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PAPER SESSIONS
Migration and minorities

Agency of forced migrants: Dealing with uncertainty in hostile migration contexts (session 1 of 3)

From
June 29, 2021 15:00
to
June 29, 2021 16:30
Replay
Organizers

Ibrahim Soysüren, University of Neuchâtel; Nedelcu Mihaela, University of Neuchâtel

Speakers

Niroshan Ramachandran,Edge Hill University, United Kingdom

Verena Hucke, University of Kassel, Germany

Lisa Richlen, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Tayfun Kasapoglu, University of Tartu, Estonia

More and more restrictive policies are put in place against movements of people who are forced to leave their countries. In this regard the European Union and European countries are particularly actives. 

However, despite increasingly sophisticated technological-supported border control, these restrictive policies and measures did not stop forced migrants to cross borders. People still manage to enter Europe and ask for asylum in the countries of their choice even though the European Dublin System defines criteria of countries where they should apply for asylum. If they are deported from another country in Europe, elsewhere or to their country of origin, some forced migrants come back and introduce again their asylum application. Others successfully fight against their deportation or they continue living as undocumented migrants in the countries from where they are supposed to be deported. Some others “prefer” to stay in another European country. Many of these migrants live for months and years in liminal spaces (Sutton et al. 2011), such as neighbourhoods, camps, or squats, where they wait to move forward or for future solutions.

Existing scholarship shows that in such hostile contexts and conditions, forced migrants struggle to find solutions during different phases of their migration journeys: to cross borders, stay or move in a (new) host country, claim asylum and get it, integrate in a new society, learn a new language, study, find a job, fight against racism or discrimination, and so on. With the support of informal networks, migration rights organizations, ethnic communities, civil society grassroots initiatives, as well as digital technologies, they still manage to mobilize resources and develop different forms of agency – i.e. the “capacity to make a change” (Giddens 1984). 

This session invites to reflect on agency processes and mechanisms in the case of forced migrants dealing with various forms of uncertainty: with regard to (im)mobility situations, legal status, economic precariousness, transnational families, home and host countries socio-political contexts, etc. Therefore, we welcome papers based on theoretical insights and empirical studies and aiming to explore different aspects of forced migrants’ agency in European countries and at various stages of migration processes.

SESSION 1: (LIMITED) RESOURCES

Living in Permanent Temporariness: A Qualitative Study of Asylum Seekers’ Experiences of Asylum Housing in Glasgow

Niroshan Ramachandran,Edge Hill University, United Kingdom

The term ‘permanent temporariness’ is used to refer to a ‘static experience of being temporary’ and the ‘acquired knowledge that such temporariness is permanent’ (Bailey et al., 2002: 139). In the UK, a centralised National Asylum Support Service system provides support to asylum seekers. Asylum housing, in particular, has been a mechanism to exclude asylum seekers from others within their new community, keep them under the state control, cast them as undeserving people and force them to live in difficult circumstances. Although asylum housing is supposed to be temporary – a place where one lives pending a decision on one’s asylum application – asylum seekers often spend years in a period of waiting. Their circumstances as individuals awaiting an outcome on their asylum application highlights the different degrees of state control over asylum seekers through housing and settlement process (Phillips, 2006). Using qualitative data drawn from interviews with 16 asylum seekers living in Glasgow –  a city that receives the largest number of asylum seekers and is also the largest dispersal location in the UK (Mulvey, 2015; Strang, Baillot and Mignard, 2017) –  this paper explains how housing creates a state of permanent temporariness in asylum seekers’ everyday lives and how they negotiate living in such circumstances. Findings show that there is variability in terms of time spent in accommodation and vulnerabilities linked to relocation, with asylum seekers experiencing a high logistic and emotional burden. For these individuals, asylum (temporary) housing has served as a daily reminder of temporariness and uncertainty that leads to their inability to effectively settle and prosper. 

‘It’s not easy living in South Africa as an LGBTI, especially if you are black’ – Dealing with bordering processes as a lesbian migrant women in hostile Johannesburg

Verena Hucke, University of Kassel, Germany

Lesbian women experiences are overwhelmingly overlooked in migration research. This paper takes this observation as its starting point and adds to the expanding field of sexuality and migration studies by shifting focus to lesbian migrant experiences in the Global South. Drawing on narrative interviews conducted in Johannesburg in 2019 and 2020 with lesbian migrant women who migrated from other African countries to South Africa and who could potentially apply for asylum on the basis of sexuality the paper argues that these women make visible social conflicts around mobility, rights, and social participation by actively reconfiguring multiple borders. The paper interrogates the narrative of the Rainbow Nation before examining how bordering processes are experienced and negotiated by lesbian migrant women and how these women develop agency through their capacity to navigate borders at multiple scales and in complex ways.

