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 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.

The Roma issue and the EU, a book review

“I would recommend this book to those who may be tempted to see Romani issues only in terms of localised ethnic mobilisations and of increasing racialised violence, as well as to anyone interested in issues around European citizenship, or in understanding the parallel evolution of human rights discourses and neoliberal policy” (Katheirne Hepworth, 2011).

The Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies has published a very positive review of Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe (Sigona and Trehan, Palgrave 2009). Besides the overall positive assessment of the collection, I am particularly pleased with the ability of the reviewer, Katherine Hepworth, to crystallise in a few words the originality and uniqueness of the work and its aspiration to mainstream the debate on Romani politics. As the reviewer rightly notices, the book aims to show how relevant the situation of the Roma and their political trajectory is to understand current transformations in the EU and to unpack the intimate link between neoliberal policies and the affirmation of the human rights regime as dominant frame to understand and address the ‘Roma issue’.

Lampedusa and the spectacle of the invasion

Fulfilling his internal political agenda, once again Berlusconi and his government play the ‘emergency’ card to divert the attention of Italian public opinion away from his legal charges for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office by seeking her release from custody, and from the dramatic economic crisis to which the country seems unable to respond to. Completely unbothered by the lack of sensitivity of his words for the victims of real tsunamis, Berlusconi stated yesterday that the arrival of migrants and refugees from North Africa is a ‘human tsunami’. To validate statements like this one, the Italian government needs a place like the island of Lampedusa, a place small enough to appear overcrowded even with a few thousand people.

Of course, for Lampedusa’s residents the arrivals of migrants – and it would interesting to see how much the current flows are exceptional or instead fit seasonal patterns – cause real logistical issues and their concerns are legitimate, but in the grand narrative of the emergency and invasion constructed by the Italian government with the support of some European agencies like Frontex (interested to legitimise its expanding budget and mandate) and Gaddafi (interested to stress his role as defender of the EU borders) (cf. Hein de Haas’ blog) they are instrumental to reify the spectacle of the invasion. This narrative suits Berlusconi because it enables him to wear his favorite cloths, that of the savior, the charismatic leader who flies to the island and solves the ‘problem’.

However, Berlusconi is a charismatic leader of his own league, and his ‘solution’ to the invasion – once again real in relation to Lampedusa and its residents, but hardly a significant flow of people in relation to Italy as a whole – bear the marks of his persona: buying all the boats available in Tunisia to stop people, commissioning a tv series set in Lampedusa to boost tourism, and personally purchasing a villa.

Update: Villa Due Palme bought by Berlusconi in March 2011 is to date (August 2012) abandoned and awaiting renovation. Metaphor of his political trajectory?

New publication: Migration routes and strategies of young undocumented migrants in England

 Just published in Racial and Ethnic Studies, this article co-authored by Bloch, Sigona and Zetter explores the entry strategies used by young people in relation to the UK immigration system and their undocumented status. Against a brief account of Britain’s regime, the paper first examines why and how these migrants come to the UK and the ways in which they entered the country. Second, it explores strategies in relation to immigration status and considers: the use of different immigration statuses; the role of the asylum system in their strategies including as an attempt to regularize status or as a route to becoming undocumented when refused asylum. Finally, the paper discusses the extent to which these young migrants have agency in their efforts to negotiate the complex and exclusionary immigration and asylum regime.