The SIMs team at the Council for European Studies Conference in Glasgow

The Council for European Studies (CES) held its 24th international conference at the University of Glasgow on 12-14 July 2017. Half-way through the SIMs project, this presented a great chance to bring together expert scholars and to present findings from the archival fieldwork to a wider audience following the highly successful SIMs workshop earlier that week.

I organised a panel entitled ‘Seeing ‘Illegal’ Immigrants: State Monitoring Practices in Europe and Beyond’. It was chaired by our PI, Christina Boswell, and it fell within the CES immigration research network. The panel combined five papers presenting a mix of theoretical and empirical analyses of irregular migration, with a focus on state institutions and migrants’ agency, offering different country case studies of historical and contemporary nature.

The first paper “Decent Illegals – How Some Irregular Migrants Are Perceived Smoothly” by Giuseppe Sciortino and Martina Cvajner (both from Università di Trento, Italy) considered the complex stratification of illegality that is not captured by legal and political binaries. Drawing on a decade of research on irregular migrants in Italy, Sciortino and Cvajner argued that states are more likely to “see” young men in the public sphere than older female caregivers in domestic households, even if they happen to hold the same (il)legal status.

Dita Vogel (Universität Bremen, Germany) followed with a paper combining macro with micro-level approaches in which she argued that we need both perspectives to fully understand irregular migration. By supplementing Sciortino and Cvajner’s work on systems theory and Anna Triandafyllidou’s research on migrant agency with social-psychological models of individual agency, Vogel not only provided a bridge between all panel contributions. She also demonstrated her argument with a recent telephone survey of primary schools in Germany which found that even though education providers are no longer under structural constraints to report undocumented students, 62 out of 100 school teachers still thought it impossible to accept irregular children.

The third paper by Jennifer Elrick (McGill University, Canada) presented the outline of her new research project on “Specifying the Role of Immigration Bureaucracies in Immigration Control: A Historical Case Study of Canada, 1952-1976”. While Canada is typically seen as a migration friendly “settler country”, it operated an explicitly racial exclusionary immigration policy in the 1950s. By analysing archival files from the Citizenship and Immigration Department, Elrick aims to shed light on the role of high-level bureaucrats in paving the way for a more liberal immigration policy in Canada. She gave three examples of how Chinese fiancées, adopted children and non-European skilled workers came to be seen as “admissible” by senior officials several years before the statute books were changed by 1967.

I presented a paper on the origin and establishment of the German Central Foreigner Register (Ausländerzentralregister, AZR) that was set up in 1953 and has become a key migration monitoring technique today. Based on records from the Federal Interior Ministry stored at the Bundesarchiv Koblenz, I argued that the German Central Foreigner Register was created to enhance and standardise migration control in a federal state system following external pressures by the Allied Forces who expressed concern about inconsistent registration practices. However, due to a lack of cooperation and resources, the Register led to unintended consequences such as skewed migration statistics and cases of inadvertent legalisation.

Finally, Eda Gemi (European University of Tirana, Albania) presented a paper co-authored with Anna Triandafyllidou (European University Institute, Florence, Italy) focussing on migrants’ agency. Based on a recently completed research project on contemporary irregular migration to Southern Europe, the paper analysed the experiences, motivations and decisions by irregular migrants coming to Greece from Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Gemi and Triandafyllidou found that, while all interviewed irregular migrants stressed the role of kinship networks and smuggling agencies, the main obstacle to these migrants was unauthorized border crossing in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan, compared to obtaining official or forged visa documents in the cases of Georgians, Ukrainians and (to a lesser extent) Albanians.

Each paper benefitted from the valuable questions and comments from the panel discussant, Andrew Geddes (University of Sheffield, UK) and from an engaging audience. The panel members and SIM researchers continued the lively discussion in the evening over haggis and other culinary delights.

Thank you to everyone for contributing to what was a fascinating and enjoyable panel!


PS. A sneak picture of the SIMs team and friends at the CES panel…