Tag Archives: Migration

Housing Refugees: Prejudice and the Potentials of Encounter

By Julian Shaw (King’s College London)

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

This summer the British media opened its eyes, cleared its collective throat, and eventually gave voice to a global refugee crisis that has been growing for years. Initially the tragedy traversed the narratives of public and political figures, then it made its way into the private discussions of British families (via TV news and online petitions). Now the tragedy’s spatial journey appears to have followed suit – moving from the public spaces of train stations and border checkpoints, it is now poised to enter private space. In The Independent it was revealed that “one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee” (The Independent, 2015); what an amazing thought.

Concurrently in September’s issue of The Geographical Journal, Valentine et al. published the latest instalment in their investigation of the geography of encounter; looking in this article at “encounters…within the context of family life” (Valentine et al., 2015: 280). Their article specifically turns the significance of everyday intimate encounters with diversity in the home, and how these may have the potential to challenge wider prejudices evident in public life.

Turning to the cities of Leeds and Warsaw, Valentine et al. surveyed over 3,000 social attitudes and made in-depth qualitative explorations with 60 of these respondents. Their findings revealed that indeed “intra-familial diversity does produce more positive attitudes in public life” (ibid.: 291). Should such a result be consistent across the UK, this has made me wonder about the wider positive implications that could occur if British families were to house refugees in their spare rooms, as was suggested in The Independent.

Of course, housing someone does not necessarily make them family – or at least not in the traditional sense. However, Valentine et al. acknowledge in their study that the intimate encounters they explore do not presume the traditional sense of family – in the modern world family structures are much more malleable and changeable than they used to be. Instead they extend their investigation of families to the wider spatial setting of “the home and associated spaces of family life” (Valentine et al., 2005: 281). In this case, I suggest that their findings could be directly relevant to UK families welcoming refugees into their homes.

However, the obvious caveat here is that likely volunteers to house refugees are those already holding positive views towards them. I guess the challenge is – if intimate encounters can break prejudice – enabling intimate encounters with refugees to enter into the homes of those harbouring intolerance? Yet, don’t most of us have some distant or extended family members that we might reluctantly describe as being intolerant, even while we hold broad and accepting views ourselves? If this is the case then the intimate encounters described by Valentine et al. (2015) could indeed happen in the families of those offering to house refugees. Let’s hope the offer becomes reality.


60-world2 The Independent (2015) Online article: “Revealed: the extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis – and how it shames David Cameron”, by Adam Withnall and Matt Dathan on 23rd September 2015, Accessed online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html (Accessed on 23rd September 2015)

books_icon Valentine, G., Piekut, A., and Harris, C., (2015) Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal, 181(3): pp.280-294 (open access).

Captive Bodies: Migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico

By Jeremy Slack, University of Texas, El Paso

The massacre of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico in 2014, and before that the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, have drawn attention to the tragedy of disappearances, mass murder and state/criminal collusion. Over the last eight years more than 22,000 disappearances have been registered in Mexico.  While theories abound, the question of what has been happening to these people and why remains unanswered. This tragedy quickly faded from international, and even national, debates about the cost of the war on drugs.

NGOs and activists dedicated to migrant’s rights, the freedom of information and uncovering stories behind this recent violence continue to press the issue. However, academics have had little to say on this topic. Why are migrants being kidnapped en masse? Is this purely about ransom, or are there other reasons to kidnap relatively poor individuals? My article, recently published in Area, uses data taken from interviews and surveys about deportees’ experiences of being kidnapped or held against their will. It takes seriously how people live through the policies and practices of a militarized U.S. Mexico border, and can help answer these questions.

