Photo: Cíntia Regina, flickr
During the recent (nearly) two years, I've been interviewing researchers that are part of the research project Overheating. The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century at the University of Oslo, starting with Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Anthropologists to study humanity’s biggest crises.
I also interviewed most of the researchers that were invited to hold seminars. One of the texts that for me was most fun to write was about the research by sociologist Caroline Knowles. For seven years, she has been following a pair of flip-flops around the world. This flip-flops taught her a lot about the biggest migration streams in history, inequality and the difficulties of "studying up".
The text starts like this:
The woman, who is sinking up to her knees in rubbish in the middle of the huge landfill in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, is not one of the hundreds of scavengers who are searching for things they can use or eat like old airline food and plastic bottles.
The woman is a sociologist.
She has travelled all the way from London to this giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish. For her, it is the end of a long journey that started several years ago in the world's second largest oil field in Kuwait.
They beat children and adults during apprehensions and in custody, they deny people with life-threatening medical conditions treatment, separate family members and confiscate their belongings.
“We were held with another woman who was coughing so badly that she threw up violently, over and over. The others in the cell called for help. An officer came over and said, ‘Que se muera!’ - ‘Let her die!’”
Two months ago anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen alerted the public on the Access Denied blog about the abuse of migrants on the U.S–Mexican border.
Now, anthropologist Randall McGuire draws our attention to a recently published report “A Culture of Cruelty” that documents the “systematic abuses of human rights” by U.S. Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexican border.
McGuire, who is the author of Archaeology as Political Action, writes:
This report demonstrates that the Border Patrol systematically abuses people in short-term custody and that existing policies and standards inadequately address a culture of impunity within the agency. Rather than these abuses being the work of a few rogue agents, the Border Patrol has become a rogue agency. The report draws on interviews with almost 13,000 deportees conducted over 2.5 years. (…)
Despite this fact, inadequate procedures exist within the Border Patrol for identifying and correcting systematic abuse. The abuses continue as part of United States border policy. The border wall forces migrants into perilous deserts and mountains.
Since 2008, the number of migrants crossing the border has fallen precipitously. But, the number of people dying in the desert has remained constant. The systematic abuses of human rights and the culture of cruelty in the Border Patrol directly reflect a border policy designed to maximize the risks to migrants’ health and lives.
The report was produced by the organisation No More Deaths. One of its members is anthropology student “Corbett” who on his/her (really good!) blog “The Wild Anthropologist” gives us a summary of the findings.
The whole report can be downloaded from the website http://www.cultureofcruelty.org
It hasn’t received much attention from mainstream media. And when Reuters writes about the report, they use the authorities’ perspective and describe the victims of abuse as “illegal migrants”, as criminals. The difference to the coverage in the independent media publication In These Times is striking.
The term “Illegal” serves to dehumanize people who, even though they are within the country without the approval of the US, are guaranteed human rights by the 14th Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
While George Monbiot is right when he is attacking the academic publishing industry, it is important not to forget the positive developments.
More and more journals go open access. A few days ago, the first issue of the Nordic Journal of Migration Research was launched.
It is a continuation of two well known journals, the Norwegian Journal of Migration Research (paper only) and the online Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration. These journals chose to close down their independent activities in favour of this larger international venture that gives free access to all their articles.
Nordic Journal of Migration Research will publish three or four issues per year. It is peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, and focuses on migration theory and analyses of migratory processes, integration policies and intercultural relations. The journal prioritizes Nordic issues, but in a global perspective, and therefore also welcomes comparative studies in Nordic and non-Nordic countries.
Here is an overview over the first issue:
On the Birth and Profile of the Nordic Journal of Migration Research (Ulf Hedetoft and Hakan G. Sicakkan)
The Ethics of Immigration Policy (Nils Holtug)
Migrants in the Scandinavian Welfare State. The emergence of a social policy problem (Grete Brochmann and Anniken Hagelund)
The Multilingual City. The cases of Helsinki and Barcelona (Peter A. Kraus)
Book reviews (including a review of Paradoxes of Cultural Recognition: Perspectives from Northern Europe edited by Sharam Alghasi, Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Halleh Ghorashi
See also an overview over anthropology open access journals
A multi-dimensional public health crisis is unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border that few seem ready to acknowledge, anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen write on the Access Denied blog.
