Reflecting on RUSMPI UG Webinar Series on Migration Issues

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Civic Assistance Committee’s volunteer Maria Danilkina gives an overview of RUSMPI UG webinars on migration issues.

Reflecting on RUSMPI UG Webinar Series on Migration Issues
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As a Civic Assistance Committee’s volunteer, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate in a series of webinars organized by RUSMPI UG Institute on Migration Policy, which took place from 25 to 29 May 2020.

They were dedicated to the exchange of experience between Russian migration specialists with Austrian and German organizations aiding refugees and migrants. The topics covered questions regarding Austrian asylum system and its numerous bureaucratic procedures, legal assistance to refugees and migrants, integration, safe accommodation, volunteering, awareness raising activities and social work, access to healthcare and medical help, and, last but not least, racism, discrimination, hate crimes and social exclusion.

Upon further reflection on the webinars, I would like to map out a number of ideas and thoughts that became apparent over the course of fruitful and engaging discussions, as well as important lessons learnt.

It has been clear that the coronavirus pandemic has further alienated already vulnerable racialized and marginalized groups, in many ways due to the surge of dehumanizing stereotypes and racist depictions, with refugees and labor migrants being specifically targeted.

They have been faced with a myriad of heightened risks and dangers ranging from denial of access to basic services and healthcare, intentional disinformation on the part of authorities, racist violence and speech, racial profiling and police brutality to financial insecurity, inadequate housing and economic exploitation.

The detention and deportation regimes have not stopped operating even in the wake of the global health crisis that once again exposed persistent systematic socio-economic inequalities, political disparities, hierarchies and racist discrimination. The majority are stuck in limbo between a state of impoverishment and deprivation in the so-called host states, on the one side, and deadly persecution and destitution in their homelands, on the other.

While consultation and humanitarian help are indispensable to the tumultuous times refugees and labor migrants are currently experiencing, it is essential to find ways of uplifting their voices and helping them use various platforms to self-organize and express their grievances arising from the violation of their fundamental human rights and gradually deteriorating living conditions they have been subject to.

Nonetheless, the current times are far from ordinary and, thus, require a new vision moving forward, a new way of imagining and building a more just and equal world.

Lamentably, the figures of a refugee and a labor migrant have been depoliticized and diminished to that of either criminals or victims without agency. Although empathy and compassion are inherent in any undertaking directed at fighting injustice, they should not come from a place of uncritical fulfilment of one’s ‘savior complex’. It should not be about ripping off professional benefits off of the traumas of marginalized groups and then rewarding ourselves for our open-mindedness and goodness.

The solutions we should be working towards rest on fulfilling the goal of empowering people rather than forging an objectifying relationship, which most certainly only further entrenches and reproduces deep-rooted societal inequalities, as well as creates demoralizing dependency.

We should always keep in mind undoubted privileges and power we exercise compared to those we conduct our ‘research’ on, to those we help in order to alleviate their predicament, to those we consult. Yet, sometimes the most needed response is showing up and standing in genuine solidarity. It is important not to speak over people and for them, but rather with them, and use our privileges and our power to challenge the oppressive status quo.

What should we do then? As was underlined by one of the representatives of ZARA, Austrian anti-racist organization, we should interrogate what kind of role we play in the matrix of systemic exploitation and structural inequalities, how various modes of discrimination intersect and what we personally can do to dismantle them while avoiding the ‘moral high ground’ rhetoric and instead centering the affected communities. Our research and work should strive to unleash, rather than conceal the sources of racialized, gendered and classed oppression.

Maria Danilkina

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