Kosovo: End of supervision

Western powers overseeing Kosovo have announced the end of their supervision of the Balkan nation, the last to be born out of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Since its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbian in Febraury 2008, Kosovo had been overseen by a group made up of 23 EU countries, the US and Turkey. On September 10, 2012 Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat serving as both serving as the European Union Special Representative(EUSR) and as the International Civilian Representative in Kosovo, declared the end of international supervision. What does this mean to the ethnic minorities of Kosovo is too early to say.

In 2008, in the months following the declaration of independence, I carried out fieldwork in Kosovo, interviewing several Roma, Askhali and Egyptian Kosovans and wrote two concept papers (Integrating minorities in a post-conflict society and Towards the social inclusion of RAE in Kosovo) to inform the implementation of the Kosovo’s strategy for RAE integration (funded by the EC).  This article published recently in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2012, vol. 38, n.8) discusses some of the findings of the work and portraits the challanges that the supervision status was posing to ethnic minorities. Stemming from my time in Kosovo, I have also published an interview with two very active Roma leaders in Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe (Sigona & Trehan, 2009) and a number of posts on this blog (both texts and photos).

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Human mobility and the Arab Spring(s)

Audio recordings of the international symposium ‘The Arab Spring and beyond: Human mobility, forced migration and international responses’ are on now available at Forced Migration Online.

By Nando Sigona

What follows are brief reflections inspired by the international symposium ‘The Arab Spring and beyond: Human mobility, forced migration and international responses’ that took place at the Oxford Department of International Development on 20th March. The event was organised by the Refugee Studies Centre, the International Migration Institute and the Oxford Diasporas Programme with the participation of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers (see also Hein de Haas’ blog post on the symposium).

The geographical focus on the Levant and North Africa enabled participants to discuss migration in two crucial and distinct stages: in the context, and in relation to the transition and consolidation of new political regimes; and during the uprisings. It also offered the opportunity to discuss issues around the circulation of people, ideas, models of mobilisation and counter-mobilisation and international engagement between these regions.

The first panel, ‘Revolution, asylum and mobility’, addressed the impact of the Arab Spring on existing migration patterns in the regions and its capacity to generate new ones. The presentations by Clare Oxby (University of Bern) and Phil Marfleet (University of East London), and a written contribution by Hassen Boubakri (University of Sousse) questioned assumptions on the capacity of uprisings to radically transform existing migration patterns in the short term, and emphasised respectively the differential impact on migrants of the ongoing political transition according to ethnic and cultural positionalities (Oxby); the longue durée of processes of neoliberal land reform in Egypt initiated under Mubarak that, by producing the ‘disembedment’ of peasant youth from land, created the premises for some of the migration flows we are witnessing now (Marfleet); and the need to look not only to the impact of the Arab Spring on migration, but also to the impact of migration control on the Arab Spring (Boubakri). Boubakri notes in particular that at the end of 2010, the EU and its Maghreb counterparts ‘could estimate that the problem of crossing the external borders of Europe by “undesirables” was, if not solved, beginning to be mastered’.

Boubakri’s observation alerts us that the proximity of the Arab Spring to the EU goes beyond the consideration of the geographical distance between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea (just 14Km between Spain and Morocco!) and , which makes North Africa part of the areas covered by the EU neighbourhood policy, pointing to the symbiotic nature of the economic, social and political relationship between the peoples and institutions in the Mediterranean Basin.

A further aspect to consider is that, in addition to the closure of irregular and regular channels of migration to the EU, the strategy of migration management and the expansion of the EU borders (and border control) beyond the EU territorial boundaries through initiatives such as the bilateral agreements between the former Libyan regime and Italy, or Tunisia and France, or Morocco and Spain, also affect existing migration routes and systems that are internal to the African continent. This is a side effect rarely considered by EU policy makers but with significant consequences for the livelihoods of local populations. The hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan migrant workers stranded in Libya that sought refuge across the borders with Egypt and Tunisia during the civil war made the scale of intra-African migration suddenly visible to the global public. As the UNHCR Chief of Mission, Emanuel Gignac, noted in his presentation, non-Libyan nationals made up a large part of the displaced population from Libya. However, the ‘migration crisis’, as described by the IOM representative Mohammed Abdiker, also showed the presence in Libya of a significant population of migrant workers from Asia and whose repatriation posed logistical challenges to respective governments and to the international agencies that assisted them (i.e. IOM and UNHCR). The cooperation between IOM and UNHCR was one of the main themes of the second panel on ‘Migration and institutional responses during and in the transition’ and the speakers from both organisations offered interesting insights on the challenges and strengths of this partnership and of the circumstances that led to it. The framing of the crisis as a ‘migration crisis’ rather than a ‘refugee crisis’ is at the core of the definition of the ‘problem’ that the international community set out to respond to, and implicitly shaped the terms for the ‘solutions’ adopted to address it. The crisis also brought to the fore the complexity of migration routes and flows and challenged existing models of intervention/protection.

