The social landscape of Europe has been transformed in recent decades with the arrival of migrants from many different countries, combined with longer established minority populations.
This has resulted in more diverse societies with an unprecedented variety of cultures, identities, faiths, languages, and immigration statuses.
The Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) brings together more than 60 academics from different disciplines to grow the University’s expertise in this emerging field. A number of IRiS projects are conducting research into the current refugee and migration crisis in Europe, covering the now familiar journey of migrants from Africa and the Middle East as they cross the Mediterranean en route to the French port of Calais with the aim of settling in the UK.
In 2015 more than 4,000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea, drowning as overloaded and often unseaworthy boats sank into the sea. They were travelling to Europe in search of protection and a better life. Research by IRiS aims to map the journeys of migrants arriving at Europe’s southern border, understand the decision-making processes that influence migrants to make the often hazardous journey and provide robust evidence to inform policy. Dr Nando Sigona said: ‘Refugees and migrants who travel across the Mediterranean into Europe are not a homogeneous group. They have often been on the move for long periods. They have fled conflict, persecution, poverty or other factors that make it impossible for them to remain at home, but they are also looking to build a life, rather than simply to escape. To imagine that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to discouraging migration through punitive measures will work is naïve, at best. More worryingly, it is pushing people into ever riskier routes into and within the EU.’
Life in the Calais camp
The migrant and refugee camp in Calais, France, often referred to as the ‘Jungle’, is the largest such in Europe and has approximately 6,000 inhabitants. In addition to the politics this situation has implications for the health and wellbeing of the camp’s residents. An IRiS interdisciplinary research project explores the environmental conditions in Calais and its impact upon the lives of its residents. Dr Arshad Isakjee has observed conditions in the camp and its effects on migrants: ‘The physical and emotional damage to people is avoidable through a modest provision of food, social infrastructure and health services. Yet neither the French authorities nor their British counterparts have the political will to ensure such provisions reach Calais residents.’
Reception and integration
In early 2016 the UK agreed to take up to 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees including families with young children. Many refugees have arrived with significant levels of skills and qualifications but struggle to access secure housing and employment, connect socially or achieve good health. Local authorities accepting refugees may have little or no experience of working to resettle refugees and support their integration. Researchers at IRiS are working to create a training programme and toolkit to develop the capacity of institutions, including health, education and housing providers, to facilitate refugee integration.