11. When all this would be over?
Overlapping crises and existential mobilities

Convenors: Anitta Kynsilehto and Bruno Lefort, Tampere University

Contact: anitta.kynsilehto (at) tuni.fi

Friday 3.12.2021 at 12.30-14.30

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard populations across the globe, its impacts have been even more dire in those countries that had been already going through serious economic and political crises before the pandemic began. Here one may think of countries such as Algeria, Chile, Greece or Lebanon, but examples are numerous across the world. Moreover, the impacts of overlapping crises are felt unevenly across diversely positioned people, including migrants with diverse residence statuses or without an officially recognized residence or citizenship status altogether. In these contexts, people entangled in overlapping, seemingly endless crises use the resources they possess for creating viable forms of social life. This aspiration to build meaningful lives amidst these troubled circumstances set people on the move, either physically in the case of migrants or people aspiring to move, or existentially for those who try to go on staying put despite the difficult context. Whether literal or figurative, this sense of movement highlights how crises transform at the same time societies and life trajectories.

In this workshop, we invite presentations that reflect critically on how communities and individuals cope and live with multiple crises. Moreover, we are interested in thinking together how these practices are woven into migratory trajectories, both real and imagined.

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Presentations and abstracts:

  1. Infrastructure of the refugee journey: Knowledge, resources, rumours, and homes made when travelling
    Olivia Maury, Paula Merikoski, Lena Näre, Elina Paju and Anna-Maria Tapaninen (University of Helsinki)

A crisis is often an ongoing, and both collectively and individually experienced complex situation. We perceive crisis also as something productive: it produces mobilities, subjectivities, encounters, homes, opportunities, ways of making profit and infrastructures. Crisis as a prolonged context rather than an exceptional moment is what conditions our ethnographic participants’ journeys; their reasons for migrating and their struggles during the non-linear refugee journey. In this presentation we explore what we call the infrastructure of the refugee journey; a flexible system requiring ad hoc -solutions, which overlaps and is dependent on knowledge, resources and services not traditionally counted as infrastructures.

Migrating includes and requires preparations, rumours, knowledge, and networks. There are numerous material and social resources needed for journeying, such as internet and mobile phones, traveling documents, networks consisting of smugglers and other people on the move. The journey infrastructure also overlaps with traditional infrastructures, even though they may be used against travellers’ advantage. For example the police, which poses a threat but can be bribed to help; or a mobile phone signal, which is at the same time necessary but can also reveal one’s location. Hence, the journey infrastructure is part of and dependent on several infrastructures but when used to advance the journey - or benefit from other people’s journeys - they are developed into a certain kind of infrastructure of its own.

Furthermore, entangled with the infrastructure of journeying lie practices of home-making while on the move. Home and journey are usually understood as contradictory terms, as are home and crisis, and journey is typically perceived as a phase connecting two fixed points rather than them being a simultaneous experience and effort. Refugee journeys are, however, often time consuming and non-linear processes which often includes long periods of living in different locations. Travellers make homes for themselves and their families also during the journey; in various spaces, such as camps and urbans spaces. In this presentation, we also examine how homes are made and imagined during refugee journeys. Based on ethnographic data we examine the material and spatial practicalities of temporary home-making during the refugee journey, as well as of the material making of the journey itself.

  1. European Union in Times of Crises: From Crisis of Solidarity to “Mandatory” and “Flexible” Solidarity
    Sumbul Parveen: Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India

The European Union (EU) proclaims to be “committed to supporting democracy and human rights” in accordance with its “founding principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.” However, in the past few years, the EU has failed to live up to its affirmed normative foundations.

The EU's handling of the 2015 refugee crisis is testimony to it. The disagreement among the Member States on EU’s refugee quota programme questioned it as an integration project. In fact, the refugee crisis was looked by many as not just humanitarian crisis but also EU’s crisis of solidarity. The refugees bore the brunt of European Union’s failure to uphold its commitment to protection of human rights, including the right to asylum.

What has exacerbated refugee situation is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As borders closed, refugees and migrants were left stranded, with poor access to basic amenities. In July 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on the European Union to “keep refugee protection high on the agenda” and “preserve access to asylum” during such challenging times. However, on September 23, 2020, the EU unveiled its new migration and asylum policy. One of its key proposals was “mandatory and flexible solidarity”, in order to please hardline Members; Member States could choose their preferred form of solidarity between relocation or those reluctant to contribute to relocation “assume on behalf of the European Union, the obligation to organize and carry out returns.” Coming at the time of pandemic, the denial of asylum and thus, safe haven would not only jeopardize the health of refugees and migrants, which is already at great risk by living in overcrowded shanties in squalid living conditions but would also push them into deeper economic precariousness and social deprivation. While the crises might subdue, the policy’s aftereffects would stay.

