By Phoenix Paz, MSc student (2013)
Seven students from the MSc Migration Studies programme accompanied by Departmental Lecturer Dr Evelyn Ersanilli visited Istanbul, Turkey in a class research trip from 11 March to 15 March 2013. While in Istanbul, the students learned about the remarkable and unique relationship between the Turkish state, which does not allow permanent resettlement of refugees from countries outside of Europe, and the many people who migrate to Turkey, both temporarily and permanently, as asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants or retirement migrants.
At the Helsinki Citizen’s Association – a Turkish human rights advocacy organisation whose migrant rights branch was a key player in the passage of Turkey’s new migration and resettlement bill this year – we spoke with staff about the ways in which migration redefines the limits of the nation state and challenges old ideas about who deserves the protection of the law. We discussed the challenges of repatriation, particularly to places of conflict and particularly for women at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) – an international NGO concerned with the resettlement and repatriation of individuals – and engaged with staff at the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation – a Turkish Muslim faith-based organisation that provides large scale relief projects for asylum seekers in Turkey and in conflict zones around the world. We also had the opportunity to speak with representatives from several other volunteer organisations that provide relief to asylum seekers and undocumented labour migrants. Other graduate students spoke to us about their study of the precarious position of international migrants in the Turkish legal structure and their unique place in Turkish social life. As part of these discussions, we toured one of Istanbul’s most dynamic international migration quarters, the Laleli Shopping District.
We also learnt about the difficult relationship between the Turkish State and minority peoples, including the Kurds and the Roma, many of whom have been forced to migrate internally due to violence, drought, or other disasters. Discussions with representatives from Kurdish rights organisations, visits to a Bilgi University-sponsored community centre that cares for Kurdish and Roma children, informal chats with Turkish journalists, and a walk through Tarlabaşı, a primarily Roma and Kurdish neighbourhood ear-marked for gentrification, opened our eyes to the complexity of Turkey’s relationship with its minority peoples.
The trip illustrated the real-life connections between internal and international migration and people’s reactions to these situations, highlighting a central discussion from the course regarding structure and agency. Moreover, our discussions with advocacy workers, human rights representatives and migrants themselves, showed the complexity of an individual’s decision to move, giving us insight into human motivations and grounding the theoretical studies read during the course in real-world experience. Finally, our visit to Istanbul added greater depth to the coursework as we learned to tease out the relationships between academic theory and on-the-ground realities and link different types of mobility in dynamic and shifting context that is our everyday lived experience.
Roundtable discussion about studying migration at Oxford
In this podcast Dr Mette Berg talks to four students who completed the MSc Migration Studies in the summer of 2012 about why they decided to come to Oxford, what it has been like to study migration in Oxford, and what their future plans are. The podcast will be of particular interest to anyone considering applying to the MSc Migration Studies degree. With thanks to the students: Saskia Blume, Tess Hellgren, Katyana Melic, Gustavo Rangel Guerrero.
Dr Mette Berg has also written a blog post about the MSc programme, 'What is the Oxford University MSc in Migration Studies?'
(Photo by Ida Persson)
Interview: Katherine Flynn
Katherine Flynn (MSc in Migration Studies 2011/12), talks about her experience of the course:
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in Canada but raised in the US. I went back to Canada to study at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I majored in development studies.
Why did you want to study migration?
After my third year I got a summer internship at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, where I was asked to report on temporary foreigners worker programmes in Canada. There was no one else looking at this issue in the Union, and I was fascinated by the things I was finding out. I then wrote my undergraduate thesis about labour migration to Canada.
What made you choose Oxford and how did you hear about the course here?
I really wanted to pursue this new interest in migration but there seemed to be few programmes in Canada looking specifically at this topic, so I did some searching on the Internet and found the Oxford Department of International Development, which led me to the MSc in Migration Studies. The three migration institutes at Oxford were a major factor that attracted me to the course: there was clearly such a diversity of interest among the researchers working in these institutes, all focusing on migration, and working on policy and development issues. I was also attracted by the whole Oxford experience.
What are two of the most surprising/interesting things you have learned?
I have been really surprised by just how much I have learnt from my peers during this course; we are all interested in different aspects of migration and we learn a lot from each other. I’ve also learned about mobility in African and Asian societies, and how mobility often plays such a big part in society, but it doesn’t always appear in newspaper headlines. Another interesting thing I have learned concerns the similarities and differences between the European and North American perspectives on migration.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of an Oxford migration MSc student?
Generally you have a tutorial in the morning, then lunch, and usually an afternoon spent in the library or listening to one of the Oxford migration researchers presenting their research. The evening is often spent reading or essay writing (there is an essay every second week). The week is structured by scheduled classes, but there is an element of self-directing your study, particularly as you get to the third semester. You have plenty of time to get excited about different aspects of migration and finally pin down a dissertation topic, and then it’s up to you to pursue it. My dissertation is on irregular child migration.
What do you think is the most challenging migration issue in the world today?
I think it’s the complex restrictions that can be placed upon people who are trying to move. It’s not just about crossing borders but also how the decisions to move are made, and how barriers and restrictions can lead to trafficking and irregular migration.
What do you plan to do next?
I feel that opting to specialize in migration hasn't closed any doors to me - in fact, I feel like it's opened them. I think I would eventually like to work in each of the policy, academic, and the non-profit sectors for a time. It's open-ended. However, I think in the long term I'd like to be able to direct my own research. Right now I think I'll try to go into the research/policy sector as I think that speaks to my growing interests in that field.