Hera Jay Brown, a Fulbright-Schuman alum, and Susanne Hamscha, EUR Regional Diversity Coordinator, discuss the European Union's position on migration in this episode. What is the human cost of "fortress Europe," as the EU's response to migration is sometimes referred to? Why does it matter how we talk about migration and people who migrate? And which role does compassion play in this context, particularly during this pandemic? These are some of the questions Hera tackles in this episode. Hera Jay Brown was a Fulbright-Schuman grantee to Belgium, Malta, and Lithuania in 2019-20 and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 2020.
Susanne Hamscha 0:06
In 2015, more than one million people crossed into Europe. Many of them took huge risks and embarked on dangerous journeys in an effort to escape conflict and find a better life. The sudden influx of people sparked a crisis - both humanitarian and political - as Europe struggled to respond. And this struggle is ongoing.
This is another episode of Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast. My name is Susanne Hamscha, and I am the Diversity Coordinator for Fulbright in Europe/Eurasia.
In 2021, Europe is still polarized over migration. EU efforts to introduce a system of quotas for redistributing refugees among the member states was blocked by several countries; but is the problem really about numbers? Europe’s relentless arguments over border controls, asylum claims and mandatory or voluntary “solidarity” hide a deeper divide. The migration discussion is entangled in the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments and Europe’s complex post-colonial relations. It’s commitment to human rights and democracy are at stake. As British writer Hanif Kureishi put it in 2014, “The immigrant has become a contemporary passion in Europe, the vacant point around which ideals clash.” Today, I will talk about migration with my guest Hera Brown,a Fulbright-Schuman Research Grantee to Belgium, Malta, and Lithuania in 2019-20, and 2020 Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford pursuing her Master of Philosophy in Development Studies.
Hi Hera, thank you so much for being here today. I want to start off by asking you what you would like our listeners to know about you and your research.
Hera Jay Brown 1:46
Oh, well, honestly, I would probably want listeners to know that, like many of them, perhaps many of them, that I am still on my path of learning when it comes to the spectrum of migration experiences. And I'm not sure that any of us will ever be done learning in a dynamic and, you know, ever changing world.
All that to say that I am still a student interested in migration, and probably always will be. And as for my research interests, they lie at the intersections of labor rights and justice with domestic and international legal regimes that govern asylum and development, humanitarianism, and forced migration primarily in Jordan, the European Union and the United States. I'm also interested in the applied mechanics of these discussions and intend to take these conversations on geography and culture to the field of law and hopefully practice as an immigration attorney for the rest of my professional career.
Susanne Hamscha 2:44
So Hera, we want to talk about migration today in this podcast, but before we discuss significant developments and moments of the last six years, can I ask you what brought you to this field of research? And can I ask you also where your research has taken you?
Hera Jay Brown 2:58
So for me personally, I was born and raised in South Eastern Appalachia, just outside of Knoxville and my own interests in migration, I think, stem from my early years in elementary and middle school. I was raised as at about Lutheran and one of the summer programs of our local church that we did every summer involved working with local community organizations, including organizations at the aid people with refugee status during resettlement to our local community. And when I think about that experience, and what it was like growing up in 2004, or 05, 06, 07, I am brought back to the fact that this was all set against the Bush era and the war on terror and the demagoguery and racism and Islamophobia that was rampant in society on the evening news and the justifications for for the interventions that were happening in Iraq and in neighboring countries as well.
But all of that set against the fact that I was meeting people from these countries that were also being resettled to the United States that were being demonized in many ways by the broader population and realizing that there was a mismatch, that the people I was meeting, were not this kind of fomented idea of people that were dangerous, that these people were also fleeing much of the violence that in many ways the United States had a part in. And so for me, that mismatch was something that allowed me to have a shift that allowed me to be a bit more skeptical about what the state was saying, because of my own experiences, given the interpersonal and wonderful friendships that I think grew out of those experiences with the summer volunteering, and realize that there what I was seeing in person just wasn't matching up with what was being promulgated.
