University of Sussex
Ilieva, Kristina.pdf (2.56 MB)

Migration, post-socialism, and nationalism: a study of refugeehood in a border town in Bulgaria

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posted on 2023-06-10, 02:57 authored by Kristina Ilieva
In the context of the humanitarian crisis at Europe’s borders, distinct and polarized mobilisations emerged around immigration. This thesis studies the discourses around immigration developed to justify various action repertories. This thesis uses Bulgaria as a case study and, more particularly, a town positioned at the external border of the EU. Harmanli, a border town in Bulgaria, has hosted a Refugee Reception Center since 2013 and is located on the Balkan route. Drawing on border ethnography in the town of Harmanli in the period 2017-2018, and also interviews and focus groups, I illustrate that alongside the prominent anti-asylum protests, care networks developed in border regions and around refugee camps. Anti-asylum protestors also mobilised frames of care to justify their political positions and repertories of refugee hunting and border vigilance. While pro-asylum activist caring repertoires were directed towards those feeling wars and famine, anti-asylum protestors’ care was projected towards the local community. The frame of care thus emerged as mobilising for distinct groups of people in the context of immigration. In addition to this, the thesis traces the responses (or lack thereof) of locals who identify as ‘descendants of Thracian refugees’ (second and third-generation migrants) from the interwar period of 1919-1925. Looking at these descendants of Thracian refugees (from Asia Minor and Northern Greece), I demonstrate that the local migration history in the border town, including the history of refugeehood from the disintegration of the Ottoman empire, implicates present-day attitudes and lack of responses towards the asylum. Descendants of Thracian refugees in the European border care to preserve the distinct memory of refuge of their ancestors. By caring for their refugee heritage, many denied the present experiences of asylum-seeking at their doorsteps. This thesis documenting pro-asylum, anti-asylum, and histories of asylum action repertories and frames suggests that care frames justify distinct responses across the political spectrum and migration consciousness. The various mobilisations and hierarchies of care could be further contextualised in the post-socialist period in Bulgaria, shaped by emigration from the country and the depopulation of rural border areas.


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