Who should qualify as a ‘refugee’? A reflection on current discourse of migration

Sarah Ní Mháirtín
2nd year ERI student majoring in Social Psychology:

As a student of the Ethnic Relations, Cultural Integration and Diversity (ERI) master’s program, my academic interest has typically been focused on migration; its history, its many forms and of course, its effects and consequences on sending countries, but more importantly, on receiving nations. This has typically been viewed through a social psychological lens on my part, with an emphasis on intergroup relations, integration and attitudes. Until enrolling in on particular class ‘Asylum mobility in the Mediterranean’, I had yet to conduct any in depth study of asylum seekers or refugees – although most people assume this is the sole focus of my degree. Those who don’t jump to the image of migrant smugglers and illegal entry imagine that I spend my time examining the flight pattern of birds when I mention that the focus of my master’s is migration studies! Mills (2016) also highlights this reaction (“migration studies – you mean like birds and stuff?”) and offers the explanation that in the eyes of the general public, the interchange of humans from one location to another evidently has yet to establish itself as a serious academic study.


The author of this International Migration Institute blog post suggests that these responses provide a lesser explored insight into public opinion of migration. Once the confusion over this field of study has been clarified, individuals typically assume that we focus on the macro figures and statistics; the number of people who have made the journey, how many have been separated from family along the way, injured or even been killed. As Mills so accurately states “not birds, but maybe still the bird’s-eye view”. This attention to the largescale highlights the degree to which “population” is entrenched in the public’s current mind set as a tangible phenomenon that can be observed, calculated and understood on a purely factual, quantitative basis. What is often forgotten is the individual behind the figures plastered on the headlines and the statistics that litter public discourse; a point also made by Vigani (2016) in her CEREN-ERI blog post. Beneath the numbers and macro data is individual human experience although they are often treated as an object of knowledge. I have noticed that each theme of this course contains an underlying message; that there is a need for a social scientific enquiry that examines areas outside of the usual security institutions, that provides a context without fear and creates a narrative of migrants’ entire experiences (and not just the part that immediately concerns Europe) to provide a more balanced understanding of current issues in migration.


Within this area of public opinion also arises the issue, who is a ‘refugee’? As discussed in class, during the Cold War a defector or refugee was seen as token in a war between hegemonies and used as a part of propaganda campaigns; proving that yours was the superior nation, because their enemy was considered to be your friend and by providing them with asylum you thus achieve a small victory over your opponent. Nowadays we typically view asylum seekers as those coming from conflict zones, forced from their homes because of war and the constant threat of immediate physical harm. According to the UNHCR (1951) a refugee is an individual who has a justifiable fear of being victimised because of their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group/political opinion.  But how do we view those fleeing from chaos, poverty or environmental crises?


Contemporary asylum seekers can fall into both categories; an escapee of a war zone and an economic migrant choosing to settle in more prosperous countries (typically further from the external borders of Europe) where they know they have a greater chance of finding work and getting some assistance from the state. Naturally, applying for residency solely on the basis of economic migration is problematic because Western, developed, industrialised countries are typically looking for highly skilled workers who will benefit their economy; if you’re economically marginal you will almost certainly not be permitted to migrate.


Thus, the refugee system fosters a system of cat and mouse between (in this context) European nations and those attempting to leave behind a life filled with extreme hardship. Although some have suggested a solution in the form of amending the terms of the UNHCR (1951) refugee treat, this is largely seen to be counterproductive as most nations will seize the opportunity to lessen their responsibilities toward asylum-seekers (Champion, 2015).


The public is becoming increasingly suspicious of asylum seekers following recent terrorist attacks in Europe (e.g. Paris, Brussels,). It is deemed difficult to determine whether migrants are really deserving of asylum or are in fact criminals or terrorists who plan to escape into the unregistered economy (Champion, 2015). This distrust and judgement over who is a ‘worthy’ asylum seeker can clearly be seen in the recent wave of migrants coming from the Calais ‘Jungle’ to the UK. Many have expressed serious objections to this movement on the grounds that most appear too old to be classified as ‘children’. Fear that migrants are in fact threatening ‘others’ with no respect or moral values also grows due to an exaggerated media focus on violence and crime. One extremely recent example is the rape of an interpreter in Calais, whose attackers have been portrayed as ‘alleged’ Afghan asylum seekers (e.g. RT, 2016), although this is just one of many similar reports. Although these claims are in fact valid, unfortunately all members of the ‘migrant’ or ‘asylum seeking’ group are then seen in the same light, adding fuel to extreme right wing protests against open borders and the granting of refugee status. As reported in the Telegraph (Dominiczak, 2016) David Davies, a UK Conservative MP states “I’m all for helping the genuine children but the well of goodwill is rapidly being exhausted here. There is no way of knowing if someone is a child. We could end up causing even more misery if we are not careful. We should invite anyone who wants to come to the UK to take dental tests.”


