Mahanirban Calcutta Research group


Migration and Forced Migration Studies with Particular Focus on South Asia and its European-Asian Dimension (2019-2021)

Concept Note

Migration and Forced Migration Studies with Particular Focus on South Asia and its European-Asian Dimension (2019-2021)

Concept Note 

Sixth Research and Orientation Programme in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, 2021

A. Background

1. This project to be conducted by the Institutfür die Wissenschaftenvom Menschen (IWM), Vienna, aims at knowledge production on migration and forced migration in Asia (with focus on South Asia) as well as the European dimensions of the issues involved. While research and policy advocacy on the European component will be located at the IWM in Vienna, it will partner with the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) to develop a full-fledged annual research and orientation programme to be undertaken primarily in South Asia and to be run by CRG in Kolkata. The collaboration between the two institutions will strengthen research and policy analysis at the IWM on issues of migration and forced migration. The programme will also enable IWM to build collaboration with relevant Asian, and particularly South Asian academics and institutions, towards setting up a joint research platform on innovative knowledge production on issues of migration and forced migration.

2.The envisaged series of research activities and workshops will enhance research capacity in South Asia in migration and forced migration studies, facilitate exchange of knowledge and policy expertise between Europe and Asia (in particular) South Asia, and bring together scholars from different disciplines and different regions as well as policy makers and practitioners working on the subject. Vienna is the headquarters of and an important node in several international organizations which play an important role in the global management and governance of policies on migrants and refugees as well as in knowledge production on them (such as the UN, UNHCR, the Human Rights Commission, and organisations such as the IOM and International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)). Besides IWM’s network of scholars working on issues of governance and human rights, the Institute also has other scholars contributing to the in-house knowledge production on related issues. In CRG it has a partner institution with a long and distinguished record of research, activism, policy advocacy and training in the area of the political economy of forced migration and border studies.

3.The partner institution of IWM and the implementing organization of the programme in South Asia will be the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (popularly known as Calcutta Research Group or CRG) located in Kolkata, India. It works on the entire region of South Asia, and collaborates actively with universities such as the School of Law, McGill University; Cultural Studies at Western Sydney University, the Refugee Studies Programme (EMMIR) at Oldenburg University, and several other institutions. Study of migration and forced migration is one of the principal foci at CRG. Issues of gender justice inform all research and orientation activities of CRG. CRG has run for fourteen years an extremely successful annual winter workshop on issues of migration and forced migration.

4. Europe has been implicated in streams of contemporary migration in the context of the so-called migration crisis arising from the on-going conflicts in the Middle East as well as forced displacement from Africa. Issues around forced migration have impacted also the knowledge structures in social sciences, environmental sciences, area studies, and international relations. Against this background of an “epistemic crisis” of knowledge, European Universities and research centres are now beginning to engage with the “crisis”. Some have taken in scholars at risk, others have opened their doors to refugee students, and a few are already involved in critical migration studies. Yet lacking in this endeavour is the effort to situate this scholarship and debates globally and more specifically in relation to the dynamics in the Global South and to Middle East, Asia, or Africa from where most of the migrants arrive in the wake of wars, natural disasters, ecological catastrophes, conflicts and economic decline. There are very few joint programmes on forced migration bridging Europe and Asia just as there is very little awareness of the significance of mutual learning from the experiences of refugee and migrant protection in Asia and Europe. Yet not only politics, economics, society, and history of these two continents are being reshaped by migration as never before, public debates and scholarship in these continents also evince different trajectories that need to be contextualised to distil both the commonalities and specificities of each region. Indeed, what is perceived as the “migration crisis” has increasingly thrown the stability of policies of governments and global governance in disarray. Various interventions and decisions to monitor and control the flows of migrants have begun in earnest. This in some sense is the postcolonial moment in the history of migration, which appears at the juncture where neoliberal transformation and postcolonial politics and economy intersect. An understanding of this intersection is at the heart of this proposed research and orientation programme. Given the fact that displacements of people due to persecution, developmental and environmental disasters, and above all neo-colonial wars and fratricidal conflicts are creating thousands of migrants as fodder for cheap labour, any investigation into the ways in which the global economy uses the migrants as labour and the structure of global governance manages to keep the system running must be jointly conducted. Such a collaborative effort will open our eyes to the deep fault lines in the landscape of migration. The origin, nature, and reproduction of the population flows have left deep imprint of the postcolonial world on what has been described famously by Stephen Castles and his colleagues as “the age of migration”. The proposed programme will lay special emphasis on such an interlinked cross-regional investigation.

