In the previous post Geertje den Oudsten shared with us her experience at a Summer School on Migration in Greek this summer and challenged the idea that religion can only be used as a classifactory concept in Migration Studies. Today part two.
The reality of these migratory experiences are inescapable in current-day Greece. Against the backdrop of the global economic crisis, which, one could argue, has hit the country harder than it has hit all other European countries, a migration crisis is taking place. For many poor people from all over the world who choose or are forced to leave their home countries, Europe seems like a paradise where there is work, wealth and security, a place where they will be protected and free. With that image in mind, hundreds of people every day try to enter Europe, more specifically the EU, by hiring people to smuggle them across borders, often crossing the Mediterranean Sea in small, overcrowded boats. Over the last few years, many of these ‘migratory routes’ have concentrated in Greece, where both Africans and Asians try to enter the EU. Because of strict European policies for immigration control and ‘border security’, and because of the total lack of a working asylum procedure in Greece, this situation has become truly dramatic, as is captured in ‘The Battle for Attica Square’ (4). Interestingly enough, in this video we see an imam burying the migrants who die when trying to cross the Evros river on the border between Turkey and Greece. This man is not just burying bodies, he is burying Muslims.
The ones who do make it across the border, are usually detained in so-called ‘closed centers of hospitality’ – overcrowded detention centers lacking in sanitary facilities, beds, and all other necessities. Until 2009, a center like this has been in use on the island of Lesvos as well, and in the course of the Summer School, our group had the opportunity to visit it. Nothing had changed there since it had been closed down. The walls were covered with texts and pictures, written and drawn by the detainees. They had written their names and those of family they left behind, their countries of origin, flags, and also religious symbols and verses from the Qur’an. In a situation of complete uncertainty and despair, the people in the detention center felt the need to write down these verses. They were something to hold on to.
Those migrants who do find a way to stay in a new country, often start ethno-religious communities that gather around religious services. Research in many migrant religious communities has shown that people experience their religion as a source of great support and a way to cope with the experiences of the various stages of migration and life in a new country (5). So, after all, religion is everywhere, also in the migration process. If a significant number of migrants themselves experience religion in this way, I believe it is something scholars cannot afford to overlook. It is certainly not the only factor of importance, so different fields of research have different contributions to make, but migration studies definitely needs the faculties of religious studies to point out the ‘Religion Factor’.
Geertje den Oudsten is a research-master student at the University of Groningen, working on religion and migration.
(5) For example:
Jacqueline Maria Hagan, Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope, and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey, 2008, Harvard University Press, Cambridge
Mariya Aleksynska and Barry Chiswick, Religiosity and Migration: Travel into One’s Self versus Travel across Cultures, 2011, IZA Discussion Paper No. 5724, http://ftp.iza.org/dp5724.pdf
Elzbieta Gozdziak and Dianna Shandy (eds.), Religion and Forced Migration: Journal of Refugee Studies Special Issue, 2002, vol. 15 no. 2
Lieke Withagen, Migranten en religie: een onderzoek naar migrantenkerken en moskeeën in Rotterdam, 2005, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, http://thesis.eur.nl/theses/index/474188052/
Kenneth Pargament, The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice, 1997, Guilford Press, New York