Aurora Massa, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Trento

Going back to an unknown place. Homemaking practices and experiences of (im)mobility of Ethiopian returnees from Eritrea

Recently (summer 2018), Ethiopia and Eritrea put an end to the “no war-no peace” situation that had lasted since the 1998-2000 border conflict. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the northern Ethiopian town of Mekelle, at the border with Eritrea, this talk looks back at the border conflict and explores the forced repatriation of Ethiopian communities from Eritrea that has occurred over the last decades. By analysing the returnees’ attempts to make a home in Mekelle, my aim is to critically address sedentaristic perspectives on return and to show how different (im)mobilities interlock. Indeed, due to numerous factors, i.e. separation from their “everyday-home”, the diffidence of the Ethiopian society, lack of humanitarian support, and their marginality within the Ethiopian imagined community, repatriation often proved difficult and painful, fuelling a feeling of being in transit. Looking back, the elderly frequently experienced a condition of estrangement. Their desire to return to Eritrea took the form of a social imaginary that guided them in the present and future. Looking ahead, many young people saw Ethiopia as a step toward Western countries. By playing with symbolic boundaries and legal labels, they turned their experiences from Eritrea into a mobility capital in order to take advantage of the current refugee regime. From these insights, this talk questions static interpretations of mobility, shedding light on how different mobility regimes intersect with migrants’ life stories and cautions against the use of concepts such as forced, transit and return migration.

Aurora Massa is a postdoctoral fellow at University of Trento and is specialized in medical anthropology and migration studies. She holds a MA in cultural anthropology from Sapienza-University of Rome, and earned her PhD at Bergamo University. Recently, she has studied mobility within and from the Horn of Africa, conducting extensive ethnographic research in Ethiopia on Eritrean refugees and Ethiopian returnees, and on transit migration in Italy. Her main fields of inquiry include travelling experiences, conditions of im/mobility, transnational family networks, social boundaries and youth cultures. She is also interested in the relationships between scientific categories and legal labels, and in the methodologies of qualitative research. As a post-doc, she is conducting research on the home-migration nexus in Italy, UK and Sweden, under the ERC-HOMInG research project.

All seminars in the series.

See also Program för Forum för forskning om transnationell migration och CEIFO-seminarier höstterminen 2018.