Seminar Series on Forced Migration

The Seminar Series on Forced Migration is part of Europe-Asia Research Platform on Forced Migration at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG); and is hosted at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna.

Europe-Asia Research Platform on Forced Migration advances the cooperation between European and South Asian institutions and academics while working toward creating a joint research platform for innovative knowledge production on forced migration and border regimes. Bringing together scholars, policy makers and practitioners from different disciplines and regions, the Seminar Series aspires to decentering Europe-focused scholarship, debates, and policies on forced migration.

The Seminar Series, as part of Europe-Asia Research Platform on Forced Migration, benefits from the research platform The Challenge of Urban Futures at the University of Vienna and Cities and Human Mobility Collaborative at the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at the New School for Social Research.

For more information, publications, upcoming events, and much more at Europe-Asia Research Platform on Forced Migration click here.

Previous Seminars


  • December 14, 2022 - Professor Ishita Dey

    South Asian University, Delhi

    Researching “journeys”: Challenges and possibilities in Migration Studies

    Home, transit, and destination have remained central in studying migrants’ lives and the networks they rely on to cross borders. Alongside, the place of origin and destination as scholars have shown are linked through transportation networks, border controls, documents, and brokers that have played a dominant role in bypassing state-regulated borders. Critical to these debates has been the right to/ of return. Historical scholarship on migrants’ lives has provided a window to studying journeys – land, rail, and waterways. Reports suggest that forced migrants on high seas have increased significantly in 2022. Scholarship on forced migration in South Asia, especially in the context of the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent, has shown how trains played an important role in the movement of refugees. Marian Aguiar, in her work, shows how the trains, from being a symbol of colonial modernity, and civilizing mission, turned into “death trains” during the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent. She takes us through “Partition literature” where images of the train are evoked “to confront the notion of imminent transformation that lies at the heart of modernity’s colonial narrative,”. She observed that in “this counter-narrative of modernity” – “the train carriage, once a symbol of liberation through mobility” turned “to a place of incarceration where people await their death”.

    Yet journeys remain invisible in post-colonial scholarship on internal migration in India except in what can be categorized as accounts of “arrival” to destination”. Taking a cue from the scholarship on the literature of partition and existing scholarship accounts of arrival I feel the scholarship on internal migration in India might benefit from an ethnographic reading of journeys. A reading of journeys might allow us to understand “borders within borders” and its impact on India’s migrant workers. Journeys will allow us to strengthen the need to understand rural and urban as a continuum and provide a robust understanding of circular migration and provide us new possibilities for revisiting the state infrastructures that shape lives in transit also mobility. In this presentation, I focus on railway networks that have played a role in the lives of internal migrant workers especially in the context of Bihar in Eastern India and highlight possibilities of ethnographic engagements on journeys as a method in migration studies.

    The full lecture recording is available on youtube.

  • October 19, 2022 - Professor Sandro Mezzadra

    University of Bologna

    Forced immobility and forced mobility during the Covid-19 pandemic: Rethinking the notion of forced migration

    In the global conjuncture of pandemic and war, borders and mobilities continue to play key roles in the mutations of politics and society, states and capitalism. Based on a project I am currently pursuing with Brett Neilson, I will focus in particular on the shifts characterizing the management of borders and movements of migration since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. I will describe the combination of forced immobility and mobility that shapes migrant experiences in different parts of the world, well beyond the terms of the debate on forced migration, which focuses on refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons. I will also pay attention to the multiplication and further heterogenization of borders during the pandemic, and I will analyze such trend in the framework of processes of renationalization, financialization, and platformization that were in train before the outbreak. While I will tackle the question of mobility even beyond migration, focusing on logistical techniques and technologies that govern the global circulation of people and things, I will conclude harking back to movements and struggles of migration with an empirical attention to China, India, the Americas, and the Mediterranean.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • May 11, 2022 - Professor Pamela Ballinger

    University of Michigan

    'Difficult to Settle' Refugees in Post-War Trieste: Contested Sovereignty and Humanitarian Mobilizations