5. These developments form the rationale for a research programme, which aims to link Asian and European experiences of migration. Such a programme, conceived as a Europe-Asia/South Asia platform of knowledge production and capacity building, will be able to explore the uneven geographies of protection by highlighting the entangled processes of migration that will study the experiences of migrants reaching the shores of the Global North. Conflict and protracted refugee situation in the southern countries are often actively fostered by military interventions by powers of the Global North. A research platform on migration to European countries and an exploration of how various fault lines of race, religion, caste, sexuality, gender and class function in the global protection regime for refugees and migrants will immensely enrich migration and forced migration studies. Migrants and refugees are seen to endanger the “cultural” fundamentals of the society, to be competitors in shrinking labour markets, and to weigh heavily on the resources of fiscally stressed states and their capacities of governance. At the same time some European cities appear as pivotal sites of contentious politics, where along with racist and xenophobic movements there is also simultaneously mobilization of solidarity with migrants and refugees calling for social justice. In this context, analysing the multiple ways in which forced migrants contribute to urban life and politics, as well as their place within urban social justice movements acquires salience. In this context it will be important to investigate the dynamics of immigrant economies in Europe and see how contemporary protection mechanisms are entwined with neoliberal capitalism, whereby migrants and refugees are turned form subjects of protection to subjects of development and the cheap and informal labour of refugees and migrants are harnessed to fuel the growth of neoliberal capitalism. Also it is important to note that most UN conventions are limited to victims of persecution and conflict, and the UN is yet to come up with legally binding responsibility regarding ecological migrants, whose numbers will continue to grow as recent studies point out.

6. The current theme is the challenges to the global protection system for refugees and migrants along with new protection issues in the light of the UN initiated two global compacts for protection of refugees and migrants. The UN initiative on the global compacts on refugees and migrants forms the other important background element. On 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. It set in motion a complex negotiation process to culminate by September 2018 the “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”. The Global Compact on Migration seeks to lay out a range of principles, commitments and understandings among UN Member States relating to global governance and coordination on issues of migration. The resolution represents both an opportunity and a challenge for human rights, humanitarian principles, global governance, and international law. The Declaration sets out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), with specific actions needed to ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Also, noticeable is the emphasis on a multi-stakeholder approach involving national and local authorities, international organizations, international financial institutions, regional organizations, regional coordination and partnership mechanisms, civil society partners, including faith-based organizations, academia, the private sector, media, and the refugees themselves.

7. Meanwhile the situation for the victims of forced migration continues to worsen globally. In this context CRG’s work will focus on the situation in Asia and South Asia in particular and will contribute to the formation of a Europe-Asia research platform on issues of migration and forced migration. Here we may note some of the important recent developments that spur interest in research on issues of migration and forced migration:
(a) Cities like Athens, Istanbul, Beirut or Kolkata are all faced with a growing humanitarian crisis as migrants and victims of forced migration live primarily in inhospitable urban environments in Asia;
(b) There is increased racialisation of the migrants and refugees; there is now greater emphasis on racialised belonging, and racialised securitization, again this being evident in both Europe and Asia;
(c) The condition of displacement is becoming increasingly protracted, thus minimizing chances of safe return;
(d) Statelessness is increasing due to protracted displacement, besides the classic cases of succession of states, while the conventions on statelessness remain grossly inadequate;
(e) There is also a stark contrast between the power of the global system of protection and responsibility at the margins; in most cases of refugee protection the burden is borne by neighbouring post colonial countries (including that of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, and Rohingya refugees) – countries at the margin of global power – while the power to provide protection lies with managers of global governance. Questions that arise are: What will be the ethical principle governing the relation between power and responsibility? Do we need legal pluralism in the renewed protection mandate so that resources can be accordingly apportioned, and regional mechanisms made more effective?
(f) The corporate strategy of making refugees and immigrants into successful market actors aims to make the private sector a partner in refugee rehabilitation. However, in fact this creates a refugee and immigrant labour force working as sweat labour in service of an informal global economy.
(g) The contrast between the gendered nature of forced migration and a seemingly homogenous global protection policy as evinced in the structure of camps, labouring profiles, family burden, and access to resources, personal freedom deserves scrutiny.
(h) Finally, the situation of mixed and massive flows, acknowledged by the UNHCR, calls for a policy of protection fundamentally different from the present protection policy regime.

8. It is important to note that South Asia and India in particular, has witnessed some of these massive population flows. South Asia was a victim of partition and massive displacements in the wake of the said partition. Countries of this region and of Southeast Asia have hosted large numbers of migrants and refugees on a scale unimaginable in Europe, and India in particular has hosted since her independence massive numbers of victims of forced migration in successive instances (partition refugees, Tibetans, Tamils from Sri Lanka, Chins, CHT refugees, and several other forced migration flows). India has also hosted migrant labour. While barring Afghanistan, none of the South Asian states has signed either the 1951 Convention or the Protocol of 1967, these countries have protected massive number of victims of displacement and ratified in the recent past several other human rights instruments. All the seven countries of the region have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1981. All of them ratified the four Geneva Conventions as well. Most of those seeking refuge in this region are usually accommodated within the region. Side by side with the refugees are the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are in need of protection. Apart from the IDPs there are a number of stateless people living in risky situations. Also given massive labour migration under conditions of duress, the distinctions between migrants and forced migrants, especially when the migrating people belong to vulnerable communities, are fast disappearing. We need detailed analyses of these issues to develop a framework of justice.

