Uprooted and Exiled: Experiences of displacement, learning English, and social exclusion in the lives of refugee Arab Muslim women living in London

Saleh, Nsreen. 2021. Uprooted and Exiled: Experiences of displacement, learning English, and social exclusion in the lives of refugee Arab Muslim women living in London. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Conflicts and wars in some Arab states have forced millions of Arab Muslim women to leave their home countries and resettle in other countries in the world. Before displacement, many Arab Muslim women experience the atrocities of wars, the dangers of flight, and the loss of their homes and countries. After resettlement, they still need to adapt to a new society that is culturally and linguistically different and to face the challenges of becoming socially included. In the UK, social inclusion is reflected in an ability and willingness to learn and use English and to access employment and contribute to the nation's economy (DIUS, 2009; Home Office, 2018). Yet, there are challenges and factors that inhibit refugees learning and social inclusion. Predominant perceptions of Muslim women associate them with negative stereotypes which often undermine their willingness and ability to integrate into British society. Along with that are prevalent Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments which affect refugee Arab Muslim women's intercultural encounters. Thus, this research study explores the three migratory stages, pre-migration, trans-migration, and post-migration (Fazel and Stein, 2003) of refugee Arab Muslim women, with a focus on their experiences of social inclusion in British society.

The study draws on postcolonial perspectives (Said, 1978; Spivak, 1988; Hall, 1996, Holliday, 2011) and Bourdieusian concepts of capital and field as theoretical frameworks. Both lenses illustrate perceptions of Western and non-Western people and cultures and relations of power in society, which affect the intercultural communication experiences and social inclusion of refugees.
This qualitative research adopts both narrative inquiry and ethnographic methodologies. For the narrative enquiry, life history interviews were conducted with three Arab Muslim women who came to the UK as refugees from Iraq and Syria. The ethnographic part was carried out in a women's learning centre in East London where I worked as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and Functional skills teacher. Within the ethnographic study, I used semi-structured interviews with four ESOL teachers, as well as ESOL classroom observations, and field notes.

Findings highlighted the challenges that refugee Arab Muslim women face when accessing ESOL provision. Some of these are related to cuts in government funding for ESOL, the lack of training to address special learning needs, and other factors related to cultural competence and ethnocultural empathy in classroom encounters. Research findings also revealed that, adopting a monolingual approach in language teaching, the underrepresentation of minority ethnic communities within ESOL teachers, the lack of proper training to promote fundamental British values, and the securitisation of ESOL through embedding the Prevent Duty have been factors that affected ESOL learners' well-being and English learning experiences. My research study also uncovered factors that negatively affected the participants' social inclusion in British society. These are related to Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslim women in employment and promotion opportunities.

This study sheds light on the lives of refugee Muslim women from Arab countries. There is no research, to date, that addresses their experiences of displacement, learning English and social inclusion and, as a result, these women remain alienated and marginalised from the society with their stories being unknown. Their stories provide knowledge that could help understand the circumstances that forced them to leave their countries and live in exile. These stories could alter predominant preconceptions and stereotypes about them. On a practical level, ESOL teachers and curriculum leads could benefit from this study to develop ESOL learning as it points to the challenges and barriers that many Muslim and minority ethnic women face. This could improve their intercultural experiences and capacity to learn English.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



refugee; Arab; Muslim women; ESOL; intercultural communication; postcolonialism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


31 May 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

27 Jul 2021 15:52

Last Modified:

27 Jul 2021 15:52



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