    As the principal city of a border region long imagined as straddling Europe’s East-West divide, Trieste became a critical hub in the post-1945 landscape of European refugee relief. Under Anglo-American Allied Military Government until 1954 as a result of the protracted territorial dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia, the city remained an important transit point for persons displaced out of the newly established socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe well into the 1960s. It also housed a large population of so-called “hard to settle” refugees, particularly tuberculosis sufferers. As this paper details, Trieste’s emergence as a center for displaced persons reflected the paradoxes of sovereignty embodied by the city itself. The Free Territory of Trieste set out in the 1947 Peace Treaty with Italy was envisioned as an extraterritorial solution to a city and region suffering from a surfeit of territorial claims and territorialized identities; this city in search of a state thus became temporary refuge to many individuals in search of new homes. Metaphorically, then, Trieste mirrored the condition of its “hard to settle” refugees. Practically, Trieste’s interstitial (and, until 1954, indeterminate) status complicated the task of finding durable solutions for these refugees.  Drawing upon the International Committee of the Red Cross archive and UN materials, this talk examines efforts to assist Trieste’s hard core refugees and the jurisdictional and political challenges faced by personnel from various international organizations who mobilized in a crowded humanitarian terrain. This history offers important lessons for rethinking narratives about refugees in the present moment.

    This lecture was not recorded.

  • April 20, 2022 - Professor Gregory Feldman

    University of Windsor

    The “migrant” in the middle: How the struggle for decolonization and the struggle against fascism are linked

    The “migrant” – as the figure outside the polity – stands at the intersection of two global struggles: that of decolonization and that against fascism. An emancipatory politics for all involved will remain elusive until 1) the link between these two struggles is clarified; and 2) those structurally aligned with the category of “white citizen” realize that they, too, are impoverished by the dehumanization of the Other. This paper firstly explains how fascism is baked into modern sovereign power beginning with Hobbes’s Leviathan and fully expressed in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. By fascism, I mean the inclination of an atomized and insecure national-cum-racial majority to form homogenous mass movements that regard the state with suspicion and that targets all others as existential threats. The paper secondly argues that this sovereign arrangement also diminishes the “white citizen” in the majority because that person must sacrifice their own perspective to find safety in conformity, but at the expense of becoming monstrous versions of themselves as they support a politics of oppression. Dismantling fascism’s enabling logic corresponds to decolonization as both struggles necessarily question the basis of modern politics: the atomized individual. The paper, then, draws on Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin who, each in their own way, outline an alternative (and more realistic) political subject that is both inherently related to others and utterly unique in its own worldly perspective. However fleetingly, this subject is poised for an alternative sovereign action premised upon the fact of human plurality rather than myth of national-cum-racial homogeneity.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • April 5, 2022 - Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury

    Rabindra Bharati University, Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group

    Governance of Forced Migration in South Asia: Need for a Decolonial Approach?

    The world has been witnessing frequent mixed and massive flows of population in the recent times, when refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants on the move together can hardly be differentiated. The New York Declaration 2016, and its two Global Compacts—the “Global Compact on Refugees”  (GCR) and the “Global Compact on Safe Orderly and Regular Migration”  (GCM)—raised expectations for better governance of international human migration by committing itself to securing the rights and protection of refugees and migrants in the context of human rights discourse and working toward sustainable development. But even this laudable initiative seems to have been triggered specifically by Europe’s reaction to its 2015 “crisis” and the disconcerting images that circulated as migrants and refugees from different parts of the world crossed the Mediterranean to reach European shores, with many perishing in the sea. Interestingly, like all other previous attempts at the international level to formulate rules and norms for the governance of the people on the move, this effort turned out to be predominantly influenced by developments in the Global North.

    The borders and boundaries redrawn in the Indian subcontinent after partition were primarily determined by British colonial rule and its legacies. Today, given this context, a deeper understanding of the governance of migration in South Asia requires that we dismantle haunting colonial structures and thinking in the field of migration and citizenship. In these neoliberal times, suspicions about “unchosen” migrants are on the rise, fuelled by the securitization of migration and rise of populist-nationalist politics. Postcolonial South Asia has become closed to “the other” by demanding that indigenous inhabitants provide detailed proof of family history as the evidentiary basis for reclaiming citizenship, thus expelling them to a world of unfreedom and precarity. Against this backdrop, in this paper, first, we shall examine the nature of migration governance in South Asia in the postcolonial, neoliberal times; second, we shall explore the possibilities of an emancipatory blueprint for the governance of migration, and finally, attempt to consider the efficacy of a decolonial approach to governing human migration in South Asia, in particular, and the Global South, in general.