Ethnic Organizing as a Strategy for Dealing with Uncertainty: Darfurian – Sudanese Asylum Seekers in Israel as a Case Study

Lisa Richlen, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Western countries are increasingly reticent to grant refugees basic rights – including legal status – leaving them in situations of precarity and liminality. In the absence of access to services and legal rights, many turn to their communities for physical and other forms of basic support. One common mechanism for facilitating this is the establishment of organizations founded according to identity group, including ethnic identity. Indeed, this is the case in Israel where the Darfurian Sudanese community has established ethnically-constituted ‘community centers.’ In the absence of a viable future in Israel, in light of on-going uncertainty, and in a context where they lack basic legal and social rights, these community centers revert to strategies from the homeland which facilitate survival and belonging. They actively harness ethnic identity and the ethnic group to help asylum seekers to cope with and even overcome threats to physical and cultural survival in a hostile hostland. Initially upon arrival to Israel, community centers focused on provision of emergency and basic humanitarian assistance. However, over time and in the absence of a viable long-term solution in the hostland, they have increasingly engaged in cultural and linguistic identity reclamation. For many, these later activities represent a source of personal strength and pride. Arguably, this provides them with an important coping mechanism for dealing with the difficult Israeli reality. Therefore, this case study demonstrates that the liminal situation represents both danger and opportunity; danger, in that the community centers are a vehicle for providing emergency assistance, and opportunity in that they facilitate identity reclamation. As such, I claim that the ethnic group and ethnicity is a flexible construct that can adapt to the needs of the ethnic group over time. Furthermore, it is an important tool for managing (and, in some cases, actively overcoming) refugees’ liminality while also subverting and reimagining their relationship to the homeland. Indeed, community centers and the ethnic group anchor individuals within a liminal time and place. The findings from this ethnographic research are based on interviews with 52 individuals and attendance at nine events.

Contested Agency and Algorithmic Governance: Algorithmic Imaginaries of Refugees

Tayfun Kasapoglu, University of Tartu, Estonia

Algorithms may have different outcomes for different social groups. This study provides a bottom-up approach and rather than exploring the algorithms or relevant infrastructures, algorithmic imaginaries of refugees are investigated. Algorithmic imaginary can be understood as ‘the way, in which people imagine, perceive, and experience algorithms and what these imaginations make possible’ (Bucher 2017: 31). How algorithms are imagined has important consequences for how lives are experienced and governed. Refugees constitute one of the most monitored groups in society, yet the opportunities algorithms can provide can be of key importance for refugees. Based on qualitative interviews conducted with 19 Syrian refugees in Estonia (n=7) and Turkey (n=12), the study aimed to answer “How do refugees negotiate their agency concerning algorithms that govern different aspects of their life?” The agency is understood as what individuals can do, know, and control in contrast to structural factors such as the institutions, governments, and policies which can restrict individuals (Barker & Jane, 2016). However, the agency is not only about what an individual can do, but it is also about reflexivity: what a person can do with a specific intention (Mitcham, 2014) and considering possible actions and outcomes as a response to emerging and evolving situations (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998). The agency in this study refers to refugee’s reflections/negotiations concerning algorithms – potential positive and negative outcomes, suggestions on how to improve/change certain aspects of algorithms, and resulting attitudes that comply with or resist against algorithmic outcomes. We used 4 different types of algorithms as proxies to understand refugees’ imaginaries. The algorithms selected were; personalized ads and filter bubbles as they are relevant for every internet user and also police risk scoring algorithms and relocation algorithms as they are directly relevant for refugees. The study indicated that social context such as refugees’ host country may have an effect on refugee’ perspectives and lack of some opportunities may result in more positive attitudes towards algorithms. The algorithms that make suggestions for refugees were perceived positively in comparison to algorithms that restrict refugees’ agency and make important life decisions about them. Based on the refugees’ imaginaries, the study demonstrates the social power of algorithms and potential issues that may arise concerning the agency. Considering the agency of refugees as subjects of algorithmic decisions would democratize algorithmic processes and create more fair algorithmic governance.