Panel 10

Invisible Displacements Between Labour Migration and Forced Displacement in African Transnational Spaces

Panel organiser: Jesper Bjarnesen, The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden.


This panel invites empirically grounded analyses of involuntary (i)mmobilities that take place outside the purview of state bureaucracies and humanitarian agencies, thereby shifting the focus from the reified administrative categories of “refugees” and “internally displaced persons” towards ethnographies of processes of invisible displacement.

Whether formally categorized as refugees or not, migrants experience varying degrees of vulnerability and insecurity in relation to their mobilities. These vulnerabilities constitute subjective experiences of displacement and may be more pressing for groups of migrants unlikely to be considered formal refugees, such as return migrants or deportees; people stuck in places and positions of extreme vulnerability; as well as migrants who are forced to leave their homes because of the lack of livelihood options. Such mobility-related vulnerabilities rarely register for external interventions but they are also kept below the surface within communities and even within families, either by people turning a blind eye, or by migrants themselves choosing to lay low.

The dynamics of such processes are difficult to place into generic categories of vulnerability, for example of women and children as disenfranchised in relation to adult men. Rather, this panel explores the specific processes of empowerment and disempowerment empirically, asking what does invisibility and invisibilisation achieve? What are the effects of becoming or being made invisible? How does invisibility create vulnerability or precariousness, and under which circumstances can invisibility be used strategically as a desirable position, providing hope for alternative futures? These questions feed into larger debates on agency and social being in the world.

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