Monthly Archives: February 2013

On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet


Source: Ethnography Matters February 2013

Editor’s note: In this thoughtful piece for February’s Openness EditionSarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) discusses the ways in which the internet has transformed the relationship between the writer and the people about whom he or she writes. Sarah has written extensively about open access to scholarly publications (‘one paper (she) uploaded to… helped Uzbek refugees find a safe haven abroad’, according to one interview). In this post, Sarah writes about a deeper question regarding the openness of the research process and the ways in which the internet has led to a leveling of the playing fields in a way that some anthropologists would rather ignore than confront. After all, when the “subaltern speaks” and anyone, not just anthropologists, can hear, who exactly is doing the exposing?

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist and communications scholar who studies digital media and politics. Her home blog is at

Check out past posts from guest bloggers


In the hallway of my anthropology department there was a map of the world. The map was covered with photos of students in the field, their exact location pinpointed by an image on a string. Every year, the academic coordinator would send out a call to students for a representative photo to add to the map, and every year, I failed to respond.

During the bulk of my dissertation fieldwork, I lived in Missouri. The people I wrote about, Uzbek exiled political dissidents, lived all around the world — in Sweden, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, the United States, Turkey. Having fled a brutal crackdown following a massacre of civilians, they lived lives of constant upheaval, on the move and on the run. They thought less about where they were than they did about Uzbekistan, the one place they could not go. They spent most of their time online, talking to each other and talking to me. I could not go to Uzbekistan either, since my previous articles criticized its authoritarian regime.


This picture shows the inside of the truck of the leader of the Birdamlik People’s Movement, an Uzbek opposition group. Birdamlik has branches in over a dozen countries (including Uzbekistan) but they are organized through the internet. The leader of the movement works in the US as a truck driver, and he calls this his “mobile office” — a communications center set up inside his 18-wheeler. The computer screen shows the Birdamlik website, which is banned in Uzbekistan. Pic by Sarah Kendzior (all rights reserved)

The online communities of exiled dissidents made for an interesting dissertation. But it posed a problem when it came to the department map. Should I mark every point on the map or none of them? Should I designate Uzbekistan somehow – a skull and crossbones, a circle with a slash? What was my “representative image” – an activist curled up with his laptop, updating his Facebook status? A blogger staring at Cyrillic on a screen? Me, alone at my desk, checking my email?

No one wants to see these things. No one wants to see visual documentation of their own online lives, much less the lives of others. It is the academic version of the tabloid reveal – “Uzbek dissidents – they’re just like us!” Such banality runs counter to anthropological advertising. The purpose of the department map was to show visitors that our research subjects are not just like us – but that we, for a time, could be just like them.

I was like the people I studied too, in that none of us have a place within the traditional conception of anthropological fieldwork. We were too much on the move, or we were not moving enough.

Journalism and Anthropology Face the Same Fate

Before I was an anthropologist, I was a journalist. The week I quit my job at the New York Daily News, another young journalist bowed out in a more dramatic fashion. In April 2003, Jayson Blair was fired from the New York Times for plagiarizing other articles, inventing quotes, and, most intriguingly, fabricating travel in order to merit the dateline that lends a Times piece its veracity. Instead of going to the places he was supposed to go and talking to the people who lived there, Blair would interview them on the phone from New York. Sometimes, he would fly into a city and “report” without leaving his hotel.

As the Blair scandal unfolded, it became known that the latter technique was occasionally practiced even by journalists who were not coke-addled liars. The dateline had its own value separate from the insight that the reporter was contributing. It was shorthand for the reporter’s personal involvement, his professional legitimacy, his deep, on-the-ground knowledge. Being there – regardless of what one was actually doing there – was enough, for this distinguished the journalist from the masses forced to rely on his words.

At the time I quit the Daily News, most print journalists viewed the internet with suspicion and disdain. In 2003, the version of the Daily News that appeared at their website was almost an exact replica of the edition that had been published that morning, save a “Breaking News” bar, reluctantly implemented in 2002, that linked to stories from wire services. Even 9/11 had prompted hand-wringing among the web staffers – dare they announce that the World Trade Center had collapsed and risk incurring the wrath of editorial?

Ten years later, such a scenario is unimaginable. The collapse of print journalism, and the attribution of its demise to the industry’s reluctance to adapt to the internet, has been thoroughly (and gleefully) eulogized by media and tech reporters, and was predicted years before it occurred. What few saw coming was how, in less than a decade, the internet would go from disreputable scourge to the dominant source of news and information, with reporters breathlessly parroting the Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses of famous people and ordinary citizens alike.

In 2003, I never thought CNN would film a website, but today this happens all the time, because well-placed internet users are now viewed as authorities due purely to their geographic proximity to an event. Facebook and Twitter users have become unwitting reporters (unpaid unwitting reporters), and media outlets rely on them. It is enough that they are there, updating from the scene, unlike the journalist whose travel budget was cut – never mind if the Twitter user knows from what he tweets.

A Discipline in Crisis

Today anthropology is facing a crisis of place, representation, and legitimacy similar to what journalism experienced a decade ago. Like journalists at the turn of the millennium, anthropologists have dealt with the challenges posed by the internet by ignoring them, downplaying the importance of the medium, and discounting its impact on the lives of the people they study. Despite the importance of the internet to people all over the world, there are few ethnographic studies of internet use conducted by anthropologists, and the anthropologists who do conduct this kind of research are marginalized and dismissed.

