We have exciting plans for 2020 as MMB continues to develop its dynamic research remit and build an ever-stronger community of scholars. Our four research challenges are running a range of workshops, seminars and networking events in the coming months, which will showcase the breadth of approaches to migration and mobilities studies among our members. We will also be organising a public lecture by a prominent international activist and scholar – identity to be revealed soon.
New this year is the MMB film group, in motion, which will be screening films about migration and movement on the last Tuesday of each month. We are also starting a regular MMB research seminar for members to share their work and receive critical feedback from colleagues. And one of our PhD students is running a series of workshops on the logistical, ethical and intellectual challenges of fieldwork. Keep an eye on our website for details of these and other events coming up.
Don’t forget, the website is a place where you can showcase your research. Do contact us if you have any questions or would like help in developing your text and illustrations.
At the end of last year we published the MMB 2018-2019 Annual Report to show our progress in building an interdisciplinary network of scholars and supporting the wide range of migration-related research across the university and city of Bristol. The report outlines the focus of each of our research challenges, which bring people together from diverse disciplines to think about migration and mobility in new ways. The report features many of the research projects of these challenge members as well as highlighting some of the key events organised by MMB in the past year.
In 2019-2020 we will continue to consolidate and support our internal community while also developing closer partnerships with institutions and organisations outside the UK. These include The New School in New York, the European Public Law Office in Greece and the Universities of Linkoping and Malmo in Sweden. We are also delighted to be liaising with a network of University of Bristol scholars working in Latin America to support their research on movement and migration in the region.
Do get in touch if you have any news about relevant events, publications or research ideas. We also still have a small amount of funding for networking events and activities, so if you have an idea that will take place between now and the end of July 2020 please complete the application form. We will next review applications at the end of February.
Three years on from the negotiated peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian state, MMB co-hosted members of the Colombian Truth Commission (CTC) to participate in ‘Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia’, a week of transnational dialogue and collaboration between UK and Colombian institutions.
The University of Bristol has been working with the CTC through a variety of different collaborative projects including ‘MEMPAZ: Bringing Memories in from the Margins’, funded by AHRC, Newton and Colciencias, which supports the creative memory practices of local organisations to bring memories from the margins into Colombia’s transitional justice processes; and ‘Transitional Justice as Education’, funded by AHRC, which works to support the gender and pedagogy work of the CTC by connecting it with feminist and educational expertise from around the world.
The week of events provided a unique opportunity to hear directly from the CTC about the achievements, innovations and challenges of truth-seeking both within and beyond the national border at this pivotal time in Colombia’s history. In this blog I highlight the key messages shared.
Conflict, exileand truth-telling of the ‘Colombia outside Colombia’
Forced displacement has been recognised as a major consequence of the armed conflict in Colombia, sometimes forcing victims to leave the country and go into exile. According to the National Victims’ Registry, there are more than 8,500,000 victims of the armed conflict and 7,500,000 victims of forced displacement in Colombia. It is unknown exactly how many of them are living abroad but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates it to be approximately 400,000 – it is likely to be even higher.
In an evening of talks on ‘The Truth Commission and the Colombian Diaspora,’ Commissioner Carlos Martín Beristain discussed the work being done to collect testimonies in the ‘Colombia outside of Colombia’ in order to investigate how the armed conflict has been experienced by the Colombian diaspora and uncover why so many people were forced to leave. The scale of this work is unprecedentedin international Transitional Justice experience.
Another fundamental aim of the CTC is to make theexperiences of the Colombian diaspora, which are relatively unknown within Colombia, visible within the country’s historical memory.
How can a diaspora be involved in a truth commission?
In its first year of operation, the CTC, led by Beristain, has been working with civil society and victims’ organisations across the world to help build trust, to educate people about the CTC’s mandate and process, and to learn more about the expectations, needs and concerns of the victims. More than 120 people have been trained so far, operating within country specific ‘nodes’, to interview Colombians living in exile.
Beristain was joined in Bristol by members of the UK Truth Commission hubto reflect on their efforts to encourage UK based Colombians to give their testimony. Five of these members, including a lawyer, an academic and a priest, gave deeply poignant accounts of the stories they have heard and the challenges they have faced in encouraging people to come forward. Andrei Gomez Suarez, one of thisUK based team, called on the audience to become the channel of communication between people who may want to give a testimony and the CTC. Through the discussions it was recognised that documenting so many traumatic accounts can take its toll on those carrying out the interviews.
The challenges of working in a polarised context
Beristain also outlined clearly the obstaclesfacing the truth-seeking processes in such a polarised context, where lies have been institutionalised, pain internalised and social fractures run deep in society. In another event that week, Gonzalo Sánchez, the former director of the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory and a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Commission, reflected on historical memory and peacebuilding in times of such polarisation.
Sánchezdiscussed the question of who produces memory work and for whom. He raised concerns that in Colombia today, memory and truth are being threatened by ‘toxic narratives’ made up of hatred, vengeance and fear, built up over years of conflict and driven by those who oppose the negotiated peace agreement. A key challenge for the CTC is to ensure that marginalised voices, which have historically been excluded and discriminated against, are heard and taken seriously by the Colombian state.
The opportunity for reconciliation
The final event of the week was a screening of ‘The Witness’ (El Testigo, 2019), a new documentary about the photographer Jesús Abad Colorado who has documented violence in Colombia for over 25 years. It tells the inspiring human stories of the people in Abad Colorado’s photographs, exploring the pertinent themes of resilience and forgiveness, and what they mean to those for whom so much is at stake. The film generates a strong emotional connection with the conflict, felt even by those who experienced the violence indirectly or from a distance.