Shaden Khallaf presented the case of Egypt and the impact of the fall of Mubarak on asylum and humanitarian protection. She noted that asylum seekers and refugees are suffering from increased insecurity, wide-spread impunity of abuses and rampant xenophobia. The crack-down on civil society and closure of several NGOs, together with a general ‘revolution fatigue’, have caused the shrinking of political spaces for rights-based advocacy and weakened the position of refugees in Egyptian society. Violeta Moreno Lax gave a critical appraisal of the EU’s responses to the Arab Spring. The array of documents, statements, and position papers issued over the last year by EU institutional bodies is remarkable and points to a certain anxiety in Brussels about the so-called ‘biblical exodus’ or ‘human tsunami’ of North Africans towards the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This exodus never happened and, as mentioned earlier, the relationship between the Arab Spring and migration is far more complex and cannot just be interpreted within a narrow EU-centric prism.

The EU’s response to migration induced by the turmoil and instability in North Africa has shown the tension between internal and external dimensions of migration governance. The EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility paper (GAMM) has tried to address this issue – reframing migration in the context of mobility and constructing the EU’s approach around four ‘equally important’ pillars: facilitating regular migration and mobility; ‘preventing and reducing’ irregular migration and trafficking; maximising development impact; promoting international protection and external dimension of asylum policy.

While a step in the right direction, the GAMM still falls short of offering a systemic interpretation of the multiple and interlinked dimensions of migration and remains locked into the false and misleading dichotomy of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ migration (even though with a softer tone). The centrality of migration enforcement and control is still paramount and the renewed role of FRONTEX, which saw its operational budget rocketing from €6.3 million in 2005, to nearly €42 million in 2007 and topping €87 million by 2010, encapsulates this priority. The reality of the death at sea of 2,000 migrants in 2011 alone, at a time when the Mediterranean Sea was one of the most militarised areas in the globe, further confirms the distance between EU rhetoric on development and human rights and actual practice. Linked to Moreno Lax’s paper, Polly Pallister Wilkins (SOAS) discussed the spaces and practices of contestation of the EU’s expanding and fluid borders and the possibility for transnational solidarity between Western activists and migrants.

The role of diaspora organisations, transnational networks and civil society was the theme of the third and final panel. In their presentations, Urs Fruehauf (UNHCR) and Jonathan Steel (Guardian) turned the discussion to Syria and the situation on the ground. Drawing on the results of a recently completed survey, Fruehauf discussed the situation of refugees and IDPs in Syria and offered some insight on the pressure they are under in the current political climate. Steel’s presentation centred on Syria’s silent majority and explored the tensions between the narratives produced by the mainstream media and Syrian diaspora and the views of the opposition in the country.

To conclude this short overview of the themes covered at the symposium, I would like to point to two issues/questions that seem to me particularly relevant both in terms of research agenda and potential policy implications:

Is there a link between the closing of irregular, and regular, channels to migration from the Maghreb to the EU, the impoverishment and discontent of North African youth who have lost a promised future and the eruptions of protests on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco…? How can we research this link? What are its policy implications in the medium and long term from an EU perspective?

Will an anxious EU in search of reassurance for the lost bilateral agreements which had ensured the reduction of ‘undesirable’ migration over the last decade, be able to acknowledge the challenge for newly democratically elected governments to be partner in immigration control and repatriation programmes, or will it rather undermine the credentials of the governments vis-à-vis their voters (brothers, sisters, friends etc. of the migrants) and internationally (maybe with the accusation of being Islamist) in order to force its agenda?

The Arab Spring and Beyond: Human Mobility, Forced Migration and Institutional Responses

The Refugee Studies Centre, International Migration Institute and the Oxford Diasporas Programme are organising a second international symposium on migration and forced migration in North Africa and the Levant on 20 March 2012 with the participation of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers. This second workshop will examine the extent to which the Arab Spring has shifted migration dynamics and migration and refugee governance.