In a 2002 essay titled Another Revolution Missed, Maximillian Forte bemoaned the widespread refusal of anthropologists to acknowledge the web. “Why would anthropology, as a discipline, routinely ignore one particular field site?” he asked, noting that this field site is populated by “almost 600 million people of all ages, classes, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, personal interests, and professions.”

While public acknowledgement of the internet as a medium worthy of anthropological inquiry has increased since the publication of Forte’s essay, there has been little in the way of ethnographic studies of how people are using it, save for a disproportionate focus on virtual worlds like Second Life. Anthropological research on the internet is rare compared to that of other disciplines, and the stigma of conducting it has remained.

In a 2012 interview with Fast Company, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman recalled how her dissertation research on hackers, conducted in the early 2000s, was viewed with bafflement by her professional peers. “My advisers knew it was super-interesting, but because it wasn’t focused on a particular area of the world, they warned me I was going to have trouble getting a job in an anthropology department,” she said.

Coleman is now a leading figure in the study of online communities, but that makes little difference to a discipline trading on exoticism and insularity. Even today, she says she is rarely invited to give talks in anthropology departments despite the fact that her research on Anonymous has captured the attention of the world.

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re an Anthropologist

That most anthropologists dismiss the internet as a subject worthy of ethnographic research is unfortunate but not surprising. As sociologist Christine Hine observes in Virtual Methods, “When we talk about methodology, we are implicitly talking about our identity and the standards by which we wish our work to be judged.” She notes that this is a particularly thorny issue for social scientists studying the internet, as “we threaten the security of a community of research practice.”

Anthropology of the internet challenges paradigms and practices that have been part of the discipline since its inception. The most notable methodological divergence concerns what many consider the hallmark of cultural anthropology: long-term ethnographic fieldwork.

In anthropology of the internet, there is no clear sense of a field site or of “time spent in the field”. (The researcher is either always in the field, or, naysayers claim, never in the field). The boundaries of the field site tend to be determined by the researcher, and its demarcations are often not clear even to the people he or she studies. Subject anonymity, another standard practice of anthropological research, is difficult to maintain with so much data public and traceable – and so much information fraudulent and fabricated. Anthropologists are left both fearful of exposing people and of having nothing “real” to expose.

There is also the question of who is doing the exposing. Much as the internet leveled the playing field between the reporter and the reader (often reversing their roles in the process), the internet has transformed the relationship between the social scientist and the subject, with the former no longer the lone recipient of the latter’s concerns. Not only does the “subaltern speak”, the “subaltern” shares the details of his life online in a way that anyone – not just anthropologists, anyone – can access.

The question then becomes what to do with this information. How do anthropologists connect online texts to the people who produce them? How do they judge whether their interpretations of an individual and a community are accurate? From where do anthropologists draw their authority and accountability?

Such questions are not new. Anthropologists who practice “traditional” fieldwork have been asking them for years. But like journalists of a decade ago, anthropologists are reluctant to address them in the context of online communication — in particular, to acknowledge how the internet has transformed the relationship between the writer and the people about whom he or she writes. The internet makes ethnography something anyone can do, a threatening prospect for a conservative discipline struggling to locate its relevance. It is easier to dismiss the internet as not worthy of inquiry at all.

Anthropology of the internet forces the question of whether being seen as an anthropologist is more important than doing meaningful ethnography. It strips the discipline of its elite trappings, requiring no excessive funding or dramatic upending of one’s life. What it does require is for the researcher to rely on more than just a dateline. When you are not going anywhere, you have to make the journey matter.


Twitter’s dangerous lack of transparency on terrorism

While Twitter applauds its own transparency, it seemingly deletes accounts ad hoc over an increasingly amorphous policy


On January 24, 2012, Twitter shut down al-Shabaab’s old account, HSMPress, after the group tweeted photographs of a French commando they had killed and threatened to execute Kenyan hostages. Given al-Shabaab’s history of violence, many saw the suspension as a justified move against the spread of terrorist propaganda. But to al-Shabaab, it was censorship, plain and simple.

“Freedom of speech is but a meaningless rhetoric,” they tweeted. “So long @HSMPress! You might be gone, but your legacy lives on.”

Twitter has long promoted itself as an advocate of free speech, even when that speech is hateful. The social media network has refused to suspend the accounts of other violent groups – including the TalibanHezbollah, and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra – despite numerous requests from government officials and activist organisations to do so. In January 2012, when Twitter announced they would selectively block tweets on a country by country basis, they extolled their transparency, noting that all censorship requests would be documented on the website Chilling Effects.

The suspension of al-Shabaab would seem to contradict Twitter’s policy on free speech. But Twitter has never made it clear what that policy is. After deleting al-Shabaab’s account, Twitter refused to comment on the reason for the suspension or on whether similar action would be taken against other terrorist groups. When I asked a Twitter representative via email to explain their policy, he would not answer, telling me only that they “don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons”.

In the absence of a clear explanation, analysts have offered their own. Some speculated that al-Shabaab’s account violated Twitter terms of service, which prohibit specific threats of violence. Others suggested it violated US law against providing material support to individuals labelled Specially Designated Global Terrorists, a designation which applies to al-Shabaab but not to groups like the Taliban.

An ambiguous policy
But both these points proved moot when an unrepentant al-Shabaab rejoined the network a week later and resumed its crusade. Further confounding the issue was the fact that al-Shabaab’s Arabic and Somali-language accounts had remained open while their English-language account was closed, despite their similar content. Twitter’s policy on terrorists is not only inconsistent, it lacks transparency – going against the very values the social media network claims to support.

