Accepted Paper:

Dispersal or Disposal? Contested narratives of belonging and asylum in an English town.  


Olivia Wright (Copenhagen University )

Paper short abstract:

Responding to a cosmopolitan bias in international migration studies, this paper conceptualises the articulation of local opposition to the dispersal of asylum seekers to Middlesbrough, a marginalised, post-industrial town in the North East of England, through the figure of the 'dumping ground.'

Paper long abstract:

Migration scholarship tends to focus on the relationship between incumbent residents and migrating incomers in Europe's global cities. However, the policy move in many European countries to disperse asylum seekers and refugees outside of cosmopolitan centres, often in marginalised or peripheral places, warrants the development of new theoretical approaches. Specifically, the UK's asylum seeker dispersal policy, predicated on the availability of cheap housing, places asylum seekers in a handful of the UK's most deprived neighbourhoods. Of these, Middlesbrough, a post-industrial town in the North East of England is the most deprived, and from 2013 to mid-2016, housed the most asylum seekers as a proportion of the population. This paper aims to understand how the locality of this denigrated provincial place - its socio-economic history and stigmatized identity - shapes the way local people narrate the presence of asylum seekers in Middlesbrough. A combination of ethnographic methods - participant observation and semi structured interviews - and rhetorical and discursive analysis of the comment sections of online local newspaper articles, are used to unpack these contested narratives. Opponents contend that Middlesbrough functions as a 'dumping ground' for an externally created, problematic asylum seeking population. Moving beyond the humanitarian/ xenophobe dualism, this figure of the 'dumping ground' provides an original lens though which opposition to the national government, local elites and asylum seekers themselves, intersect, underpinned by the view that asylum seekers are 'human waste:' an unwanted, burdensome problem to be managed and contained in an already marginalized, denigrated space.

Panel P156
Encountering refugees beyond urban Europe: everyday interactions, pragmatics and outcomes