Home and sense of belonging among Iraqi Kurds in the UK

By Ali Zalme.

All too often we are forced into assumptions and caricatures of a particular group that fail to expose nuanced experiences of the members of that group. My new book, Home and Sense of Belonging among Iraqi Kurds in the UK (Lexington Books, 2020),is an effort to voice out lived experiences of an uncharted immigrant community – that of Iraqi Kurds in the UK. It looks at their different generational experiences in the context of transnational family life, with particular regard to their sense of home and belonging.   

The book is also about my own journey searching for identity. As a Kurd I never belonged to Iraq where we were persecuted, discriminated against and subject to genocide. And as a Hawrami speaker I have not always been relaxed about my Kurdishness and have often felt like an outsider –a minority within a minority. This book is an attempt to understand a complex diaspora in which many people find it difficult to belong. Among the voices of individuals from Iraqi Kurdish communities here in the UK my voice is also present.

As an interpreter and community organiser working closely with Kurdish families and individuals in Bristol and other major cities, I have long considered questions about home and belonging. One project I was involved in was establishing a Kurdish supplementary school or so-called Sunday school to help Kurdish children learn their mother tongue. That particular experience and my contacts with Kurdish families led to my master’s dissertation on cultural identities among diasporic communities. In particular, I was interested in ideas about the physical home in the UK and the imagined ancestral home among the Kurdish second-generation in Bristol (Zalme 2011). I continued to work and extend my research with the Kurdish community during my PhD, on which this book is based. 

Kurds in Bristol protest against the Turkish military operation in Afrin, Syria, in January 2018
(image: Ali Zalme)

As a first-generation Kurd in Britain I am interested in the differences and similarities between parents and children, and between me (as a male researcher) and my female participants, in our understandings of home and belonging. In addition to my gender and generational identity, my linguistic background as a Hawrami speaker was highly relevant to my fieldwork. Being Hawrami and having grown up in an environment in Iraqi Kurdistan where Kurdish-Sorani speakers were dominant (and this is still the case in the diaspora) has often made me question who I am and where I belong.

In the diaspora I have tended to involve myself in many activities to support the Hawrami, which was not always possible in Kurdistan. There the hegemonic nationalist ideology situated all Kurds as a unified people regardless of the ‘trivial’ narratives relating to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. In Britain, this disjuncture between my lived experience of being born and raised a Hawrami and the culture of others in the UK Kurdish community has remained acute. In examining my own sense of home and belonging and that of my participants, this book pays close attention to the diversity of the Kurdish diaspora and introduces the notion of a diaspora within a diaspora. By concentrating on Iraqi Kurds, it shows how identities formed back home in Iraqi Kurdistan have had a significant impact on the community in the UK.

A Kurdish family protest in Bristol against the Turkish military operation, January 2018 (image: Ali Zalme)

This book challenges the prevalent essentialist and nationalist approach to research of diasporic communities. Instead of providing generalisations about whether the younger generation will follow their parents or take a different route, my findings suggest a more complex picture about the degree of parental power and political interest. The life stories of different members of Kurdish immigrant families show that they are each negotiating the making of new homes on a daily basis. A great number of my participants have suggested that most members of diasporic communities are family orientated and tend to establish a new home in the UK while erasing the other due to these family commitments.

My research has also shown that Kurdish women are more independent in exile than those living in Kurdistan, and yet they maintain their ethnic identity and have strong affiliations with the Kurdish question (that is, the nationalist project of the nation-building process). New challenges and new opportunities face Kurdish women here in the UK as they find themselves living between two contrasting cultures. As a result, their concept of ‘home’ is highly complex: many vividly express their frustration regarding the patriarchal culture at home in Iraq, but at the same time they struggle to integrate into a British society that gives them greater independence. Instead, they live in an imaginary home that is neither quite here nor there but somewhere in-between. My book concludes that we need to be more focused on the particularity of Kurdish cases and avoid homogenisation with respect to Kurdish diaspora studies in the UK.     

Ali Zalme has a PhD in Sociology from the University of the West of England. He is a freelance researcher interested in migration, identity and belonging with a particular focus on the Middle East and the Kurdish diaspora.

Spaces of connection – MMB in 2021

By Bridget Anderson

As we cross a temporal border – seeing out the old year and welcoming in the new – we look back and forwards. This New Year we look back over COVID-19 and we look forwards over both Brexit, now (allegedly) done, and yet more COVID. 2020 saw huge changes for MMB and how we connect with you. We’ve moved all our output online, from increased blog posts to virtual workshops and seminars, to our two new online courses. Like many academics I have spent longer talking into my computer in the past nine months than in the previous nine years. I’ve adopted a range of video conferencing programmes, got better at chairing online meetings and hosted a number of online panel discussions. Data movement has substituted for physical presence.

This learning has been very much about means of connection, but what about spaces of connection? In a recent short piece for the feminist journal Signs, Miriam Ticktin, a member of MMB’s Transoceanic Mobilities Network, argues that COVID has rendered human connections to be perceived and experienced as dangerous, privileging as ‘safe spaces’ the home and the nation. But for many people home and nation can be highly dangerous. Several MMB blogs in recent months have discussed the horrific rise in domestic violence and the continuing deportation and abandonment of people at borders and in detention centres. Ticktin seeks out emergent spaces of connection in the ‘feminist commons’ and suggests: ‘The question then is not how to isolate ourselves – our vital connective tissue with one another and the planet has been revealed by Covid19 in a whole new way – but which forms of connection to attend to and cultivate; and which ones to be careful of or replace.’