Whether or not Twitter should censor terrorist groups is a matter of debate, and there are strong legal and moral arguments for both sides. But it is impossible to have a debate when Twitter refuses to come clean about its own actions. “Twitter’s policy on extremists comes off like one guy who knows nothing about the subject clicking around at random looking for trouble,” tweeted terrorism analyst JM Berger, who observed that the network embraces a similarly scattershot approach to the suspension of white supremacist groups.

As a private company, Twitter reserves the right to set its own standards for censorship. But as a key platform for a diverse array of political players, it should be open about its rationale. The ambiguous nature of Twitter’s suspension policy opens it up to abuse by those seeking to silence an opponent. As it turns out, merely mentioning that a Twitter account is associated with terrorism can ostensibly get it shut down.

On January 31, one week after Twitter suspended al-Shabaab, I tweeted that the Islamic Jihad Union – a violent militant organisation originally from Uzbekistan – had joined Twitter. The IJU’s account consisted mainly of Uzbek-language tweets and links to its website, Unlike al-Shabaab, there were no threats or graphic imagery. But within five minutes of my tweet, the account was suspended.

A few hours later, I noticed that the IJU had a second account, and I tweeted about it. Again, within minutes, the second account was suspended. When this happened the first time, I was hesitant to believe it had to do with me, but such a coincidence seemed unlikely to happen twice. For whatever reason, the fact that I announced the existence of the group – which had been on Twitter for over a month before it was removed that day – seemed to trigger its suspension.

Unless a Twitter employee managed to read and analyse the content of an Uzbek-language account in the few minutes between when I tweeted about it and when they shut it down – a highly improbable scenario – then they censored the account based on my tweets. Ostensibly I could have identified any Uzbek account as being a member of the IJU, and the same censorship could have occurred.

Censorship based on hearsay leaves users vulnerable to attack. Many repressive regimes accuse critics of being terrorists in order to silence them, and it is easy to imagine governments employing this tactic on Twitter in order to suspend an account. The consequences are particularly ominous for users speaking less common languages. By privileging both English-language terrorist accounts (like al-Shabaab’s) and English-language depictions of terrorist accounts (like mine), Twitter reveals a Western bias that could skew perception of non-Western politics, leading to the unjust suspension of innocent parties.

On February 1, the Islamic Jihad Union rejoined Twitter with a new account, where they resumed tweeting about the oppression of Muslims and entreating readers to join the struggle. Their new account has remained open, as has al-Shabaab’s. Perhaps this marks a shift in policy, or perhaps it is a reaction to the negative publicity both suspensions generated. Since Twitter refuses to clarify its actions, it is impossible to say.

Opaque transparency

The presence of terrorists on Twitter raises questions about freedom of speech, national security, international law, and corporate power. Who decides if a person is a terrorist? If an account is suspended, should that suspension be based on content or affiliation? What is the policy towards official accounts of authoritarian states – like North Korea – that spread propaganda and murder civilians? What about those of countries like the United States engaged in wars many find inhumane and unjust? When Twitter blocks tweets on a country by country basis, how should they respond to terrorists who profess allegiance to no nation? How should governments reconcile Twitter’s role as a purveyor of terrorist threats with its utility for gathering intelligence?

These issues are important – particularly since, as terrorism experts Aaron Y Zelins and Will McCants have noted, in-depth research on how terrorist groups operate on social media has barely been conducted. But we will not be able to address them unless Twitter is open about its policies. Censorship that goes undocumented goes unchallenged. At the moment, Twitter representatives refuse to talk, although they continue to release updates applauding their transparency.

“We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact,” they write. “To that end, it is vital for us to be transparent about requests to Twitter from governments and rights holders.” How refreshing it would be if the social media network held itself to the same standards.

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently received her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.

US immigration reform: A path to citizenship


Can the right of the Republican Party be persuaded to back a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system?

In a politically fractured town like Washington DC, one would think that a plan supported by President Barack Obama and sworn Republican political enemies, including John McCain and Marco Rubio, would be sure to succeed.But there is no guarantee about whether the right of the Republican Party will be persuaded to back immigration reform.

Immigration, and the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US, has proved to be one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

There is a study just produced by a scholar at the University of California that showed that President Obama has deported more people – families, children – than all presidents of the United States, from George Washington up to Bill Clinton in 1996; not than each one of them, but [more] than all of them combined.– Roberto Lovato, an immigration rights activist

Previous attempts to reform the system have failed amid rancour in Washington, but this week there is new hope that comprehensive reform could be passed by the end of the year.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled far-reaching legislation that could provide a path to citizenship.

Those arguing for reform were given hope by the presence of Republican Senior Senator John McCain and also Marco Rubio, an early favourite for the Republican presidential nod in 2016.

The senators’ plan emphasises four key aspects: security along the US southern border; employer-compliance with immigration laws; provisions for farm workers and highly-educated engineers; and a “pathway to citizenship” – which senators insist does not amount to a path to amnesty.

Undocumented US residents who want to continue working will have to register with the government and pay a fine.

This will effectively force them to the “back of the line” while they apply for permanent status.

Democrats are in a win-win situation here, if they get immigration reform through then President Obama has delivered on his promises of comprehensive reform and he gets a win. If they don’t get it through they will blame a native establishment within the Republican Party and that will be a win for them. So Democrats win either way. And Republicans lose both ways.– Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post

But while they are waiting, they can work legally and do not face deportation, as long as they steer clear of criminal activity.

But there are obstacles: although Obama has come out in favour of the thrust of the plan, the key battles are to come when the bill comes up for debate in Congress.

