All Bark, No Bite? The Case for Human Security in European Migration & Asylum Governance

All Bark, No Bite? The Case for Human Security in European Migration & Asylum Governance

In order to prioritise the needs of humans over those of the state, migration and asylum governance needs to shift towards utilising a human security framework. A case in point ...

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

As The Netherlands is currently suffering from extreme heat, it is worth reminding ourselves of the effects of the latest heatwave, which took place from 10-16 August, 2020. Worryingly, the ...

Transformative Methodologies | Changing minds and policy through collaborative research?

Can collaborative research with marginalised communities be transformative, turning around unjust social relations, and supporting solidarity and rights in a practical sense? In this blog post, we (Jack Apostol, Helen Hintjens, Joy Melani and Karin Astrid Siegmann) reflect on this question based on our experience with the PEER approach, a participatory research methodology, that we used in a study on undocumented people’s access to healthcare in the Netherlands. The answer? We posit that the claim that social science methodologies can directly transform social realities, may be raising expectations too high, at least for the PEER approach. Yet, dissolving barriers between academic and non-academic knowers might be useful in itself, leading to greater respect for, and the amplification of the voices of marginalised people.

What is PEER?

PEER stands for Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation and Research. The participatory aspect stems from the involvement of members of marginalised and stigmatised communities as co-researchers. It is used in contexts where it is essential to build trust, where new insights are needed, and where the underbelly of sensitive topics can be exposed through mostly non-directive (open-ended) interviews with hard-to-research and marginalised groups in society. Examples of such topics include research on sexual health, sex work, the illicit or informal economy, and refugees on the move.

 

PEER research on undocumented people’s access to healthcare

We used the PEER methodology to understand the puzzle of why undocumented people in the Netherlands rarely access healthcare, despite their health rights being formally guaranteed in Dutch and EU regulations. Our research team consisted of people based at universities, like Helen, Karin, and our colleague Richard Staring, and non-academic experts from a group of undocumented peer researchers, including Joy and Jack. Interview questions were developed within the team, with peer researchers knowing best how to address sensitive issues with other undocumented people. Once interviews were concluded, debriefing meetings with the peer researchers formed the starting point of our data analysis.

The benefits of the PEER methodology for accessing and learning from people, who have good reasons to remain under the radar, came out clearly in our study. Joy highlights trust as the main advantage of reaching out to fellow undocumented persons for an interview: “Undocumented people cannot trust anyone. But if we interview them, they know that we are undocumented, and they can open up easily. They can tell the real story, their own emotions, and experiences. Because they know, having the same situation, you can understand them, how they feel, their thoughts.”

Time constrains were tough for peer researchers for whom research came on top of their normal working day. Working as a domestic worker full time, Jack recalls: “I worked as a full domestic worker that time. I started my work from the morning until 6 in the afternoon. Attending workshops and meetings during the whole period of PEER research project were a challenge to me. Usually, I rushed to the evening meetings at ISS [International Institute of Social Studies] after my whole day work. This made me physically and mentally a bit tired to participate in the discussion and share my ideas. Sometimes, I came late due to extra work. But I ought to do it as part of my commitment to the project.”

Two PEER researchers simulating an interview during training, August 2014, The Hague

So can the PEER Methodology change minds, influence policy?

Contributing to social change clearly motivated Jack:

“First, I believed that the project was for the well-being of the undocumented migrants in the Hague. This was about a health issue which was vital for the interest of the undocumented migrants whose access to medical care had been hindered by lack of information, discrimination, and ignorance of some medical professionals about the existing health policy of the government.” But what is the actual potential of such collaborative research to transform the injustices that undocumented people experience? Jack soberly concludes that any broader impact depends on the political context: “Absolutely, a rightist government is against migrants. Any outcome of the research based on a PEER approach would not actually convince the rightist government to take initiatives to change their policy in favour of migrants.”

This suggests the practical limits of what one can realistically achieve with academic research under an illiberal dispensation. On its own, without a shift in attitudes, social research cannot shift policy parameters. As the saying goes, one can take a horse to water, one cannot make it drink! Yet PEER research does break down barriers. The status-quo that segregates undocumented people from the rest of society is challenged, as PEER researchers open doors to long-concealed stories of undocumented life in the midst of plenty. Those without status are respected experts in self-organisation, and can be supported to negotiate access to rights and services. In conclusion, one can highlight the vital transformative role played by migrant self-help organisations like Filmis and others, whose solidarity work has stepped up since the start of the COVID pandemic.

 

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Jacob Apostol is the co-founder and the current president of the Filipino Migrant in Solidarity (FILMIS) Association. He is a human rights advocate.

 

 

 

 

Helen Hintjens has been interested in pro-asylum advocacy for about 40 years now. She is inspired by the self-advocacy of those confronting current deterrence-based policies on migration and asylum.

 

 

Melanie (Joy) Escano is the Vice-President of Migrant Domestic Workers Union. She is also the co-founder and the current public relation officer of the Filipino Migrant in Solidarity (FILMIS) Association.

