Tag Archives: immigration

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).

Fox News ‘no-go zones’ and British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Over the past month, the geography of Europe’s Muslim population has been greatly exciting the pundits invited to talk on the conservative Fox News channel. Furore was sparked when ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, told host ‘Judge Jeanine’ about the ‘hundreds’ of ‘no-go zones’ across Europe, in which non-Muslims are supposedly not welcome.

Emerson stated, “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go… In parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

UKIP’s Nigel Farage even turned up to tell Sean Hannity about the ‘blind eye’ that has supposedly been turned towards the ‘Muslim ghettos’ where ‘the police and all the normal agents of the law have withdrawn’ and where ‘Sharia law has come in’.

These segments were widely mocked across social media and the station eventually issued an apology, stating that there was “no credible information to support the assertion”.

Despite the apology and the ridicule, this idea of ‘no-go zones’ has been seized by the far-right. Nationalist group Britain First has, according to The Independent, restarted its ‘Christian patrols’ in parts of east London, with the stated aim to make “our streets safe for our people”.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has also jumped upon the ‘no-go zones’ theme, telling a neocon think tank that, in the West, there are areas in which “non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can.”

An article by Deborah Phillips in January’s edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is critical of these kinds of popular and political representations of Muslim neighbourhoods, which typically portray Muslim communities as made up of “dubious citizens and unassimilable others”.

The paper seeks to “complicate understandings of British Muslim citizenship” by underscoring the “salience of the neighbourhood as a performative space implicated in citizenship formation and the sedimentation of feelings of belonging.” Philips’ work involved conducting interviews and focus groups with Muslims and newly arrived economic migrants from Eastern Europe in the UK city of Bradford.

Like the right-wing pundits, freedom of movement was foremost among the Muslim participants’ concerns; the freedom to travel into ‘white areas’ was widely perceived to be constrained, with many women stating that they feel uncomfortable about moving outside community spaces because of fear of hostility and violence. Female participants described the commercialised city centre as ‘not for the likes of us’, and ‘sort of out of bounds’.

The apparent ease with which their new Eastern European neighbours traversed the city, as seemingly ‘unmarked’ White Christian bodies, was identified as a source of tension. Muslim participants suggested that this stood in contrast to their own lack of freedom to “cross the boundaries of public space without surveillance and ‘all that hassle’… or to enter white residential spaces without fear of harassment.”

One idea mooted by Phillips is that the desire to appropriate city space may be, at least in part, motivated by feelings of restriction. The sense of empowerment gained when moving through a ‘Muslim neighbourhood’ goes a little way towards compensating for immobilities elsewhere.

These debates, involving issues of citizenship, identity and appropriation of space, are inherently geographical and have so far been largely dominated by actors seeking to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. Phillips’ paper is a timely contribution that works to inject some desperately needed nuance into these debates that show few signs of dissipating.

 Deborah Phillips, 2015, Claiming spaces: British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship in an era of new migrationTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(1) 62-74.

On universities as border sites

by Matt Jenkins

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace (UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/)

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace
Source: UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/

In August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s status as a visa sponsor under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. As a result, over a thousand students found themselves with 60 days to find a new university at which to study or face deportation. The university was faced with the possibility of losing a key source of income and possibly shutting down as a result. Universities across the country took note: the UKBA have the power to seriously impair the ability of universities to carry on operating and their instructions must be followed.

This incident may seem like a little local administrative difficulty, but it illustrates a new role for educational institutions in the UK. We have become border sites, places where individuals are sorted into those permitted to be in the country and those who are not on behalf of the UKBA. This sorting is largely done by teaching staff, who are not paid for it and are often unaware that they are doing it. It forces students to study in approved ways, decided for them not by themselves or their institution but by the state border agency. It forces institutions to maintain systems of surveillance, removing from them their ability to decide what constitutes appropriate student behaviour. The implications of this new role, for students, for staff and for the structure and the ethos of educational establishments, are far-reaching and under-examined. Geographers, with our body of literature on borders and their effects, are well placed to undertake such an examination.