In particular, more right-leaning Republican congressmen are wary of alienating many Republican voters who are hostile to reform, arguing it amounts to amnesty.

They seem to pay little heed to the arguments of Republican grandees who argue that the party needs to win Latino support to stand any chance of regaining the White House.

So, can the right of the Republican Party be persuaded to back comprehensive immigration reform?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas with presenter Kimberly Halkett is joined by guests: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post; Roberto Lovato, a co-founder of, an online Latino advocacy organisation; and Michael Graham, a Conservative political commentator and talk radio host.


  • President Barack Obama discussed immigration reform in Nevada on Tuesday
  • Obama: Time for “common-sense comprehensive immigration reform”
  • Obama said he backs proposals offered by “gang of 8” senators
  • Immigration ‘compromise’ backed by Republican and Democrat senators
  • Obama described his plan as “earned citizenship”
  • Senators’ plan calls for stronger border control
  • Senators’ plan calls for improved monitoring of visitors
  • Senators’ plan calls for crackdown on hiring of undocumented workers
  • Senators say legislation could pass in late spring, early summer
  • Last major immigration reform laws passed in the US in 1986.
  • That law made it illegal to hire workers without documentation.
  • Obama offered his own immigration reform plan in May 2011
  • Latino critics: Obama failed to fulfill immigration-reform promises
  • 2012 exit polls showed that Latino voters supported Obama over Romney



Guest post: Academy and / as Activism?

We have a treat for you today: Emma Morgan-Thorp has written a guest post!

(Another HOOK&EYE post)

It seems like February is getting everybody down: technologies are failing, and everyone’s snowed under by both work and weather.  I was feeling tired and grumpy when I arrived at my ‘Indigenous History’ seminar the other week, and wishing I could burrow under my covers with a book instead. This seminar, though, is healing: six women around the table, five first year Masters students and our teacher Paula, talking through Indigenous ethics and methodologies while we tell stories about our families, our work, and the places we come from. And on this particular evening we were graced with a visit by the fabulous Manulani Meyer. As we went around the table introducing ourselves and our projects to her, Manulani challenged us each to explain how our work was making change in the world: What is your academic work giving back to the community you are researching? I was floored – first by the question, and then by the fact that no one had ever asked me that before.
Lately I’ve been struggling with whether I ought to be doing academic work at all: entering an Indigenous Studies department allowed me to sidestep uncomfortable processes of asking permission to learn from Indigenous elders, activists, and communities. I still have no idea how I would even go about making such requests. Working from the sterility of the classroom, no matter how humbly or respectfully, is a far cry from finding ways to educate myself that don’t rely on my membership in an exclusionary colonialist institution.
I’ve been finding myself thinking: I’ll learn about Indigenous Studies – along with my interlocking projects of feminism, performance theory, and theatre studies – this year in the MA, and then take my knowledge out into the world and find ways to work toward substantive change. First theory, then praxis. First I’ll build myself into an educated activist, and then I’ll act. But Manulani and Paula challenged us to do intellectual work that is practical. Academic production that works through ideas and builds strategies for substantive change.
I am blessed with revolutionary friends in activist, artistic, care-giving and food-growing communities who challenge my participation in this academic institution regularly. When I was home this winter, my mom gave me Jessica Yee Danforth’s Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism and told me how relieved she was that I had asked for it. A step, we laughed, toward throwing myself off the ‘great white phallus of the ivory tower’.
What Manulani affirmed is that intellectual work – in or out of the academy – can be practical activist work. That it has to be. That there is value in taking time to arm oneself with the lessons needed to do the best work possible, but that revolutionary work doesn’t wait while that happens.
During our mid-seminar break, my friend Erin and I were talking about how lucky we felt to be in such a warm community of women, talking about making change through peace and healing. The vulnerability and strength with which we were sharing our stories and questioning the work we’ve turned our lives toward shook and stabilized me simultaneously. This is, as Erin said to me, how we decolonize academia.
I’m still figuring out how best to work toward change, and certainly still negotiating the spaces I inhabit within academia and within an Indigenous Studies department.  I’ve been carrying with me the blissful energy and the ethical challenges that Manulani brought into our classroom, and as I work through these ideas, I remember what she said to us: “There is only one conversation happening on the planet: how can we love better?”
-Emma Morgan-Thorp

Toronto considers giving underground migrants access to services without fear

Councillors are being asked to make Toronto a “sanctuary city” where where non-status migrants can access services without fear of being jailed and deported.

Toronto Star

George Williams, 58, came to Toronto as a visitor and lived without status for three years. He nervously approached a  shelter in 2010 after he lost his job and home, fearing he'd be deported. But the shelter helped him apply for refugee status, and he is now a permanent resident.


George Williams, 58, came to Toronto as a visitor and lived without status for three years. He nervously approached a shelter in 2010 after he lost his job and home, fearing he’d be deported. But the shelter helped him apply for refugee status, and he is now a permanent resident.

By:  Immigration reporter, Published on Mon Feb 18 2013

Maria didn’t go to police after her Canadian husband beat her up. When the food bank staff asked for her ID, she just left. And when she was owed $1,600 in back wages for two months’ work as a cleaner, she could do nothing but bite her lip.

“I’m denied access for help and services because I don’t have any immigration paper,” explained the Toronto resident, who came here from Mexico City in 2000 and has lived an undocumented life ever since.

“It’s not only affecting my life — because of my (lack of) status, my daughter is not getting the support, even though she was born in Canada. Better access to services means better quality of life for her.”

