EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Refugees, asylum seekers and 'irregular migrants' in Europe: regional and local responses

Location Chem LT1
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Eftihia Voutira (Macedonia University, Thessaloniki) email
Shahram Khosravi (Stockholm University) email
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Short Abstract

This panel examines different case studies from the North and South of Europe by focusing both on local practices concerning 'asylum' and the varieties of cultural meanings of 'refugees'.

Long Abstract

A person is a refugee from the moment s/he is forced to flee her/his country; vis-à-vis the host country in which s/he is seeking asylum. The fact that among refugees may be those people who are using the system to migrate, ie have unfounded claims, is irrelevant to the actual fears of those who are refugees. Anthropologically, the relationship between refugee experiences and bureaucratic asylum practices has been tenuous. European asylum policies have been progressively characterised by greater restrictionism towards non-European 'others'. There is ample evidence that the decreasing numbers of 'refugees' in Europe is the result of the increase in asylum rejections. Traditional asylum countries in the North are pushing the goalposts to the South. Ironically, these new host states lack both the institutional framework and civil society structures to deal with these newcomers on their way to the North. This panel examines different case studies from the North and South of Europe in exploring this irony by focusing both on local practices concerning 'asylum' and the varieties of cultural meanings of 'refugees'.


Are some people more displaced than others? The case of Greek and Turkish Cypriot refugees

Author: Lisa Dikomitis (University of Hull)  email
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Long Abstract

'Refugees' on Cyprus are technically internally displaced persons, but the local people are oblivious to the international usage when they refer to themselves as 'refugees'. In this paper I examine the various meanings that people on both sides of the divide attach to the label 'refugee' and how this reflects their experience of displacement.

I focus on two groups of displaced people whose link is a common 'place of desire', namely, a small mountain village in the north of Cyprus. The Larnatsjiotes are Greek Cypriots displaced from the village of Larnakas tis Lapithou in 1974. The Kozanlı are Turkish Cypriots displaced to this village, renamed Kozanköy after 1974.

The opening of the border in 2003 provided the opportunity for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots to visit their villages across the divide. At the same time, interaction between the two groups also gave rise to both internal and cross-ethnic debates regarding each group's experience of displacement, degree of victimization and current status.

Hidden Injuries of Displacement: a Greek Cypriot case study

Author: Peter Loizos (London School of Economics)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper uses qualitative and quantitative data on informant-reported health outcomes for two Greek Cypriot village cohorts, one displaced, the other not displaced. Supplementary data from a national diabetes prevalence study confirmed a possible link between refugee status and greater probability of cardio-vascular illness. Depressive illness also seemed higher among the refugee village cohort.

But the paper suggests why in spite of such illnesses, the Greek Cypriots have done rather better in health terms than the post-socialists of eastern Europe, 1989-1995, but argues that refugees in failing states may have much worse health outcomes.

The cultural construction of exile for Sudanese refugees in Uganda

Author: Tania Kaiser (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

Large numbers of displaced Sudanese aspire to resettlement in a developed country and the UK government has recently re-institued a formal resettlement programme from which small numbers of Sudanese refugees in Uganda have benefited. For the vast majority, however, Uganda is not a staging post but, by default, an exilic destination. Whether or not forced migrants are able to move on from their region of origin, displacement brings challenges to identity, socio-cultural norms and practices, livelihoods and the enjoyment of rights. The protection failures of the Southern host state hint at lessons learned from northern states restrictive policies and asylum practices. Based on ethnographic research with longterm Sudanese refugee populations living in settlements in Uganda, this paper explores refugees' struggles to make and maintain meaning in exile in ways that accommodate the social and political continuities and contradictions inherent in their uprooting and experience of asylum. It considers the kinds of explicitly socio-cultural practices - marriage and funeral practices, initiation and rainmaking - that may or may not be sustained in exile, suggesting reasons for such differences and exploring their implications.

'Illegal' immigrants and the Swedish media

Author: Shahram Khosravi (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

'Illegal immigrants' have recently become a hot issue in Sweden.

Statistics, personal narratives, and information about size and characters of 'illegal immigrants' appears in the media and circulate among politicians, journalist and even academics. There is often no reliable source for these kinds of materials. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented immigrants in Sweden I will present how the media plays a crucial role in this project of re/constructing 'migrant illegality'. Representation of 'illegal immigrants' is based on a simple dichotomy. They are illustrated either as 'victims' who deserves amnesty or as 'anti-citizens' who jeopardize the wellbeing and safety of the Swedish society. I will argue that how journalists by focusing on personal narratives of 'illegality', instead of looking at political and social circumstances which force immigrants into 'illegality', reinforce the official discourse on illegal migrants.

