Friday, July 22, 2016

Introduction

Cartoons published in the infamous French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, brought the complexities of representation and politics to the fore, in the recent past. In the cartoon depicting a drowned immigrant figure next to a Jesus like figure walking on water, was also the legend, “Christians walk on water, Muslim children sink”. Yet another featured dead Aylan Kurdi’s figure, next to a McDonald type advertisement.
The detractors were quick to condemn Charlie Hebdo’s overtly racists and insensitive cartoons, while the magazine’s editors and several others pointed out at the satire inherent in their representational practices. They claim, the satire was not directed at the migrants themselves, but Europe’s response, inadequate, to the migrant crisis.This debate points at the complexities inherent in the ‘circuit of culture’, pointing at the tensions between signifying practices, modes of production, consumption, identities and regulations.

The current issue of Refugee Watch Online seeks to tease out the politics inherent in cultural representations of migration and forced migration, From the differential and evocative use of a term to the popular imaginary of a space definitively forming an identity and a desire in the universe of Malayalam cinema, to the imaginative use of borders and crossings in search of a supportive and irreverent Europe— this issue brings together a host of articles reflecting on the representations of migration across mediums, spaces and modes.

The articles in this issue are as follow (click on the links below):


The Gulf on the Malayali Big Screen: An outline history

IO STO CON LA SPOSA: A Video-Graphic Review

Migrations and Identities: A Study of Sea of Poppies

Harraga: Snapshot on A Migration and Its Representation

Fratricide: A Review.

Mein Hoon Yusuf Aur Yeh Mera Bhai: The Story of a Real People



Samata Biswas (bsamata@gmail.com)

The Gulf on the Malayali Big Screen: an outline history


Mohamed Shafeeq K. 

(Shafeeq teaches Comparative Literature at University of Hyderabad and can be reached at shafeeq.vly@gmail.com)

The first Malayalam movie to refer to what is called the Gulf came out in 1980, and was called Vilkkanundu Swapnangal – Dreams for Sale (dir. M. Azad). Who did the selling was not clear, but there were clear buyers, the Malayalis being foremost among them. Written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair, the movie begins with a voice-over telling us
[how] we [were] always attracted by the promise of a land where we can harvest gold.  Once upon a time it was Ceylon, then it was Malaya. In the last one decade there have been stories doing the rounds of a land where you end up being rich if you somehow, even selling off the roof over your head, you can manage to reach there. Thousands of youth now found a dream to cherish – Dubai.
The movie depicts the hardships and perils of the journey of the days then where many did not even make it to the other shore alive.  It also offers other conclusions:  as the protagonist of the movie, Rajagopala Menon, discovers, (i) Gulf can make you rich beyond your dreams, (ii) but all the richness of it, the villa there, the house in Kerala – none of it – can help you win your love, Sridevi, who would bang the door of her crumbling Nair tharavadu (feudal household) on your face, and (iii) there are more migrants on the way. The movie offers glimpses of what Dubai used to be back then and is thus a rarity.

IO STO CON LA SPOSA: A Video-Graphic Review

Tommaso Manfredini

(Tommaso is a Doctoral Student in the Department of French and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University and can be reached at tm2538@columbia.edu)


EU Regulation 604/2013 remains the latest attempt at legally harmonizing the processing of asylum-seeking and protection claims across all EU Member States. Its origin can be traced back to the 1990 Dublin Convention (ratified in 1997), followed by the Regulation’s original 2003 draft which, through several amendments, led to the adopted text of 2013. Commonly known as “Dublin Regulation” or Dublin III”, the regulation establishes that the Member State where applicants first lodge a status application is responsible for reviewing that claim. This means that an asylum-seeker has only one chance and, formally, one choice: he or she must lodge their application in the country where they would like to be admitted and eventually reside. Lodging an application”, however, is not exactly an act of free will. In theory, an application for asylum will be filed on behalf of an undocumented migrant whenever and wherever this person comes into contact with a European state representative. If a person enters the EU through Italy but wants to live elsewhere, as is the case of the characters in Io sto con la sposa, he or she must make their way to the country of their choosing without being intercepted by state representatives”—police, train controllers, highway patrols, etc.Io Sto con la Sposa is thus a statement about and against the growing inadequacy of the Dublin Regulation and its power of fragmenting the purportedly borderless space of the European Union.

Migrations and Identities: A Study of Sea of Poppies

Samata Biswas

(Samata teaches English at Bethune College and can be reached at bsamata@gmail.com)


“...the Ibis was not a ship like any other; in her inward reality she was a vehicle of transformation, travelling through the mists of illusion towards the elusive, ever-receding landfall that was truth”(422-423)[i].

Set in the 19th century, immediately before the first Opium War, Sea of Poppies chronicles the journey of Ibis, from the coast of Calcutta to Mauritius. Central to the novel is Ibis, once a vessel that carried slaves, now fitted for human cargo, and later, for opium. It brings together merchants, indentured labourers and their guards, convicts undergoing a sentence of kala-pani, lascars who ply their trade, one white woman trying to build an independent life in another country, a black man passing as white- the link between the different sections on board etc. The narrative is at pains to underscore the idea that on board the ship, everyone, especially the marginalised are part of a unified community of forced migrants irrespective of the reasons behind their migration and their previous situations in life. This article teases out the tensions inherent in the creation of a homogenous migrant identity.

Harraga: Snapshot on A Migration and Its Representation

Baya Yantren 

(Baya is a Law student at McGill University and she can be reached at baya.yantren@gmail.com)


Harragaحراقةis a word that has many meanings, that has its own sounds, its images, its texts, and most of all it is a word that has claimed its own bodies. Derived from the classical tri-literal root حرقmeaning 'to burn', this word has an even longer history, a history which has impregnated the word with metaphor.

Harraga is one of the current methods of irregular emigration:  though its name is ‘el harga’, it is the person who does it that is called ‘harrag’, the plural of which is the term ‘harraga’. It is this word that has gained much media attention and has come to mean both the phenomenon and its candidates. Harraga is a phenomenon that, more than any other form of irregular immigration—by virtue of its physical weight and its and symbolic meanings—puts into question the state, and this time on a global scale. 