    [view the poster]

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • February 28, 2022 - Professor Paula Banerjee

    Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, University of Calcutta

    The conundrum of trafficking and statelessness in West Bengal

    Statelessness is a problem that has been plaguing states, human rights activists, the UNHCR and other international organizations and the vulnerable and displaced population groups of the world.  Statelessness does not respect borders; it robs the stateless of their rights and dignity, rights over their bodies and dignity of life.  It deprives them of the ability to protest rampant exploitations.  It also robs the states of its human face. Stateless men, women and children become insecure because they can be displaced any time that the state or the majority community so desires. Even states are unable to fathom what to do with stateless people, where to return them if need be.  The Rohingya women in Bengal jails are a case in point. In 2015 when we were doing our field work on cross-border women in Bengal jails we came across 13 women in the Dum Dum jail. The welfare officer informed us that 13 women were intercepted in the Bengal Bangladesh border who had violated the Foreigners Act of 1946.  They did not speak Bengali but a dialect similar to the people from the CHT areas.  We identified their language as Arakanese.  They had already served two years of their jail sentence but they could not be released or sent back to their country simply because they could not prove their citizenship.  Therefore, they were languishing in jails even after they had served their sentence.  The law had no recourse for them as they were stateless. Therefore, statelessness is a lose all phenomenon. Statelessness often leads to displacement.  But sometimes protracted displacement leads to statelessness.  In discourses on statelessness, we hardly ever speak of one group of the displaced population, and these are the trafficked people.  There may be a gender dimension to this.  More than 70% of the trafficked worldwide are women.  Is that a reason for this silence?   

    Both trafficked men and women are marked as aliens in all the countries of South Asia, but it is largely the women and children whose alien-ness translates into sexual vulnerability. For women who are trafficked they often feel that they have no one to protect them. In fact their protectors often turn abusers and trafficked people lose most of the rights and entitlements that accrue as a result of citizenship. Therefore, statelessness and trafficking are related, if not two sides of the same phenomena. No amount of legislation on any one of these can ameliorate the conundrum.  Also, one has to understand the specific gender dimension of the problem. To address the problem of statelessness one has to address the problem of trafficking and the gender dimensions of that problem. 

    My talk will be based on long term interactions association with people who were trafficked into the city of Kolkata, reports on trafficking, data culled from first person interviews and interactions with human rights groups, security personnel and people who deal with such population groups.  The talk will address the following:

        1. The correlation between trafficking and statelessness.

        2. Legal provisions on trafficking in South Asia.

        3. How a city’s eco system is shaped by trafficked population groups.

        4. The gender dimensions of trafficking.

    Much of my examples will be from within South Asia.  When other regions are mentioned, it will be to corroborate the date collected from South Asia.

    [view poster here]

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • December 13, 2021 - Professor Paolo Novak

    SOAS, University of London

    The Postcoloniality of Asylum Infrastructure

    This presentation takes as its object of analysis and investigation asylum seekers’ reception centres in a central Italian province. It builds upon literature concerned with the logistification of asylum to conceive these centres as nodes of the EU humanitarian border, yet it moves beyond the exclusive concern with the migrant-border dialectic that characterises most literature on the subject. In its attempt to dig deeper into the social ontology of the humanitarian border, the presentation de-centres the logistical gaze cast on asylum management foregrounding instead the productive relation between the humanitarian border and place-specific social dynamics. Accounting for the multiple and variegated histories, stories, agencies, and trajectories that become entangled in the rooms of these reception centres, the paper, first, argues that critical border scholars need to move beyond an exclusive concern with the border-migrant dialectic, and to reorient our attention towards an appreciation of borders’ place-specific configurations. Second, it suggests recalibrating contemporary concerns with the coloniality of asylum, of migration, and of infrastructure. The expression ‘postcoloniality of asylum infrastructure’ wants to capture the uneven entanglement between the legacies of colonial world-making projects and everyday practices of place-making.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • November 30, 2021 - Professor Feyzi Baban