And so migration, then I think, was seen as inherently infiltrative, or nefarious thing, and I think we've seen the kind of resurgence of this, and recent administrations that are that are looking at the framing that migrants are dangerous. And I think that's an inherently flawed and biased and fundamentally racist framing that honestly, the status span of much of the sphere many times for its own legitimating tool for its own kind of geopolitical interests and supremacy. And so ultimately, these experiences inspired me to study Arabic to look at the transnational connections that are formed when someone is, say, seeking refuge in Jordan, from Iraq and the resettlement process to the United States or any number of host countries. And so, all of that to say that I've been fortunate to think about these very complex and interweaved ideas in countries like Jordan, many countries in the European Union, such as Malta, and Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania, Belgium, in the United Kingdom, as well in my own communities in the United States. And so I've just been really fortunate to think physically about what I've been taken because of this passionate work.
And, you know, none of this was achieved alone, either. I had mentors throughout my life and in multiple countries who took the time and the care to help me understand systemic oppression, you know, after equipping me with a rigorous toolkit that could help me with analyzing and responding to issues as they arise. And one of the most prominent mentors came from my participation in the Haslam Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee, and it was Dr. Sylvia Darlene Turner, that I can truly say, I would not have the tools to delve into this podcast today. And the topics we cover, had she not been in my life, you know, I was coming from a period in life when I felt I had no support network, and her leadership and genuine compassion and presence really rooted me in the spaces I engage with now.
And I have to say, you know, wasn't always easy. There were a lot of times when my own blinders, my whiteness, especially, made some of the lessons on critical race and clinical histories, and live realities for black Americans today more difficult to accept and thinking about my own complicity in those actions. And I definitely work past those. And I'm, you know, I'm still working on continuing to be anti-racist, working through what that means, in a, you know, evolving context. And I can wholeheartedly say that I am a better person today for it. And because of Dr. Turner, and I want to, you know, always carry those experiences and tools with me. And I do so that, you know, that burden of teaching and educating isn't wholly on those experiencing oppression. I think now of Audre Lorde's quote from Sister Outsider when she talks about the fact that, you know, she says that black and third world people and women and queer people have to constantly educate their oppressors while oppressors evade responsibility for that oppression. And Lorde's call is then that if that energy expenditure of educating oppressors were used elsewhere, world building is possible, and this is the gift that Dr. Turner and my mentors have given me, tools to help in that world building that is inclusive and just and necessary in today's world.
Susanne Hamscha 7:51
Thank you so much, Hera, for sharing your personal journey with us. I really appreciate that. Now, before the COVID-19 pandemic, migration was undoubtedly the topic that has dominated political discourse in Europe since 2015, 2016. And obviously, a lot has happened in those last five to six years. But the member states of the European Union continue to stand divided over proposals for pacts on asylum and migration. Would you be able to provide a short survey of the last five to six years for our listeners and contextualize where Europe is right now on the migration issue?
Hera Jay Brown 8:37
So, to begin, the bulk of my work, is mostly concerned with people who are seeking asylum or who have refugee status. So I'm going to start there, and then hopefully situate that in the broader spectrum of migration. And I am beyond fortunate, again to say that my work has taken me to several countries, as I previously mentioned, and having worked in these locales with experts and practitioners, I think a pivotal moment in the past six years in terms of policy and community organizing and awareness came with the the tragic death of Alan Kurdi in September of 2015.
Very soon after that, you had many communities and countries paying attention to the issues that have been created because of migration. You think about what many scholars would say as the rise of fortress to Europe, the emergence of a profit industry on bordering Europe, you also have the idea and this long going idea that and as numbers have increased, of course of people seeking asylum and refuge that countries and the periphery of conflict are responsible for bearing the majority of those seeking asylum.
So when you think about a country like Lebanon or Jordan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Uganda, Ethiopia, countries in the periphery are primarily sharing that responsibility and holding the responsibility for supporting people that are seeking asylum. And so taking those two things, and in effect, I think really help situate the last six years, you have a rise of a fortress to Europe, and you have the ongoing issue of the majority of people that are seeking asylum or refugee or international protection in states surrounding the conflict. And so in many ways, I think what the European stance has been is to address the latter issue versus the former. Of course, that's not to say that immigration and asylum haven't happened in Europe, of course, when you think about countries like Malta or Germany that are very popular and the news to be covered about for the variety of issues that exist in terms of the asylum procedure, but it's nowhere near the the kind of scale that we're seeing in countries in the periphery, to states of conflict.