Algerian Migration

Since the publication of Abdelmalek Sayad’s The Suffering of the Immigrant, much has changed in the ways of emigration from Algeria, North Africa and, more generally, from around the Mediterranean. The traditional pattern of emigration from Algeria that automatically translates into immigration to France has been put into question, and the validity of the traditional Paris-Montreal-Algiers triangle of Algerian migration has been interrogated. It remains, however, that the migration of Algerians to France still was numerically the most important inflow of non-EU population to France in 2012. If the predominance of Algerian migration to France remains, the past thirty years have nonetheless witnessed a marked change in migratory fluxes.

Fratricide: A Review.

Madhurilata Basu

(Madhurilata teaches Political Science at Gurudas College and can be reached at basu.madhurilata@gmail.com)



Director: Yilmaz Arslan
Cast: Erdal Celik, Nurretin Celik, Xevat Gectan
Running time: 90 mins


As moths drawn to the light, many took the road to the Promised Land’, hoping that, ‘at the end of the tunnel, shines the light of money…’

The movie Fratricide (Brudermode; Germany: 2005), tries to capture the aspirations of migrants in Europe, in this case an unnamed German city, their struggles at various levels— to have a life, to live with dignity and be accepted as well as the struggles of competing with other migrants for assimilation. Yilmaz Arslan's Fratricide, traces the journey of a young Kurdish shepherd boy, Azad (Erdal Celik), to Germany, with the help of his elder brother’s (Semo, Nurretin Celik) money, in order to support their struggling family.

When Azad is all set to leave in a truck full of teenage boys or young men from nearby villages, all suited up, Azad’s father picks up some soil and puts it in his shabby coat pocket. At that moment, the words of a fellow passenger that in a new land one might lose a brother to find another,  might seem to be harsh, based on the timing, but as the film unfolds, it would seem that harsh is another name for the reality in Azad’s life. On arrival in Germany, Azad stays in some kind of a refugee shelter. He comes to know that Semo has become a pimp and he, unlike his brother, sets off to earn his living by shaving beards and trimming the nose hair of the customers from a neighbourhood hangout. It is at the shelter that Azad meets Ibo (Xewat Gectan), an orphaned Kurdish boy and forges a friendship and brotherly attachment towards him.

Mein Hoon Yusuf Aur Yeh Mera Bhai: The Story of a Real People

Maithreyi Karnoor (Maithreyi writes reviews for The Hindu, and can be reached at maitreyi.karnoor@gmail.com
An earlier version of this review was published in The Hindu, April 29, 2016.


Ethnic violence on a gargantuan scale happens in another continent; a huge war is fought whose victory doesn’t undo the death and destruction on either side; mythology is invoked; meetings are held by a few powerful men in closed rooms in a far away country and a ‘solution’ is found by which you and your family will pay for the damage by giving up your home – your land, your loved ones, your dreams.

When one cannot explain the occupation of Palestine to a six year old convincingly, without losing one’s own convictions in the process, it is stupefying – shattering – when a six year old tells you this story himself.

All Yusuf, wants to do is play with his older brother and experience an innocent joy and warmth in the intense love story between his brother and his lover Nada. He wants to eat chocolates and let his brother fill his eyes with dreams of the future – in a home full of warmth and love. But Yusuf is flung violently in a story framed by colonialism, world wars, partitions and migration. People are forced out of their homes, many lose their loved ones. Yusuf’s brother is killed and Yusuf spends many years meandering through refugee camps living a life of confusion and pain, until he is found by Nada, a woman who would have been his sister-in-law in another destiny. What follow are emotions resonating with tenderness – mixed with the pain of loss and nostalgia – that tell a gripping story of the futility of war.


Renowned artist from Kolkata, Sanatan Dinda won the first prize at the World Bodypainting Festival 2016, Portschach (Austria). The theme of the final round was ‘Propaganda’ (control of the public mind) wherein Dinda portrayed the image of Aylan Kurdi who’s corpse was  washed ashore on Turkey’s sea beach. The message ‘immigration is not a crime’ was painted on both hands of the model. According to Dinda he represented the issues of ‘internally displaced person’ through the portrayal of Aylan.

Photo courtesy: The Times of India

Book Review: The Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive Northeast in Indian Foreign Policy, Subir Bhaumik

Snehashish Mitra

(Snehashish is a research assistant at Calcutta Research Group and can be reached at snehashish@mcrg.ac.in)


In the annals of history, today’s northeast region (NER) of India has been a frontier region without any clear cut boundary or borders. Territories were marked by a few kingdoms like the Ahoms, Koch, Manipur and Twipperah (today’s Tripura), while ethnic demography was equally influential in controlling resources. Until the dawn of independent India’s rule, the region witnessed frequent border shifts & orientation, while internal reorientation has continued through formation of new states and autonomous councils as a response to security centric agendas and aspirations of autonomy along ethnic cum indigenous lines. As per the design of partition in 1947, the NER shares borders with multiple nations of southeast Asia. Therein the foreign policy of India holds multiple ramifications for the northeast region. With options of India being limited on the Western front due to unfriendly Pakistan, unstable Afghanistan and turbulent middle-east, India has recently focused on expanding bilateral ties with the eastern neighbours; though northeast India didn’t figure in India’s Look East policy in the 1990s, around 2008 it has started to gain importance in the imaginaries of India’s geopolitics as it aspires to shift from security centric governance to trade centric governance in the northeast.   Tripura deserves a special mention with regards to its proactive nature in engaging with its immediate foreign neighbour . Thus the choice of the book title by veteran journalist Subir Bhaumik has in a way acknowledged Tripura’s role by including Tripura’s capital Agartala within the title.

‘The Agartala Doctrine’ brings together a myriad range of articles which encompasses the local dynamics of the region by focusing on Assam and Bhaumick’s own inputs on Tripura, and stretches out to the multiple dynamics of foreign policies, sub-regional bodies like ASEAN, BIMSTEC etc.[1] Bhaumik  introduces the readers by giving a critical overview of India’s recent foreign policy and how domestic politics also play a pivotal role considering West Bengal and Tamil Nadu’s stance on international issues. Bhaumik then goes into the detail of Tripura’s tryst with migration, insurgency, ethnic autonomy and relation with Bangladesh and aims to formulate few guiding principles of India’s foreign policy drawing from Tripura’s experience. Bhaumik locates the success of the Tripura’s decision making in the past and hence roots for the ‘Tripura Line’ for appropriate response of India’s foreign policy which is actively pursuing the Eastern neighbours.

