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Lecture discusses repression of migrants in host countries

| Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies hosted Jeffery Pugh, associate professor of conflict resolution from the University of Massachusetts Boston and executive director of the Center for Mediation, Peace and Resolution of Conflict, for a lecture covering his recently published book, The Invisibility Bargain: Governance Networks and Migrant Human Security.”

“How can we understand how migrants are able to integrate into host societies despite their challenges and differences?” Pugh asked to kick off the lecture.

This question initiated the 15-year research process that culminated in the publication of his book, which is a case study of Colombian migrants in Ecuador, analyzing the role of non-state actors in migrant integration.

Following his introduction, Pugh described the concept of the invisibility bargain as an “implicit compromise between host country and migrant,” where as long as the migrant contributes economically and remains “politically and socially invisible,” they are permitted to stay in the host country.

Beyond his case study in Ecuador, through experience in the United States and South Africa, he believes that the socio-political silencing of migrants in exchange for their economic servitude may be widespread.

“The idea is that this argument travels,” Pugh said.

Pugh’s field work in Ecuador involved conducting interviews with Colombian migrants in various regions of Ecuador, from small coastal towns to the capital city Quito. He also focused on studying the resources the migrants used to become more integrated in their host country and the degree to which those resources functioned as mechanisms of integration.

In his interviews with migrants, Pugh discovered various means by which they are accepted by the host country. He said one migrant woman described her strategy to simply live in Ecuador involved keeping her mouth shut at all times.

When migrants breach the invisibility bargain by attempting to claim social or political rights in a way that is visible to the host country, such as public protests or organized voting, the host country reacts to ensure their silence, Pugh explained. 

“In this context, non-state actors forming an institutional web can provide indirect access to rights, resources and protection, and simultaneously help migrants avoid negative backlash against visible political actors,” Pugh said.

In areas of Ecuador where Colombians were more fully integrated than others, Pugh found a tight network of non-state actors. The alleviating factor to an otherwise xenophobic repression of migrant rights was these non-state actors that connected migrants to local government and silently afforded them rights in their new host society.

“The most effective means of integration was negotiating informally with local power brokers and leaders in the neighborhood,” Pugh said. 

Pugh wrapped up the lecture by saying we need to understand the migrant-state interaction is more complicated than the narrative that “the state must keep out the bad guys.”

Instead, the migrant-state interaction “can be affected by a diverse network of institutions,” which afford migrants socio-political rights and host populations a sense of security.

In the question and answer portion of the event, Pugh was asked if he believed the theory of the invisible bargain explains modern day examples of migrant right forfeiture, such as the French hijab ban. 

He said he could not say for certain and explained he was doing follow up research on why host countries react negatively to migrants. The question, Pugh said, highlighted an important dilemma in today’s world that extends beyond Colombia and Ecuador, the United States or Europe.

Pugh said and left attendees to ponder, “Why is it that there exists these gray zones where people’s physical presence is allowed in a country, but they’re not allowed access to their full human dignity?” 

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About Simon Vogel

Simon is a junior from Manchester, Vermont majoring in finance and political science and living in Keough Hall. When not curled up with a book, he can be found running cross-country with friends. He can be contacted by email: [email protected]

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