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Refuge and the Meaning of Migration

19 Apr

The term diaspora may be understood both as a term for migration as well as a methodological framework. For a theorist like Gilroy (2000, p. 123), the terms serves as a kind of conceptual framework encompassing physical, cultural and economic spaces. Others have preferred a more delineable usage of the term, preferring to restrict its use to descriptions of forced migration and displacement. Ong, for example, argues that “the terms ‘transnational migration’ and ‘diaspora’ are often used in the same breath, confusing changes in population flows occasioned by global market forced with earlier forms of permanent exile (Ong, 2003, p. 86).

One of the problems encountered in migration research is that of deciding precisely what physical geography to focus on. As Bose notes, one may not be looking for Germans in France, Lebanese in Nigeria, or Chinese in Indonesia, but rather sub-nationalities – Gujaratis living in New Jersey, Han Fujianese in Manila, Istanbulites in Berlin, Albertans in Ontario, Liverpudlians in London. Bose asks: “Is such data even collected?” (Bose, 2012, p. 278).Another difficulty is how official recognition of categories of migrants and migration affects the choice and viability of research subjects. The former approach can facilitate moving the focus of research from nationality or the nation-state to structural, sub-national, sub-cultural, regional or institutional (neighbourhoods, businesses) determiners of identity. In other words, the local environment is prioritised over the constraints of macro-level forces like laws around citizenship or laws applicable in sending and receiving nations. One of the early proponents of this approach was Saskia Sassen and her call for attention to the specificities of “global” cites (1991). Others, like Nina Glock Schiller and Ayse Calar (2009), have theorised a localities approach that focuses on post-industrial restructuring, while the empirical work of Romain Garbaye (2005) demonstrates that despite a national “French” citizenship model, access to politics for immigrants and the second generation differ significantly depending on local party systems and the organisation of municipal government. This latter problem in particular often resolves itself in the paradoxical situation of governments who neither afford protections to nor recognise “developmental refugees” (those displaced by any number of projects and policies, ranging from resource extraction to land reform and urbanisation).This is often in spite of the fact that governments may be implicated in the processes that have catalysed the displacement. Such displaced peoples may only appear as “economic migrants”, aggregated within the figures for internal migration of diverse populations within a country (Newbold, 2010). There is no internationally sanctioned category of “developmental refugees.” Such people instead tend to fall into the indeterminate category of the Internally Displaced Person and are not afforded the protections available to those under refugee status, though they may have been forced from homes, livelihoods, cultural practices, and territorial homelands (UNHCR, 2006).

Garbaye, R. (2005) Getting Into Local Power: the Politics of Ethnic Minorities in British and French Cities. Oxford,UK: Blackwell.

Gilroy, P. (2000), Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Colour Line, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Glick Schiller, N. and Calar, A. (2009) “Towards a comparative theory of locality in migration studies: Migrant incorporation and cityscale” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(2): 177-202.

Newbold, K.B. (2010), Population Geography: Tools and Issues, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Ong, A. (2003), “Cyberpublics and diaspora politics among transnational Chinese’, Interventions, 5, 82-100.

Sassen, S. (1991) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bose, P.S. (2012), “Mapping movements: interdisciplinary approaches to migration research”, in C. Vargos-Silva (ed), Handbook of Research Methods in Migration, Cheltenham, UK & Massachusetts, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 273-294.