Workshop on Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime, 23 to 25 September 2015, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada: A Report

Sreya Sen

(Sreya Sen is a Doctoral Fellow at University of Calcutta. She participated in the workshop as an International Student Rapporteur along with Dacia Douhaibi (York University).)

A workshop on “Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime” was organized by the Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada from 23 to 25 September 2015. The workshop considered how power and influence may be observed and studied within the global refugee regime before taking into consideration the influence of various states, international organizations, NGOs and other actors within the global refugee regime.

The workshop took off with the presentation of a background paper on “Understanding Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime” by workshop host Dr. James Milner, Professor of Political Science, Carleton University. The paper drew from literature on global governance and international regimes and proposed analytical tools which may explain or be used to observe power and influence in the global refugee regime. It also presented a framework for understanding power and influence in the global refugee regime that would stimulate discussion over the three days of the workshop.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Migration and Security


Ranabir Samaddar 

[Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, CRG. He can be reached at ranabir@mcrg.ac.in]

When we speak of human security we first of all recognise the need and the practice of a juridical structure of security that acknowledges various special claims for security, but reconciles at the same time the differential claims for security in its structure. Such a structure becomes overall by displaying three features – by being legal, by acknowledging special claims, and by reconciling differing claims for security. In case of India, the constitution has recognised the presence and certain rights of the indigenous people, has made room for specific provisions for those rights, has provided for special security arrangements in an area such as the North east, has tried to settle legally the international borders and boundaries as much as possible, and has done away with old hierarchies in terms of political-administrative units of the Union, and has made all units equal as states. Yet, as India’s post-Independence history indicates, the emphasis on country’s overall security has reinforced molecular insecurity. Assam is a telling case, where its international boundary, inter-state boundaries, and internal boundaries – all have combined to make each fragment of the state of Assam insecure. In that region, probably like many others, no one can provide security at the grassroots – the rebels, the army, the ethnic home guards, the civil society, frankly no one. The special provisions only display their own inadequacy; the reconciliation mechanisms prove to be mere governmental exercises of rule; the army and the paramilitary forces prove oppressive; and the international boundaries become the negotiating space for kin groups, kin political formations, the immigrant army of labour, and people fleeing from torture, threats of persecution, and fear. The overall security is reinforced by an “overall” political economy of the region, some of whose features produce insecurity. Such a security framework cannot acknowledge fully the figure of the immigrant except in the sense of denying or ousting the immigrant from the political universe. Unable to provide enough economic resources and development, or to put matter correctly, unable to de-link development and the influx of migrant labour, and unable to cleanse the nation of aliens, the only way remains for the indigene then to ensure molecular security is to claim homeland. The fly in the ointment is that, this path of overall security leading to molecular security is also the path to molecular insecurity. It is like a place degree zero, where constitution has stopped bearing relevance, only pragmatism rules, and daily negotiations order the day. It is a hard case, harder than all juridical security arrangements, harder than constitutional provisions; it is a terra incognita where history rather than law has the capacity to play the grand jury. In fact history calls law into question here, and whatever may be the outcome of the security/property question in the present juncture, we must recognise the hardness of the case, if we are to claim that we are making serious intellectual effort towards revising our notion of security, if the phrase “non-traditional security” suggests some such need.

Friday, July 08, 2016

UN Report Declares Crime against Rohingyas as Crime against Humanity: News Links

Sucharita Sengupta

(Sucharita Sengupta works at Calcutta Research Group and can be reached at sucharitaseng@gmail.com)

2015 was a landmark year for Myanmar. In the first half it made news for all the wrong reasons and in the second half for a supposedly positive change. The first half of the year saw tragic deaths of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, who, although hailing from the Rakhine state situated in the South West coast of Myanmar, are denied citizenship and hence are ‘stateless’, forced to flee. Starvation deaths in border detention camps of countries like Thailand, Malaysia and images of overloaded boats capsizing in the Bay of Bengal evoked worldwide sympathy for the Rohingyas. The enormity of their being victims of international trafficking-smuggling rackets also came to the forefront making it difficult for states to feign ignorance. Amidst criticism from the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, all eyes were fixed on the recent election in Myanmar, on 8 November 2015. It was believed that a solution would be attained if Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) comes to power. On the contrary, however, even after a landslide victory of her party, Aung Suu Kyi has still now refrained from taking any positive stance on the issue. In fact, following a report by the UN which states the Rohingyas in Myanmar have suffered crimes that “amount to crimes against humanity”; the Myanmar leader has told an UN special Reporter on Human Rights that the newly elected government, sworn in April 2016, will avoid using the term “Rohingya” to avoid controversy of any sort. Aung Suu Kyi’s comments clearly indicate the discomfort that the government has in recognizing the Rohingyas as Myanmar’s citizens, denoting how even the nomenclature ‘Rohingya’ is a subject of controversy in the country. The previously military backed government believed the Rohingyas to be illegal “Bengali” migrants. Although a new committee has been formed to establish peace and development in May, the plans of the committee are not clear.

Monday, July 04, 2016

CMHA Ontario’s Webinars: Important resource in taking care of refugee mental health.