9. The research programme in South Asia will take place against this background and will have the larger Asian situation in mind. Since migration and forced migration issues are predominantly postcolonial in nature, the programme will aim to have wide participation from Global South in order to have wide ranging exchange of experiences.

B. Goals

10. This proposal seeks to:
(a) Enhance the research capacity of the South Asian and Asian scholars working on related issues of migration and forced migration;
(b) Set up a Europe-South Asia platform of research and critical policy knowledge on migration and forced migration;
(c) Facilitate and ensure greater participation from Global South in international exchanges of experiences;
(d) Encourage comparative perspectives on issues of migration, particularly the urban contexts;
(e) Foster and facilitate critical migration and forced migration studies towards multidisciplinary forms of research, analyses of relevant policies, transfer of knowledge to migrants and victims of forced migration, and strengthen socially just policies;
(f) Conduct research and orientation workshops with innovative panels and sessions, presentations, and deliberations, creative media workshops, exchanges on syllabus preparation, students’ and teachers’ exchanges in the country and the region, and interaction with universities, media, and the policy community;
(g) In short, two interlinked objectives form the basis of this proposal: (a) reorienting the dominant European scholarly and policy framework of governing migration and migration studies in general with the help of inputs from the Global South, and (b) as part of this task, enhancing the research capacity in South Asia and Asia in general on issues of migration and forced migration, enriching the relevant knowledge fund, and strengthening deliberations on policy issues in the South Asian region.

11. A South Asian research and orientation workshop ending with a conference will be at the core of the programme. It will be sustained and reinforced by year-long research, dialogues, publications, short term visiting opportunities, field visit, policy deliberations, mobilisation of relevant university and college departments and centres in this endeavour, developing media kit for covering issues of forced migration, and finally exchange of experiences and research output. These will be the key components of such a dual strategy of capacity building and research and dissemination. Its task of capacity building will relate to such fields as research, academia, media, and policy studies.

12. Taken together the entire programme (including workshops, research, dialogues, publications, policy papers, capacity building, follow up measures, exchange of research, etc.) aims to focus on following themes:
(i) Global compacts, and the international regime of protection; issues of gender, race, religion, and resources as factors in protection;
(ii) Cities, migrant labour, and immigrant economies;
(iii) Internal displacement;
(iv) Ethics of protection and care;
(v) Environmental and climate induced displacement;
(vi) Citizenship and migration;
(vii) Research methods in forced migration studies.

C. Project Description

13.The annual research and orientation workshop on migration and forced migration will foster cutting edge research and scholarly exchanges. Its features will be: (a) Research on themes mentioned in the previous paragraph (paragraph 10) and working as the basis of the orientation workshop; (b) Initiating exchange between European and Asian/South Asian experiences; (c) Bringing in a global perspective for the comparative exercise as well as developing a critical lens on what is termed as global governance of migration and protection of the victims of forced migration; (d) Mutual learning on policy perspectives from the Global South as well as Global North; (e) Public outreach in the form of dialogues, public lectures and debates; and (f) Publications of policy papers, other occasional papers, and book publications.

14. The annual orientation workshop will be held in Kolkata in the form of a5-dayprogramme with 4-dayresearch workshop followed by a 1-day conference. The reports of the workshop (consisting of four working groups) will then form the basis of the conference that will follow. The basic theme will be the challenges to the protection system and new protection issues. The programme will be widely advertised. Participants in the workshop will be selected from among applicants. Experts will be invited to the conference following the workshop. The resource persons in the workshop will also be participants in the conference. Before the workshop in Kolkata the participants in the workshop in collaboration with experts designated by MCRG will decide on a topic for their respective individual assignments/engagements – keeping in mind the theme of the conference. They will be expected to bring a draft research paper to the workshop. This workshop is meant to be for people who are already studying or working on issues of migration and forced migration. So those who have first-hand knowledge of forced migration will be given priority. Once the participants are selected they will be given a reading list. Their contributions to the workshop can be a research paper, or a short documentary, or a photo exhibit, or some documentation, or any such knowledge-based end product. The workshop will then flow into the conference. The conference will have thus around 50 participants (20 workshop participants, 20 conference participants, and 10 local scholar-activists) and one or two open sessions. The open sessions will aim at wide public dissemination of the results of the conference. Both the workshop and the conference will aim to include issues of global and the broader Asian region. The entire programme will have collaboration with universities in the city and elsewhere. The participation of scholars from IWM and the advisory deliberations in Kolkata will be an essential component of the programme.

