Tag Archives: Migration

Mobilising affinity ties for humanitarianism at the war-torn China-Myanmar border

By Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, National University of Singapore

idp-camp-at-china-myanmar-border

Figure 1. An IDP camp at the China-Myanmar border. Source: Author’s own, 2012.

A few days after Christmas 2016, a social media post caught my eye. It stated,

‘Dear Humanitarian Agencies, [the] IDPs regret to let you know that all the humanitarian assistance you provided […] has been abandoned again last night due to the offensive war of [the] Govt Military’.

The IDPs referred to internally displaced persons at the border of China and Myanmar, while the ‘Govt Military’ in question was the military arm of the Myanmar government.

On 8 November 2015, international news agencies had reported the landslide victory of the political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It appeared to herald a new era of democracy in Myanmar. But the civilian government has no oversight over the military, which retains the right to a quarter of the seats in parliament, and power over key ministries to do with defence, home affairs and border affairs. As the Washington Post reports on 28 December 2016, fighting at the border areas of Myanmar has escalated as the Myanmar military intensifies its attacks on ethnic groups it considers insurgents.

The IDPs mentioned in the social media post were displaced from their homes in Kachin state (henceforth Kachin IDPs) as a result of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state of northern Myanmar. The breakdown of a ceasefire agreement (1994-2011) between the two parties renewed a civil war in Kachin state. Regional newspapers such as The Irrawaddy provide fuller coverage of the hostilities happening in Kachin state, Myanmar.

IDPs who fled further north to the border area that Myanmar shares with China were barred from crossing the border into Chinese territory. This act of refusal in turn prevents the IDPs from being recognised as refugees who have crossed an international border and thereby entitled to protection under international law. For several years following the renewed conflict, local humanitarian workers faced challenges channelling humanitarian aid to the IDP camps at the China-Myanmar border. The remote location of camps at the border area meant the supplies could be delivered only via routes controlled by the military in Myanmar or the government in China.

However, both parties denied international humanitarian agencies access to the camps citing sovereignty reasons or concerns over the safety of international personnel in the conflict zone. Only in recent years has advocacy by humanitarian workers succeeded in pressuring the Myanmar military to provide safe passage for the international humanitarian agencies to assess the IDP camps and the needs of the IDPs. Even so, as the social media post above informs us, the humanitarian supplies remain at risk of being destroyed through ongoing conflict.

Considering these humanitarian challenges is an article published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers which examines the geographical and geopolitical constraints that deter international humanitarian assistance, yet provide opportunities to engage a different set of humanitarian actors at the China-Myanmar border.

The paper first argues that the Kachin IDPs are treated as surplus populations by the sovereign states in both Myanmar and China. Surplus populations come into existence when nation-states impose punitive measures that compromise the survivability of populations that are considered threatening to national sovereignty. Second, the paper examines how mobilising affinity ties enables Kachin humanitarian workers to leverage the citizenship resources of empathetic Chinese nationals across the China-Myanmar border for negotiating humanitarianism constraints.

Overall, the paper considers how physical and cognitive borders establish taxonomies of social difference but also provide opportunities for identifying connections and forging transversal dialogues (henceforth transversal webs of connections) to bridge people of different social positionings. The paper argues that transversal webs of connections engender affinity ties that can be mobilised towards nurturing empathetic identification and caring relationships in societies characterised by cultural diversity and social complexity. This approach provides a potential ethical stance and productive analytical lens for advancing wider migration and citizenship debates.

About the author: Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. Elaine’s current research interests include China-Myanmar borderland migrations, Chinese diaspora and transnationalism, Asian forced migration, and urban aspirations of new immigrants in China. 

books_icon  Ho, E. L-E. 2016 Mobilising affinity ties: Kachin internal displacement and the geographies of humanitarianism at the China–Myanmar border. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12148

60-world2  Htusan E 2016 Kachin rebels see more Myanmar attacks, no hope for peace The Washington Post online Dec 28 2016

60-world2  The Irrawaddy http://www.irrawaddy.com/

Wildfires and burning management

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Wildfires often occur as part of a natural cycle and they are important for the health of many ecosystems across the world by making the soil more suitable for seeding, for example. Indeed, many species (especially plants) have specific adaptations to wildfires such as fire-activated seeds and thermal insulation, while others rely on fires clearing space for their seedlings to grow (e.g. S. giganteum). The cause of wildfires may be natural or human-mediated (more information), and burning vegetation to make space for agricultural land, and as a means of managing natural fires, is common in many parts of the world (FAO).

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Archive: Fire and Smoke, Democratic Republic of the Congo (NASA, International Space Station, 05/16/02) obtained via Flickr under a CreativeCommons License (link to source).

Two key processes have the potential to increase the severity of wildfires in the future. First, global warming is likely to increase their intensity and duration as dry areas become drier and the length of the wildfire season increases. In fact, it has been reported that the area affected by wildfires has doubled in the western USA since the 1980s. Second, urbanisation has recently been linked to the potential for more damaging fires in Africa because of fewer traditional controlled burns in rural areas early in the wildfire season, leading to a build-up of dry vegetation (Archibald, 2016; Sci Dev Net, 2016).

We are, therefore, in a position where wildfires are likely to become an ever greater threat to human livelihoods and wellbeing. A recent article in The Geographical Journal (Caillault et al., 2015) discusses burning management in Burkina Faso, with a focus on ‘bad fires’, which are those that occur late in the season and degrade the Savannah. The authors highlight how policy has been slow to recognise the value of traditional fire management practices. These practices were once actively suppressed, but the advantages are now generally well-known. In spite of this, there are still some difficulties because of “the difference in perspective between rural land managers and policymakers” and “the lack of integration of the human dimensions of fire into fire science and ecology“, which are significant because policymakers are influenced by fire science, as detailed by Caillault et al. (p. 376). New ecological perspectives offer support for the importance of fire in Savannah landscapes towards the development of environmental policies and management rules in West Africa.

In line with this effort, Caillault et al. conduct a space-time analysis of fire in western Burkina Faso. They use remote sensing data from MODIS combined with field data, concluding that the spatial and temporal dimensions of burning are important aspects to understand regarding local and regional fire management. A regularity in the burning regime was recognised in relation to people, meaning that fire cannot be seen purely as a biophysical variable when considering its impacts on the Savannah: human practices shape this landscape as well. The fire practices observed were consistent, and not haphazard as is sometimes the perception, and they usually occurred early in the season, which has significant policy implications.

When we consider that wildfires are likely to worsen in coming years, a greater understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics locally and regionally will be essential for fire management policy. This necessitates understanding human and physical processes, as part of a truly geographical approach, the likes of which is demonstrated by Caillault et al.

References

books_icon Archibald, S. (2016). Managing the human component of fire regimes: lessons from Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371 (1696), p.20150346. [Associated Sci Dev Net news article]

books_icon Caillault, S., Ballouche, A. and Delahaye, D. (2015). Where are the ‘bad fires’ in West African savannas? Rethinking burning management through a space–time analysis in Burkina Faso. The Geographical Journal, 181 (4), pp.375-387.

60-world2 Mosbergen D 2016 Climate Change is Fueling America’s Wildfires, and it’ll only get worse The Huffington Post 

60-world2 UCSUSA 2016 Is Global Warming Fuelling Increased Wildfire Risks? 

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.

References:

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