The workshop will address the following questions:

  • How have varying processes of political, economic, and social contestation in North Africa and the Levant affected human mobility?
  • To what extent have events transformed or impacted the institutional behaviour and responses of international organisations and civil society groups working in the field of migration and refugee protection?
  • How have publics and governments in North Africa and the Levant positioned or repositioned themselves in relation to issues of asylum and migration?
  • What role have diasporas and transnational networks played during and after the uprisings?

Download the programme:http://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/pdfs/arab-spring-programme.pdf

 Registration is free. If you wish to attend the event at the Oxford Department of International Development on the 20th March please contact Heidi El-Megrisi rsc-outreach@qeh.ox.ac.uk

Listen to the Arab Spring workshop live online

If you are unable to join us on the 20th you can listen to the Arab Spring and beyond workshop live online by visiting www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/events/arab-spring-workshop, from 11.15AM GMT Tuesday 20 March 2012. Make sure you download the programme (attached) first to check the times for each session as the broadcast will go offline during the breaks.   

Alternatively you can visit the Refugee Studies Centre page on the Mixlr website, mixlr.com/refugee-studies-centre where you can use a Facebook or Twitter profile to join an online discussion. If you’re on Twitter, you can also use the hashtag #rscarabspring.

An online facilitator will track your thoughts, comments and questions throughout the day and feed them into the discussion at the end of each session.

If you’re tuning in online, please be aware that although we will try to keep to the times stated, sessions may overrun resulting in changes to the programme.

 North Africa and displacement – FMR call for articles

In May 2012, to complement the Arab Spring workshop, the Forced Migration Review (FMR) team at the Refugee Studies Centre will publish a special issue of FMR on ‘North Africa and displacement 2011-2012’. Call for articles online at www.fmreview.org/north-africa/ Deadline for submission of articles for FMR is 2nd April 2012. If you are interested in writing, please email the Editors at fmr@qeh.ox.ac.uk as soon as possible.

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.

Is the UK government serious about protecting human rights?

by Nando Sigona

For those who have been following the UK government’s relentless undermining of the Human Rights Act (that incorporates the EHRC in the UK legal system) over the last months, its grand commitment to ‘the promotion and protection of human rights’ at the top of the UK’s agenda during its Chairmanship of the Commettee of Ministers of the Council of Europe  (November 2011 – May 2012) will definitively have a bitter sweet taste. It seems hard to reconcile the coexistence of such divergent positions within the same government. It springs to mind the so-called catgate when the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clark, publicly contested the Home Secretary, Theresa May, for caricaturing yet again the Human Rights Act in her speech at the annual conference of the Conservative Party. As a refresher, in her speech, Theresa May said:

We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had pet a cat.

Mr Clark called Theresa May’s claim ‘laughable’ and ‘childlike’, causing havoc among Conservative colleagues and cheers among human rights advocates – incidentally no wonder the Daily Mail took it personally as it they has been running similar stories for years.

The row was solved within a couple of days. Were the ministers’ positions not so irreconcilable at the end of the day? A closer look at Kenneth Clark’s response may provide some clue. He said:

They [the cases Theresa May had referred to in her speech] are British cases and British judges she is complaining about. I cannot believe anybody has ever had deportation refused on the basis of owning a cat.

It seems that Clark’s main complain is for the Home Secretary’s disrespect for the British judicial system rather that for the Human Rights. He is keen to claim the Britishness of these cases that to him (as a Justice Secretary) is an unquestionable guarantee of fairness vis-à-vis what happens abroad instead.

If we take this a step further and return to the UK’s list of priorities for the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the details of the measures for which the UK will seek consensus to implement its main goal to promote and protect human rights give some insights on the matter: first, limit the involvement of the Court to ‘the most important cases’ making it subsidiary ‘where member states fulfil their obligations under the Convention; second, transfer the primary role for the implementation of ECHR to national courts.

It is apparent that we are seeing here a novel permutation of an argument very familiar to Cameron’s government, namely ‘we will get our sovereignty from international/European institutions back ’. But in order to succeed, the Justice Secretary cannot afford a wholesale attack on the European Human Rights Convention, on which the Council of Europe is based. This would certainly antagonises the members of the Council of Europe and reduces sharply the chance of success. The handling of the Dale Farm’s case has already raised some concerns internationally that the government had to patch up. It is therefore legitimate to wonder if Kenneth Clark’s stance in the catgate was merely tactical and ultimately he shares with Theresa May more than the catgate left people believe.