Maria, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of being pursued by immigration enforcement officers, is among Greater Toronto’s estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants: visitors who have overstayed their visas, or failed refugee claimants dodging deportation.

Anticipating a surge in the region’s undocumented population in 2015 — when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new law and potentially move “underground” — Toronto City Council is set to vote on an “access without fear” motion Wednesday or Thursday.

The city’s community development and recreation committee has come up with a plan to transform Toronto into a “sanctuary city,” similar to San Francisco and other U.S. cities that have passed laws ensuring that non-status residents can turn to city services without fear that they’ll be turned in for detention or deportation.

The motion calls for training for front-line staff and managers to ensure that undocumented residents won’t be asked about their immigration status when accessing services — calling police in an emergency, for example — and establishing a complaints protocol and public education strategy to inform Torontonians of the policy.

“The undocumented live here, work here and pay taxes here. They are part of the community. They also need services and support. Government services should not be tied to immigration status,” said Karin Baqi of the Solidarity City Network, an umbrella group behind the campaign.

“They are the backbone of our economy. They take care of our kids, clean our offices and build houses.”

The motion doesn’t suggest that the new policy would contain any benefits for city government, only for the undocumented residents themselves. Maria, who makes a meager income as a cleaner, said her daughter could at least have had more nutritious food from the food bank than steamed rice and potatoes, if the local food bank hadn’t asked her for documents proving her status as a resident.

“I make very little money from my job. Any support I can get will help,” said Maria, who is in her 30s.

George Williams came to Toronto as a visitor from St. Vincent in 2007 and lived under the radar until 2010, when he lost his under-the-table job at a popsicle factory and became homeless.

Despondent, Williams decided to risk being reported to immigration officials and walked into the Maxwell Meighen homeless shelter for help.

“I was brave enough to go in,” recalled Williams, 58. “Fortunately, they didn’t ask for my immigration paper.”

When shelter staff later found out he fled to Canada to avoid persecution as a gay man, they gave him encouragement and helped him file a refugee claim, which was accepted in 2010.

“It’s really important for people to have a place to go to where they are not afraid to ask for help and support,” said Williams, who became a permanent resident last year.

MIGRATION: Greece failing asylum seekers

A Tanzanian migrant shows his temporary asylum seeker document

ATHENS, 15 October 2012 (IRIN) –

When Vahid Pejman, a former journalist from Afghanistan, arrived in Greece with his wife and 11-year-old daughter, he anticipated a brief stay before heading somewhere more welcoming.

“I knew about the financial crisis here, but I wasn’t planning to stay more than a week,” he told IRIN, nearly a year later. “I didn’t mind where I went, as long as they accepted me and looked at me like a human.”

But an attempt to board a ferry to Italy using fake EU passports failed, costing him the last of his money. Out of options, Pejman decided to apply for asylum in Greece.

Considered a gateway to the rest of Europe, Greece receives an estimated 130,000 undocumented migrants a year, most of them via its land border with Turkey. Many have become trapped since – under pressure from its European neighbours, Greece has tightened controls at previously popular exit points like the port at Patras.

Greece is ill-equipped to host the estimated 810,000 irregular migrants now living in the country. Deeply embroiled in a debt crisis, the government has accepted a bailout package from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (collectively known as the Troika) in return for implementing drastic austerity measures, including widespread public sector job and salary cuts. Youth unemployment in Greece now stands at 55 percent, while close to 25 percent of the general population is out of work.

Some of the stranded migrants, with no other recourse, apply for asylum, clogging the system with a backlog of 30,000 applications.

“Pink cards” – proof of asylum application – protect holders from arrest for six months and allow them to work, but only about 20 are issued per week to the hundreds who queue outside the Attica Aliens Directorate in Athens every Saturday.

Reform delayed

Pejman managed to secure a card; the next hurdle was an interview with the police, who grant refugee status to just 2 percent of applicants. An appeals level has a higher recognition rate – around 35 percent – according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Ketty Kahayioylou. But reaching this stage can take years. Pejman did not get that far.

He was summoned for the police interview four times. Each time, he waited hours before being told to return a month later.

“The last time, I didn’t bother going,” he said. “I’ve let my [asylum-seeker] permit expire, and I’m waiting for repatriation back to Afghanistan.”

An overhaul of Greece’s asylum system was passed into law in 2011 and set to become operational in January 2012; it would have moved the adjudication of asylum applications from the police to a new, autonomous asylum service. But the government’s austerity measures have since frozen public sector recruitment, delaying the overhaul. Meanwhile, the current system is so problematic that many migrants with genuine asylum claims do not bother applying.

“This is the paradox,” said Kahayioylou. “Those coming from refugee-producing countries don’t want to apply because they don’t trust the system, and they want to get to other countries.”

Degrading conditions

Previously, migrants who applied for asylum in Greece but then travelled to other European countries risked being returned to Greece – a result of the European Union’s Dublin II regulation, which makes the member state where an asylum seeker first arrives responsible for handling their application.

But two 2011 rulings by the EU’s Court of Justice found that asylum seekers should not be returned to countries where they could face inhuman or degrading treatment – Greece was judged to be one such country, mainly because of its notoriously poor detention conditions. Most EU countries have stopped transferring asylum seekers there.

These poor conditions are another deterrent for potential asylum seekers; those who apply are often kept in detention for up to six months while their application is considered.

“Some would rather be deported than remain in detention,” said Maria Papamina, an attorney with the Greek Council for Refugees, an NGO offering free legal advice to migrants and assistance to those with genuine asylum claims.


