Complexities and Challenges in Afghan migration?

If you look at the return programs organized by European governments (usually in partnership with the IOM) you will notice that return and reintegration are often mentioned together, as if they always coincide. However, reintegration (however it is defined) does not automatically follow return. Also, how ‘success’ in reintegration assistance is defined differs: is it where those assisted do not re-migrate? Or, as I would argue, reintegration is a multi-dimensional process that involves (re)negotiating membership in a variety of different spheres of society (economic, political, social, and cultural). In a high mobility society like Afghanistan, with a ‘culture of migration’, further migration may actually be an indicator of successful reintegration into socio-cultural norms (i.e. doing what everyone else is doing), rather than a ‘failure’ of reintegration.

Fieldwork for the PREMIG project (amongst other research) suggests that Afghans in Norway and the UK only sign up for Assisted ‘Voluntary’ Return programs when all other options of staying in Europe have been exhausted and they are ‘volunteering’ to take assisted return rather than be deported. Consequently, I agree with those who only use the term voluntary returnee with regard to people who have the option of a regularized stay in Europe as an alternative to return.

I consider ‘migration’ to be an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of mobile people, including refugees. Policy-makers, however, often see contemporary Afghans travelling abroad as migrants as opposed to refugees. UNHCR points out that this might be difficult for many refugee advocates to accept. Whilst I’m all for recognizing the reality of mixed migration flows, until there is a ‘migrant’ category that offers regularized mobility to people fleeing the kinds of complex webs of poverty and insecurity that many Afghans experience, then I’m very wary of seeing the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ separated in the Afghan case.

‘Maybe someday I’ll return…’

The ‘super-diversity’ case-study in the PREMIG project was, unlike the other five case-studies, not defined around a country of origin. Instead we defined it based on temporal dimensions, by interviewing people who had either come to Norway

  1. during their childhood, before turning 14, or
  2. recently, in the past 1-5 years.

This was, more than anything, an experiment. And the data that came out of the experiment confirm the importance of time-related factors in migrants’ understandings of settlement processes and return considerations. The data high-light that there are many similarities in migrants’ reflections on return and settlement, across their countries of origin.

The more settled you are in, and the stronger sense of belonging you have to, Norway, the less inclined you are towards permanent return. To those who came to Norway as children, and have spent their school and adolescent years here, the questions we posed may have seemed odd: ‘Return’ to what? They might appreciate spending their holidays in the country they left behind as children, or perhaps they could imagine spending a longer period there for example as part of their studies. But permanent return is difficult to imagine because Norway is where their home is.

For recently-arrived migrants, on the other hand, return is a more likely prospect. They work under the assumption of one day returning, whether in a short-term or a long-term perspective. Or at least they keep the possibility of return open. However, as time passes and they become more settled in Norway, actual return becomes less likely for many.

The passage from one life-cycle to another can also play a role in return considerations. Small children to care for, and a partner to coordinate with, make moving to another country into a larger project than when you are single. And so the idea of return is left to when the children grow older, or maybe when you retire. Another way in which changing life-cycle stages can affect return considerations is the emerging need for taking care of elderly parents or other relatives remaining in the country of origin.

The above illustrates the importance of age at time of migration, length of stay in the country of settlement, and life-cycle stages to the return considerations that migrants make. The ‘super-diversity’ case-study in PREMIG has enabled us to explore time-related factors in migrants’ return considerations, demonstrating that time does matter – no matter the migrant’s country of origin.

Arkhangelsk oblast

A great interview with an entrepreneur from Arkhangelsk oblast showing the depressed economy and unique resilience. I particularly like the point: “What have you learned after six years of work in the Russian North? – First of all, never count on your own efforts, because everything goes as God wills…’.

The Arctic Council

A very odd reflection in Nezavisimaya gazeta on the meeting of chiefs of staff of the Arctic Council, as if the top brass were arguing about competitive military build-up. The conclusion that Russia is lagging behind in the arms race in the Arctic is plain preposterous.

NGO activity in the Arctic Council

A very sharp article in Bellona on Medvedev’s great reluctance to show support for NGO activity in the Arctic Council. The photo by Truide Pettersen shows a demonstration of ecologists in Murmansk.

Cold War in the north

Following Medvedev’s sour comments in Kirkenes on NATO expansion, here is an excellent article by the sharpest-of-the-sharp Edward Lucas Cold War in the north By Edward Lucas – 06.06.2013 / 03:40 CET The Nordic and Baltic states are increasingly worried about Russia Discussing NATO membership in Sweden is a bit like discussing sex at a… Read more »

Barents Region summit in Kirkenes

Very little attention in the Russian media to the Barents Region summit in Kirkenes, where Prime Minister Medvedev tried to assert that Russia suffered no damage from signing the maritime border treaty with Norway on his watch. Moskovsky Komsomolets (rather suprisingly for this tabloid) focused on the issue of NATO enlargement, while Rossiiskaya Gazeta complained… Read more »

International Arctic Council

Ambassador Anton Vasilyev addressing the first session of the International Arctic Council in Moscow on May 23. Moskovsky Komsomolets noted the event. My presentation was quoted in