Mahanam Bhattacharjee Mithun

(Mahanam is a MA student under European Masters in Migration and Intercultural Relations Programme. He is presently an intern in Calcutta Research Group)

Canadian Mental Health Associations webinars provides some very important insights into the mental health issues among the refugee population (http://ontario.cmha.ca/public-policy/capacity-building/refugeemh/). The guidelines and recommendations provided by CMHA put light on the fact on how to better deal with mental health issues specially regards to child and adult refugees mental health. These also help us to better understand the concept of mental health, factors affecting mental health, people that are more vulnerable to mental health problems and most if all provides an important guideline how to enhance our capacity in support refugees with mental health issues.
Due to ongoing war, violence and persecution in home countries, a lot of people continue to be forced to leave their own country and seek refuge in other countries. It is very important for us to understand the concept of mental health, mental health condition of the refugee population and how to support the refugees most effectively. According to the public health agency of Canada, mental health is the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with challenges to face. It is a positive sense of spiritual and emotional well being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Tabassum’s Morning in India – The Story of a ‘Separated’ Minor Refugee Girl

Preeta Chaudhuri
[Email:preetachaudhuri@gmail.com. Currently works as a Social Sector Consultant in a Big 4 firm. The following article is from the time when she used to work as a Child Protection Officer for the unaccompanied and separated children for an implementing partner of UNHCR in their Refugee Assistance Program]

Tabassum (name changed) suddenly woke up in her bed. Her aunt was lying next to her with a baby, Tabassum’s 1 month old niece, wrapped under her arms. Her uncle was snoring loudly from the other side of the bed. Tabassum had seen the same dream again. Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she felt the same sadness emanating from inside. At this moment, she did what she would always do after such a dream. She would get up, step outside her camp and run towards the largest tree. She would look at the rising sun and imagine it to be the face of her mother. She would then close her eyes and remember her vividly.
Tabassum is a 7 year old refugee girl who belongs to the Rohingya community and is currently residing in a refugee camp situated on the outskirts of New Delhi. When we are about to exit New Delhi and move towards Noida (which falls in Uttar Pradesh), we come across a place called Madanpur Khadar adjoining the famous gullies of Jamia Millia Islamia. A large stretch of land here has been donated by the Zakat Foundation of India to set up refugee camps for the Rohingyas. The Rohingyas are stateless persons and in India they come to seek refuge in order to preserve their community from being destroyed. This is a very vulnerable community as most of them have no resources and are not even educated to obtain small jobs. The males of the community engage in rag picking and selling. Few of them also work as labourers. The condition of the camp site can be compared to a slum community of rag-pickers where heaps of rotten waste are piled up and disaggregated into plastic, metal and food waste. There are no bathrooms and not even a public toilet; therefore, most of the inhabitants openly defecate. Women and children face high risks of sanitation and hygiene leading to their deteriorating health and serious medical conditions. The families don’t even have resources to finance treatment and mostly ignore diseases and epidemics. The children attend non-formal education classes imparted by the Zakat Foundation but most of them skip classes to engage into daily wage labour. The Rohingya community are borderline survivors in India.
Tabassum had arrived in India in 2013 with her uncle and aunt. Her father had passed away when she was an infant due to an incurable disease. Her mother had brought her up till the age of 5. She remembers her village – Sauprang, in Myanmar, as a valley surrounded by mountains and bounded by water. It was a fishing village as most families would catch and sell fish in the markets to earn a livelihood. Tabassum had a happy childhood where she would play in the mango orchards nearby with her cousins. It was in May 2013 that Tabassum’s life changed. She left her village with her mother and Uncle’s family in a boat and crossed a long river to a new place to stay. She did not know why she had to leave then but later found out from her uncle that the entire community in the village was being forcibly converted into another religion. Due to these conditions, the family decided to flee to Bangladesh along with their relatives. However, Tabassum and her family could not find a permanent place to stay in Bangladesh as they were illegal immigrants and had no protection. They had to run from one village to another and hide their identity. However, since their language and facial features were a little different from Bangladeshi natives, they would be recognized by the law authorities and detained.
Due to fear of persecution, Tabassum’s uncle decided to cross the border again in a boat from Bangladesh to India. He contacted the smugglers near the Bangladesh border and was told that he would have to pay Rs.5000 per person. Unfortunately, he had sufficient money for only three persons and no means to earn more. Tabassum’s mother decided to stay back and sent her daughter along with her uncle and aunt to India. They reached Indiain September 2013.
Once in India, they started living in a village on the outskirts of the city of Kolkata. It was a man named Sheikh Jamal (name changed) who informed them about UNHCR. Sheikh Jamal was also a Rohingya who had arrived from New Delhi in order to inform the new immigrants of their rights as refugees and pursue them to come and stay in New Delhi. Tabassum still remembers her first train ride to New Delhi. There was hardly enough space for her to sit on the berth and she spent most of the 18 hours in train crying as she missed her mother. Upon reaching, Tabassum was taken to a brightly lit office in a posh colony of New Delhi where she was interviewed for Refugee Status Determination. After 3 months, she received her refugee card and was recognized as a “separated minor refugee” by the UNHCR.
She started living in a hut which they made themselves with bamboo, plastic and metal sheets. The hut was very small and cooking was done inside using firewood. They used to earlier sleep on the floor but later her uncle got a folding bed which was shared by Tabassum and her aunt. Her aunt received a sewing machine as donation from an NGO and started making traditional dresses for the community. Her uncle joined other men in the rag selling business and would earn enough for their subsistence. Sheikh Jamalwas the representative of the Rohingya community in New Delhi and often visited UNHCR and its implementing partners for demanding assistance for the community.
Tabassum started facing psychological issues subsequently after her arrival in New Delhi. She was under the impression that her mother will join her soon in India. But months had gone by and she had not heard a word from her. Her uncle tried contacting her mother but could not trace her. After three months of waiting, they told Tabassum that probably her mother was no more. Tabassum was in shock. She would then spend all day and night crying, she could not eat anything and also had a bout of fever. After a month, she started showing symptoms of abnormal behaviour. When Sheikh Jamal was informed about Tabassum’s condition, he took her to the Psycho-Social Counselling centre which was run by one of UNHCR’s implementing partners. Tabassum was diagnosed with Depression and PTSD.
She has been seeing dreams of her mother every night and sometimes she wakes up in cold sweat. She has stopped communicating with anybody and it seems like she cannot speak. Her aunt sends her for the non-formal classes but the teacher usually gets an expressionless response from Tabassum whenever she is approached. She has made no friends and after classes and during morning hours, Tabassum is usually seen to be sitting under the tree and crying. When Tabassum was asked by her counsellor to draw her family in an Art Therapy session, she painted a small hut surrounded by mountains, a river, a tree and a lady standing under it holding the hand of a young girl. The counsellor analysed from the painting that Tabassum had not yet accepted the changes in her life and was unable to integrate herself to the new realities. The absence of her mother, whom she was so close to, furtherweakened her mental condition.
The status of mental health of minor refugees is a cause of concern in these times of the rising refugee crisis in the world. In an article titled ‘Refugees and Mental State of Refugee Children’ published in the latest volume of the Middle Eastern Journal Of Refugee Studies, Serhat Nasiroglu and Veci Seri have shared the following findings:
Clinical studies show that rates of depressive disorder among refugees vary between 4% and 89% and of PTSD are above 50%. Among Bosnian refugee children who were victims of ethnic cleansing, very high rates of PTSD (65%) and depression (35%) were observed a year after their journey to the United States. (Weine et al.,1995). Similarly, a large proportion (34%) of young Afghan refugees was diagnosed with comorbid PTSD and depression (Mghir, Freed, Raskin, &Katon, 1995). Researchers find PTSD to be associated with the experience of war and with depression related to current living conditions and recent experience of stressful events (Sack, Clarke, & Him, 1993). Other common problems in refugee children and adolescents who have experienced war include somatic complaints, sleep problems, behavioural disorders, social withdrawal, attention problems, widespread fear, extreme dependency, restlessness, irritability, and difficulty establishing peer relationships (Tousignant et al., 1999). In addition to mental health problems, mass population movements, deficiencies in health services, sanitation and access to potable water, malnutrition, and overcrowding lead to the spread of diseases in refugee camps.
In recent years, games and artistic expression have become widely used treatmentmethods for refugee children. Among the benefits of this therapy are improvements in self-confidence, theability to express feelings, problem solving, and conflict resolution through creativeexpression. Within the last decade, creative expression activities have been foundto be useful in helping refugee children face losses and traumas, re-establish socialties that were severed by war, build identities, and find meaning in life.
Tabassum’s story represents the status of many more unaccompanied and separated minor refugees who have face war, destruction, separation and have witnessed torture and killings.Tabassum is receiving therapy from the Psycho-social counselling centre operated by the implementing partner of UNHCR to help her cope and come to terms with reality.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Introduction: The Boat People

"2016, the Mediterranean is a mass grave," Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). 

This calendar year has already been marked by serious refugee crisis all over the world. Large scale movement of people from different countries of Asia and the middle East, the knee-jerk reactions of most governments, the sympathy of some populations, the Pope's naming the displaced people "god's children", the linking of terrorism with migration in popular imagination, and the increasing awareness that one needs to view all migration as forced migration, 
Within this scenario, especially with respect to the Rohingyas and refugees from Syria, the boat, both as a metaphor for going from one country to another, and a a material facilitator of the same. From Aylan Kurdi's death by drowning, to the refusal to let the Rohingya boats dock, and the reported death of  400 Somali refugees trying to reach Europe by boat, this special issue of refugee watch online seeks to look at historical instances of large scale displacement via boat as well as the current crises. 


This issue also includes two field work based reports on urbanisation in Nepal and the Indian city, Guwahati, as well as a report on women uprooted by river erosion in Bengal. 

Samata Biswas (bsamata@gmail.com). 

Boat People: Uniting Syria and Vietnam

Snehashish Mitra (biltu0717@gmail.com) is a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 


As Aylan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian boy of Kurdis ethnic background lied lifeless on a sea beach of Turkey, it depicted the desperation of over 4 million Syrian refugees. The image circulated round the globe prompted international response over the issue of rehabilitating the Syrian refugee. The crisis also evoked a similar trajectory of events in another part of the world in a different time involving the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’. As Thuan Le Elston, a member of the editorial board of the daily USA TODAY of Vietnamese background opines, it might be necessary to take a look back at the case to Vietnamese Boat People to find a reasonable solution for the Syrian refugee crisis.
When the Americans lost the Vietnam War there were many citizens of Vietnam, especially in South Vietnam who did not wish to stay in Vietnam. Those with influence were airlifted out by the Americans but many had to make do with crowding onto leaky boats and making the journey from Vietnam to the gulf of Thailand. Nearly 800,000 Vietnamese fled by boat, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In doing so they unwittingly wrote themselves into modern pirate history. The Vietnamese populace who tried to flee Vietnam over boat is termed as ‘Vietnamese Boat People’; they seemed to encapsulate all the suffering Vietnam had suffered from1965 to 1975. Despite the end of the Vietnam War, tragedy for the people of Vietnam continued into 1978-79. The term ‘Boat People’ not only applies to the refugees who fled Vietnam but also to the people of Cambodia and Laos who did the same but tend to come under the same umbrella term. The term ‘Vietnamese Boat People’ tends to be associated with only those in the former South who fled the new Communist government established in post-war Vietnam. The exodus was the biggest in peacetime the world had seen. The boat people chose to face the adversities of the sea and the pirates rather than live under communist regime with the genuine prospect of attending reeducation camps and face persecution. About 10% of the boat people died without ever reaching shore, from pirate attacks, drowning or starvation. Those who survived, overwhelmed Vietnam’s neighbors as well as Western nations where the refugees wanted to resettle. 

Empire Strikes Back: The Tragic Journey of Komagata Maru

Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty (srchakraborty@gmail.com) is an eminent historian and a retired professor of History of Presidency College, Kolkata. 