The complexity of this crisis came to light during a recent study tour to Tucson, Arizona, in which Rachel Stonecipher took part.
Dehydration and heat-related illness claim hundreds of lives annually, and many of these deaths go unrecorded. No uniform system exists to count or repatriate remains. “We can only imagine the impact of these missed opportunities for identification on family members searching for their loved ones”, Stonecipher and Willen write.
For migrants who do reach their destination but face subsequent arrest, “interception” itself can involve serious health risks:
What happens to migrants after they are arrested and detained often remains shrouded from both the public eye and, to a great extent, the eyes of the human rights community. This is a particularly grave concern when arrested individuals already are sick or injured. (…) One especially serious concern involves the deportation of injured individuals who have not yet been medically stabilized. (…)
Detainees are also at risk of abuse – physical and mental – at the hands of police and Border Patrol officers. Despite official denials, No More Deaths, the Border Action Network, and other NGOs have collected and responded to numerous reports of abuse.
Through water stations, humanitarian aid camps, and desert patrols, a handful of NGOs provide assistance to migrants in need. But this cross-border health crisis is “far too vast for activists to address alone”, the anthropologists note:
Both human rights principles and contemporary realities demand that we hold countries with porous borders – including but not only the U.S. – accountable. Not only must such countries recognize migration as an enduring global phenomenon with complex causes and share accountability for both lives and deaths, but they must also engage in transnational public health efforts to develop the kind of multi-layered interventions needed to protect human life in border regions. (…)
Like the humanitarian organizations that work along the border, we all must insist on an expansive understanding of “public health” that recognizes people in transit as members of a common moral community: as people who are connected to us, and whose lives matter. Whether or not we understand or agree with the choice to migrate, activists along the U.S.-Mexico border remind us that border crossers are human beings who – like all other members of our moral community – are deserving of health-related attention, investment, and care.
What comes into your mind, when you’re reading the following lines?
“We tend to gather in certain locales (cities, sometimes specific neighbourhoods); we frequent particular businesses - some of the services being unique to our community; we have dedicated media, strong social networks and political tendencies; we even have certain etiquette, social rules and beliefs we would likely agree on (a topic for another day), all the result of shared experiences distinct to our clique.”
Why doesn’t she call them migrants? Well, it’s a question of class and “race": The people she writes about aren’t from Somalia or Iraq. They’re white people and wealthy. By using a different term, a distance to “the other” is established.
In its broadest sense, an expatriate is any person living in a different country from where he or she is a citizen. In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals sent abroad by their companies, as opposed to locally hired staff (who can also be foreigners).
The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an ‘immigrant’. There is no set definition and usage does vary depending on context and individual preferences and prejudices.
I always found the usage of the word expat interesting. Personally, I never use it, and call everybody for migrants regardless their class or “race". Inspired by Steegar’s text I googled around and found that the usage of the terms expat and migrant is contested.
“If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of ‘expats.’ If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny– a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job– how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a ‘migrant worker.’”
Yes, that’s because, as Laura María Agustín says in the interview with Howley, ” ‘migrants’ travel because they are poor and desperate, ‘expatriates’ travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites.”
Westerners don’t like referring to themselves as immigrants because the word “immigrant” has such nasty connotations. (…) An immigrant is an unwanted job-stealer, while an expat is a foreigner who could be leaving any day now. An immigrant is on a desperate search for a better life. An expat is on an adventure. (…) Our usage of these words reveals a certain double standard. Whether you’re an expat or an immigrant depends not on your residency plans, but on the relative wealth of your native country.
