Civil solidarity and the hunt for undocumented migrants: Resisting the politics of bare life. Two Belgian case studies
Dr Robin Vandevoordt (Refugee Studies Centre)
Public Seminar Series
Wednesday, 08 May 2019, 5pm to 6.30pm
Seminar Room 1, Oxford Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB
Hosted by Refugee Studies Centre
Public Seminar Series, Trinity term 2019
Everyday Resistance to the European Governance of Migration
Series convenor: Dr Cory Rodgers
THE SEMINAR SERIES
The Trinity 2019 public seminar series focuses on “Everyday resistance to the European governance of migration”. As national immigration and asylum regimes become increasingly restrictive in countries around the world, “Fortress Europe” stands out for its efforts to regulate human movement both within and beyond its borders. Following the 2015 “crisis”, spikes in detention and deportation have been common features of European migration management. But there are also examples of resistance by migrants and citizens, who defy, endure, and creatively navigate these systems and practices of exclusion, often in ways that are overlooked in legal and institutional accounts of migration governance. This term, four Oxford-based speakers will describe situations in which such efforts become visible (and audible), through diverse case studies from sites on both sides of the Mediterranean. While focused on dramatically different situations and activities, they share an interest in alternative understandings of migration governance, as well as the practices by which people contend with state strategies, xenophobic narratives, and exclusionary practices.
While European governments have persecuted undocumented migrants for several decades, the techniques through which they do so have taken a more radical turn since the recent immigration influx of 2015. Focusing on the particular case of Belgium, this paper documents how its Federal government has enforced legal shifts in the asylum procedure which facilitate detention, forced return and the confiscation of IDs on the one hand, and systematic police raids in public parks, train stations and motorway parkings on the other. Resistance to these policies has come from two citizen collectives: the Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés and Humain vzw. Both collectives have gone beyond denouncing these policies on social and mass media by continuing to provide humanitarian support to migrants, irrespective of their legal status. In Brussels, the Plateforme Citoyenne has accommodated migrants into volunteers’ homes, set up a reception centre and evacuated public spaces where police actions were planned to taking place. Humain vzw has continued to provide food, medical and social support to migrants in the West of Belgium and the North of France, and has monitored human rights violations. Drawing on on-going ethnographic observations and document analysis, this presentation contributes to critical debates on civil movements’ potential in confronting the governmentality of immigration and the “politicization of bare life”.
Robin Vandevoordt is an Early Career Fellow in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Robin is working on a research project on ‘Civil humanitarianism and the politics of refugee solidarity’. He will continue doing on-going ethnographic fieldwork with several civil initiatives in Belgium, focusing on their subversive relations with governmental policies, professional NGOs and everyday social life. Drawing on his own Belgian case studies and similar initiatives across Europe, he will situate their rise in the broader context of changes in the field of humanitarian aid, European migration regimes, and citizens’ desire to re-establish a moral community through direct social action. His previous research at the University of Antwerp examined the conditions of solidarity by looking at Belgian and European responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. More concretely, he studied how journalists, students, social workers and policymakers made sense of their encounters with Syrian men and women. A crucial part of this project researched these encounters through Syrians’ lived experiences as they rebuild their social lives in Belgium. In the future, he hopes to slightly shift his field of study to the anthropology of food, by exploring how food serves as a site of both solidarity and contention, in the encounters between (forced) migrants and citizens