Europe has been implicated in streams of contemporary migration, described as the continent’s so-called migration crisis arising from the ongoing conflicts in West Asia and other parts of the Asian continent, as well as forced displacement from Africa. Issues around forced migration have also impacted the knowledge structures in social sciences, environmental sciences, area studies, and international relations. Against this background of an “epistemic crisis” of knowledge, European universities and research centres are now beginning to engage with the “crisis”. Some have taken in scholars at risk, others have opened their doors to refugee students, and a few are already involved in critical migration studies. Yet lacking in this endeavour is the effort to situate this scholarship and debates globally and in relation to the dynamics in the Global South. More specifically, in relation to the Middle East, Asia, or Africa from where most of the migrants arrive in the wake of wars, natural disasters, ecological catastrophes, conflicts and economic decline. The recent COVID-19 pandemic sheds a new light on the contradictions and the fault lines in various interventions, consequences, and decisions by states to monitor and control the flows of migrants. Attention to global dynamics have attained a different urgency and visibility with the COVID-19 pandemic. An understanding of this interlocked situations in the two continents was at the heart of this proposed workshop. This workshop used researchers’ reports from India, Greece and Turkey as an entry point to address the fractured legal geographies producing and reproducing the uneven location of forced migrant labor in cities, in health access, in rights claims, and their entanglements with local, national but also international and supranational institutions.
The workshop discussed the possibility of setting up a Europe-Asia research platform for the purpose of facilitating explorations, among others, of the various fault lines of race, religion, caste, sexuality, gender and class functioning in the global protection regime for refugees and migrants.
In this context, it was important to investigate the dynamics of immigrant economies and migrant/refugee industries in Europe and see how contemporary protection mechanisms are entwined with neoliberal capitalism. As such, migrants and refugees are turned form subjects of protection to subjects of development and the cheap and informal labour of refugees and migrants are harnessed to fuel the growth of neoliberal capitalism. The workshop also provided an opportunity to take stock of the challenges to the global protection system for refugees and migrants, in addition to the new UN-initiated two global compacts for protection of refugees and migrants.
Some of the common themes relevant to the goal of joint research platform emerge from factors such as:
1) cities of different scale in Asia and Europe are all faced with a growing humanitarian crisis as forced migrants live primarily in inhospitable urban environments;
2) there is increased racialisation of migrants and refugees along with securitization, evident in both Europe and Asia;
3) increasingly protracted state of displacement, thus minimizing chances of safe return, and consequently increasing statelessness, and the need to examine the conventions on statelessness in this context;
4) proliferation of legal categories vis-a-vis forced migrants and access to health;
5) immigrant economy, migrant industry and the migrant and refugee labour in cities of different scale, and;
6) the contrast between the gendered nature of forced migration and a seemingly homogeneous global protection policy as evinced in the structure of camps, labouring profiles, family burden, access to resources, and personal freedom.
This initial workshop of the platform aimed to initiate in-depth discussion among a small group of scholars from Europe and Asia around these topics building on brief reports from Asia and Europe. The selected researchers from IWM (Vienna) and Calcutta Research Group (Kolkata) were expected to give a 10-minute presentation of a pre-circulated paper fitting into these selected themes, followed by a 15 minutes discussion.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we have changed the format and the scope of the workshop to take place virtually on 25-26 June, between 3-6PM Central European Time (CET) each day. It started with a public round table on 24th June – 6-7:30PM CET, with Ranabir Samaddar on his recent edited book Borders of an Epidemic. Covid-19 and Migrant Workers. As we moved closer to our workshop, we asked some of our participants to assume the role of discussants and briefly introduce panels.