The reception of irregular migrants in Greece: views from a Greek-Turkish border island

Author: Jutta Lauth Bacas  email
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Long Abstract

Being one of the new host countries of undocumented migrants in the European South, Greece has experienced a growing number of asylum applications in the last decade. My paper seeks to explore the national and local responses to irregular migrants and asylum seekers in Greece. It looks at the national practices concerning political refugees and asylum seekers (according to the Geneva Convention) as well as the local responses to newly arriving undocumented migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos (situated on the Greek-Turkish border). Based on ethnographic fieldwork on the island of Lesbos, the paper seeks to investigate the local reception structure and local discourses and practices in regard to undocumented persons who managed to cross the maritime border between Europe and Asia Minor. (Fieldstudy based on a research project of the Academy of Athens, Greece.)

'Refugees threatened with deportation' and postmodern church asylum in Germany

Author: Hiroshi Oda (Hokkaido University)  email
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Long Abstract

This ethnographic study focuses on church asylum (Kirchenasyl) in contemporary German society. Church asylum after the middle of the 1980s means protection of foreign refugees threatened with deportation within the site of a Christian church community. 'Refugees threatened with deportation' represent a paradoxical and liminal category of humankind. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the meaning of church asylum for its practitioners from their own terms of reference in its social and historical context. Results of ethnographic case studies reveal that church asylum is a complex social phenomenon which contains the following elements: (1) a response of a local religious community to a (post-) modern refugee issue, (2) a questioning of state sovereignty over the acceptance and exclusion of a refugee, (3) a reinterpretation of medieval tradition and (4) hospitality based on a transnational imagination.

Legal plurality or social limbo? Property rights of Kosovar refugees/returnees in a local and Europe context

Author: Georgia Kretsi (Free University Berlin)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will focus on refugees/returnees' property relations at home as a significant field of reproduction of social inequalities within the power nexus of the local post-war society and the (inter)national politics.

Drawing on field research data from the Kosovar post-war society, the paper shall reveal the contradiction between normative provisions of international rulers in Kosovo for the protection of rights and the factual implementation of such protection. Although the 'international community' proclaims an active engagement for the rights of refugees and minorities in Kosovo, its restrictive policies against the same people within its own (west-European) territories indicate a lack of factual commitment to those rights. Adding to that, on the local level a plurality of non-compatible legal systems and traditions - including pre-and post-war regulations - fuel generalised confusion and arbitrary use of law by those local actors endorsed with power. As a result, social inequalities are reproduced and refugees/returnees turn out to be the primary losers of these processes.

The paper will discuss two indicative cases of refugees/returnees: Roma Internal Displaced Persons in North Mitrovica and -from Germany- deported Ashkali migrants in Fush Kosova/Kosovopolje. Their strategies, discourses and means shall be conceived in the context of their struggle to re-appropriate lost rights in a plurality of orders extending from local frames to international legal systems and political intentions.

Vernacularising international refugee law in Malta

Author: David E Zammit (University of Malta)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper aims to explore the role played by legal and political culture in shaping certain distinctive features of Maltese laws, policies and attitudes towards irregular immigrants and to explore the reciprocal interaction between government laws and policies in this field and social attitudes towards the state and its laws. In particular it will question whether the "legitimisation of law" (Suarez-Navaz: 2004) is happening in Malta and explore how vernacular interpretations of international refugee law and the selective, changeable and arbitrary policy stances adopted by official authorities intersect with and influence prevalent ways of constructing and imagining the national community, the government, its laws and the human subject.

Central to this approach is the hypothesis that the common thread which runs through the various laws, policies and discourses towards irregular migrants is an institutionally embedded disposition to treat them as collectivised objects of policy and/or charity and not as individual subjects of legal rights. More than being simply a straightforward reflection of Maltese legal and political culture, official attitudes to irregular migrants play an important role in defining and reproducing particular Maltese "social imaginaries". Examining the connections between official and grass roots discourses can inform us as to how the Maltese state attempts to construct its legitimacy by drawing upon the same moral codes and rhetorical tropes which guide the behaviour of people at the grass-roots level.