SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Daily life and struggles of asylum-seekers living in temporary dwellings within Europe
Location ZHG 004
Date and Start Time 28 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 1


  • Ziga Podgornik-Jakil (Freie Universität Berlin) email
  • Fazila Bhimji (University of Central Lancashire) email

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Short Abstract

The panel presents living experiences of asylum seekers housed in various forms of temporal accommodations within Europe during the 'refugee crisis'. Regardless of the conditions of such housing, asylum seekers develop daily practices to achieve agency over their lives and resist their containment.

Long Abstract

In the second half of 2015, it was impossible to overlook media images which depicted increased numbers of people entering the EU via the 'Balkan route' to claim asylum in predominantly northern wealthier Member States. During this period when increased numbers of people entered the EU via the 'Balkan route' and following its closure, asylum seekers were compelled to stay in the temporal zones, such as in organized camps, revitalized decayed buildings in Greece or Germany, and self-organized temporal settlements like the 'Jungle' in Calais. People residing in these zones of transition all shared a similar fate; they came to be located in 'temporal settings', which sometimes extended to several years.

The discourse, agency and everyday lives of refugees and asylum-seekers living in classical refugee centers and camps have been documented. However, there has been less discussion of the logic of temporal emergency accommodations and self-organized settlements from the refugees' perspective. The panel invites research papers to interrogate the following:

How do asylum seekers negotiate their lives in zones of suspension? How do they understand the notion of temporality? Can such accommodations produce affects of a 'new home'? How do their living conditions affect their perceptions of Europe? How emancipation from the camp is made possible? What bearings do their suspended ontologies have on kinship and social networks? How does such extreme temporality affect their relationships with others? How do children understand and negotiate temporal zones? What cultural meanings are produced? How is politics produced?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Finding agency within emergency shelters for refugees in Berlin

Author: Ziga Podgornik-Jakil (Freie Universität Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

The author presents the lives and resistances of asylum seekers living after the second half of 2015 in Berlin's emergency shelters, usually located in sport halls, previously unused buildings etc.

Long Abstract

Especially since the September 2015, when for few months between 500-800 people were arriving to Berlin, Germany, to claim asylum, the authorities of the German capital reacted by putting the latter into the improvised forms of accommodations. The so called emergency shelters for refugees were thus a temporal 'solution' to prevent homelessness of asylum seekers waiting to register at the State Office for Health and Social Affairs. A number was and continues to be located in sport halls hosting up to 200 asylum seekers sleeping on bunk beds, but other emergency shelter locations are found in schools, partly renovated previously unused buildings etc. Even thought these locations should only be used up to 6 months, the government of Berlin extended their existence until summer 2017, while not providing visible alternatives.

Conducting a yearlong thorough research in some emergency shelters, while also simply hanging out with asylum seekers living or social workers working in such dwellings, the author presents his findings on how housed asylum seekers make sense of their limited space and shifting temporalities. He is also interested in why, when and how resistances against such dwellings of ambiguous and temporal control emerge. What common needs and demands emerge from people living in different emergency shelters? Finally, the author asks if we can think of small acts of refusal, like not to eat provided food, or collective protests against the controlled environment of such shelters as political acts, even though they are not labeled as such by their actors?

The politics of food and hospitality: how Syrian refugees create a home in a hostile environment

Author: Robin Vandevoordt (University of Antwerp)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation describes the politics of food and hospitality in (emergency) reception centres in Belgium, by drawing upon ethnographic data on Syrian refugees.

Long Abstract

While eating practices fulfil a central role in expressing collective identities, they potentially turn into sites of contention when individuals are forced to migrate. By drawing upon semi-structured interviews and informal observations with Syrian refugees in Belgium, this article describes the politics of food and hospitality through which wider socio-political subjectivities are renegotiated. More precisely, I argue that three sets of meanings are crucial to understand the symbolic importance of food and hospitality, and the conditions under which it feeds into a series of micro-political struggles: a) the power-infused relations between hosting and being hosted or between giving and receiving; b) a sense of individual autonomy and dignity; and c) the revitalisation of collective selves. By putting these three sets of meanings into practice, Syrian refugees create intimate bubbles of homeliness that are often subversive to the hostile environment in which they find themselves.

