The questions of how life plans change in the face of war and how and why they influence refugees’ migration movements are not fully understood. On the one hand, war and displacement deeply interrupt and alter people’s previous life plans. Refugees, on the other hand, also develop coping strategies to deal with radically changing social realities and experienced trauma, including focusing on hope and aspirations for their futures. With Syrian refugees constituting a quarter of the estimated global number of forced migrants in 2019, Syrian displacement is key to understand complex migration trajectories in a protracted refugee situation. While 5.5 million Syrians fled to neighbouring countries in the Middle East and North Africa, approximately one million sought refuge in Europe (UNHCR 2019) and 6.1 million were internally displaced (IDMC 2018). The project SYREALITY focuses on Syrians who have settled in Europe since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Building on research from the fields of sociology, migration and refugee studies, and psychology, it investigates the questions of (i) how broader life aspirations and social class influence refugees’ migration decision-making and (ii) how their legal status and the context of reception in different European cities impact their life aspirations and well-being. The project builds on the project SYRMAGINE (2017-2019), which dealt with migration decision-making processes of Syrian refugees settling in Turkey and Lebanon and their imaginations of Europe. From an academic perspective, SYREALITY contributes to the literature on migration decision-making processes, drivers of migration, and the role of aspirations in contexts of displacement. SYREALITY is innovative on two levels: First, few migration studies have linked the insights from psychological research to the sociological literature on refugees’ migration decision-making to understand the link between trauma, life aspirations, and mobility. Second, the question which role socio-economic background plays in shaping refugees’ migration has not systematically been explored, whose economic resources and property have often been destroyed or exhausted as a result of war and displacement. SYREALITY will fill this gap by studying changes in life aspirations and social class belonging along flight and migration trajectories in a participatory, transnational, cross-national, and longitudinal way. Methodologically, SYREALITY will conduct fieldwork in four European cities (Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Athens), in which refugees will play an active role in data collection. It combines a survey covering individuals’ major life events and attitudes to migration; narrative life history interviews; and the drawing of maps of interviewees’ migration and daily itineraries through the interviewees to understand their changing nature of challenges, opportunities and migration trajectories over time.


Duration 26/01/2022 - 25/10/2026
Funding FWF

Department for Migration and Globalisation

Center for Global Competences

Principle investigator for the project (University for Continuing Education Krems) Dr. Lea Müller-Funk


Müller-Funk, L. (2023). Violence, life aspirations and displacement trajectories in civil war. International Migration, 61: 209–227

Müller-Funk, L.; Fransen, S. (2023). ’I will return strong’: The role of life aspirations in refugees’ return migration. International Migration Review, 57(4): 1739-1770

Müller-Funk, L.; Üstübici, A.; Belloni, M. (2023). Daring to aspire: theorising aspirations in contexts of displacement and highly constrained mobility. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, online first: online first

Müller-Funk, L. (2023). Chapter 1: Data Management (Version 1.0). Methodological Handbook SYREALITY

Müller-Funk, L.; Abusulttan, S.; Kabbani, M.; Karabajakian, I.; Omran, L.; Yahya, K. (2023). Chapter 3: The Qualitative Data (Version 1.0). Methodological Handbook SYREALITY

Müller-Funk, L.; Ghabash, W. January 2023. (2023). Chapter 2: The SYREALITY Survey (Wave 1). Version 1.0. Methodological Handbook SYREALITY: 1-81, Krems


Ambivalent involvement in humanitarian aid, civil society, and everyday humanitarianism in the context of Syrian displacement

Ambivalent Solidarities: Ethical commitments in contexts of dispossession, 26/03/2024

Daring to aspire: Violence, life aspirations and displacement trajectories in civil war

Migration Seminar Series UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University, 14/12/2022

‘You are locked up from the outside’: Violence, life aspirations and displacement trajectories in civil war

7th Biennial Conference on Migration and Integration Research in Austria 2022, 26/09/2022

The SYRMAGINE Survey: A Cross-National Survey in the Middle East

Surveying refugees and hard-to-reach populations in Europe and beyond: Comparing lessons learned, 02/09/2022

The difficulties were when you were cut off from the rest of the country’: Violence, life aspirations and displacement trajectories in civil war

IMISCOE Annual Conference 2022, 30/06/2022

“I will return strong”: The role of life aspirations in refugees’ return aspirations

International Studies Association Conference 2022, 29/03/2022

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