Bodies, things, capital – intersections in our research themes

By Juan Zhang.

As co-ordinator of the MMB Research Challenge ‘Bodies, Things, Capital’ I have been reading our recent blogs under this theme and am struck by the range and depth of the projects. They cross many contexts, disciplines and research fields, and engage with critical debates around (in)justice, vulnerability, borders and the politics of (im)mobility. From Jo Crow’s personal reflections on the broader implications of economic and social immobility in Argentina through a historical lens to Julia Morris’ poetic account on the damaging politics of ‘value extraction’ through offshore asylum processing in the Republic of Nauru; from Rebecca Yeo’s critiques on the disabling impact of the UK’s immigration control measures to Şebnem Eroğlu’s observation of the long-lasting generational poverty among Turkish migrants in Europe, these blogs provoke thoughtful discussions and raise fundamental questions about the politics of movements through bodies, things and capital. These accounts challenge us to think more critically about the multiple intersections of personal experiences, structural inequalities, infrastructural barriers, historical legacies, and geopolitical shifts on both local and global scales. These reflections and scholarly engagements are central to our research at Migration Mobilities Bristol.

(Image: Eddie Aguirre, UnSplash)


Bodies are intimate sites of encounter – with borders, checkpoints, institutions, infrastructures, policies, biases and discriminatory politics. It is pertinent to recognise the ways in which migrant bodies are intersectionally positioned within and across systems, and this positioning is influenced by various factors including gender, class and race, as well as immigration status (legal or illegal), moral claims (deserving or underserving), and capacities (shaped by disability or other forms of vulnerability). The blogs also prompt us to consider the colonial and contemporary contexts that influence how bodies are perceived and treated.

Julia Morris’ ethnographic work on asylum and extraction, for example, compares the extractive logic in both Nauru’s mineral and asylum processing industries. The colonial legacy of phosphate mining in this island nation finds an uncanny reiteration of a ‘hyper-extractive assemblage’ in modern-day outsourced asylum processing centres, lending particular ‘political, economic and moral values to the global asylum industry’. In this context, the bodies of asylum-seekers become a kind of resource, exploited and commodified in a way not that different from processing phosphate. At the same time, Nauruans themselves are depicted by global media campaigns and refugee activists as ‘savages’ of cruelty, a racialised and stigmatised image rooted in colonial-era stereotypes.

In other blogs under my Research Challenge theme, critical discussions also extend to how migrant bodies are judged based on an (often) arbitrary assessment of ability and the perceived deservability, which influence decisions on vital matters such as access to social services and support, and family reunification in the UK. When bodies encounter policies and perceptions in these intertwined realms, it provides an impetus for urgent scholarly interventions in popular politics, especially at a moment when ‘one in five Britons say that immigration is one of the top issues facing the country’, and the UK’s Rwanda plan continues to stir controversy and deepen socio-political divisions.    


Things offer another analytical engagement with materialities, spatialities and temporalities in migration, through which social relations and identities are shaped and evolved. Things can be objects (for example, passports, visas, maps and tickets) and systems (for example, policies, rules, processing facilities, services), as well as larger transnational bodies (for example, activist groups and NGOs) and infrastructures (for example, media, national services, and cross-national agreements). Things can be physical and metaphorical, and they highlight how movements intersect with broader contexts of trade, exchange and securitisation. Borders are a good example of things – they can be barriers or productive pathways, depending on who (and what) is crossing them. Offshore processing centres in Nauru become de facto maritime borders for Australia, where immigration control is outsourced and externalised. The Jungle in Calais demonstrates another case in point of externalised bordering, where no safe passage is provided by design, in order to deter migrant crossing into the UK. Things such as tents, makeshift dwellings, and temporary shelters are targeted by the French border police to enforce a ‘no fixation’ rule, preventing people on the move from establishing a sense of stable connection to the city and forcing them to move on or go into hiding.

Apart from borders, urban transport infrastructure offers another interesting take on things, where domestic workers in Latin America, predominantly women, struggle with long commuting hours and concerns for discrimination and crime. While public transport allows workers to travel to their employers’ homes, it is woefully inadequate in terms of providing efficient and reliable services or a safe space for female workers to be comfortable with their daily commute. Essential infrastructures such as public transport are things inherently gendered and classed, as they mediate movements and mobilities in highly embodied and differentiated ways.


Capital emerges as another compelling common thread that brings together reflections on value, differentiation and the infrastructuralisation of ‘extractive politics’ through the control and channelling of local and global flows of humans, resources, knowledge and policy frameworks. It is curious to see how the example of offshore asylum processing in Nauru gains instant ‘political capital’ in the UK, when top decision makers use it as a success model to justify sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as a winning solution. The income-tested immigration rule in the UK also effectively monetises the right to family reunification, turning a universal right into a kind of money game, where the right to bring family to the UK comes with a hefty price tag of £29,000, an income the majority of the working population do not earn. This approach reflects a transactional view on migration, where people are either regarded as assets or liabilities to the capital system, rather than human beings with intrinsic social and familial rights. Even for those who have successfully migrated, like the Turkish migrants in Europe described by Şebnem Eroğlu, structural inequalities and systemic racism create barriers for them to transfer social and cultural capital in meaningful ways, thereby limiting their opportunities to capitalise on these resources for a better life. These cases demonstrate how migration policies and individual lives are impacted by a profound ‘capital logic’, where extractive politics are normalised to maximise accumulation and sideline fundamental ethical considerations.

Multimodal methodologies

In addition to tracing conceptual connections around bodies, things and capital in these blogs, I have also noted the development of multimodal methodologies, particularly creative and art-based methods focusing on participatory designs and artistic interventions. These approaches have effectively bridged the gap between academic research, public engagement and activism. Other innovative methods, including data visualisation and participant mapping techniques, open up possibilities for experimenting with data collection and analysis. Sylvanna Falcon and her team, for example, use data visualisation techniques to map violence against migrants in Mexico while cautioning against the dehumanisation of migrants who disappear into ‘datasets’. Robledo and Randall’s Invisible Commutes project utilises short audio segments to document experiences of daily commutes by domestic workers, as well as their perspectives on critical mobility infrastructure in the city. The incorporation of migrant voices lends a significant feminist perspective to issues of transport justice.

This Research Challenge has brought diverse researchers and their perspectives and methods together, a kind of assembling of bodies, things and capital in its own right. There is clear potential for developing collaborations and innovating strategies of research practice and intervention in the future, as this Research Challenge brings forward MMB’s commitment to informing academic and public dialogues on migration and mobilities across disciplines and borders.

Juan Zhang is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on transnational cultural politics in and out of China, and Chinese mobilities across different cultural and social spheres. She is the Co-ordinator of the MMB Research Challenge Bodies, Things, Capital.’

Why do we use the term ‘irregular migration’ and can it be translated?

By Edanur Yazici and Bridget Anderson.

The term ‘illegal immigration’ is often used in discussions about immigration but is widely agreed to be pejorative, misleading, and stigmatising by scholars, refugee and migrant groups, and across the third sector. Instead, ‘irregular migration’ has become the preferred term, especially in Europe. However, this term can be confusing and unclear – especially when translated into different languages, as we are doing in our work with the PRIME Project to understand employers’ use of migrant labour.

As one employer told us: ‘I can’t give an answer to this, I don’t know. I just don’t know the difference between regular and irregular.’

This post looks into how we define irregular migration in different contexts and examines the challenges and insights gained from translating the term into five languages in a survey of employers.

(Image: Shutterstock)

Surveying employers: defining irregularity

Choosing and defining a term is political, and what is chosen might not always be clear to everyone. There is increasing recognition that ‘who counts as a migrant’ is very uncertain: is a ‘migrant’ defined by their citizenship, how long they’ve stayed in a place, or their intentions to remain? In addition, in migration studies, there’s an increasing recognition of the critical role race plays in how we understand migration. This perspective considers how border policies and practices contribute to the construction of racial identities. Additionally, it emphasises that the term ‘migrant’ itself acts as a form of racialisation.