There are also forms of connection that we need to repair and recover, particularly in the context of the Brexit-induced friction that has turned mobile citizens into migrants. For those of us interested in migration and mobility, this exemplifies how the separation of citizens and migrants is political (and often racialised) and invariably obscures multiple and complex connections. COVID can help us think about these in new ways. Balibar (2002) famously observed that borders are ‘polysemic’ – they do not have the same meaning for everyone. UK citizens are accustomed to a version of the polysemic that enables relatively free global access for them – and highly restricted access for non-citizens to UK territory. Yet in December 2020 UK nationals themselves were subject to international travel bans, not because of Brexit (though that swiftly followed) but because of a highly virulent form of the virus. At the same time, the polysemic nature of borders is also revealed in the UK government’s quarantine exemptions for incoming travellers, which include hedge fund managers, senior bankers and senior executives involved in high value deals. While some people pass through borders, others are stopped.

COVID has also exposed internal borders that, for most UK residents had previously been invisible. Who would have thought this time last year that the Scottish and Welsh Governments would have forbidden cross border travel from England? We are being given crash courses too in local authority boundaries, previously barely noticed (turnout for local elections runs at about 35%). These boundaries have been given new meaning through the Tier system, which demarcates what level of restrictions residents are subject to according to their local authority.

For many people, then, it has taken COVID to realise how borders crisscross our lives. But for others this is old news. Administrative boundaries crossed unknowingly by millions every day are only too well known to those on state benefits and the homeless. In England, homeless people who do not have a connection to one local authority can be told they have to go to another for housing and the procedures and guidelines for doing so may also cover cross border issues in relation to Scotland and Wales. In the Netherlands, social assistance claimants can be sanctioned a month’s worth of benefit if they move without a ‘clear and good reason’ (Knijn and Hiah, 2019). In Turkey, some recipients of disability and elderly allowance cannot even move to a different street in the same district – if they do, social assistance is withdrawn for months. In Hungary, social housing claimants have to prove residence for a year in a local area, while in Portugal job seekers can be required to check in at the parish council every two weeks in order to confirm unemployment status. The boundaries internal to Europe – between EU member states – and internal to the British state – between its constituent countries, between London and outside, between different local authorities – afflict and are made visible to the homeless citizen and the welfare claimant, just as the state border afflicts and is made visible to the non-citizen.

COVID exposes this to all of us and, importantly, some citizens are policed more harshly during the pandemic than others. Black Lives Matter has foregrounded the violence meted out to Black people in the ‘wrong’ spaces, citizens or not. In the report Policing the Pandemic, Amnesty International found that across Europe, Black and ethnic minority people are disproportionately targeted by police with violence, discriminatory identity checks, fines and forced quarantines.

MMB is interested in making connections – between different disciplines and areas of scholarship, between theory and practice and across migrants and citizens, policy-makers, activists and academics. This is where we find the sparks that make us think in new and meaningful ways. In 2021 we will be making more spaces for these connections to grow – from online forums to communal gardens. Come and join us!

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol and Director of MMB.

Images by Jordan Graff, Marco Bianchetti and Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash.

COVID-19, gender and migration in Central Asia: reinforcing precarity

By Jenna Holliday.

As we pass the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence and International Migrants Day this blog post considers the intersection of gender-based violence and migration against the backdrop of COVID-19 in two of the world’s most remittance reliant countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Amongst the COVID-related migration research that I have undertaken since the pandemic hit, I have found one line of enquiry particularly compelling: the gendered impacts of COVID-19 on migrant women and women of migrant families. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan share several similarities that make them particularly interesting to research in this context. The lack of livelihood options – exacerbated by climate change – has given rise to increased seasonal and permanent migration (internal and international) to the extent that Tajikistan and the Kyrgyzstan are both in the top five states reliant on migrant remittances (remittances account for around 30 per cent of the GDP of both states).

Both countries also score relatively low in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings (with Tajikistan at 137 and Kyrgyzstan 93 of 153 states ranked). This reflects conservative traditional gender norms that have a significant influence over the lives of women who are seen as wives, mothers and homemakers. Although globalisation and international progress of women’s rights have led to incremental change in these states, it is often these more conservative norms and values that exert power and violence over women in times of crisis – such as these times of COVID-19.

In the context of Tajikistan and migration, women figure predominantly as the ‘left behind’. Most of Tajikistan’s international migrants are men – largely migrating to Russia – and while much of this migration starts off as seasonal, many migrants end up living permanently in other countries. This has resulted in Tajikistan’s labour migration being characterised by the prolonged absence of men and high divorce rates. In 2015, one in ten divorces in Tajikistan involved a migrant partner

Wives of migrant workers left behind in their village of Kapali, Tajikistan (Image: Manizha Kurbanova, Journalist of the Partnership for Innovations Program in Tajikistan via USAID Central Asia)

Women left behind in Tajikistan often have to care for children, with no money being sent home by their migrant partners. As a consequence, Tajik women have increasingly become heads of households, solely responsible for generating the family income. In rural areas they have been compelled to fill a demand for seasonal agricultural labour during the summer months. And older women (who find that younger women are securing traditional female jobs such as care work and cleaning) have increasingly found work informally as handywomen, which may include mowing grass, building garden beds and general labouring.

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively froze the migration corridor between Tajikistan and Russia. The lockdown in Russia resulted in widespread job losses while restrictions on movement meant that many Tajik migrants trying to return home were faced with grounded planes and closed borders. Even though there was a loss of remittances flowing back to Tajikistan, many families found money to send to the migrant relatives in Russia to tide them over. The pandemic also interrupted outmigration, with hundreds of thousands of Tajiks unable to travel to Russia for seasonal work. The compounding factors of lost remittances, returning workers and lack of seasonal migration added pressure to the economic situation and increased tension in migrant families and households in Tajikistan. 