UPDATE 1: (via richmondbrige) Great commentary in the Guardian by sociologist Peter Matanle, British migrant in Japan, published today. He feels uncomfortable when British people overseas, or the Guardian, use the term “expat” with reference to Britons abroad, then use words such as “immigrant” when describing people from other countries who are in the UK:
So, my proposal is for the Guardian to amend its style guide to discourage the use of the word “expat” in its pages. The word is too redolent of the days of empire and sipping gin and tonic in the shade while the locals toil beyond the fence. It is too easily used as a cultural marker to distinguish people from one another, making it easy for some Britons to feel both superior to and separated from the local people in their host cultures. I suggest that words such as resident, visitor, settler, immigrant and tourist be used instead in order to equalise the way we describe ourselves with the ways in which we describe others. It is only fair and just to do so.
UPDATE 2: Brendan Rigby has written an excellent post: Are you a Greek or a Barbarian?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Julie Sheridan, “native Scot” in Spain: Double acts & double standards. She asks: What makes me an expat but my neighbour an immigrant? She also draws attention to the etymology of “expat” (excluded, absent from one’s “fatherland") and ends her post with these sentences:
No idea how long I’ll be here, but while I am, I want to feel settled, and ideally integrated. And try to remember that being here is an experience, rather than an identity.
Demonstration in Sevilla. Photo: No Border Network, flickr
(Draft) "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." These noble words in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be true in some distant part on this planet, but certainly not in Europe.
Here, peoples' rights are dependent on their nationality. While I, with my German EU passport may travel and live nearly everywhere I want, people from countries like Egypt, Syria or Pakistan cannot. Europe has put much effort in building different kind of walls to prevent certain categories of people from entering. While wealthier peoples' migration is celebrated, poorer peoples' migration is criminalized. Anthropologist Owen Sichone calls this policy "Global apartheid".
Two weeks ago, eight Norwegian police men arrested 25 year old Maria Amelie, an award winning book author, blogger and former anthropology student, born in North Ossetia. She had just finished her lecture at the Nansen Academy – the Norwegian Humanistic Academy about being paperless, undocumented, "illegal" migrant. This happened just three months after she had published her bok "Ulovlig norsk" (Illegally Norwegian), and one month after she was named "Norwegian of the Year" by Norway's only cosmopolitan-minded magazine, Ny Tid.
Maria Amelie (her real name is Madina Salamova) is one of those 18 000 illegalized migrants in Norway who live here without any rights at all. No access to healthcare, education or work. They cannot open an bank account, they don't get an ID-number, they actually don't exist officially. Even helping them is forbidden.
Here is a video from Russia Today about Maria Amelie and a demonstration i Oslo for better rights for undocumented migrants. See related news story
Yesterday, despite lots of demonstrations and media attention, she was thrown out of Norway, where she has lived since she was 16, and deported to Russia. For Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his red-green government, it was important to make clear that they don't tolerate people like her. The Norwegian government is responsible for the deportation of hundreds of individuals and families - usually in the middle of the night without any prior notice. Media in Norway has done a good job in highlighting the plight of these people who all have a unique story to tell.
Norway Expels Migrant Celebrity (Moscow Times, 25.1.2011)
Human rights court slams EU asylum policy as inhumane (Deutsche Wele, 21.1.2011)
‘No One Is Illegal’ Campaign aims to protect Norway’s ‘paperless’ refugees (Women News Network 8.12.2010)
The limitation of people’s freedom of movement based on their nationality (“global apartheid”) is maybe one of the biggest human rights issues nowadays.
One month ago I wrote about Shahram Khosravi’s auto-ethnography of illegalised border crossing.The Democracy In America blog at the Economist draws attention to a related book: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas-Mexico Border by David Spener. The anthropologist spent eight years doing field work on both sides of the border.
Armed with latest technology, the U.S. does everything to prevent people from the South to enter its territory. Because border crossing is difficult, 90% of all illegalised migrants crossing into the United States through Mexico hired a smuggler (also called “coyote"). Human smuggling has become a $6.6-billion industry in Mexico.
