With this concept we want to critically engage with migration management’s categorizations such as “transit” and “secondary mobility” and the various identities that are reified through them, such as “asylum seeker”, “recognized refugee”, “undocumented migrant”, etc.
The tool urges analysis and reflection on the “uneven geographies of Europe”, which implicate the different locations represented in BRIDGES (Greece, Spain, Germany, and the UK ).
How can a decolonial understanding of “Europe” help us deconstruct the binary between transit and destination countries in relation to migratory experiences? We want to challenge hegemonic representations of Europe’s geographies of migration and asylum by centering the lived experiences of people who are being “managed” and controlled through border regimes.
Thus, with the concept of transit, our aim is to highlight the embeddedness of national territories within each other and to interrogate their asymmetries in terms of policy implementation, access to higher education, as well as social, legal, and economic rights.
According to Souad Osseiran (2017), by trying to alter migrants’ and refugees’ relations with state actors in ‘transit’ countries, the EU seeks to change how migrants and refugees approach these states as spaces of temporariness.
Moreover, she argues that “unlike transit state, transit space is a broader concept. It can be used to describe how migrants’ and refugees’ relations with state actors, state regulations or laws, institutions, or other people produce spaces as spaces of temporariness”.
Transit signifies both mobility and immobility, movement and stuckness, what Fiorenza Picozza (2017) refers to as “caught in mobility”, when referring to migrants’ experiences of (im)mobility within Europe’s geographies of asylum.
The notion of secondary mobility derives from this differential function of borders internal to the European Union, which are porous for EU citizens, while being impermeable for those denied the same fundamental rights.
After the EU-Turkey deal of 2016, Greece as a country has been characterized as the hotspot of Europe, first becoming a space of transit and then a space of detainment (Carastathis, Spathopoulou, and Tsilimpounidi, 2018). According to this script, Greece is being constructed as a country of transit; according to this ideology, refugees, prototypically Syrians, urgently seek to pass through on their way to ‘Europe’ (see Kallius, 2019; Spathopoulou and Carastathis, 2020). Transit states that border, or are accessing to the EU have to prove their “Europeanness” in a way that coincides with how asylum applicants are forced to prove their ‘refugeness’.
In contrast to an autonomous notion of mobility, which contests the legitimacy of borders and defends the inalienable right to free movement, discourses that assume people on the move are fundamentally ‘out of place’ draw implicitly or explicitly on the idea of ‘transit’ (particularly as it is articulated from above, as a category of migration management).
The ascribed temporariness of asylum seekers’ stay in transit countries (despite the fact that, in reality, they may wait for months, years, or even decades for recognition and relocation) enables a politics of provisionality in relation to states’ obligations vis-à-vis people living within their territories as a result of forced migration.
For transit countries, then, the notion that they have an obligation to integrate refugees into the social fabric and remove barriers of full participation in society and its institutions is bypassed. The temporary “solutions” to meet social needs (housing, education, food, etc.) become permanent, which is to say that they never cease to be temporary, and social needs mainly go unmet.[link to ‘Greece – HE context’ document].
Being ‘stuck in transit’ can also affect people’s capacity to organise politically and to create durable communities of resistance to fight against the violence of these border regimes. However, even within such situations of suspended mobility, moments and spaces of solidarity are created [link to solidarity tool].
The general point is that the notion of transit traps people in a state of suspended mobility, in a regime of chronic waiting (Kallio, Meier and Hakli, 2020) perpetually “on standby” (De Genova, 2020). Instead of being merely descriptive (as the hegemonic definition implies), the concept of “transit” is thoroughly normative: that is, it functions as a mechanism through which the reality it purports to merely describe it actually brings into material existence. Thus, we suggest that transit countries are those through which people are made to want to “flow”, while the European migration regime enforces their being “stuck” there. Indeed, reading between the lines of hegemonic discourses and policy analysis, we might say that what was declared in 2015 as a “refugee crisis” in/by Europe was, in essence, a crisis of transit whereby people on the move asserted their autonomy and freedom of movement, for an all-too-brief window of time disrupting the logic of Fortress Europe.