And so, in many ways, post 2015, you had the emergence of this idea that self reliance and economic empowerment and self resilience would be the tools in which to address economic issues that are that are experienced in countries that are hosting significant populations, but also to prevent people from moving towards bordered Europe. If you create development opportunities in countries in the periphery, why should people come to Europe. And so I think that's been a lot of the logic in many ways that the European Union has operated in. And so I think about the Jordan compact, specifically, as one of these policies that are that are very aligned with the kind of neoliberal logic of give people opportunities, allow them to create their own, their own wealth. And so from there, you have the Jordan compact coming in creating special economic zones that bring people into work in the garment manufacturing industry, the manufacturing industry, more broadly, very sequestered kinds of labor that are one, very labor intensive, and can be very dangerous as well, through the provisioning of work permits that the EU then justifies, Jordan giving these kind of permits to people from Syria with refugee status, by saying that we will lacks our import rules. So the EU is using tools of trade and economics to influence the in-country experience of people and trying to arrest those mobilities, trying to stop them from moving further north. And so this, this idea of the Jordan compact from 2016, became very, very popular. This, again, this idea of self resilience, and that, in many ways, in policy circles, you saw help refugees help themselves.
And so from there, you have this expansion of the Jordan compact into what many people saw as the kind of broader compacts that have arisen in the past few years, you have the UN compact on refugees, the UN compact on safe and orderly migration, the UN Declaration on refugees, many of which are borrowing this language of self reliance and self resilience and help refugees help themselves when I think the conversation honestly is much more complicated than that. And and of course, thinking about the players at hand, what does Europe have to benefit from this idea? Is it truly altruism? Or is there something else at play here?
Susanne Hamscha 13:31
Well, is there's something else at play?
Hera Jay Brown 13:34
I think in many ways, Europe, we are seeing the issues that are arising, I think, in many ways are stemmed from the fact that economic material conditions have not been rectified in a postcolonial, postimperial world. And so the idea that someone can be given a labor intensive job, while Europe has continued to grow on such wealth that was extracted from its own colonies, and now because of that extraction, that there is underlying currents that allow for the emergence of conflict and the emergence of political systems that are untenable that then, as more wealth is...is attempted to be extracted by the same countries coming in through new means, whether it be free trade agreements, or whether it be any number of economic or trade based ideas, that there is instability that then causes people to...to have to flee for their own economic livelihoods. And so that's, that's my opinion on this. But of course, I'm sure there are many scholars who would have a different take from there.
Susanne Hamscha 14:45
And let's go back to migration in the context of this pandemic. Because, you know, since... since the outbreak of the pandemic, I guess the topic of migration has received less media coverage than in previous years with a few notable exceptions, though: when the largest refugee camp in Europe burned down in September 2020, Moria, debates over an EU pact on migration were sparked anew and the new Camp Kara Tepe is heavily criticized for its inadequate sanitary facilities and unreliable supply of food and water. This January, migrants and asylum seekers stranded in freezing temperatures in Bosnia without winterized accommodation. And so the Guardian recently talked about a "compassion fatigue" having taken root in Europe. And I just wanted to ask you, if you if you share this assessment, is there a compassion fatigue? Or, Do we lack compassion in Europe?
Hera Jay Brown 15:43
I would say that the systems that are at play in terms of the way that global trade is arranged, the way that labor is arranged versus formality versus in formality, I would say that those systems inherently are not compassionate systems, they inherently rely on a logic of some people being expendable, and some people not being met for or not being useful for the needs of capital extraction that fundamentally doesn't allow for, for a compassion to be present. And so that's not to say, of course, that people and communities aren't passionate, but...but the systems that are governing, broadly, migration and influencing migration, I would say, are not compassionate ones. But from there, I mean, thinking about the context of COVID-19, and what these -- right, so talking about systems, I mean, they can be very, very abstract. But when, I think when we look at the the emergence of what some may call as a crisis, such as COVID-19, inside of what other scholars would say, are the enduring and endemic crises of capitalism at this point, we see these the kind of lived realities that come out of this.