The press presents human smuggling as a sinister organized-crime phenomenon. Spener argues that it is better understood “as the resistance of working-class Mexicans to an economic model and set of immigration policies in North America that increasingly resemble an apartheid system.
Publishing a book is not always the best strategy to spread knowledge. Therefore it is a good idea to set up companion websites as Spener has done. Here we find border crossing stories, articles and papers as well as images, maps and sounds.
As the Democracy in America blog reminds us: Even reaching the border is hard. Each year some 20,000 migrants are kidnapped for ransom in Mexico. Victims are made to give the phone numbers of relatives, who must pay upwards of $3,000 or more to get them released.
Migrants from Central and South America are particularly easy targets:
Illegal in Mexico, they must evade checkpoints throughout the country and risk deportation if they report a crime. Women and girls—about a fifth of the migrants making their way through Mexico—face additional dangers. Six out of ten are reckoned to suffer sexual abuse during their migration, according to Amnesty International, a human-rights watchdog.
For a global perspective, see the overview by the BBC: Walls Around The World
Globalisation means for most people on this planet higher fences and less movement across borders. The new book by anthropologist Shahram Khosravi is an auto-ethnography of illegalised border crossing.
‘Illegal’ Traveller is based on the anthropologists’s own journey from Iran to Sweden and his informants’ border narratives. “Studies of migrant illegality are often written by people who have never experienced it", he writes in the introduction. “My aim has been to offer an alternative, partly first-hand, account of unauthorized border crossing that attempts to read the world through ‘illegal’ eyes:
This book is the outgrowth of my own ‘embodied experience of borders’, of ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants between 2004 and 2008, and of teaching courses on irregular migration and the anthropology of borders. It also emerges from my activities outside academia: freelance journalism, helping arrange events such as film festivals about border crossing, and volunteer work for NGOs helping failed asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Sweden.
Auto-ethnography lets migrants contextualize their accounts of the experience of migrant illegality. It helps us explore abstract concepts of policy and law and translate them into cultural terms grounded in everyday life.
In my years as an anthropologist, I have been astonished at how my informants’ experiences overlapped, confirmed, completed, and recalled my own experiences of borders. One interesting aspect of the auto-ethnographic text is that the distinction between ethnographer and ‘others’ is unclear.
I haven’t found any reviews yet, but what I have found is a fascinating paper by him, published in Social Anthropology three years ago. The title: The ‘illegal’ traveller: an auto-ethnography of borders (
subscription required now open access!).
In this paper he describes his journey from Iran to Europe as “illegal” refugee and theoreticizes about the ‘world apartheid’ we live in according to him and criticizes the ways we think about borders and migration:
Based on a capitalist-oriented and racial discriminating way of thinking, borders regulate movements of people. However, borders are also the space of defiance and resistance.
It is because of this resistance he is still alive. In September 1986 he tried to leave Iran ‘illegally’ for the first time. “I had then just finished high school and I was called up to do military service during the ongoing terrible war between Iran and Iraq. To come back alive from the front was a chance I did not want to take", he writes.
It was a long journey via Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He ended up in Sweden via human smugglers. They saved him his life.
Human smuggling is in his opinion recurrently misrepresented by the media and politicians as an entirely mafia-controlled criminality. One of his helpers was Homayoun, a 25-year-old Afghani man, an undocumented immigrant, who had lived clandestinely in Iran since he was 15:
According to immigration law, Homayoun was a human smuggler, a law breaker and a criminal. But in fact he saved my life in one of the most dangerous places, under the rule of ruthless criminal gangs, corrupt border guards and fanatic Mujaheddin. (…) Homayoun facilitated my escape from undesired martyrdom in a long and bloody war.
