Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Abstract: Across many regions of the globe, large groups of displaced people are crossing borders and seeking relief from violent political, economic, and environmental conditions. When border crossers arrive in new territories they struggle with national borders, bureaucratic barriers, and regulations that both recognize and restrict their right to movement and asylum. In this complex sociocultural climate, volunteers have occupied prominent roles, offering solidarity with migrant and refugee struggles. This roundtable examines volunteers as central social actors in the efforts to construct inclusive climates in places receiving large numbers of displaced peoples. The roundtable presenters share experiences based on fieldwork in Australia, Canada, Germany, Morocco, Spain, and the United States, and the discussants offer comparative comments based on work in Europe, Latin America, North America, and West Africa. The roundtable discusses a range of volunteer roles and practices that shape varied spaces of welcome and solidarity: providing meals, organizing health care, teaching language, offering legal counsel, offering employment, advocating inside and outside of camps, and managing resettlement. Focusing on interactions between volunteers and border crossers, we explore a range of relations, which bring up ethical quandaries surrounding friendships, romantic relationships, and close emotional connections. We also consider the tensions and contradictions volunteers face as they challenge or navigate official discourses and practices that regulate citizenship and belonging, especially along contentious border zones. Our panel explores a range of questions: What alternative categories can we use to nuance the role of volunteers that take into account diverse motivations, objectives, and practices? How do informal volunteers, humanitarian organizations, and governing bodies interact, act on, and react to each other? How are volunteers and their practices affected by the growing trend of criminalizing solidarity? How can anthropologists balance their roles as volunteers and participant observers of refugee struggles? By comparing volunteer engagement with struggles of border crossers, we seek to demonstrate how anthropological studies can contribute to ongoing humanitarian assistance for new groups of displaced peoples. Overall, the roundtable aims to create dialogue about complex cultures of compassion and solidarity as central aspects of emerging multicultural climates.