 

 

 

 

 

Karin Astrid Siegmann is Associate Professor in Labour and Gender Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).

 

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Russian citizens under threat from within: The increasing repression of anti-war voices in Russia

Russian citizens under threat from within: The increasing repression of anti-war voices in Russia

Amid continued international condemnation and sanctioning of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, voices opposing the war can be heard within Russia too. However, Russian citizens are exposed to an ...

The War in Ukraine: Is this the End of the Liberal International Order?

The War in Ukraine: Is this the End of the Liberal International Order?

By Posted on

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought war back to Europe. The international ramifications of the war are clear, for instance now that President Putin talks about nuclear deterrence and ...

Humanitarian implications of sanctions to end the war in Ukraine

The sanctions package against Russia is expanding every day as the main strategy to end the invasion of Ukraine. While it is inevitable that ordinary Russians will suffer from these sanctions (as will people in the countries applying these sanctions), we must do everything in our ability to protect all civilians affected by this war, including people in Russia, from the impact of sanctions. This is not an easy task at all. On one hand, the sanctions might bring suffering to people in Russia (primarily for the most vulnerable ones), but on the other hand, they might lead to the end of the war, and, thereby, save many lives and reduce the extreme suffering of millions in Ukraine.

The great dilemma: using sanctions as a tool to end war

This great dilemma of how to stop the war while avoiding more suffering should not be taken lightly, and its impacts carefully assessed. On Tuesday evening, we listened to a conversation with two well-known military experts on the Dutch radio: Rob de Wijk and Arend Jan Boekestijn. After a while the conversation turned to the effects of the sanctions. Rob de Wijk stated, ‘‘We will smoke out the ’regime’.” He found it likely that the ruble would completely collapse, and hence destroy the Russian economy. Boekestijn went one step further. He praised that the Russians, as a result of the imposed sanctions, can no longer withdraw money from ATM machines. He continued, “when people get hungry, they will go out on the ’street’.” While the sanction seek to affect those in power, oligarchs, and the government itself, either of these two men did not seemed concerned about what their predictions would mean for the majority of people in Russia. On the contrary, they were impressed and fascinated by the sanctions, and almost jubilant about their possible effects.

The assumption, however, that hungry people will take to the streets to overthrow Putin is debatable. It ignores the fact that many Russians have already taken to the streets. In the early days of the war, an estimated 5,000 Russian civilians were arrested during widespread protests against the war. The effects of large-scale protests are also uncertain. Until now, we have never seen Putin care much about protests or act based on what people think.

The unsettling costs of sanctions: hurting the innocent and the most vulnerable

Provoking hunger is, unfortunately, a common weapon of war. Forcing the enemy to surrender through a siege that cuts off an area from food is a recurring theme in history. The creation myth of Carcassonne in France, in which Mrs. Carcass managed to deceive besiegers by throwing a well-fed pig over the city wall is just one of many examples. Emperor Charles V who besieged the castle did not realise it was the only pig left over in the desperately hungry city, and withdrew his troops when he concluded their siege was not successful. In the previous century, hunger has been used as a weapon of war in many conflicts — in China, Ethiopia, Biafra, Sudan, and so on. The Dutch hunger winter in the Second World War should not be missing from the long list as well, and nor should the so-called holodomor, in which Russia caused a dramatic famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, resulting in the death of more than 3 million people because of starvation.

Hunger often kills more civilians during wars than armed violence, and the long term effects of malnutrition are incalculable. The World Peace Foundation has listed 61 famines as part of conflicts that took place between 1870 and 2015. A conservative estimate of the number of victims came to 105 million deaths. To end hunger as a weapon of war, an international resolution was passed in 2018 condemning this. The resolution 2417 was an initiative of the Netherlands, and thanks to a great deal of diplomatic effort, it was adopted with unanimous support by the Security Council of the United Nations.

Making sanctions work without impacting civilians — is it possible? Sanctions are meant to end the invasion. Russia is targeting civilians with the bombing and seems to be rapidly accumulating war crimes. In the last 8 years, while war was ongoing in the separatist regions of Ukraine, humanitarian needs were immense. There were at least 850.000 people internally displaced, along with an acute need for socio-economic and psycho-social care. Aid providers shared with us about the difficulties they faced in the areas controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, ranging from concerns for the safety of aid providers to administrative hindrances (withholding permissions) in providing access. It will, therefore, be important to continue negotiating access to Ukraine, and enabling people to move freely in search for refuge, and most importantly seek an end to the invasion.

There is great optimism that the international solidarity and widely shared support for sanctions may facilitate the end of the war. It is inevitable that ordinary Russian civilians will bear some of the burden of the imposed sanctions. But we cannot let this become the goal. Instead, let us think about how to organise sanctions so that citizens are spared as much as possible, because the most vulnerable are, in every side of the conflict, the ones that usually pay the greatest costs.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Dorothea Hilhorst

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

Rodrigo Mena is Assistant Professor of Disasters and Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

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