Deconstructing the "Refugee Crisis": Race, Representation, and Recognition

Colloquium | October 19 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Center for Race and Gender

The CRG Thursday Forum Series presents…

Denaturalizing the Mediterranean border: Mediterraneanism, Mediterranean migration, and the tracing of the boundaries of Europeanness
Ilaria Giglioli, Geography

Over the past five years, the European ‘refugee crisis’ has made painfully clear the human cost of the closure and fortification of the Mediterranean sea. In response, intellectuals, public figures and activists throughout Europe have sought to question the closure of the Mediterranean border, and the notion that this border represents the ‘natural limit’ of Europe, by turning to Mediterraneanism: the celebration of historic interconnections between Europe and North Africa.

Mediterraneanism, however, has multiple articulations. In my talk, I analyze everyday manifestations of Mediterraneanism in Sicily, Italy, as both a multicultural model, and as a regional development discourse, showing how the celebration of Mediterranean interconnection is going hand in hand with the production of racialized difference between Sicilians and Tunisian migrants. By reading current articulations of Mediterraneanism in Sicily in relation to histories of colonial cosmopolitanism in Tunisia, I also show how – more generally – the celebration of Mediterranean mixing and interconnection has historically served to support European (Italian and French) colonial ambitions over Tunisia.

Through this analysis, I show how, in some articulations, Mediterraneanist projects do not question the exclusion of racialized subjects from the national or European community, the fortification of the Mediterranean, or implicit ‘civilizational’ hierarchies between Europe and North Africa. More generally, I argue that in order to challenge the current Mediterranean status quo, Mediterraneanist projects must be accompanied by policies of equal access and redistribution – both within Europe and across the Mediterranean, a critique of Islamophobia, and a questioning of how the boundaries of Europeanness are drawn.

Re-forming Refugee Protection: A U.S. Perspective
Kate Jastram, Human Rights Attorney

U.S. leadership has been indispensable to the international system of refugee protection for decades. Yet now both our domestic asylum system and our program of resettling refugees from overseas are under severe pressure. At home, the U.S. has failed to respond effectively to the rapid rise in recent years of women and children fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. As a result, the asylum system is unable to deal fairly and expeditiously with claims, and the backlog of cases has grown to nearly 300,000. Lengthy delays in processing cases hurt everyone involved, including the government, and leave the asylum program politically vulnerable.

The overseas refugee resettlement program has been furiously contested since January. Just as years of advocacy for Syrian refugees needing admission to the U.S. was beginning to pay off, the Executive Orders threw the system into reverse, halting Syrian admissions at least temporarily and scaling down the entire resettlement program. Litigation is ongoing, but a more fundamental question is that of political will and imagination. I argue that the U.S. response to asylum seekers at home and refugees abroad must be creative, compassionate and security-conscious. I draw on a previous crisis period in the U.S. asylum system to suggest reforms for today, and ground my policy analysis in the context of the developing Global Compact on Refugees.

Representing the “European refugee crisis” in Germany and beyond: Deservingness and difference, life and death
Seth Holmes, School of Public Health and Heide Castañeda, Anthropology (University of South Florida)

The European refugee crisis has gained worldwide attention with daily media coverage both in and outside Germany. Representations of refugees in media and political discourse in relation to Germany participate in a Gramscian “war of position” over symbols, policies, and, ultimately, social and material resources, with potentially fatal consequences. These representations shift blame from historical, political-economic structures to the displaced people themselves. They demarcate the “deserving” refugee from the “undeserving” migrant and play into fear of cultural, religious, and ethnic difference in the midst of increasing anxiety and precarity for many in Europe. Comparative perspectives suggest that anthropology can play an important role in analyzing these phenomena, highlighting sites of contestation, imagining alternatives, and working toward them.