We’ve recently heard the news of an airstrike on a refugee camp in Northern Syria, which came a day after a truce was extended to include Aleppo. On the same day, the news was followed the apparently more worrying announcement that the departure of the Turkish Prime Minister would threaten the current deal between the EU and Turkey over migrant numbers. (A deal in any case which in all likelihood violates international law.)
The world is clearly in the midst of a humanitarian crisis; conflict, displacement, underdevelopment, famine, disease… Though that is not the crisis we hear about the most.
What we hear of the is burden of the ‘flood’ of asylum seekers to Europe. Last year, called a ‘swarm’ by the British Prime Minister. We have heard of the ‘pull’ factor if we reduce search and rescue in the Mediterranean sea, (as thousands have drowned) or allow asylum seekers to work. Or the danger of asylum shopping in Europe, should we reduce the restrictions of the Dublin Convention. This means asylum seekers are returned to the country they first claimed asylum, placing a financial and administrative burden on those countries. The crisis in Europe is not a refugee crisis but a legal, political and economic one.
There are many brave individuals and organisations working tirelessly to provide immediate emergency support in places such as Lesbos, for example; however, wider anti-refugee and anti-migration discourses feed into policies which mean that once (and if) people reach European shores, they can be turned away or detained indefinitely. The last several months have shown how the humanitarian argument has catalysed support for refugees; however, it sadly does not seem enough to fully counteract discourses which dehumanise those who seek safety in Europe. These discourses define who is a deserving and ‘legitimate’ refugee. The media frequently present the ‘deserving’ as passive victims, without skills and capacities of their own and the ‘illegitimate’ as ‘illegal’ or ‘economic migrants’. Ironically and contrary to the original intention of the Nansen passports post 1st world war, where refugees were expected to work to ‘get back on their feet’. Overtime, there has been a shift in the discourse surrounding the construction of refugeehood that has very little to do with the flight from persecution or conflict
What we see is the discursive politics of migration governance.
Without critical discussion, reflection and engagement with those on the ground, researchers also risk reproducing the same discourses and perceptions of ‘refugee-ness’.
This is where the members of the COST New Speakers Network have the potential to play a role. Within the New Speakers Network, we have vast experience using our research and talents to challenge discourses about language and society, and in particular, discourses about stigmatised groups. We can engage with stakeholders to increase awareness of discourses and the manner in which they shape identities. We can build capacity within stakeholder groups, making them more capable to offer multilingual support or decoding legalese to a more understandable vernacular…
We have wide experience in bringing about positive change in Europe and my question therefore is:
How can we draw our experiences as researchers to help change the discourses about migration so that thousands more are not left to die trying to make a home for themselves in Europe?
On Thursday, May 12, we will lead a discussion group relating to issues of migration and asylum, and in particular, the current refugee crisis. We already have some confirmed participants, but we really hope that as many COST members as possible will be able to participate in this discussion, regardless of their expertise in issues of migration and asylum.
The following are the questions we hope to address in the roundtable:
- How do refugees and asylum seekers fit the definition of new speaker? (If at all) How can the concept of new speaker contribute to the wider field of migration and asylum? Can it be an additionally layer of labelling on forced migrants, or as potentially overcoming the victim label? Can the new speaker concept provide another basis of engagement?
- There has been a significant debate within the media in regards to the terms used to refer to those who are displaced; whether as ‘refugee’ or ‘migrants’. What is the legal, political and/or linguistic significance of this debate? Does the shift in vernacular correct or disrupt perceptions?
- To what extent do refugees have the ability to navigate unfamiliar legal, political, NGO discourses and articulate their own experiences? How are refugees as new speakers able to manage their linguistic resources to articulate their experience of displacement in an ‘acceptable manner’ to law and policy makers as well as NGOs? What linguistic strategies do refugees develop to gain legitimacy either in attaining legal status as refugees, or within their new social contexts once having been granted sanctuary – such as workplaces, schools, civil society organisations etc.?
- Could the concept of ‘legitimate speaker’ be considered as connected to the definition of the ‘illegal’ or ‘legal’ person? Who gets to decide to the value of their speech?
- Are refugees able to have a voice in the [social, legal or political] empowerment of their communities? How do issues such as language policy etc. impact their voice?
- Which engagements have already been occurring in reference to migration and asylum? How can we learn from those experiences to create a more coordinated response? Are we able to create a coordinated and sustainable response (particularly after the lifetime of COST New Speakers)?
- What are the potential challenges in collaborations between academics, policy makers, and stakeholders? What are the issues in reaching stakeholders and maintaining relationships?
- How do we make dissemination more effective?
- What outcomes and practical collaborations can we envision for the end of the 2017? We are organising as stated previously a follow-up impact workshop, where we look forward to members presenting their work with stakeholders. We would be interested in hearing how we can develop and make use of online platforms for dissemination as well as stakeholder engagement, and the potential issues of doing so.
We are also currently engaged with academics across disciplines, practitioners and refugees as well as interested members of the general public in these debates through our Migration and Asylum Platform. To follow us and find more information, please take part:
- Twitter @MigrationAsylumNet
- Facebook Group: Migration and Asylum Network
We hope to see you in Hamburg!
Cassie Smith-Christmas and Kirandeep Kaur