We know that the pandemic, the lockdowns and the resultant economic downturns have exacerbated gender inequalities globally, intensifying discriminatory and harmful norms and creating greater physical and economic insecurity for women. Based on research from across Central Asia, we can reasonably assume that in Tajikistan women’s responsibilities for domestic and care work have increased further. Data indicates that domestic violence has also increased: in part this can be attributed to the lack of seasonal migration, which typically reduces intimate partner violence. But what is not yet clear is the impact on the women who had become heads of household in their husbands’ absence. Did their (ex)husbands return and require support? Are the women still the breadwinners?

In Kyrgyzstan, by contrast, men and women have commonly migrated into the cities together in family units. But a rapid assessment undertaken by UN Women since the lockdown shows that 80 per cent of women now devote more time to unpaid domestic chores and care work – even though men and women suffered proportionate job loss. Women also reported that their work was moved to being homebased (for example, sewing work). For internal migrant women – many of whom are not registered as residing in the city – their home-based activities (both paid and unpaid) intensified while their limited access to transport, healthcare and other social services resulted in increased isolation.

The rise in violence against women during the pandemic has widely been attributed to heightened stress, economic insecurity, disruption of protective networks and controls on movement. In Kyrgyzstan cases of domestic violence increased by 65 per cent during lockdown. Service shutdown, risk of infection and the overriding social stigma attached to women who report domestic violence prevented women from accessing services or from leaving their abuser.

The impact of COVID-19 on migrant women and on women in migrant families in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has illustrated how the pandemic has enhanced existing gender norms – to the detriment of women. It is vital that this is highlighted in post-COVID development policy and that women’s organisations are included in that discourse. There are already some positive signs of this. In Kyrgyzstan, a new Gender Council has been established under the Supreme Council (parliament), which will support national legislative and policy efforts in the field of gender equality, women’s empowerment and the mechanisms for preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence. The Gender Council will comprise representatives from government and non-government bodies including NGOs focused on women’s rights. In Tajikistan, the United Nations has responded to COVID-19 with a Socioeconomic Response Plan. This aims to empower women by ensuring they are involved in the dialogue around and implementation of the programmes within this plan. Continued research is needed, however, to make sure that ongoing initiatives such as these continue to respond effectively to the situations experienced by women.

Jenna Holliday is an independent gender and migration specialist. She consults for the United Nations and international development agencies, providing expert support on integrating gender and labour perspectives into migration policy. She can be reached at jennakholliday@gmail.com.

Learning online with MMB

By Bridget Anderson and Emma Newcombe.

Everyone is talking about migration. You hear about it on the media, from news and documentaries to dramas and soaps. People talk about it in pubs and in taxis. There is no shortage of opinion, assertations and information about migration. And inevitably there are a lot of assumptions about the subject too. For example, when we think of migration why is it that we tend to focus on the movement of people from low to high income countries, particularly Europe and North America? Why aren’t young British people working as au pairs in Australia not imagined as ‘migrants’?

At Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) we think it is interesting to step back and look at the many different definitions and understandings of ‘migrant’, and the kinds of questions and methods that characterise different disciplines’ engagement with the field. We are very excited to say we have launched a free online course on Future Learn – ‘Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship’ – that will be part of the Bristol Futures portfolio. We are also opening registration for ‘The MMB Online Academy 2021’, which will run May to July next year.

We are particularly pleased to showcase some of the fantastic research on migration and mobilities that takes place at the University of Bristol, linking to research in the Schools of Anthropology, English, Film Studies, Law, Philosophy, Social Policy and Sociology.

Thinking or rethinking assumptions

‘Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship’ is aimed at a broad audience, but we think it will also be of interest to practitioners in the field and others working on related social justice issues. We hope it offers a chance to take a step back and think about the assumptions that we all bring to conversations about any subject that is deemed a ‘social problem’.

The course aims, not to tell you what to think, but to give you tools to critically examine your own ideas and be able to engage in respectful debate with others. It is short – approximately six hours – but we hope that some students will be encouraged to follow up on the references and projects to take a deeper dive into migration and mobility at Bristol.

For those interested in more…

The MMB Online Academy 2021 will be synchronous and online, giving participants access to a range of senior scholars and cutting edge scholarship on topics as diverse as migration and COVID-19, race, racism and migration, and mobility and the socio-digital, as well as foundational knowledge on asylum, labour migration, trafficking and family migration.

At MMB we believe that learning about migration is not only learning about people who move but also better understanding the societies in which we live. We hope that both these courses convey something of our commitment and passion for this subject, and the brilliant work that is being done at Bristol.

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol and Director of MMB. Emma Newcombe is Manager of MMB.

Does it matter that the UK relies on migrant workers to harvest food?

By Lydia Medland.

In the recent launch of the new migration research project MigResHub, agricultural labour economist Professor Philip Martin stated that he saw the future of farming in the USA as reliant on ‘machines and migrants, buffered by imports’. This is indeed the direction in which commercial agriculture is going. However, we don’t need to accept this trajectory. It means relegating agricultural work to the bottom of the pile for good and accepting as a given that people don’t want to pick fruit (when they have other options). This is not necessarily true, at least in the UK.

My new project on risk and resilience looks at work in horticulture, where much seasonal labour is required, so I want to focus particularly on the ‘migrants’ part of Martin’s triple prognosis for the future of the food system. Yet, the dominance of both machines and imports in the food security debate makes them important to comment on too.