This uncertainty around the term migration, as well as its association with race, is compounded by the term ‘irregularity’ and other frequently used descriptors such as ‘illegal’, ‘undocumented’ and ‘sans papiers’. These descriptors, including ‘irregularity’ (the term we adopt in PRIME) do not describe a fixed category. They are instead ambiguous, contested, and exist on a spectrum. Types and degrees of irregularity are continuously shaped and reshaped by various stakeholders, including policymakers, migrants, and employers.

The PRIME Project is working to explore how national and sector-specific institutions shape employers’ engagement with migrant labour. As a part of this we are conducting a survey of employers to find our about their labour needs. Before launching the survey, we ran a three-stage pilot. We used the pilot to understand how employers think about migration and what terms make the most sense to them. All pilot respondents employ migrant workers and most of them have contributed to national-level policy debates on migration. Piloting the survey highlighted key issues with terminology and translation. Below, we describe what the pilot asked employers about and how employers understood the terms chosen.

How do employers understand the term ‘irregular migration’?

To start with, we need to understand what employers think about when they describe ‘irregular migration’ and how they understand irregularity.

Our pilot survey asked respondents to tell us who they thought would be categorised as ‘irregular’ and gave them a list of descriptions such as ‘a worker who entered the country illegally’ and ‘a worker who is an asylum seeker.’ Of the pilot respondents, all but one said that they didn’t know.  

We revised the question to ask who they would ‘describe as an illegal migrant’ (with the caveat that ‘defining who is an “illegal migrant” can be complicated’), and this was considered much more accessible.  While more readily understood, the decision to use terminology that has been rejected as stigmatising poses its own set of ethical and definitional challenges. In particular, it raises the question of how migration scholars communicate their ethical and political standpoints to audiences who may not always share their preferred terminology when conducting research.

Who is a citizen?

To analyse factors shaping how and why employers recruit (irregular) migrant workers, we also need to understand how and why they employ non-migrant workers. To do this, we need to understand how employers think about different categories of citizenship and belonging. Different national assumptions about this became evident in the translation.


In the UK English language version of the survey we piloted, we asked: ‘Do you find it difficult to recruit workers with British citizenship?’. All pilot respondents reacted negatively to this phrasing, variously suggesting that we use ‘domestic workers’, ‘workers within the UK’, or ‘national workers’ instead. One respondent suggested PRIME might distinguish between ‘native British citizens’ and ‘British citizens who are foreigners’.

We reformulated the question to ask: ‘Do you find it difficult to recruit British workers?’. This particular wording reveals the different ways that migration status and race intersect. Who, for example, are respondents likely to imagine when asked about ‘British workers’ and what alternative assumptions would have been made if we had decided to use ‘national worker’ or ‘domestic worker’ – each with their own particular nativist underpinnings?


The term ‘Swedish workers’ (Svenska arbetstagare) presented a problem for the survey in Sweden. One pilot respondent suggested re-phrasing the question to ask about ‘workers born in Sweden who speak Swedish as their mother tongue’. This suggested re-phrasing carries assumptions about place of birth and linguistic ability as intrinsically related to ‘Swedishness’. Swedish official categories add another layer of complexity, particularly for comparative international research. Official terms used by state actors in Sweden are: ‘foreign background’ (a person born outside of Sweden or born in Sweden with two foreign-born parents) and ‘Swedish background’ (a person born in Sweden with one or two parents also born in Sweden). Foreignness, birth, and background each point to how the state and official agencies relate to race, migration, and citizenship, each with distinct implications for how irregularity is conceptualised across different national and sectoral contexts. 

The terms Austrian/Italian/Polish workers were not problematic, but the term ‘migrant worker’ raised queries.

Who is a ‘migrant’ worker?


In Polish, ‘migrant worker’ was translated into ‘foreign worker’ rather than ‘migrating’ or ‘migrant’ worker. In Polish ‘foreign worker’ (pracownicy cudzoziemscy) is more readily understood and the alternative ‘migrant worker’ risks being confused with ‘migrants’, which some interpret as non-citizens and others interpret as Polish citizens who have returned to Poland having been migrant workers in other countries.


As in Polish, in Italian, ‘migrant worker’ was translated to ‘foreign workers’ (stranieri/e). This was preferred because it is the term used by the Italian Statistical Institute. As in the Swedish context, the adoption of state-sanctioned terminology has implications for conceptualising ‘migrantness’ and ‘foreignness’. These differing conceptualisations are exposed by translation. In this way, the process of translation itself becomes a site of data collection.


Decisions made about translation and what they communicate about national and institutional contexts are also evident in word choice. In the Austrian context, three variations of the German for ‘migrant workers’ were piloted before settling on a term (migrantische Arbeitskräfte – which roughly translates to migrant worker) that respondents would feel relatively comfortable with.

Looking forward and implications for research

Translation highlights how we attempt to strike a balance between familiarity for respondents and accuracy and ethics for researchers. It opens up questions about the constraints and limitations of methodological nationalism, current academic orthodoxy, and the way the vernacular shapes how we think and know.  

Designing, translating, and piloting the PRIME Employer survey has helped us think through some of these challenges. As we move forward with data collection and analysis and later use survey findings to begin qualitative data collection, we will no doubt encounter barriers and opportunities when conceptualising (ir)regularisation and researching the intersection of race and migration status.

As the study progresses, we will continue to reflect on what our linguistic and methodological choices mean for how we understand and ask for irregularity. We will interrogate what has informed our choices and question how respondents have reacted to them.

Can you help us connect to employers?

The PRIME Employer survey is open until July for employers and labour providers in Austria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, or the UK working in any of the following sectors:

  • agriculture and food processing;
  • older adult care;
  • restaurants; and
  • waste management and recycling sectors.

If you know an employer in the categories above who would be willing to share their experience, please ask them to complete the survey here:

In English | In German | In Italian | In Polish  | In Swedish

Edanur Yazici is a Research Associate on the PRIME Project based in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, co-PI of the PRIME Project and Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol.

Hysteria and disinterest: accommodating asylum seekers

By Melanie Griffiths.

The UK’s asylum system is in crisis. Despite the government’s rhetoric, this is largely a crisis of the Home Office’s own making. Years of painfully slow decision-making has created a massive backlog of tens of thousands of people. The recent political hysteria around small boats crossing the Channel and the cruel, fear-mongering policies to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, are attempts to distract from these failings. This includes the inhumane – but entirely predictable – crisis of asylum housing, produced as the need for accommodation has outstripped supply. At a time of fervent emotionality around asylum, this blogpost uses one person’s story to focus in on the disastrous impact of the asylum backlog on the UK’s fragmenting portfolio of asylum accommodation. 

Missing in the system

A friend rang me recently in a panic. A worried family in his country of origin was trying to track down a family member missing in the UK. Their son – I’ll call him Daniyal – had disappeared a fortnight previously, hours after arriving looking for safety.

Daniyal had called his family to reassure them he had survived the dangerous Channel crossing and approached the authorities for protection. But immediately afterwards, he had become uncontactable.

Until recently, asylum seekers were generally housed in the community while their claims were decided. Although notoriously inadequate, such housing allowed a degree of ‘normality’ and social connection. But as the asylum backlog has outstripped Home Office accommodation, the picture has altered significantly.

I suspected Daniyal was lost somewhere in the monstrously convoluted and rapidly diversifying asylum housing system. Armed with just his name and GPS coordinates from his last phone call, I started by contacting detention NGOs.

Indefinite detention

For decades, the UK incarcerated people in immigration detention centres principally to remove them from the country. But since 2021, these ‘removal’ centres have been used for initial processing of newly arrived people.

