By Rainer Bauböck and Gerd Valchars
Early in the morning of 28 January, heavily armed police escorted four children of rejected asylum seekers (three minor girls and a boy) to the airport from where they were deported to Georgia and Armenia. The incident caused widespread protests because the children had been living and attending school in Austria for many years and were considered well integrated. The social democratic governor of Carinthia, Peter Kaiser, and others called for a debate on ius soli, the attribution of citizenship by birth in the territory.
In a guest commentary in one of the Austrian leading newspapers "Der Standard", political scientists Rainer Bauböck and Gerd Valchars show that Austria's citizenship law is in urgent need of reform - and how other countries handle this. The text below is a slightly modified English translation.
Children who were born and went to school in Austria are being deported because their parents have no right to asylum. The ongoing discussion focuses on whether the Minister of the Interior could have refrained from deporting them despite the negative decision of the courts, whether the best interests of the child should take precedence over state interests, whether such cases should be examined by a hardship commission in the future, and whether the federal provinces must be re-involved in this examination.
A few voices state the obvious. Because of their circumstances of life, the children who were deported are Austrians. They can only be deported because they do not have Austrian citizenship. Our citizenship law only provides for the possibility of naturalization for children born in Austria after six years of residence, and they must meet the same harsh conditions as first-generation adult immigrants.
When asked whether the citizenship law should not be reformed, ÖVP parliamentary faction chairman August Wöginger answered twice on ORF (the Austrian public broadcasting corporation): "We have a well-functioning citizenship law." No, Mr. Chairman, we don’t! In December, the Brussels Migration Policy Group published the current figures of its Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), which social scientists consider a solid measurement tool for integration policies. In a recent comparison of access to nationality in 52 countries Austria ends up in last place, together with Bulgaria.
Born in the country
The NGO SOS Mitmensch (SOS fellow human being) has therefore called for children born in Austria to be automatically granted citizenship if one parent has lived in the country for six years prior to birth. With such a conditional ius soli Austria would join Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg or Portugal. In the case of Tina and her little sister, however, this would not have prevented the deportations because the mother had not been in the country long enough before giving birth and her stay was linked to her ongoing asylum procedure. Only an unconditional ius soli, in which birth in the country alone is sufficient for the automatic acquisition of citizenship, would have protected the girls. According to GLOBALCIT, such a birthright exists in as many as 31 countries worldwide, most of which are in North and South America. In Europe, there has been no unconditional ius soli since 2004.
One argument against unconditional ius soli is that it creates an incentive for "birth tourism". This cannot be dismissed out of hand. Middle class mothers from Mexico and China pay a lot of money to deliver their babies in specialized birth clinics in the US so that their children get American citizenship. One can also rightly object that the mere coincidence of birth in the territory is not a sufficient indicator of attachment to a state. However, when children grow up and go to school in a country, this is certainly enough evidence that that country is their home.
So, in addition to birth, socialization in the country needs to be added as a second and crucial indicator for belonging. And here there are several European countries that can serve as models. Let's look at the two European MIPEX leaders: In Portugal, minors are eligible for naturalization if they were born in the country and have been in school or training there for at least one year. In Sweden, underage children with permanent residency get citizenship after three years (or two years for stateless children) with no further conditions, based on a simple declaration by their parents.
Is there a chance for reform?
The obvious solution, then, would be to reform the Austrian citizenship law to introduce both a conditional ius soli and an entitlement to citizenship for minors regardless of their place of birth and their parents' residence status. Would that create an incentive for abusive asylum applications? This cannot be completely ruled out, but the answer is surely obvious: fair and speedy asylum procedures would eliminate this incentive.
Is there any chance of such a reform in Austria? The Green Party is currently being harshly criticized by many for not having the courage to risk even breaking up the government coalition on this issue. Green MP Sibylle Hamann is right that this would not help anyone. However, there is not a single word about citizenship in the coalition agreement. This issue was obviously left out because the Greens were not in favor of further restrictions. In view of the continuation of the agenda of the right-wing ÖVP-FPÖ government (2017-19) in the other areas of migration and asylum policy, this silence on naturalization was a small and little-noticed success for the Greens. Now, however, they are challenged to actually use this leeway. Given the unattractive alternative coalition options for the ÖVP, it is not very likely that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will let the coalition fall apart if the Greens make a push for the overdue reform of the citizenship law.
What is needed now for the deported children is a humanitarian repatriation campaign. For thousands of children who are threatened with deportation from their Austrian homeland in the future, a reform of the citizenship law is needed.