Lang reasons that, due to Britain’s imperial past, we are used to assuming that other countries will feed us, but he argues that we should be wary of doing so for security as well as sustainability reasons. As I found in my last project, Moroccan workers producing food for Europe’s imports experience pressures such as low wages, a lack of respect and intense time pressures. Put simply, they face the same patterns of pressures as farmworkers within the UK. A reliance on imports therefore displaces social and environmental challenges to other places.

A mechanical engineer with an agricultural robot (image: This is Engineering on Flickr)

Machines have always reduced labour in agriculture, which makes food cheaper but not always better. This direction of travel, spearheaded most recently by proponents of AI and robotics, is at least partially self-propelled by those involved in producing ever bigger and more sophisticated machinery. Huge increases in research funding for automatisation contribute to an industry that has established a narrative of erasure of the majority of workers from agriculture in food systems. (Searching in the UK Research and Innovation Gateway for projects involving the terms ‘robot, agriculture, food and labour’ brings up 1,169 relevant research projects funded in 2019, compared with fewer than five a year between 2000 and 2005.)

The public debate over agriculture and migration has intensified in recent years. While farmers call for large numbers of temporary seasonal workers, nationalist sentiment keeps up pressure for tight restrictions on migration across the board. In addition, discomfort regarding working conditions plays on the conscience of consumers. This mix of concerns appears related to the haste towards robotisation. Government and industry specialists are now charmed by ‘agricultural modernisation’ (robotics and AI) and characterise temporary worker migration as a short-term fix before the mechanical hands are ready to pick. In 2018, Michael Gove re-introduced the UK’s temporary migration programme by saying that ‘… automated harvesting solutions are not universally available and so in the short term, this pilot will support farmers during peak production periods.’ Migration as a short-term fix is a convenient discourse, but insufficient. Not every task is easily mechanised, and while machines work best on large flat lands, the UK has many smaller hilly fields.

Temporary worker permits in agriculture are not new. We could say that the seasonal agricultural workers, who came to Britain at the end of the Second World War, took over from the Women’s Land Army. There is also a longer continuity of drawing on those at the periphery of the workforce for seasonal labour. In earlier times, Irish workers and Travellers were among those who met labour demands at peak times. What is common to all these temporary workers is their position in the labour market, which is low.

The seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) is the UK’s temporary migration programme; it began as a volunteer scheme after the war and became SAWS in 1990. Access to the EU labour market led to its closure in 2014 as policy makers argued that freedom of movement made SAWS unnecessary. However, this ending turned out to be temporary. Following the Brexit vote in 2016, farmers feared, and began to experience, a lack of access to willing workers. A ‘pilot’ SAWS was launched again in 2018, initially with quotas of just 2,500 workers, which has been increased to 10,000 workers from 2020 onwards. The continuity of demand is clear.

Migrant workers harvest leeks in Lincolnshire, UK (image: John M on Geograph)

Rather than just focusing on SAWS or migrant workers we also need to consider agricultural work itself. The prognosis of machines, migrants and imports takes as a given that workers, given full access to a diverse labour market, will not choose to work in agriculture. Yet, could this be more about the agricultural model than any naturalised preference of workers? Intensive production systems are indeed unattractive to many as a career choice, especially if you don’t own the land.

Nevertheless, many people are interested in producing food. In the UK, demand for allotments has quadrupled in recent years, and growing at home boomed under lockdown. This year, record numbers of non-migrants signed up to pick fruit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while many didn’t end up on the farm, or didn’t last long, this shows an interest in the work. Perhaps for those that dropped out it isn’t them who should be blamed, but rather the system. Some large UK farms are now described as ‘plantations’, with monocultures that require absolute obedience from both nature and worker. Rejecting this kind of workplace regime – which only became dominant after a squeeze on farms from retailers in the 1990s – doesn’t mean people don’t want to grow food at all.

The growing Land Workers Alliance, representing sustainable growers and farmers, is testament to the increasing interest among young people. So too is the LION (Land In Our Names) movement of black people and people of colour gathering to access land for sustainable projects in the UK. These movements are challenging assumptions about who can be a grower, and a farmer. If opportunities are provided for this to become decent and sufficiently paid work, an able, diverse and motivated workforce may just be available.

Does it matter that the UK relies on migrant workers? I think it’s more important that we don’t naturalise the assumption that only migrants do farm work. The ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign set up early in the pandemic had the benefit of reconnecting British people with the idea (and for some the reality) that we too can pick fruit. As people rallied to feed the nation, it’s just possible that the public became more aware of the essential nature of this work. Alongside machines and imports, it’s possible to aspire to a future in which migrants and non-migrants choose jobs that bring in the harvest – and that they are supported to do so.

Lydia Medland is a Senior Research Associate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. She currently has a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship to study risk and resilience in the UK’s changing food system. She writes regularly on her blog, Eating Research.

Related MMB blogs include ‘Disposable workers, essential work: migrant farmworkers during the COVID pandemic’ by Manoj Dias-Abey.

Tony Bunyan retires as Director of Statewatch after 30 years

Statewatch is a unique resource for migration researchers across Europe. It has an unprecedented collection of official documents, analysis and reports by investigative journalists, which serves to monitor state and civil liberties. Over the past 30 years, many academics, students, government officials, journalists and civil liberties groups have come to rely on it.

