Race, bordering and disobedient knowledge, episode 5, transcription: Research on asylum should go against the grain

Length of recording: 19 minutes

Participants: Aminkeng Atabong Alemanji and Minna Seikkula

Transcription notes:

AAA: Aminkeng Atabong Alemanji, Interviewer

MS: Minna Seikkula, Respondent


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AAA: Hello and welcome to another episode of these podcast series. My name is Amin and with me here is Minna. Minna how are you doing?

MS: Hi Amin, thanks, I’m good. Glad to be here.

AAA: Glad to have you here. Please do you want to start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your research, please.

MS: Well, Amin, as you know, but maybe the listeners don’t know. We’ve been colleagues in this research project on intersectional border struggles and disobedient knowledge. And my bit in that project has been on administrative borders and now when I talk about administrative borders what I mean is that those borders that people who then come for instance here to Finland with different passports and not everyone has the same prospects of staying. So people who are irregularised because of the borders and there’s struggles so that’s what my research has been about.

AAA: That’s very interesting. It’s always very fascinating when we talk about issues of borders because it’s something that really affects almost everyone’s lives, that makes your research paper important. So, do you wanna please tell the listeners what is the impact of your research at this current time because we live in very interesting times with borders.

MS: Yeah, well, I don’t know if a researcher themselves ever is the right person to evaluate the impact, but I’m kind of started from this understanding that I really hope that my research would have an impact. And also, from the perspective of those people whose lives it’s about. So, throughout the two years I worked in the project, I collaborated with people who have previously sought asylum in Finland but who have not gotten asylum and who has this irregularised status and kind of my point of origin has been, that whatever I do as a researcher, I hope to contribute somehow to those aims, that those people have. So instead of just collecting their stories and writing articles about that. I’ve kind of had this different forms of collaborative relations and we’ve tried to figure out these mundane bordering processes with people I’ve collaborated with or it’s maybe research participants, that’s maybe not the language I wanna use. And then I’ve also in addition to this thinking of the impact that I hope the research contributes to. I’ve collaborated with group of activists around this citizen’s initiative called Lupa Elää. So, I kind of put my time and energy as a researcher to contribute in this effort to politicise these issues how there is an increasing number of people with irregularised status in Finland and how it's like this labyrinth where you can’t get out. Kind of to voice out this for the general public, but then of course these are heavily politicised questions so going back to your question about impact, of course the impact I guess, all researcher who do this critical work on borders would like to see, is that if the borders don’t just go away simply like that, at least their effects would be somehow diminished. But I don’t know I guess it’s also way too much to ask from one piece of research that kind of impact but maybe those are my thoughts around that question.

AAA: Yeah, you were right, researchers should not have to butt in to talk about the impact of their own research. But there are two things I picked up from what you said. So I’d like you to express a bit more on. First is the initiative you talked about, do you want to tell a little bit more about initiative and also about the different struggles you witness as a result on working on border issues.

MS: Maybe first about the citizen’s initiative Lupa Elää, so for those listeners who don’t know, there’s this parliamentary democracy in Finland, contains this option if 50 000 people who are citizens, sign this kind of petition or this proposal for a law, then the parliament needs to process it. And this is what we did. Through active campaigning and in different ways collaboration in ways with people who seek to regularise themselves who want to have the permits we demanded or we proposed that the government should start a procedure to make a new law so that those people who are without their resident’s permit, would get one. And there was 50 000 Finnish citizens who signed it, which is I think important because the people who themselves are in this irregularised position, they obviously cannot sign, and they cannot make this kind of demands. Yeah, maybe that’s about it. But you asked about the struggles.

AAA: Yeah for example being in a situation, participating in a campaign where you cannot sign the petition but you are relying the goodness of all to sign the petition for you so those are kind of the struggle which you touched on.

MS: Well, obviously there is that, because when we are talking about irregularised people one could also use the term undocumented migrants, we need to understand that those are people who stayed in Finland for many years. I’ve collaborated with people who have been here five six years but there’s also those I’ve met who’ve been here 20, 25 years without any residence permit. So these are not somehow people from outside. They have jobs sometimes with unfair conditions because they can’t go to the police if their employer is not treating them fairly and all that. And there’s all these like daily struggles what people have been talking about also with me, the uncertainty and also maybe the humiliation that when you’ve been here for a long time, you’ve paid your taxes and all that, but you still don’t. The society is not recognising you officially, so there’s struggles in multiple levels and of course it’s a very uncertain position. You cannot really plan your life if you are in this kind of deportable position that maybe the police is actively looking for you and you might be on the plane many people are afraid. Then are those who are in these bureaucratic dead ends that the authorities are not trying to actively deport one, but still they are kind of in this shadows and corners of the societies. I guess from my perspective I am not in the position, it’s just the struggle is about to try to dismantle the walls of bureaucracy around people.