    Trent University, Canada

    The Precarious Lives  of Syrians: Temporary Protection and the Turkey/EU Deal

    Turkey currently hosts over 4 million Syrian refugees who have no prospects of gaining long-term legal status. Their precarious lives are further complicated with the EU’s ongoing collaboration with Turkey to prevent them from claiming refugee status in the EU member states. The EU’s externalization efforts through its cooperation with Turkey further contribute to the precarious lives of Syrians and enable European states to ignore their international obligation to protect Syrians. In my talk, I will discuss elements of “architecture of precarity,” which defines the living conditions of Syrians and their legal prospects for status as a series of structurally conditioned obstacles. Domestic and international, these obstacles are designed to prevent Syrian refugees from claiming legal protection and attaining long-term legal status, including citizenship. While this “architecture of precarity” is most visible in Turkey’s treatment of Syrians, its legal elements such as externalization and ambiguous legal status are increasingly used by many states worldwide to circumvent the international legal framework of refugee protection.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

    [view poster here]

  • June 16, 2021 - Professor Ahmet Içduygu

    Director of MiReKoc

    The Intersections of Syrian Refugees’ Dilemma: Settlement, Onward Movement, and Return

    The international refugee regime and its national versions increasingly tend to offer a temporary protection mechanism that creates a “limboizing effect” on refugees’ lives. It also appears that these policies use temporariness as a political tool of governance. While these dominant international and national rulings ideally present the three choices of settlement (integration in the first country of asylum), onward movement (resettlement in the third country), and return (repatriation) as durable solutions to the refugee question, none of these choices easily become pertinent in the lives of refugees under their protracted situation and limitations of the international refugee regime. Consequently, refugees face with the challenges of living in an environment of uncertainties that is also labelled with the concept of permanent temporariness. In this presentation, I will refer to the concept of permanent temporariness, and try to answer the question of what are the role of international refugee regime and that of Turkey’s refugee policies towards Syrian refugees in the context of refugees’ aspirations for planning their future. I will also question the polarized nature of the structure-agency debate, emphasizing the synthesis of these two influences on refugees’ aspirations in the context of settlement, onward movement and return choices.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • May 12, 2021 - Professor Nergis Canefe

    York University, Canada

    Decolonizing Forced Migration Studies: Lessons from Borderlands

    This presentation is an exploration of forced migration studies seen from the lens of de-colonial theory and invites us to consider shifting the geographies of reason habitually marking the field. Starting with a foundational critique of moralism and privilege marking canonized understandings of migration, precarity, displacement and dispossession, it will unpack the complexity of an existential political commitment to redefining forced migration not from the core/recipient states and societies but from borderlands. This work will thus contribute to a long and rich—yet also troubled and deeply contested—conversation between postcolonial studies and forced migration studies. 

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • April 14, 2021 - Professor Nicholas de Genova

    University of Houston, Department of Comparative Cultural Studies

    Forced Migration, the Antinomies of Mobility, and the Autonomy of Asylum

    Rather than seeing the ever more devious reaction formations of border policing and militarization, migrant detention, immigration enforcement, and deportation by state powers as if these were purely a matter of control, it is instructive to situate this economy of power in relation to the primacy, autonomy, and subjectivity of human mobility on a global (transnational, intercontinental, cross-border, postcolonial) scale. This is true, I contend, as much for refugees as for those who come to be derisively designated to be mere “migrants.” If we start from the human freedom of movement and recognize the various tactics of bordering as reaction formations, then the various tactics of border policing and forms of migration governance can be seen to introduce interruptions that temporarily immobilize and decelerate human cross-border mobilities with the aim of subjecting them to processes of surveillance and adjudication.Indeed, it is this dialectic that reconstitutes these mobilities as something that comes to be apprehensible, alternately, as “migration,” or “asylum-seeking,” or the “forced migration” of “refugees” in flight from persecution or violence – which is to say, as one or another variety of target and object of government. Yet, even under the most restricted circumstances and under considerable constraint, these human mobilities exude a substantial degree of autonomous subjectivity whereby migrants and refugees struggle to appropriate mobility. Even against the considerable forces aligned to immobilize their mobility projects, or to subject them to the stringent and exclusionary rules and constrictions of asylum, the subjective autonomy of human mobility remains an incorrigible force.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • March 17, 2021 - Professor Faranak Miraftab