The organisation has strong connections with Bristol. Many academics at the University of Bristol (UoB) and at the University of the West of England (UWE) use Statewatch reports and official materials that would otherwise be unavailable, particularly those on the development of the European Union’s migration policies and their impacts on society. The Statewatch website and online news service enables us all to stay up to date with the very latest developments in UK and EU migration policy and law. The Board of Trustees of Statewatch includes MMB colleagues Ann Singleton and Vicky Canning, and thanks to Statewatch funding (in addition to ESRC and UoB grants) Yasha Maccanico completed his PhD in the School for Policy Studies in 2019. The organisation is led by Chris Jones, Executive Director, an alumnus of UWE.

In September 2020, after 30 years, Tony Bunyan retired as Statewatch Director to become Director Emeritus – a lifetime position. This blog summarises his thoughts on Statewatch past and future. One of his passions is the preservation of historical books, pamphlets and ephemera so that the past can inform the present and the future. You can learn more from the Statewatch Library & Archive, collected over 40 years of political activity, and Tony’s personal collection, collected over 60 years, ‘The Shape of Things To Come’.

A personal message from Tony Bunyan.

I am immensely proud of Statewatch. Rarely has so much been produced by so few for so little pay. Its origins lie in State Research, which I worked for from 1977 to 1981. After that I was head of local government police monitoring units until, in the autumn of 1990, I was invited by Claudia Roth MEP, then leader of the Green Group, to a meeting in the European Parliament office in Strasbourg. Ann Singleton (now Co-Chair of Statewatch and MMB’s policy strategic lead) and I drove the 500 miles from London to discuss EU developments, including the Maastricht Treaty, with MEPs on the then new LIBE (Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament). When we came back, we called a meeting of old friends from State Research. Now we had a project: our aim was to monitor civil liberties and the emerging European state. We had an office in Stoke Newington Public Library, shared with the Libertarian Research and Education Trust and I went on the dole and registered as a ‘volunteer’ with Statewatch.

Little were we to know what lay ahead. In March 1991 we launched a hard copy Bulletin published six times a year and at that time we pretty much had the field to ourselves. I travelled all over the EU to speak at meetings and found many new comrades. Between 1992 and 2004 I made a point of attending every meeting of the new Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels and Luxembourg including the Tampere Council in Finland in 1999. In those days this was the only way of getting access to documents. In the early 1990s I went to see an old friend, the late Lord Geoff Tordoff, then Chair of the main House of Lords Committee on the EU, and it emerged that the Home Office were not sending him JHA documents – not even the meeting agendas! A battle ensued for the Lords Committee to automatically be informed.

Key activities

Central to our work has been the creation of ‘Observatories’, online collections of original sources, commentary and campaign materials. Topics include:

This work was supported by a regular news service launched in 1999 and long-term investigations. ‘Neoconopticon: the EU security-industrial complex’ by Ben Hayes has been downloaded more than a million times. This was followed by Chris Jones in ‘Market Forces’, published in 2017. We also sought to identify wider issues such as the growth of authoritarianism and institutionalised racism, including the role of AI and digitalisation, which you can read more about in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’.

We should be proud of what we have achieved, and it has been recognised by others. For example, in 2011 Liberty awarded Statewatch the human rights ‘Long Walk’ award, jointly with Private Eye. The European Voice newspaper selected me as one of the 50 most influential people in the EU twice – in 2001 for Statewatch’s work on access to documents, and in 2004 for Statewatch’s work on civil liberties and the ‘war on terror’. But this could not have been done without the volunteers and the contributors’ group and the Trustees who have given their time for free over the years. Thanks too to all the NGOs who continue to help us so much.

The struggle continues to defend and extend civil liberties and freedoms, democratic rights and accountability and to oppose authoritarianism, racism and anti-democratic forces. Though I’m stepping down as Director I’m looking forward to working with the Statewatch team as Director Emeritus in the years to come.

The full text of Tony’s personal message was published here on the Statewatch website on 24th September 2020.

MMB Annual Report 2019-20

A message from the MMB team.

The past year has been a busy and productive time for MMB – though not in the way we imagined! Last week we published our Annual Report, which outlines our approach to migration and mobilities research as well as our activities over the past year, our ongoing objectives and a taste of the wide range of subjects in which MMB members are currently engaged. Do take a look at the report here.

The focus we set ourselves for 2019-20 was to build our international networks – and we developed some fantastic plans. We joined the IMISCOE network of European migration scholars. Our Trans-Oceanic Mobilities network was to be launched in May with a visit from US scholars on the theme of Mobility and the Biome. We successfully applied for a Benjamin Meaker Fellowship for Professor Nandita Sharma from University of Hawaii. We won funding for visits to Latin America to develop projects with institutions in the region. Then, of course, came COVID.

It took a month or so to adjust. We moved most of our events online and revised our objectives so we could not just bounce back but bounce forward. We developed a space on our website to host University publications, research and events on migration and COVID-related matters. We launched two new blog series: ‘Letter from Afar’, which collates research and experiences of colleagues responding to COVID-19 in very different contexts, and ‘MMB Latin America’, which is the first output from the MMB Latin America working group. The University of Bristol hosts a wide range of activity and research related to Latin America that spans multiple schools and faculties. Interests include political violence and post-conflict reconstruction, labour and mobility, and the circulation of ideas and transnational exchanges. We have started to showcase work with and from the region and to work to develop common research agendas. Keep an eye out for our Dialogue events next year and check out our Latin America website.

The Black Lives Matter protests also marked an important opportunity and challenge for MMB’s work. Pulling down Colston’s statue put Bristol on the map. Anti-racism is entangled with migrant rights and vice versa – until Black Lives Matter irrespective of immigration and citizenship status, Black Lives will continue to be disposable. We believe MMB has an important role to play in making these connections and will be highlighting research and analysis on this in the coming year.

