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Accepted Paper:

Kerewan and Mansajang: rules and morals of Gambian migrations in the present age of involuntary immobility  


Elia Vitturini (University of Milano-Bicocca)
Alice Bellagamba (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The paper presents and compares the regimes of mobility, the discussions on the morality/immorality of transnational migration, and the attempts to counter involuntary immobility by navigating the shifting boundaries between rules and morals in two Gambian villages.

Paper long abstract:

Kerewan and Mansajang are two rural communities of The Gambia, located respectively in the North Bank Region and Upper River one. Since colonial times, youths from this part of the country have trod the paths of labour migration, by moving in the 1950s to the Sierra Leonean diamond fields, and then spreading, generation after generation, to other African countries, Europe, and the United States. Geographical mobility has become a strategy of upward social mobility and a way to support the reproduction of rural households, with Europe and the US standing as high-prized destinations by the end of the twentieth century.

In the last twenty years, Kerewan and Mansajang regimes of mobility have clashed with the increasing restriction of immigration policies in the Global North. The ‘backway’, as Gambians familiarly label ‘irregular’ migrations, has been the most visible (and mediatized) result of the friction between internal and external rules of geographical and social mobility. This friction has also triggered local discussions on the morality/immorality of the ‘backway’, the role of the Gambian state in the implementation of EU immigration (and repatriation) policies, and the reintegration of destitute return migrants that challenge consolidated patterns of intergenerational financial and social support. Long-term research in the country, and fresh ethnography carried out in 2020, allow this paper to compare Kerewan and Mansajang’s plural attempts to counter the present age of involuntary immobility by navigating the shifting boundaries between rules and morals in their own terms.

Panel Mob02a
Making mobility rules. [SIEF Working Group on Migration and Mobility]