In my opinion, Davies’ statement perfectly sums up the concerns of anti-migrant groups and unfortunately, wider public opinion. A hierarchy of ‘deserving’ migrants is being created, meaning for example, that some who are not as knowledgeable of the necessary ‘criteria’ for asylum may be rejected, despite being just as ‘eligible’. Before long (as is happening at present) the fear spreads to nearly all asylum seekers who become categorised as terrorists, Islamic extremists or criminals. Who is considered a genuine asylum seeker and worthy of refugee status is becoming increasingly blurred and public opinion is becoming progressively more conservative and narrow minded. I fear that this attitude may define this period in time, one that future generations will look back on in disgust, unless we work towards positive, constructive change now.


Cover of book by Cambridge student Kate Milner which encourages young children to think about what it is like to flee home and journey into the unknown.

Photos provided by www.stock.adobe.com


Champion, M. (2015). Who counts as a refugee? Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-26/who-counts-as-a-refugee-

Dominicak, P. (2016) “These don’t look like children to me”: concerns raised over ages of child refugees arriving in Britain. Retreived from

Mills, B. (2016). Common responses to the notion of Migration Studies. Retrieved from

R.T. (2016). Interpreter raped by alleged Afghan migrants near Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/news/363179-calais-interpreter-raped-migrants/

UNHCR (1951), Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189.

Vigani, A. (2016). Stuck in Athens: Staying human in the midst of the refugee crisis. A volunteer’s report. Retrieved from http://blogs.helsinki.fi/ceren-eri/2016/09/




Stuck in Athens: staying human in the midst of the refugee crisis. A volunteer’s report

Alice Vigani
2nd year ERI student, majoring in Social Psychology:

60 000. That is the number of asylum seekers stranded in Greece, according to recent estimates. Greece has been, together with Italy, the main country of first arrival in Europe since the start of the so-called refugee crisis. It has been a transit country, where only few decided to stop, but when the Balkan borders closed earlier this year, the flow of people leaving the country dropped while new arrivals did not stop. At the same time, the Relocation Program from one member state to another did not reflect initial expectations: the application process is extremely long, with people waiting several months just to get their first interview, and while accommodation in reception centers, hotels or apartments should be provided during the waiting period, this declaration on paper rarely turned into practice. Moreover, the possibility to apply is limited to people of certain nationalities, excluding for example Iraqis (since July 2016) and Afghans. Over all, a very small percentage of people have seen their application go through successfully until now.

The result? Thousands find themselves stuck for months in official and unofficial camps, as well as detention centres or even on the street, both on the islands and in the mainland.

Girl playing at Elliniko camp Photo by GreekReporter com (002)
Girl playing at Elliniko camp Photo by GreekReporter com (002)

This summer I spent two months in Athens to see the situation for myself. I have been an independent volunteer, that means that I was not affiliated with any group or NGO. This choice proved difficult at times, as in comparison with previous volunteering experiences I lacked the social support and directions deriving from working with a group. On the other hand, it has provided me the chance to visit a number of centers and camps characterized by very different living conditions and organisation: from day centers providing services such as food, clothing, legal and psychological support to hundreds a day like the Caritas Hellas day center in Omonia, to official and unofficial camps like the now dismantled informal one at the harbour of Pireus, the naval base of Skaramangas and Elliniko (on the premises of the old airport of the city as well as the baseball and hockey stadiums for the 2004 olympic games). Organisations and the government struggle to manage the existing structures and accommodation areas: camps filled well over their capacity, often lacking basic services and decent living conditions, put another toll on residents  who feel trapped in a grim present and filled with uncertainty about the future.