Last year, the UK detained over 16,000 people in immigration detention, costing the taxpayer about £100 million. These prison-like centres detain people with no time limit and are notoriously harmful, with decades of reports documenting traumatisation, ill-health, violence and abuse. Using such sites to isolate and incarcerate people seeking safety reflects systemic mistrust and distaste towards them.

Yarls Wood Detention Centre, Bedford, 2015 (image: EYE DJ on flickr)

Diversified detention

After failing to find Daniyal in the detention estate, I turned to the newly established ‘quasi-detention’ spaces. These include disused military barracks, which have housed new arrivals for ‘processing’ since 2000 and have repeatedly been found to be inadequate and unsafe. Manston Barracks were described as ‘really dangerous’ by the independent inspector of borders, who found severe overcrowding and outbreaks of rare, contagious diseases. Moreover, in 2021, the High Court found the Home Office guilty of employing unlawful practices in holding asylum seekers at Napier Barracks.

Worryingly, such sites are categorised as outside of mainstream immigration detention and thus excluded from the scrutiny of official detention statistics. Holding asylum seekers in manifestly unsafe spaces, outside of the community and exempt from proper accountability, reflects underlying notions of contagion and disgust.


But if Danyial had already been ‘processed’, he could be housed anywhere in a bewildering web of sites. Since 2020, this includes hotels, at a cost of £8 million a day. Thousands of asylum seekers have been housed in these ill-equipped places, with the international aid budget plundered in the process. Hotel residents suffer isolation, poor food and hygiene, worsening mental health and even deaths. They have become a magnet for xenophobic hatred and violent Far Right demonstrations, which the government has been accused of stoking.

Or Daniyal could be in one of the Home Office’s new mass asylum accommodation sites. This includes Wethersfield, which was opened in 2023 on a former airfield in a remote part of Essex. The last chief inspector of borders described an ‘overwhelming feeling of hopelessness’ there, warning of immediate risk of criminality, arson and violence.

Similarly, the controversial barge the Bibby Stockholm has housed asylum seekers since 2023. It has been plagued with problems since opening, including legionella bacteria in the water system. Residents describe it as overcrowded, claustrophobic, retraumatising and prison-like; remote, inaccessible and heavily securitised. Just weeks after it opened, a man tragically died onboard.

The sites differ, but they are united in forcing people into substandard, segregated living, subjecting them to dehumanising levels of danger, despair, punishment and abandonment.


Or was Daniyal in prison? I launched a search with the ‘locate a prisoner’ service and rang individual prisons. But without a prisoner number, and with the Roman-alphabet spelling of Daniyal’s name uncertain, I got nowhere.

I then contacted Captain Support, an NGO that supports imprisoned foreign nationals at the prison nearest Daniyal’s last known location. They sent out information requests amongst their contacts. Eventually a prisoner reported seeing someone who might be Daniyal. Through a complex web of care and connection spanning international and domestic scales, we found him.

Daniyal was in prison, but why? With more digging we found that he had been charged with ‘illegal migration’ offences, even though article 31 of the Refugee Convention stipulates that people seeking refuge must not be punished for irregular entry. Increasingly, the government seeks to criminalise people for seeking safety, despite not offering legal alternative routes. Earlier this year, Ibrahima Bah – barely out of his teens – was sentenced to a decade of imprisonment for manslaughter, after the dinghy he was travelling on sank.

Across Europe, refugees rather than governments are being held accountable for increasingly deadly borders (see also the case of the El-Hiblu 3 in Malta). In the UK, the new Illegal Migration Act 2023 not only prosecutes and punishes those entering ‘illegally’ but allows the government to refuse to consider their refugee claims. Daniyal, Ibrahima, the El-Hiblu 3 and countless others are re-categorised from rights-bearing refugees into one of the most emotionally labile folk devils of our times: the deeply hated and feared, and highly racialised, figure of the ‘foreign criminal’.


And yet, the UK’s response to Daniyal was also one of apathy and cruel disinterest. After several months imprisonment, Daniyal was given a release day but not told what would happen to him nor where in the housing labyrinth he would be sent. He spent weeks waiting in fearful uncertainty.

When the day came, Daniyal was just released from prison, with nowhere to go. Neither the Home Office nor Probation provided him with any support. The Home Office had a statutory duty to provide Daniyal with accommodation but they simply, and without explanation, did not house him. As an asylum seeker, he was forbidden from working and had no recourse to public funds, including night shelters. So, in the middle of winter and unable to speak English, Daniyal was abandoned into the horrors of indefinite street destitution.

‘A proud history of protecting refugees’?

An enormous human backlog has been created in the UK’s asylum system. The political response has been to punish and isolate those affected, including through crimes of refuge-seeking, a diversifying portfolio of quasi-penal, segregated and unsafe housing and through political spectacles such as deporting people to Rwanda. The government is attempting to distract us with fearmongering and inflammatory diatribe fuelling hate, disgust and mistrust.

And yet, the almost-garish emotionality of the immigration debate exists alongside a dehumanising disinterest. As I argued in a recent article, it is precisely this mix of splenetic emotionality and callous lack of emotion that not only characterises the immigration system but produces it, and paints certain people as degradable, deportable and disposable. How hopeful then, that as the government’s Safety of Rwanda Act is passed and asylum seekers violently bundled into detention centres for removal, we are witnessing a tide of public outrage and resistance, with hundreds of people coming together in emotional acts of empathy and solidarity.

Melanie Griffiths is an Associate Professor at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham. She works on mobility and immigration enforcement in the UK. This post relates to Melanie’s article in the recent Special Issue of Identities on ‘Affective Control: The Emotional Life of (En)forcing Mobility Control in Europe’, discussed on the MMB blog by Ioana Vrăbiescu and Bridget Anderson. Previous MMB blogposts by Melanie include ‘The freedom to love: mixed-immigration status couples and the UK immigration system’, written with Candice Morgan-Glendinning.

More information about the Captain Support Network can be found here. Donations to a fundraiser for the network can be made here.

Navigating ethical emotions in European migration enforcement

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Ioana Vrăbiescu and Bridget Anderson.

The European Union represents itself as a global champion of human rights, yet its external borders are marked by hostility, surveillance and death. Despite official claims to equality and that Black Lives Matter, the vast majority of those excluded at the border and within Europe are people of colour. Institutional racism permeates European immigration and asylum systems. This has consequences beyond territorial edges: differential treatment within Europe results in an intricate network of borders that excludes migrants and asylum seekers, but also has consequences for minoritized and otherwise marginalised citizens (Anderson 2024).

Our recent co-edited Special Issue of Identities, ‘Affective Control: The Emotional Life of (En)forcing Mobility Control in Europe’, focuses on the enforcers of these systems: immigration officers, civil servants, police, social workers, legal officials, private companies, NGOs and many others. We start by questioning: What emotions are experienced during the daily work of migration enforcement? What is the relevance of race and gender in the experience of emotions? When and how do state officials erase emotions and claim rationality? How does the state immigration organizational structure, classification and ideology cultivate or repress certain emotions? Bureaucracies are infused with affects, but emotions (and perhaps this is particularly the case when it comes to immigration bureaucracies) are typically regarded as unimportant side effects. When emotions do come to the fore, the focus is on those who are subject to bureaucratic intervention: feeling fear and anxiety about being arrested, detained or deported. In contrast, this collection explores how emotions enable enforcers to make or dispute the ethical sense of their activities and what these emotional responses to immigration controls tell us about the nature of those controls and the contexts within which they operate.