"Vulnerability in Contexts of Flight" - A critical analysis of multiple aspects of vulnerability among refugees
By Josef Kohlbacher & Maria Six-Hohenbalken
As Agier (2011, 158) has aptly put it, "all refugees are vulnerable". The concept of vulnerability fulfils a central function: it serves to identify groups that need targeted support and special protection. In its practical application, however, the concept has ambivalent effects. Used as a "label" that establishes unequal power relations, it neglects existing heterogeneity/s within groups and may lead to an underestimation of the groups' capacity to act. In what follows, we present how our recently published volume entitled Vulnerability in Contexts of Flight advances the discussion on this topic.
Initially applied to risk and disaster studies, the conceptualisation of vulnerability was subsequently taken up and elaborated on by various disciplines. Owing to its application in politics, as well as in guidelines and indicator systems in International Organizations (UNHCR; WHO), the concept has gained additional weight. On the down side, there are some inherent pitfalls to the multiplicity of approaches, applications and discourses and the resulting centrifugal tendencies. In addition to discordant academic approaches, we have to take tendencies of compartmentalization, pathologization and victimization into account.
Vulnerability includes two components: inherent and situational factors. The former refer to aspects that are quasi-inherent to human nature, i.e. a social or affective dependency on other people, basic life needs based on our biological nature, such as those for food supply, physical or psychological integrity, recreation, etc. The latter refer to the need to cope with the challenges of life. By contrast, "situational vulnerability" is context-specific and is influenced by social, political, economic or environmental determinants. These have an inherent temporal component and can be effective in the short, medium or long term. There is a legal definition that stipulates which people particularly need protection. According to Art. 21 of the EU Reception Directive (Directive 2013/33/EU), these are in particular (unaccompanied) minors, people with disabilities, people with serious physical or mental illnesses, pregnant women, single parents, victims of human trafficking, torture or psychological, physical and sexual violence, as well as older people. Furthermore, LGBTIQ refugees are in particular need of protection.
Its relational aspects aside, the concept presupposes the vulnerability of refugees as a given characteristic. Yet, the social construction of vulnerability and the mechanisms of creating and/or denying the ability to act need to be addressed from a scholarly and socio-political perspective. This approach brings social environments, framework conditions, networks, institutions, organisations and discourses into focus. It is necessary to investigate the factors that enable, force or deny the ability of refugees to act. Furthermore, the entitlement of all refugees to universal rights and to social participation must be considered. The rights and needs of refugees and their inclusion in the host societies constitute the uniting theme of all the contributions in this volume.
In addition to highlighting specific problems pertaining to the vulnerability of certain groups of refugees, this volume presents preventive measures geared to promote resilience - i.e. the ability to cope with extreme life crises - and to prevent the development of clinical symptoms of illness. All the authors aim to make visible and give voice to the concerns of refugees who are by definition "vulnerable", be they women, LGBTIQ, people with mental illness or people who do not fall into these categorisations, such as young men and fragmented families. A further intention is to pursue an inter- or transdisciplinary orientation and to point out the challenges for practitioners in refugee work. The authors illustrate the conceptual issues confronting the endeavour to shift the focus to those people for whom fleeing and being a refugee poses special and additional challenges due to age, gender, illness/health, social contexts, etc. The concept of vulnerability is also a challenge for practitioners in refugee work. We attempt to show that the status of being a refugee does not come to an end with a positive asylum decision. The fragmentation of families, problems in family reunification, the long-term consequences of the refugee experience, political violence and torture are factors that perpetuate individual vulnerability. Vulnerability cannot be captured by legal definitions alone. It is the intersectionality of different factors that brings further vulnerabilities to light.
The Contributions in Detail
Monika Mokre deals with the vulnerability of young male refugees. She pursues two analytical goals. Firstly, she shows that discourses on the vulnerability of migrants and the hazards they face do not contradict but complement each other. Secondly, she elucidates the specific gender reference of these discourses, which in effect exclude young refugee men from support services. Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek's contribution is dedicated to the emergence of the vulnerability paradigm and its implementation. Although the term is omnipresent in international as well as national discourses, there is as yet no consensus on to whom and how the term is applied. The author presents the different definitions and approaches based on an inherent or a situational understanding of vulnerability and discusses the legal instruments of operational refugee protection. Sabine Bauer-Amin and Maria Six-Hohenbalken focus on transformations in the family relationships of refugees from Syria. Experiences of flight cause ambivalences and phases of liminality with regard to spatial and temporal factors. The authors use examples from interviews with refugees from Syria to show how family structures, which are anyhow constantly evolving, change in the context of flight. Refuge not only causes a fragmentation of families, but also promotes their denucleation, which as a major consequence leads to efforts to maintain family relationships on a larger scale despite considerable spatial distances. Josef Kohlbacher analyses the resident mobility of refugees from Afghanistan within Austria in the field of tension between determinants of vulnerability and the structural integration opportunities on the housing market. Most refugees prefer to live in an urban setting. As a result, those entitled to asylum, tend to migrate to Vienna. However, this hardly corresponds to a realistic assessment of the real opportunities on the urban labour and housing market, which is analysed in the article. Lena Siemers deals with the situation of Nigerian women who have become victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. In the course of psychosocial counselling in 2018 and 2019, the author supported numerous trafficked persons and learned about their fates. On the basis of the experience of a young woman sold into prostitution via Libya to France and then to Germany, she describes the practices of human trafficking and the numerous mechanisms of sexual exploitation and oppression young women from Nigeria are exposed to. The text by Serdar Arslan, Cécile Balbous and Magdalena Mach from Queer Base Vienna is dedicated to LGBTIQ refugees, and their specific problems between vulnerability and self-empowerment in the Austrian asylum system. LGBTIQ are exposed to various forms of discrimination, especially to social and institutional racism. In particular, they find themselves in the difficult situation of having to perform their sexual orientation within a normative framework that offers no space for otherness. This contribution examines the socio-political (and legal) situation of LGBTIQ refugees from a perspective grounded in activist practice. Klaus Mihacek and Martin Stepanek of the Psychosocial Centre ESRA (Hebrew for “aid”) analyse the requirements of psychosocial care models for the treatment of trauma sequelae in the context of flight and migration. In psychotraumatology, "trauma" is understood as a physical and psychological reaction to situations of extraordinary threat or of a catastrophic scale that would trigger profound despair in almost any person. The authors describe the requirements that arise for the psychosocial care of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Thomas Wenzel and Reem Alksiri from the World Psychiatric Association, Scientific Section on Psychological Aspects of Torture and Persecution and CEHRI (The Centre for the Enforcement of Human Rights International) reflect on the many aspects of torture and human rights in an interdisciplinary framework. They emphasise that safeguarding such essential human rights as protection from torture and care for survivors and relatives hinges on an interdisciplinary cooperation bringing together health professionals, lawyers and cultural anthropologists and offering public support for those affected. Ursula Trummer and Sonja Novak-Zezula of the Center for Health and Migration (Vienna) discuss aspects of “irregular migration”. How to offer health care for persons who have migrated to Austria without a valid legal status? Their contribution analyses the results of a study conducted in four EU member states on the economic costs of care for these migrants, comparing primary care and emergency hospital care. The volume includes interviews with two experts on refugee work. One is with Peter Sarto, who works for the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and Young People (Kinder- und Jugendanwaltschaft, KJA), which also attends to the needs of minors living in socio-pedagogical institutions. In the second interview, Ali Gedik reports on his experiences in caring for unaccompanied minor refugees.
The overall aim of the volume is to critically discuss the concept of vulnerability and to provide an overview of the theories associated with it. Of particular concern are the emergence of vulnerability, its differentiations in the context of flight and migration, the danger of instrumentalization, as well as its practical implications. Vulnerability in Contexts of Flight offers conceptual and functional perspectives on this complex phenomenon and provides an overview of the specific practice-related tasks confronting the respective experts. In the context of flight, vulnerability occurs in many different forms, and the resulting consequences for refugees are just as diverse. We plead for a critical reflection on the social and legal framework and its impact on the perpetuation of vulnerability of refugees in the host societies. In politics, the great potential and skills of refugees tend to be overlooked. Institutionally, sustained efforts need to be made to promote and develop the agency of refugees, not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of the host societies.
Agier, Michel 2011: Managing the Undesirables. Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government. Cambridge.
Kohlbacher, Josef; Six-Hohenbalken, Maria 2020: Vulnerabilität in Fluchtkontexten. ISR Forschungsberichte 53. Wien: ÖAW Verlag.
MMag. DDr.Josef Kohlbacher, born 09-05-1958 in Lilienfeld (Lower Austria); graduations in social and cultural anthropology, sociology, German philology, history and Egyptology at the University of Vienna; 1984-1987 researcher at the Vienna Museum of Anthropology (Dept. India and the Himalaya regions), field work in Northern and Central India and in Egypt; since 1988 senior researcher at the Institute of Urban and Regional Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, since 2006 deputy director; main research interests: labour and housing market integration of immigrants, municipal integration policies, interethnic relations in urban neighbourhoods, residential segregation, refugee studies.
