The Arab Spring and beyond: human mobility, forced displacement and humanitarian crises

By Nando Sigona

Migration in its various forms has been part of the popular uprisings that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. First, the columns of vehicles escaping from cities and villages under siege in Libya came to represent the plight of civilians caught between conflicting parties and played an important role in galvanising Western public opinion in support for the international involvement, both military and humanitarian, in Libya. Second, the isle of Lampedusa and the boats crammed with migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea contributed to
resuscitating the powerful rhetoric of invasion in Europe and have come to represent the ambiguity of Western states’ responses to those fleeing from North Africa — this has included proposals for re-negotiating the Schengen
Agreement and increasing the role of Frontex, the EU agency tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between Member States in the field of border security. Finally, the numerous dissidents returning from exile
give an indication of the involvement of diaspora organisations in the uprisings and raise interesting questions on the role they will play in the creation and consolidation of new state institutions.
These few examples only serve to alert us of the broader ramifications of the ways in which human mobility is intersecting current events in North Africa and the Middle East.
The ‘North Africa in Transition: Mobility, Forced Migration and Humanitarian Crises’ workshop organised by the Refugee Studies Centre in association with the International Migration Institute (IMI) on 6 May 2011 offered a platform to begin to explore how these events have affected and transformed existing patterns of mobility in the region and generated new ‘mixed’ migration flows. As a result of the crises, economic migrants have become forced migrants and forced migrants were forced into entering irregular migration channels in the search for survival, while others, including seasonal and long established migrants have become ‘involuntarily immobile’, such as migrant workers stuck inside Libya.
See the workshop report, with podcasts, at www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/ events/northafrica-in-transition
The RSC, IMI and the Oxford Diasporas Programme at the University of Oxford  are planning a follow-up workshop with the involvement of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers on 20th March 2012 which aims to reconsider the relationship between human mobility and the Arab Spring more broadly.

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