Pejman, like other migrants IRIN interviewed, has applied for voluntary return to his country through an International Organization for Migration (IOM) project aiming to help 7,000 irregular migrants stranded in Greece return home over the next 12 months.

“I think they’ve come to the end of the road,” said Daniel Esdras of IOM’s Greece office. “In the past, it was easier for them to go to another European country. Now it’s next to impossible, so they’re trapped here. Now on top of that, they have the threat of detention, so I think the only really humanitarian solution for them is voluntary repatriation.”

But since the programme began in September, only 605 migrants have returned home and 8,000 applications are pending. “We have people queuing outside the office every day,” said Esdras.

Successful applicants must wait up to a month for their home countries to issue identity and travel documents before they receive 300 euros and the flight home.

“It’s my only way,” said Hamid, a 16-year-old Afghan who has been sleeping in an Athens park for the last 15 months and is now awaiting repatriation.

“I’ve spent over a year like this and all of my family’s savings. Greece is different than what I was expecting – from the earth to the sky.”

The urban challenge for refugees

A Malian mother and child at M’béra camp in eastern Mauritania

NOUAKCHOTT/DAKAR, 9 January 2013 (IRIN) – Sequestering refugees in rural camps is no longer the norm: The most recent estimates indicate that almost half of refugees flock to urban areas and just one third to rural camps, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). But while agencies are adjusting their approaches, they are still struggling to match their response with their policies.

UNHCR has come a long way since 1997 when its refugee response approach implied that responding to refugees in towns and cities was to be avoided. In 2009 it committed to a policy that recognized the right of displaced people to move freely, stressing that its mandate to protect refugees is not affected by their location.

There are upsides to urban support. Refugees are more likely to find work (when permitted to do so by the local authorities) and become self-sufficient in urban settings, say agencies. Because of this, though start-up costs may be higher, these should diminish over the long term. It also makes more sense for a lot of refugees who were in any case displaced from urban settings, said Jeff Crisp, head of policy development and evaluation at UNHCR.

Kellie Leeson, urban refugee strategy focal point at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told IRIN: “Typically refugees who come to urban centres do so to find jobs – that motivation and ambition should be applauded and should spark the question: how can we take advantage of that to help them survive on their own?”

Dominique Hyde, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Jordan, said Syrian refugees benefited from being in urban settings: “It’s a positive. If you look at lessons learned from Iraqis in Jordan. Living conditions are more normal, you’re not in a camp setting, your movements are not restricted. Although it is more difficult to access them, they are aware through informal networks of how to access services. Urban settings are better settings for refugees.”

“If you have a camp setting, it’s easier to count people, to provide a school, to provide a health centre. But for refugees, being in their own apartment, and being able to take their own decisions with cash assistance is preferred,” she said.


In Kenya, many of the 45,000-100,000 refugees in the capital Nairobi fled Kakuma and Dadaab camps because of insecurity and lack of employment opportunities.

Experience shows in long-term situations camp conditions progressively decline as donor interest wanes. “Even in a competitive environment like Nairobi, you can eke out a living somehow,” said Crisp.

But in December 2012 the Kenyan government ordered Nairobi-based refugees to return to Kakuma and Dadaab, following a spate of attacks in Kenya’s northeastern Somali region and in the capital, Nairobi.

IRC has found that when it comes to creating opportunities for refugees in urban settings, programmes work best when they target both host populations and refugees. This was clearly the case in Nairobi where they teamed up with NIKE which runs a micro-franchise programme to train women aged 17-19 to set up small businesses.

“We’re trying to build networks so that it isn’t about isolated groups but refugees can engage with the host communities,” said Leeson.

“Obviously refugees will have specific protection issues but in general what they want is employment, health and education – that’s what everyone wants, right?”

The difficulty is where to draw the line between responding to refugee needs and solving the problems of the urban poor, says UNHCR’s Crisp. Refugees tend to settle among other poor and vulnerable communities, including migrants, irregular migrants and rejected asylum seekers, each of which has critical needs.

Tensions are also easily raised if aid is directed at just one group.

Studies of Nairobi-based refugees have shown urban refugees often pay higher rents than Kenyans, and are charged more for public health services and education fees, according to the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group.

Inclusive programmes

In San Diego and New York City in the USA, IRC works with local authorities to access land for ex-refugees from Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Cameroon and all over, who have resettled, to grow urban gardens. So as not to aggravate tensions, and to promote inclusion, the programme invites locals to get involved too.

Responding in urban settings involves having to work with new partners, such as the municipal authorities, so that refugees are integrated into existing education and health systems, rather than creating parallel ones. “These [urban authorities] are new partners and we are in the early stages of engaging with them… it involves a big shift,” said Crisp.

Local authorities are not always open to addressing refugee needs, and may prioritize rural camps over urban-based aid, according to UNHCR.


In Mauritania, both the local authorities and UNHCR have pushed refugees to stay in Mbéra camp in the east, if they want to receive aid, refugee groups in the capital, Nouakchott, told IRIN.

Refugees elsewhere – including for instance, Syrian refugees in Turkey – face a similar situation.

In Mauritania some 57,000 refugees are registered at Mbéra, while refugee group the Association of Refugees and Victims of Azawad and the Urban Community of Nouakchott (CUN), which represents the nine municipal authorities of Nouakchott, estimate a further 15,000 Malians fled to the capital, but no urban registration process took place, so the number is not known.

UNHCR has no immediate plans to address Nouakchott-based refugee needs. “The authorities have been very clear – that humanitarian aid is for those who are in the camp. Our strategy here is not for urban refugees in the capital,” said Elise Villechalane, reports officer for UNHCR in Nouakchott at the end of 2012.