Accommodation of refugee women: the inconsistent gendered category of vulnerable subjects and how it's challenged in practice

Author: Johanna Elle (University Göttingen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper gives insight into municipal reception camp polices and daily struggles of female refugees. It outlines the diametrical development between the policy discourse on the matter of gendered refugee admission and its implementation at the example of struggles along an women only shelter.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on my current ethnographic field work on gendered refugee accommodation policies and local practices as well as the agencies of supporters and refugees. It aims to highlight the simultaneity of a humanitarian discourse of refugee women which gets an extremely high level of attention and support on a medial and political level while getting completely demolished in a municipality administrative process which - in the end - results in a prison like facility for women in Lower Saxony.

Therefore the perspectives, motives and agencies of the women themselves and the locally involved politicians, administration, full-time and voluntary supporters will be examined and analyzed by an intersectional approach. The aim is to outline how different power relationships are extremely entangled and at the same time are instantly shifting and questioned in the daily life and struggles of female asylum-seekers living in temporary dwellings.

Humanitarian arguments of care and protection are being widely used and incorporated in the field of refugee accommodation and therefore play an interesting role in this highly dynamic nexus of gender and refugee politics on municipal ground. This line of argument of "vulnerability" and "protection" is being played out by many actors: Even in the highly restrictive administration's arguments, it is inflicting a structural framework which comes close to an imprisoning of refugee women.

Focusing on these inconsistencies which pairs up at the site of refugee accommodation, the paper is asking for the dynamics in which "vulnerable subjects" are constructed and produced and how this process is challenged.

Migratory narratives and emergency shelters

Author: Fazila Bhimji (University of Central Lancashire)  email

Short Abstract

The study traces the meaning of emergency shelters for refugees. Much contemporary scholarship has focused on refugees as actors and has been critical of the notion of refugee and 'bare life.' However there are fewer discussions of refugees' lives as it intersects with their physical spaces.

Long Abstract

The study explores the notion of emergency shelters for refugees. The concept of emergency shelters is based on the premise that refugees will reside in these spaces until a more permanent solution is put forward. This notion is misleading as the average life of an individual in such dwellings can be as long as 17 years. For example, the refugee shelters in Calais have continued to be in existence in various forms since 1999. Similarly, a resistance in an abandoned school, which was started by refugees in 2012 in Berlin, has continued to date. The iconic Hangars in Tempelhofer Park in Berlin were converted to emergency shelters in 2015. In this regard, the study explores and describes the idea of refugee shelters as perceived and understood by the people who have directly experienced such shelters. More specifically, the paper interrogates the types of refugees' narratives co-constructed within these dwellings and how refugees' narratives shape and influence their modes of dwelling in these emergency spatials. Much contemporary scholarship has focused on the notion of refugees as actors and has been critical of Agamben's idea of the refugee and 'bare life.' However, there are fewer discussions of refugees' everyday lives and narratives as it intersects with everyday physical and material spaces. Data are drawn on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations of refugees residing in shelters such as the abandoned school and the Hangars in Berlin.

A hole in Europe: memories of the camp at Patras

Author: William Westerman (New Jersey City University)  email

Short Abstract

The squatter camp in Patras, Greece was a transit point for refugees moving westward. Part 1 of the paper concerns material construction of the makeshift housing. Part 2, based on ongoing fieldwork, includes reflections and insights by refugees the author met, now living in other European countries.

Long Abstract

The squatter camp in Patras, Greece was a transit point for refugees passing from Greece westward from roughly 1994 to 2008. Located near the port, residents waited there while trying to jump aboard ships or ferries crossing the Adriatic or to hook up with smugglers who would assist them. The camp was homogeneous by nationality for most of its 14 years of existence, first created and populated by Kurds, who were then replaced by Afghans after 2001. At its peak over one thousand refugees would stay there at any given time.

This paper is based on two visits to the camp in 2008, shortly before it was razed by the Greek authorities. The first part of the paper deals with material construction of the makeshift housing, with a special focus on amenities: ways that the residents did what they could to make their dwellings more tolerable, if not commodious. The second part, based on ongoing fieldwork and subsequent email and phone communication, is more longitudinal and includes reflections and insights by refugees the author met, or those he met elsewhere in Greece who would later pass through there, and who are now living in other European countries or in some cases who have returned to Afghanistan.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.