#escapes2021 – panel 3

#escapes2021 International Online Conference

Mediterranean Crossings:
Refusal and Resistance in Uncertain Times

University of Milan, 24 – 26 June 2021

Collecting memories of solidarity on and beyond Mediterranean crossings

Convenors: Amira Ahmed (American University of Cairo), Rachel Ibreck (Goldsmiths, University of London), Fatma Raach (University of Jendouba)

Call for papers

Towards a genealogy of migrants’ struggles:
the Alpine migrant passage and the temporality of solidarity

Martina Tazzioli (Goldsmiths, University of London)

This presentation focuses on the French-Italian Alpine border as a migrant crossing point and interrogates how the collective memory of struggles and solidarity movement partially inform collective mobilisation in support of migrants in transit in Europe. Its situates contemporary migration at the French-Italian Alpine border within a longer history of mountain runaways. The central part of the presentation draws attention to the collective mobilisations at the French-Italian border and the sedimented memory of past struggles and solidarity practices. The final section deals with the history of mountain rescue at the French-Italian Alpine border from the Forties on, and on migrants being saved by volunteers. Migrant solidarity movements at the French-Italian Alpine border constitute a case in point, I argue, for thinking through a genealogy of struggles, due to a longstanding history of migrant passages and struggles for social justice of those valleys.


Cartographies of invisible travellers: Mapping migrant detention in Italy and the Mediterranean during the Covid-19 syndemic

Emilio Caja (University of Oxford), Giacomo Mattiello (Università di Torino)

The global diffusion of Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities based on gender, race, social class and citizenship status. This led to the explosion and resurfacing of multiple contradictions, which is now the time to interrogate and deconstruct. First, we must challenge the use of the concept of pandemic, which has neutralized the relationship between socio-economic inequalities and sanitary and health conditions of different groups. As a result, we should use the concept of syndemic, developed by Merrill Singer in the 1990s, to call attention to the entangled relationships between health and complex patterns of inequality.

The first phase of the syndemic has been characterized by a mainstream narrative according to which “we are all equal in front of the virus”, thus producing a “hunt for the spreader” that, while losing the focus on the main hubs of contagion, produced several forms of discrimination towards specific social groups, including migrants and foreign citizens. In this context, in our privileged position, but at the same time forced to stay at home instead of in the field – and in particular, given the fact that detention centres for foreign citizens have become inaccessible – we activated to produce the report “No one is looking at us anymore – Migrant Detention and Covid-19 in Italy”, together with Dr. Francesca Esposito. Through an extensive data collection based on national and local newspapers, conversations with activists and lawyers, we traced what happened inside Italian detention centres during the period of the first national lockdown (March-May 2020). In a context of border closures and the almost complete halt to all international flights, detention centres in Italy remained operational and the ambiguous paradigm of ‘confine to protect’ came into being: the categories targeted with detention measures were mainly ‘dangerous’ (transfers from carceral institutions) and ‘socially marginal’ (homeless) individuals. The pre-existing situations of abuse, violence and neglect of detained persons have been reinforced by the arrival of the syndemic. Telling the untold stories of what happened inside detention centres highlighted the voices of dissent, the actions of solidarity aimed at breaching the veil of opacity and isolation around detainees, as well as the daily acts of individual and collective resistance that outline a future prospect of freedom.

Yet, mapping detention centres was not enough. From the beginning of the syndemic, the Italian government introduced a new form of border control, the so-called quarantine ships (navi quarantena). These ships, together with the bilateral agreements between Italy and Tunisia, as well as the new approach to detention implemented by the Italian Interior Minister (“revolving doors”), led to a new geography of the Italian immigration detention system. In particular, the main targets of this prolonged detention (hotspot-quarantine ship-detention centre) have been Tunisian citizens, whose bodies have become the laboratory where to test new policies that will inform the New Migration Pact proposed by the European Commission. Using maps and testimonies, we have tried to sketch the emerging “detentive trajectories”, i.e. the practices and tactics to confine migrants and preclude their access to rights.