Juanito*, a 21 year old from northern Mexico provides us with a little seen window into this horror. Agents from Grupos Beta, a migrant aid organization from the Mexican government, abducted him. As a deportee, they offered him a meal and half price bus ticket to his home, but in reality, they had other plans. They put a bag over his head and drove him and about 40 other people through the night. He was held for five months and subjected to torture, including sexual assault and electrocution. His family paid a $5,000 USD ransom but he was not released. No one was. Instead, they put him and the others to work, “cloning marijuana or packing it”. He explained that he was able to survive by being submissive. Those who got angry and fought back didn’t last.

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Juanito’s case is an extreme one. However, surveys with 82 deportees who had been kidnapped reveal more questions than answers. Of these 82 surveys, 13 reported being let go and another ten escaped. Others were never asked for ransom. Some paid and were not let go. Only about half of them were freed after paying ransom. What does this tell us about the utility in taking control of people’s bodies? Moreover, why migrants? For Juanito it is the fact that they are out of place, dislocated from their homes, networks and support. He explained that if they were to do this to local residents, there would be a revolt.

It cannot be ignored that the practices and policies of the U.S. government place people in these situations. Deportation practices such as the lateral movement of people from one region of the border to another directly violate issues of non—refoulment, the provision that you cannot return people to a country when there is a threat of torture. Deportees are being actively funneled into the region best known for migrant massacres. Juanito was lucky to escape with his life. When asked what should be done in light of his horrific ordeal, he responded, ““More than anything, I want the [US] government to understand that it’s not necessary to be dropping people off, deporting them to all these places. It’s possible to find a city, where it’s safe” –  so that others will not suffer the same fate.

* Juanito is a pseudonym used to safeguard his identity.

About the author: Jeremy Slack obtained his PhD from the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona and is currently a Visiting Assistant professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Texas, El Paso. Jeremy’s doctoral research explored the intersection of drug fuelled violence and undocumented migration on the U.S Mexico Border. He is also one of the Principal Investigators for a major project funded by the Ford Foundation to produce generalizable data about deportee’s experiences crossing the border. 

60-world2 Archibald R C 2010 Victims of massacre in Mexico said to be migrants New York Times 

60-world2 Lakhini N 2015 Students who survived Mexico’s night of bloody horror accuse army and police The Guardian 

60-world2 Servín F C 2014 Crítica, la situación de México por las desapariciones forzadas: ONU La Journada (in Spanish)

books_icon Slack, J. (2015), Captive bodies: migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12151

Geography of Sport

By Catherine Waite

By Markbarnes (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Geography of Sport is a topic close to my heart as it is the theme of my PhD research. Despite sport being a central theme of research in sociology, economics and anthropology, it has subject to little geographical research. However today’s reports into the “State of the Game”, considering the composition of professional English football teams by nationality and the debates regarding how you define who can play for the England national football team, have clear geographical themes.

National identity has been widely discussed in the geographical literature in relation to migration (see, for example, Antonsich 2010 & Gilmartin 2008), and in this case the media and social media debates, have extended the discussion to migrant athletes.

The “State of the Game” report, can perhaps be more directly deemed to be geographical. The report maps the countries from which footballers, playing in England, come from. The most significant finding is that, whilst English players do still play the greatest percentage of minutes of Premier League football, their contribution only accounts for less than a third of the total minutes played. The maps demonstrate that the Premier League truly is a global league with players coming from across the world to play in England. Football is a widely recognised as “Global Game” both in general culture and in academia (see Giulianotti 1999). So does geography need to progress and carry out more research dedicated to sport?

books_iconAntonsich, M. (2010), Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework. Geography Compass, 4: 644–659

books_iconGilmartin, M. (2008), Migration, Identity and Belonging. Geography Compass, 2: 1837–1852

60-world2Arsene Wenger defends Jack Wilshere’s ‘English’ comments BBC Sport

60-world2Jack Wilshere says only English players should play for England BBC Sport

60-world2State of the Game: Premier League now less than one third English BBC Sport

60-world2 State of the Game: How UK’s world football map has changed BBC News


Open Borders: outsiders, immigration and moral politics

by Fiona Ferbrache

The Statue of Liberty on which a plaque displays the following: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teamming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“How far should an open society go on accepting outsiders?”