AAA: Very interesting. So what would you say to people who argue that your work is controversial because you’re working with undocumented or migrants or people I don’t wanna call them migrants because they are here.

MS: Exactly. And it’s the borders who even produce the migrants is the people whose mobility is controlled. Hmm. Maybe I would like your question about this controversy, maybe I would like to twist it around because personally I’m also a little bit frustrated because I think there is this, especially there’s this research interest, especially in regard of those people who have a background as asylum seekers. There’s, to some extent, research produced about them. But then I think it’s not I think research all these people who are in this illegalised position, not an illegal but different practices put them in really unbearable positions. So, research about them should be somehow controversial or should go against the grain. Should look at critically the law and the ways laws are applied. And then it kind of creates me a little bit of frustration how much we have this research that takes the perspective of migrant governance and kind of agrees with the way people’s mobility is controlled. Specially when one understands the background narrative of how this mobility controls work that this is not just somehow a neutral practice on individual people but when we look at the border scale of things, we can see they racialize structure around it and how this also on global scale reproduces both privileged and oppression and exploitation.

AAA: Yeah that’s very good. This takes me to e predominant theme of our research, which is the knowledge. So how would you tackle that in your research and how can you or how does it come (-) [12:43] research.

MS: I really regard disobedient knowledge or for me it’s been an inspiring notion from a methodological point of view so actually how would you research designs look like and what do researchers do, so I think there needs to be, I think there’s something very colonial in that kind of setting, where you simply just go collect some interviews and write an article based on that and there is no other interaction with the research participants than this kind of act of collecting. So, I think maybe this notion of disobedient knowledge can also inspire different ways of doing the research.

AAA: So, basically, you’re focused on the methodology.

MS: Absolutely.

AAA: That’s really good. So, you’ve done this research, you’ve been thinking about this for the past four years.

MS: Two years.

AAA: But after this period, if you were to look back at your work and do something different, what would you have done?

MS: I think obviously it’s been a learning process. It took me like maybe one year or so to find this way of working. Of course then there was covid also and it was not so easy to find people. So from the start it was clear to me that I want to form some kind of collaborative relations with people but then it took some more time to understand that somehow it needs to be about politicising these issues or that can be my contribution.

AAA: So, basically if you had to give out advice to somebody who intends to do similar kind of research like you’ve done, what advice would that be?

MS: There’s something nerving about giving advice to other people. But I think the important thing is to kind of consider, in terms of perspective of those people whose lives the research is about, what’s it for, for them, in that kind of research. And I think people can solve it in different ways. Maybe for someone the similar kind of engagement I’ve now had, can be something like is it a relative but I think people come with different skill sets and net works and all that. So I’m sure there’s someone would do way better than me also in a way. Or at least in a different way. But just to keep in mind the perspective that what’s it for the people whose lives is about. Because I read really beautiful articles but I don’t think the journal articles are appreciated in the academia, they’re not going to in the end solve these, they can inspire us to think. But then I think we also need to have some kind of level or the way I want to do research has some kind of level of action in there too.

AAA: I like the word action. But then that takes me to a point in research where we are kind of forced into some level of inaction that’s due to covid, so how did you manage during the time as a researcher and as a human being working on a very sensitive topic like this?

MS: Well, I spent a lot of time on phone and WhatsApp, because there’s also this, and I felt I couldn’t meet people because it would’ve been devastating if I would’ve passed on some virus to someone, but then also many people I was in contact with, they’re acutely aware of these situations, these administrative border struggles. They were not going anywhere. They were ongoing so that was not on hold. So I think in that sense. But of course then it was little bit different finally when we could meet in person but yeah, phone and WhatsApp.

AAA: So what’s next for Minna now?

MS: Yeah, I guess now midsummer is in what, three day, so we will all have some kind of summer break I think, but I will continue on these themes of administrative border struggles and solidarity activism at least for a bit in my next post-doctoral project.

AAA: So it doesn’t end here, the work continues?

MS: The work continues.

AAA: Thank you so much Minna, it’s been lovely talking to you.

MS: Thank you Amin. It was lovely.