A research on phases, actors and profiles of contemporary forced migration:
“Pensavo di essere libero, invece no.” Debiti, violenze, sfruttamento dei trafficanti nelle memorie autografe dei rifugiati

Michele Rossi (Director,CIAC onlus)

Psycho-social research explores an unpublished source: the handwritten memories of about 1000 asylum seekers in Italy, between 2014-2020. Analysis of thematic contents and the statistical elaborations return the point of view of direct witnesses on forced migration – and necessarily illegal, given the absence of safe and legal channels – at the same time, revealing dynamics, actors and an unexpected complexity, which challenges the borders of “safe countries” and the same concept of protection.

Through this eye, accompanied by the expressive power of experiences, reflections and individual narratives reported in the text, the different phases in which the migration process is articulated today emerge, from the crises that trigger it up to the to landing and it becomes possible to outline profiles of contemporary refugees experiences.

The analysis shows the strenuous resistance of those who, without protection and rights, challenge the systematic violence of traffickers, the blackmail of migratory debt, the drama of sexual or labor exploitation. A choral fresco on contemporary migration emerges which illuminating the shadow area on the “why” and “how” people migrate today in search of rights, stability, security and freedom; it requires a profound reflection on the legal and social categories with which the phenomenon is interpreted. The research thus aims to contribute to updating the practices, models and ways of relating to the reception and integration system. A system whose reform cannot ignore the subjectivities to which it is dedicated.


From the de-humanizing experience of the exile to the solidarity movements in Kakuma

Angelo Pittaluga (University of Genova, Country Director at JRS – the Jesuit Refugees Service, Kenya), William O’Neill (Santa Clara University)

“I have lost my family, my friends, my roots. After so many years in the camp, I don’t know what is my home, my land, my ancestors. The only source of hope, is the relation with other people here”, an old refugee told in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.

The sufferings and deprivations experienced by refugees are not only related to the violence, the violation of basic human rights and the lack of basic needs; displaced people are dealing also with the uprooting, the break of human relations with their families, relatives and neighbours, the loss of memories about their history, Countries and ancestors.

At the same time, during the exile, people may experience new forms of solidarity and mutual support, and forge new interpersonal relations with other refugees of different nationalities, religions and background (associated by the common destiny of persons forced to flee).

All over the world, crossing the deserts, the Mediterranean Sea or in the refugee camps, together with devastating experiences of griefs and loss suffered by refugees, there are examples of solidarity practices and mutual support undertaken by them, both informally and through structured activities or the establishment of refugee-led organizations. These initiatives may have different purposes, from the desire to establish new human relations in a context of solitude and marginalization, to the willingness to improve the living conditions and the access to livelihoods and other basic needs, up to political movements and advocacy campaigns, aimed at gaining participation in the public debate.
Unfortunately, the literature and the studies on refugees have underestimated and not properly considered the importance of these movements and experiences, and the memory and history of solidarity practices among refugees remain, mainly, in the oral tradition of the refugees themselves.

This paper aims at collecting and analysing the memory of solidarity movements, mutual support activities and refugee-led initiatives in the current scenario of Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Through interviews, focus group discussions and participatory observation, engaging a differentiated range of refugees (based on Age, Gender and Diversity approach), this research will focus on:

  • collect examples of solidarity and classify them in identified theoretical categories (e.g., community-based activities; establishment of refugee-led organizations; advocacy campaigns, movements and protests);
  • analyse the main characteristics of each category, including the internal and external dynamics that favoured the starting of such initiatives, the challenges and the duration, and the ways the memories of solidarities are collected and handed down;
  • investigate how these experiences can influence the potential role of refugees in the current scenario (i.e., the decision by the Government of Kenya to close the refugee camps by June 2022), studying the political effects of memorialisation practices.

The purpose of this study is to develop a model of classification for the solidarity movements and their memories, focusing on Kakuma Refugee camp as a case study, and to investigate how memory can be a tool for self-reliance, resilience and political mobilization of refugees.

Licenza Creative CommonsQuesto testo è distribuito con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia

Call for Papers