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Accepted paper:

How do Travel Papers Work? The Efficacy of Fake and Authentic Travel Documents For Asylum Seekers in the EU


Romm Lewkowicz (The Graduate Center CUNY Leipzig Universitat)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the efficacy of fake and authentic documents among asylum seekers. Based on multi-sited ethnography, It looks at how refugees perceive, differentiate and manage travel documents on their journey, as well as the performative strategies they employ for their papers to work.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, I examine the efficacy of fake and authentic travel documents among asylum seekers in the EU. Based on ethnography carried out between Izmir, Chios (Greece), Athens and Berlin with asylum seekers from different backgrounds, I look at the fickle purchase that these documents have in the lives of migrants on the move and how they figure in their strategies to achieve movement and legal status in Europe. By scrutinizing how licit and illicit travel documents are perceived, differentiated and managed, as well as the kind of work that they do or fail to do for their holders, this paper tackles a series of misconceptions undergirding popular and scholarly views regarding the interrelation between statecraft and the counterfeit in the EU. In studying the effects that licit and illicit documents elicit among individual migrants I examine how both are perceived as belonging in a shared economy of things, as commodities whose value is unstable and whose efficacy requires a constant refashioning of the document holder's entrepreneurial skills as well as her self-presentation. Rather than being preoccupied with whether a paper is legal or illegal, migrants on the move evaluate papers on the scale of strong/not strong or dangerous/safe, asking what is more likely to work or pose less threat, and in what circumstances. At the same time, I show how for both types of paper to work, migrants have to rely on a series of performative strategies in order to cultivate the 'spirit' of the paper.

panel P105
The Materiality of Migration: From 'bare necessities' to 'promising things' [ANTHROMOB]