“Our priority is to save lives immediately. It may evolve over time, but that is the current priority.”

Malians in Nouakchott come from both the Islamist-held north and from Kati and Bamako in the south following the March 2012 military coup. Many of the refugees are ex-government officials or other individuals with some means and thus may not be eligible in any case, for vulnerability-led aid, noted refugee groups.

Refugees who reach capital cities often create a “self-selection process” as they tend to be more educated and have more means to get to the capital in the first place.

However, agencies have moved away from making the assumption that only “young able-bodied men reach capital cities”, said Crisp. “We know they are a diverse group made up of women, children, men, people with disabilities, and other vulnerabilities.”

Many Malians arrived in Nouakchott with nothing, having used their resources to get there, said Zakiatou Oualette Alatine, an ex-Malian minister in Kati, and now spokesperson for the Association of Refugees and Victims of Azawad. “Many of us arrived empty-handed. Some of the young have found jobs but many of them are exploited as they don’t have refugee status. Most rely on extended family. A minority begs for money,” Kati told IRIN.

Both she and Safia Mint Moulay, representative of Karama, an association that represents Malian refugees in Nouakchott, said what urban refugees need most is identification papers. Without refugee cards they are unable to get a job or attend school, said Moulay. “These people have real needs… Getting their papers – that is the key to everything. If they have papers then they have a right to receive food aid, blankets, shelter and protection,” she said.

These refugees do not want to go to Mbéra as they will not be able to work at all, said Alatine. Refugees have criticized life in the camps and the lack of schools.

CUN, alongside the international association of francophone mayors, gave 60,000 euros (US$78,500) for food for urban refugees, said Mohamed Fouad Berrad, CUN’s presidential adviser, but resources would need to come from elsewhere in future.

Shift in mind-set required

Getting urban refugee responses right requires a shift in mind-set, says IRC’s Leeson. “We can’t say let’s just do what we did before and translate it to an urban setting. We need to be more thoughtful about what we are doing.”

Too often refugees flee insecurity in camps only to face new forms of insecurity in cities, say refugee agencies. Urban refugees are often highly mobile and invisible, making them hard to protect. A study of Nairobi-based refugees by the Humanitarian Policy Group, IRC and the Refugee Consortium of Kenya, noted urban refugees were too fearful of deportation to make themselves visible and demand their rights. Host states must be pressured into recognizing refugee rights to protection and giving them a clearer legal status, the report recommends.

Refugee associations in Nouakchott have been campaigning with the government, but little has shifted, they said.

UNHCR is still learning but the organization has put more time and resources into turning its urban refugee policy into practice than almost any other strategy, said Crisp.

“We are still in a transitional phrase. It isn’t quite prominent yet for everyone. But we need to get everyone orientated to the urban context,” he said.

The agency is collating best practice from urban responses globally, including in Malaysia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ecuador, India, Tajikistan and Bulgaria, which will be available on a database this year.

To turn such best practice into a systematic reality will inevitably require more resources, Crisp noted. UNHCR launched record-level appeals amounting to US$3.6 billion in 2012, due to several high-profile refugee crises, and the funding is not in place to allocate or train staff dedicated specifically to addressing the challenges of urban response.

From IRIN: Humanitaian News and Analysis, a service of the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Immigration Minister Jason Kenney: The case for revoking Canadian terrorists’ citizenship

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, right,stands alongside Calgary Northeast MP Devinder Shory in 2009.

Gavin Young/Postmedia NewsJason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, right,stands alongside Calgary Northeast MP Devinder Shory in 2009.

Chris Selley’s cynical dismissal of the proposal to strip Canadian citizenship from individuals who wage war against Canada or commit serious acts of terrorism (“The citizenship talking point,” Feb. 7) is too eager to assign superficial motives while ignoring the deeply rooted and principled reasons for the proposed reforms.

Canada’s 1947 Citizenship Act included the power to revoke citizenship from those guilty of treason. The removal of this provision in 1977 made Canada’s citizenship law an aberration, as most other liberal democracies have the legal authority to strip citizenship for such crimes as treason and terrorism. In Australia and the United Kingdom, for example, a person can be stripped of citizenship if it is in the public’s best interest — a much lower and vaguer standard than what MP Devinder Shory or I have suggested. Just last year, the United Kingdom revoked the citizenship of Mahdi Hashi for involvement in extremist activities.

Mr. Selley writes that, “if you gain citizenship legitimately, it’s yours unless you give it up. You have rights in Canada, and responsibilities to Canada, and Canada has a responsibility to you, including dealing with you if you blow up a bus in a faraway land.” I agree, up to a point.

Like the 1947 Citizenship Act and the Oath of Citizenship, Mr. Shory’s bill is predicated on the idea of reciprocal loyalty implicit in citizenship. If a Canadian passport-holder maintains another nationality while waging war against Canada or committing a serious act of terrorism, this should be construed for what it so obviously is: a violent severing of the bonds of loyalty implicit in the idea of citizenship. Without the possibility of such a sanction, Mr. Selley’s belief in a citizen’s “responsibilities to Canada” is just empty rhetoric.

But I reject the notion that, if someone takes up arms against the Canadian Forces or commits an act of violent terrorism, Canada should be forced to welcome them back as though the fundamental breach of mutual loyalty never occurred. Virtually no other liberal democracy, from France to New Zealand, from Switzerland to Brazil, believes they have such a self-destructive obligation.

