Glocal Understanding for Forced Migration

By Rachel-Louise Devoy

The Erasmus Intensive Program of Glocal Understanding for Forced Migration was held at Gediz University in Izmir, Turkey. The delegates consisted of sixty-odd students from various universities in the European Union (EU) and various disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from sociology, psychology, economics and law. The two-week intensive programme was an eye-opening experience, and revealed how polarised our European neighbours’ opinions were, and despite best intentions, their strongly Eurocentric bias on forced migration and EU migration policies.

The workshops and lectures explored various issues and perspectives: Broader issues such as gender, age and family dimensions were explored, as well as concepts of home and home-making. Specific issues regarding the legal and political challenges that both immigrants and governments face with regard to negotiating movement across borders. Practical issues such as methodology and the ethical challenges and particular language barriers in conducting research with vulnerable populations like asylum seekers were also explored. Theoretical debates on the formation of satellite cities and forced migrants subsequently being labelled with “Other” ideology, as well as discussions on concepts of nationality were particularly enlightening, and explored the experiences of forced migration from the perspective of the individual rather than merely a political issue.

Human rights was touched upon in discussions, but it was divisive: some approached forced migration as a problem in terms of lax border controls and focussed on how to help prevent illegal immigrants entering the EU as opposed to a humanitarian issue. A minority of the delegation even went as far as to decry human rights as “pointless”. The vast majority defended human rights, supporting greater focus on humanitarian rather than economic interests.

Despite this, the economic impact forced migration purportedly has on member states continued to be a preferential topic of discussion raised by the delegates. However EU member state’s roles in the production of illegality were omitted from discussion. Specifically the implicit role member states play in initiating and perpetuating foreign conflicts, and more importantly, that the massive upsurge in the number of forced migrants is a consequence of this ongoing policy of maintaining the status quo whilst monopolising markets of developing nations.

The strong, intrinsic relationship oppressive regimes have with Western governments regarding the purchase and trade of weapons, often done illegally, was also neglected from discussion, or the fact that much of the money stolen from the developing nations end up in the Western banking system. It is thus in the best interests of the West for developing nations to remain destabilised so that they can capitalise on their natural resources. Populations are migrating on an unprecedented scale, primarily due to these conflicts and weak economies, they are forced to look elsewhere for work or safety, primarily Europe. EU member state’s resistance to the influx of forced migrants from developing nations is ironic, considering they often play an implicit role in causing their displacement in the first place. When one considers the UK is the second biggest distributer of weapons globally, and our government’s interests in obtaining said countries natural resources (diamonds, oil, etc.), the cyclical nature of the process becomes apparent.

While it was evident to the delegates that economic “system needs” of capitalism is a primary factor in who can and cannot enter into a country, it is not the sole reason for tightening immigration laws (Layton-Henry, 1984) as institutional racism has a role to play also. As EU integration has intensified, internal movement for EU citizens has become much easier for some, while external borders have been made more secure in order to prevent the entry of so-called illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers. It is by no means a coincidence that Russian oligarchs in the UK have faced little barriers to becoming naturalised citizens, whereas “undesirables” like asylum seekers face much more resistance in gaining citizenship. While one could argue that monetary contributions play a factor, New Zealanders and Australians with expired visas did not even enter into the equation during discussions of what constituted an illegal migrant.

While political and legal perspectives were explored, the impact of media on public opinion, and how influenced the framing of reportage is by political elites, was not. Branson & Stafford (1999:15) argue the media gives us a way of “imagining particular identities and groups which can have material effects on how people experience the world, and how they get understood…this is partly because the mass media have the power to re-present over and over, some identities, some imaginings, and to exclude others, and thereby, make them seem unfamiliar or even threatening.” When one considers the impact the media’s framing of forced migrants can have on audiences, the program was at a disadvantage for its failure to explore it further.

While the program made headway with some issues – particularly with exploring forced migration from the perspective of the individual, and the numerous challenges they face in their attempts to reach safety and stability in a host nation. However, the inability to look beyond our own Eurocentric perspective resulted in a number of misunderstandings and missed opportunities.

Branson, G. and Stafford, R. (1999) The Media Student’s Book, Routledge.
Layton-Henry, Z. (ed.) (1984) Conservative Politics in Western Europe, London: Macmillan.

Rachel-Louise Devoy is a Senior Honours Sociology student. Her research interests are in the area of media and cultural reception, intersectionality, and LGBT rights.