societal expectations. This can negatively impact women’s sense of safety and well-being and limit their ability to participate fully in society. Glorifying mandatory veiling through various concepts such as respect and safety and notions of women’s welfare does not hide the fact that non-compliance with mandatory veiling has entailed fines, whipping, jailed sentences and even murder.

Not everyone in Iran views the morality police or the laws and policies they enforce as a form of violence against women. Some may even see these measures as necessary for upholding cultural and religious values and as a way to protect the moral fabric of society. However, many other people do not support the enforcement of the hijab and view it as an impingement on women’s liberty. Adopting veiling should be a personal choice and not a state-mandated practice. Depriving women of making free choices and enforcing hijab is state-sanctioned violence and a form of ‘liberty crime’. 


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Motahhari, M. (1979) Nezam-e Hoghugh-e Zan Dar Islam (The System of Women‘s Rights in Islam), Qom: Sadra Publishers.

Nadia Aghtaie Senior Lecturer in Gender and Violence, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. Twitter: @DrNadiaAghtaie

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehan


Aghtaie, Nadia 2023 ‘Mandatory veiling and morality police: an impingement on women’s liberty’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):