Making sense of migration’s forces

E_p3_migration_1The mass migration of Syrians fleeing their war-torn country has forced the international community to act urgently in response to the crisis. A panel of five Vancouver scholars and writers will contribute their perspectives and research on the issue in the discussion Migration or Escape: Journeys to Sanctuary on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

I hope the panel event provides information and sourced knowledge and perspective on the current global context of those seeking better lives, whether they be labeled a refugee, asylum seeker, economic migrant and/or immigrant,” says Phinder Dulai, one the event’s organizers.

A broader perspective

Dulai co-organized the event with Am Johal, director of Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. David Chariandy, Simon Fraser University’s associate professor of English, will moderate the discussion.

“The idea behind this event was to broaden the dialogue to include artists and scholars who are not necessarily working in migration law or policy, but who have studied migration in critical ways,” says Renisa Mawani, associate professor of sociology and chair of the law and society program at the University of British Columbia.

Dulai contends that recent mass migrations are often the unintended result of geo-political conflicts caused by globalized economies and capitalism.

The experiences of the migrants and refugees most impacted by past injustice and current politics are overlooked and undocumented. Migration or Escape is an attempt to remedy that.

“To tell this is to begin a journey to know this person and have a deeper connection. With that, hopefully a reciprocity of compassion and empathy will come,” says Dulai.

Examining the legacy of legal histories

Renisa Mawani, associate professor of sociology at UBC.

Renisa Mawani, associate professor of sociology at UBC.

Renisa Mawani, one of the panelists and a legal historian, researches how forgotten past conflicts reverberate in the present. In her presentation Mawani will discuss how past migrations continue to influence the present.

Her book Colonial Proximities examines the impact of 19th century Chinese migration to British Columbia at a time when Canada was forcing indigenous peoples from their land. She says the two movements occurred simultaneously but are documented as separate and distinct events. The book examines how Canada’s immigration policies and laws contributed to indigenous displacement and the “cross-racial encounters” that occurred in British Columbia at that time.

A second book, Across Oceans of Law, focuses on the fate of the steamship the Komagata Maru that carried Punjabi migrants to Canada’s shores in 1914.

“This book focuses on the movements of law and radicalism across the British Empire, from Hong Kong to Canada, India, and South Africa,” says Mawani, who is also an associate professor of sociology, at the University of British Columbia.

Marwani’s work also asks larger questions such as how global capitalism, colonialism and imperialism result in the displacement of people from their homes. She looks at the impact of policies that contribute to the resettlement of refugees on indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands in Canada. These present-day policies meant to resolve a pressing issue can also sow the seeds of future conflict.

“Crises around migration are as old as the nation state. They emerged with the drawing of maps and borders,” says Mawani.

The legacy of colonialism and imperialism combined with present-day global capitalism can create untenable living conditions. Civil wars, environmental contamination and exploitative work conditions can result in migration for survival.

“We often think of movement as a choice. But people are often forced to leave their homes against their will,”
Mawani explains.

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