Obviously there should be a high legal threshold for triggering deemed renunciation of citizenship, with appropriate legal safeguards. And, given our international treaty obligations, it can only be applied to those who hold dual or multiple nationalities, to avoid creating stateless persons.


Far from being opportunistic or cynical, Mr. Shory’s thoughtful private member’s bill and the amendments I have suggested would bring Canada back in line with the legal norm throughout the free world, and revive the assumptions that have always been implicit in our citizenship law.

National Post – February 12th 2013

Do you support/oppose Minister Kenney’s decision? We would love to hear from you!


Conference Paper? Or Conference Presentation?

Another Hook and Eye quick-pick

by Aimée Morrison

I laughed my ass off when I read this in the Chronicle. Professor Cebula’s inner monologue so neatly matches my own experience at conferences: early hope and enthusiasm turning to bored dread culminating in surreptitious smartphone tomfoolery and aimless stream of consciousness daydreaming … ending with published rants about crappy conference talks. I have zero tolerance for conference presentations that fail to meet a minimum standard of listenability.
However, where the Cebula and I part company is right here: he hates when people read papers from a prepared script. He prefers a more extemporaneous, a more spontaneous, a more conversational delivery, and like many people offering comments on the article, seems to think a prepared script and an engaging delivery are mutually exclusive.
Many, many, many commenters in fact make this distinction pretty clear, writing versions of this idea: “Stop reading your paper! You should do a presentation instead!”
This is silly. Knock it off.
What is the appropriate or normative format for the delivery of research at a conference varies by discipline. In English, my discipline, the done thing is to write out the whole text and to read it–arguably (that is, I am arguing) that in this field, our main evidence is the very sentences we construct to frame our interpretations of this, that, or the other. In other fields, it is normal to have one Powerpoint slide for every minute of presentation, with bullet pointed text on it. In other fields, the presentation consists of a couple of graphs or tables on Powerpoints, which are described in a more off-the-cuff manner. Other presentation formats include the round-table, or the panel discussion, or a Q and A.
Whether you read from a paper, describe one graph, or elaborate on bullet points on a series of slides is, mostly, a matter of what discipline you work in. It’s not really helpful to say that reading a paper is bad and showing lots of slides and talking from index cards is better. We’ve all seen brilliant presentations where the speaker is obviously working from a prepared text. And we’ve all seen really awful presentations with slides and no script. It’s not the format. It’s the skill.
So this is a defence of the conference paper. Yeah, a 3000 word essay, 10 pages of script that I’m going to print out and then hold somewhere in front of me while I talk to you, all six of you or sixty of you, out there in an audience. I read my papers. And I’m an awesome presenter. Ain’t nothing in the paper format that makes it inherently deadly. I mean, actors work from scripts on stage and on film, and they don’t crush us with boredom, right?
The main problem with papers I believe I have identified in an earlier post. It’s too much content crammed into too little time, which forces rushing or complaining or confusion or running too long.
If you want to craft an effective presentation from a “paper” you need to address three things:

  1. the text needs to be written for a listening rather than reading audience
  2. you will need to perform the written text, using your voice and body to add in the structure and emphasis and pacing marked visually by paragraph markers, bolding, sections, or bullets
  3. you need to practice. In advance. More than once.

A good text should: feature a variety of sentence lengths, employ conversational language, signpost what’s coming, and reiterate what’s passed. Repetition and simplicity is key. Here’s the opening paragraph of a conference paper I gave at Theorizing the Web last year in Maryland:

In asking every user, as it does, “What’s on your mind?” Facebook’s status update feature elicits personal disclosure, short bursts of self-narration that add up to a kind of autobiography. But how, exactly? The ways that compliant subjects answer the question demonstrate how their practices are shaped by the coaxing technologies, both discursive and material, afforded by the moment of interaction between status update interface and human user. Much of the scholarly investigation into “social network sites” focuses on the social and the network aspects: that is, why people interact with one another in these spaces and with what effect. But interpersonal relationships on Facebook are a second order interaction: fundamentally, the user at the computer is interacting with Facebook, first and foremost. This interaction remains to be explored. Employing the theory of “affordance” drawn from visual perception studies, as well as that of “coaxing,” drawn from auto/biography studies this paper offers a modest proposal for how to understand the relationship between social software and human user.

Delivery is key. A good text will get you nowhere unless you can deliver it. Good delivery involves: using gesture to demonstrate structure. Employing vocal tone and volume to indicate emphasis. Slowing down for the important bits. Paying attention to audience reaction, and leaving yourself enough room to work with that, even if just a “I know, right?” or “Wait, I’ll get to where I think you’re getting anxious about, you in the corner!”
Here’s me reading that same paragraph, like I would at the conference, except in my pyjamas in my dining room. Listen for how I perform the structure and emphasis in the text of my script (it’s a little weird to do it for a camera in close up …):


(You also can’t see that I’ve got slides to emphasize key words. That’ll be another post …)
You have to practice to do this well: know the text enough to be able to look up, and importantly, not to read your own sentences incorrectly because you don’t quite know where they’re headed. If you don’t practice–you can screw up the delivery of even a good text, thus:


Omigod, right? And I don’t mean “Omigod, right? I totally shaved 12 seconds off the delivery time, so I can keep those extra 300 words at the end!”
Anyhow. The moral of the story is this: it is possible to craft an effective reserach presentation from a written script, delivered text in hand, by reading. It is. Don’t write off the paper. It’s a matter of skill in authorship, skill in presentation, and the discipline to finish the script in a timely enough manner to allow you to rehearse it.
Thoughts? Gripes? Rebuttals?