HRIT Podcast Episode Nine

Precarious Journeys – Transit at EU Borders

In this episode, Kathryn Metz (Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Slavic and East European Studies) and Eleanor Paynter (PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies) discuss conditions of transit for migrants both outside and inside EU borders. What factors shape the journeys of migrants as they reach and attempt to enter the EU? How do migrants’ descriptions of their own experiences of transit complicate popular representations of migration to Europe? Our conversation draws on fieldwork observations and interviews from Summer 2017. Here we offer additional resources to contextualize our conversation and for further reading:

Contexts: We discuss two sets of routes: one through the Balkan region, and one across the Mediterranean Sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) collects information on arrival trends in Europe and maintains a map of this data. In the Mediterranean context, updated data on sea crossings are also maintained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Relevant laws and procedures:

Border externalization is the transfer of migration controls to a third-country. With the closure of Hungary and Croatia’s borders in 2015-2016, there is a backlog of migrants in Serbia. The European Union has deemed Serbia a safe third country and the EU has contributed money and personnel to the country to contain the migrants and prevent them from moving onward.

Serbia does not, however, meet all of the necessary criteria to be classified as ‘safe.’ Namely, it is lacking an effective and efficient asylum procedure. Serbia’s safe country classification has resulted in thousands of cases of push backs of irregular migrants who are apprehended inside the borders of Croatia, Hungary and Romania and returned to Serbia without the opportunity to apply for asylum in one of these EU countries. Without an effective system in place in Serbia, thousands of migrants do not have the ability to apply for asylum and receive protection. The lack of legal options results in migrants attempting more perilous journeys and relying on smugglers to gain entry into the EU.

The Dublin Regulation, originally established in 1990 and revised multiple times since, currently stipulates the procedures for determining where asylum applications are processed. In November 2017, the European Parliament agreed to discuss several major changes to this regulation, including the stipulation we discuss in this episode, that migrants register and stay in the country of first entry. The year 2018 will likely see changes to how and where migrants’ applications are processed. You can track the legislative discussion here.

On Libya: We mention Libya as a key site of transit for migrants who cross the Mediterranean and arrive in Italy. Recent news coverage of migrant detention centers in Libya has garnered more attention for the circumstances of migrants there more generally, including accounts of migrants being auctioned into slavery. This coverage also draws attention to the policies and agreements between the EU and Libya as they affect conditions for migrants.

On gender: The interviews we refer to in this episode were all conducted with men in transit to or within Europe. While most migrants arriving to Europe are men, an increasing number of women are also in transit (see the “demographics” section here). The presence of women has periodically gained increased attention, as with the recent Mediterranean drowning of 26 Nigerian women as young as 14, who were given a funeral in Salerno, Italy, on Nov. 17, 2017.

During the height of the 2015 refugee crisis along the Balkan Route, aid workers and immigration officials focused on facilitating movement along the humanitarian corridor in the Western Balkans. They were not equipped to recognize and address gender based issues. With the closure of borders and less movement along the route, aid workers and border guards are now building capacity to identify and provide assistance to women who have suffered gender based violence while in transit. While NGOs are working to address the situations of female migrants, gender and transit, and the experiences of women in transit more generally, are areas that deserve more attention by aid workers, policy makers, and researchers.

On methods: Conducting fieldwork in situations of transit means spending time with people living in uncertain and unstable circumstances, which raises important ethical and methodological considerations. With the methods of semi-structured interviews (Kathryn) and oral history (Eleanor), we both aimed to allow for migrants to tell, through interview, the stories they deemed needed telling. One starting point for considering the ethical dimensions of qualitative / ethnographic research with asylum seekers and refugees is the recent collection edited by Karen Block, Elisha Riggs, and Nick Haslam: Values and Vulnerabilities: The Ethics of Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Australian Academic Press, 2013.

Resources mentioned, including clips:

  • The book Transit Migration in Europe, edited by Franck Düvell, Irina Molodikova, and Michael Collyer (Amsterdam UP, 2014)
  • Article “The Impact of Externalization of Migration Controls on the Rights of Asylum Seekers and other Migrants” Bill Frelick, Ian Kysel and Jennifer Podkul, Journal on Migration and Human Security Vol. 4 Number 4 (2016)
  • The 2016 film Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), directed by Gianfranco Rosi
  • Al Jazeerainterview with a Nigerian migrant in Italy, July 5, 2017
  • PlayGround English and OxFamvideo interview with a migrant from Afghanistan
  • TRT Worldinterview with migrant in Ventimiglia, August 15, 2017
  • Vista Agenziarecording of a demonstration held in Rome on August 26, 2017

Organizations we mention include: