The first workshop of the MMB research challenge Bodies, Borders, Justice, entitled Arts against racism and borders, was held in the evening of the past 13 May. A dozen academics from arts and humanities, policy studies, sociology and law gathered in the welcoming Verdon Smith Room overlooking the Royal Fort Gardens to discuss the possibilities of the arts, and particularly the creativity of migrants themselves, to shape public discourses and perceptions of free movement. This is particularly important in xenophobic times which bring to the fore mobility researchers’ ethical duty to engage with the widest possible range of stakeholders.
On this occasion we were able to learn from the rich experience of three outstanding speakers. Zita Holbourne, national chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and joint national chair of Artists Union England, has long been involved in the fight against racism and border controls as an artist and activist. After the Grenfell fire for instance she supported survivors by bringing their artistic work to the attention of a wider public. Agata Vitale (Bath Spa University) and Judy Ryde (Trauma Foundation South West) both participated in a study on arts-based interventions to promote resilience among refugee women living with HIV. Their presentation, offered with Sarah Klein (an arts therapist at TFSW), discussed how the arts can help migrants overcome isolation and express experiences of injustice that can be difficult to formulate verbally.
It was extremely motivating to hear about so many creative ways in which researchers can engage with those who move. The stimulating discussions that followed the presentations also raised important questions, such as:
How can/should we use artistic work that was not originally created for research or political purposes?
How can we expand and diversify the audience exposed to this work?
How can we add an artistic dimension to our mobility-related communications, whatever their format?
How can class or race privilege be taken into account when engaging with vulnerable creators?
How can creators themselves benefit from this engagement?
Those who would like to reflect on these issues are welcome to have a look at some of the initiatives that were mentioned in the presentations and discussion:
a colourful mural co-created in 2012 with a group of disabled asylum seekers to communicate their experience of settlement and exclusion in the UK;
As Josie Gill helpfully pointed out, Rebecca Scott who co-chairs Bristol University’s BAME staff network can also provide support in building relationships with local BAME communities.
Of course the arts are only one of many ways for academics to learn from those labelled ‘migrants’. To explore socio-legal engagements we invite you to read the judgement on Hostile Environment recently delivered by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal on the rights of migrants and refugee peoples, whose panel of judges was presided by MMB Director Bridget Anderson.
By Tom Dixon (ACH Senior Project Officer) and Pier-Luc Dupont from MMB
On 16th April, ACH and Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB, University of Bristol) hosted the third in the series of joint workshops, this time on the topic of Language. Tom Dixon, Senior Project Officer and Rachel Sharp, Support and Integration Team Leader presented from ACH and Pier-Luc Dupont from MMB. The audience was made of academics from various universities across the South West and Wales.
This workshop was the final in a series of joint workshops aiming to break down barriers between academia and practitioner organisations. ACH has delivered ESOL both via traditional methods and using our own innovative methodologies.
ACH talked about the current model for ESOL provision in the UK and the limitations and issues inherent to it. We also then discussed some of our alternative approaches including English My Way and our SEESI ‘life before language’ methodology.
MMB discussed the problems posed by nationalist approaches to language learning and more specifically by the assumption that the linguistic needs of migrants and refugees are limited to the learning of standard English. As studies on cultural diversity and transnationalism have shown, intra-state linguistic diversity and international mobility mean that plurilingualism and translation services are often necessary for people to participate in economic, political, cultural and social activities. In this context, the challenge is not only to find out how to teach languages effectively but also what languages to teach, to whom, and at what level of proficiency or formality. To answer these questions, language educators must understand why people may want to use certain languages at specific stages of their life course. They must then identify the barriers they face and design interventions to overcome the barriers in the short, medium and long term. In some cases, this may entail the simultaneous teaching of English and other languages or the development of multilingual public and private services. MMB illustrated this with the lived experience of Roma participants in an EU-funded project on justice (ETHOS), which found that linguistic exclusion and stigma were often bound up with racism and other sources of inequality.
After the two short presentations a discussion followed with all participants asking questions of the presenters. These discussions quickly moved from language learning to a broader conversation about learning in general, employment and wider integration. This direction is indicative of the intersectional nature of work undertaken at ACH and MMB and why taking a holistic approach to integration is so essential.
All three workshops have been very useful in sharing expertise with a wider audience and learning from each other.
ACH is always keen to remain informed of relevant academic work which can improve the way in which we support tenants and the wider refugee community in Bristol. If you want to learn more about our projects and approaches, please contact email@example.com.
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.
The Risky Relationships workshop, held at the Arnolfini on 27th & 28th March 2019, aimed to explore the navigation of immigration regulation in family and intimate relationships from a variety of perspectives.
The event invited participants to view the contemporary landscape of family migration and ‘intimate mobilities’ (Groes & Fernandez 2018) from the analytical perspective of risk. The optic of risk has appeared in various forms in the migration research literature, including work on migration decision making, household risk management strategies, and the physical risks of some forms of cross-border mobility. Issues of families and relationships have, however, been neglected amid a focus on economic and refugee migration. This absence is all the more surprising considering how discourses of risk are employed to justify tightening restrictions on family migration, and to distinguish some kinds of border-crossing relationship from others. For couples and families divided by borders, or with mixed immigration status, immigration regulations create risks of separation, and futures contingent on navigating a variety of economic, legal, practical and emotional risks. Increasing restrictions to family migration have both heightened the risks involved and expanded them to affect a wider variety of actors. These risks are often patterned along ethno-racial, gender and class lines.
‘Genuineness’ in migrant relationships
Sponsored by Migration Mobilities Bristol, The University of Bristol Faculty of Social Science and Law Strategic Fund, and University of the West of England Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education, the workshop included contributions from social science, arts and culture, and legal practitioner perspectives. After an introduction from Katharine Charsley outlining the topic and the many layers of risk discourse and risk management which interact in creating the landscape for contemporary family migration (from government policy through legal practice to family networks), Emma Agusita and Iris Sportel explored the issue of genuineness – a key criteria for immigration applications based on marital relationships. In both papers, we saw how dominant discourses colonise the internal dynamics of couples, so that they may constantly seek to document and display the genuineness of their relationships, or question the intentions of a foreign spouse.
Sian Pearce from Avon and Bristol Law Centre spoke about the risks for former unaccompanied minors who struggle to establish a right to stay in the UK as a result of inadequate representation and restrictive interpretations of the law. Any relationships formed by those with ‘precarious’ immigration status (including those with long-standing foster parents) are given little weight in tribunal considerations, but the issue of precarity has wider implications in this field, as only those with Citizenship or Indefinite Leave to Remain are exempt from this category.
Risks from control
Anna Lindley’s paper on immigration detention showed how whilst the case for risk of harm to migrants from detention is often difficult to make given restrictive definitions, considerations of risks to society presented to justify detention are much more expansive, and often based on problematic evidence. Natasha Carver’s paper contrasted the risks faced by Somali couples attempting to reunite under British immigration law, with the easier experience of those able to access spousal immigration through EU membership. As a result, the latter category of couples are sometimes unprepared for the risks and requirements of subsequent settlement applications. Bridget Anderson’s reflections on risk, uncertainty, temporality and agency in understanding migration and mobility brought together many threads from our discussions, interweaving them with new theoretical insights.
Various forms of written and artistic creativity further stimulated our discussions. Some presentations from researchers who had dealt with issues of immigration in their own relationships had auto-biographical elements. Emma Agusita’s Visualising Love exhibition brought the experiences of couples negotiating the UK’s spousal immigration regulations to life, whilst Sine Plambech’s award winning film Heartbound documented how Thai-Danish families develop and manage transnational family lives shaped both by risks of loneliness, poverty, separation, and hopes for the futures.
The workshop clearly established that this is a topic in need of attention – not only from the point of view of academic understanding, but also as a pressing issue for families navigating immigration regulations. We hope to address this gap in future collaborations drawing on the conversations and networks we established over these two fascinating days.
Factors addressed in the Trade, labour, capital challenge were of tremendous importance in the ancient world, just as they are today.
The Globalising Luxuries project is a collaboration between Bristol University and the British Museum to explore the production and distribution of luxury objects around the wider ancient Mediterranean world. It seeks to integrate the skilled craftsmen and traders into the social narrative of luxury object manufacture and dissemination.
Decorated ostrich eggs were luxury items in antiquity. They were used as jugs and cups, and were engraved, painted, and sometimes embellished with ivory, preciously metals and faience fittings. They have been found primarily in elite funerary contexts from Mesopotamia and the Levant to the wider Mediterranean throughout the region’s Bronze and Iron Ages (3rd-2nd millennium BCE and c.1st millennium BCE respectively). These represent different cultures that were often in conflict with one another.
Most research on these objects has focused on their iconography to determine who decorated them. But this equates decorative style with cultural identity, which is particularly problematic when we know that artisans were known to migrate, or be moved, and often in the employ of royal or elite patrons.
To address this, we are using a combination of isotopic indicators, high resolution microscopy and digital and scanning electron microscopy. With these techniques together, we are determining where an egg was laid, whether it laid by a wild or captive bird, and distinguishing working techniques, including pigments.
Routes to luxury
Through these methods, we are understanding better the mechanisms and routes of luxury production and trade in the ancient world. In turn, this will help us understand the full extent of the role luxuries play in today’s globalised world. This includes highlighting the roles played by the procurers of raw materials, the fashioning craftsmen, and the traders and merchants who distribute them.
MMB offers an exciting space to learn from others looking at the implications of migration and mobility of all kinds. Looking at organic luxuries brings us into contemporary issues to do with the acquisition and trade in ivory, for example.
I am keen to do modelling with my data, so if there is anyone working on migration and trade in the contemporary world who would like to collaborate on a little something along these lines with me, please let me know!
Academics have a lot to learn from people who are on the frontline. Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) can, for example, learn from people who speak from their personal and organisational experiences of immigration controls and the hostile environment. We also believe that academics have something to offer in return – an analysis of patterns of experiences and how these are institutionally and historically embedded.
For example, ACH/Himilo is an organisation which has considerable knowledge of the issues confronting service provision and integration. It has grown in ten years from a small-scale housing provider to a leading provider of integration support for refugees and migrants, working with 2500 people per year. It challenges many assumptions about how newly-arrived communities should be ‘integrated’ and it has started to set out a new paradigm through the #rethinkingrefugee approach.
However, ACH recognises the need to test thinking more widely and to take advantage of the many academic experts in Bristol who can bring different perspectives. Furthermore, both MMB and ACH/Himilo recognise that we can learn from the talents, experiences and aspirations of newly-arrived communities and thereby benefit the individuals themselves and the wider community. It is through groups like MMB, ACH/Himilo and other key bodies such as the Mayor’s Office collaborating that we can make Bristol into a knowledge hub and make real progress in building inclusive communities.
For this reason, ACH/Himilo approached MMB suggesting we jointly organise a seminar series on the themes of integration, employment and language.
We both agreed that these would be discussion orientated, with short presentations, one from an academic and one from a practitioner. We decided on a maximum of twenty participants, ten from University of Bristol and ten non-academic interested stakeholders. We held the first of these, on integration, on 11th February 2019 in the Will Memorial Building at the University of Bristol, and we found it highly stimulating and engaging.
Of course, we were helped by having two fantastic presenters. Dr Katharine Charsley from SPAIS (Sociology, Politics and International Studies) got us off to a great start by presenting a model of integration processes that she has developed with Dr Sarah Spencer (COMPAS, University of Oxford).
This disaggregates the different types of integration that matter to an individual: the social, structural, civic/political, cultural and identity. Integration in one area does not mean integration in another and disaggregating in this way can help us design and evaluate policies better.
She was followed by Richard Thickpenny from ACH/Himilo, who discussed the ‘Invisible Line of Control’. Unreflexive policy and practice can mean that policymakers and practitioners can predetermine below optimal results for the people they want to support. For example, ACH had found that three quarters of refugees were working in entry level jobs and staying in them, not progressing to develop or adapt the skills that that they already have. In this way, interventions can end up limiting the potential of refugees to achieve full integration. Both presentations illustrated the importance of a holistic approach and attending to the unintended consequences of integration policies.
The subsequent conversations were very lively. We tackled the challenge of the basic assumptions of the language of integration – what is it that people are ‘integrating’ in to? Why is it only migrants and refugees who are targeted by integration policies? Why do we assume that the residents of Clifton ‘integrated’? It made me think that perhaps we should investigate other terms that are used to describe similar processes for different populations. For example, one of the ways to counter the exclusions faced by disabled people is to facilitate ‘accessibility’. Could it be helpful for us to learn from the struggles of disabled people and to look for parallels between integration and accessibility? Answers on a postcard please….
Blog co-authored by:
Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship, University of Bristol.
Immigration anxieties played a significant role in British people’s decision in June 2016 to vote to leave the EU. This has fuelled a debate over the quality of media reporting on migration issues.
In order to get a better idea of the role the media played, we examined nearly 1,000 news items, feature articles and editorials from six UK newspapers: the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, the Sun, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, published in 2006 and in 2013.
These were politically important years: 2006 was the year before Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU and the time when it was becoming clear that migration forecasts for the countries that joined the EU in 2004 had been way off. In 2013 David Cameron, delivered his Bloomberg speech in which he promised the EU referendum.
One thing that quickly became apparent was that media coverage contained a selective mixture of statistics, reported comments from politicians and other public figures, academic studies, think-tank reports, and emotive polemics backed with no evidence at all. The practice of mentioning evidence in passing and then dismissing or overriding it was also present.
Bolt the door
The most prominent theme was that mobility within the EU damages British sovereignty. Newspapers from across the political spectrum suggested that intra-EU mobility was impossible to control and that the free movement principle overrides British sovereignty. The theme was also marked by growing scepticism towards migration data and evidence.
The language used to describe EU migration tended to emphasise quantity and scale (“mass”, “vast”, “large scale”). There were lots of “floods” and “waves” and extensive use of military metaphors (“army”, “war”, “battle”, “siege” or “hordes”) in the tabloid press.
When covering migration from Bulgaria and Romania, the press regularly trotted out the figure of 29m migrants – which, in fact, is the combined population of the two countries. Rather than reporting on actual migration of Bulgarians and Romanians, papers preferred hypothetical scenarios where they would migrate en masse simply because they could.
An opinion piece from the Sun, dated September 22 2006, claimed that “any Bulgarian or Romanian will be free to come here as they please – and come they will, because their own countries are very poor and there is no work”.
Overall, the Guardian did a better job than the other papers when it came to using evidence. An article from 2013 used statistics form the Department of Work and Pensions to reveal that immigration to Britain from southern European member states had increased by 50% while using national insurance registrations to show that “data shows little evidence of any surge in Romanians or Bulgarians arriving”.
One article in the Sun covered the story from a different angle, arguing that because of the negative impact of the financial crisis on the building trade in Italy and Spain, migrant workers were bound to be laid off and flood into Britain. The article was centred on an interview with “jobless William Razval, 24” – who, it said, “is desperate to lead the exodus”.
The topic of EU nationals abusing the welfare system was the second most popular theme. Despite official figures, newspapers often chose to ignore evidence and play on public fears that welfare abuse was all but inevitable.
The press trotted out crude decontextualised comparisons between living standards in Britain and eastern Europe. Once again, newspapers focused on the hypothetical possibility of welfare abuse, rather than on specific instances where it has actually taking place. In 2006, Tony Parsons, then a columnist with the Daily Mirror, asked: “At what point does mass immigration, even if it’s good for the economy, push our social services to breaking point?”
Nothing much had changed by March 2013, when a news article from the Times quoted Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed that it was “too easy for EU migrants to claim access to social housing, health care and tax credits” without providing any evidence as to show how many were actually doing so. In June of the same year, the Daily Mail sounded a familiar dog whistle, claiming: “It is easy to imagine how a public fed up with abuses of the welfare state would react.”
In light of recent arguments that journalists become increasing proactive in framing and reshaping migration debates instead of being content with reporting them, it is important to assess the relationship between news coverage and evidence. After all, anti-immigration, eurosceptic reporting did much of the grunt work for the Leave camp and put immigration anxieties in the centre of Brexit discussions and negotiations.
Now we are faced with the danger of race-to-the-bottom post-Brexit immigration policies where EU citizens could be downgraded to migrants overnight on the basis of unsupported anxieties and wild speculations.
Author: Denny Pencheva – Associate Teacher, UK and EU migration policies; Assistant Teacher, Comparative Politics, University of Bristol
Disclosure statement: Denny Pencheva does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
We were privileged and honoured to be able to work on this project with the Sex Work Alliance of Jamaica (SWAJ), a very grassroots NGO run by and for sex workers, and when we had the opportunity to launch and showcase our project at two events at the British Academy last week (one titled “Talking Trafficking With Sex Worker and LGBTQ Voices From Jamaica”), we invited members of the SWAJ team to join us.In the end, however, only the Director, Miriam Haughton, was able to come to the UK. The experience of our other partners speaks volumes about the way in which contemporary talk of “modern slavery” works to deflect attention from the afterlives of actual, transatlantic slavery and colonialism.
Since 2005, United States’ Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports have consistently portrayed Jamaica as having a rampant problem with “child sex tourism” and “sex trafficking” (both of which are now dubbed “modern slavery” by some NGOs and politicians). Indeed, TIP reports and the media coverage they prompt give the impression that “sex trafficking” in general and “child sex trafficking” in particular are the most serious problems associated with commercial sex in Jamaica. They also suggest that the Jamaican Government urgently needs to toughen up its action against the criminals involved. To the extent that the tourism industry is seen to have a role in combatting this type of “modern slavery”, it is largely imagined as supporting efforts at crime control by training staff to “spot the signs of trafficking” and report it to the authorities. Our research asked, among other things, what adult sex workers, especially those who started to sell sex when aged below 18, have to say about the problems facing those who sell sex in Jamaica, and whether they see tougher law and law enforcement against trafficking as the solution to these problems.
We conducted research with sex workers and with people who work in tourism and in the informal tourism economy. Though data analysis is not yet complete, a key finding so far is that although our sex worker participants turned to sex work for economic reasons, as opposed to being forced into it by any third party, they nonetheless routinely experience violence (often very serious violence), robbery, and exploitation. In fact, data from our interviews and a survey of 70 sex workers suggests that violence is the norm, not the exception, for sex workers in Jamaica. The perpetrators are not criminals trafficking people into the sex trade, however. They are largely customers, members of the public, and crucially, police officers, who assault people because they are sex workers.
Our interviewees state that their vulnerability to such high levels of violence is a direct result of the laws that criminalise sex work, and the stigma that attaches to it. In the case of male and trans sex workers, a double stigmatisation and criminalisation operates, since buggery remains a criminal offense in Jamaica and there is a great deal of anti-gay prejudice. Criminalisation and stigmatisation mean that when people are raped, beaten, cheated or robbed, they cannot turn to the police for protection or justice (especially when it is a police officer who victimizes them). Understandably, then, far from being eager to see more criminalisation in the guise of anti-trafficking, most of our sex worker interviewees and survey respondents want to see the decriminalisation of prostitution and of homosexuality in Jamaica. With regards to children, our respondents agree that persons under 18 should not be working in the sex industry, but again argue that criminalisation is not the answer. In fact, even referral to child protection services may not help, given that abuse and violence in children’s homes is a serious problem.
Above all, the sex workers and tourism workers we interviewed argued that whether below and above the age of 18, what ordinary Jamaicans really need are policies that create economic and educational opportunities and inclusion, instead of exclusion and criminalisation.
Exclusion, Criminalisation and Slavery
If we want to make the analytical link between slavery on the one hand, and poor working conditions, exploitation and violence today on the other, we need to remember that through the history of transatlantic slavery, freedom and slavery were racialised. Freedom was coded as white; only those of white European descent were seen as fit for the rights and freedoms of citizenship. Those racialised as black were imagined as too uncivilised and too brutish for freedom. They lacked honour, their word could not be trusted, they needed Masters to control and speak for them. This ideology did not end when slavery was abolished.
In the Caribbean as well as the US following abolition, formerly enslaved persons were regarded as a dangerous, threatening, “masterless” class of person, and the criminal law was increasingly used to discipline and control them. Their efforts to live independently were a particular focus of control and punishment. This fostered an association between blackness and criminality and an intensification of all the dehumanising stereotypes that had been used to justify slavery, which is to say, racist stereotypes about black people as lazy, feckless, untrustworthy, dishonourable, cheats, thieves and liars.
Those stereotypes continue to operate in Jamaica today, especially in relation to individuals who are unable to access the education and jobs that confer “respectability” and belonging. This is a significant portion of the population, because far from having been compensated for the ravages caused by centuries of colonisation and slavery, Jamaica has been further damaged by external interventions in the form of international debt and the austerity packages tied to loans. In fact, the Jamaican Government is compelled to spend more on international debt repayments than on education and welfare combined, which means large numbers of ordinary Jamaicans are unable to secure the basic education required even to get low paid, precarious work in tourism.
The tourism industry extends and deepens those lines of exclusion. The All Inclusive model, for instance, encloses tourists behind fences and razor wire and security systems, significantly reducing opportunities for ordinary Jamaicans to independently make a living on the beach by selling jewellery, tours, drinks, fruit and so on, to tourists. Indeed, if a local beach seller so much as sits on a sun lounger next to a tourist to show her their wares, hotel security guards or tourist police officers will come and chase the local off. Tourists enjoy the rights and freedoms normally associated with citizenship, Jamaicans (at least those who are poor) do not. They are regarded with suspicion and hostility, policed as potential threats. And though they often have many ingenious and creative ideas for small businesses and independent entrepreneurship, they are shut out from opportunities to realise their projects. They cannot secure loans to start businesses, and often cannot even get a bank account, again because those who are poor and unemployed are assumed to be scammers and scoundrels.
This returns me to our partners from SWAJ, who paid a large amount of money to apply for visas to enter the UK to attend our launch events. They took with them to their visa interviews letters of invitation from the British Academy stating the purpose of their visit to the UK, and noting that the visit would be fully funded. We booked their flights and their hotel accommodation, and sent them proof of this to take to their visa interview. But despite all this evidence, UK Visas and Immigration refused them visas and implicitly accused them of being liars, cheats and criminals. Here is an extract from one refusal letter:
I am not satisfied that you are a genuine visitor or that you have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit without working or accessing public funds… I am not satisfied as to your intentions in wishing to travel to the UK… I am not satisfied that you genuinely intend a short visit only… and that you will leave the UK at the end of the visit.
How dare UKVI charge money for a service they don’t provide and then add a string of insults like this to the injury? The answer links closely to our research findings. They dare because Jamaicans (at least Jamaicans who do not belong to a wealthy elite) are still not really regarded as the proper subjects of freedom, and so are still not valued as persons of honour.
Lyndsey Stonebridge has recently argued that rather than becoming subjects of human rights law in the post-World War II era, as European refugees did, the displaced and dispossessed peoples of the global south became objects of humanitarian attention, separate and unequal from the “international community” that claims to act on their behalf. One consequence of this is that European and North American researchers and experts can freely roam the globe, while the mobility of their counterparts in the global south continues to be pathologized and heavily restricted. Jamaicans can contribute to research on “modern slavery”, but are not guaranteed a place alongside British academics and policy makers at the table where that research is disseminated and policy is discussed. Emancipation from slavery was not, and apparently still is not, the same thing as freedom and equality.
Decriminalisation and Beyond
Criminalisation and marginalisation are social forces that have been critical to the application of colonial and post-colonial state power. In this respect, Jamaicans like our partners at SWAJ who are fighting for the decriminalisation of consensual acts of same-sex intimacy and of sex work are part of a wider and on-going struggle both to undo colonialism and transform oppressive practices adopted or maintained by post-independence states. That struggle is hindered, not helped, by the dominant global north discourse on “trafficking and modern slavery” and its overwhelming preoccupation with criminal law and law enforcement in global south countries like Jamaica. Policy attention needs to shift to the factors that actually leave our research partners and participants vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Rather than talking “trafficking”, we need to be talking about matters such as: tackling marginalisation and criminalisation; eliminating international debt; combatting tax evasion and avoidance by big businesses; and making reparations for the historical wrongs of slavery and colonialism – one preliminary element of which in the UK would be the complete removal of all immigration controls on people from former British colonies.
And welcome to Migration Mobilities Bristol! For those of you who do not know us yet we are a Specialist Research Institute at the University of Bristol. We comprise a network of academics, practitioners and others who are interested in human movement and who want to expand and challenge understandings of mobility in order to contribute to a more just world. You can find out more about us here.
There’s been a longstanding interest in migration at Bristol, nurtured by colleagues like Katharine Charsley and Jon Fox for years before I came here, and later Julia O’Connell Davidson and Chris Bertram. It’s been very exciting working with people to think about our next steps. This has been a genuinely interdisciplinary effort, with lots of different faculties contributing, and our fantastic advisory board includes people from History, English, Geography, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Film and Television Studies and Law.
How to research migration?
We’ve developed a set of four research challenges with a view to helping us to enrich the study of migration through making unexpected connections, and to demonstrate to non-migration scholars and policymakers just how important migration is. This is critical work because while we have seen a massive increase in research on migration the movement of some people continues to be scapegoated and demonised, their journeys becoming ever more dangerous and their attempts to successfully claim asylum ever more difficult. For academics this means we must grapple with how to research ‘migration’ without contributing to the construction of the strongly imagined problem ‘migrant’? I’ll do a quick plug here for the MSc Migration and Mobility Studies which is a fantastic course for people who want to think critically and about migration and migration policies, and learn new research skills.
This blog contributes to our ambition to promote new thinking on people and movement. We hope that it will showcase research and good practice and be a space where you can make unexpected connections and try out ideas.
We don’t only need good news stories so let’s be unafraid to share our learning from mistakes and wrong turns. We want to challenge the boundaries between theory and practice, between the university and practitioners, between citizens and non-citizens, so please, feel free to join in the conversations and contribute to this blog series.