Tag Archives: feminist geopolitics

If Donald would meet Fatima

By Karen Culcasi, West Virginia University

We live in a world today where 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced,[ which is almost 1% of the world’s population. Those statistics are alarming. In this context, it is deeply troubling that the system created to help refugees and asylum seekers has failed the people it is supposed to support. The sense of humanity and compassion that once guided refugee policies has waned. Refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants are all too often confronted with hostility, violence, and repression both at state borders and through deterritorialized bordering processes that happen away from physical borders (Gorman 2016).

The USA, where I live, has a long history of resettling refugees and asylum seekers; and the country has benefited immensely from these migrants. However, this trend of acceptance is changing. This is plainly evident through countless examples of the violent deterrence of asylum seekers at the USA’s southern border and debates over building a wall. Yet, what is less visible in public discussion is the quiet, slow violence (Coddington 2019) of deterrence that happens through bordering practices of policy, legal regulations, and nativist ideologies.

Syrians are currently the largest refugee group in the world, estimated at 13 million. In 2016, under the Obama administration, the US resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees. The election of Trump, and the mainstreaming of nativist anti-immigration and Islamophobic politics (Bail 2015 and Beydoun 2018) have had profound impacts on resettlement of Syrian refugees. More specifically, the implementation of travel bans targeted at several Muslim majority countries including Syria (Executive Order 13769, known colloquially as the ‘Muslim travel ban’) and the lowering of refugee ‘ceilings’ (the maximum number of refugees permitted to enter the country) in successive years under Trump’s presidency has resulted in a near stop to the resettlement of Syrians in the USA.

In 2017, the USA allowed in 3,024 Syrians, 12,455 less than the previous year. In the first 3 and a half months of 2018, only 11 Syrian refugees were admitted, compared to 790 during the same time period in 2017. In 2018, a total of 22,494 refugees were admitted into the US, which was not only well below the 45,000 ceiling, but also lowest number of admissions since the 1980 Refugee Act was passed.

I wonder if the policy makers of the world, if Donald Trump, would continue to enact such humanitarian violence if they knew some of the Syrian women refugees in Jordan whom I met and spent time with. These women have experienced immense trauma and countless struggles, things that are incomprehensible to most Americans. Yet they are amazingly productive citizens of their communities throughout Jordan and within their households. Many Syrian refugee women are working for an income to support their families; some have started businesses, while others are learning new skills and earning degrees; all while caring for their families and coping with the trauma of war and displacement.

Fatima, for example, was in her second year of college, pursuing a degree in education, when the Syrian war erupted. Her family fled to Jordan, living for a short time in an apartment in the city of Irbid. Due to lack of money, her family moved into the Za’atari refugee camp several months later. In the camp, there was no chance for Fatima to continue her studies. She explained that,

“I couldn’t continue my education here, so I suffer a lot. I am one of the people who care a lot about education… I had high hopes about college because I was excellent in certain subjects in school and I wanted to go into grad school and get my masters as well as my doctorate.”

Fatima, at age 19, had her first child in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. When her son was just a few months old her husband left Jordan and traveled to the UAE to work and send money back to support the family.  But Fatima could not wait for his financial support. So she got a job as a teacher’s assistant in Za’atari and was soon promoted to 2nd grade teacher. As a result, she became the primary income earner for her extended family, who were living together in the camp. Fatima is successful and proud. She is also full of humor and warmth. When she has free time, she often creates artwork to help the dire aesthetics of life in the camp. With the most meager of materials – dried beans and cigarette boxes typically – she has decorated her family’s caravan, as well as some of her neighbors’ walls, and small schoolrooms with designs like palm trees or sayings from the Quran.  

Cigarette Box Bean art/

I am humbled by the strength, resilience, ingenuity, humor and warmth of Fatima and the other Syrian women I met and interviewed. Though nearly all these women (and many other Syrians I spoke with) asserted without hesitation that they want to return to Syria and rebuild their lives, I believe that these women, and their families, would make wonderful neighbours, colleagues and friends; whether in northern, West Virginia, USA, where I live or elsewhere. Yet the slow violence of the bordering practices like the travel bans and the refugee ceiling are squelching any such chances.

References

Bail, Christopher. (2015). Terrified: How anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Beydoun, Khaled A. (2018). American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

Coddington, Kate. (early view). The slow violence of life without cash: borders, state restrictions, and exclusion in the U.K. and Australia. Geographical Review doi: 10.1111/gere.12332

Culcasi, K. “We are women and men now”: Intimate spaces and coping labour for Syrian women refugees in Jordan. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2019; 00: 1– 16. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12292

Gorman, Cynthia. (2016). Containing Kassindja: detention, gendered threats and border control in the United States. Gender, Place and Culture, 23(7), 955-968.

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

Libya and geographies of insecurity

by Fiona Ferbrache

As some foreign governments have been organising the evacuation of their citizens from Libya, other migrants in the country have been left to fend for themselves.  Many people in Libya are thus stranded and left to face various insecurities as unrest continues to unfold.  It is estimated that 1.5 million Egyptians live and work in Libya, many of whom are now fleeing the country and the threat of maltreatment.  For Egyptians, the insecurities against them have risen, following the accusation that Egyptians are partly responsible for recent uprising in the country.

BBC News, reporting on events in the Middle East (2011), provides an indication of the number of foreign citizens in Libya, and how their various governments are responding to the crisis.

Events in Libya strike a chord with a forthcoming article in TIBG: Fluri (in press) explores geographies of security in contemporary conflict zones.  Her analysis examines the everyday (gendered) sites and situations of civilian security in relation to civilian movements and mobility, and is informed by feminist discourses of political geography.  Fluri’s work presents examples of civilian (in)security in Afghanistan, but she is eager to emphasise that this place-specific analysis is not intended to limit spatial understanding of security to one place.  Fluri urges for additional research of conflict zones, not only to broaden epistemologies of civilian (in)securities, but also to respond and manage civilian lives in places and moments of instability and threat – places such as Libya.

Fluri, J.L. (in press) Bodies, bombs and barricades: geographies of conflict and civilian (in)security. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

BBC News (2011) Libya protests: Evacuation of foreigners continues.  Online 25 February, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12552374 Accessed 26 February, 2011