Exit from the port in Calais (image: Pierre Pruvot on flickr)

Emotions in migration studies

This Special Issue explores how police, social workers and individuals make sense of the complex emotions experienced while executing immigration checks. It steps into the uncharted territory of how they manage, accommodate or suppress feelings when surveilling, controlling and recording migrants and enforcing deportations. The emotional challenges public servants face, including feelings of complicity and belonging, shape their behaviour and raise ethical questions about the moral values of those implementing migration policies.

We introduce the concept of ‘ethical emotions’ to elucidate the affective states that emerge where personal views of the world come into tension with organizational and social values. We use it to capture how emotions can (dis)enable people to make sense of the contradictions between the personal and the institutional and what this means for how emotions are negotiated, exhibited and managed in the workplace. Contributors to this Special Issue highlight in particular the intricate relationship between emotions, ethics, organisational structures and racism. Thus, the collection brings together the fields of migration on the one hand and race and ethnic studies on the other, showing the ways in which ethical emotions support patriarchy and institutional racism.

Nationalism, racism and ethical emotions

The legitimacy of immigration controls hinges on claims that they are not racist even as they mobilise to protect national values. In most European bureaucracies, it is acknowledged that overt racism based on skin colour is socially unacceptable. We do not claim that it is in practice unacceptable, and we also emphasise that this relies on a grotesquely oversimplified idea of what racism actually is. Nevertheless, despite these extreme limitations, how to manage ‘not being racist’ on the one hand with enforcing immigration controls on the other is emotionally draining.

Alpa Parmar’s article examines how street-level bureaucrats feel race. She explores the emotive register of police officers and criminal case workers deployed in their occupational roles. Importantly, she includes the complex and contradictory emotions experienced by racially minoritised people in police and migration related roles. Aino Korvensyrjä, like Parmar, explores how race is used to understand and manage social conflict, aid policing and criminalize dissent. Katerina Rozakou, too, foregrounds race in her analysis of the ambiguous feelings of police officers in charge of guarding, surveilling and deporting migrants from Greece, and argues that the culturally significant sentiment of filotimo (love of honour) can require that they perform care for migrants at the same time as consolidating nationalism.

Lisa Marie Borrelli and Corina Tulbure, in different ways, both consider the relationship between the welfare state and immigration enforcement. Borrelli looks at bureaucrats in Switzerland and how those managing welfare and those managing migration control regard – and feel towards – each other and their respective departments. Tulbure’s work is conducted in Barcelona where she examines how social workers select ‘deserving’ social beneficiaries, the emotional toll it takes and how emotions end up justifying exclusions.

Melanie Griffiths shows how feelings and affects are embedded in immigration legislation and in enforcement processes, exploring the workings of what she calls an ‘emotional economy’ that operates at individual and systemic levels. Finally, Ioana Vrăbiescu argues that melancholia is the best concept to explain the complex emotional mix lived by those who manage migrants’ detention centres in France, spaces where emotions are extreme but also denied.

We hope our collection will open new conversations on the working life of immigration policy implementation in Europe. Racialized dynamics, ideological polarization and the securitization of migration generate emotions and affective atmospheres that expose the human and moral cost of the troubled workplace of immigration enforcement. We hope too that they can show us some of the cracks in the façade of the all-seeing, rational state.

Ioana Vrăbiescu is Assistant Professor in Organization Sciences at the Vrije University Amsterdam. She currently works on the role of ethical emotions in migration control apparatus and on the intersection of climate change and human and non-human forced mobility. She is the co-editor of the Special Issue of Identities, ‘Affective Control: The Emotional Life of (En)forcing Mobility Control in Europe’.

Bridget Anderson is the Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship in the School for Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. She is the co-editor of the Special Issue of Identities, ‘Affective Control: The Emotional Life of (En)forcing Mobility Control in Europe’.

Obstacles and aspirations: stories from young refugees in the UK education system

By Jáfia Naftali Câmara.

Refugee Stories: Education: Obstacles and Aspirations‘ draws on findings from my doctoral research project on young refugees’ educational experiences in the UK. The study investigated how young refugee people and their families have encountered the education system while considering the implications of living as refugees in England. Young refugee people’s right to education is enshrined in British law; however, the UK has no specific educational policy for them.

Invisibilizing practices add to the silence around their experiences and needs. ‘Refugee Stories’ tells young refugees’ and families’ stories to amplify their voices and shine a light on the social and material conditions they experience.

How ‘Refugee Stories’ was born

Cover of ‘Refugee Stories’ (illustration by ARC Studios in collaboration with participants and Jáfia Naftali Câmara)

I volunteered as an English as an Additional Language (EAL) tutor to young refugees at a secondary school in the South of England. I also volunteered at local organizations advocating for refugee people and fundraising to facilitate their access to phones and internet at home. Through volunteering, I built connections with three families who expressed interest in participating in my research. While most research tends to be school-based, I focused on working directly with families to understand how they encountered England’s education system. Particularly, I was interested in how policy meets lived experience. The mothers often asked me to help their children with their homework or to help them access technology to continue remote schooling. I maintained contact with families and provided support when they needed it throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns implemented in England.  

As part of my methodology, I enacted an ethics of care by trying to mitigate some of the challenges they endured. Refugee families, including asylum seekers, may have limited access to resources and technology at home. Therefore, remote schooling was very challenging for them because they did not have reliable access to computers, phones and internet, and they also struggled to pay for data for their cell phones. As part of my research and commitment to support them, I tried to highlight their hardships and amplify their voices, as in this article, I co-wrote with Maria, a mother seeking asylum who participated in the study.   

Creating ‘Refugee Stories’ with families to highlight their experiences and perspectives was essential to my methodology and ethics of care. My approach to critical ethnography was to go beyond simply observing and interviewing participants but also to try and address some of the hardships that families experienced. In addition to providing schoolwork and English language support, I facilitated one family’s access to a laptop and a phone, books and art supplies for all the young people, data for their phones and access to extra-curricular activities such as football lessons. I dedicated time weekly to helping one family use their new laptop and new software needed for their schooling, including MS Teams, sending emails, creating Word and PowerPoint files and attaching files to email messages. When their schooling shifted online, young people were expected to know how to do those tasks, but some had never done it before.  

Page from ‘Refugee Stories’ (illustrations by ARC Studio in collaboration with participants and Jáfia Naftali Câmara)

As a migrant from a working-class family from the so-called ‘global south’, I understood some of the challenges that the families lived through. We developed a connection of mutual care. The mothers often cooked meals and invited me to have lunch or dinner with them. One mother baked a cake for my birthday, and their children wrote me Christmas cards and ‘thank you’ notes. ‘Refugee Stories’ was part of my methodological approach to amplify young people’s and their families’ perspectives and experiences and communicate research findings beyond academia. It was an art-science collaboration to make research findings more accessible. For example, the young people chose their pseudonyms, the appearance of their characters and what they wanted to highlight to readers. ‘Refugee Stories’ was funded by the University of Bristol’s Temple Quarter Engagement Fund, allowing me to involve families in creating the zine and pay them an honorarium for their time. 

Using ‘Refugee Stories’ for teaching and learning  

I am interested in learning how educators and students may find the zine useful for their practices. I point to a few goals I have for how this zine may support learning in classrooms:  

I adopt anti-colonial and anti-racist perspectives. The zine prompts us to consider how education can acknowledge the UK, EU and US colonial histories and imperialism that permeates today, including the militarization of borders and the criminalization of migration. Colonial histories and imperial violence need to be acknowledged in education systems. 

The zine could lead to discussions on what causes people to leave their homes, migration histories, how refugees are created, and the challenges they experience trying to find safety. For example, Muhammad, a young Iraqi man portrayed in the zine, often talked about the history of Iraq and the US invasion of his country. Muhammad also highlighted that his history classes mainly studied Europe and World War II. While interesting, he wanted more history about the world, including Mesopotamia. Muhammad’s reflections indicate the need to challenge the Eurocentric nature of curricula in Western countries – what knowledge(s) and histories are erased? Whose voices are silenced?   

