Migrants transiting (legally and with train tickets) through Macedonia

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Can anyone detect a human smuggler here? Will Cameron and Renzi’s solution be to bomb (‘dismantle’, they would say) Macedonia’s railways network? Europe is building fences along its external land borders. Hungary has almost completed one along its border with Serbia in record time, using Italian technology and public work labourers. EU technocrats and political leaders said this was evidence of Orban’s fascist master-plan, but do not be fooled: it’s pure hypocrisy. Hungary is doing what Greece and Bulgaria did not long ago with EU funding and know-how and the UK is doing in Calais now. It may even turn out the money for Hungary’s fencing come from Brussels. But fences are hard to build at sea, no wonder people continue to board unseaworthy boats. Who is forcing them to put their lives in danger? Who is to blame? Easy to use the ‘human traffickers’ as scapegoats. If we look closely, we will see that the mythical human trafficker looks very much like one of our political leaders.

View the full portfolio of photos by Boris Grdanoski


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Diasporas Reimagined, new edited collection

The publication of Diasporas Reimagined is just a few weeks away. The anthology includes 44 original chapters and a foreword by Robin Cohen. The editorial team includes Alan Gamlen (Victoria University), Giulia Liberatore (University of Oxford), Helene Neveu Kringelbach (UCL) and me. Free hard copies of the book will be distributed to attendees of the ‘Impact of Diasporas‘ conference on 17th September at the Royal Geographic Society in London. The book will be available shortly afterward as a pay-on-demand or for free in pdf. If you want to find out more about contributors and contents, Diasporas Reimagined’s Table of Contents is available here. DiasporasRe

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Zygmunt Bauman on multiculturality and its traps

zygmunt-baumanOn 19 October the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham will be hosting a distinguished lecture by Professor Zygmunt Bauman on multiculturality on a diasporized planet. The talk is free and open to the public, but due to limited places booking is required. You can register here 

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Calais migrants are not invading: they're just a small part of a global refugee crisis

by Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

[This article was originally published on The Conversation]

Much of the media coverage and political rhetoric of recent weeks has implied that the UK is undergoing an uncontrollable invasion by migrants attempting to jump on moving lorries in Calais.

To put this “crisis” in some perspective, it is useful to consider where most of residents of the “new jungle” at Calais come from and how they reached continental Europe. Many of the inhabitants of the new migrant camp in Calais are survivors of those dangerous Mediterranean boat journeys that until a few weeks ago seemed so distant from Dover.

They come mostly from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq devastated by years of civil war, repressive and dictatorial regimes, with no future to offer for their youth. This growing mobility across the Med is not surprising given we are witnessing the most severe refugee crisis since World War II, according to Amnesty International. But these incidents also indicate the scarcity of regular and safer migration routes in the region.

Increased military and humanitarian presence at sea since April this year has meant that the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean has been significantly reduced, perhaps evidence that many of those deaths were avoidable if EU political will had been quicker to coalesce. A side effect of this otherwise positive result has been the reduction of public solidarity in the UK, and to different extent across Europe, for boat migrants. There has been a robust return of the “migrant invasion” rhetoric with its corollary of “swamp”, “swarm” and “tidal wave”.

Compare the 500 daily attempts to jump on the back of lorries to the 137,000 migrants who reached Italy and Greece in the first half of 2015, and the numbers are far from huge. It is worth considering that they are often multiple attempts by the same people. While certainly enough to disrupt the Eurotunnel operation – combined with current disruption caused by prolonged strikes by ferry workers in France – these incidents and the surrounding rhetoric of invasion bolstered by journalists’ easy access to Calais should not let us lose sense of the broader picture. Calais is not a local issue. It is one manifestation of the global refugee crisis, but not one of the acutest.

Behind the numbers

Circular and seasonal migrations in the region have a very long history, arguably as old as Western civilisation. However, much of the coverage in recent months has been about the irregular crossings of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach the EU.

Rescued migrants arriving in Palermo, Sicily in July.
Mike Palazzotto/EPA

Traditional and social media have certainly played a central role in framing coverage of recent migration, but so have those who provided the figures that validate the invasion talk. One of the main sources is Frontex, the EU Border Agency. Leaving aside the consideration that Frontex resources in many ways depend upon the number of migrants that the agency is able to intercept and count, which may highlight a potential vested interest, there is a more structural point here. The organisation’s budget has rocketed from €6.3m (£4.4m) in 2005, to nearly €42m in 2007, topping €115m by 2015. Frontext figures, often repackaged by other agencies, count migrants that have been intercepted at sea or at land borders.

The more resources and capacities to intercept Frontex has, the more migrants may be intercepted and counted by Frontex. In turn, if there are fewer Frontex officers patrolling a land crossing that means fewer migrants are likely to be intercepted. In other words, while hard to prove unequivocally, it may be at least useful to think that the “invasion” we are told about may be as much the result of the global refugee crisis as of the number of border officers we send to patrol specific stretches of the EU border.

