11 Aug

Geographical Review Preview: The Urban Governance of Asylum as a “Battleground”: Policies of Exclusion and Efforts of Inclusion in Italian Towns 

By: Maurizio Ambrosini

What is the main purpose of your study? 

The main purpose of my study was to discuss local policies of reception of asylum seekers, deepening the case of Italy: a Western country concerned by the arrival of people in search for asylum, mainly from Africa. I wanted to highlight the interactions and the tensions between the national government, local authorities,   and civil society  actors.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 

The first implication is that the governance of immigration and asylum policies is a multi-level and multi-actor process. It does not involve only national governments, but several other public and non public subjects.

Second, the mobilization of local civil society plays an important role in contrasting immigrants’ and asylum seekers’ rejection, coming from local governments and by xenophobic forces. Also common citizens have actively taken part in various activities in favor of newcomers.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

My work relates with two bodies of literature: on one side, studies on the multilevel governance of immigration and particularly on local policies of exclusion, an issue that has been studied much more in North America than in Europe. On the other side, it relates to the recent wave of studies on the mobilization of Western European civil societies  for the reception of asylum seekers: what in Germany has been called “the Summer of solidarity”. Also in the USA and in Canada similar events have occurred, highlighting the role of non-State actors in contrasting what Alejandro Portes has recently called “the end of compassion”.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 

The first aspect is the importance of “local policies of exclusion” whereas  in Western Europe over the last twenty years studies have instead emphasized a more tolerant attitude by local governments towards migrants and asylum seekers in comparison with national governments. 

Second, I underlined the role of civil society: restrictions and shortcomings in public policies have created more space for non-public actors.

Third, I discuss the political meaning of such interventions: even if many civil society actors do not exhibit political motivations, in the present political climate also simple acts of help, such as donating food, are increasingly perceived as political acts, even as acts of subversion. It is the case, for instance, of NGO ships rescuing lives in the Mediterranean Sea. Consequently, several governments are criminalizing solidarity towards migrants and asylum seekers.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 

First of all, I would recall the concept of “battleground”, to define the interactions, cooperative or conflictual, between various actors, with different interests, visions, values, that shape the actual governance of immigration and asylum, especially at the local level.

Second, I highlighted the different types of civil society actors, acting in favor of migrants. According to a rationale of organizational complexity, I distinguished: NGOs; other civil society’s actors (churches, trade-unions, associations); social movements; spontaneous groups of citizens.

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