Maybe one can say that the smugglers did what the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was supposed to do? Khosravi tells shocking stories about the UNHCR who seems to be responsible for several deaths, including suicides, among refugees. Almost everyone in the refugee community had the same answer: “There is no point in going to the UNHCR". You won’t get any help. Khosravi’s application was rejected as well. In the view of the UNHCR officer, his “fear of being killed in a horrible war was not ‘well-grounded’ enough.
He tells us the story of Henry’s suicide:
Henry, a young Iranian-Armenian man (…) was an activist within a communist militia, Cherikhaye Fadai, in Iran. But the UNHCR did not believe him. The reason was a wall painting in a corridor in the basement of a prison in Isfahan, where Henry had been detained for several months before his escape to Pakistan. In the interview Henry was asked by the UNHCR official to say what was painted on the wall in the corridor, to test his reliability. Henry had not seen such a painting and consequently his application was rejected. How did the UNHCR officer know about the wall painting? How could she or he be sure that there was any painting at all in that corridor?
Henry was desperate and did not know what to do. Just a few weeks before my departure from Karachi, one morning when the UNHCR officials arrived in their dark-windowed cars, he poured gasoline on himself and struck a match in front of the UNHCR.
With a false passport, Khosravi escaped to India. There he found a smuggler with good reputation, Nour:
During my five months in New Delhi I shared rooms with many persons in transit. All are now residents of Europe or North America – thanks to the smugglers.
He finally ended up in Sweden, a country that he at that time was not able to locate on a world map.
The choice of destination was rarely as it was intended and designed. An ‘illegal’ journey is after all arbitrary. Sometimes the migrants end up in a country just coincidentally.
First of all, the destination was determined by the payment. A few hundred dollars could change the destination from one continent to another. Masoud, a roommate, was Nour’s mosafer (client) at the same time as I was. He had US$500 more than me and today he is a Canadian citizen, lives in Toronto and his children’s mother tongue is English. I am a Swedish citizen, live in Stockholm and my children’s language is Swedish: US$500 destined our lives so differently.
Border crossing is, he continues, is in anthropological sense a ritual:
The border ritual reproduces the meaning and order of the state system. The border ritual is a secular and modern sort of divine sanctity with its own rite of sacrifice. Several hundred clandestine migrants die en route to Europe each year. From January 1993 to July 2007 the deaths of more than 8800 border-crossers were documented in Europe. The Mediterranean Sea is turned into a cemetery for the transgressive travellers.
Border crossing can be experienced in terms of honour and shame:
A legal journey is regarded as an honourable act in the spirit of globalism and cosmopolitanism. The legal traveller passes the border gloriously and enhances his or her social status, whereas the border transgressor is seen as anti-aesthetic and anti-ethical (they are called ‘illegal’ and are criminalised). We live in an era of ‘world apartheid’, according to which the border differentiates between individuals. While for some the border is a ‘surplus of rights’, for others it is a ‘color bar’ (Balibar 2002: 78–84).
Khosravi ends his paper with some “final remarks” from 18 years later (2006), when he arrives at Bristol airport, along with colleagues from Stockholm University. He was convener for a workshop on ‘irregular migration in Europe’ at the biannual conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA).
At the immigration control, he is illegalised again in the name of the “war on terror":
After passing immigration control, I was stopped by a security official who let my blond fellow travellers pass. In the middle of a narrow corridor a mini interrogation began which lasted for half an hour.
My status as a Swedish citizen disappeared at the border because of my face. I answered questions about myself, my education, work, purpose of visit to Bristol. Then she asked about my parents, where they lived and what they did. I was not willing to disclose to her any kind of information about my elderly parents, who have been subjected to persecution by the Iranian state for decades. When I refused to answer her questions about my parents, she threatened to detain me first for nine hours and then, if necessary, for nine days according to the Anti- Terrorism Act.
I protested that she had targeted me because of my ‘Middle Eastern’ look and her selection of suspicious persons was racist. She did not even deny it and said ‘you [me and who else?] want to kill us. We have to protect ourselves’.
Khosravi has published some articles in Swedish, see my earlier post - Ikke kall dem for illegale