This question relating to immigration control and citizenship was posed by political philosopher, Professor Sandel, to an audience at the University of Dallas, Texas.  This US state shares a border with Mexico and around one million illegal immigrants are said to be living in Texas.  The debate is available to listen to, as part of Radio 4’s Public Philosopher series in which Prof. Sandel discusses contemporary political issues at various universities.  In the most recent series, Prof. Sandel raised political-moral issues that have been at the forefront of agendas during the recent US Presidential campaigns.

Another question posed by Prof. Sandel is whether there should be any controls on migration at all.  He puts this to his audience by asking “how many would be in favour of open borders and how many would be against?”

Debates around ‘no border’ policies are raised by Bauder (2012) in Area.  Contextualised as a way of overcoming the ontology of the nation-state and associated identities and migrant subjectivities (i.e. the classification of migrants as foreigners and non-citizens), Bauder claims that no-border projects seek to liberalise migrants.  Not only does this free them from functionary classifications such as ‘immigrant’, ‘resident’, or ‘temporary worker’, it also draws attention to migrants’ complex identities beyond these classifications.  The concept of no borders effectively disrupts the dominant frameworks used to understand migration in the contemporary world.

In response to Prof. Sandel’s question, the majority of the audience was against open borders, while a small minority was in favour.  Where do you stand?

  Bauder, H. (2012) Nation, ‘migration’ and critical practice. Area. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01129.x

  The Public Philosopher: Immigration. Radio 4

  Latino’s immigration issue brings mixed feelings towards Obama. BBC News online

Travelling Identities: Further Attention to Mobility and Nationality

by Jen Turner

By Matt Ryall (originally posted to Flickr as Haggis in a can) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When the referendum on Scottish independence is held in the autumn of 2014, only residents of Scotland will be eligible to vote.  A recent BBC article found that as a result, almost 400,000 people living north of the border but born in other parts of the UK will get to take part.  However, the 800,000 Scots living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will not. So, although, Scottish-ness may involve using certain words, liking tartan and eating Haggis, crucially in the political sense, it all boils down to where you live. 

In protest at being disenfranchised, James Wallace, a 23-year-old fellow Dumfries native turned London resident, has launched a petition demanding that expat Scots in other parts of the UK be allowed to participate in the referendum.  Scots ministers say this simply would not be practical.  How, would an electoral register of everyone who considered themselves Scottish be compiled?  Who, after all, is Scottish? You could include all those born in Scotland, or perhaps consider ancestry.  Indeed, it may be that a penchant for Irn Bru and Billy Connolly is enough to earn nationality.  With such a variety of attachments, “it would be absurd to allow anyone who claimed to be Scottish a vote,” says James Mitchell, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde.

A recent report by The Scottish Government found estimated 1.3 million Scottish-born individuals living outside Scotland, and between 19% – 26% of graduates from Scottish institutions found their first job after graduation outside Scotland.  However, no matter their location or the movements across the globe that may occur, a symbolic attachment to Scotland itself remains.  Scholars trying to understand the Scots identity have focused on its symbolism.  McCrone and Bechhofer (2010)explain how in Scotland, allegiance is bound with cultural markers of birth, ancestry and accent, which people use n different ways.   What is clear is that, predicated on a series of national symbols and other attachments, Scottishness as an identity, travels well.

This is a concept considered by Harald Bauder in an early view article of Area, which calls for a reconsideration of the relationship between nationality, mobility and the Nation-State.  Bauder critics the border of a nation, and contests the ability of this territory-based model to incorporate the material practices of human mobility.  In the case of the Scottish referendum, migration outside of the national boundary is considered a detachment to the nation itself.  Bauder’s crucial intervention suggests that identity constructions which have occurred through mobility should not be deemed inferior.  In light of this, “once mobility is no longer scripted as ‘aberrant’, identities will arise from a dialectical process involving the collective social and political practices of mobile (and immobile) people who recognise that they constitute political communities” (2012: 6).  Perhaps in this way, there may be steps towards addressing the conundrum of the referendum.