The zine can provide resources that connect to students’ realities. I learned from my research that curriculum content is often disconnected from young people’s realities. A young man from Eritrea in secondary school discussed that he had to annotate Shakespeare’s poems while learning to write for the first time in his third language, English. His teacher was aware that he struggled but was not aware why he faced difficulties to follow her instructions. She had no idea about his previous experiences, including that he had never been taught how to write. Resources like this one can offer mirrors of students’ own experiences, while offering windows for other students into refugee students’ lives.  

The zine can support educators in understanding the knowledge refugee students bring to the classroom. Schools may view refugee learners through a deficit-based lens and focus on what they ‘lack’: insufficient English language proficiency, no ‘formal education’, limited schooling or viewing learners through a lens of ‘trauma’. Young refugee learners bring essential knowledge(s) and different ways of knowing, being and doing. They may still be learning English but often speak or understand various languages. As demonstrated in ‘Refugee Stories’, young people are resourceful and active agents in creating their networks, helping their parents learn the language and their new country’s systems, and studying independently. England is very institutionally monolingual. Talking to the young people who participated in the study, I learned that some educators might have deficit-based views of families who speak their first language at home rather than English, thinking that the young people may struggle to learn English because they speak other languages at home. In this study, some young people were influenced by that and often stopped using some of their languages to prioritize speaking in English more often. ‘Refugee Stories’ could be used to discuss various themes such as language and multilingualism, migration and colonialism. 

I welcome your thoughts on these issues and how you may use ‘Refugee Stories’ for teaching and learning. 


Jáfia Naftali Câmara is a Brazilian scholar and Research Fellow at the Centre for Lebanese Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She received her PhD from the University of Bristol with a thesis on ‘Refugee Youth and Education: Aspirations and Obstacles in England’. She is currently undertaking a study on education in emergencies focusing on Brazil and other Latin American countries. 

This blogpost was originally published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education REACH programme (Research, education and action for refugees around the world) under the title ‘Refugee Stories: Education: Obstacles and Aspirations.’

Debordering Higher Education

By Edanur Yazici.

On 4th December 2023, the Home Secretary announced a series of policy changes with the aim of reducing net migration. Among the changes announced was an increase in the general salary threshold for the Skilled Worker Visa from £26,200 to £38,700 a year and an increase in the salary requirement for settled people and British citizens applying to bring their partners to the UK from £18,600 to £38,700. The new threshold, which is higher than the median full-time salary of £35,000, comes at a time of persistent wage stagnation and high inflation.

Salaries in Higher Education (HE) have fallen by 20% in real terms since 2009. For those at the beginning of their academic careers, starting salaries are typically around £37,000 and are often on precarious, short-term contracts. This means that from April – when the new policy is due to come into force – it may not be possible for migrant academic teaching and research staff to begin their careers in the UK. This may make even the unsure footing of a year-long contract a distant possibility.

(Image by Redd F on Unsplash)

Under the current visa regime, applicants for a Skilled Worker Visa must be paid the higher of the going-rate for their occupation code and the £26,200 salary threshold. For example, the current going-rates for a historian and physicist are £25,600 and £32,600 respectively. For PhD graduates, postdoctoral researchers and under 26s, there are discounts of up to 30% in place on the salary threshold or the going-rate (depending on which applies). Eight weeks since the new threshold was announced, however, there is still no clarity on whether these discounts will remain in place from April. It is possible that in-line with the removal of discounts for shortage occupations, discounts for postdoctoral positions will also come to an end. If the 30% discount continues to apply, future postdoctoral researchers and teaching associates will continue to be classed as Skilled Workers. If it does not, early career academics will either be unable to begin their careers in the UK, or, if they completed their PhD in the UK, will have to apply for other, often less secure visa routes, such as the Graduate Visa, which does not have a path to settlement and is also under review.

Whether exceptions are put in place remains to be seen, but what the proposed changes do reveal is the impacts of pernicious and increasingly restrictive immigration policy on Higher Education. It also shows how immigration policy intersects with low pay in the sector. This has implications for how academic workers fight to improve their pay and conditions; the experiences of migrant workers in HE generally; and the experiences of students. The changes above signal the worrying potential of a future of a sector that is increasingly closed to migrant workers and, if wage growth remains stagnant, where academic teaching and research is progressively deskilled and undervalued.

Funding HE

Linked to the changes in the Skilled Worker Visa route are changes that came into force for the Student Visa route in January this year. Also driven by a desire to reduce net migration, it is no longer possible for postgraduate taught students to bring dependents with them to the UK. It is now only possible for Student Visa holders to be accompanied by their dependents if they are on a postgraduate research course. Not only is this racialised – with the highest number of dependent study visas issued to Nigerian and Indian citizens – but also demonstrates the conflict between the government’s determination to reduce net migration at all costs while depending on international students to prop up the unsustainable funding model in HE.

In England, HE is funded in two main ways: through student fees and direct funding. Direct funding separates teaching and research. The 2021-2022 level of funding for teaching in HE was 78% less than it was in 2010 in real terms. Student fees are expected to fund the majority of HE teaching. For so-called ‘home students’, fees were raised to a maximum of £9,250 in 2012. For international students, fees for undergraduate courses are on average £22,000 a year. There is consequently both an incentive to recruit international students – many of whom face racism and inadequate support from their institutions – and a reliance on international students for funding. At present, international student fees make up 21% of British Universities’ total income. This means that if international student numbers were to fall in line with the government’s fixation on net migration, there would be severe consequences for the financial sustainability of HE institutions. Unless the funding model were to change, this would also likely exacerbate wage stagnation and job insecurity in the sector.

The conflicting policy objectives of cutting funding and reducing net migration is indicative of the follies of dogged ideological commitment to nationalism and a small state. The impact of these conflicting policy objectives is also evident in other sectors –  most particularly in health and social care. For academic workers, challenging unjust immigration policy goes hand in hand with improving funding, pay and conditions. This also involves confronting complicity in upholding the hostile environment in the sector.

The hostile environment in HE

The hostile environment suite of policies extends borders into many aspects of everyday life and affects everyone. It determines how people apply for jobs, open bank accounts and rent homes among many other things. The hostile environment increasingly regulates universities. This includes attendance monitoring of students, which puts international students at risk of losing their visas if they miss a certain number of classes; right-to-work checks for all workers including for one-off events; and reporting staff absence among visa holders to the Home Office. The financial dependence on international student fees also means that over-compliance is widespread in the sector because institutions fear losing their licence to sponsor international students. For migrant staff and students, the hostile environment creates a culture of fear that can dissuade people from advocating for change.

For academic workers, particularly those of us who are migration researchers, debordering our institutions is as much about challenging injustice as it is about securing the future of teaching and research. This raises the question of how the deeply interconnected problems of the hostile environment, unsustainable funding models and deteriorating pay and conditions are confronted. It also highlights the importance of not viewing migration as a policy arena in isolation, making it clear that every change to the visa regime affects us all.

Eda Yazici is a Research Associate on the PRIME Project at the University of Bristol. PRIME is an international project that analyses how institutions shape the conditions of migrant labour across Europe. Prior to joining the University of Bristol, she was a Research Fellow on the Open City Project at the University of Warwick, which looked at issues of race, migration and mobility in London. Eda’s PhD research focused on race, place and belonging in the British asylum system.

Reporting Sounds: the lived impact of UK Home Office reporting on the lives of asylum seekers

By Amanda Schmid-Scott.