By Estella Carpi
… Everyone was there and wanted their logo to be known… it’s a brand. And in the July 2006 war [of Israel on Lebanon] there were definitely more international brands than ever.
(Author’s interview with the Manager of the Social Development Centre, Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs, ash-Shiyyah, Beirut, October 30, 2011)
The visuality of symbols, buildings, and icons can powerfully mark spaces and make such spaces political, culturally oriented, spiritual, and even human. In times of crisis, it is particularly employed to exhibit the presence of humanitarian work. However, such a visuality can take different forms, and humanitarian logos are only one means of expression. Humanitarian logos communicate to the public that the labelled organizations are there assisting the needy, alleviating their predicament, witnessing human suffering, or rescuing lives. During the years I spent researching aid in Lebanon (2010-2020), people have often spoken of the ‘war of logos’ to emphasize the competition between different humanitarian actors intervening in crisis-stricken areas.
In such areas, where migrants and refugees often reside, new local understandings of physical space have arisen. However, aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war. In this blog post, I show how they can become stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life, inviting dwellers to rethink these spaces of coexistence. Aid, therefore, going beyond official humanitarianism, turns out to be a politics of space, changing people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and inducing them to rethink their spatial margins.
After the arrival of refugees from Syria (2011), the aid coming into Lebanon from the Arab Gulf increased, involving both in-kind assistance (i.e. food and school material kits) and cash-based programmes. Traditionally, Islamic charity work objects to iconic politics, adducing Prophet Mohammed’s hadith “the left hand does not see what the right hand gives” (la ta‘lamu shamaluhu bima tunfiqu yaminahu). However, some Arab Muslim philanthropists provide humanitarian aid by making their relief provision visible and, at times, even displaying their own face, their national flag, and their logos. Individual philanthropists in the Arab Gulf often opt to show the national flag and the faces of charity founders.
During my most recent fieldwork for the Southern-led Responses to Displacement project in North Lebanon, many Syrian refugees emphasised that they do not support the politics of some foreign governments in the Syrian conflict and, at times, are reluctant to accept the donations. A Syrian refugee friend told me in Bebnin in the spring of 2019, “We’re using the plates with the Saudi logo to show you we are given this stuff… but we normally don’t like using them as we don’t think Saudi politics helped Syrians in any way…”.
NGOs and UN agencies from the ‘global North’ similarly use logos to mark their humanitarian space, although the space is often shared with other humanitarian actors. I often met refugees who stressed how ephemeral and punctuated (appearing, disappearing, and reappearing over time) humanitarian assistance is: humanitarian logos always remain there, while aid workers show up to provide help only once in a while. Beneficiaries generally interpret logos negatively, as a sign of an increasingly prominent humanitarian-business nexus where assistance needs to be branded to be funded and supported. Yet some refugees I spoke to view the logos positively, as they visually convey the politics that relegate their lives to the margins and make their living conditions precarious and unjust. Such acts of ‘self-visibilization’ enable people in need to battle against the discriminatory and unequal politics of some aid providers.
Logos also inform us about the cooperation between humanitarian agencies which, generally, we would not associate with each other, such as Polish Aid and Australian Aid co-funding a dispensary for Syrian refugees and vulnerable local residents in the village of al-Bireh in North Lebanon.
Spaces of aid are usually remembered by the nationality of the funders, whose logos - often displaying their national flag even for non-governmental funding - are placed on street signs, entrance gates, and indoor walls.
In the sign above it is evident that the funding for what is commonly known in Kweishra (Akkar) as the “Turkish hospital” (al-mustashfa al-turki) is a donation from the Turkish state to the Lebanese state. However, the local residents and Syrian Arab refugees point out that only Turkmen Syrian refugees and a small number of Turkmen Lebanese have access to this clinic.
Beneficiary communities sometimes speak about humanitarian symbols with criticism and question their aid and service provision. A Syrian refugee woman from Homs who relocated to a border village in Lebanon highlighted that rent and medications were the primary needs of her family and community in Lebanon. At a time when e-food ration cards had not been introduced yet, she told me with sarcasm, “I came from Syria to get packages of bread in Lebanon… I don’t give a damn about their ‘grains of hope’: it’s 2,000 Lebanese Lira… I can pay for it. Why don’t they provide medications and cash for rent instead? They provide what is easier for them” (Wadi Khaled, January 29, 2013).
New local understandings of physical space have arisen in areas newly inhabited by migrants and refugees. For instance, in the economically disadvantaged district of Dinniye, local residents told me they used to identify the Emirs’ Castle Hotel (Funduq Qasr al-Umara’) as the luxurious holiday resort for tourists from the Arab Gulf. From 2012 onward, with the arrival of Syrian refugee families, local people conceptualised the area as a hotspot of “relief for the left-behind” (al-ighatha li’l ma‘zulin), where refugees collect aid provided by the Arab Gulf and are temporarily accommodated.
Aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war: they can remain stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life. The Beit Atfal as-Sumud in the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburbs represents a point of call for Palestinian dwellers, providing education, play activities, and medical support and referring beneficiaries to other NGOs and specialistic services. During my visits since 2011, I realized the employees are more trusted than the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA)’s services. The Beit is the spatialization of the most effective aid in the neighbourhood, as known by other migrant and refugee groups who inhabit the area.
A large number of Syrian refugees in rural and peri-urban Lebanon reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) built on pieces of land on the side of public roads, which they need to rent from landowners, rent apartments or occupy empty depots in urban settings. Sometimes, families who were not even acquainted to each other before arriving in Lebanon end up living in the same household to be able to share expenses and make ends meet. A Lebanese resident from the city of Halba contended, “Once we know in which buildings the refugees live, we tend to avoid those areas.” We thus see new borderscapes (Lebuhn, 2013) in the making, where new margins, although not physically marked, emerge in the environment.
Some spaces are neither marked by NGO logos nor emerge as official spaces of aid provision in the public sphere. Yet, within local communities, they are understood as places where aid is likely to be given. Hairdressing and beauty salons for Ethiopian migrant workers became important points of call to weave support networks and exchange resources between Lebanon and Ethiopia or other African countries. Indeed, in Bourj Hammoud, African migrant workers from different national backgrounds said they frequent the same places where it is possible for them to gather information and seek support from other social groups or their countries of origin, beyond their own national belonging.
Football in Lebanon is known to be an activity people are passionate about, a way of connecting them to the world outside, and also a reason for gatherings and social mingling. National flags of other countries are often used to show support to national football teams. However, during my research in Lebanon, I realized there is sometimes a more complex story about the different national symbols exhibited in public space. A Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud told me how they not only support Brazil in football world leagues, but they also cherish the generosity of their relatives who resettled in Brazil in the 1970s and sent material and moral support during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). Showing the Brazil flag outside their balcony became a way to show their gratefulness.
Similarly, a taxi driver, in the municipality of Minieh in North Lebanon, spoke of Argentina not only as his favourite football team in the world leagues, but also as the place which welcomed and supported him, his family and friends during the 1980s. After returning to Lebanon after the end of the civil war, he still preserves his childhood memories of Argentina and hopes his own children will get to know the country at some stage.
Sticker of Argentina on a taxi cab in Minieh, North Lebanon. April 2019.
Humanitarian aid, ultimately, turns out to be a politics of space. It changes people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and induces them to rethink their spatial margins. Moreover, the material manifestations of aid are not exclusively to be found on logos and brands that indicate distribution spots or offices. Symbols, material objects and shops can give rise to different aid imaginaries. While those who believe in a no-profit humanitarianism commonly criticize the logo-marked bond between aid provision and business, alternative spaces of aid do not need to be marked by logos, as they are the result of entangled stories, personal relationships, and transregional trajectories of human support. Intimate memories do not need logos to have their presence acknowledged; it is generally in people’s mental spaces that they are preserved.
 At the outset of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon (2011-12), many of the ‘global North’s’ humanitarian actors were reluctant to provide cash assistance to refugees, preferring to prioritise the delivery of food, medical, and other items. In 2013 e-food ration cards began to be distributed to refugee households, replacing the old food vouchers. Also, over the last few years, especially after the 2015 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on reducing the delivery of in-kind assistance in order to enhance cash assistance. Nowadays, Arab Gulf funded NGOs in Lebanon mostly provide material aid, such as mattresses and food, and, during Ramadan, iftar baskets and dates.
 Established in 1984 after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres.
 UNWRA services are seen as decreasingly sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.
 An independent municipality located at the East of Beirut, historically marked by the Armenian forced migration, and today populated by different migrant groups.
* This research has been conducted in the framework of the project "Analyzing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey", funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582".