15. Besides the orientation programme, reinforced by a research programme engaging with some of the themes specified in paragraph 10, the programme will include follow-up activities and a range of allied activities.

16. The follow up activities will facilitate research and other assignments of the participants, conducting investigations on a small scale, smaller workshops in other areas in collaboration with other institutions and universities on the basis of resource/cost sharing, undertaking assignments like creative reporting, and organizing an exchange programme on a small scale involving teachers, students, and activists within the region. These follow-up activities help broaden the reach of the programme, strengthen the network, and reinforce collaboration with universities;

17. The allied activities will have:
(i) A university component involving short term fellowships, exchange programmes, training in research methodology, and syllabus making exercise;
(ii) Journal component involving production of academic literature;
(iii) Public outreach through public lectures,
(iv) A media component including creative media output;
(v) Local dialogues, focusing on local, concrete issues of displacement, and serving as both follow up and preparatory steps of the main workshop, and finally,
(vi) Library and archive building along with improving the website and digital resource, and strengthening the online component of the programme.

18. In sum, the proposed programme will have four components: (a) research component; (b) annual research and orientation workshop followed by a conference; (c) follow-up activities, and (d) allied activities.

D. Implementation Modalities

19. CRG will give a brief six-monthly report to the IWM on the project, send IWM a detailed annual narrative and financial report, and a comprehensive report on the entire project after two years.

20. The programme at CRG will be held under the CRG Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies and led by the CRG Director, who will act as the research and programme coordinator.

21. The programme will be managed by a desk consisting of (a) a Research Associate and (b) a Research Assistant for the entire period of 24 months; (c) a separate administration cum accounts person, (d) a web cum publicity and publications manager, (e) and a person responsible for management and improvement of the library and the related resources like journal holdings and archive. The desk with the support of the entire CRG will manage the allied activities also. As indicated in the budget some of the personnel of the team will work full time for the programme, rest will work part time.

22. In organising the programme former workshop participants, students, young researchers, and migrant protection activists will be prominent as volunteers.

23. Finally, there will be an advisory body to guide the programme. Annually, there will be two advisory cum planning meetings – one at the IWM and the other at CRG. These meetings will discuss the evaluation report/s and plans for the next year’s programme.

E. Monitoring and Evaluation

24. Expected results by which success in the capacity building and enhancing activities will be measured:
(a) Training annually 20-25 migrant and refugee protection activists, scholars, lawyers, and journalists of South Asia on issues of migration and forced migration studies;
(b) Focus on Asian migration crisis, in particular the South Asian and the Southeast Asian situation;
(c) Creating a Europe-Asia (to begin with South Asia) platform for critical work on state of global protection of migrants and refugees; this will mean deepening interface with academia, media, and policy community in both Europe and South Asia with this interface leading to the development of an Europe-Asia network of scholarly community in this field;
(d) Towards that end, participating in the existing forums of migration and refugee rights scholars and activists in South Asia and Europe;
(e) Formation of an Asian/South Asian network of refugee and migrant rights activists, scholars, and jurists and connecting them to such activists, scholars, and jurists in Europe;
(f) Developing a pool of critical knowledge through facilitating a corpus of critical writings to be deliberated in the research workshop for Refugee Watch, the only South Asian journal on forced migration studies and brought out by CRG; also publications in IWM Post, Passagen Verlag book series of the IWM, and in Eurozine, to be facilitated by the IWM;
(g) Strengthening Refugee Watch and Refugeewatchonline through creating a single online portal on relevant issues – thus combining academic, reporting, and media advocacy work in the field of refugee and migrant rights;
(h) Publications and a participatory report, and wide diffusion (including online) of the resolutions and report of the workshop and the conference,
(i) Increase of bibliographic and web-based resources and archive, and increase of access to the said resources;
(j) Policy intervention and advocacy;
(k) Through all these capacity building at regional and local levels;

25.While some of the outcomes may take longer time to fully materialize, the evaluation will monitor if progress is made in the pursuit of these goals.

26. For the research and orientation workshop there will be an evaluation procedure in place, at the core of which will be participants’ evaluation of the programme. Besides there will be an evaluator to be invited from outside CRG. The evaluator’s report along with participants’ evaluation will be placed before the advisory meeting/s. While participants will focus expectedly on the workshop, CRG’s own evaluation will keep in mind the above-mentioned goals also.

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Events / Public Lectures / Webinars

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Past Programmes 2020

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Disseminations / Resources / Important Links

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