Global Development Institute Blog

Panel proposal: IASFM18

University of Ghana, Accra, 27th – 30th July 2020

Nicole Hirt, GIGA Hamburg & Tanja R. Müller, The University of Manchester

Panel Title: Forced Migration and Agency – New dynamics within and beyond the nation state

In this panel we look at new dynamics of agency among refugee and migrant populations, how these are fostered or hindered by other societal actors, and how these are linked to and intersect with the nation state and the wider transnational social field.

We thus call for papers that engage with any of the following issues:

  • New actors in engagement with forced migration (e.g. the corporate sector)
  • Diaspora engagement
  • Transnational belonging and political agency
  • Citizenship claims beyond the nation state

Please consider submitting a paper to us that fits this focus to complete the panel made up of the two papers below:

Remaking citizenship? German Business sector engagement and refugee rights
Tanja Müller, The University of Manchester, 

In a global climate where refugees are increasingly seen as a threat to national identity and security, rather than as population groups in need of humanitarian compassion or global rights, the business sector has become a key actor at the forefront of engagement with refugee populations. A pertinent example is the case of Germany. When German chancellor Angela Merkel opened German borders for refugees in the summer of 2015, many German companies regarded her move as a welcome way to overcome labour shortages and future demographic bottle-necks. In turn, business leaders were from the start key actors in the development of integration policies as well as in a rights-based ‘welcome approach’. This paper discusses if business sector engagement with refugees in Germany has result in altered citizenship practices. The movement of large numbers of refugees into Germany is a pertinent case study as it provides a prototypical example of wider dynamics that are a key characteristic of contemporary forms of globalisation, where the geography of the state intersects with the global geography of corporate business interests. The paper demonstrates how this can result in a strengthening of refugee rights and bottom-up claim-making, but equally in different forms of marginalisation and exclusion.

Responsible Citizens? Eritrean political engagement in the diaspora
Nicole Hirt, GIGA Hamburg, Germany
Abdulkader Saleh Mohammadd, GIGA Hamburg, Germany

When asked to compare the political systems of their homeland and their host country, Eritreans often answer: “There is no comparison: it’s like heaven and earth”, citing an old Eritrean proverb. How do Eritreans in exile use their political agency in a transnational space? We talked with 80 Eritreans in Norway, Sweden, Germany and UK about their feelings towards their first and their second homes. Eritreans retain their nationality, even if they acquire a new citizenship. We interviewed well established diaspora Eritreans, but also refugees struggling to gain a secure residence status while trying to integrate in their new environment. This paper elaborates how Eritreans as transnational citizens relate to their home government’s manifold demands, and how they define their relationship to the host country. It reflects the ambivalence of being a European citizen or seeking protection in Europe while retaining strong emotional commitment to Eritrea. We found that most Eritreans with European citizenship participate actively in host country elections with a preference for social democratic parties. However, few diasporans and even less refugees engage regularly in home-related political activities. Opposition movements are experienced as “narrow-minded and self-centred” and not striving for regime change. We conclude that institutional preconditions matter: the democratic framework of the host countries motivates Eritreans to exercise their right to vote, while a lack of institutionalization of opposition movements and widespread infiltration by Eritrean government agents have weakened the exiled opposition. Instead, many Eritreans seek comfort in sub-national ethnic, religion- or region-based associations.

Deadline for submissions: 4th November 2019.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash
Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.