Research InSightS LIVE #2

Seeking systemic action for refugees and migrants

The second Research InSightS LIVE took place on 6 December 2021. During a hybrid event (online and at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam) host Lynn Zebeda welcomed nine guests to discuss how systemic action for refugees and migrants can be achieved.

The event focused on the protection of refugees in camps, migrants on the move, or (undocumented) migrants closer to home. The COVID-19 pandemic, continued migration and the recent developments in Afghanistan and Belarus demonstrate the importance of engaging with this topic. Moreover, there is a clear need for action. How to move away from ad-hoc half solutions towards durable and systemic solutions and action – at international, national and sub-national level? What can we learn from recent research findings?

During the event, academics of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and practitioners working in the field reflected on these questions and shared their ideas, experiences and research insights.

Watch the recap

Recap - Research InSightS LIVE #2 - Seeking systemic action for refugees and migrants

Moving away from ad-hoc, half solutions to durable and systemic action

Some highlights of the event

The search for solutions centred around three themes:

  • Our common humanity as the foundation of everything
  • Current policies creating humanitarian disasters
  • Moving forward: Migrant, civil society and research perspectives

Theme 1 - Our common humanity as the foundation of everything

During the first part of the event the guests discussed the meaning of humanity in relation to responses towards migrants and refugees.

Dr Hanaa Bejeddi, who is a Pediatric Resident at the Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, shared her experiences of working with migrants and refugees on Lesbos in Greece.

In the refugee camps she perceived both a lack of humanity as well humanity in action; people trying to help others in the best possible way. Hanaa Bejeddi stressed how humanity should not be perceived as a soft tool. Instead, it is strong instrument. Governments should deploy it to invest, for instance, in research.

The conversation continued looking at the experiences of migrants and refugees closer to home. ISS Assistant Professor, Zemzem Shigute, recently conducted research on Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants in the Netherlands, studying how this group has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She found that the corona crisis exacerbated migrants’ vulnerabilities, such as language barriers, financial insecurities and social isolation. Yet she also observed solidarity in the shape of settled migrants offering support to newly arrived migrants amongst others through helpdesks that they set up.  

In Indonesia, this solidarity towards migrants exists as well, Mahardhika Sjamsoeoed Sadjad, PhD candidate at ISS, remarked. In her research, she examines the different narratives and discourses on migration in Indonesia. In a country where refugees and migrants are not allowed to settle permanently, as they are regarded by the government as ‘in transit’, divergent narratives and responses can be observed. Mahardhika Sjamsoeoed Sadjad explained the concept of ‘social jealousy’, which is specific to the Indonesian context.

The first part of the event concluded with the urgent question: How to make humanity more central in our policy and practice? The guests addressed the importance of self-reflection regarding our responses towards migrants and refugees and responsibility as individuals to act humane. In addition, scientists can make recommendations to policy-makers and urge them to take action.

Poetry by Sediqa Sarwari

Poetry by Sediqa Sarwari

Sediqa Sarwari performed a moving and urgent poem about refugees in Indonesia for Research InSightS LIVE #2. 

Theme 2 - Current policies creating humanitarian disasters

In the second part of the event speakers reflected on current policies and how they  leading to humanitarian disasters. People drowning in the Mediterranean sea or the dire situation at the border between Poland and Belarus are grim examples.

These days, crises do not merely stem from disasters such as conflicts, said Thea Hilhorst, Professor at ISS. Instead, they originate from an encounter with a border. The indifferent response by politicians – 'the politics of letting die' -  is meant to deter people from coming.

Anna Alboth, working for the NGO Minority Rights Group, shared her recent observations working on the Polish-Belarusian border. The circumstances are utterly inhumane. Anna Alboth urged big organizations to step up and help. International pressure, interest and visibility are needed to do something about this critical situation.

The crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border is clearly not the first one Europe has faced, said Zeynep Kasli, Assistant Professor at ISS. The EU should take a different approach when it comes to this matter.
Anila Noor Managing Director at New Women Connectors and an ISS alumna, added that countries are merely trying to safeguard their borders. By doing so, they are replacing one crisis with another.

These guests concluded the second part of the event by reflecting on what constructive action can be taken. Thea Hilhorst and Zeynep Kasli discussed the huge gap that currently exists between the restrictive approach of European politicians towards migrants and refugees and the suggestion to create open borders. They argued that a workable solution can (and should) be found between those two extremes, as the current politics of inaction is unacceptable.

Theme 3 - Moving ahead: Migrant, civil society and research perspectives

In the third part of the event, the guests discussed how insights from research, civil society and migrant perspectives can inform and transform policy and practice going forward.It is important to put migration in perspective, said Wies Maas, International Program Coordinator at Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland and ISS alumna, as less than 1% of the world population is on the move or displaced.

However, the narrative of public opinion often portrays a different picture. The concept of solidarity is an important key for change and resettlement is a powerful instrument to move forward. Furthermore, Wies Maas gave examples of inspiring practices to find solutions. For instance, work that has been done with municipalities or other partners in society such as the military.

Nanneke Winters, Assistant Professor at ISS, shared what we can learn from her research on migrants in South-America. The political categorization of migrants or refugees determines their possibilities, she stated. Nanneke Winters noted that migrants do not only move from A to B. By using a 'trajectory approach' that better captures the complexity of migrants’ journeys, we can also pay attention to the communities people pass through, as they influence migrants’ journeys and vice versa. Migration is not only about people on the move, but also the communities they encounter on the way.

Anila Noor, addressed the issue of involving migrants themselves in the discussion. The organization she is affiliated with, New Women Connectors, advocates for this group so their voices are heard.

Lastly, the guests discussed the various ways to move forward. New initiatives, based on interpersonal solidarity, are examples of effective action. Shedding light on these kinds of positive stories is important. In addition, the focus should be on those stakeholders that are willing to help; other possible allies should be sought and involved. Furthermore, resettlement and relocating people out of border situations remains a vital instrument.

A critical reflection on human rights is also needed: Do they apply to all or just to Europeans? It should be acknowledged that action is a rational consideration and not just an emotional one. The criminalization of helping migrants and refugees is a dangerous trend that can thwart action and should be exposed or contested. Lastly, if we really want to talk about systemic action, we need to address the real drivers of migration. In the end, that comes down to global inequality and this too often remains the elephant in the room.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes: Research InSightS LIVE 2

Behind the scenes: Research InSightS LIVE 2


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