    University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

    We Are All Refugees”: Informal Settlements and Camps as Converging Spaces of Global Displacements

    This presentation draws on my co-authored paper with Efad Huq to relationally theorize realities of those living in informal settlements and in camps in the era of intensified global displacements. We organize this relational analytical conversation around three themes: experiential to highlight the precarious relationship of the two groups to citizenship and place, what we call a state of “citizenship in wait” and “in-situ displacement”; institutional to highlight the humanitarian matrices of care that provide governmental structures in both contexts; and micropolitical, to characterize dwellers’ contestations with state and humanitarian governance that constitute the processes of life-making in informal settlements, much as in the camps. Bringing to light the comparable spatial practices and governance among the so-called citizens and the so-called stateless, we seek to lend a forceful voice to the mounting opposition to the state-centered politics of citizenship that pit refugees against the poor, and to gesture toward forging solidarities for a humane urbanism.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

    [Download PDF]

  • January 20, 2021 - Professor Prem Kumar Rajaram

    Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University

    Refugees and migrants are often studied as though they have no relation to the racial and class structures and histories of the societies in which they reside. They are taken to be external strangers to be governed by ‘integration’ policy and border management.  I begin from the suggestion that migration, and in particular forced migration, can be usefully understood in relation to practices of material and cultural dispossession and value expropriation so as to ensure a steady supply of cheapened labour power.  These practices were central to the way colonial capitalism of the 19th and 20th centuries was organised, and I will argue that they remain pertinent to contemporary intersections of politics, economics and culture.  The persistent coloniality of contemporary migration is evident in struggles to control and direct the social reproduction of culturally-demeaned others (including migrants and other racialised groups) with the aim of ensuring the regular supply of cheapened labour.

    In the talk I will look at these dynamics in relation to three cases: (1) the control of indigenous migrant labour in tea plantations in the early 20th century in northeast India, (2) the control of sex workers in 20th century British Rangoon, and (3) the struggle to control the social reproduction of migrants that is central to notions and policies around contemporary ‘European citizenship’.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • December 16, 2020 - Professor Jennifer Hyndman

    Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Toronto

    For more than 40 years, groups of Canadians have raised funds and offered their time to support over 325,000 refugee newcomers through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP). In 2020, planned numbers for private refugee sponsorship (20,000) in Canada were double the number of government-assisted refugees to be resettled. Based on an original qualitative study, this paper probes how voluntary sponsorship – as a kind of civil society mobilisation – has been sustained over decades. Refugee newcomers who land in Canada as permanent residents become part of the communities and society in which they stay. Many have left family members behind in refugee camps and sanctuary cities without permanent status, and so become sponsors themselves with a view to reuniting in Canada. This phenomenon of ‘family-linked’ sponsorship is a unique, defining and sustaining feature of the program by motivating family members in Canada to team up with experienced sponsors to ‘do more’. Our data show that sponsorship is a community practice that occurs across scales – linking local sites in Canada to countries where human atrocities are common and neighbouring states that host those who flee. Sponsorship connects people in various communities across the world, and these transnational links are important to understanding the sustainability of sponsorship over time in Canada.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

  • November 11, 2020 - Professor Giorgia Doná

    Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging, University of East London, UK

    In this presentation, I discuss the relationship among migration, borders and technologies by examining the role of mobile digital devices in the everyday lives of migrants in transit and their encounters with state agents, humanitarian actors and activists at the border. The concept techno-borderscapes is introduced to rethink transit zones as sites of embodied and virtual interactions that highlight the connections among digital securitisation, humanitarianism and activism. Confronted with increased border securitisation, migrants use mobile technologies to bypass borders, create new forms of migrant-to-migrant protection and assistance, and articulate their political voice. Border spaces are not just ‘in-between’ zones along a unidirectional migratory trajectory but rather transformative and transforming techno-borderscapes.

    The full lecture recording is available here.

Seminar Series on Forced Migration Team

  • Ayse Çağlar, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, Permanent Fellow, IWM
  • Ana Ćuković, PhD Student, Coordinator of Europe-Asia Research Platform on Forced Migration and Seminar Series at University of Vienna
  • Clemens Schmid, Technical Support

For any inquiries or questions, please contact Ana Ćuković (