About the author: Matt Jenkins is an ESRC-funded doctoral candidate at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, and is a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG. His commentary, ‘On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education‘ is published in The Geographical Journal.

books_iconJenkins M 2014 On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12066 [open access]

60-world2BBC News 2013 London Met: How many non-EU students had to leave? 2 December

60-world2Grove J 2012 Home Office ‘to strip’ London Met of highly trusted status Times Higher Education 23 August

60-world2Collini S 2013 Sold Out London Review of Books 35 2 3-12

(Im)mobile phone geographies

By Helen Pallett


Image credit: Derek A. from Akishima, Japan

Mobile phones are, for many of us, an essential yet banal technology. Without them many of us would struggle to organise our lives, entertain ourselves and stay in contact with loved ones, yet we frequently take for granted this technology which was not widely in use, even 15 years ago.  The humble mobile phone however, is a central element in several of the biggest news stories of the past two weeks, including the trial of senior figures in the British press accused of hacking into the mobile phones of celebrities and other individuals, the revelation that the United State’s National Security Agency was tapping the calls of foreign prime ministers and presidents, and the story that the UK Border Agency had sent a text message to thousands of people accusing them of being illegal migrants.

In contrast to the media coverage of events around the Arab Spring in 2011, these stories highlight not the potential for mobile phone technologies to bolster personal freedom and popular movements, but rather their potential to act as more sinister technologies of surveillance and discrimination. This highlights how mobile phones can function as technologies of control, fixity and immobility in certain contexts, whilst they can increase mobility and connections across physical distance in others. These recent developments raise serious challenges for how we can live with and regulate such technologies, even in the context of supposedly liberal western societies.

A review of ‘Mobile Phone Geographies’ in the journal Geography Compass by Julia Pfaff in 2010, discusses how geographers are studying mobile technologies and engaging with these challenges. The tension between the potential for mobile phones to promote certain freedoms but also to enable forms of control and surveillance, is something which has been of particular interest to geographers. In particular, mobile technologies enable surveillance and control not only between nation states and large corporations – though the NSA revelations show that this form of surveillance is far from dead – but they allow surveillance between private citizens. So individual journalists were able to listen in to personal calls and access voice mail messages. In the case of the UKBA texts, the British state was able to connect up vast amounts of data about the residency status of private citizens to mobile phone records, in order to send out a mass text message to at least 39,000 people. The evidential basis of these text messages has been undermined by evidence that some of the recipients were British passport holders; yet, their impact as a tool of automated yet targeted intimidation was still keenly felt by the individuals concerned as a strategy of control and immobilisation.

This tension between freedom and control in analysis of mobile phone use is closely linked to the blurring it allows between private and public spaces. Mobile phones allow private conversations to be conducted in public spaces, whilst also enabling people to act publicly  – for example on the internet or as part of protest movements – when they are themselves in private spaces. The possibility of surveillance and control blurs these boundaries further. For  example, the UKBA’s texts represented a very public campaign conducted through a private, personal means of communication, whilst debates around phone-hacking and the regulation of the press hinge on how to balance notions of the public interest with the rights of individuals to privacy.

Geographers and other analysts need to be wary of technological determinism when discussing the societal effects and entanglements of important technologies like mobile phones. In tandem with the potential for mobile phone and smart phone technologies to promote greater mobility across space, and enable previously impossible or difficult interactions, there is also the potential for these same technologies to play into a politics of control which can have the effect of limiting or guiding the mobility of certain individuals and groups.

books_icon Julia Pfaff 2010 Mobile Phone Geographies Geography Compass 4 1433-1447

60-world2 Les Back You’ve got a text from UKBA: Technologies of control and connection Discover Society, 13 October

60-world2 Phone-hacking: trail of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks to begin The Guardian, 28 October

60-world2 US spy leaks: how intelligence is gathered BBC News, 30 October 

Content Alert: Geography Compass, Volume 6, Issue 8 (August 2012) is Available Online Now

Geography CompassVolume 6, Issue 8 Pages 455-511, August 2012

The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

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

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by Fiona Ferbrache

In poignant ceremonies over the weekend, the US marked the tenth anniversary of, what have come to be known as, the 9/11 attacks (see Dalby, 2011:199 for a discussion of this numerical specification, rather than spatial context, of events) (McFadden, 2011).

