Luc Leboeuf is Scientific Coordinator of the VULNER project / Head of Research Group at the Department of Law and Anthropology of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
1)There are many definitions of the concept of vulnerability. How do you define the vulnerabilities of migrants? What kind of differences do you see between migrants and migrants with vulnerabilities, if any?
I think I should explain to you what the project is about because this is a bit more conceptual. than that. As you have seen the project members, we are all academics. So, what we want to do first and foremost is to reflect on that very notion of vulnerability. So, maybe I will tell you a bit more about that, and then I will also explain to you why I actually am not able to answer your question right now. I might be in a one-year time but now I am not able to answer.
So, first what is the objective of the project? I do project really started from this finding that when you have policies today like humanitarian policies, even migration control policies, asylum policies to deal with migrants. There is this focus on what has been called vulnerable migrants. And we realize that when you have kind of an agreement of the fact that you should take care of the vulnerable migrants, there is no across the board understanding of what that actually means. And, that is what we want to discover. We want to know, first how the authorities define that, how do they identify and define vulnerabilities, what do they understand by that, for example when you have in the legislation, the example of EU directive on asylum, a provision says that when you give access to the refugee camps when you get reception conditions, you must to be very careful about the specific needs of the vulnerable migrants. We want to see how the civil servants or social workers implement this provision understanding because of course, it is a notion that is very broad. Everyone seems to have an intuitive understanding of it. But it is implemented in a very different way. That is the first thing we want to do. I have teams in different countries. And what they have done is that they try to understand what is the understanding of vulnerability and what kind of mechanisms are placed to assist in vulnerable migrants. And, what we want to do with this project is to document that, then confront it to what we see on the ground because after that the researchers will go into the camps and will talk with migrants to see what actually their vulnerabilities are, and also reflect more generally whether this focus on vulnerability is a good idea.
2)How do migrants cope with or adapt to these vulnerabilities, particularly during Covid-19 period?
The study is ongoing now so I do not have a lot of definitive results but I can give you some hints, some things that the researchers have observed when being on the ground. What they observed is an increasing difficulty in accessing the services. I would give you the example of Uganda. It is a very good example. You have some services that out there, among the services, you have special assistance including a bit of money for what they call lactating mothers, the woman who just gives birth to children. To benefit from that assistance they must go into the refugee camps. However, due to Covid-19 lockdown, it’s increasingly difficult to go to the camp to have access to these services. So, they have the choice: Either they stay in the camp and they have access to that service, but they won’t be able to integrate themselves into a local job market or go into the cities where they can try to integrate themselves to the city and try to have a small job etc. But then, they will have difficulties in accessing that kind of assistance.
3)What kind of differences do you see in the vulnerabilities of migrants in Europe (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway) and the Middle East (Lebanon)? What are the parameters that you are looking for when you investigate that?
What I know whether it is and when it comes to the way the vulnerability is being seized by the authorities; we have three different ways of thinking about that. In Europe, you have the EU directives that give a more or less clear indication of the kind of society we need to take care of. In Canada, it is typically obvious. In Lebanon, in Africa, actually, the general mindset is that very nice western thing to do. The real and true vulnerabilities are economic ones. The worst situation as an asylum seeker, as a migrant compared to another migrant comes more from your socio-economic background, then the fact that you are a woman, gay etc. So that’s not something they very much have in mind. Despite these regulations which exist but which come much more from the international community than from their practices and understanding of what migrants’ vulnerabilities are.
4)What kind of human rights violations against the migrant community do you observe during Covid-19 crisis?
I am not really comfortable replying to that right now because the research is still ongoing so I can base myself on. But I would say that maybe the most difficult thing for migrants right now from the preliminary findings is accessing the services. It has been made much more difficult. In Belgium, for example, they need to register online if they want to apply for asylum right now. It’s the general trend we can observe right now. Access to protection services has been made more difficult.
Twitter: @VULNERproject, @LucLeboeuf1
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