The Welcome City?

Can every day urban acts of ‘welcoming’ challenge a national politics of hostility? This session aims to consider different narratives of ‘welcome’ experienced by new arrivals in Leeds and other UK cities.

In early September 2015, a photo of Alyan Kurdi, a drowned young boy, catapulted the growing Mediterranean refugee ‘crisis’ into the realm of global moral concern. This led to a spontaneous and somewhat surprisingly compassionate response of the public that resulted in both material outcomes for refugees (e.g. clothes donations) and consciousness raising. The momentum towards compassion has since been substantially challenged. A populist, nationalist and arguably xenophobic politics has triumphed in the polls, with the UK voting to leave the European Union.

Despite some relatively small gestures of sanctuary to selective Syrian refugees, the UK government is brazenly continuing its direction of travel to create ‘discomfort and hostility’ for refused asylum seekers and irregular migrants. These insidious policies paradoxically create the need for the kinds of exchange, solidarity and counter-power being spear-headed by civil society at the local level under the ‘refugees welcome’ banner.

This session invites papers which ask how politics of compassion emerge in urban spaces. We welcome exploration of the juxtaposition of both utopian and dystopian visions of the city for refugees and other newcomers:

–          Is compassion inevitably ephemeral, or can it translate into a lasting transformative politics to welcome newcomers?

–          Are refugees a special case demanding ‘welcome’? How does this differ from the response to other newcomers, such as migrant workers, homeless populations, gypsies and travellers, or mobile elites?

–          How do asylum seekers negotiate urban resettlement in the face of hostile bureaucracies and a national xenophobic and racist politics?

–          Does ‘the welcome city’ connect responses to human mobility at different scales; from individuals, civil society and faith based organisations, through to political actors and intra-national bodies such as the EU?

Dr Hannah Lewis, University of Sheffield h.j.lewis@sheffield.ac.uk

Dr Louise Waite, University of Leeds l.waite@leeds.ac.uk