Following the screening, Gonzalo Sánchez and Lina Malagón, a Colombian human rights lawyer teaching at the University of Bristol, reflected on whether Colombia is now ripe for reconciliation. It is time to know the truth, said Malagon, because we all have a story to tell and we need to move on.
Bristol Colombia Week 2019 provided a valuable opportunity for many Colombians and friends of Colombia to learn more about the CTC and to connect with the country’s transitional justice process, and with one another, so we can support peacebuilding from afar. Truth-seeking in Colombia will not end with the culmination of the CTC’s three-year period. It is hoped that the final report produced by the Commission will create the conditions conducive to peace and will be accompanied by meaningful efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence on a local and national level, and beyond the national borders.
Mary Ryder (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a PhD researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research explores the conflict narratives of rural farmers in drug-producing regions of Colombia, within the country’s transitional justice processes.
‘Esther, can you see Amir. He’s been refused Section 95 support …’
‘Samira, I need you to do an urgent HC1 for this chap with kidney failure …’
‘Mariana, we’ve got a young boy off a lorry just turned up. He has nothing. He’s with Muna in the main hall just now getting a cup of tea and some warm clothes …’
Harriet, the Caseworker Coordinator, is allocating appointments. If the work sounds complicated, it is: Section 95, Schedule 10, Section 4, Pre-Action Protocol, HC1. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Harriet’s team were hot-shot lawyers, well-remunerated for their extensive knowledge and experience. But this is Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), and Harriet’s team are all volunteers.
Some years ago, when I worked in the sector, there were specialist providers who received statutory funding to help asylum-seekers – who are not permitted to work – to apply for financial support and accommodation. But government policy put an end to that funding and now, in Bristol at least, those seeking access to the little to which they are entitled come in despair to the advice team at BRR. I’m an academic now and a trustee of BRR, and I’ve come to find out about the everyday impact of the Hostile Environment on its intended targets.
When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May enacted a policy aimed at creating an environment ‘so hostile’, that those seeking safety and security in the UK would abandon their quest, give up fighting for their rights and entitlements, and leave the country. This policy has not been successful: the number of those removed voluntarily and by force from the UK has fallen year by year, while recent research estimates that for every ‘authorised’ migrant in the UK, there is another ‘unauthorised’ one.
But the policy has caused untold harm to many. The national media has reported on some of the casualties. The plight, for example, of the highly-skilled, recruited with the hope that they would make the UK their home and then subsequently refused leave to remain after many years on the spurious basis of tax return discrepancies. The abrupt curtailment of the visas of tens of thousands of students following evidence that an unspecified number had cheated at an English test. And the terrible injustices and hardships suffered by many of the (often British) children of the Windrush generation.
These groups of ‘authorised’ migrants and/or their children are portrayed as being the innocent victims of the Hostile Environment Policy; collateral damage caused by confusing unlawful with undocumented. But what about the toll of this policy on its intended targets – asylum-seekers, failed asylum-seekers and the ‘unauthorised’? And what about the damage to British justice and reputation? Can we really still claim to be a welcoming society?
Once Harriet has finished allocations, she asks the team if there are any issues that need to be discussed. Esther relates that she gave up after spending two and a half hours waiting in a telephone queue last week on a routine call to Migrant Help, the charity awarded the Home Office contract as the ‘point of call’ for migrants who have questions about their applications or need to inform the Home Office about a change in circumstances. I’m aghast. Two and a half hours! But Esther is not complaining about the length of the wait. Kafkaesque-style government bureaucracy has become so normalised for this team that waiting – the very condition of being an asylum-seeker – is no longer noticeable as an outrage. She is complaining instead about Migrant Help’s recent decision to remove the indication regarding the position you are in the queue and therefore the potential length of the wait.
Later, Advice Team Manager Elinor explains to me that before the introduction of the Hostile Environment Policy, asylum-seekers and caseworkers could contact the Home Office directly about their applications for the basic support to which they are entitled: £37.75 per week and accommodation. The whole process of applying usually took a few weeks, and if further evidence was required, the Home Office would call and request it. Now, applications typically take twice as long, and then have to be chased and actively pursued by BRR volunteers. For a new claimant that usually means 6-8 weeks of living on the streets or sofa-surfing. Migrant Help is the only point of contact for everything support-related, including numerous housing problems such as broken boilers, rat infestations, major damp problems, no locks on the door. One BRR member spent six months with no running water.
‘They would be better called “Migrant Barrier”,’ says one volunteer. ‘They do not help.’
Volunteers recount experiences of waiting for hours, only to be cut off when they get through; of staff who seem to have little to no understanding about the process and who mis-advise. Complaints about the atrocious service fall on deaf ears: this is after all one aspect of how an environment is made hostile. Meanwhile the process of claiming financial support has become more complex and more bureaucratic. The volunteers give me examples where the Home Office has sent out a request for a different document week after week, or even the same document, repeatedly causing delay to applications. Or worse, refusing applications outright over failure to tick a box, meaning that they need to be appealed which takes more time.
I ask them to describe the system to me:
‘So far from justice.’
‘Chaotic but also cruel.’
‘Hostile. Deliberately hostile.’
These are applications made not just for the welfare of the migrant who will be destitute without this basic entitlement, but also for the welfare of our communities and the streets where we live. Street homelessness takes a terrible toll on the mental and physical health of the individual involved, but it also has a financial and social toll on all of us.
After the meeting I am given the opportunity to observe Esther as she talks with Amir, the BRR member who has been refused ‘Section 95’. He had applied for just the financial element because he was staying with a local family. They themselves were on a very low income and struggled to feed an extra person. The decision to refuse Amir has led the family to decide that they can no longer offer him accommodation. They have written a letter explaining their circumstances: feeding Amir on their very tight budget means they have had to scrimp on heating and clothing. They add that Amir often wakes up screaming, which disturbs them and their children.
Amir must now apply for both the financial element and accommodation. He has nowhere else to go. He is softly spoken, apologetic and deeply sad. He tells Esther that he has not seen his own family for ten years. Esther takes him through the application patiently and slowly. She says everything of importance at least three times. She tells him right at the outset that he is unlikely to be housed in Bristol. He tells Esther that he has friends here and a support network, and his mental health is bad and it would be too difficult to move somewhere else. Esther explains that she understands all this but if he applies for accommodation, he will be housed somewhere else, possibly far, far away.
While the asylum support system has justifiably been described as ‘disabling’, Esther is consistently enabling. She and fellow advice volunteers are just one part of BRR’s aptly named ‘Welcome Team’, a 30-strong group of volunteers who do all they can to provide hospitality and warmth to counter the overt government hostility.
‘Sometimes there’s not much we can practically do,’ explains Mariana, ‘but just listening to the person and treating them like a fellow human being goes such a long way.’
By the time I leave, the line of silent, crushed and despairing faces that waited outside the hall on my arrival has gone. In its place, the hall reverberates with the noise of chatter, games, crafts, cooking and laughter.
If a policy that deprives residents of jobs, homes and money is going to be introduced, one would hope it would be targeted using the best available data with strong failsafe mechanisms in place to reverse any errors. It would, you would have thought, be a disaster if innocent individuals ended up being forced into penury and out of the country as a result of incorrect information.
In reality, Home Office data on the immigration status of residents of the United Kingdom is often wrong and this has become increasingly clear in the years following Theresa May’s announcement in 2012 of her intention to make Britain a ‘really hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘. Public confirmation was provided as early as 2013 after a contract was awarded to the private company Capita to track down 174,000 suspected unlawful residents on the Home Office database. As soon as the company started sending out threatening text messages, though, it became clear that lawful residents and even British citizens were somehow on the database (Dixon, 2018). In 2016 it emerged that hostile environment bank account checks were throwing up incorrect results as much as 10% of the time (Bolt, 2016). In these cases, people were wrongly being refused permission to open a bank account. Officials admitted that relevant changes to a person’s status might not be entered on the relevant database ‘until some months after the event, and that data was often entered in the wrong field, commonly as free text.’
Similar issues arose with the new duty on the DVLA to cancel driving licences. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration examined the use of these powers in 2016 (Bolt, 2016). The Home Office made 9,732 revocation requests to the DVLA in 2015, all but meeting the target set of 10,000 per year. Some of these licences were wrongly revoked, though. The same year, 259 licences had to be reinstated after complaints. In the meantime, those affected would have been unable to drive or would have committed the strict liability criminal offence of driving without a licence. As the Chief Inspector said, ‘the Home Office did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of such errors for the individuals affected.’
As well as getting the facts wrong on people it does know about, there are many people living in the UK the Home Office does not know about. The vast majority are lawful residents and many are British citizens. They just do not have documents yet, perhaps because they did not really need them until the hostile environment was launched in 2012. There is currently no population database or register for the UK, nor is there a central register of British citizens. There are plenty of British citizens who have never applied for a passport, for example. The last census showed that 17% of UK residents (about 10 million people) do not have passports, the majority of whom are likely to be British citizens. There is simply no reason for the Home Office to know about these people and, traditionally, it would be considered none of the Home Office’s business to know about them. There are also plenty of foreign nationals living in the UK unknown to the Home Office, millions of whom are lawfully resident. Some have been resident for decades and were granted status many years ago, before Home Office computer records began. Nevertheless, they are all potential victims of the hostile environment.
One of the fundamental flaws in the whole conception of the hostile environment scheme is that it is intended to affect unlawful residents but it is actually aimed at undocumented residents. Sometimes these things overlap and a person who has no documents is also unlawfully resident. But that is very far from always being the case.
This leads us to the most famous victims of all of the hostile environment: the Windrush generation. Broadly speaking, this is the label that has been attached to lawful long-term residents from Commonwealth countries. Many either came to the UK themselves when they were in effect British citizens or are the children of those who did so (before the British Nationality Act 1981 there was no such thing as a ‘British citizen’, just ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies’). Typically, they are lawfully resident because they were granted a status called Indefinite Leave to Remain many years ago, sometimes automatically by law and sometimes in the form of a stamp in a long-expired passport. For decades, they lived in the UK without anyone asking them to prove their right to be here. That started to change as the hostile environment geared up from 2012 onwards.
In 2014, Fiona Bawdon researched and wrote a report entitled Chasing Status for the Legal Action Group (names were changed for the purposes of the report). The report highlighted the plight of thousands of long-term UK residents who were unable to prove their immigration status or have ‘irregular’ status, despite having lived legally in the country for most of their lives. Bawdon called these residents ‘surprised Brits’ because they felt British, many thought they actually were British, and yet they had been caught out by the new hostile environment laws.
The Chasing Status report seemed to sink without trace. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, though, the media found a new appetite for stories critical of the Home Office following a string of articles about generally white, middle-class EU migrants who were facing difficulties proving their permanent residence. A journalist at the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman, started to investigate the cases of destitute Commonwealth migrants. Realising that the examples she was seeing must be the tip of an iceberg, she unearthed a shocking series of similar cases (see Gentleman, 2019, for the full account). As Bawdon had earlier shown and predicted, lawful residents were finding themselves turfed out of jobs and homes, denied life-saving NHS care and threatened with deportation to a country they barely knew.
In April 2018, what became known as the Windrush scandal finally received the attention it deserved. Immediately before a Commonwealth heads of government meeting, Prime Minister Theresa May refused to meet with a delegation of twelve Caribbean high commissioners to discuss the situation of long-term residents facing immigration difficulties. An article about this diplomatic snub appeared on the front page of the Guardian. Suddenly, as Gentleman writes, ‘ministers who had shown no interest were falling over themselves to express profound sorrow.’ Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to appear at the Commons dispatch box to make the first of two comprehensive admissions that the Windrush generation had been treated ‘appallingly’. Theresa May herself was forced repeatedly to apologise, although her initial efforts were weak attempts of the ‘sorry-not-sorry’ variety. Belatedly, the special unit that Bawdon had advocated in 2014 was set up, along with a compensation fund for those affected.
The fundamental flaw in the design of the hostile environment persists, though, and this will have major consequences if or when the UK leaves the EU and scraps free movement rules for EU citizens. This is because the majority of lawful residents without status papers are citizens of EU countries who entered the UK under free movement laws. Immigration officials are literally forbidden from stamping the passports of EU citizens entering and leaving the UK and have no idea why an EU citizen is entering the UK or for how long he or she stays.
Brexit therefore represents a huge challenge; no-one knows how many EU citizens live in the UK but estimates go as high as four million. When EU law ceases to apply in the UK, all of these EU citizens and their family members need to have acquired a new immigration status under UK law. If they do not apply by the deadline, they will become unlawfully resident. No registration campaign around the world has ever achieved a 100% success rate and it is estimated that as many as hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will miss the deadline. Some will be elderly residents in care homes, some will be young children, others will not speak good English, some may be afraid of applying and some will have believed the Leave campaign promise that their rights would be protected. Some will just be disorganised or unaware; a lot of people miss the deadline for filing their tax return every year even though they get fined for doing so. Some may refuse on principle.
No matter their reasons, the effect of being exposed to the hostile environment will be the same. Their jobs will be lost, their bank accounts closed down, their tenancies terminated and access to the NHS and welfare benefits ended.
Colin Yeo is a barrister, writer, campaigner and consultant specialising in immigration law. He founded and edits the Free Movement immigration law blog.
LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany often remain invisible and unrecognized within Germany’s asylum system unless they specifically come forward and out themselves. Our new report shows that better visibility and access to legal and social support is needed for this group of asylum seekers.
The German Lesbian and Gay Association (Lesben und Schwulen Verband Deutschland) estimates that out of the nearly 1.6 million refugees that have been registered in Germany between 2015 and 2018 approximately 60,000 are LGBTQI+ individuals from countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. While human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity are grounds for seeking asylum in Europe a policy brief, published by University of Bristol, points out that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany face unique challenges as compared to non-LGBTQI+ individuals when seeking refugee protection.
The data that led to the key findings of the policy report derives from our two EU-funded research projects entitled Queer Muslim Asylum in Germany and SOGICA – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum. Nina Held is a sociologist who researches sexual orientation and gender identity asylum claims in Germany at the University of Sussex and Mengia Tschalaer is an anthropologist who examines the asylum experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals with Muslim background in Germany at the University of Bristol. Between 2017 and 2019, we conducted over 100 interviews with NGO professionals, lawyers, judges, policy-makers and LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum on their experiences with queer asylum in Germany. We asked them about the changes needed to improve the social and legal experiences of LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum in Germany. In addition, the research includes the analysis of court observations and LGBTQI+ asylum decisions.
Our projects deploy an intersectional approach aiming to understand how sexuality, gender, gender identity, religion, class, age, ‘race’, nationality and (dis)ability shape asylum experiences for LGBTQI+ individuals.
The report highlights the fact that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Germany often remain unrecognized and invisible in the asylum system unless they specifically come forward and out themselves. We argue that this is particularly difficult for those who are reluctant to come out due to their specific life situations (i.e. family, marriage, community), feelings of shame and fear of talking about their sexuality/gender identity and/or a lack of safe accommodation and other spaces that would allow for a “coming out”. Indeed, LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who are hiding their sexuality and/or gender identity, who feel uncomfortable to talk about it and/or who are married – some with children – in their countries of origin are often rejected.
Further, we observe that LGBTQI+ individuals seeking asylum in Germany are often housed in asylum accommodation located in rural areas, far away from other LGBTQI+ people and access to LGBTQI+ NGOs in urban areas. Consequently, they feel a heightened sense of loneliness and social isolation and are more likely to experience hate crime and sexual assault.
We also find that decision-making on LGBTQI+ claims is inconsistent and dependent on who decides the case and what kind of knowledge the decision-maker has on issues of sexuality and gender identity as well as on the situation for LGBTQI+ individuals in their country of origin. The policy brief suggests that there is often inadequate knowledge about the situation of LGBTQI+ people in the respective countries of origin resulting, for instance, in decisions where ‘internal relocation’ is suggested.
There is often a disconnect in recognizing gender-based and other forms of violence against LGBTQI+ people as an integral part of their asylum claim. Gender-based violence, in particular, is often deemed as not credible due to the lack of concrete evidence and the lack of awareness that lesbians, transwomen, and bisexual women are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including trafficking.
Poor decision-making results in long waiting periods and thus exacerbates social isolation and the strain on mental health.
Overall, LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum often lack access to legal and social support because there is a lack of information for LGBTQI+ refugees on how and where to find support. Organisations that provide support for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum are generally underfunded and it is thus difficult to get a timely appointment.
And lastly, LGBTQI+ refugees and people seeking asylum often lack safe access to adequate medical and psychological treatment due to their invisibility within the asylum system. They can also experience social isolation and discrimination due to the lack of multilingual therapists that are sensitized to LGBTQI+ issues. This increases the risk of mental health-related issues, which, in turn, can affect the asylum process negatively.
To download the policy brief with the key findings and policy implications please visit the Policy Bristol website here.
To get in touch with the authors of the brief Dr Nina Held and Dr Mengia Tschalaer please contact them via email at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fieldwork research has a significant effect on one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. However, it is astonishing that not much time, space and attention is devoted to exploring, learning and deliberating upon the variety of fieldwork experience that goes undocumented in academic work including on topics such as gender bias and mansplaining; nationality and cultural ethos as a researcher of particular origin; uncertainties, failures and long periods of waiting; emotional and mental harm to the researcher, to name a few.
I realised this more when I recently completed seven months of socio-legal multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Delhi and neighbouring states. The fieldwork broadly comprised of investigating the performance of Article 23 of the Constitution of India, ‘prohibition of traffic in human beings, begar and other similar forms of forced labour’ and its effect on the everyday lived experience of people (begar means non-payment of wages for work done). This entailed accompanying sex workers and bonded/forced labourers in their legal journeys as internal migrants (in various occupations) through various sites such as the courtrooms, police stations, prison, shelter homes, red light area, informal worksites and district and central government offices. I conducted in-depth interviews with sex workers and bonded/forced labourers, besides interviews with related legal stakeholders. These interviews were complemented with courtroom observation, participant observation and a study of legal case files, which captured the entirety of the participant’s long, unpredictable and complex legal journeys.
The process of following these movements through various sites meant that I often occupied multiple (assumed) positions and identities simultaneously – that of a researcher, female friend, student, journalist, lawyer, intern and so on. This also implied that I was seen in the light of multiple assumptions in terms of my class, caste, occupation, marital status and age. Whilst the fieldwork was filled with many positive experiences due to the support and encouragement of comrades and activist organisations, in this article I want to focus on the gender bias and emotional burden the fieldwork demanded of me as an ‘Indian female researcher’.
Several researchers before me have taken the responsibility of writing about how their gender, age, caste, nationality, class or their very being were put into question while doing fieldwork (see Ravina Aggarwal, Elizabeth Chacko, Isabelle Kunze and Martina Padmanabhan Erdkunde, Isabella Ng, Nitasha Sharma and Jillian M. Rickly among others). This is because as a female researcher, one can be constantly put off by enquiries and curiosities surrounding one’s marital status, age, race, caste, class or clothing. It is often assumed that the researcher is unaware, innocent or naive. Dressing ‘maturely’ does not help either. When I interviewed some elite male participants, they (ignoring my questions) started by offering me basic definitions of terms and concepts that I did not even ask for. On some occasions, I was stopped with an angry hand gesture (while I was talking) and, in a very aggressive tone, ‘Stop talking; listen to me first’. This was even though I had explained that I had worked on and researched these issues for over six years.
This is not surprising especially when we know that power relations, gender violence and hierarchy are embedded in the soul and spirit of Indian society. We are a society built and sustained on the robust, unshaken and eternal foundation of patriarchy. Amidst this, the intellectual work, emotional labour and the mental health effects of such experiences go unnoticed, let alone compensated for. It is generally accepted and internalised that women, especially feminist women invite such reactions. And you alone are responsible for them. ‘You must have done something’, people say, or, ‘Just ignore it; you think too much’.
I also realised that in the field, people (in both personal and professional relationships) were less concerned about my research and well-being than with the roles I should be playing as a woman. I was expected to be ‘back home’. I wondered what for. ‘You should not take up such fieldwork travels while [your partner] is left alone at home.’ These accusations were followed up with solutions. ‘You do not have to travel. How will you travel? We will arrange for a ten-minute phone call and you can write that you interviewed this person. This will make the fieldwork quicker and you can return soon.’
I often pondered upon such encounters and noted them in my reflection journal. Where am I supposed to return? To who and why? Why this rush and pressure? Why was my mobility between fieldwork sites a matter of concern and curiosity to some people? Why was there no interest in my research or the emotional roller coaster I was going through in the field? The mystery of my return concerned and perturbed many people in the field. Due to this, I was constantly called to account for myself, not as a researcher, but because of my position as a woman with a partner. My identity was constantly attached to his as if I did not exist as an individual. This was overwhelming not only for me but also for my partner because, in these conversations, he was made an implicit participant without consent.
Once such distressing encounters had become a usual occurrence, I mastered the poker face. I needed to collect data and could not risk annoying anyone. So, I laughed when they laughed, expressed concern when they did, shook my head often as they did and in rare instances, gave a ‘shy woman-like smile’ when ‘uncomfortable topics’ were discussed, as was expected of a woman from a ‘good family’. If I did not, they stared. So, I did.
During such emotionally troubling times, fortunately, I had some comforting companions. My supervisor shared with me her own fieldwork experience of ‘mansplaining’. This encouraged me to reflect on my experience of fieldwork as a feminist woman with those of the female participants of my research; how different yet similar our lives are in terms of how we all ‘risked lives, homes, relationships, in the struggle for more bearable worlds’ (Ahmed, 2017, p.1). The subaltern resists, speaks and revolts invisibly and powerfully, even in the middle of moving, parting from their land and homes, and often their families and children. How powerful, beautiful and empowering is this!
I also found comfort in Maya Angelou’s autobiography where she, through her brilliant and unapologetic writing, stumbles through life from one role to another both personally and professionally, fighting and discovering the multiple ways in which women are not only made to feel small and incompetent but are often treated as second-class citizens. They are expected to fit into many roles and stereotypes and made to feel guilty if they do not follow the norm. Maya Angelou was speaking to me, ‘Onus and guilt were shifting into my lap, where they surely didn’t belong’ (2008, p.246).
Amidst these reflections, Sara Ahmed gave me the reassurance to not ignore, give in and ‘adjust in an unjust world’ (2017, p.84) (emphasis my own). I then realised that the politics of fieldwork research was gradually merging with my feminism(s). The personal was indeed political and the political became personal. This transported with it the (un)comfortable consciousness of my being, beyond that of a researcher and a woman. These musings kept visiting me because of how I was seen and how I was not seen during fieldwork. This is even though I have spent more than 28 years growing up in India, being accustomed to conducting myself in an ‘appropriate manner’ in both public and private spaces, not because I want to but because I need to. I know and have experienced that speaking up does not always help. It often leads to accusations of creating an ‘unnecessary scene’. ‘To disappoint an expectation is to become a disappointment’ (Ahmed, 2017, p.52). So, in a society where people are accepted, rewarded and applauded for being sexist, casteist and misogynistic, bringing out wrong can often make you the reason for the wrong. How shocking is this revelation? Not at all.
I am sure that these experiences resonate with some other researchers and require space, time and attention for ‘revelation’. For this reason, I am organising a series of (three) seminars with the MMB Networking Funds Grant between January and June 2020 at the University of Bristol for PhDs and ECRs. Each seminar will have a specific theme around fieldwork research. These seminars will be followed with a writing workshop where experienced researchers from across disciplines will be invited to mentor PhDs and ECRs to bring this important discussion together in an edited volume, report or podcasts. If you would like more information about the seminars and the writing workshop, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Pankhuri Agarwal is a PhD Researcher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.
On 3 July 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Professor Felipe González, visited the University of Bristol. The event was organized by Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) with funding from PolicyBristol. Here we outline the scope of his work and focus of his visit.
During the event, the Rapporteur presented the work of his office and his latest activities. He then heard from the City Council, civil society, NGOs, business representatives and academics about the challenges migrants and refugees face in the UK. This included discussions about the situation of EU citizens after a possible Brexit, the Windrush scandal and the effects of the so-called hostile environment policy.
MMB provided a dossier of notes to accompany his visit. This outlined the breadth of interests of MMB researchers, and salient issues about the rights of migrants in Bristol. As this was not an official visit, the Rapporteur will not be producing a final report with his observations. However, he took good notice of all the issues raised, and we are pleased to have been able to facilitate connections between the Rapporteur, the University and the city of Bristol.
The Special Rapporteur’s role
The Special Rapporteur’s role was created in 1999 by the Commission of Human Rights. Professor González, a Chilean, is the fourth person, and third Latin American, to hold the mandate, which covers all countries regardless of whether a state has ratified the 1990 United Nations Migrant Workers Convention (the UK has not). He can request and receive information from various sources, including migrants themselves, about individual cases of alleged violations of human rights, or about general situations of concern in a particular country. The Rapporteur is not the ‘last resort’, meaning that complainants can approach him at any time; they do not have to exhaust domestic remedies first.
The Rapporteur has three main tools to carry out his work:
Country visits (also called fact-finding missions) allow the Rapporteur, following an invitation by the relevant government, to examine first-hand the situation of human rights protection in a particular state. Following such a visit, a report is submitted to the Human Rights Council with his findings, conclusions and recommendations.
‘Communications’ allow the Rapporteur to bring to the attention of a particular government alleged violations of the human rights of migrants, without the need to visit that particular country. This was, for example, the case with his
The Rapporteur produces an annual report to the Human Rights Council about the global state of protection of migrants’ human rights but can also produce thematic reports on issues of interest, such as the one on bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and their impact on the human rights of migrants. The Special Rapporteur also reports to the General Assembly.
We were honoured to host Professor González and hope to continue our exchanges in the coming years.
Further information about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is available here.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be involved in MMB’s ongoing communication with the Special Rapporteur.
The new Conservative leader, Boris Johnson, during the July hustings in Darlington complained that, ‘There are too many too often there are parts of our country and parts of London still and other cities as well where English is not spoken by some people as their first language, and that needs to be changed and people need to be allowed to take part in the economy and in society in the way that that shared experience would allow.’ ‘Integration’ continues to be a hot topic. We are looking forward to making an important contribution to these debates with evidence from the research project ‘Everyday Integration’ funded by ESRC that we’ll be starting in October. The project, led by Jon Fox (SPAIS) and also involving Bridget Anderson,Therese O’Toole (SPAIS) and David Manley (Geography) proposes a radically new approach that develops theory and learns from and contributes to the city of Bristol. We are particularly excited to be working with Bristol City Council and 25 community partners in the research design and implementation, and in the co-production of an Integration Strategy for Bristol, and an Integration Toolkit for other UK urban contexts.
In Bristol as in other cities, lives are very different. Histories, cultures, and structures of feeling that in the past were separated by enormous distances can now, as Gilroy puts it ‘be found in the same place, the same time: school, bus, café, cell, waiting room, or traffic jam’ (Gilroy 2004: 70), and here they shape our institutions and our relationships, including racisms and other social divisions. We take as our starting point that integration is about the everyday rather than abstract ‘national values’, and that it must be embedded in very local contexts – in our case, Bristol. We also recognise that the debates about integration must themselves be ‘integrated’ into our understandings of class, racism, and disability for example.
There are many ways in which our local communities are stratified and people are stereotyped and marginalised, and moving within and into the city can be as important as moving across national borders. Mainstream conversations about integration too often float free of these crucial considerations. An integrated city is not without its differences, disputes, or competing interests, but these differences don’t lead to exclusion, segregation, or marginalisation. We are interested in the ways that residents of Bristol experience and practice integration (recognising they may not use the term ‘integration’) and what we can learn from this, not to make everyone come together but so that everyone can come together. Rather than starting with mobility as the ‘integration problem’ and seeing ‘community’ as sedentary, we approach mobility (spatial, social, economic, and civic) as necessary to sustain and develop our relationships. We have developed some really exciting methods that, as you would expect from MMB, engage with the opportunities for mobility: Uber rides for urban snapshots, flash focus groups on Bristol buses, GPS logs to see how people manage mobility within the city. Keep an eye out too for our ‘Integration Roadshows’, four town hall meetings in different parts of Bristol to help build an integration strategy for our city.
We have just advertised for two research assistants on the project – . Further details onthe project can be found on the MMB project page and we will have a website later this year so do check in and see how we’re doing. It is going to be a very productive two years, and we hope you’ll hear more about us in Bristol and beyond.
At first glance the UK’s current record of job creation seems impressive. But the numbers conceal more than they reveal. Self-employment represents an increasing amount of new jobs. Among these number those who have sought out self-employment to enjoy more freedom in where, how and when they work. But alongside them co-exist a vast expanse of gig workers whose legal status as ‘self-employed’ is mediated by platforms that connect customers with the providers of a service. The algorithmic control to which they are subject makes them just as compelled to work as any employee, with none of the security. Hence, this and similar situations have been labelled ‘false self-employment’ by some.
The self-employed workforce is therefore diverse, home to a range of motivations and experiences. There are certainly perceived and actual benefits to the independence it grants workers, often working in sectors where self-employment is a more appropriate way to deliver the specific kind of good or service produced. But this frequently comes at the expense of the security of workers and the stability of their income. Late payments are a major problem, with over half of invoices paid late by clients. Volatility of income negatively impacts upon the ability to get mortgages and loans.
Moreover, the introduction of the Universal Credit, with a monthly ‘Minimum Income Floor’ claimants must reach in order to be eligible for support, is set to exacerbate the consequences of income volatility for the several hundred thousand of self-employed people forecast to claim the benefit. Among these will be some of the least well-off and most precarious self-employed people, unable to evidence steady monthly income in line with the reporting criteria. The measure is currently subject to legal challenge, but it is important to remember that part of the initial impetus for the Universal Credit reforms was to drive people in unformalised, apparently unprofitable forms of work into more formalised, productive parts of the economy. It appears the Minimum Income Floor may serve to have this effect, at the risk of severe financial and personal discomfort to those on the receiving end.
Before Brexit came to occupy the legislative agenda, Theresa May’s premiership set out its stall on an agenda pitched to addressing the interests of workers. As part of this, and in recognition of some of the wider issues surrounding the formalisation of the self-employed as part of the architecture of British employment regulation, the government commissioned the Taylor Review. The Taylor Review proposed a number of recommendations for how the government could stimulate and support the creation of new platforms that, in a cooperative spin on the capitalist ethos driving their development as means of exploiting workers, bring independent workers together to organise for better pay, benefits and conditions. However, the report tends to focus on quite a individualised representation of the self-employed that overlooks the importance of collective responses to the issues they face.
More problematically, the Taylor Review advocated that in seeking to address the contradiction between security and autonomy among the self-employed in the UK, policy solutions should narrowly follow the path of a so-called ‘British Way’ distinctive to the specificities of the UK’s supposedly unique political economy, which Taylor perceived to possess sufficient dynamism to make it worth preserving. This appeal to a ‘British Way’, however, obscures the plenitude of practical examples already in evidence across the Channel among our possibly soon-to-be-former European partners. In countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, in somewhat different political-economic contexts, social innovations responsible to the risks incurred by the self-employed are at a much more advanced stage of development.
Broodfonds, for instance, is a Dutch project that establishes a mutual fund into which independent workers pay a monthly sum, the accumulated commonwealth of which can be drawn down upon by those that fall out of work due to sickness or other factors and have no statutory right to the sick pay or other benefits afforded those with the legal status of employees. The scheme is organised around local branches and coordinated through a ‘platform cooperative’ model. Inspired by the Broodfonds, an organisation, Breadfunds UK, is currently exploring whether the slightly different structure of British financial regulation permits the implementation of such a scheme in the UK.
More extensive and interesting still is the SMart cooperative. Primarily based in Belgium but with branches in eight European countries, SMart is a platform that acts as a defacto ‘employer’ of its self-employed members. Rather than self-employed workers doing business with clients themselves, SMart invoices clients in their behalf any chases any late payments, in return for a percentage of the amount invoiced. It also guarantees those payments should clients fail to pay from a mutual guarantee fund similar to that found in the Broodfonds scheme.
SMart workers can manage their income through the SMart platform, drawing down what would otherwise be business income as a formal salary apportioned equally across months. This confers upon self-employed workers the legal status of employees with all the rights and access to benefits that flow from it. But it also enables them at the same time to enjoy the autonomy and independence of self-employment as a career choice, and mitigate some of the negatives of so-called ‘false’ self-employment in the gig economy.
An important aspect for the UK context is that the platform grants workers the ability to smooth out their income month-by-month, standing a potential solution to the problem of income volatility vis-à-vis the monthly reporting of the Minimum Income Floor for those self-employed people forecast to claim the Universal Credit.
There is already precedent for the presence of such intermediary institutions in the shape of the often exploitative ‘umbrella companies’ used to manage payroll on behalf of temporary workers and the agencies through which they are hired. The UK’s new Director of Labour Market Enforcement has set about to stamp out the abuses made possible in the latter. But SMart would represent a radical appropriation of a similar intermediary status within UK law.
Rather than further confusing the contested legal status of some forms of self-employed work under British employment regulation, the creation of a new category of what the Belgians call ‘SMart workers’ could serve to clarify it. SMart has become a semi-formalised part of the apparatus of employment relations in Belgium, and there is no substantial reason why a similar scheme could do the same in this country. Indeed, the Department for Work and Pensions have shown interest in the Business and Employment Cooperative model SMart represents.
A potential basis for experimenting with SMart in the UK may be Indycube.Community, a cooperative trade union for the self-employed established by Indycube, a co-working cooperative spreading out from South Wales to establish branches in a number of UK towns and cities, and the Community Union who, in the wake of the decline of the steel industry, adopted a new model of non-industrial organising more adept at accommodating the specific needs and demands of the self-employed than less agile UK trade unions.
Currently, Indycube.Community provides to members co-working space, invoice-chasing, financial and legal support and advice, and a campaigning voice for the representation of self-employed workers. It stands well-placed to begin bringing into reality aspects of the SMart model in the very different regulatory ad political space of the so-called ‘British Way’ of employment relations.
At a time where one half of Britain wishes to pull itself away from European institutions, it is essential to look across the water and learn from others what can be done to support real self-employment endowed with both autonomy and security, against the precariousness of its sometimes ‘false’ reality.
Huge changes to the labour market are underway, and digitisation is changing how people are recruited and the kind of work they do, not least in phenomenon of the gig economy. Can these changes benefit refugees and migrants and if so, how? These issues were discussed in the second workshop, in a series of three, aiming to break down barriers between academic research and practitioner organisations. This particular event was led by Tonia Novitz and Harry Pitts (UoB), with David Jepson and Lydia Samuel (ACH/Himilo) and was attended by about 20 people from a range of backgrounds and interests.
ACH/Himilo work with around 2500 people every year, aiming where possible to help individuals to gain median level jobs rather than simply entry level work. For example, we are currently running a training scheme for drivers for First Bus. Economic opportunity is central to building autonomy and facilitating what at ACH/Himilo we think of as ‘self-integration’, enabling participation in wider civil, community and social networks. How will people like our clients be impacted on by labour market changes? Dr Harry Pitts from the School of Management, said that these changes will undoubtedly affect jobs but the scale of change is difficult to predict. He discussed the problems associated with the kind of precarious work generated by the gig economy including the significant increase in false self-employment where workers lack genuine autonomy. He outlined examples of initiatives such as SMART in Belgium, an organisation supporting workers who find themselves in these types of situations, and offering administrative, legal, fiscal and financial advice. This sort of initiative is beneficial to all freelancers including refugee and migrant workers.
Changes to labour markets can offer the chance for refugees and migrants to access new employment opportunities, for example via employment platforms and crowd sourcing, but they also pose risks too, according to Professor Tonia Novitz, from the School of Law. She outlined the important differences between status as an employee, a worker or a free-lance sub-contractor. Collective engagement and organisation is important here and new forms of interaction can be developed to facilitate association at work. She also explained that public authorities also had a duty under the law in relation to diversity and employment.
Dr Laila Kasem, from the University of Worcester has researched small businesses and self-employment of Syrian Refugees in the United Kingdom. Small business can be a flexible opportunity for economic empowerment but can also be the wrong choice for some. She highlighted the problems facing middle aged men who have worked for many years in one trade which is regarded as outmoded in the UK. They can become very demotivated, and there is a need for them to have access to pathways to different forms of work.
It was very productive to have a discussion around the consequences for refugees and migrants of labour market changes as debates tend to focus on refugees’ and migrants’ impact on the labour market, and often lead to them being scapegoated for wider problems. In fact, refugees and migrants bring diversity, skills and experience that can make our economy stronger. We need that.
We look forward to the next event on 16th April which will discuss language.