Not ‘typical’ undocumented migrants

The migrants living in the new jungle in Calais are one of the most visible parts of the global refugee crisis. Yet of 625,000 asylum applications in the EU in 2014, 65,000 were lodged in France and 32,000 in the UK. While it can be argued that a country such as Italy is a port of entry and a place of transit, this is less so for France and most people who apply there are likely to wait for the decision of their case in France. It may be obvious for any readers outside the UK, but not all migrants and refugees in France want to come to the UK: taking the views of the minority of migrants who reside in the new jungle as representative of the views and intentions of all asylum seekers and migrants in France is misleading and only stirs public hysteria.

To reassure the British public, new jungle residents contribute only in small part to the undocumented migrants in the UK. My own research shows that only a minority of undocumented migrants in the UK entered the country illegally – for example on the back of a lorry. Most undocumented migrants enter the country legally and overstay their visa. Despite the high profile accorded to Calais migrants, the “typical” undocumented migrant in the UK is more likely to be a white Australian, or a young Brazilian.

The Conversation

Nando Sigona is Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at University of Birmingham.

Read the original article.


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Refugia: the limits and possibilities of Buzi’s Refugee Nation

Professor Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

Professor Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

This is a guest blog by Robin Cohen, emeritus professor of development studies and former director of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.

Further read: Is creating a new nation for the world’s refugees a good idea? by Alex Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre

Jason Buzi, an Israeli-born entrepreneur living in the USA, has proposed that a ‘Refugee Nation’ should be created to solve the world’s refugee problem. Let us call this country ‘Refugia’. His solution has generated a mixed response, but his moral outrage, his diagnosis of the scale of the problem and his attempt to energize and galvanize a response adequate to the crisis have gathered at least some support. (Buzi’s proposals are set out here).

My esteemed colleague, Professor Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre, has responded in an informed and considered way (a précis of his interview with Radio 4 is provided in the news and media section of the Refugee Studies Centre). This blog furthers the dialogue.  Betts does not dispute the need for creative and innovative ideas to provide succour to the 60 million refugees (the highest number since the Second World War) but remains ‘unconvinced by the proposed solution’. His objections to Buzi’s proposal are three-fold:

Negative historical precedent
What happens to the long-standing population when a new nation is created? Betts evokes the negative historical experiences of Israel and Liberia. He is right in both his examples, while Buzi undermines his own case by praising Israel and describing it as ‘essentially founded as a refugee nation’, thus suggesting an analogy with his proposal. This account completely elides the colonizing and settler origins of Israeli society before the Second World War and the fate of the Palestinians. Liberia was equally deleterious for the local population as the Americo-Liberians, sent there by the American Colonization Society, dominated and oppressed the locals (though, to be fair, this is not an example that Buzi used).

If we have to use historical precedent, a better case would be the mixed experience of the Mandates established by the League of Nations in response to the unsettled conditions following the First World War, arguably a comparable situation to our current crisis. The mandated territories were Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, Mesopotamia, British Togoland, French Togoland, British Cameroons, French Cameroun, Ruanda-Urundi, Tanganyika, South West Africa, South Pacific Mandate, Territory of New Guinea, Nauru and Western Samoa. This is hardly a list of great success stories, though some perfectly viable countries did emerge from the Mandate experience. Rather than assess the final outcomes, I draw some important principles and lessons. There has to be a legitimating body – the League of Nations, now the United Nations. The initial authority should not be an established nation – the mandated territories looked far too much like another form of colonization by the winners of the 1914–18 war. More positively, the idea of ‘trust’ was borne – a double mandate to the international community and to the people of the territory who were, on an agreed timetable, destined to inherit the state.

Dangerous diversity
Betts is also worried that yoking together populations of diverse origins in a new refugee nation could potentially create conditions of conflict because of cultural and perhaps religious difference (he does not specify), leading to further displacement and the creation of another wave of refugees. This clearly is a possibility, but it is doubtful that this is intrinsically more probable than conflict with settled populations in neighbouring countries or xenophobia and violence in more distant countries. There are many examples of successful plural societies (including Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, the USA and Australia). Moreover, Buzi may be right in assuming that self-selection (his scheme is entirely voluntary) will mean that most ‘Refugians’ will be keen to start new and peaceful lives in a new setting.

Although Betts concedes that ‘states are showing declining willingness to provide territory to refugees’ this seems to me wholly to understate the issue. In Lebanon, the very existence of the state is being challenged. Jordan has shown amazing hospitality to the waves of newcomers but there are clear political limits to its generosity. In Western Europe, the numbers of refugees and migrants are still relatively small, but the growth of right-wing populist parties has now become so ubiquitous and so strident that it is only a small exaggeration to conjure up the spectre of fascism. However much we disapprove of angry manifestations of xenophobia, as the South African authorities found to their cost, ignoring nativism can result in very large losses of life.

More obvious solutions
Betts, finally, is right in saying that increasing support to the Jordans of this world is a more obvious way of giving support to refugees from contiguous states (the overwhelming majority of refugees). It is worth bearing in mind, however, that not all states can administer immense grants successfully or provide effective, continuous security. Need I mention the depredations of ISIL? Again, as Buzi points out (and Betts ignores), there is a strong reluctance of neighbouring states to grant full citizenship to refugees though, in some cases, as Tanzania shows, a grudging and gradual de facto citizenship might emerge. One of the attractive aspects of Buzi’s proposal is that he starts from the principle of full, active citizenship being granted from Day One.

Commonalities and ways forward
Both Buzi and Betts emphasize migrant agency. Betts has elsewhere written acutely on how Syrian refugees have reshaped their camps into communities in defiance of the sterile lines of tents put up in military fashion by the international agencies. As he says, ‘people have skills, talents, aspirations’, but this is not significantly different from Buzi noting that doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics are being penned up in camps ‘without using their abilities’. Why not, Buzi asks, let them use their talent to build a new nation?

Buzi is not always right but he is creatively provocative. It is true that the NGOs and international agencies have been placed in impossible positions, but they have also been slaves to old ideas and modes of coping. The scale of the refugee crisis and the growing resistance of host populations (wearied by war, insecurity or austerity) to new appeals to their generosity have produced a new dynamic. It is obviously an exaggeration to say that creating a refugee nation is THE solution. But we need also to recognize the limits to stretching the goodwill of neighbouring and distant states. Those efforts should nonetheless continue, as must attempts to create political stability in regions like the Middle East and the Great Lakes.

Alongside such traditional solutions, I think we need to give Refugia a try – as a model, a ‘new Jerusalem’, an alternative that might spawn imitations and improvements. By this, I do NOT mean a sordid camp, but a country that offers citizenship, security, employment and a future for young people. Of course, there are legitimate questions of finding a location that does not adversely affect a local population, of leadership and full democracy, of whether full religious freedoms can be offered when overzealous beliefs have triggered such murderous consequences. I have a starting point on these issues that departs from Buzi’s agenda. He is too beguiled by money and benign billionaires. I think a temporary UN Trust, a High Commissioner of the stature of Mary Robinson, protection by the Blue Berets until a standing army can be raised and a timetable for full control by Refugians show a better way forward. I think he is right to call on us to act to ameliorate the major moral mutilation of our times.

Citation: Cohen, R. (2015) ‘Refugia: the limits and possibilities of Buzi’s Refugee Nation’, Postcards from, 30 July 2015: https://nandosigona.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/refugia-the-limits-and-possibilities-of-buzis-refugee-nation/


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EU Migration Agenda as a cloud

EU migration agenda as a cloud, Nando Sigona, 2015

EU migration agenda as a cloud, Nando Sigona, 2015

Not sure what to make of this, interesting to see the prominence of ‘member states’, as they are certainly crucial in determining the success or failure of the strategy. Given the responses in the last few weeks (including France’s pushback at Ventimiglia), the latter seems a much more likely outcome. Assuming that the ‘kingdom’ in the cloud stands for the UK, it confirms that the UK is a major player on this agenda, despite having the right to opt-out from some components of it.

Interesting also to see the difference between ‘migration’ and ‘migrants’, a sign perhaps that EU legislators are much more comfortable with the process than with human beings. Not surprisingly, ‘smugglers’, ‘criminal network’and ‘smuggling’ also make the top 150 words, but not ‘traffickers’, term often used by the Italian PM to justify is interventionist agenda. Finally, the EU solutions are also there: ‘return’ (larger), ‘resettlement’, ‘relocation’, ‘distribution’ but also ‘border’ and ‘borders’.

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Cracking down on illegal migration doesn’t change net migration

Watch my interview on RT.com, below a summary of what I said

Photo opportunism for Theresa May and David Cameron who joined enforcement officers on an immigration raid on the day ONS data are released.

Photo opportunism for Theresa May and David Cameron who joined enforcement officers on an immigration raid on the day ONS data are released.

Today’s announcement of a crackdown on illegal migration to coincide with ONS latest figure on net migration is misleading. Clearly, undocumented migration has nothing, or only marginally, to do with net migration as the latter are a measure of legal migration only.

So the announced measures were just an attempt (mostly successful only with Tory media) to divert attention away from what is a remarkable failure of Cameron’s previous government to deliver on its own immigration pledge (for a critique of the immigration pledge see here).

We have also witnessed a poor attempt by Cameron to shift the blame for the failure on Lib Dem. This is totally misleading as the Home Office, and the Immigration portfolio in particular, have been firmly in Tory’s hands throughout the previous government.

Illegal migration in the UK is a much smaller phenomenon that the government would like people to believe. Due to its geographic position and extensive border control, the UK is nothing like the EU southern border, but smuggling and irregular migration in the Med have had extensive coverage in the last few weeks, so this was a classic attempt to bridge the announcement to the Mediterranean crisis story.

It is also remarkable in today’s speech that the government continues to use ‘net migration’ and the pledge to reduce it to ‘tens of thousands’ as a benchmark of its immigration policy despite experts have highlighted several reasons why it is a wrong criterion for immigration policy, not least because the government has no control over emigration. But, perhaps more importantly, high level of immigration in a country with such a low unemployment rate is clearly a sign of an healthy economy that demands more foreign workforce to run.


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