The Journey
    Baba Gurdit Singh, a successful Sikh businessman, decided to help the poor Sikh and other Indian migrants in East and South East Asia to migrate to Canada hopefully for a better life. He chartered the ship Komagata Maru at Hong Kong and the ship reached Vancouver in British Columbia on 23 May, 1914 with 376 passengers on board. The Canadian immigration authorities allowed only 22 passengers to disembark on the ground that other passengers did not fulfill the requirements of continuous journey for landing under Canadian law. The ship with all its passengers was detained in the Vancouver Harbour for two months till 23 July without adequate food and water and was ultimately obliged to return literally at gun point when a Canadian navy cruiser was brought with its guns exposed to the Burrard Inlet. Gurdit had to negotiate his return and was allowed to store provisions for the return journey. The ship left Vancouver on 23 July and while it stopped at Yokohama and Kobe in Japan and in Singapore, the passengers were not allowed to land. The British authorities eventually decided that the ship should go to Calcutta. On 26 September the ship was stopped by the authorities at Kulpi where Donald, the Disrict Magistrate of 24 Paraganas, Slocock of the Criminal Intelligence Office, Government of India and Humphreys, the Deputy Commissioner of a Punjab district boarded the ship. They were accompanied by police constables and officers from the Punjab. They searched the ship and the passengers for arms and seditious literature. The search did not yield anything and on 29 September the ship came to the industrial town of Budge Budge about 27 km from Calcutta.
 Sir Frederick Halliday, the commissioner of Police, Calcutta personally led a group of British and Indian officers and asked the passengers to disembark at once and proceed to the special train waiting at the nearby Budge Budge railway station to take them to Punjab. Gurdit, with whom they were negotiating, felt suspicious of the move and refused. Gurdit tried to reason with the officials saying that they had the sacred Guru Granth Sahib with them which they would install at the Gurdwara in Howrah and then would seek an interview with the Governor. The passengers refused to leave the ship without Gurdit.
 Eventually they came down with Gurdit carrying the Granth Sahib on his head. The passengers formed a procession, marched towards the station and sat down near the level crossing. A formal warning citing a new ordinance was read out by Donald and everyone was asked to board the special train.  Gurdit reiterated that he and the passengers needed to go to Calcutta for urgent work. It would be sacrilegious, he asserted, to take the sacred book in the train. The situation became increasingly confrontational and the British authorities appealed to Calcutta for troops. Between 3 and 4 p.m. the passengers stood up, crossed the level crossing and started marching towards Calcutta with the Granth Sahib being carried in front of them. The police followed them, while Halliday and Donald made phone calls to Calcutta for reinforcements. Eastwood, a superintendent of the Reserve police started from Calcutta around 4 pm with 30 European sergeants and constables. About 150 Royal Fusiliers were also dispatched to Budge Budge in cars. The procession was stopped about 6 or 7 km from Budge Budge by Eastwood and his forces till the Royal Fusiliers arrived. With them came the Chief Secretary of Bengal Cummins and Duke, claiming to represent the Governor. They asked Gurdit to go back to Budge Budge and continue their conversation. On their return the passengers, on being asked to go back to the ship for the night, refused and sat down near the railway station. The Punjab police stayed on the right side of the passengers and the Europeans were positioned on the other side.  The passengers gathered round the Sacred Book which was placed on a portable platform. Halliday walked towards the level crossing and suddenly a few shots were heard. Donald asked Gurdit to come up and talk to him, but Gurdit remained where he was. Eastwood plunged into the crowd and was allegedly knocked down to the ground by some Sikhs. At that moment the firing had begun. Halliday later said that he had seen 30 or 40 Sikhs firing but, as Johnston notes, the impression was not shared by some of his own officers. ‘Some of the shots came from the four police sergeants ,now engulfed by the crowd, and discharging their revolvers at such close quarters that one man, Badal Singh, was hit six times’. As the passengers now surged forward, the Calcutta and Punjab forces retaliated. The Royal Fusiliers entered the scene late, but the Commanding Officer, Capt. Moore secured Halliday’s permission to order fire. Most of the passengers now found shelter in a nearby ditch, or in the fields and some even jumped into the river. By 8 pm it was quiet again.[1]

Rohingyas: The Newest 'Boat People' of Asia

Sucharita Sengupta (sucharitaseng@gmail.com) works as a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 

While Europe is facing its worst migration crisis since the Balkan wars in the 90s, closer home in Asia, it is the Rohingyas of Myanmar who have been subjected to an even worse fate. Their protracted refugeehood both in Myanmar and Bangladesh, coupled with the fact that they are stateless has compelled them to take to the sea in precarious journeys. While it was Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body brought ashore in Turkey that shook the entire world to wake up to the magnitude of the ongoing migration crisis in Europe, it were the images of a ship full of migrants- the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis- in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, in May 2015, that shocked the entire world, revealing the migratory and livelihooid crisis of the Rohingyas.
In this short write up, I intend to examine the migration of the Rohingyas in high seas through an exploration of the term ‘boat people’. Following massive persecution in Myanmar, the Rohingyas have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, from the 1970s, to seek asylum. Since then, they have been living mostly in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts in two camps, whose residents are not allowed to interact with the local population. After a new government came to power in Bangladesh in January 2009, followed by fresh violence in Myanmar in 2012, it has adopted strict measures to stop the inflow. While this mixed and massive flow of population should forge connection between various actors across nation states, particularly between the migrants and the host communities, it is in fact instrumental to the loss of an identity and fundamentally disconnects and uproots a whole people from their nation.

Hill of Contentions: Guwahati's Story

Snehashish Mitra (biltu0717@gmail.com) works as a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 



Guwahati, in the state of Assam is the largest city of Northeast India, which provides gateway to other part of the region. In the last decade, the urbanization pattern of Guwahati has challenged the dominant notion of northeast India being a peripheral and marginal region. The city is growing in every possible direction, with real estate being the major engine. The possibility of opening up of trade with the other Southeast Asian countries has made Guwahati an attractive destination for investments. Along with capital, there is also an influx of labour, which in turn has led to a struggle over the environmental resources of Guwahati.  Guwahati is ecologically gifted as it is situated on the banks of river Brahmaputra and has 18 hills within the city limits. Despite so, Guwahati faces several environmental issues annually like that of artificial flood, landslide, human animal conflict etc. which takes toll on an average of 10 human lives per year.
The blame for such issues is mainly pelted on the hill settlements inhabited by migrants from different parts of Assam.  The high living cost in the plain areas inhabited by the gentrified class and lack of planning for the migrant population, has made the settlements on the hills inevitable. Such spaces in the urban sphere have become a bone of contention between the settlers and the state as some of the hills fall under the reserve forest category. Several grass root level organizations has come forward in support of the land ownership of the settlers.  In contrast with this scenario, realtors are developing the hills in other part of the city which are being offered at a high market price for the gentry. Intrusion of environmental spaces by human activities has led to frequent leopard attacks in the human inhabited areas. While the state authorities had taken up eviction initiative with marginal success, it certainly doesn’t offer a long term solution keeping in the mind the livelihood of poor migrants and the fragile environment of Guwahati. The resistance of the settlers on the hills perhaps emancipates from the fact that they have been forced to leave the rural hinterland of Assam or neighbouring states due to the redundancy of the traditional livelihood opportunities along with impacts of socio-environmental issues in the militarised frontier of northeast India. The mismanagement of natural resources like forests, water bodies by the state and adverse effects of climate change (erratic rainfall patters for example) have left occupations like dairy farming (mainly practiced, rather were practiced by the Nepali community) and fishing on rivers/ water bodies (mainstay of the scheduled caste communities, locally known as namasudras) redundant due to  decreasing yields. Natural calamities like annual floods displace a considerable number of people. Developmental projects like Lower Subansiri Dam have also displaced people from Mising community (Mising is an ethnic tribal community residing in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh).  Alongside such factors, northeast India has been a region intermittently in the grasp of militancy and conflict which has also caused major displacements and people have been spending considerable amount of time in refugee camps. Such factors or combination of them stems the need to migrate to a place which offers a comparatively peaceful atmosphere and provides with livelihood opportunities with somewhat assured remuneration. As Guwahati is by far the largest city of the region, it turns out to be the first choice of such rural to urban migration.


