A Geographical Gaze At The ‘Migration Crisis’: Refugees’ Squats As Strategies Of Resistance

By Valeria Raimondi

From 10th to 14th April 2018, the AAG American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting was held in New Orleans (LA, USA). More than 9,000 scholars representing 90 different countries attended the conference, and around 6,000 papers were presented, covering all the possible fields and topics related to theory, methods, and practice of geography. This makes AAG one of the most important meetings for geographers and scholars belonging to related disciplines.

I presented my paper on Friday 13th, at the session ‘Undocumented activism, citizenship and the political: Disrupting the order or reinforcing the status quo?’, organised by Walter Nicholls (University of California, Irvine) and Thomas Swerts (Erasmus University, Rotterdam). The paper – titled ‘Refugees’ squats as strategies of resistance’ – critically addresses the issue of temporary reception of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, by focusing on the everyday forms and practices of resistance that migrants put in place to counter the EU migration policies. It emphasises the role of squats as autonomous projects of self-managed reception for refugees, opposite to the space of the institutional counterparts – the camp. The research is based on a fieldwork I carried out in Athens (Greece), primarily at “City Plaza – refugee accommodation and solidarity space”, from November 2016 to September 2017. During most of the time I have been living inside City Plaza, sharing my time and my experience with (and learning from) the almost 400 people living there, coming from 14 different countries. With my presentation at AAG I put forward the hypothesis that migrants’ squats can be considered practices of ‘autonomous geographies’, as they constitute forms of self-provided alternative welfare, but characterised by a strong political connotation. I defined them as ‘antithetical spaces’, as they provide a discursive space of political legitimation, capable of extending and renegotiating the status of citizenship.

The discussion at the end of the session was extremely interesting and compelling, thanks also to the other highly engaged presentations. The discussant, Peter Nyers (McMaster University), gave precise and motivating feedback, challenging the different points of view on activism, refugees’ reception and migrant practices. The prolific exchange with the other presenters and chairs continued well beyond the scheduled time, and outside the conference venue.

Another interesting moment of reflection was the Antipode keynote lecture held by Silvia Federici, on 11th April. With her speech titled ‘#MeToo and the New Forms of Capital Accumulation’, Federici went through the major changes that have occurred since the 1970s related to feminist struggle, focusing on women’s reproductive work and, more widely, on the struggles that women are carrying on to build a more just society, against the destruction of their social environment.

For the reasons given above, it is with utmost gratitude that I thank the Sociological Review Foundation for giving me the opportunity to participate in the AAG annual conference. Thanks to the Conference Grant I had the opportunity not only to improve my work and to expand my knowledge, but also to live an important life experience in a city as interesting as New Orleans. 

Originally posted 15th September 2018

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