Accepted paper:

Welcome with open arms or with reservations? Personal relationships between refugees and their supporters in Slovakia

Authors:

Eva-Maria Walther (Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on refugee supporters in Slovakia. Applying an individual perspective, it maps out the contradicting impulses that guide their behavior in their encounter with refugees, ranging from paternalistic care to performance pressure.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines actors who engage for refugees in Slovakia and thereby stand up to the dominant discourse which prioritizes security and protectionism over solidarity. How is the controversy of the public debate reflected in interpersonal relationships, and how do refugees and supporters resolve the tension between opposing directives for integration? Refugee care in Slovakia is a small-scale project, purposefully ignored and underfunded by state organs. The infrastructure for refugee integration is thus fragmentary and ever-improvised, necessitating individual agency and the use of informal networks of both supporters and refugees to "make do". To disentangle the commitments of refugee supporters, I carried out ethnographic fieldwork within church-affiliated and civic associations in three Slovak cities, consisting of interviews and participant observation. I take an individual approach to the emergence of engaged subjects, assuming that agency and personhood always include elements of bricolage and heteroglossia which allow people to hold contradictory views. Not only do various NGOs disagree on the guiding principle of their work; refugee supporters themselves follow diverging impulses in their daily encounters with refugees, prioritizing sometimes paternal care, sometimes individual self-realization, sometimes a meritocratic approach aimed at producing "productive" migrants. Refugees struggle with the lack of clarity on what is expected of them, but occasionally also succeed in managing the ambiguity to their advantage. The paper offers a close-up case study of the interaction between refugees and their supporters in a hostile environment and weakly structured support system and highlights the ambiguous but decisive role of personal relationships.

panel P157
Refugees and Migrants Network and Mobilise with Activists and NGO workers