Another key activity keeping us busy since the spring has been the development of online courses that draw on the wealth of research and expertise from across the University of Bristol. The first of these will be a free taster course introducing ‘Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship’, which will launch in December – so that will give you something to do over the Christmas period! At the same time, we will open registration for a longer online, interactive, synchronous course that will run for six weeks from May 2021.

We also recently started a quarterly MMB Newsletter for all our members, in Bristol and beyond, with information about our recent and upcoming events, our blogs, member publications and other announcements. Our first, from the summer, is available here and another will be sent out shortly. If you would like to receive this Newsletter do contact us or fill in the online subscription form.

Finally, we would like to thank our fantastic Research Challenge Co-ordinators and Management Group for all their ongoing hard work and support. A special thank you to our Strategic Leads from the past year: Ann Singleton (Policy), Diego Acosta (International), Katharine Charsley (Postgraduate) and Julia O’Connell Davidson (Anti-Racism). Thanks too to Josie Gill who is stepping down as Director of the Centre for Black Humanities and so from her position on the Management Group, and to Chris Bertram, an original co-director of Bristol Institute for Migration and Mobility Studies. We would also like to welcome our two new Alumni Ambassadors, Ella Barclay and Ignacio Odriozola, who will be spreading the word about MMB and the MSc in Migration and Mobility Studies as they forge new paths in their work and studies.

Bridget Anderson, Emma Newcombe and Emily Walmsley

Domestic workers and COVID-19: Brazil’s legacy of slavery lives on

By Rachel Randall.

On 19 March it was confirmed that Rio de Janeiro’s first coronavirus-related death was that of Cleonice Gonçalves, a 63-year-old domestic worker who suffered from co-morbidities. When Gonçalves fell ill on 16 March, she was working at her boss’ apartment in the affluent neighbourhood of Leblon, in the city of Rio. Her boss had just returned from a trip to Italy where COVID-19 had been rapidly spreading. She had not advised her employee that she was feeling sick. Gonçalves’ family called a taxi to bring her from the state capital to her home-town 100km away. It took her two hours to arrive. She entered hospital the same evening and died the next day. Her story exemplifies the fact that it was Brazil’s ‘jet set elite’ who first brought COVID-19 into the country, as Maite Conde points out, but it is the poorest who are now at greatest risk of dying from the disease as it ravages urban peripheries. Unlike her employee, Gonçalves’ boss, who tested positive for COVID-19, later recovered.   

Gonçalves’ case is not an isolated one, as Luciana Brito explains. Domestic workers are among those most vulnerable to the pandemic. While many employers have remained at home, 39% of monthly-paid domestic workers (mensalistas) and 23% of hourly-paid cleaners (diaristas) continued their labours in spite of the lockdown, frequently out of economic necessity – often residing with their bosses or travelling substantial distances by public transport to reach them. Of the country’s six million domestic employees, over 90% are women and the majority are black (Cornwall et al. 2013). As Angelo Martins Junior has argued, it is the descendants of enslaved Brazilians who occupy the jobs that put them at greatest risk and who are being encouraged to return to their precarious, low-paid work in order to continue feeding themselves and their families.

In Brazil, domestic workers have featured at the centre of debates about the country’s high levels of socio-economic inequality, its legacy of slavery and the relationship between the private and public spheres for some time, including in its cultural production (as I have discussed in an article about contemporary Brazilian documentary). In the wake of COVID-19, these workers have become a powerful symbol in the media for the ways that the virus is exacerbating existing inequalities in the country in terms of mobility, income security and housing. The artist Cristiano Suarez has published a pair of illustrations that explore these dynamics on his Facebook page. They serve as parodies of Instagram posts made by young, white influencers in upmarket apartments who remind their followers to prioritise their well-being and relinquish negative energies during quarantine, while their domestic employees can be glimpsed in the background maintaining their glamorous lifestyles. Sadly, some social media content shared by real employers to ‘celebrate’ their domestic workers’ return to work has been actively degrading, including a video posted by vlogger Luan Tavares who recorded his employee cleaning his bathroom as he joked about reducing her wages due to the crisis; the video was spotlighted on an episode of Greg News (the Brazilian version of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) dedicated to domestic workers.  

natypatriota Pluto in retrograde has come into full force. This pandemic has not occurred by chance, it is an instrument of human redemption preparing us for a better world! COVID-yourself, love yourself, take care of your own and free yourself from useless suffering! Big love to our Brazill! Resilience, gratitude and peace!’ (Image: Cristiano Suarez.)

The debate about how employers should treat domestic workers during the pandemic has been heated. 39% of bosses have dismissed their employees, leaving them without a salary, a situation that worst affects hourly-paid cleaners who do not have a formal contract and are not eligible to benefit from the government’s emergency financial package. Meanwhile, in several states domestic employees were classified as essential workers, thereby obliging them to continue working in spite of the risks. This decision draws attention to the ways that paid domestic work has historically been treated as ‘exceptional’. The Constitutional Amendment on Domestic Work (‘A PEC das domésticas’) implemented in 2015 by the Workers’ Party government represented an important attempt to redress this by aligning domestic employees’ rights with those of other workers. It has been called ‘the second abolition of slavery’.

Ultimately, pressure from domestic workers organisations led the Brazilian Ministry of Labour to state in April that domestic employees should not be made to come to work and should be guaranteed pay while their employers are self-isolating. Despite this, Sérgio Hacker – the mayor of Tamandaré municipality in Pernambuco – and his wife Sari Corte Real, continued to treat the services of their domestic employees’ as ‘indispensable’. The couple, who are white, were both infected with COVID-19, as was their Afro-Brazilian employee Mirtes Renata Santana de Souza, who went to work at their apartment in the state capital Recife on 2 June, taking her five-year-old son Miguel with her as no creches were open.