And so one, one example that I think came from my own fieldwork was in Malta, the fact that inside of the European Union and directors from the EU Commission, you have varying levels of status that can be conferred by a state and the refugee commissioners in each state, to an individual and with those are specific rights that are bound up with it. So you have refugee status, of course, as defined by the 1951 convention and the 67 accords, you then have subsidiary protection, which is a very distinct expansion, what some have said as an expansion of the Refugee Convention to include more people. And then of course, you have humanitarian protection. And then of course, rejections as well. People that are not brought into the system for a variety of reasons, despite having valid claims.
And so my work in Malta, it was interesting to note that subsidiary protection and refugee protection had a starkly different contrast and the turn...in the numbers that were given I think refugee protection in 2019 was given to 4% of applicants and I think subsidiary protection was somewhere around 30 to 40%, if I'm remembering correctly, so there's a...there's a vast disparity between the specific categories and, and the responsibilities and rights that are given to them. And so thinking about that, the fact that for those with refugee status in a country like Malta, there people are afforded the right to family reunification. So 4% of applicants that were accepted were allowed to live with their family versus subsidiary protection people, who have that status that are not entitled to that protection. When you think about the ongoing economic downturns that we've seen because of COVID, people with subsidiary protection, the majority of people that have a protective...protective status inside of Malta, are not given right to pensions, are not given the right to economic employment insurance. So the these very abstract ideas of categories and belonging and who can formally versus informally operate inside of an economic system that has real consequences when crises like COVID emerge, you have people that...that are now facing absolute destitution, because of the fact that the majority of people hold this specific status versus another one, despite meeting arguably many similar criteria. And also don't have familial systems and support systems built into their experience because they are not entitled to family unification. For me, that is the kind of crux of where you see civil society engaging, having those kind of compassionate interventions versus the system itself not being compassionate.
Susanne Hamscha 19:34
There's another factor, though, that we could talk about that perhaps contributes to what the Guardian has called a compassion fatigue, and that is language and particularly political rhetoric. So we can talk about how we talk about migration when we talk about migration, right. And I think it would be interesting to look at how the way we have talked about migration has changed over the course of time the last six years. So how is language utilized, for instance, also to foment anti immigrant sentiment? And what is the breeding ground actually, for these sentiments?
Hera Jay Brown 20:11
I think for me personally, what has been interesting to note is, I think, again on that personal and interpersonal level, that the kind of reflects of thought that comes from people trying to break down the essentialized categories of migrants, immigrants, refugees, this all encompassing identity that becomes a person rather than a person holding this identity. And so in many ways, I've I think that has been a very radical pushback of, of placing and re centering the individual and dignity and these conversations re centering, that it's that one communities are not homogenous, that that people hold multiple intersections at at every turn on their life. And that also, to think to think that people fundamentally hold these these positions. So rather than saying refugees, people that have refugee status, rather than saying immigrants, people who emigrate recentering, the individual, I think it's been a very interesting way that I've seen in many critical circles, brought about to bring some some dignity and humanity back to these conversations, in many ways to you have the opposite of that as well. You have many, far right, anti immigrant sentiments being fomented because of the essential donations that come from these categories.
And so in many ways, there's this ongoing tension between how does society think and engage with the idea of other people. And so I think in many ways, that has been the breeding ground for many anti immigrant sentiments. But of course, those aren't devoid from, I think other material realities not being met by the state. I think in some cases, I would say that some people are worried that by bringing other people into the state, which of course, this is a fraught logic, I'm not saying that this is a correct logic, but that other people coming into the state is going to take a share of my piece of the pie, per se from the state, when, fundamentally, I think that, again, is a fraught logic. But then, of course, I do think that you have people that don't have material concerns at play that fundamentally do have a disdain, whether it be coming from white supremacy, whether it be coming from Eurocentric supremacy, whether it be coming from religious supremacy, who fundamentally reject and foment these anti immigrant sentiments.
Susanne Hamscha 22:41
I think this is a good moment to briefly look ahead as well, because we're in the midst of this pandemic. And of course, we're all wondering what the effects of COVID-19 will be on various different areas of our lives. So how will the interrelated effects of the pandemic such as contracting economies, food insecurity, social unrest, political tensions, hardening societies, deepening divisions between population groups? How will these things potentially change migration patterns in the future? Are there projections of how many people will be displaced due to the effects of of the pandemic in the forthcoming years?
