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Accepted paper:

Beyond Migrant Solidarity: Eritrean Refugees and Care Amongst Agaish


Carla Hung (Arizona State University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper contributes to conversations about the criminalization of solidarity between activists and migrants in border zones. Understanding relationships amongst agaish, a Tigrinya word translatable as both guest and relative, can offer ethical insights on the politics of hospitality.

Paper long abstract:

In the Processo Agaish trial, Italian prosecutors accused Eritrean refugees of human trafficking and exploiting their client's desires to move further North. Pointing out the mistranslation of the Tigrinya word agaish is part of the defense's strategy to show that the purported victims in this case were not clients, but guests, agaish, often family members or church mates of those accused who hosted them, not for money but for hospitality. I argue that as Italy increases the security of its borders to address the rise of populist movements and the strain of refugee integration on social welfare programs, hospitable care practices among Eritreans become criminalized. This paper investigates how humanitarian regimes come to criminalize networks of indebtedness employed by Eritrean refugees to facilitate movement towards asylum granting countries. Humanitarian institutions that valorize a philanthropic relationship to money are inadequate to understand forms of exchange and support that ground transnational kinships (Bornstein & Redfield 2011; Guyer 2004; Povinelli 2011). Through ethnographic attention to networks of indebtedness in Eritrean society that enable care over great distance through debt transfer practices such as hawala (Ballard 2014) or collective investment like equb (Tesfagiorgis 2010), this paper brings new perspectives on the interchange between mobility, money, and care. It thinks through the political projects of Eritrean asylum seekers relying on these indebted community networks to move. This requires a turn toward feminist scholarship that thinks beyond a neat binary between kinship and politics, toward a reconceptualization of refugee solidarity (Butler 2000; Muehlebach 2012; Lonzi 1996).

panel AA12
Helping in an era of hostility: Political agency and moral contestations in civil society movements for and by migrants