AfricaNSFThe Research University (TRU)

RAPID: The Emergence and Evolution of Forced Migration Routes: Colby College

Nadia El-Shaarawi

[email protected]

With more than 65.3 million forced migrants worldwide, global displacement is at an all-time high. Most of the displaced are located in states adjacent to their countries of origin, primarily in the Middle East or Africa. One of the characteristics of contemporary displacement is that these countries of first asylum host the majority of refugees, who often live in limbo in camps or urban centers for years, while richer states keep refugees and migrants at arms' length through policies of deterrence and border control. However, from 2014 through 2016 more than one million migrants reached Europe via the Balkan land route, breaching "Fortress Europe" in unprecedented fashion. This mass migration has far reaching impacts for the stability of the European Union and the lives of millions of refugees and migrants. Yet, almost no empirical research has been conducted on the route, leaving open questions about how the route was forged and the role of refugees themselves in its creation. These questions can only be answered through ethnographic fieldwork while many of the key actors and sites remain in place along the route. This research takes place in the context of the largest global forced migration since World War II. Findings will be disseminated to aid organizations that explore and manage the causes, consequences, and complexities of mass migration. The research also fosters international scientific cooperation, and will train undergraduate students in methods of anthropological data collection and analysis.<br/><br/>This RAPID award supports fieldwork in Egypt, Greece, Serbia, and Germany – countries of departure, transit, and destination – to understand mobility along the Balkan route. The investigators, Drs. Nadia El-Shaarawi and Maple Razsa of Colby College, have longstanding relationships with migrants and refugees from the Middle East, as well as networks along the route, which will allow them to gain access to sites that might otherwise be clandestine and inaccessible. Through participant observation and interviews at sites that have been crucial to recent migrant mobility, sites where migrants and humanitarian workers come together, the researchers will study the forms of negotiation and struggle that made the route possible. Further, they will investigate how migrants experience and manage efforts to restrict their movement. A focus on the route itself, and the ways that refugees and migrants sustained mobility within networks along the route, will provide an empirical alternative to analyses of refugees as victims as well as a methodological tendency to study refugees in place. Such an approach will shed light on how migrant mobility itself is organized, sustained, and curtailed. While the ongoing crisis is unique in scale, an understanding of its social complexity can inform our knowledge of other, similar processes of migration and displacement in the U.S. and worldwide. With the number of refugees only increasing globally, displacement remains a topic of important social and political concern.

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