Destabilizing Borders: Possibilities of solidarity in the encounter between volunteers and forced migrants
Maria Chiara Coppola
Maria Chiara Coppola finished her Master in Anthropology and Development at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, in September 2017. She conducted ethnographic research on volunteerism, solidarity and humanitarianism in an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Her interest extends to migration, borders and the politics of mobility control through post-colonial and decolonial perspectives.
With the recent closure of borders, which prevents asylum seekers’ arrival to safer countries and their right to free mobility, international solidarity with refugees resonates as a call for action. In the name of solidarity, many forms of intervention and volunteerism have been mobilized. However, the question of solidarity between “forced migrants” and “international volunteers”, – a widely debated object of study – within the context of the right to mobility, is hinged on an asymmetry and ambiguous duality that deserves closer attention. While one form of mobility is hindered and criminalized, the other is not only possible but also encouraged. In this paper, a group of Italian volunteers and displaced Syrians are analyzed together while they are traveling within a van on the streets of Lebanon, in a common attempt to exercise their right to mobility (which Syrians are not entitled to). I analyze what happened inside the van, where volunteers intentionally make use of their privilege in order to extend it to the refugee traveling with them. I look at both refugees and volunteers, in order to investigate how these two categories might actually co-constitute and re-produce each other. The van, as our “space of mobility”, appears as painfully synonymous with whiteness, since the volunteers’ presence went completely unquestioned, in contrast to that of the refugee. The incident allows us to think of borders, bodies, spaces, and whiteness together: borders cease to be mere national boundaries, becoming a constant radical distinction in visibility and privilege instead. Acknowledging and displaying this disparity and contradiction means calling into question volunteers’ positionality. This reflection raises the question of how we can explain the feasibility, the very possibility of practices of solidarity across inequalities, and aims to orient us toward possible answers.
How to Cite:
Chiara Coppola, M., 2018. Destabilizing Borders: Possibilities of solidarity in the encounter between volunteers and forced migrants. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 3(2), pp.11–24.