While Real was having a manicure, Souza took her bosses’ dog out to the street, leaving Miguel with Real. Miguel, who wanted his mother, entered a lift in the apartment block. CCTV shows Real speaking to Miguel in the lift and pressing a button for another floor. Miguel got out on the ninth floor and fell to his death. Real is under investigation for manslaughter. The event – which coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd – horrified many Brazilians who took to the streets demanding justice for Miguel.

Brito has explained how Real’s disregard for Miguel’s life epitomises the white supremacy still so prevalent in Brazilian society. As the country’s economy begins to re-open, despite having the second highest death toll in the world, there seems little hope that the lives of domestic workers and their families will be better safeguarded. After all, President Jair Bolsonaro was the only elected deputy to vote against the Constitutional Amendment on Domestic Work when he sat in the National Congress in 2012.

Rachel Randall is Lecturer in Hispanic Media and Digital Communications (School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol). Her current research explores cultural representations of paid domestic workers in Latin American film, documentary, digital culture and literary testimonies (testimonios).

This blog post was first published on the MMB Latin America blog on 6th August 2020. Related MMB blogs: ‘To stay home or go out to work? Brazil’s unequal modes of COVID-19 survival‘ by Aline Pires, Felipe Rangel and Jacob Lima, and, ‘A violent disregard for life: COVID-19 in Brazil‘ by Angelo Martins Junior.

From imperial sugar to golden passports: the Citizenship Industry

By Sarah Kunz.

In a surprising turn of events, September 2020 saw the end of Malta’s citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme and its conversion into a residence-by-investment (RBI) scheme. CBI schemes allow the acquisition of citizenship regardless of regular naturalisation criteria, such as residence or language skills, in return for a payment to a government fund or a real estate purchase. Similarly, RBI programmes – or ‘golden visas’ – offer residence permits for money. So-called ‘investment migration’ is among the most significant innovations in recent migration policy and in my research I argue that residence and citizenship-by-investment (RCBI) schemes, and the highly privileged migrations they produce, need to become more central to discussions about migration. Research also needs to overcome nation-state centric frameworks to recognise RCBI as the product of a booming transnational industry: the Citizenship Industry.

The decision to wind down Malta’s CBI programme came after years of controversy on the island. The programme was criticised not only by the opposition Nationalist Party but also by Malta’s most famous journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose assassination in 2017 sent shockwaves across Europe and eventually caused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – who launched Malta’s CBI scheme in 2013 and was its staunchest defender – to step down. The decision to phase out Malta’s CBI scheme also decided the country’s on-going skirmish with the EU, which has opposed CBI schemes for years due to concerns over foreign security, money-laundering, tax evasion and corruption.

Valletta, Malta. In September the country’s citizenship-by-investment programme was converted into a residence-by-investment scheme (image: Needpix.com)

While Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria are the only EU-members to run CBI programmes, RBI is much more widespread and similarly prone to political controversy. This might be best exemplified by the UK’s Tier 1 ‘Investor Visa’. In 2011, while also rolling out its ‘hostile environment’, Theresa May’s Home office redesigned Britain’s RBI programme to introduce a fast track for the super-rich and relax residency requirements. Four years later, Transparency International discovered a loophole which meant that between 2008 and 2015 3,000 applicants – the majority from high corruption risk jurisdictions like Russia and China – were granted visas without checks on the source of their wealth.

While European RCBI schemes have been getting more media and scholarly attention, the story of CBI actually began in the Caribbean. Saint Kitts and Nevis has been credited with devising the first CBI programme upon gaining independence from Britain in 1983. Yet, as a small and poor island state economically dependent on sugar exports – a relic from its days as the British Empire’s prime sugar plantation – few applicants made use of the provision. This changed in 2006. Its ailing sugar industry had just received a deadly blow from the EU slashing its import price for sugar when the country started working with Henley & Partners, a British immigration advisory firm, to develop a new commodity: citizenship. The country’s revamped CBI programme offered ‘citizenship customers’ limited disclosure of financial information, no taxes on income or capital gains, and, from 2009, visa-free travel to the Schengen area. It became an immediate success.

Crucially, the story of RCBI involves a cast of corporate actors who design, run and promote RCBI schemes – what I call the Citizenship Industry. After working with St. Kitts and Nevis, Henley & Partners helped other Caribbean governments to develop CBI programmes, making the Eastern Caribbean as famous for its citizenship as the Western Caribbean is for offshore financial services. The firm then advised Cyprus and helped design Malta’s CBI legislation, effectively bringing the Caribbean CBI model to Europe. In many ways, the Caribbean has been a laboratory for new models of political belonging that are fast having a global impact. Corporations have been key to this development: effectively creating, skilfully expanding and arguably dominating the global citizenship market. Since its relatively recent origins, investment migration has developed into a USD 3 billion global industry and thousands of service providers now stretch in a ‘golden visa belt’ from East Asia across the Middle East to Europe. Yet, the emergence, shape and role of the Citizenship Industry remains poorly understood and under-theorised.