Urbanization: Constructing the city and lives of the people


Anish Bhandari (abhandari@soscbaha.org) works at the Centre for the Study of Labor and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Those who have probably known Kathmandu for a long time can see that it has changed its structure over the years like every other rapidly urbanizing city. The eighteenth SAARC summit hosted in Kathmandu and the government's road expansion project in recent years has transformed the gaze of the capital city of Nepal. One can see the construction workers with their helmets, jackets and tools working along the road sides everywhere in the city. It is also clearly visible that Kathmandu is slowly expanding to the peripheral hills which has difficult landscapes with forests and national parks. This expansion is due to the booming urbanization in the country and across the region. According to the 2011 Census Report, the urban population constitutes 17% (4,523,820) of the total population and Kathmandu alone accommodates a total of 1,744,240 people.
The fact that Kathmandu accommodates more people than its capacity in terms of the resources such as drinking water and electricity proves that the thriving urbanization is responsible for changing the structure of the capital city. The road expansion project and housing apartments building construction are the large scale constructions going on in Kathmandu. Also, the Melamchi Drinking Water pipes installation and solar lights installation along the city roads are speeding. The proposal of the government to construct the flyovers in Airport-Kalanki section and overhead bridge in New Baneshwor junction are also in the pipeline. However, these large scale construction projects are proposed without proper research and planning[i].Folks across the county come to Kathmandu not only because of their aspirations for better economic opportunities and access to basic services such as health and education but also because of the central administrative structure of the government that requires people to come to Kathmandu for multiple reasons such as visa procurement or final departure from the only international airport of the country. No wonder Kathmandu is one of the rapidly urbanizing cities in South Asia because it not only accommodates the permanent dwellers but transient migrants as well. Urban development, therefore, is an important indicator of change.

Gender, Displacement and Resistance in South Asia: The Case of Women Uprooted by River Erosion in West Bengal and Bangladesh

Sreya Sen - Doctoral Fellow, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of Calcutta, India. This paper was presented at a workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance at the University of Lapland, Finland in June 2015. 


Recurrent river erosion on the banks of south western Bangladesh, such as in Khulna since early 2000. has led to massive displacement of the local population. Simultaneously, the slow but steady erosion of the Ganges River in the district of Malda in West Bengal, India has caused the people residing in these areas to lose their homes. This article draws upon archival sources of data, namely national and state government reports on policy and planning, district human development reports, reports generated by non-governmental organizations (local and International) working in the river erosion affected areas of Malda and Khulna and clippings from national and sub national dailies, to examine the impact of river erosion induced displacement on the lives of women residing here. It also attempts to see the ways in which these women have emerged as forces of resistance to the phenomenon of displacement instead of being mere victims of the process.

The problem of displacement caused by river erosion became extremely acute in the early years of the 21st century owing to the advent of development projects, prompting state authorities in both areas to take note of the severity of the problem. The construction of the Farakka Barrage in West Bengal for instance, has aggravated saline intrusion in both Khulna and Malda, leading to a rise in river erosion. The early part of the new millennium was also a time when International and domestic provisions for the protection of the IDP’s were widened in both India and Bangladesh in addition to the fundamental rights available for the protection of such persons in both countries. This was when Bangladesh became a signatory of the United Nations Convention of Human Rights (UNHCR) and thus bound to abide by their mandate. It became a member of the UNHCR in 2002, and consequently became bound to abide by its mandate as well as to take on board the Guiding Principles relating to IDP’s. In India, the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy whose draft was prepared in 1998 by the then Ministry of Rural Development, became an official policy in 2007. Additionally, India being a member of the EXCOM of the UNHCR was also bound by its mandate to look into the well being of IDP’s in the country.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Introduction: Refugee Children


Images of drowned Syrian child, Aylan, brought unusually closer home to many of us, the vast magnitude of displaced people and the completely contingent manner in which they try to make new lives, seek shelter and care for family. And of course, the fact that governments were keen to keep displaced people out. Aylan, 3 years old, was trying to reach the Greek island of Koch, having already been displaced from three different places- when the 15 foot long, ramshackle boat he was travelling in, capsized. Alongside Aylan, his 5 year old brother and mother were also killed, leaving the father as the sole surviving member of the family. Media interest in the image and he family revealed all too familiar stories of a people, torn by strife trying to eke out peaceful living without any assistance whatsoever from governments or states.

Interesting was the response of The Times of India, which desisted from pusblishing Aylan’s photo on its front page for the first couple of days, and did so only after the image was circulated innumerable times on social media. The image on the front page carried with it the rejoinder that the TOI had been reluctant to publish the image, apprehensive of the shock and discomfort it must cause its readers. Of course, the complete arbitrariness of the displacement of the group of people left at lurch by Syria and European nations alike, represented by this drowned child, barely found mention. But TOI’s publication of the image pointed to the potential of the image to mobilise public sentiment across the globe and perhaps to also prompt state action.

