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A theme for this week: Migrant self-organisation and solidarity

We tend to focus on welcome initiatives and counter-movements that take action against refugees. In doing so, we neglect the agency of migrants themselves and those who act in solidarity.

Illustration: Petja Dimitrova. All rights reserved.This series of articles focuses on the collective actions by refugees, migrants and solidarity groups, struggling for citizenship and social rights as well as the right to move and to stay, highlighting different aspects of protest activities and mobilizations.

We are publishing these articles now, one year after the ‘long summer of migration’ when refugees by the hundreds made their way on foot by marching in different European countries. They became political subjects and gained visibility by enacting their claims and sharing their own stories.

However, in discussing the collective actions around the events of summer 2015, public discourse and research analyses tend to focus on welcome initiatives and counter-movements that take action against refugees. In doing so, they ignore some essential aspects of collective action around migrants and refugees: protest activities by solidarity groups and migrants as well as refugees’ mobilizations for self-organized action.

The idea for this series of articles developed during the 2016 conference of the International Sociological Association in Vienna in discussions of the section number 47 research committee on social classes and social movements. Some of the articles draw on recent publications in academic journals: The first one as a special issue in Citizenship Studies with the title: The Contentious Politics of Refugee and Migrant Protest and Solidarity Movements: Remaking Citizenship from the Margin. The second one was published with the title Struggles of Migration as in-/visible politics in Movements.

The authors of these article are all researchers working in European and North American universities. Some of us are involved in these collective actions as activist scholars. Through academic writing and public dissemination we want to contribute to debates in the academy but also present a perspective on these struggles from inside. We want to use these articles to show how these movements and solidarity activities work as forms of collective action and thereby shed light on their mechanisms, mobilization strategies, ways of forming networks and constitution of political subjectivities.

Ilker Ataç introduces his authors for this series:

In Monday's opening article, Sieglinde Rosenberger analyses protests against the deportation of asylum seekers in three Central European countries (Austria, Germany, Switzerland). These protests are forms of collective action, which aim at preventing the enforcement of deportations. She identifies personal connections between protest activists and the individuals who are affected by deportations as am important precondition for the success of local and small scale protests. Consequently, rather than challenging migration policies or laws, these protests and mobilizations aim at preventing the removal of these individuals from their local and social embeddedness.

The second article, which I wrote together with Elias Steinhilber, analyses the spatial dimension of political mobilizations of refugees in two European cities. Starting with the finding that the asylum regime entails multiple spatial restrictions complicating the social participation of refugees in host societies in general and political mobilization in particular, we discuss the geographies of contention shaping contemporary refugee protest movements. On the one hand, by moving from socially and spatially isolated locations into the centre of the city, these movements have generated new modes of mobilization and collective action. On the other hand, the change of location comes with an important change in alliances, networks and social ties.

Today, Sarah Schilliger builds next on the example of Polish live-in care workers in Switzerland in order to discuss how care workers successfully claim and enact labour and social rights. She highlights the difficulties of organizing care workers in unions: they work individually in households, which are considered a private sphere, and the relationships to their employers are based on strong social ties. Using the example of the network Respekt, she shows how care workers overcame these difficulties, highlighting the role of the Polish church as a centre of mobilization, as well as the unconventional ways of organizing enabled through the support of the trade unions. 

Finally, Maurice Stierl describes the network WatchTheMed Alarm Phone, which engages with refugees in emergency situations in the Mediterranean sea by providing a hotline. Activists also advocate for freedom of movement. They understand life-saving emergency aid not only as a way of saving lives, but as a political act, directed against fortress Europe, its exclusionary border regime and the production of Mediterranean death zones. In this way, the Alarm Phone engages in new modalities of collective political struggle in some unlikely spaces.

Thanks go to Petja Dimitrova for the illustration.

About the author

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Ilker Ataç is a post-doctoral research associate at the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna and part of the research group Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion (INEX) as well as founding editor of the journal Movements. His research interests are in the area of citizenship studies and migration policies, social movement studies and civil society, Turkish politics. He is currently working in a project with the title “Inside the Deportation gap. Social membership for non-deported persons”. Publications include: ‘Refugee Protest Camp Vienna’: making citizens through locations of the protest movement (2016), in: Citizenship Studies, 20 (5), 629-646.

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