The rise of RCBI programmes has not only been marked by political controversy. It has also raised some fundamental questions about the fairness of selling citizenship and its broader socio-economic and political impact. Advocates of RCBI argue that it brings much-needed economic activity, human capital gains, and substantial government revenue to small economies. RCBI is said to have enabled countries to diversify their economies and better respond to catastrophes, including global financial crises, hurricanes, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics, like Shachar (2018), raise troubling questions about how RCBI advances the encroachment of market forces into the political arena and warn that the commodification of citizenship will impact the institution of citizenship as such. This is an especially pertinent point as the sale of citizenship seems to also hasten the institutionalisation of citizenship revocation, as exemplified by Cyprus’s 2020 laws.

There is also on-going debate about the impact of RCBI on social inequality. Here, Shachar (2018:4) finds ‘the hollowing out of the “status, rights, and identity” components of citizenship’ and Džankic (2014:402), notes that investor programmes ‘infringe upon the liberal ideas of democracy’ and allow wealth and social class to disrupt equality of membership. Kochenov (2014), in turn, takes a global perspective in defence of RCBI, arguing that it allows individuals to overcome the inherent unfairness of international border regimes that limit the movement and life chances of many based solely on the randomness of their birth country. Citizenship, then, not only works to enact equality within states but is also, as Boatcă (2016:15) argues, ‘a core mechanism for the maintenance of global inequalities’ and, moreover, ‘the basis on which the reproduction of these inequalities is being enacted in the postcolonial present’.

Whatever our assessment of investment migration, the phenomenon is here to stay. While Malta’s liaison with CBI might have ended, RBI has become a standard feature of many states’ visa offerings and countries as diverse as Jordan, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovenia, Turkey and Vanuatu have either implemented CBI or plan to do so. There is an urgent need to better understand this trend and to explore the growing role corporate actors play in shaping the organisation and meaning of investment migration. Additionally, we need to make sense of this arguably exceptional ‘liberalisation’ of citizenship in the context of the broader ‘restrictive turn’ (Shachar 2018) in migration policy and its associated proliferation of borders, the preventable deaths of thousands at those borders, and the surge of right-wing populism all over the world.

Dr Sarah Kunz is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol. Her research focuses on privileged migration, the politics of migration categories, and the relationship between mobility, coloniality and racism. In her current project, she looks at investment migration with a focus on the Citizenship Industry. Read more here.

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Supporting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers through the UK asylum courts

By Tannith Perry

I am a volunteer with Pride Without Borders (PWB), a support group for LGBTQ+ refugees and people seeking asylum run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR). Part of my role is to attend asylum court with our members, both as a witness and to provide emotional support.

The route to gaining asylum in the UK is long and exhausting. It begins with an initial screening interview, where the person’s details, fingerprints, photograph and other physical information are collected. This is followed weeks or months later by the substantive interview, which lasts hours or, occasionally, days. During this interview the person seeking asylum is expected to justify their right to claim asylum and to provide evidence that they meet the qualifications set out by the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

This process, difficult for most, is harder for LGBTQ+ applicants since they have spent their whole lives hiding their identity both in their home country and their local community. Asylum claims based on sexuality have a lower acceptance rate (29% in 2018) than claims based on other protected categories (33%), almost certainly due to the difficulty of providing evidence. If the claim is rejected by the Home Office, the case can be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). 

Going to court is incredibly stressful. Home Office barristers are often aggressive and behave in an intimidating manner. I’ve witnessed a Home Office barrister refuse to use the correct pronoun when referring to a transgender man from Uganda and multiple barristers speak to both those seeking asylum and witnesses with condescension and rudeness. Our Bristol Pride Without Borders (PWB) members often report rude and disrespectful attitudes from Home Office staff. During court proceedings questions run from the inane (‘Are you lying?’) to the invasive (‘Why did you have sex if you knew you could get in trouble?’).

Home Office lawyers claim that joining groups such as ours can be explained away as an attempt to work the system. But, simultaneously, they use a lack of joining such groups as evidence of not actually being LGBTQ+. They often grasp at tiny unimportant details. For example, one witness described a group of LGBTQ+ people getting together as a ‘meeting’, while another described it as a ‘hang out’. The Home Officer lawyer jumped on this wording despite both witnesses not being native English speakers and even mentioned it in his summing up of the case as evidence of our member ‘not being credible’.

This kind of focus on minutiae (which is not uncommon) gives the impression that the Home Office is not interested in the truth, but rather in finding any reason possible to deny protection to the person seeking asylum. The fact that 38% of appeals relating to rejected LGBTQ+ asylum applications are accepted after going before a judge gives further evidence of the idea that the Home Office is often incorrect and overzealous in their initial high rate of rejections.

The process is extremely stressful and long, and there are only a handful of groups like PWB in the whole of the UK providing this kind of assistance specifically to LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum. In the past three years 27 people we have supported have been successful in their asylum claim. For 17 of these applications we have had to present evidence in court. So far, every time we have provided evidence in court we have been successful, which indicates how many of the refused applications should have had positive outcomes in the first place.

For the majority of our members, this process takes between a year and three years (though sometimes longer) and has significant impacts on their mental health. Most of our members suffer from depression, anxiety and/or insomnia as they wait, their whole life on hold, unable to work or attend school, to find out whether or not they will be allowed to remain in the UK – allowed to stay safe. But joining our group has for many made a dramatic difference. As one of our members from Pakistan said, ‘Any LGBTQ+ person seeking asylum who needs help should come to this group. PWB helps you mentally, socially, medically and with accommodation. The PWB environment is like a family in which all members are equally important.’

Bristol Refugee Rights is currently running a crowdfunder for Pride Without Borders. To support the campaign please visit this webpage.

Tannith Perry is a writer, dance teacher at Easton Social Dancing and volunteer with Pride Without Borders in Bristol.