Call for Papers: Refugee Watch Online. Special Issue: The Boat People

Refugee Watch Online is a widely read, critically acclaimed bi-monthly web journal (published at www.refugeewatchonline.blogspot.in). It is a sister concern to the international journal Refugee Watch, both published from Calcutta Research Group (www.mcrg.ac.in).

From the boatload of Rohingyas denied entry to the capsized boat that led to the death of Aylan Kurdi and international outrage, the boat people have been on our minds. The boat does not merely signify movement, but has historically been the means through which slaves, indentured labourers and other dispossessed were transported. Historically and in the contemporary period, the boat people emerge as a powerful metaphor for dispossession, forced migration and statelessness. The boat people, invoked as a symbol, congeals within itself almost all of the major tropes and concerns relevant to forced migration studies.
Refugee Watch Online (RWO) seeks 700-1000 words long research articles, news reports, perspectives and views on the boat people for its November- December 2015 issue. Other relevant submissions are also solicited.  Articles need to be in MSWord format, references clearly indicated within text or in endnotes.

We also welcome reviews of relevant books, films and other cultural products. Reviews should be of approximately 1000 words in length, and carry detailed information regarding the artefact reviewed.  Photographs and other media, topical to the interests of RWO can also be sent for publication.

From the June 2015 issue, RWO has been containing a special section on narratives, either in the first or in the third person. Narratives of the displaced, forced migrants are actively solicited to both enable their voices to reach a wider public, and to keep research grounded.
RWO also carries call for papers for books, journals, conferences, seminars and workshops.

Please send your submissions (by 15th November 2015) and direct your queries to refugeewatchonline@gmail.com. The peer review process and editorial decision making can take up to three weeks.


Children at the West Bengal Border: A State of Justice between Bangladesh and India


Chandni Basu

Chandni Basu is a doctoral researcher at Institute for Sociology, Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany. Her current research problematises notions and practices of child protection as operative within the purview of the juvenile justice system in India. In this, constructions of childhood/deviance within the institutional space is revoked to provide a post-colonial critique of a pervasive global childhoods project. She can be reached at tochandni@gmail.com.

Instances of apprehension of children from Bangladesh within the juvenile justice system in India provide yet another scope to look into the border dynamics between Bangladesh and India. The significance of the international border in terms of close socio-historical, cultural connections in the region along with the nature of a border formation brings forth issues of identity, in terms of home-homeland and belonging. The presence of children at the border amplifies these aspects as it ushers notions of juvenile justice and child protection within the domain of border dynamics. This article highlights an interrogation of these notions. It is based on ‘field visits’, to various juvenile justice boards, child welfare committees and state institutional homes for apprehended children in West Bengal, India. These were carried on in-between 2011-12.

My interactions with NGO personnel and officials within the juvenile justice system brought forth the reality of apprehended children from Bangladesh, who constitutes the largest section of children-in-conflict with law at state institutional homes in West Bengal. This scenario urges one to pose the following interrogations: - How does the dynamic of an international border, between Bangladesh and India, in terms of inter-state relations and close socio-historical and cultural ties impact the presence of apprehended children from Bangladesh at the state institutional homes in West Bengal? And how does their presence bear upon ideas of home-homeland and belonging in conjunction with the operationalisation of juvenile justice and child protection within the Indian juvenile justice system?

The status of children from Bangladesh within the Indian juvenile justice system is marked mostly on the basis of a gendered segregation. This results in girls being termed as victims of human trafficking while boys are apprehended and taken as children-in-conflict with law under the Indian Foreigner’s Act, 1946. In the state narrative of borders, they are therefore deemed to be undesirable outsiders of illegal immigration. The economy and ethos of their presence within the state institutional homes however subverts such connotation, almost in contradiction to the dominant state narrative of borders. Their identity as outsiders is deemed to be less significant within the institutional space. They are taken to be harmless and trustworthy and their actions of border crossing as minor acts of apprehension, especially in comparison to more serious crimes like rape and murder by their local counterparts within the institutional perils. This entails a character of liminality to the presence of children from Bangladesh within the state institutional homes in West Bengal, in resonance to the liminality of borders.

Children in Prisons

Sucharita Sengupta

Sucharita Sengupta works at MCRG. Her current research focuses on Rohingyas. She can be reached at sucharita@mcrg.ac.in.

A report of UNHCR talks about the kind of neglect rendered to refugee children or children who are forcibly displaced and are in need of asylum. Compelled to leave their homeland, these children are more than often subjected to violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and worst, trafficking[1]. In the present time when Europe is witnessing its worst phase of massive migration of people since the world war two, again the vulnerability of children in particular, struck the whole world when the image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian toddler’s body was found ashore in Turkey. Aylan’s brother Galib also died on the same boat while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos[2]. In Asia, the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 had witnessed such massive migration of people which continued through the decades of 50s and 60s and saw a sharp rise post 1971, with the creation of Bangladesh. This piece is written on the basis of my field work in various correctional homes in West Bengal between October-December 2014 and talks about children, particularly young girls, who are either compelled to leave Bangladesh or are illegally trafficked to West Bengal, India, through the porous borders in promise of job or marriage or a better life.

There are two dimensions of problems that are faced by these children. The first is the problem of illegal trafficking. The second is when they just accompany their parents, completely unaware of the consequences and find themselves either behind bars for illegal immigration or in brothels. According to a report[3], girls from Bangladesh are largely trafficked for sex work and most of them are aged below 18. For instance, Champa hailing from Faridpur, Bangladeah, was sold to a brothel in Orissa by traffickers when she was just a child of 12. Since then she has lived in India. Now she is eighteen and while returning to her home in Bangladesh, she was caught by the police and taken to jail custody under the passport act for using a fake passport. I met Champa in the Alipore Correctional Home for Women. The most popular trafficking route employed by traffickers is Dhaka-Mumbai-Karachi-Dubai. Way back in 2004, the report says, around 200-400 women and children were trafficked to India each month totaling to approximate 10,000-15,000 annually. This number has increased to an alarming figure now. Securitization of the border through passport and visa was introduced in 1949 and 1952 respectively. The more the eastern part of the border has been securitized, the more it has given rise to incidents of violence and illegality like smuggling and trafficking of women and children across the border.