Forty minutes into the bus journey that takes me from the bustling streets of Bristol’s city centre, through Bishopston and Horfield, and slowly along Gloucester Road, with its vibrant array of independent shops and cafes, we eventually head onto the busy dual carriage way. As we leave the shopfronts and people on foot behind, the bus eventually stops. At the side of the dual carriage way, I disembark and cars rush past at 60 mph. In order to cross to the other side of the road, I am forced to make a run for it when there is a gap in the traffic. I arrive at Patchway police station which, approximately seven miles from central Bristol, is the official immigration reporting centre for the city and the surrounding area. Immigration reporting, often referred to as ‘signing’, is a compulsory requirement for migrants without legal status, including asylum-seekers who are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. Framed by the Home Office as an administrative procedure, migrants are required to present themselves regularly (usually once a week, or bi-weekly) to one of 13 reporting centres located throughout the UK as a condition of immigration bail.

Today is my first day volunteering with Bristol Signing Support, a group who regularly attends the reporting centre at Patchway to offer practical and emotional support to migrants in what can be a frightening and often isolating experience. This is due to the fact that the Home Office, as well as using reporting appointments as a means of keeping track of the whereabouts of migrants pending legal status, utilise these sites to target potential deportees. This means that each time an individual attends their reporting appointment, they face possible detainment and removal from the UK.

I volunteered with the Bristol Signing Support group for a year from May 2017, and as part of my doctoral research conducted interviews with asylum-seekers subjected to immigration reporting, as well as fellow volunteers and asylum support workers involved in various local community organisations. Over time, I recognised how, alongside the often extreme fear many migrants experience of being detained during their reporting appointments, these sites also impose more surreptitious, mundane forms of harm. Accounts of those subjected to reporting requirements reveals how these often hidden and hard-to-reach reporting sites enforce a continuum of violence, steering migrants towards subjugation, destitution and removal (Schmid-Scott, forthcoming).

Home Office reporting, interactive map (image: Reporting Sounds website)

With funding I obtained during a postdoctoral research fellowship at Newcastle University, I collated a selection of my research interviews to produce Reporting Sounds, an interactive website enabling users to explore the impact of immigration reporting on the lives of asylum-seekers living in the UK. Designed in the form of a map of Bristol, the website combines hand-drawn pen-and-ink illustrations with audio-recorded stories from my field research. These testimonies situate the various harms that are imposed on asylum-seekers in relation to their immigration reporting requirements, invoking the ways in which the impact of reporting affects their everyday lives. These experiences are focused around five individual stories, each indicative of the continuum of violence which constitutes the UK’s asylum process. By centring on their experiences of immigration reporting, these stories connect the administrative systems and sites of UK border control measures with everyday encounters with suffering.

At times, this suffering emerges through more surreptitious and mundane spatiotemporal harms, implicit in the obligation to travel repeatedly to these often remote, difficult-to-access sites, very often for years on end. Mohammed describes requesting to have his reporting schedule reduced – a request that was denied – and how he must pay for the bus to and from his appointments, which is a huge financial burden for those that are already living below the poverty line. Likewise, Hassan recounts not having enough money to pay for the bus fare, and tells the Home Office ‘you can arrest and detain me again’. The inclusion of each individuals’ journey times and travel costs, signalling the proportion of time and money these journeys necessitate, further illuminates the everyday burden regular reporting entails.

Elodie’s story of reporting (image: Reporting Sounds website)

At other times the harms that reporting imposes materialise through the more overt violence of arrest and detainment. Elodie’s experiences of being detained during her reporting appointment, where she suffered a panic attack, point to the danger these sites hold in repeatedly threatening asylum-seekers with potential arrest and detainment. For Mohammed, the fear of being detained affects his sleep prior to signing days; he describes how ‘you never know when you’re coming back’. Samuel also talks of being detained during his reporting appointment within the onsite holding cells and reflects on the shame he felt in being detained ‘as someone who committed a crime’. Bernadette’s account reveals how the threat of being detained is felt beyond the walls of the reporting centre, as she explains: ‘I’m still looking through my window all the time. Between six o’clock and eight o’clock in the morning, that’s what time they normally come.’ As these accounts show, the threat of a possible detainment and subsequent forced removal attempt is intimately felt by individuals, making it an extremely stressful process, and yet one which they must repeatedly engage in, often for years on end.

Samuel’s story of reporting (image: Reporting Sounds website)

Creating an archive

By creating an interactive, auditory web-archive of asylum-seekers’ testimonies, Reporting Sounds sheds light on the relatively unknown border control practice of immigration reporting and provides the opportunity for the public to explore its everyday impact on the lives of asylum-seekers in the UK. As Sara Ahmed’s work has identified, archives are tethered to the question of whose experiences are worth preserving (Ahmed 2006), and through my own attempt at creating an archive of asylum-seekers’ testimonies, this form of data gathering holds space for these otherwise little-known-about and hidden experiences. Using the form of a map to situate their testimonies, and drawing attention to their less-visible sites of impact (that is, the home, the body, the reporting office), imposes a form of ‘counter-mapping’ which, as Craig Dalton and Liz Mason-Deese argue, allows us to challenge and reimagine dominant spatial imaginaries and how certain populations move through these spaces (Dalton and Mason-Deese 2012). While each of these five stories is deeply personal to the individual’s experience of reporting, they are also reflective of the current, contemporary political moment, in which the UK government has placed hostility towards and the removal of asylum seekers at the front and centre of its politics. The last, sixth box is left open for individuals to share their own experiences of reporting.  

In May 2024, I will be hosting an event with Migrants Organise in London, to launch the website and to invite the public to learn more about immigration reporting and the lived experience of asylum. If you would like more information, please get in touch.

Amanda Schmid-Scott is a Lecturer in Criminology at Bristol University. Her research explores the intersections between bureaucracy and violence within border control sites and systems, engaging with feminist theories of violence and resistance to examine how the sites and practices which constitute asylum-seeking are made, negotiated and resisted. She recently completed an ESRC postdoctoral research fellowship at Newcastle University.

Invisible: domestic workers’ commutes in Latin America

By Valentina Montoya Robledo and Rachel Randall.

Read the Spanish version here.

Domestic workers make up one in every five working women in Latin America, totalling approximately 13 million individuals. In recent decades, a significant transformation has occurred as many domestic workers have shifted from living in their employers’ homes to commuting daily from their own residences due to rapid urbanization processes. Latin America became the most urbanized region in the world in 2014. By 2020, 83% of domestic workers in Colombia, for example, resided in their own homes. Their precarious earnings and the fact that more than 80% of them are informal workers, however, have forced them to live in city outskirts. Both their homes and the households where they work often lack proper connections to public transport as well as pavements for pedestrians, making their lengthy commutes both time consuming and expensive.

(Image: from Invisible)

This shift has led to extensive commuting times across Latin America, with domestic workers’ journeys reaching up to seven hours per day in Bogotásix hours in Lima, five hours in São Paulo (Montoya Robledo, forthcoming) and three and a half hours in smaller Colombian cities like Manizales. According to Bogotá’s 2015 Mobility Survey, domestic workers have the longest commutes among all urban occupations in Colombia. In many countries they also allocate a significant portion of their income to cover transport costs: 36% in Lima, for example, and 28% in Medellín. During these prolonged journeys, domestic workers often face racial discriminationgender-based violencecommon crime and road safety concerns.

These hardships not only risk domestic workers’ safety but also hinder their access to a range of opportunities from education to leisure to political participation. And yet, local governments in Latin America frequently overlook their situation. The Invisible Commutes project was set up in 2019 to shed light on this critical issue, starting with a documentary about domestic workers’ concerns, which was expanded into a transmedia project in 2020. Collaborating with musician and cultural manager Andres Gonzalez and filmmaker Daniel Gomez, the project aims to raise awareness not only among scholars but also the general public and mobility experts about domestic workers’ limited Right to the City in Latin America.

