Ontological Security, Identity, and Movement of the People: Barack Obama’s Syrian Refugee Policy

Yandry Kurniawan Kasim, Farina Chairunnisa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the United States of America’s decision to admit 10.000 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year of 2016 amidst potential national security concerns brought by the incoming refugees. Past studies on the United States’ policies of refugee admission mainly focus on the security and political interests, while this particular admission decision reflects a different interest consideration, namely the ideational aspect of the United States as a nation of immigrants. Through discourse analysis on the speeches and remarks made by government actors of the United States, this research offers an alternative perspective on understanding how the United States came to a decision that may not reflect traditional security interests but reflects its ontological security needs or its security of being. Using the framework of analysis offered by Brent J. Steele, this research finds that the United States’ awareness of its capabilities, along with past memory as a nation of immigrants and urgings from fellow international actors affect the United States in reaching the decision to admit Syrian refugees. This effort to preserve its identity, however, is still limited by security worries voiced by internal actors, thus resulting in the small number of refugees admitted as a compromise between the needs to ensure both ontological and traditional security.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-76
JournalMASYARAKAT: Jurnal Sosiologi
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • ontological security
  • Syrian conflict
  • Obama’s refugee policy
  • identity
  • people movement
  • nation of immigrants


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