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“Guests and Aliens”: Re-Configuring New Mobilities in the Eastern Mediterranean After 2011 - with a special focus on Syrian refugees

Opening Session

Welcome address: Natalia Ribas-Mateos

Natalia Ribas-Mateos

Texte intégral

1This work recalls the book Guests and Aliens by Saskia Sassen (2000). Each of the essays in Sassen’s collection on globalization introduces a new type of complexity and ambiguity to the study of the global, confronting questions of space and the fact that both the local and the global are increasingly multi-scalar. Her work also expands the analytic terrain of the global, demanding new methodologies and interpretive frameworks for the study of globalization.

2With such a theoretical framework, we can, as Sassen also does, locate an increasingly urban articulation of global logics and struggles, and an escalating use of urban space – like Istanbul – to make political claims, not only by citizens but also by foreigners. Therefore, by emphasising the interplay between global and local phenomena, we can examine new forms and conditions such as global cities, transnational communities, transnational families, new mobilities and diaspora, and transnational networks of humanitarian responses.

3In such a context, the case of Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees seems to have a distinctive importance. It underlines the diasporic space composed by multiple trajectories which have a particular impact in the Eastern Mediterranean (especially on Syria’s neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey) as well as in a wider cartography including the borders of “Fortress Europe” (Greece, Italy, the Moroccan-Spanish borders) as well as Scandinavian countries, Germany, and France where Syrian refugees are also present.

4Globally speaking, one major impact of the Arab Spring is the reconfiguration of mobilities, and with it the accompanying problem of inhospitable politics towards refugees at different levels (international-regional-national-local level), as well as humanitarian responses to this mobility, as in the case of Syrian refugees, one of the biggest mass flight since the second World War. Through the reconfiguration of such new mobilities, there is an urgency to properly map the space of many trajectories – given that the simultaneity of stories so far is the product of those transnational connections. We do face a difficult mapping as it is constantly disrupted by new arrivals, constantly waiting to be determined by the configuration and re-configuration of historical as well as contemporary relations.

5Most studies presented here are concerned with specific aspects of cross-border mobility and their impact on specific groups and individuals located in different areas of the Eastern Mediterranean after the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring. In this particular review, by contrast, my aim is to step back from concrete and localised case studies, and present some reflections on the general challenges, transformations, or sudden changes faced by contemporary mobilities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

6This conference is an attempt to stimulate discussion about changes in mobilities. The ideas that I present here are elements of a debate and need to be inserted in a much more general context. I examine the tangled question of continuity and change from the point of view of the observation of mobility. Studying the diverse changes in Mediterranean mobility since the upheavals of January 2011 is a topic worthy of particular attention. However, I think an extra effort has to be made in order to understand the transformed conceptions of continuity and change, which are sometimes found in sharp opposition but can also be connected or related. As a consequence, this introduction brings together at least five different debates:

7(i) The use of categories: Can we keep using the terms refugee and irregular migrant in the same way we did in the past?

8(ii) Forms of continuity: Some authors discuss a presumed continuity, stating for example that it is rather unlikely that the revolutions will dramatically change long-term migration patterns.”

  • 1 One of the most obvious examples is the case of the Saint-Ludovic border where Tunisians were sent (...)

9(iii) Challenging borders: Authors researching EU borders have shown a rupture since the Arab Spring, which forced changes in the regulation parameters of the EU’s internal borders (see examples in various programmes in Italy after the Tunisian upheaval1).

10(iv) Forms of cross-border circulation: Authors working on the Syrian humanitarian crisis show how cross-border circulation encourages the development of a new humanitarian structure, especially at the Syrian-Turkish borders.

11(v) Re-scaling: Do cities like Istanbul conform to the kaleidoscope of such post-2011 changes and continuities? Do border zones like the Turkish-Syrian border represent key areas in such a re-scaling?


1 One of the most obvious examples is the case of the Saint-Ludovic border where Tunisians were sent back to Italy using readmissions agreements. Different camps were organized in Italy in order to assist migrants in April 2011: first aid and acceptance centers, reception centers for asylum seekers, shelters and centers of identification and expulsion). The Italian government issued a law decree granting six-month residence permits for humanitarian reasons.

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