Hera Jay Brown 23:17
I think it's an interesting question. I think it depends on once framing for what we're talking about, in terms of of the projections, are we talking about people that were displaced because of lack of health access, because of the the kind of ongoing colonial relationships between institutions like the IMF, that institute structural adjustment in countries that privatized hospitals, cut back the state's provisioning of healthcare? Do we count that as as displacement? Or is that simply that that doesn't fall into the displacement category? Are we talking about, as you mentioned, contracting economies, again, thinking about the kind of broader systems that are at play that privilege, certain sectors surviving through contractions, or others being completely eradicated because of it? Many of these factors, I believe, influence displacement there, again, that those push and pull factors in many in a variety of contexts. So I specifically don't have a projection, but I have to imagine that there's no way we can think about ongoing migration in such narrow terms as what I think that compacts have envisioned them to be of late.
Also, I think it's important to note that when we're thinking about definitions, if you're thinking about subsidiary protection or the the refugee status defined by the convention, that in my opinion, these documents are outdated for a modern world, they fundamentally do not fit with the issues, all of the issues that are present in today's world. I think about the emergence of the 51 convention, primarily being used post World War Two only as a document to resettle European people back in Europe and not being expanded until the 67 accords to the rest of the world. And so what what does that inherent logic do? And we're thinking about a document that was specifically targeted to a very specific group of people, written by people who were the winners of a world war in 70, 80 years time that where we are now thinking about climate change, and the fact that climate refugees are not recognized under these parameters that economic refugees are not recognized.
And so COVID, I think, in many ways, is showing that the systems that we have today just fundamentally are outdated, from the world that perhaps some envisioned in the 40s and 50s. So moving forward, though, I mean, I think that's the kind of broader conversation how do we open up again, the conversation globally about how to best support people that are immigrants that are people with refugee status, there are people seeking asylum, while also not losing ground that has already there? I think many people also have a concern that recognizing these changing migration patterns. If we open up the conventions, again, for debate and redefinition that there could be ground lost, and we end up with a system that is much smaller scaled down than what it currently is because of the the documents and the the conventions and the I think international culture surrounding migration historically has been, that's an ongoing conversation. But of course, COVID has highlighted this, I think climate change will continue to highlight this. And it just, again, brings us to the point that that the conversation has to be reopened without losing that vital ground that's already been won.
Susanne Hamscha 26:43
Hera, thank you so much. It's been so great talking to you. Thank you for this rich and very insightful conversation. I really, really appreciate it. Before I let you go. I would like to ask you yet another more personal question. I guess if that's okay with you. We've talked a lot about migration, displacement. So by implication, we've talked about the loss of one's home. And I want to close this podcast by asking you what home means to you.
Hera Jay Brown 27:17
Oh what a beautiful, beautiful question to end such a lovely podcast on. You know, I think that you asked me this question five years ago, I would have a fundamentally different answer. I think that answer would have been,I think reflective of the very precarious nature I found myself in in terms of trying to figure out what a home is what community is, then it probably would have looked more like a brick and mortar structure that was permanent and ongoing and safe. But I think now for me, I think, having, I think been exposed to so many people who didn't have that idea of home, but had but had a home. And so for many people, I think I've learned that that home doesn't have to be a physical structure, that that is this very liberalized idea that this is mine. And this is this is what I have, but rather a co creative community where safety and dignity and possibilities about I think that's a definition of home that I would like to see and adhere to myself.
Susanne Hamscha 28:23
Thank you again so much.
Hera Jay Brown 28:25
Thank you, I really do appreciate it.
Susanne Hamscha 28:27
The European Commission's Competence Center on Foresight projects that the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the risk of displacement due to conflict. Available evidence suggests that migrants are among the most vulnerable groups that are paying the heaviest toll of the crisis. The interrelated effects of the pandemic could result in many people need an international protection. At the same time, migration patterns will likely remain highly disrupted due to restrictions on mobility. Consequently, people's access to protection within Europe or elsewhere may be compromised.
Thank you for listening. I hope you will join us again for the next episode of Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai