Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Review: Reclaiming Migration: Voices from Europe’s ‘Migrant Crisis’


Emma Musty


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Emma Musty, a writer, activist and independent researcher who has been a part of grass-roots groups in Greece and the Balkans since 2016. She has written two novels which tackle themes of migration, borders and colonialism and published multiple articles and reports on the situation for people on the move in Europe and at its borders. Emma is on twitter @EmmaMusty.

Review of Reclaiming Migration: Voices from Europe’s ‘Migrant Crisis’ by Vicki Squire, Nina Perowski, Dallal Stevens and Nick Vaughan-Williams (Manchester University Press 2021).

Reclaiming migrationWhy are we a crisis?, asks a man from Syria living in Athens (p. 20) and rightly so, the ‘crisis’ frame was purposeful and used to great effect politically by a large range of actors. Reclaiming Migration reacts against this claim of ‘crisis’ and is an engaging and important work that centres the voices of people on the move at the heart of discussions on migration policy.

The counter-archive, made up of testimonies from people interviewed in Greece, Rome and Istanbul in 2015 and 2016, documents the events of these years from the point of view of those most affected by the policy changes enacted during this time. Methodologically this archive challenges the epistemic violence, a form of harm or injustice that results from silencing particular groups of people (p. 28), enacted against people on the move. To this end, each chapter begins with quotes from interviewees from which threads of thought are extrapolated to form the basis of the chapter’s argument.

Moving away from the frame of ‘crisis’, the authors instead seek to further an ‘anti-crisis’ narrative which separates the terms ‘migration’ and ‘crisis’ and sees them as separate phenomena. This allows the authors to question what is at stake politically when utilising ‘crisis’ narratives and how this term is used alongside humanitarian and securitising discourses to meet divergent ends. Combined, these narratives are found not only to silence the voices of those who experience violence at Europe’s borders, but also to reproduce colonial power relations and oversimplify the demands of people on the move.

Dissecting these narratives of ‘crisis’ and examining the ineffectiveness of the EU Commission’s preventative policy agenda of 2015, the book goes on to question the very idea of a value based Europe. Multiple testimonies bring to the fore the EU’s problematic relationship to its ‘others’. As a man from Afghanistan and living in Berlin stated, ‘Human rights mean that … they should treat refugees and residents in the same manner, not in a different manner’ (p. 159). The EU’s preventative agenda has taken it ever further from its declared values and principles, and peace and safety remain unattainable for many people. The authors state that the only way to move forward to a fair migration politics is to listen to and understand the experiences of experts: people who have direct lived experience of current migration policies.

To close, the authors examine the claims for justice which have been voiced during the interviews and summarise that these include the right to both mobility and settlement within in a wider understanding of the colonial-present and geopolitics. A man from Syria in Berlin requests that EU-policymakers ‘stop selling weapons’ and ‘stop bombing us’ (p. 182). EU complicity in the war which led to him leaving his country is thus clear and his hostile reception becomes even more problematic. This man’s request also emphasises another argument of the book as a whole; that people migrating would be better understood as a peace movement rather than an existential and physical threat, a frame which would drastically alter approaches in migration politics.

Reclaiming Migration takes mobility theory a step further to examine the mobilities of specific individuals in relation to the obstacles they encounter on their journey, thus highlighting the intersectionality of mobility as it is impacted by race, class, gender, nationality, and colonial histories and presents as expressed by Mimi Sheller in her 2018 work Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes. The approach is similar to the one adopted by ‘autonomy of migration’ scholars such as Dimitris Skleparis, focused as it is upon the voices and experiences of people on the move, however Reclaiming Migration fails to address movements led by people on the move themselves or directly involving them as equal participants.

In Greece there are many examples of migrant-led resistance movements, from the hunger strike of 300 people in 2011, which saw them receive temporary residency permits, to resistance against the closure of PIKPA on Lesvos in 2020. People in these situations have spoken out very clearly, utilising the media in an attempt to connect with policymakers, and just as clearly, have largely been ignored by the people and institutions who create and enact migration policies. In other instances, during the evictions of self-organised accommodation spaces in Athens in 2020, people on the move who had been vocal about their situation were forcibly moved to rural camps where they could no longer continue to be politically active or to advocate for people on the move more broadly. The counter-archive is an important and well considered research approach but still places the researcher between the person speaking and the public through their curation of the material. The authors do recognise the complicated nature of this process and seek to reject an extractive approach to knowledge acquisition (p. 191).

This book should of course be read by policymakers but will also appeal to a wider audience as the language is accessible, the argument compelling, and the premise interesting. NGO and third sector workers in the field of immigration will also find inspiration as it reframes the work they do and underlines the need to decolonise the humanitarian gaze. For students of migration and post-colonial theory, the authors’ discussion of the post-colonial present is important and deeply contemporary.

The process of reclaiming migration repositions people on the move at the centre of the debates around border policy and underlines their active role in migrating. At this point in history, with the racialisation of borders becoming ever clearer as Ukrainians are forced out their homes and are finding sanctuary in other countries, while people with Black and Brown skin are stopped at EU borders and detained despite the fact they are fleeing the same conflict, it has never been more important to hold a mirror up to the EU and demand that policymakers listen to the realities their policies inflict.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

E. Musty. (2022) Book Review: Reclaiming Migration: Voices from Europe’s ‘Migrant Crisis’ . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2022/07/book-review-reclaiming-migration-voices-europes-migrant. Accessed on: 21/05/2024


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