Whilst the fieldwork for the project continues, and I start work in Birmingham later this week, I’ve now had confirmed two opportunities to present some of the initial findings emerging from the project and in particular from my fieldwork in Glasgow and Cardiff. The first of these is as part of The Future of Social Relations conference taking place in Sheffield in May 2014. The conference forms part of the Lived Difference project run through the University of Sheffield, and addresses questions of social relations, conviviality and togetherness in the context of rapid social and economic change. My paper here will focus on my work in Cardiff and Glasgow to discuss how the privatisation of asylum provision and accommodation in these cities has impacted how different political and social actors view ‘social cohesion’ and the challenges to this in each city. I argue that whilst the context of devolution has provided opportunities for social and political solidarity, this has to be set within a wider recession of support, expertise and social care for asylum seekers. The abstract for the paper is below.
Locating social cohesion: the changing landscape of asylum provision in UK cities
In 2010, the UK Home Office announced that it would be passing contracts to provide dispersal accommodation and reception services for asylum seekers to a series of private providers. This meant the end of asylum accommodation through local authorities in many of the UK’s largest cities. This paper seeks to explore the impact of this shift in asylum provision in the case of two cities, Cardiff and Glasgow, to critically assess how concerns over social cohesion are expressed through the governance and regulation of asylum seekers in the UK. Through exploring interviews with local authority representatives, politicians, asylum and refugee support services and accommodation providers, the paper seeks to consider how contests over the location of ‘social cohesion’ as a political referent and a policy objective are played out in each city. Thus whilst migration and asylum policy are reserved powers held solely in Westminster, the devolved context of Scottish and Welsh politics means that these national authorities, as well as local authorities, private providers and third sector organisations, are all positioned in complex assemblages of interests and responsibilities for different facets of asylum provision. By examining the confluences of devolution, nationalism, urban identity and multi-level governance at play in these cases, the paper argues that we may see a troubling narrative of political neglect, shrinking accountability and the slow recession of support services and expertise. Yet at the same time, we may also see a devolved context that fosters fragile modes of social and political solidarity across difference, that is highly critical of an increasingly ‘hostile environment’ for migrants emerging from Westminster, and that seeks to explore alternative framings of urban inclusivity. In concluding, the paper considers the significance of such grounded political negotiations for discussions of urban citizenship and irregular migration.
The second paper will be presented at the Law and Society conference in Minneapolis in May 2014. This paper forms part of two sessions at the conference on ‘glocal justice’ and the work of ‘human rights cities’ across the world. The sessions thus examine how an increasing number of cities are beginning to base their municipal policies on a range of issues on human rights legislation and imaginaries. Human rights cities have thus been argued to often occupy positions that distance themselves, and their citizens, from national policies and approaches to a range of issues, including immigration. As such, my paper focuses on two campaigns around asylum policy in the UK context, both of which have been enacted through cities and through the support of local authorities and elected representatives. In doing so, I argue that we might reconceive human rights cities as not simply those in opposition to policies which do not meet human rights criteria, but as spaces in which a demand for justice which exceeds law may be articulated. The abstract for this paper is below.
Defying the demand to “go home”: urban campaigns for asylum justice in the UK
The last decade has seen the emergence of a range of work that seeks to explore the role of cities as key sites of border management, policing and immigration control. Such work has examined the legal frameworks and policies that enable immigration enforcement at a local level, whilst also opening discussion over the space afforded for migrant rights campaigns within cities. This latter concern is of significance to discussions of human rights cities for two reasons. Firstly, because such discussions mobilise a wide array of different imaginaries of the city, from the city as a site of ‘refuge’ (Derrida 2001) and ‘spatial justice’ (Soja 2009), to calls for the ‘right to the city’ for all (Lefebvre 1996). Imaginaries such as these have been central in orientating discussion over the possibilities that cities open for the defence of human rights. Secondly, such campaigns often position cities in opposition to nation-states, thereby highlighting tensions in the application of rights and stressing localised conceptions of justice.
It is with these concerns in mind that this paper contributes to discussions around the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in British cities. Since 2000, the UK has followed a policy of dispersal in which asylum seekers are allocated accommodation across the country on a ‘no choice’ basis. This policy has led to the concentrated growth of asylum and refugee populations in many British cities, together with the emergence of support networks, advocacy groups and sanctuary campaigns in response to these new residents. This paper examines two recent advocacy campaigns around asylum, each of which has taken on a distinctly urban focus. The first, the ‘Still Human, Still Here’ campaign, seeks to challenge the use of destitution as a policy tool to force the voluntary return of those seeking sanctuary. The second, takes the form of localised responses in a number of cities to the UK government’s “go home” campaign – an advertising campaign encouraging the voluntary return of irregular migrants and asylum seekers through advertisements on vans, billboards and in immigration reporting centres. In both of these cases, the position of the city was mobilised as an important actor in two senses. Firstly, in opposing government policy and legislation – through mechanisms of political opposition, the employment of municipal legislation in creative ways, the use of human rights discourse and through practices of discretion and evasion. While secondly, the city is mobilised as the expression of a diverse range of community connections, networks and patterns of belonging which contradict government approaches to asylum. A number of UK cities have therefore been moved by elected representatives, social movements and support networks to question the human rights implications of asylum legislation. In exploring the nature of these campaigns, this paper will consider how cities may be sites through which human rights are mobilised for a range of purposes. Beyond this, and returning to an image of the city as a political space, this paper will highlight the tensions between law and localised conceptions of justice, as it is these tensions which arguably define human rights cities.
I’m hopeful that both of these presentations will lead eventually to publications addressing similar themes and ideas, and will update the blog with details as these develop.