The current issue of Geographical Journal (2011) is a themed edition entitled Ten years after: September 11th and its aftermath.  It contains papers from an array of perspectives, designed to encourage reflection on changing geographies (geopolitics in particular) of the last decade, and contemporary reflections on the significance of the 9/11 event.  This work is focused on the legacies of September 11th, in terms of how things have changed in the world, and how we conduct scholarly investigations around these changes.

Contributions to this special issue include commentaries on oil, border security, India-US relations, immigration enforcement, as well as contemporary artistic productions that have re-imagined processes of militarization and governmentalization.  In the final paper of this set, Gregory critically discusses the geographical dimensions of wars that have played out in the shadow of September 11th.  He focuses on three (what he terms as ambiguous) “global borderlands”; (i) Afghanistan – Pakistan, (ii) US – Mexico, and (iii) cyberspace.  He suggests that together they comprise “a distinctly if not uniquely American way of war” (Gregory, 2011:240).

In a similar way to the weekend’s commemorations and media attention around the tenth anniversary, these papers offer a meaningful commentary of some of the ways in which the world that we know, has changed.

  Dalby, S. (2011) Ten years after: September 11th and

its aftermath,  Geographical Journal. Vol.177, No.3 pp.198-202

  Gregory, D. (2011) The everywhere war, Geographical Journal. Vol.177 no.3 pp.238-250

McFadden, R. (2011) On 9/11 Vows of Remembrance. The New York Times. [online]

Young People, Immigration and Stereotypes

By Kate Botterill

A recent large-scale, attitudinal survey of young people, conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) charity in over 35 countries, found that intolerance towards immigration among English teenagers is higher than the international average, particularly in relation to migrants from within Europe. A longitudinal survey was conducted among teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 and found that attitudes to immigration ‘hardened’ with age.

Professor Kerr from the NFER declared that “they support notions of equality in gender and race in theory, but when it comes to actual immigration, they are less tolerant than young people in the other countries. It could be that we’re living in an increasingly competitive world and they are mainly worried for their own prospects.” I would argue that further research is needed to uncover the detailed reasons for this worrying growth in intolerance towards immigration with age. There is a value in complimenting the evidence gained through large scale longitudinal surveys with qualitative, in-depth research on the identities and subjectivities of young people.

The voices of young people are seldom heard in this way and much of the academic research on the identities and subjectivities of young people perform this function well. In a special issue of Area (vol. 42) this year a number of authors have offered contributions which place importance on young people as key actors in society. One such contribution comes from Caitlin Cahill (2010) who uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) to explore the emotional and economic impacts of immigrant stereotyping on young Latino immigrants living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

By exploring the everyday experiences of young people through an arts-based participatory project, Cahill seeks to ‘reframe’ immigration through the process of PAR. She discusses the geopolitical discourse of immigration in Utah – ‘one of the last white ‘frontiers’’ in the USA – and collaborates with young people to reveal counter-narratives of everyday experience and expressions of resistance that challenge dominant meta-narratives on immigration. Through the use of PAR in researching young people’s lives Cahill is unequivocally ‘acknowledging young people as transformative subjects, not passive victims or the collateral damage of the sweeping forces of globalisation’ (p.160).

Read Peter Walker’s article – ‘Teenagers harden views on immigration as they age’ in The Guardian

Read Cahill, C. (2010) ‘Why do they hate us?’ Reframing immigration through participatory action research. Area, 42(2) pp.152-161