The University of Michigan International Institute presented the Conference on Migration, attended by about 50 members of the University community, on Monday at Weiser Hall. The conference consisted of interdisciplinary dialogue driven by presentations from local and international scholars. 

Topics covered include the migration of ideas and languages, causes and effects of migration, the socio-political implications of human movement, culture production and transferral and countering common narratives about migration.  

Alyssa Park, professor of modern Korean history at the University of Iowa, gave a talk explaining the history of Korean and Chinese migration near the Russian border and how the rules and norms of migration changed over time. Due to a lack of land and natural disasters such as flooding in Korea in the 19th century, Park said Korean migrants moved in waves to Russia, particularly to Vladivostok province. 

“The region (of Vladivostok was) newly acquired by Russia, not many Russians there,” Park said. “So they make do with the people who are closest and these would be Chinese and Koreans … and Vladivostok becomes a hub for these people.”

Park also talked about Russia then claiming that the Korean immigrants were Russian “subjects,” the equivalent of modern-day citizens. According to Park, the act of claiming the migrants was an act of Russia trying to protect state sovereignty. 

“The mobility of migrants was viewed as a problem and a question because they touched off the anxieties of these four states at a time when they were subjected to intrusion by outside powers,” Park said. “Migrants, by crossing the borders, seemed to push the authority of one state across the border into the domain of another.”

U-M sociology professor Jaeeun Kim, a Korea Foundation Endowed associate professor, gave a talk titled “Asylum-Seeking on Religious Grounds in the Era of Involuntary Immobility.” She differentiated between the labels of “civic culprits to be punished” and “civic minors to be redeemed” that can be used to categorize unauthorized migrants in most countries under the concept of asylum. 

“The state, with its unique power of consecration, defines a certain group of illegal immigrants as redeemable and transforms them into a privileged group of refugees,” Kim said. “But this alchemy of the state is neither internally coherent nor externally uncontested.”

Francis Bwambale, a researcher at Makerere University,focused on the link between HIV and migration within Africa. He said most migrants do not start their journeys with illnesses. 

“Several factors affect their vulnerability on the journey,” Bwambale said. “Within Africa, the challenge is basically to deal with undocumented migrants. Access to sexual productive health and HIV services becomes very restricted. But also, most importantly, I must mention that migration does not involve HIV vulnerability and not all migrants or mobile populations are at increased risk to HIV due to their mobility.” 

Volha Chykina, a postdoctoral fellow at Pennsylvania State University, presented her study on her research about the career ambitions of first- and second-generation immigrant children in Europe and how this compares to the occupational ambitions of native children. According to Chykina, immigrant children tend to have higher levels of occupational ambition than their native peers. She explained the positive correlation between this ambition and the level of pro-integration policies in the host country. 

“As the amount of pro-integration policies rises, so do career expectations of first- and second-generation immigrants,” Chykina said. 

Rackham student Wissam Nuwayhid said he found it interesting that there were presentations from professors and researchers around the world.

“It’s interesting to compare the similarities and differences between these different migratory patterns, the global dimension and how it ties into the specific local context. And it’s also making me aware of the luxury of being in America,” Nuwayhid said. “Someone’s South American and telling you about South America, someone’s African telling you about that. (The University) with its resources is able to draw all these (people), because (the University) has so much money and power, you’re able to draw all these different people that are able to shine different lights.”  

Reporter Sunskriti Paranjape can be reached at sunspara@umich.edu

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