Therefore, some local collectives and refugees took action to find alternative models of collaboration and coexistence. One example is the ex Hotel City Plaza, once three star hotel close to Victoria Square, now home to 400 refugees, of which almost half are minors. Hotel City Plaza is only one of the many squats present in the city. There, people have found a place where they can live with dignity while actively contributing to shape the project: all duties, as well as decisions, are shared among the residents, with the support of volunteers, activists and donations from all over the world. Day to day, turns to cook and clean are organised, along with a variety of activities including language courses, legal advice, kids’ educational and recreational activities. I took part in the latter, and I couldn’t help but feel proud hearing that most of the children and adolescents I met excitedly started attending local schools this September, thanks to the support of their families and volunteers.

The entrance to the Caritas Hellas center in Omonia Athens Photo by Caritas Hellas (002)
The entrance to the Caritas Hellas center in Omonia Athens Photo by Caritas Hellas (002)

Looking back at my summer in Athens, I feel lucky and enriched by this experience. The tools and knowledge acquired through the ERI master programme helped me countless times to approach difficult situations, but now I can also see how much these two months have given me in return.

Even if I already considered myself  an open-minded person, it took me some time to work on my own assumptions and preconceptions. Only when I stopped seeing “refugees” in front of me and started seeing individuals instead I was really able to bring my own, small contribution. I also had to put aside my own expectations concerning what was needed and how to act. While food, accommodation and health remain imprescindible concerns, the people I met needed and wanted much more: to know their relatives are safe, to be listened, to put to use their competences, to learn. I felt embarrassed to find myself surprised when some refugees decided to organise a support group for LGBT people.

Cover for award-winning book by author and illustrator Kate Milner (002)
Cover for award-winning book by author and illustrator Kate Milner (002)

Meeting people who contradicted the sterile narratives of refugees as victims to be pitied or as heroes to be admired is what did the trick for me. The 20-year-old girl graduating in mechanical engineers, the woman fighting for gender equality while making carpets in her tent, the 4-year-old and his family who never told me a word but made me understand the value of a hug, the passionate man who never stops working to help others only to go back to sleep in his container at the end of the day. But also the violent, loud bully who steals from those who can’t defend themselves, the petulant woman who gossiped about others over and over, the ones who manifested their frustration through violence putting at risk the ones around them. Some I liked, others I did not, as it happens with anyone, and that did not take away anything from my understanding and solidarity to the refugee cause, only strengthened it: being in the position to listen to each story as unique and personal allowed me to get a better grasp of the bigger picture while trying to escape generalisations, always too easy to fall into.

Drawing by Razan 11 years old Photo by Through refugee eyes project (002)
Drawing by Razan 11 years old Photo by Through refugee eyes project (002)

I have learned a lot also from other volunteers and activists. I have seen inspirational people dedicate all of their knowledge, time and energy, but also too many “voluntourists”, attracted by the media attention on the topic and  stopping by for a few days without respecting the work of others. I have had the luck to work side by side for a few days with two wonderful women from the States who, years ago, were themselves in the same position of the ones that they were helping. I have seen a young volunteer instruct them for half an hour concerning Muslim women, while they politely smiled from behind their hijabs. I have seen volunteers and activists putting their own political or religious agenda before the well-being of the people they were claiming to help: from collectives too focused on advancing within the anarchist scene in Athens to guarantee proper conditions in their squats, to bibles being distributed to Muslims during Ramadan.

I have met people who helped me give a new meaning to solidarity, like the man who, after a long day at work, spends hours everyday bringing food, water and some company to people in the streets, finding shelter to many. But I have also seen solidarity in simple day-to-day acts, from the bakery-owner saving a few croissants every day for the Syrian family who visit him from the camp nearby, to the stranger buying metro tickets to a mum and her child. For most of my stay, I did not see striking episodes of racism or discrimination, but towards the end of the summer the situation became more tense, with more and more demonstrations organised by nationalist groups, arriving to the point of an arson attack to Notara squat, where tens of refugees, including families, were sleeping. Luckily the fire did not provoke fatalities, but a lot of damages to the property, quickly repaired by residents and volunteers come together from all over the city.

I have learned as a social scientist too, because whenever I will fill my mouth and my mind with issues and fancy terms, they will hold a richer meaning as I won’t be able to detach them from the face of every single person I met. Finally, I have grown as a person, because all that I have seen – the bad and the good and all the shades in between – let me catch a glimpse of humanity, in the midst of a situation that I can only define as inhumane.

Banners hanging from Notara 26 Refugee Housing Squat in the anarchist neighborhood of Exharchia (002)
Banners hanging from Notara 26 Refugee Housing Squat in the anarchist neighborhood of Exharchia (002)


The last work life visit this academic year was organized at the City of Helsinki Urban Facts. It is the expert organization responsible for statistics, research, information and open data as well as records management at the City of Helsinki. The organization consists of four units: the Unit for Statistics and Information Services, the Urban Research Unit, the City Archives and the Administration Unit.

The Urban Research Unit, where the ERI work life visit was organized, conducts applied research for the administration of the City of Helsinki, for the citizens and for enterprises located in Helsinki. Our hosts were Pasi Saukkonen and Anu Yijälä who are specifically researching matters related to migration and integration. They shared information on what kind of research is being done at their unit and in general some facts about the organization. The unit publishes various statistical reports, also in English, accessible on the website. Anu Yijälä presented her most recent research, where she analyses the need for social assistance benefit among immigrants residing in Helsinki (also available online). The students were inspired by the interesting research and the discussion continued about options for internships.

The researchers encouraged the students to contact them to ask about internship opportunities, which depend largely on what kind of projects are being carried out at the time. Skills in the Finnish language are not a pre-requisite. In addition, both Pasi and Anu were interested in the ERI students thesis topics, specifically those with a Helsinki connection. In fact, Pasi is familiar with the MA programme as he taught a course for the ERI students some years ago, about integration processes. A CEREN researcher also joined the ERI students on the visit to the City of Helsinki Urban Facts.

On behalf of the ERI programme, I’d like to thank Pasi and Anu very much for their hospitality and warm welcome to their work place. We will keep in touch and strive for continued cooperation.                                   .Urban Facts visit

Anna Storgårds
Coordinator of the ERI programme

ERI Alumna Asteria Brylka defends her PhD

Asteria Brylka was awarded her M. Soc. Sc.degree in Social Psychology from the ERI- programme in 2012. On 29th April 2016 she defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “Identity- and contact-related determinants of reciprocal intergroup relations in ethno-culturally diverse societies” at the Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Helsinki.


The cross-sectional study investigates the reciprocity of ethnic relations in Finland and the role this reciprocity plays in the development of an inclusive integration context characterised by positive intergroup attitudes, and support for multiculturalism and for the minority groups collective action. The theoretical framework builds on the social identity theory, the theory of acculturation and contact hypothesis. Identity- and contact-related predictors of the inclusive integration context are examined among Finns and among Russian and Estonian immigrants. The study shows that the inclusive integration context does not develop in a social vacuum and provides strong evidence on the importance of the reciprocity of multidimensional intergroup relations in diverse societies.

The dissertation is available in electronic form through the e-thesis service.

Congratulations Asteria!

Hungarian language in Slovakia

The CEREN Research Seminar, held on the 16th of February, addressed the Hungarian minority language in Slovakia. Petteri Laihonen, who is a Postdoctoral researcher and adjunct professor at the Centre of Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä, gave a presentation on his research with the topic “Hungarian in Slovakia: language rights, language(s) in public space and language ideologies.”

IMG_9877Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom until 1920. In the late 19th century, a Hungarization took place in the Slovak region and, for example, many subjects in schools had to be taught in Hungarian during that time. When Czechoslovakia was established after World War I, the region of Slovakia became a part of that newly established state. After World War II, when Slovakia was still part of Czechoslovakia, the public use of Hungarian was forbidden and Hungarian schools were closed. During the communist time, between 1948-1989, Hungarian was allowed again and the Hungarian schools were re-opened. Since the Slovak Republic was established in 1993, a fast integration to Western alliances, such as Nato and EU, occurred.

Today, there are about 450 000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, making up about 8,5 % of the whole population. The Hungarians and Slovaks are ethnically very similar, basically the only difference between Hungarians and Slovaks is the language. The Hungarians live mostly in the southern areas of Slovakia, by the border of Hungary. In that area, the Hungarian population is very large, even up to 95 %.

The Hungarian language is seen by some as a threat in present Slovakia, especially for those Slovaks living in areas where Hungarian is the majority language. According to Laihonen’s research this feared threat is somewhat overrated. For example, public signs are mostly provided in Slovak. Many of Laihonen’s local informants gave as a reason for the modest use of the Hungarian language that they wanted to “avoid problems” and did not want to “provoke” by requesting the use of the Hungarian language. The Hungarians did not want to display any type of Hungarian nationalism that would repeat the occurred incidents in the past. Therefore, even though the Hungarians represent the clear majority in parts of the southern area of Slovakia, the Hungarian language is not used to the extent that the language laws would allow.


Petteri Laihonen’s doctoral dissertation in 2009 dealt with language ideologies and multilingualism in the Romanian Banat. In 2011–2013 Laihonen held an Academy of Finland postdoctoral grant to study language ideologies among the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine from a comparative perspective. Laihonen has developed qualitative methodologies to study research interviews and private linguistic landscapes as manifestations of language ideologies and language policy. Currently he studies the visual and material dimensions of education and learning. His publications deal with sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language ideologies, linguistic landscapes, language education and language policy in Eastern Central Europe.

Written by Heidi Aaltonen

Double minorities often forgotten in public services

Written by Johanna Warius, ERI alumna

While there seems tJohanna kuvao be few issues challenging asylum seekers as the Hot Topic #1 in Finnish public debate, an increasingly un-nuanced image of ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ is emerging. It should go without saying that, as in any other group of people, there is plenty of variation within these categories.

Health status and disability are two of the factors placing certain immigrant persons at an even bigger disadvantage than those who do not face these issues. The concept of minorities within minorities, or double minorities, is useful in this context. It describes how an immigrant person with a disability or a long-term illness has to endure and be able to solve challenges on two fronts.

Navigating the Finnish social services structure can be a battle for anyone, let alone for a person with lacking language and cultural skills. Add mapping, applying for and using disability services to the regular palette, and you’ll most likely be in need of specialised guidance.

This is what Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities, a third sector actor located in East Helsinki, provides. At the Support Centre Hilma clients can get help in dealing with issues relating to public services, housing, employment, education and health care, etc. In short, the idea is to have one place from where you will not immediately be sent to the next counter. Our task is to gather the information and give the support needed to move forward in the situation at hand. Quite often we find that a good solution is available, but the client has not been aware of her or his rights or how to apply for the available services.

Although Finland has (at least up until recently) relatively well-working public services, they are often planned to be used by a rather homogeneous group. This is why Support Centre Hilma also does advocacy work in order to make sure that immigrants are taken into account in disability-specific services and that people with disabilities and long-term illnesses are not forgotten in immigrant integration services.

Finland can and should get a lot better at planning and providing services for its increasingly diverse population – whether we’re talking about ethnic origin, health, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion or any other identity or personal quality.

An adequate understanding of diversity is undoubtedly key in effective advocacy for diversity-serving public services. Having had the privilege of studying these issues as one of the first ‘eriits’ when the programme was launched back in 2008, I trust I have the required expertise. The ERI programme provided the solid ground that I needed to work with human rights and equality issues in the third sector.

Johanna Warius is a coordinator at Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities. She graduated from the ERI-programme in 2011 with a major in sociology.

The role of history in present day intergroup relations

The first CEREN seminar of 2016 was organized 21st January together with the research area of Cultural and Social Diversities and Intergroup Relations within the Doctoral Program in Social Sciences. The invited international guest speaker Borja Martinovic is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science (Ercomer) at Utrecht University. Ercomer also organizes a Master’s Degree Programme in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism.

IMG_9868Martinovic started her presentation by talking about the theory of social representation and in specific research establishing the importance of social representation of history for current intergroup relations. Her own research focus is on historical claims of territorial ownership. Intergroup relations often revolve around the question of “who owns the country”. The question of ownership and entitlements is relevant also in more peaceful immigrant receiving societies. Martinovic pointed out that even if there is no legal ownership to be claimed, there may be a strong idea of collective psychological ownership.  Historical narratives can be used to claim ownership and affect present day intergroup relations.  Autochthony meaning entitlement for firstcomers, is a concept that Martinovic has adopted in her research. She has been working with case studies in Australia, USA, Transsylvania and the Chilean and Bolivian border area where she has researched different types of historical ownership claims.  One conclusion she has made is that the way we interpret intergroup history guides our attitudes towards out-groups in the present.

Borja Martinovic’s visit to Helsinki has been important in many ways, also for the ERI programme. In the future, there will be closer cooperation as both teacher and student mobility between Helsinki and Utrecht will be developed.

Written by Anna Storgårds, coordinator of the ERI-programme

Discrimination, polarisation, youth and violent radicalisation

The CEREN project SYPONUR is looking into factors influencing Islamic radicalisation in Finland. This is something that has not been intensively studied before in Finland. The project’s interim report was published during an event on 15th December where Karin Creutz and Juha Saarinen presented their research findings within the project. SYPONUR is led by Marko Juntunen and the name comes from the Finnish words for discrimination, polarisation, youth and violent radicalisation. The seminar attracted over 50 participants.nyhet324_513pxThe event also included a panel discussion where Tuuli Hongisto, (reporter, Radio Helsinki), Pia Jardi (vice chairman, SINE), Ari Evwaraye (Ministry of the Interior) and Anna Sekular (researcher, CAGE) discussed about violent radicalisation as challenge to the Finnish internal security.paneeli See the whole discussion here (In Finnish).

Read the report here (In Finnish).

See newspaper articles about the project here, Helsingin Sanomat, Hufvudstadsbladet, Svenska YLE, YLE.

The significance of the rhetoric in the immigration and refugee debate

Bridget Anderson, the Professor of migration and citizenship at Oxford University and the research director of COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society), held a presentation at CEREN research seminar on 24th November. Her topic considered the rhetoric around the discussions on refugees and immigrants, as she introduced the perceptions of immigrants, on the other hand, as “hard workers”, and on the other hand, as “poor slaves”. Anderson reminds that human mobility is not a new phenomenon, and it has been regulated for centuries. However, migration as we understand it today appeared with the emergence of nation states and the idea of citizenship.

In the shadow of recent refugee developments in Europe, Anderson reflects how people use and understand the term ‘refugee’ nowadays. As ‘migrant’ tends to dehumanize people and relate them to negative contexts, the word ‘refugee’ refers in many conversations to the people in need of help and protection. Still, ‘refugee’ and ‘immigrant’ as terms are also legal terms, and therefore, they comprise different rights. According to Anderson, there is sometimes a contradiction between the rhetoric and the legal rights, which makes this subject a highly political matter. In addition, we should remember that we do not have refugees without economic migrants, and having asylum seekers requires the existence of deportations. In other words, inclusion creates exclusion and vice versa. The complexity arises from the question ‘under which rules do we include people?’

Like already mentioned the term ‘migrant’ is often used in a derogatory manner. Anderson exemplifies this by reminding how EU-migrants are in many settings called expats or mobile EU-citizens instead of migrants. Thus, it is possible to claim that in today’s world ‘migrants’ represent the global poor. As the place of birth tends to define the levels of wealth, the human mobility from the Global South to the developed countries is conceived often as a threat to our Western lifestyles. Migrants appear also as a risk to the welfare state as its capacity is not enough to take care of all the impoverished in the world. This reveals a motive for exclusion. Moreover, images of nation relate still rigidly to images of ancestry and race.

Anderson introduces the two diverse discourses on economic immigrants: the first one perceiving migrants as “poor slaves” suffering from constant exploitation, and the second one presenting these non-citizens as hardworking economic contributors. The metaphors from the historical cross-Atlantic slave trade highlight the dimension how immigrants, especially the ones crossing the Mediterranean Sea, have been taken advantage of. Despite the similar risks of the dangerous sea travels in overcrowded boats in common to “new and old slavery”, Anderson underlines that these two are very different phenomena. Whereas today’s smuggled migrants pay voluntarily to get illegally into Europe, the slaves of the cross-Atlantic slave trade were kidnapped against their will. In addition, the slave traders until the 19th century were practicing a legal profession.

The other common rhetoric on immigrants conceives them as “good workers” having an extremely good work ethics, and therefore, being more desirable employees. It is acknowledged that immigrants accept low-paid and seasonal jobs and work with anti-social hours, which do not attract the native populations. However, like Anderson notes, this is partly due to the fact that immigrant regimes build systems, in which immigrants depend on their employers. For instance, the links between work and residency force immigrants to certain flexibility. Furthermore, as the immigrant rules make immigrants to leave their families behind, they can accept seasonal contracts and large amounts of night shifts, which is often impossible for natives with families. This shows how “good work ethics” does not explain everything. Anderson highlights how we need to recognize both the differences and the connections of immigrants and citizens. According to her, “poor slave”, same as “good worker” presents a special case, and thus may hinder us seeing these crucial linkages. Immigration control has impacts on citizens as well as immigrants: the rights of natives and immigrants are extremely interlinked.

Written by Ulla-Kaisa Pihlaja

Migration of professional health workers

The speaker of the CEREN Research Seminar held on 9th of November was Professor Ivy Lynn Bourgeault from the Telfer School of Management and Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa. Bourgeault introduced her latest study which has been made in cooperation with Sirpa Wrede, Cecilia Benoit and Elena Neiterman. Their aim in the study was to create a logical and pluralistic framework to analyze the complex relation of migration and integration, with especially international professional health workers in their focus. Bourgeault herself has previously studied midwifery and worked with women’s experiences of care in remote communities in Canada.

Bourgeault underlines the twisted situation of Canada, in which most of the immigrant health workers (physicians, nurses and midwives) cannot practice their profession in their new home country. Only in the province of Ontario the number of non-practicing health professionals is more than 5000. In this light, it is possible to draw a conclusion that the integration process of these immigrants has not succeeded in a perfect manner. The fact that only 200 residency spots are available for 5000 residency applicants working in health sector, excludes a great number of highly skilled professionals. The example from Canada shows how migration can lead to brain waste. Besides the country of origin, also the destination country may lose the expertise and skills of the professional migrants. Therefore, the message delivered by Bourgeault is that a coherent theoretical framework formulated from the existing literature should be created in order to investigate these circumstances. The majority of scholars studying health professions approach the topic from the perspective of the nation state, despite the fact that the transnational characteristics of the phenomenon are emphasized in today’s globalized world.

The health workers have migrated in all times, but like Bourgeault states, this phenomenon has currently got some new features. Examples of these new landscapes of recent health professional migration are the growing number of migrants, the accelerating pace and the role of transit countries. Migrants do not necessarily settle in their first destination country, which raises the question of integration and who invests in it. Furthermore, we should remember that the health sector differs from many other branches involved in transnational migration. The health sector is mainly regulated on national level, and it is not run by transnational companies. The health care systems are funded by public sources, instead of private ones. In addition, gender (in connection to other intersections) should be taken into account, when studying the new patterns of health work migration. As migration was previously perceived to be an economic opportunity for men mainly, nowadays women are more and more encouraged to migrate. The decrease of traditional male manufacturing jobs, and on the contrary the growing need for care workers in Western countries has caused women to migrate sometimes even instead of men. When emigrating, women also tend to leave a care deficit in their home countries. Bourgeault reminds, moreover, that settlement does not equal with integration. Considering that in health work the cultural competence plays a crucial role, the integration of immigrant health professionals needs special attention also in academic literature. Not only being left without a license to practice their profession, immigrant health workers also tend to be discriminated and excluded in their work places.

Like already mentioned, the research of Bourgeault and her collaborators intends to formulate a functioning theoretical framework on the relation of migration and integration of the health workers. This was made to follow the micro, macro and meso level divide. In practice, this means distinguishing individual and family experiences and motivations from national and institutional, and global theorizations. It must be noted, nonetheless, that it is impossible to frame an all-fitting theory. According to Bourgeault, the literature on migration and integration is endless in number, but to a great extent disconnected. Macro research approaches health-related issues and also the migration of health workers from the perspective of public health. It also dealt with ethical matters, for instance regarding the legacies of colonialism and the current impacts of, for example, the EU on the migration flows. The most remarkable and clear findings coming from the meso level described the linkage of integration and migration by stressing if the migrants worked in the health sector before and after moving to another country. Through this literature overview, it is feasible to spot usable concepts and to find new ways of using them.

Written by Ulla-Kaisa Pihlaja