22 August 2018

Migration has emerged as one of the most important issues of our time. By migration we normally mean people crossing borders, but for more and more people it has become the opposite. Many get stuck at borders, are sent to refugee camps or are prevented from living where they want to. This immobility was in focus when 300 researchers got together for a three-day conference in Norrköping, organised by the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, REMESO.

Conference on migrationPhoto credit: Thor BalkhedThe conference, entitled Nordic Migration Research, is the most important arena for discussion and development within the field of migration and ethnic relations in the Nordic region. Branka Likic-Brboric from Linköping University is one of the organisers.

“For migration researchers, it has become increasingly important to study the growing immobility – that migration can mean high mobility for a minority, and confinement for others. Stricter border controls and more restrictive legislation in most of the wealthier part of the world have led to a situation where some people are not able to move around or migrate in order to improve their lives”, she says.

And in Europe, what Branka Likic-Brboric calls “authoritarianism” has become strong in certain countries, such as Russia and Hungary. This refers to, for instance, that a country’s head of state acquires more power, at the expense of the democratically elected parliament.

“At the conference we focussed on how democracy is weakened in authoritarian societies, which leads to more restrictive migration legislation, hostility towards and demonization of migrants”, says Branka Likic-Brboric.

Critical look at migration and immobility

One of the three keynote speakers who discussed immobility was Tanya Golash-Boza, professor of sociology at University of California. Her research focusses on issues relating to immigration, race, globalisation and human rights. In her presentation she spoke about undocumented immigrants in the United States.Tanya Golash-BozaTanya Golash-Boza Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

She first addressed the audience directly:

“You probably travelled to this conference without any problems.”

The background we have affects how we can move across borders, Tanya Golash-Boza says. She calls it a global apartheid, where people from the North can cross borders with few problems, while people from the South cannot.

Tanya Golash-Boza’s presentation focussed on the role of the capitalist system in an era of migration. Again, she turned to the audience.

“How many of you have eaten almonds in the past six months? Ninety per cent of the world’s almonds come from the Central Valley in California, and they’re picked by undocumented refugees. Migrants are often the ones doing the work in the fields and in the agricultural sector, not only in the United States. In order words, the economy is based on migrants who don’t have the right to stay in the country, producing our food.”

A chance to share knowledge

The conference included a large number of workshops where participants could have discussions in smaller groups.

At the workshop “Civic responses to the ‘refugee crisis’”, Jonathan Josefsson from Child Studies at Linköping University presented an on-going research project, where he is studying children’s and adolescents’ engagement in stopping the deportation of children. His studies are based on the Swedish association Ung i Sverige (Young in Sweden), where young people join forces to stop deportations to Afghanistan.

The workshops were an opportunity for the researchers to share ideas, comment on each others’ research, and establish new partnerships.Konferens migrationErika Sigvardsdotter (middle) is deeply concentrated during Etienne Balibars presentation. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

One of the conference participants was Erika Sigvardsdotter from the Swedish Red Cross University College. For her it is highly rewarding to be able to spend a few days learning about what other researchers are working on. She is working on a new research programme that focusses on public servants’ and the voluntary sector’s experiences of the mental health of new arrivals.

“I found the conference very rewarding. Where I work there aren’t very many people with a social science background, so getting that perspective on migration-related issues is valuable. Especially now that we’re starting up a new research programme.”
Jonathan Josefsson och Branka Likic-Brboric at the conference GFMD.

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