This paper argues that the European Union, during recent crises has acted contrary to its normative foundations. As manifested by its new migration and asylum policy, a new kind of solidarity has emerged; solidarity on reluctance instead of collective commitment to succour refugees and migrants. This sets dangerous precedent in the field of migration. Given its nature, the study would be qualitative, based on the analysis of EU’s response to the 2015 refugee crisis and how its new migration and asylum policy increases the threat of COVID-19.

  1. Endless crises: Looking back and moving forward among Lebanese diasporas in Montreal, Canada
    Bruno Lefort: Tapri, Tampere University

Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork among Lebanese diasporas in Montreal, this paper questions the interplay between people’s attachment to their country of origins and their existential need to construct a meaningful life in the city where they established themselves. While the recurrence of political, societal, and now sanitary crises that have affected Lebanon since the 1950s seems to reactivate people’s memories of and concrete need to intervene into their family’s fate, this constant process of re-connection increases the insecurity of future prospects. When images of current events work as reminders of past experiences, when present day disasters oblige to organize shipment of money or medication to relatives, one has no choice but to shift the focus from the future to the past. However, contrary to a nostalgic re-memoration that often plays a positive role in people’s construction of attachment with their new surroundings, the reminders imposed by crises appear more negative. How to go somewhere in your life if everything keeps sending you back to where you were coming from? The current situation in Lebanon hence works as a magnifying glass that highlights the need for us to revisit the relationship between memory and forgetting, absence and presence, roots and routes, coming from and moving on that lie at the heart of diaspora studies. Investigating people’s sense of belonging, this presentation intends to reflect on the impacts of multiple overlapping crises on placemaking in diasporic contexts.

  1. Absent Stories: Decolonizing Understanding of Gender among Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, and Jordan
    Bayan Arouri: Tapri, Tampere University

Witnessing war and becoming a refugee expose people to a massive, gendered array of vulnerabilities and forms of marginalization. This presentation draws on a project that examines these gendered challenges among refugee communities in camps and urban housing neighborhoods in Lebanon and Jordan, resituating people’s experiences and praxis in personal, familial, and infrastructural (social, economic, legal) contexts. In addition to the many discriminations such as sexual violence, unemployment, and deprivation of health and education, people who have fled a prolonged war face also colonial epistemic power and structural violence, including in academic research.

To avoid this pitfall and inspire a renewed conceptualization of displacement and refuge as lived realities, understanding(s) of gender within refugee communities need to be decolonized. This attempt builds on feminist research praxis, namely ethnographic research and postcolonial feminist theorizing and ensuing methodologies that locate the primary source of knowledge in lived experiences of the thus far marginalized groups. This is premised on a gender transformative framework where local participants and women activists produce knowledge. It intends to co-construct knowledge in dialogue with refugee communities, including a collaborative analysis of inspiring grassroots models that illuminate the agency, powerfulness, and solidarity that are grounded in refugee communities.

  1. Navigating overlapping crises: Migratory trajectories in and through Morocco
    Anitta Kynsilehto (Tapri, Tampere University)

Covid-19 pandemic closed borders and halted mobilities around the globe. It also rendered an ever-increasing number of people into a highly vulnerable position in terms of employment and access to basic livelihoods. People with precarious migration statuses and those without a regular residence status were in an again more vulnerable position, due to the intensified closure of borders and increasing existential insecurity concerning future prospects of building a meaningful life both in the shorter and longer term.

This presentation draws on my long-term ethnographic research in Morocco. Whilst Morocco has been in the process of building a migration policy since 2013, the framework has not solidified in a way that would enable true formal integration into the society. At the same time, especially young Moroccans aspire to leave the country because of similar processes of existential and factual exclusion, despite their citizenship status. Their aspirations, as well as those of migrants with precarious statuses, have only intensified with the severe economic downturn in the country for example in tourism and restauration industry, due to the pandemic lockdowns. The presentation will reflect on multiple overlapping crises and their connections with aspirational and actualized mobilities in this context.