Book Launch: “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour” by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano

Book launches! They’re a thing!

So I seem to be going to a lot of book launches lately – they are such a great way to hear directly from the authors about their experiences writing, the research they’ve done, and the conclusions they’ve drawn.

Last night I went to the book launch of “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour” by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano. They talked about the research they conducted into the smuggling trade, the connection to highly sophisticated criminal networks, and how the smuggling trade is connected to migration and organized crime. They made some really excellent points, points that I’ve been thinking about myself, but obviously, made much more clearly.

They made clear that there is a distinction between a human smuggler and a trafficker; this is important to remember because many politicians are equating the two in discussing the “refugee crisis”. Smugglers are providing a service; this service is necessary because of policies criminalizing migration. By criminalizing migration, you end up criminalizing migrants themselves; by making people more desperate, you are directly pushing them into the path of the smugglers, but they are deciding to choose these services, they pay for a service and receive something in return. The difference with trafficking, is that people are in situations which they don’t choose – they are trafficked to a location they didn’t choose, they are forced to engage in activities they didn’t decide to do (i.e. sex work or forced labour), and their liberty is constrained. They presented an interesting analysis of the smuggling networks that have arisen out of the current situation – many smuggling networks are increasingly sophisticated and professional – using smartphones, QR codes, online money transfers and holding funds in a third-party account until the refugee reaches their destination safely and provides final access to the funds. But there are so many variations, based on what people can pay and what routes people take, that there are, of course, the cheap options which sees hundreds of people crammed on a broken down dinghy, almost certainly to capsize, where the smuggler doesn’t care about reputation, just cash up front. These cheaper options leave people much more vulnerable to being forced into a trafficked situation, where they pay large sums of money up front, but end up being forced into labour to actually work their way onto a boat, or trafficked to other locations, now that they have lost their financial bargaining power.

And a distinction also needs to be made between migrant and refugee. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, refugees are a legally protected group of people fleeing danger from their homelands. Migrants, economic migrants in particular, are those who have chosen to leave in search of better economic prosperity elsewhere. But the distinction becomes increasingly blurry as people are on the move. When a Syrian refugee, who initially moved into Lebanon or Jordan with savings, expecting the conflict not to last long, has run out of money, and decides to try to make it to Europe with the hope of stability, is their second journey one of an economic migrant or a refugee? And when a Somali migrant, in search of better economic prosperity, is captured, trafficked, and assaulted making their way to Egypt or Libya in order to make the Mediterranean crossing to Europe, is their second journey a continuation of the first, or are they now a persecuted refugee seeking sanctuary? Many on the move switch in and out of these categories of migrant/refugee, and it is a challenging endeavor to try and categorize these people….because at the core, these are people who are coming up against the immovable force of increasingly restrictive migration policies that are forcing people to take desperate steps. In the end, this is not a refugee crisis; it is the failure of providing accessible migration options, and it is the failure to ameliorate the conditions, economically, politically, and socially, that are driving people to go on the move in search of safety, stability, and prosperity.

All in all, this was a fascinating event, and I am looking forward to reading the book to get a better insight into the connections between organized crime, immigration policies, and the refugee crisis. As Peter and Tuesday concluded, smugglers may be “criminals”, but they are equally saviours to the people who have helped them reach safety.


Book Launch: “The Battle for Syria” by Christopher Phillips

I have been to so many interesting events in London so far! Book launches, panel discussions, lectures, film screenings…the list goes on.

One of the most interesting events I have been to so far has been the book launch of Christopher Phillips new book The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East.

Not only was the event held in a room in the Houses of Parliament (which was really cool!), Chris’s talk was incredibly clear, concise, and well researched. I can’t wait to get my copy and devour it.

Chris had a few main conclusions that he presented, which reframed the discussion of the conflict in Syria from the fragmented internal factors, to the force of the interested international actors. Firstly, he claimed that the international environment was critical in transforming the uprising into a civil war. Due to the weakened power of US hegemony in the region (because of the failure of the Iraq war), there was a reluctance to get involved and intervene early on. Secondly, once the unrest in Syria began, actions taken by the international community escalated the conflict into a civil war. For example, Obama’s call for Bashar al-Assad to step down led to the general expectation of US involvement, which resulted in the opposition to arm themselves believing that America was coming to their aid…..however, the US had no intention of taking any military action. Additionally, although Iran and Russia weren’t initially on board with Assad’s tactics, they saw him as this focal point against the US. Thirdly, once the armed conflict was underway, the international actors shaped the war and have prolonged the scale and the violence. Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all anti-Assad, but have all backed different armed groups, leading to schisms in the opposition, and an increase in extremism and competition for resources. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are all on the Assad side, and ISIS is also a factor in the conflict. All of these external actors are providing enough support for the armed groups to stay in the game, as it were, but not enough to win. And so the danger is now an outsourced war where no one side has enough resources to win, but no one side has sustained enough losses to consider conceding. As of now, it seems like the actors who are supporting Assad are willing to put in more resources to maintain his power, and, with the lack of a coherent opposition, Western actors are fearful of putting too many resources on the ground in case they fall into extremist hands.

I find Chris’s analysis to be an interesting understanding of how the conflict has reached this point, and I’m looking forward to reading his book to get a better grasp of his arguments. It’s challenging to predict how the situation will progress, and when/how the conflict will end, but what is certain is that while international actors are vying for position and power, the people who are actually getting hurt are Syrian civilians and activists who began calling for freedom and democracy.

A note on my absence…

Hi wordpress blogosphere!

It’s been a while since I’ve written or shared anything here. Part of that reason has definitely been one of life being busy and of simply being lazy. Another part of it has been the complete saturation of the negative news cycle – I needed to take a step back from the constant bombardment of information and tragedy and trauma that permeates our world today.

But the biggest part of it is a fear of raising my voice – the fear of offending someone, not knowing everything about an issue and so feeling like I’m not qualified to contribute, and the fear of asserting myself into a space where I don’t belong. My undergrad studies in anthropology, and indeed, my immersion in pop culture, has led to my being “woke” (as some kids say), and I feel the need to acknowledge my relative position of privilege in the discussion of the Middle East. I am an outsider to the region and the culture. I am a white Canadian girl, of no particular religious orientation, fascinated by the region, and I do not want to take space away from local activists and community leaders who are attempting to have their voices heard on similar issues that I am interested in.

My aim is to amplify those voices, to not speak over or for others, and to acknowledge when I may have done so and to step back if that is the case. Please call me out on anything and engage with me – I am (as we all are) always learning, and always open to growing and evolving.

Having said all that – I am working on getting over my fear of raising my voice, so be prepared for many more blog posts in the future! I have recently started my Masters degree at SOAS in London, UK, and I am going to so many different events, and meeting so many different people, that I have lots of things to share and to write about.

One voice may be small on its own. But added to the voices of many, it becomes a roar.