Invisible Commutes uses various media to depict domestic workers’ expensive, violent and lengthy commutes in order to advocate for their Right to the City. The project includes short audio segments featuring their testimonials, which focus on their experiences when commuting and their perspectives on mobility infrastructure projects. It includes a section on the maps that domestic workers have drawn of their commutes. The project also produces opinion pieces and journal papers, and engages in academic, civil society and local government discussions. Recognized in 2023 as a ‘Remarkable Feminist Voice in Transport’ by Tumi and Women Mobilize Women, Invisible Commutes is a comprehensive effort to address transportation injustice for millions of women.

Filming for the Invisible Commutes documentary, Invisible, has taken place over an extended period, beginning in 2019 with a focus on Reinalda Chaverra, a domestic worker based in Medellín. In 2022 filming continued in Bogotá with domestic worker Belén García. In 2023, Invisible Commutes was awarded funds by Migration Mobilities Bristol to complete the documentary short and hold a workshop with the Afro-Colombian Union of Domestic Workers (UTRASD) in Medellín.

The workshop explored how domestic workers themselves want to see their commutes represented on screen and enabled their voices to feed into the form and content of the final documentary. This was crucial for us because, despite a recent upsurge in Latin American films that focus on domestic worker protagonists, almost none depict the workers’ lengthy and challenging commutes. It is widely acknowledged that these films tend to be made by directors whose perspectives are more closely aligned with those of employers, rather than employees. They often dramatize the dynamics of employer-employee relationships within employers’ homes by taking live-in domestic workers as their protagonists, as is the case, for example, of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) and Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother (2015). In reality, hourly paid roles are becoming more popular than live-in forms of domestic work, as this report focusing on Brazil also shows. When we talked about the lack of visual representations of domestic workers’ commutes at the workshop, one participant explained that it is not convenient for employers to acknowledge the long, challenging and costly journeys that their employees have to undertake because it raises the question of how these commutes should be compensated.

As a starting point for our discussion, we watched clips from the film Roma, which focuses on domestic worker Cleo. Set in the early 1970s in Mexico City, Cleo’s story is strongly inspired by the real experiences of Liboria Rodríguez who was employed by director Alfonso Cuarón’s family when he was a child. Although Roma risks reinforcing a narrative in which its protagonist is both celebrated as, and relegated to, the status of a surrogate member of her employer family, the way the film dwells on Cleo’s gruelling routine maintaining an extensive house and supporting her employers’ four children sparked strong affective responses among the workshop’s participants. Some addressed the negative implications this kind of workload has for managing to exercise or relax, while others reflected on the impact it has for workers’ relationships to their own loved ones, namely their children.

Many of the insights that fed into Invisible were, nonetheless, provoked by the participants’ reflections on the differences between their experiences commuting and those depicted in one of the only Latin American films that focuses on this topic. Rodrigo Moreno’s Réimon (2014) traces the lengthy journeys undertaken by its protagonist Ramona, an hourly-paid cleaner who commutes on public transport from her home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires to her employers’ upmarket apartments in its centre. Like Roma, Réimon also dwells on the details of Ramona’s work and routine. One workshop participant praised the grace and elegance that characterises Ramona’s portrayal: she is always nicely dressed and well presented. The importance of this became clear as multiple participants spoke about how the distance that they need to walk across difficult terrain to catch initial transport links means they are forced to arrive at work with unclean clothes, suffer rude comments from other commuters, or take a cloth with them to try and wipe off the dirt. The dignity of Ramona’s depiction resonated with UTRASD members who shared experiences of having been denigrated by others due to their occupation and discriminated against on the basis of their race.

One participant also noted that Ramona does not appear to feel afraid walking through the city in the dark of the early morning, while the participant herself has often feared being attacked. Ohers attested to how common it is to be sexually harassed or assaulted on public transport. Another participant observed that Ramona is shown getting a seat on the train, while the buses they catch are so full at peak times that they must always stand.  

In response to these challenges, Invisible concludes with the changes that UTRASD members themselves would make to improve domestic workers’ experiences commuting to their employers’ homes. These include: building more public bathrooms in stations and across the city; introducing women-only carriages; giving domestic workers preference in queues at peak times; and subsidising public transport for domestic workers or introducing forms of transport specifically for them. The final three proposals would likely require individuals to register formally as domestic workers, which would be a positive given the challenges that widespread informality brings across the sector.

We hope that the documentary encourages policy makers and urban planners to take up their proposals and continue hearing what they have to say.

Invisible (Valentina Montoya Robledo, Daniel Gómez Restrepo and Andres Gonzalez Robledo 2024) will have its UK premiere at the University of Bristol on 31 January 2024.

Valentina Montoya Robledo is a Senior Researcher in Gender and Mobility at the Transport Studies Unit (TSU) at the University of Oxford. She directs the transmedia project Invisible Commutes on domestic workers’ commuting experiences. Her most recent paper is ‘That is why users do not understand the maps we make for them’: Cartographic gaps between experts and domestic workers and the Right to the City.

Rachel Randall is Reader in Latin American Studies at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Her book, Paid to Care: Domestic Workers in Contemporary Latin American Culture is published this month by the University of Texas Press. It explores the struggles of domestic workers in Latin America through an analysis of films, texts and digital media produced with them or inspired by their experiences. The book is available now with a 30% discount using the code UTXM30 by ordering online in the UK and Europe and in the US and Latin America

Further MMB blogposts about domestic workers in Latin America include Rachel’s post on ‘Domestic workers and COVID-19: Brazil’s legacy of slavery lives on,’ and ‘The dangers of staying home: lockdown deepens inequalities in Brazil,’ by Fernanda Mallak, Isabela Vianna Pinho and Thalles Vichiato Breda.

Migration and mobilities research: making connections for social justice

By Bridget Anderson.

Happy New Year all. Let’s hope that 2024 brings more peace and justice than 2023. We need it. It is difficult to be hopeful in the face of the ongoing Gaza horror, more needless (and nameless) deaths in the Mediterranean and Channel, the fall out from the Illegal Migration Act, and the anticipated Rwanda legislation. All these speak to the concerns of many MMB members. Not only migration and asylum policy, but state violence, exclusion, citizenship, nationalism, mobility and immobility, leaving and staying put and, related to all of these, the protean nature of racism.

Many of us believe that it is our academic responsibility to speak truth to power and leverage our analysis to affect transformation. But in reality the transformation has been travelling in the opposite direction to the one demanded by evidence and analysis. Over the past 20 years there has been a proliferation of migration research, Masters’ courses, conferences, journals, centres and networks, particularly in the rich world. Our understanding of human movement and the tools we use to analyse it have undoubtedly improved hugely. So why is it that law and policy are so determinedly taking us in the opposite direction, and we seem to be marching away, not only from justice, but from simple common sense? Anyone who is interested in this kind of question would do well to read Christina Boswell’s work. In her book The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge 2009) she explains that the usual explanations for the disconnection between policy and research (political pressure; institutional incapacity/lack of resources on the part of government and other research users; abstraction/irrelevance on the part of research producers) are correct but insufficient. She argues that research and expertise also lend credibility, meaning that they serve two important functions for government policymakers. The first is a legitimizing function, creating confidence that decisions are well founded. The second is a substantiating function, supporting already existing policy choices and preferences.

Importantly, the legitimizing and substantiating functions of research are powerful but are not helpful if we seek a significant change in policy direction. To be transformative, scholarly research requires partnership with non-academic actors and to contribute to pressures for change these actors are exerting on state policymakers. MMB members are working with others to rise to this challenge. We have many examples, but just to pick two. Katharine Charsley and Helena Wray’s research UK-EU couples after Brexit works with key campaigning and support organisations to intervene in policy debates on the issues in the family migration regime. Ann Singleton, MMB Policy Strategic Lead, has been working with ACH to use expertise from refugees’ lived and learned experience to develop new small businesses, and models for support that facilitate integration. MMB also co-organises seminars with ACH, bringing together practitioners, policymakers and academics. The most recent seminar took education as its theme, and participants included Rob Sharples from the School of Education discussing his research on post-16 education and the Bristol Plan for Migrant Learners. Do let us know if you want support finding community partners, developing funding ideas with them or featuring collaborations on the MMB website.

