About the project

As a consequence of people fleeing their home countries, especially Syria, and an increasing territorialisation of Islamic State, Europe is currently experiencing an almost unprecedented refugee crisis. The response of the European Union has primarily been to enforce its external borders using naval blockades and FRONTEX-led programmes to push back migrants even before they enter the European continent. The establishing of a controversial refugee quota system among EU member states is now being implemented but a common EU migration policy has so far not been realized. Instead individual states are enhancing controls at their inner EU borders, a tendency which would have been inconceivable until recently. Meanwhile, the number of deceased refugees is increasing as reported by the International Organization for Migration (IOMC).

Among European citizens responses to the refugee crisis have differed. Concurrent to moral panics as well as outbursts of violence and discrimination, a plethora of counter movements can be observed, either organised in cooperation with refugee organisations and NGO’s, or in the shape of privately organized initiatives.

This research network wishes to pursue the different ways in which people of everyday life Europe choose to ‘give a helping hand’, doing their own aiding work in support of refugees coming to Europe. From self-organized fundraising to illegal smuggling of single individuals across borders, a myriad of private initiatives are emerging. Whether it concerns the collection of used tents from Roskilde Festival in Denmark or the creation of Facebook groups supporting refugees in e.g. juridical counselling and translation services, the activities tend to signal that formal decision-making and political action is not enough.

By ethnographically investigating the rationales, aspirations and experiences of the private initiatives, the network aims at enhancing our understanding of how everyday ‘aiding practices’ can be seen as ways of enacting the European citizen. The initiatives seem to be taken behind the back of and in response to a somewhat paralyzed EUrope. Statements from media interviews indicate that some of the citizens’ actions are accompanied by arguments for global solidarity, tolerance and human rights; others relate more to national perceptions expressing the wish to offer alternative and more ‘truly European’ versions of the nation state’s responses to the arriving refugees. Hence, there are signs of an everyday cosmopolitanism, which might even be understood as a genuinely new mode of global awareness Europeanisation enacting new versions of and ideals for the national. One hypothesis of the project is thus that the aiding practices are not merely a critique or a distancing from the European project, but rather signalling new kinds of European citizen awareness and ‘everyday life Europeanisation’.

Rumford, C. (2008): Citizens and Borderwork in Contemporary Europe. London: Routledge.
Isin, E. F (2009): ‘Citizenship in flux: The figure of the activist citizen’. Subjectivity 29, pp. 367-388 (December 2009)