Harald Bauder, 2012, Nation, ‘migration’ and critical practiceArea, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01129.x

David McCrone & Frank Bechhofer, 2010, Claiming national identityEthnic and Racial Studies 33 921-948

Jon Kelly, The formula for Scottishness, BBC News, 26 October 2012

The Scottish Government, Engaging the Scottish Diaspora: Rationale, Benefits and Challenges, The Scottish Government 5 October 2009

More Than Just Physical: Natural Disasters and Human Geography

By Catherine Waite

Many assume that the study of natural hazards is confined to the work of physical geographers, geologists, engineers and so forth. However, it is necessary to look beyond the natural phenomena and consider the implications for society. Whilst academics from a wide variety of disciplines are involved in this task, human geographers have a central role to play and this has been demonstrated in a number of recent publications.

In Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Cupples (2012) reflected on her personal experience of the Christchurch earthquake that struck New Zealand in February 2011. Whilst focusing on the relationship between natural disasters and spaces of higher education, Cupples concluded that:

“It is clear that we cannot restrict ourselves to a geological (extremely important though that is) understanding of the Christchurch earthquake. Geographers are particularly well positioned to make diverse scholarly responses, particularly if they are able to bring disaster research into dialogue with intellectual developments in economic geography, development geography, feminist geography and cultural geography” (2012:340).

Crowley and Elliott’s (2012) research into earthquakes in the global north, published last month in The Geographical Journal provides further support for this call. The article’s focus on the risks of and community resilience to earthquakes demonstrates how natural hazards only become disasters once they impact upon society. This highlights the importance of society-centred research into natural hazards, which is work that geographers are ideally positioned to undertake.

The diverse potential of human geography for researching natural disasters is also evident in Morrice’s forthcoming publication in Area. This work, discussed below in Stacey Balsdon’s recent post, considers the decisions of New Orleans citizens following Hurricane Katrina as to whether to return following their forced evacuation in 2005. From an emotional geography approach Morrice considers how issues of loss, trauma and nostalgia influence return-migration decisions.

Personal and emotional responses to natural disasters frequently appear in the media. For example, the Guardian’s recent piece on the “Forced Migration in the 21st Century” considered how natural disasters and other factors cause mass population movements and the implications for the individuals and families affected. However, perhaps the most poignant article on the emotional impact of natural disasters recently appeared on the BBC website. The report detailed how debris from the Japanese tsunami has begun to be washed ashore on the United States West Coast. One volunteer debris collector told the BBC reporter

“It’s a reminder of what happened, so it’s not just trash. It was people’s belongings and people’s livelihoods and people’s homes”.

Already remarkable stories are emerging from the debris collection, for example, stories of how a named football and volleyball have been returned from Alaska to their teenager owners in Japan and how a container in which a Harley Davidson motorcycle was transported to British Columbia was traced via its registration plate and returned to its Japanese owner. These stories begin to convey some of the emotional impacts of natural disasters, demonstrating the importance of Cupple’s (2012) call for a diverse geographical understanding of disasters and their consequences.

Cupples, J. 2012 Boundary Crossings and new striations: when disaster hits a neoliberalising campus Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37:3 337-341

Crowley, K. and Elliott, J.R. 2012 Earthquake disasters and resilience in the global North: lessons from New Zealand and Japan The Geographical Journal 178:3 208-215

Morrice, S. 2012 Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions Area DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01121.x

The tsunami debris washed from Japan to Oregon BBC News Magazine 9th October 2012

Forced migration in the 21st Century: urbanised and unending The Guardian 16th October 2012

Content Alert: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 4 (October 2012) is Available Online Now

Cover image for Vol. 37 Issue 4

Volume 37, Issue 4 Pages 477– 657, October 2012

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

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