Importantly, research does not have to have an immediate impact to make a difference. MMB’s tagline is ‘new thinking on people and movement’ and this also requires ‘slow science’. Longer term, research can build different understandings of migration – for example, through connecting it with movement of the more-than-human, including goods, data, animals and plants; through putting it into a richer historical context that sees how movement shapes our worlds; and through analysing and making accessible the power of representation. All of this requires multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches whose ‘pathways to impact’ are not necessarily easily traceable, but which help us to think differently and hone tools for the future. We are very pleased that Bristol University Press will be publishing a volume with us that advances this kind of thinking and are planning to develop this work in the coming years.

Thinking differently also needs international partnerships, and this is particularly true for thinking differently about movement. MMB research often is not only shaped by international borders but stretches across them. We have already learned much from the initial visit by Victoria Hattam from the New School for Social Research who joined us as a Visiting Leverhulme Professor for two months in 2023. Her second, longer visit will start in February 2024. Do come to the MMB welcome drinks on 6th February to learn more about our plans with her, which include public lectures, a workshop on visual representation, seminars on race and mobility, political economy and cross-border production, and a PGR discussion group.

Developing and nurturing these partnerships is a priority for MMB in the next two years. We are delighted that Jo Crow, Professor of Latin American Studies in the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, has joined us as Associate Director (Research Development) to take the lead in developing this aspect of MMB’s work. We are particularly interested to learn about the research agendas of potential partnerships to facilitate long-term collaboration, funded and unfunded, so do let us know if you have any ideas. We are keen to support project and network development, big or small. Partnerships, within and outside the university, local, national and international, lend new perspectives, energy and creativity. Let’s harness that to build a more just world in 2024.

Bridget Anderson is Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship in the School for Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

Looking for the ‘state’ in statelessness research

By Natalie Brinham.

Eight months after Myanmar’s genocidal violence in 2017, which saw more than a million Rohingyas driven into Bangladesh, 55-year-old Rafique (not his real name) welcomed me into his shelter in a busy section of the refugee camp. He served me tea and asked me to wait – he wanted to show me something important that would explain ‘everything I wanted to know’ about Rohingya statelessness in Myanmar.

After some time, he emerged from behind the blanket that had been hung as a make-shift wall. He placed a metal cash box on the bamboo floor. Opening it with a key, he revealed a stack of papers, cards and photos – tattered ones, faded ones and plastic covered ones. Very carefully, he unfolded and displayed the contents across the length of the floor in front of me and my young Rohingya ‘fixer’. Methodically, he placed them in date order with the oldest closest to him. There were ID cards from his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and children – fraying blue and pink ones from the 1950s, white ones for the 1990s and one new turquoise one; registration documents listing every family member from the 1970s to the 2010s complete with crossings out, alterations and comments added by officials; joint-mugshots of the family holding a board with their registration number; repatriation documents from the 1970s and 1990s; and piles of land registration papers going back to the early years of independence in the 1950s.

‘But Uncle,’ said my fixer in amazement, ‘This must be one of the most complete collections in the whole camp! How on earth did you manage to keep hold of all these documents?’

Other Rohingya refugees had told us how their documents had been confiscated, seized, destroyed and burnt by state officials. Rafique explained how he would wrap the papers and cards in plastic, secure them in a metal box and bury them deep underground. Each year for almost 30 years, he would dig them up, rewrap them and bury them somewhere else. His brother was well connected; when authorities demanded he relinquish old ID cards, he would say they were lost and offered bribes of food, farm produce, favours or money.

The word ‘Rohingya’ is pointed out on a household registration list from Myanmar, saved in the camps of Bangladesh for proof of Rohingya identity (image: Natalie Brinham, 2019)

Pointing to the documents in turn, Rafique explained – over three hours – how successive regimes in Myanmar had slowly destroyed Rohingya identity as a group belonging to the Rakhine region of the country. He kept the papers, he said, to evidence Rohingya history in Myanmar. He re-told the stories of belonging of his relatives; three mass expulsions and forced repatriations since independence; slow denationalisation; violent encounters with state authorities. Finally, he talked about his determination to resist the current state ID scheme, which ‘makes Rohingya into foreigners’. Group resistance, he reasoned, was intricately connected to the mass violence, killings and expulsions that had landed him in this refugee camp in 2017. Myanmar, he said, would not be a safe place to return to until Rohingyas were ‘given back’ their citizenship.

Invisible people or invisible states?

At a global level, citizenship has been compared to a giant filing system. Each individual human is assigned at least one nationality and filed ‘according to their return address’ or where they can be deported to. From a statist point of view, stateless people – or people without any legal citizenship – are an aberration in that filing system. They have no return address, so cannot be formally deported or expelled.

Human rights advocates take a different view. Those un-filed people are an ‘anomaly’ in an international rights system that is supposed to apply universally to all humans. It’s impossible for people to realise their rights if no state is responsible for protecting or providing for them. As such, stateless people are often described as legally and administratively ‘invisible’. They struggle to access legal protections, education, healthcare, work and financial services. Further, they are unable to benefit from international development and aid interventions.

Though statist concerns over deportability and human rights concerns over rightlessness seem to be ideologically opposed to one another, proposed solutions to the problems of statelessness often align. Administrative invisibility is generally tackled by proposing more state registration, more documentation, more efficiency, more digitisation and more biometrics. Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which commits to providing a ‘legal identity for all’ by 2030, has become a rallying cry for international development organisations, refugee and migration management agencies, multinational tech companies and NGOs alike.

Yet, these approaches to statelessness by-pass fundamental issues relating to state abuses of power. State authorities consolidate their power through identification technologies and ID schemes, and can misuse these powers to exclude and expel. Few people in the world are actually completely undocumented. More people lack the right documents to be able to live legally in their homes, move freely within their own country, find regulated work or use banking systems. Other people are wrongly documented/registered by state authorities as foreign. The wrong kinds of registration can make things worse.

Despite being hailed as the harbingers of social inclusion, digital ID schemes can harden the boundaries of citizenship, excluding minorities and making it more difficult for people of uncertain citizenship to function in society. As Rafique’s account shows, the implementation of ID systems can be intricately linked to citizenship stripping and mass atrocities. Analysis of how power functions (differently) in particular states and societies, and how it functions through citizenship regimes and ID systems, is absent in ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to delivering ‘legal identities for all’. ID schemes are often misconceived as neutral processes in which sets of biological and/or biographical facts about individuals are recorded. In fact, they are imbued with power and profoundly impact social relations.

In initiatives to lift ‘stateless people’ out of a state of invisibility – to count them and document them – we fail to look properly at the perpetrating states. States are not identical containers that will function once filled up with international policy recommendations, capacity development and technical advice. Rafique’s oral history, which covered a period of 30 years of UN presence in his homelands, tells a story not of the invisibility of stateless Rohingya, but of how international actors have failed to look at the criminal intent of the state relating to their ID schemes and registration processes.

Statelessness studies often grapple with how to research ‘invisible’ populations. It’s equally important to grapple with how and why state violence has been invisibilised in anti-statelessness work. The very best starting point is to listen properly to survivors of state violence. Rafique’s account is just one of many. Rohingyas and many other stateless people are not really ‘invisible’. It’s just that if we look for them through state-tinted lenses, we tend to look right through the structures that were built to incarcerate them.

Natalie Brinham is an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Bristol, working with MMB and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. Her research project is titled ‘IDs for Rohingyas: Pathways to Citizenship or Instruments of Genocide?’ She was previously a Senior Programme Lead at the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion.