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Living a Paradox


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Living a Paradox

Understanding Asylum Seekers’ Lived Experiences of Uncertainty in Italy

University of Amsterdam

Medical Anthropology and Sociology Author: Francesco Irsara

Student ID Number: 13240560 Supervisor: Dr. S. de Graaf 2nd Reader: Dr. D.H. de Vries Date: August 6th, 2021


For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.

Barbara Jordan



I would like to express my deepest and most sincere gratitude to a number of people. Without them the completion of this thesis could not have been accomplished. First I would like to thank Dr Sabine de Graaf who never failed in being the exact representation of the perfect supervisor. I really need to express my gratitude for her patience, guidance and precious advices which helped me not only to write this thesis but also to grow as an anthropologist. I would like to thank the people who participated in this research as intermediaries and, most of all, as respondents. A special acknowledgement goes to them. I need to thank each participant for their precious time and for sharing with me their stories and experiences with patience and kindness. Without you this would not have been possible. Thank you.



Since 2005 the numbers of refugees and people displaced by conflicts and persecutions seeking asylum in Europe has arisen critically to reach its peak in 2015, creating an unprecedented scenario definable as the “European migration crisis”. In order to face this situation Italy, one of the main access gates to Europe, adopted a set of strategies with significant effects on asylum seekers’ lives that need to be acknowledged. In this research I use the concepts of politics of recognition and politics of management, in reference to a set of practices for the categorisation and disposition of the “different”, to point out causal factors in the articulation and shaping of asylum seekers’ experiences of uncertainty. The projections of these politics, traceable in the planning and application of procedures of asylum seekers’

categorisation, reception and services providing, can constitute crucial factors in the

enhancement of imperfect knowledge and future’s unpredictability of the managed

ones, hence, uncertainty. Combined with other stressors, these experiences can

represent a potential determinant for health and mental health detriment. This

research uses a phenomenological approach to investigate these dynamics and to

grasp profound meanings regarding lived experiences of uncertainty in the lives of

the ones who request asylum in Italy.



1. Introduction……….7

2. The landscape………10

2.1 Managing migration………10

2.2 Seeking asylum in Italy………16

2.3 Chapters outline………18

3. Theories and concepts………..19

3.1 Politics of recognition and politics of management……….19

3.2 Migration and uncertainty………21

3.3 Temporalities and spatial dimensions………..22

4. Research design………24

4.1 Questions and objectives………..24

4.2 Phenomenology………25

4.3 Methodology……….27

4.3.1 Mapping out………..27

4.3.2 Field observation………..27

4.3.3 Participants’ recruitment………28

4.3.4 Semi-structured interviews………29

4.3.5 Planned discussion group (PDG)………..29

4.4 Obstacles, solutions and COVID-19………29

4.5 Analysis………30

4.6 Ethics………31

4.6.1 Confidentiality………..31

4.6.2 COVID-19 pandemic………32


4.6.3 Participants’ vulnerabilities………..32

4.6.4 Positionalities………33

5 Being recognised………35

5.1 Arrival………..35

5.2 Stories………..38

5.3 After Commission………40

5.4 Conclusion………42

6 Being managed………..43

6.1 Reception……….43

6.2 A place to live in………..46

6.3 Integration (?)………..50

6.4 “One thing that blocks the way”……….54

7 Future and health……….57

7.1 The unpredictable future………..57

7.2 “Headache”………..61

8 Conclusions………65


Annexes: Abbreviations……….78


1. Introduction

“Regular and decent immigrants don’t have anything to be afraid of in this country. Their sons are like my sons. For the irregular immigrants the fun is over. Get ready to pack your things, get ready to pack your things.”

Matteo Salvini (La Repubblica: 2018)

It’s June of 2018 and the new Italian Minister of the Interiors of the government led by Giuseppe Conte, Matteo Salvini, is once again in a city’s square to share the contents of his political line of thought with an enthusiastic group of supporters shouting of joy. His position regarding migration is clear and the words “the fun is over” will then become a famous slogan of his career as Minister, among others like “closed ports” and “Italians first”. Other words that he pronounces during the same speech are referred to the Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), rescuing immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat, which he calls vice-scafisti (assistant-smugglers) (La Repubblica: 2018) and forbids to dock in Italian ports. These words are an emblematic representation of a significantly shared line of thought in Italy (the “Lega” party received 17,4% of Italian national elections’ votes in 2018 and supporters’ number kept growing for the entire year). It represents a particular way of thinking that considers reducing irregular’s arrivals as more important than saving lives and criminalises those trying to aid migrants at sea as “assistant-smugglers”.

Following this line of thought the people that manage to survive the crossing and arrive in Italy are considered as people enjoying an undeserved “fun” that needs to be ended.

Even though this speech took place just three years ago, similar statements were not new in the public discourse on migration in Italy. For a person grown in this country during the 2000s and 2010s, like myself, associating the word “migrants” with ideas of “crisis”, “emergency”,

“irregularity” and “invasion” is not uncommon. As I will explain in detail in the following chapter, words like “illegal entries prevention”, “increasing of irregular migrants expulsion”, “fight against irregular migrants” who should be ready to “pack their things”, represent the main objectives of the Italian approach on migration for years, in spite of Italian governing parties’ orientation. Something, as I will demonstrate in the following chapter, very consistent with the idea of borders surveillance and “Fortress Europe”. Less consistent are the actual effects of this administrative course of action:

a combination of consequences creating what has been described as the “illegality-factory” and fostering what I define as the “Fortress Europe paradox” (D’Angelo, 2018:12). In spite of the great


importance that the “repatriation of the irregular ones” has in the major part of the Italian public discourse on migration, a significant number of migrants identified as not untitled of protection are never actually repatriated. Migrants who are denied after their arrival and identification in the recently established “hotspots” receive a letter of Respingimento differito (Referred expulsion) and are expected to leave the country by their own means: something virtually impossible (D’Angelo, 2018). These people then have no choice but to travel across the Italian border to reach another country, trying to join a family member living there or looking for a better future, or to illegally stay in Italy as “irregular migrants”. As Alessio D’Angelo (2018:12) points out: “(irregular) migrants do come through and are, in practice, free to stay (in Italy), provided they are first deprived of rights, including the right to work legally, the right to welfare, the right to be visible.”

Migrants requesting asylum, however, must take a different path that can lead to the same destination as the ones rejected soon after their arrival: denial and illegality. Asylum seekers in Italy have to face an extremely long and complex process to, hopefully, gain a residency permit. They are channeled into the structures of the reception system in which they will have to wait for years to receive a definitive outcome of their request that, often, is negative. Moreover, recent Italian approaches on migration contributed to make this process even more difficult through a series of laws which strengthened the requirements to receive a permit and cut a significant amount of funds for reception services. The actual result of Italian state’s strategies to manage migration flows, therefore, is the promotion of a paradoxical course of action that, on one hand, is not “protecting the national borders” but, on the other, is limiting the achievement of rights and protection for the ones waiting to be recognised and settle even after years (D’Angelo, 2018).

Asylum seekers are then relegated in a protracted uncertain limbo without any guarantees of gaining a permit. On the one hand they are limited by an overcomplicated bureaucratic dimension and, on the other, by the flaws of an unstable, ambiguous and inadequate system of reception. This particular scenery can prevent asylum seekers from the possibility of achieving complete knowledge regarding their situation, predicting their future and negotiate their life consequently.

Therefore, it can cause or influence experiences of uncertainty. (Giudici, 2013:62; Griffiths, 2014:1994; Horst, Grabska 2015:6). The consequences of this structural unpredictability can be multiple and potentially disruptive for both their physical and mental health (El-Shaarawi, 2015:39;

Arsenijević et al., 2018:92; Nosè et al., 2018:263;). Long periods of waiting in uncertainty added to the stress and possible displacement-related traumas and fear regarding requests’ negative outcomes


can, in fact, represent a determinant factor in causing ill health (Dupont, 2005:32; El-Shaarawi, 2015:46).

These are the phenomenas that this research intends to analyse and disclose: the way in which Italian politics of recognition and management shape asylum seekers’ lived experiences of uncertainty with particular focus on their effects on health. In Italy, quantitative inquiries regarding refugees’ mental health and studies concerning uncertainty during the process of asylum seekers’

recognition have been conducted (e.g. Nosè et al. 2018; Tessitore & Margherita, 2020; Busetta et al.

2021). Nevertheless, in-depth ethnographic studies, capable of taking into account the experiences and points of view of the ones involved in these complex and difficult journeys, composed by different phases of recognition, management and integration, are still needed to achieve a profound understanding of the effects of the Italian asylum system and, hopefully, to inform future policy- making processes for the better.


2. The landscape

This chapter consists of an exposition of the Italian immigration-related landscape. Firstly, some of the main events of recent history and processes that led to the political and social environment in which this study took place are addressed. Secondly, the actual structural and bureaucratic dynamics delineating broader politics of migration management are explained, with a focus on asylum seekers’ recognition and processes of management in Italy.

2.1 Managing migration

Migration has been one of the most crucial and debated phenomenons of contemporary European societies. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, the opening of borders between Eastern and Western Europe generated an increase of asylum flows.

Several new transit routes were established redefining the European migratory landscape (Beneduce, 2015; Hatton, 2017). After the Arab-Spring and the war in Syria in the early 2010s, the numbers of people seeking asylum in Europe has risen critically to reach its peak in 2015 (Hatton, 2017). War, however, is not the only cause of displacement. During the last ten years factors like insecurity, violence, human rights violations, droughts, famines, poverty and unemployment caused the movement of great amounts of people from many different countries (UNHCR, 2017). The result of these migration flows has been the creation of an unprecedented scenario often referred to as the “European migration crisis” and, more generally, the “Refugee Crisis” (Buonanno, 2018:100). These particular words resonated all over Europe and especially in Italy, where they became a dominating trend in the public discourse on migration (D’Angelo, 2018).

In the European migration-related scenery, Italy represents a particular and meaningful context.

This country constitutes an important destination of the “Central Mediterranean Route”: the perilous path that a huge amount of migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa and, in more recent times, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Syria take crossing Libya, to knock on the gates of Europe (De Guttry, Capone, Sommario, 2018). Therefore, its geographical position makes it a strategic point for the surveillance of European external borders (Sorgoni, 2018). The European governments have managed the migration issue through the articulation of politics of borders surveillance and refugees’ management, creating what has been called the “wall around the west” and the figure of the “Fortress Europe”, highlighting the cruciality of the “governmentality of migration” (Fassin, 2011:216). Therefore, the Italian governments’ recent approach, adopting similar strategies through the establishment of increasingly restrictive policies, limiting services and rights for asylum seekers


and declaring the deportation of the ones judged as “not worthy” of protection, should not come as a surprise (D’Angelo, 2018:3).


2015 has been a crucial year for the European and for the Italian migration-related context. A series of boat tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea, leading to the death of 3692 migrants in just one year, and the great amount of people approaching Europe to seek refuge, urged an emergency EU summit

Figure 1. Migration flows end of 2017 (UNHCR, 2017)


in Brussels (Trauner, 2016; D’Angelo, 2018). In this meeting the European Agenda on Migration (13 May 2015), declared as a way to prevent further tragedies, was launched. What the document really declared was the limitation of “illegal entries” through the establishment of the “hotspot approach” and the enhancement of methods to identify and register immigrants after their arrival, hence, to reinforce the external borders. The “hotspot approach” is explained as follows:

The operational support provided under the Hotspot approach, will concentrate on registration, identification, fingerprinting and debriefing of asylum seekers, as well as return operations. Those claiming asylum will be immediately channeled into an asylum procedure where EASO support teams will help to process asylum applications as quickly as possible. For those who are not in need of protection, Frontex will help Member States by coordinating the return of irregular migrants (European Commission, 2015).

The Italian government promptly adopted this method while pressured and often criticised by the EU authorities for not doing enough to identify and register new immigrants (D’Angelo, 2018). The first Italian hotspot was established in Lampedusa in 2015, followed by the ones in Trapani, Pozzallo and Taranto in 2016 (Figure 2.) (D’Angelo, 2016; Ministero dell’Interno, 2020). The hotspot approach can be understood as an operation of creating “areas of disembarkation” for the identification and distinction of different categories of migrants (i.e. asylum seeker’, ‘subjects in clear need of protection’ and ‘economic/irregular migrants’) (Caprioglio, Ferri, Gennari, 2018).

This process takes place by acquiring information regarding migrants reasons for illegal border crossing by means of an information sheet called foglio-notizie and interviews. The foglio-notizie is a printed document containing a list of “reasons” that migrants must fill immediately after their arrival, even before receiving proper information regarding asylum request procedures (Caprioglio, Ferri, Gennari, 2018; D’Angelo, 2018). The eligible options reported in the document are: “work",

“family reunification”, “escape poverty”, “other” and “asylum”. Choosing any other option than

“asylum” means to be recognised as an “economic migrant” or “irregular” therefore be, in theory, taken to the Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione (Centres for Identification and Expulsion, hereafter CIE) and then repatriated (D’Angelo, 2018). The ones who choose “asylum” are instead channeled into the next levels of the reception system. It is worth mentioning that these selection processes and identification techniques, such as forced fingerprinting, have been criticised by NGOs and humanitarian organisations as unlawful, undignified and arbitrary (Casolari, 2015; MSF, 2015;

Caprioglio, Ferri, Gennari, 2018).


After 2015, policies regarding migration management were implemented towards a more restrictive direction regardless of who was in government. In 2017 Italy and Libya decided to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the fight against illegal migration, human trafficking, smuggling and the reinforcement of borders security. With this document both Italian and Libyan states declared their commitment to support and reinforce the capacity of Libyan institutions to prevent irregular migration. In order to do so, Italy accepted to provide technical, technological and financial support to reinforce Libyan border control’s infrastructure and establishment of the so- called “temporary camps” for irregular migrants’ detention (De Guttry, Capone, Sommario, 2018:10). During 2017, however, policies of border surveillance were not the only migration-related aspects to be implemented by the Italian state. During the centre-left government led by Paolo Gentiloni, the decree “Minniti-Orlando” on "international protection and illegal migration” came into force. Designed as a set of “urgent dispositions for the acceleration of international protection procedures and fight against illegal migration” (ASGI, 2017), this law’s primary objective was declared as “the increase of irregular migrants expulsion” (Camilli, 2017). The main points of the decree were: the abolishment of the second grade appeal for asylum requests, the extension and strengthening of the CIEs, renamed Centri di Permanenza per Rimpatri (Permanent Centres for

Figure 2. Hotspots and CIEs in Italy in 2017 (Openmigration, 2017).


Repatriation, hereafter CPR) and the introduction of voluntary work for migrants (Camilli, 2017).

Even though this decree was criticised by many as an unconstitutional and repressive attempt to limit asylum seekers’ access to protection, this law did not represent the peak of the recent Italian politics’ restrictive approach on migration (Camilli, 2017; D’Angelo, 2018).

In 2018 the leader of the right-wing, populist and conservative political party “Lega”, Matteo Salvini, began his mandate as Minister of the Interiors of the new government led by Giuseppe Conte. His “Security and Immigration Decree” was the emblematic representation of the line of thought his entire political career has been based on: fight against irregular immigrants. The changes caused by this law were significant and profoundly touched the vast major part of Italian migration management landscape and procedures. In Italy, asylum seekers can apply for the Richiesta di protezione internazionale (Request for international protection), hence “asylum”. Once granted, they receive either Status di rifugiato (Refugee status), the recognition of a foreign citizen as a refugee by the state (Decreto Legislativo, 2007), or the Protezione sussidiaria (Subsidiary protection) (Polizia di Stato, 2019 [2018]; Library of Congress, 2020 [2016]). The latter is issued to foreign citizens who do not qualify as refugees but nonetheless, are identified as people who would face a serious risk of being harmed when returning to their country of previous usual residence (Library of Congress, 2020 [2016]).

Asylum seekers whose claim for international protection was rejected were able to rely on the Residency permit on humanitarian grounds. This permit is granted to “citizens of a third country who are found in objective and serious personal conditions that do not allow their removal from Italy and whose request for international protection is denied” (Library of Congress, 2020 [2016]).

For the people seeking asylum in Italy this document represented one of the main means to achieve protection. The Security and Immigration decree however, abolished this Permesso di soggiorno per motivi umanitari (Residency permit on humanitarian grounds) and instituted the Permesso di soggiorno per casi speciali (Residency permit for special cases): a one year-term protection with significantly strict criteria of entitlement. This has had a series of disruptive consequences for those requesting asylum and for the ones who already had such permit. The percentage of residency permit requests denials increased significantly (Figure 3.). People in possession of the Residency permit on humanitarian grounds were forced to convert it in a Permesso di soggiorno per lavoro (Stay and work permit) or undergo the territorial Commission trial once again, this time under the new rules (Lanni, 2018).


Another important change in the reception system regards the Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti asilo e Rifugiati (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees hereafter SPRAR). Before 2018, both international protection requesters and status holders were allowed to access the SPRAR’s reception facilities and related services. With the new Decree Law of 2018, only the ones entitled of International protection and unaccompanied minors could benefit from this type of reception structures which changed their name to Sistema di Protezione per Titolari di Protezione Internazionale e per Minori Stranieri non Accompagnati (International Protection Holders and Unaccompanied Minors Protection System, hereafter SIPROIMI). Asylum seekers now had to remain in Centri di Accoglienza per Richiedenti asilo (Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers hereafter CARA) or in the most used Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centres hereafter CAS) (Lanni, 2018). The CAS was created as an alternative temporary residence in case of other facilities overcrowding, therefore, living condition’s standards are highly overlooked compared to the SPRAR’s (D’Angelo, 2018). Finally, a significant amount of funds and professional vacancies for reception and integration activities were cut, causing a structural lack of resources and professionals figures (Vita, 2018).



7% 5%

Refugee Status Subsidiary

Humanitarian Denied



7% 1%


Refugee Status Subsidiary

Special protection Denied

Figure 3. A) Asylum requests' outcomes in 2018. B) Asylum request' outcomes in 2019.

(Ministero dell’Interno, 2020 [2015]).



In 2020 the “Security and Migration Decree” was repealed. Nevertheless, as I will expose more detailedly in the following chapters, the effects of this law continue to resonate in the entire reception system, still influencing the experiences of professionals working in this field and, most importantly, the lives of the ones still in need for protection.

2.2 Seeking asylum in Italy

After arrival on Italian soil, migrants need to fill a document called Foglio notizie, a short questionnaire, collecting general details and reasons for border-crossing. If any reason different from “asylum” is reported, the migrant is classified as an economic or an irregular migrant and therefore detained and, in theory, deported (D’Angelo, 2018). The asylum seekers reporting

“asylum” as reason of border-crossing are channelled into the next step of reception procedures and a request for international protection is produced. Within a maximum of ten days from the request production, asylum seekers are called to fill, with the help of a police functionary and an interpreter, a document called Modello C3 in which personal data and reasons of border-crossing must be reported (Portale Immigrazione, 2021). The applicant then receives a temporary permit for the time preceding the hearing of the Territorial Commission for the Recognition of International protection, in which an interview regarding his or her personal history is conducted. Based on this conversation, a result is produced. In the case of a negative outcome, the asylum seekers have the right to claim for a first grade appeal and then, if the result is negative again, an appeal in Cassation, which is the last step before the definitive outcome (Programma integra, 2015). Those applying for International protection, thus, have to face complex and overlong procedures to receive a definitive outcome that, as illustrated above, is most commonly negative. The entire process can take years, sometimes more than six or seven, in which the requester lives in a protracted uncertain limbo between legality and illegality without any guarantees of receiving a permit at the end of this path (Giudici, 2013). Asylum seekers must interact, often without sufficient or adequate information, with an extremely complicated and even contradictory bureaucratic dimension that greatly affects their lives and possibilities (Beneduce, 2015; Giudici, 2013; D’Angelo, 2018). Moreover, the continuous changes of governments, laws and their arbitrariness rend the capacity of predicting one’s future even more difficult to achieve.

During this period of time, asylum seekers face a series of spatial changes and relocations through the various phases of the reception system and its facilities (D’Angelo, 2018; Openpolis, 2021a).

After the “hotspot” identification and division, asylum seekers are, in theory, moved to the


“governative centres of first reception” (i.e. CARA, CDA) where the preliminary phases of the Request for international protection’s procedure are initiated. However, except for rare cases, these types of facilities found little use while the biggest part of asylum seekers reception has been assigned to the structures of “second reception” (Openpolis, 2021a). The “second-reception”

facilities comprehend the ex-SPRAR, renamed SIPROIMI in 2018 and then Sistema di Accoglienza e Integrazione (Reception and Integration System hereafter SAI) in 2020, and the above mentioned CAS. Even though international protection requesters were once again allowed to benefit from the SAI’s reception facilities, after the “Security and Migration Decree” abolition in 2020, CAS still represent the current home of the majority of people seeking asylum in Italy. On January 2021, in fact, this kind of facility hosted the seventy percent of the entire amount of asylum seekers in the Italian territory (Openpolis, Actionaid, 2021). In spite of being a temporary option, as they were planned to be, CAS have been used as the main mean to provide housing and basic services to the vast majority of asylum seekers during the major part of their request’s processing time, hence, years (Figure 4.) (D’Angelo, 2018; Openpolis, 2021a; Openpolis, 2021b). As mentioned above, the standards of these structures are not as strict as the SAI’s and their conditions have sometimes been found to be significantly inadequate (D’Angelo, 2018). As I will discuss in detail in the following chapters, this permanence’s difficulties can be worsened by the gaps between official policies of reception concerning housing’s living condition, access to basic services, education, socio-cultural and economic integration, and their applications to the local contexts (Caneva, 2014). These discrepancies can change according to region or even city and be significantly influenced by factors like the type of reception facility, numbers of vacancies or requests and, since 2020, COVID-19

Figure 4. Numbers of reception (Documento di economia e finanza, 2018; Ministero dell’Interno, 2020[2015]; 2019;

Openpolis, 2021b).

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

0 50000 100000 150000 200000

First reception SAI CAS CAS and other governative centres


pandemic-related issues. However, the major causes of this imbalance remain the lack of consistent plans of implementation, recurrent conflicts of interests between national, local and private actors and the extreme deficiency of resources worsened every year by the continuous cuts of funds (Caneva, 2014; Campomori, Ambrosini, 2020; Giudici, 2021).

As we can assume from this chapter, asylum seekers’ process to achieve protection in Italy is not a simple nor a rapid one. On the contrary, this path is filled with complex bureaucratic dynamics, ambiguities, uncertainty and various spatial and temporal tensions influenced by the reception system and related politics. As I will show in the following chapters, the understanding of the experiences of the ones facing this difficult process can disclose meaningful insights on the effects of the Italian approach on migration and its politics.

2.3 Chapters outline

This thesis is divided in what follows: an introductory section composed by the introduction and context overview, a chapter dedicated to the theoretical framework used and related core concepts, a research design outline, three chapter exposing gained insights concerning relations between politics and lived experiences of uncertainty and, finally, conclusions. After this introductory part, this thesis will proceed with the exposition of the main concepts and theories this research is based on. In this chapter I expose my theorisation of political dynamics that represent the causal factors in triggering and influencing the researched phenomenas. Moreover, as stated before, uncertainty occupies a prominent part in the experience of asylum seekers waiting for recognition in Italy, therefore, an exploration of theorisations concerning uncertainty and migration will be reported.

The research design outline will then expose the objectives and questions that guided my investigation, the adopted methodology and ethical considerations. I will continue by exposing the results of my data analysis and the consequent answers to my sub-questions. In particular I will disclose then the relations between politics and uncertainty by taking into account the influence of recognition and management processes on asylum seekers’ lives. In the end, I discuss how Italian approach on migration and related politics create a complex network of paradox which manifest in asylum seekers’ realities with meaningful effects.


3. Theories and concepts

This chapter explores the theories and the core concepts this thesis is based on. In particular I will report an exposition of the theorisation of uncertainty in relation with migration. This will help to understand the dynamics underneath the articulation of what, as reported above, many refer to as an uncertain in-between dimension associated with seeking asylum. I reckon that the boundaries that constitute the uncertain limbo are prominently political. Therefore, an exhaustive explanation of the theorisations and conceptions of what I refer to as politics, more specifically “politics of recognition” and “politics of management” in this context is needed. However, as I will explain in the following chapters, the above-mentioned politics have great effects on shaping and influencing experiences of spatial and temporal dimensions and related tensions. Therefore, a further disclosure of temporalities and spatial dimensions, with particular attention to related theorisations within migration studies, will be reported.

3.1 Politics of recognition and politics of management

Asylum seekers have often been considered as people “in between”, stuck in a protracted multifaceted limbo: a “state of exception or in-betweenness” (Ghorashi, de Boer, ten Holder, 2018:2) characterised by uncertainty (El-Shaarawi, 2015). As I will expose in what follows, the boundaries constructing this “in-between” dimension are various and manifest in different ways and forms. First of all, it is necessary to recognise how asylum seekers’ reality is fundamentally delineated by political forces limiting or granting access to basic services and conditioning the articulation of spatial and temporal experiences (Zetter, 2007; Giudici, 2012; Cabot, 2012;

Giordano, 2014; Ghorashi, de Boer, ten Holder, 2018).

The articulation of the “asylum seeker” figure lies in a profoundly political ongoing process of recognition and categorisation (Giudici, 2013:62). As observed in Chapter 2 being assessed as an asylum seeker rather than an economic/irregular migrant is itself a process of primary classification carried out through the “hotspot” identification that takes place immediately after disembarkation (Caprioglio, Ferri, Gennari, 2018). From this moment, the migrant requesting protection enters into a pending condition between legality and illegality. As Cabot (2012:16-17) underscores:

limbo is implied in the juridical formulation of asylum seeking itself. [...] While recognition as a refugee conveys the right to protection in a host country, the category of “asylum seeker” connotes a temporary relationship to a nation-state in which the right to stay is itself highly transitory. In seeking asylum one has asked to be granted the status of refugee, but one has not been


“recognised” as such. Asylum seekers thus occupy neither a fully legal nor illegal position of non- belonging.

This preliminary phase is the first step of a complex and extremely long process of recognition in which changes between temporary political categories and unstable juridical positions, as well as multiple shifts between legality and illegality, are not uncommon (Giudici, 2013). Moreover, it would be inaccurate to judge this path as concluded with the issuance of the asylum request’s definitive outcome. Residency permit’s renewal is not always guaranteed and multiple changes in the requirements to achieve, maintain or renew this permit can take place, as is the case for the residency permit on humanitarian grounds (Giudici, 2013). 1

The residency permits and the entitlement of protection, then, can be understood as the product of a broader process of labelling carried out by the State in order to “recognise” and manage differences and their bearers (Giordano, 2014). As Roger Zetter (2007:180) points out:

Labels do not exist in a vacuum. They are the tangible representation of policies and programmes, in which labels are not only formed but are then also transformed by bureaucratic processes which institutionalize and differentiate categories of eligibility and entitlements. […] But this process of categorizing and differentiating refugees is predicated on highly instrumental practices which serve the interests of the state.

The effects of these categories and their application are meaningful. Their imposition, besides influencing complex processes of identities’ redefinition, determines the access to specific services and rights (Zetter, 2007; Horst and Grabska, 2015). In this thesis, I refer to these tactics as: “politics of recognition”. In using this term I draw upon Cristiana Giordano’s (2014) conceptualisation of States’ practices for the identification and categorisation of “differences”, which may comprise

“structures of subordination that have an impact on the lives of citizens and, most important, those who will never achieve this status” (Giordano, 2014:25). I will also analyse what I call “politics of management”, referring to an analog set of strategies for the disposition of the “different ones”

during their permanence in the host-country, including access’ administration of services like housing, work, education, bureaucratic counselling, health care and social integration. I will argue that these two forms of politics are inextricably interwoven, and that the related effects on the ones experiencing first-hand their application are great and must be acknowledged.

See Chapter 2.



It is necessary to highlight that the here-used conceptualisations of these two types of politics do not refer to the Italian state as a singular source of sovereign power. Even if politics of recognition and management are formulated inside the state’s govern dimension, control and power is not exclusively held by a sovereign actor but, rather, distributed through a network of entities (e.g.

NGOs, international regulatory organs, local asylum determination courts, associations working in the reception system) (Hardy, 2003: 471). As Foucault (1980:98) states:

Power must be analyzed as something which circulates, or rather something which only functions in the form of a chain. It is never localized here or there, never in anybody’s hands, never appropriated as a commodity or piece of wealth. Power is employed and exercised through a net- like organization.

What this conceptualisation really entails and suggests, though, is the governing purposiveness underneath the formulation of these strategies manifesting in different forms during their process of application and distribution through the above-mentioned networks. In this research, politics of recognition and management, as well as their practical projections and embodiments in people’s reality (e.g. the asylum request and assessment process, reception system’s allocations and related activities) are taken into account as causal factors delineating a marginal dimension of asylum seeking and influencing related experiences of uncertainty of the ones living in it.

3.2 Migration and uncertainty

Uncertainty implies unpredictability: a state of limited knowledge regarding the future and recognition of forthcoming change. As the future is most often unpredictable, a certain amount of uncertainty commonly permeates people’s lives (Boholm, 2003:167-168). The concept of

“uncertainty” has often been analysed alongside the notion of “risk”. Understandable as a condition of “known probabilities of outcome” (Horst and Grabska, 2015:5), risk differs from uncertainty because it is based on a full comprehension of the potential results and their probabilities: “a framing device which conceptually translates uncertainty from being an open-ended field of unpredicted possibilities into a bounded set of possible consequences” (Boholm 2003: 167). Within migration-related contexts, however, uncertainty acquires a particular connotation. A large number of scholars investigated relations between uncertainty and migration, especially regarding displacement and asylum seeking (Williams and Baláž, 2012; Griffiths, 2014; Horst and Grabska, 2015; El-Shaarawi, 2015). Williams and Baláž (2012:168) argue that uncertainty in migration has


two sources: imperfect knowledge, for example the lack of more accurate and practical information than the ones available on websites and books about the ongoing conditions of the country of origin or the host-country’s, and the unpredictability of the future. Following these insights, Horst and Grabska (2015:5) point out how even if the future’s unpredictability is always present in people’s lives, in contexts of displacement the speed of life-threatening circumstances, lack of knowledge and lack of control imposed by governments determination, are crucial factors in heightening unusual levels of uncertainty.

In their conceptualisation of uncertainty, Horst and Grabska (2015) differentiate between “radical uncertainty”, one associated with the unpredictability of violent conflict-related situations and consequent flight, and “protracted uncertainty”, which is related to living in exile and the reality of life as an asylum seeker. Protracted uncertainty is defined as:

being in between, both in a temporal and spatial sense [...] with a fundamental lack of knowledge about one’s situation and a profound sense of unpredictability about the future—as long as the present is not accepted as permanent by states and the people affected (Horst and Grabska, 2015:6).

The fundamental factors at play in the differentiation between radical and protracted uncertainty are the different experiences of spatial and temporal dimensions. While the former is often related to sudden shiftings of places and situations fostering a sense of abrupt temporal tensions, the latter is associated with prolonged times of waiting in temporal and spatial limbos represented by camps or reception facilities (Horst and Grabska, 2015).

3.3 Temporalities and spatial dimensions

As reported above, fundamental factors that constitute “protracted uncertainty” are its relations with spatial and temporal dimensions (Horst and Grabska, 2015). Many scholars pointed out the importance of these two kinds of dimensions and their role in shaping the process of migration.

Moreover, these elements represent the fundamental projections delineating the uncertain “limbo”

so often associated with the experience of seeking asylum.

Jacobsen and Karlsen (2020:1) underscore: “while international migration involves human mobility across political borders, it also encompasses multiple, layered and complex temporalities”. In focussing on post-migration processes in which asylum seekers are channelled into the host-


country’s reception system, this research takes into account temporal dimensions as shaped by different phases of asylum seekers’ management and recognition procedures. Moreover, particular attention is given to lived experience of temporalities, their variations and related tensions as perceived by the asylum seekers. Rapid changes, long periods of waiting, routines as scheduled by institutions or associations and abrupt transitions or occurrences, such as the ones marked by different phases of management or recognition processes, can influence and alter experiences of temporal patterns and future expectations (Elchardus et al., 1987; Edensor, 2006; Rosa and Scheuerman, 2009; Griffiths, Rogers, and Anderson 2013). The analysis of these temporalities is particularly meaningful due to the role played by the experience of different temporal patterns in shaping the sense of being stuck and uncertainty in asylum seekers’ lives.

In presenting the concept of uncertainty related to time it is also important to mention the relevance of space. As Griffiths (2014:1992) argues, referring to the work of Conlon (2011) and Gill (2009),

“time cannot be conceptualised without reference to space.” Temporal dimensions of in- betweenness in asylum seekers’ reality rely on corresponding spatial ambiguities (Mountz, 2011).

Many authors (e.g. Augé, 1995; Agamben, 1998; Diken, 2004; Agier, 2019) focused on these dimensions by researching camps and detention centres, often defined as “zones of indistinction” or

“non-places” (Ghorashi, de Boer, ten Holder, 2017:2) where displaced people live in “permanent states of exception” (Agamben, 9 1998:168-169). This research, however, focuses on a different settings in which different spatial dimensions can shift and change over time influencing and being influenced by their temporal counterpart. Political processes of recognition can determine the passage of asylum seekers into different phases of the Italian reception system corresponding to various spatial and temporal dimensions and tensions. In Italian settings outcomes of housing processes influence different lived experiences of being an asylum seeker in this country, for example accepting people in SAI reception facilities or allocating them in isolated extraordinary structures with inadequate living condition standards as CAS (Giudici, 2013). Barriers and lack of guarantees regarding reception with the consequent shifting of multiple spatial dimensions can be a crucial factor in the shaping of asylum seekers marginal lives and related experiences of uncertainty.

Therefore, by analysing such dynamics, the role of space in influencing experiences of uncertainty will be taken into account.


4. Research design

This chapter exposes the process through which this research has been designed. The main research questions and objectives that guided this investigation, including changes and related perspectives, are reported. The chapter then describes the adopted approach dwelling on its suitability and strengths, as well as limitations that need to be acknowledged. Used methodology and data analysis processes are exposed and, finally, observations regarding ethical concerns and positionality are considered .

4.1 Questions and objectives

The main question of this research project is:

How do the Italian politics of recognition and management shape asylum seekers’ lived experiences of uncertainty in Italy?

This question is divided into the following sub-questions:

3. How do the Italian politics influence knowledge regarding procedures and asylum seekers’ legal condition during asylum request processing and after?

4. How do the Italian politics influence asylum seekers’ capacity of predicting their future?

5. What are the living conditions of asylum seekers before and after being recognised?

6. In which ways do lived experiences of uncertainty affect asylum seekers’ health?

During my fieldwork I gained valuable insights which led me to disclaim some of my prior understanding regarding the research topic. This shift of perspective has been a major step towards a profound comprehension of the researched context and phenomenons which confirmed the relevance of my central question but, nonetheless, calls for a change of terminology.

This research aims to disclose the influences of Italian politics of migrant’s recognition and management on asylum seekers’ lived experiences of uncertainty, while taking into account possible


repercussions on their bodies and health. With this research I hope to contribute to further debate regarding the effects of the Italian migration politics on asylum seekers’ life, reality and, hopefully, inform future policy-making processes concerning migrant integration, mental health needs assessment and care providing to people with similar experiences.

4.2 Phenomenology

Phenomenology’s object of study can be defined as the “consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view” (Smith, 2006:1). Among many other forms of conscious experience, this approach is provided with a developed account of “temporal and spatial awarenesses”, “awareness of the self in different roles” and “everyday activity in the surrounding life-world” (Smith, 2018 [2003]). Since the main topic of this research is represented by asylum seekers’ experiences of uncertainty as shaped by a complex interplay of dynamics such as temporal and spatial shiftings and tensions, the adoption of a phenomenological approach seems particularly appropriate. As Nadia El- Shaarawi (2015:46) argues:

The phenomenology of uncertainty in contexts of displacement, [...] in terms of instability or an uncertain future, is important because of the ways in which instability reorders people’s experiences of space and time in exile, for example by altering the experience of the life course or expectation of the future.

By adopting these lenses, capable of understanding the conscious point of view and feelings of the ones who experienced first-hand the particular reality examined by my research (Mapp, 2008), I gained insights on the lived experiences of asylum and uncertainty.

Phenomenology divides into three main approaches related to three different methods: descriptive, interpretative and analytical (Smith, 2006:5). Descriptive phenomenology refers to Edmund Husserl’s work and focuses on conscious experience’s description, where preconceived assumptions regarding the phenomenon are “bracketed”. Instead, the interpretative or Heiddegerian approach, named after Martin Heiddeger, negates the possibility of setting aside researcher’s previous knowledge and, therefore, presumes prior understanding for an effective phenomenon’s interpretation (Reiners, 2012). Similarly, phenomenological analysis, used by Smith and McIntyre (1982), is based on the existence of a set of previous familiar experiences the researcher bases his or her reflections on (Smith, 2006:5).


These approaches can be used to address particular difficulties regarding the micro-context that this research analyses, but, at the same time, they encounter limits. Pure description and previous knowledge bracketing can be helpful to grasp essences without biasing meanings of participant’s experiences and points of view through researcher’s assumptions (Dahlberg, 2006). A central problem though, can manifest in data collection. Collecting data through interviews and conversation about understandings of lived or embodied experiences can be problematic. Talking about feelings and sensations related to experiences requires a certain amount of awareness and introspection, especially if participants are asked to think about the influence of external entities (i.e. the state’s politics) on their embodied experiences and well-being. Moreover, problems of language proficiency related to the interview’s language or the grade of conversation’s complexity, which will be discussed in detail in what follows, can complicate even more the grasping of meanings without researcher’s interpretation based on previous knowledge (Blommaert, 2001). As Dahlberg states:

Phenomenological analysis, like all research analysis, means to in some way making definite what is indefinite, i.e. we make an incision in ‘the flesh of the world’ and we have, then, to be sensitive to the research activity and what it does to the phenomenon. As researchers we stand and fall with our own and others’ language ability (Dahlberg, 2006:17).

As a solution of this particular issue, the Hiddegerian’s interpretation (hermeneutics) and the analytical approach can fill these gaps by reinserting participants’ accounts into the researched context, and achieve in-depth understandings through previous knowledge and contextualisation.

Nevertheless, these two approaches, which are the prevalently used in this research, may exhibit their drawbacks. The risk of biasing participants’ accounts and descriptions, thus, compromising the meaning of first- person lived experiences, is always present. Moreover, unprecedented scenarios can complicate things. Italian state’s politics, their process of application and their outcomes, are not homogenous, as well as the consequent lived experiences. Different formulations of dimensions due to heterogeneous asylum processes and, thus, different spatial and temporal articulation, can define unpredictable realities and unprecedented lived experiences in which researchers’ previous knowledge can constitute a problem rather than a solid interpretative and analytical tool. As Smith (2006:5) states: “these three methods are not contradictory. [...] As we move from introspection to contextual interpretation and then to the ‘semantics’ of experience, we move from observation towards theory.” To address these problems and gain a satisfactory in-depth understanding of participant’s lived experience of uncertainty in the micro-context that I analysed, I used a


combination of these approaches, in particular the interpretative and analytical ones, while being aware of their limitations.

4.3 Methodology

To answer the above-reported queries and gain meaningful data, I have undertaken a series of activities, namely: a mapping-out process, field observation, participants recruitment, in-depth semi-structured interviews and a programmed group discussion. They have been conducted minding the Coronavirus measures and always in a safe and ethical way.

4.3.1 Mapping out

Upon arrival, I conducted a mapping-out process of the city of Turin to delineate and observe particular points of interest. In pre, I had prepared a map of potentially relevant zones and districts by consulting online sources and the literature regarding immigration management and integration services in Turin. In doing so, two districts stood out in a particular way because of the significant number of migration management-related structures situated there: Cottolengo and Barriera di Milano. These two districts became important areas for my observations and interviews. After the prior drafting of my map I started taking walks through the city from the south-east district to Cottolengo and Barriera di Milano districts, which are situated in the north side of Turin, crossing the city centres. Therefore, my walks covered a significant part of the entire city. Through this process, I have managed to individuate meaningful places and many facilities related to important activities in the context of asylum seekers recognition, management and services providing. Places like the Questura, Informa Stranieri e Nomadi Office, Pastoral Offices for Migrants, Casa Madre Don Bosco, Casa Margherita and two CAS (Extraordinary Reception Centres), all structures providing services to asylum seekers, have been traced and their surrounding observed.

4.3.2 Field observation

After this process, observations in these districts, focusing on the above-mentioned facilities and their surroundings were conducted. In doing so, movements and interactions of the people involved in these structures’ processes were observed, highlighting connections between these places and the articulation of a complex network of management-related facilities and activities. During the third week of fieldwork a regional lockdown was established in Piemonte due to the COVID-19 2

Italy’s political territory is divided in regions ulteriorly divided in provinces. Piemonte is a region whose capital is




pandemic. This measure prevented everyone from staying in the streets for significant amounts of time without a proven reason of need, work, health or emergency. As a result, observation was no longer possible during the remainder of fieldwork.

4.3.3 Participants’ recruitment

I began my participants recruitment process by contacting the intermediaries and the associations I was in contact with before the beginning of the fieldwork. I contacted an acquaintance of mine who had worked as a professional in a reception facility in the surroundings of Turin. This person provided me with contacts of asylum seekers and status holders he had worked with. Among these, Kaleb, asylum seeker, demonstrated interest and accepted to participate in my research. After contacting several organisations, Association Mosaico agreed to a meeting. Here I spoke to the director and conduct two very interesting in-depth interviews with two former asylum seekers now working as professionals. Thanks to a friend of mine embedded in Turin’s migration-related landscape, I managed to meet Patrizia. Patrizia is a professional working in a reception facility (CAS) and involved in a significant number of projects related to asylum seekers services and shelter providing. She proved to be a key intermediary and participant who put me in contact with five people, two asylum seekers, two status holders and a professional, who all accepted to participate in my research.

Participants Background

Carol Professional

Darleene Professional

Dennis Status holder

Joseph Status holder & professional

Kaleb Asylum seeker

Ken Professional

Martin Asylum seeker

Michael Status holder & professional

Patrizia Professional

Russel Status holder & professional

Thomas Asylum seeker

Wendie Activist

Since the major part of this research’s participants are likely to know each other, additional background information are not reported in order to respect participants’ confidentiality.


4.3.4 Semi-structured interviews

In order to tackle problems regarding communication’s clarity and mutual understanding I exposed the possibility of communicating in English as an alternative to speaking in Italian. Two participants agreed on using English as principal language while all the others demonstrated a great proficiency in Italian. Every interview began with an introduction meeting to discuss informed consent and give participants the chance to ask questions and clarify doubts regarding my research. In these meetings I have exposed the contents of my research and explained the possibility of avoiding any sensible topic participants did not wish to discuss which would have been omitted from the interview. I re- emphasised this matter every time I sensed the possibility of upset regarding a certain question or argument. Before every interview I have also highlighted the possibility of ending the conversation or the entire collaboration at every moment without any need for further explanations. Interviews can be defined as “semi-structured” due to the possibility of exploring freely ideas while following a fixed topic guide and respecting predetermined criteria. Two distinct topic guides were used: one for asylum seekers and status holders, one for professionals. After every interview, I transcribed as soon as possible my conversation with the participants in order to enhance preliminary reflexions and interpretations.

4.3.5 Planned discussion group (PDG)

Together with Patrizia a planned discussion group (PDG) was organised with her and two colleagues of hers working for the same association but assigned to different structures situated in small villages in the surroundings of Turin. This activity can be defined as a “planned discussion group” due to the prominent value of spontaneous interactions, the number of participants (i.e.

three), their pre-existing relations with each other and their embodiment into the research context (O'Reilly, 2012:82). This activity took place in a small park in the city of Turin. After an extensive explanation of research objectives and contents, I gained verbal informed consent from all three participants. As for semi-structured interviews, the programmed discussions group’s conversations were allowed to develop freely with the condition of following a fixed topic guide.

4.4 Obstacles, solutions and COVID-19

The most significant obstacle during fieldwork was the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdown in Turin and its surroundings. As discussed, this event determined the end of observation. Through the development of this activity, valuable data regarding the environment, activities and social relations as directly perceived by the researcher, may have been obtained. In order to compensate for the loss


of data sampling through observations, however, I focused deeply on participants recruitment processes and interviewing. Even if conducting and participating in an academic research represented a justified reason to move from a place to another, police officers’ judgment concerning the validity of these motivations remained highly arbitrary due to the newness of these measures. I was mostly sure that I could have been able to prove the legitimacy of my activities by presenting documents (e.g. letter of approval provided by the University of Amsterdam) but I was not willing to put my participants at risk. The possibility of being stopped and controlled by the police and potentially receive a fine just for being in the street without the security being able to prove the reasons, would have represented a source of harm for my participants. Therefore, exposing them to similar contingencies would have constituted an act of ethical misconduct. I have effectively overcome this obstacle by choosing, in accordance with participants, safe locations for our interviews in the closest surroundings of places in which they were conducting ordinary activities, always reaching them myself without asking them to move. I have effectively conducted my interviews in places such as their houses, their offices, online and in parks close to the places in which participants worked or studied, making use of their free time between work shifts or classes.

COVID-19 measures were always minded and precautions for my safety (i.e. communicating to others where I was, meeting during daytime in non-isolated places) were taken. In doing so, we have not encountered any particular problem and the course of the interviews proceeded smoothly.

4.5 Analysis

The analysis of the data gathered during my fieldwork has been conducted through a thematic analysis. This particular method has been widely used alongside phenomenological approaches due to its suitability in grasping meaning behind data regarding lived experiences (Lindseth & Norberg, 2004; Sundler et al., 2019). Therefore, it revealed itself as particularly combinable with the phenomenological approach that I used and opportune for the analysis of the data gathered through interviews and conversations regarding personal and embodied lived experiences. I analysed the gained data using the workbench for qualitative analysis ATLAS.ti following the phases of thematic analysis reported by Clarke & Braun (2013): familiarisation with the data, coding, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, writing up.

During the last phases of this analytical process, specifically during themes reviewing, I reflected and redefined themes by comparing them with related literature in order to formulate a comprehensive contextualisation and a deeper understanding (Lindseth & Norberg, 2004). This


operation has been useful to overcome possible issues regarding communication during interviews such as gaps in narratives, language proficiency and content’s opacity. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of limitations of such interpretation due to possible biases derived from researcher’s previous knowledge and positionality.


4.6 Ethics

In my research many important ethical concerns had to be considered. The main ethical issues that my research raised concern the risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic, participants’ vulnerability, senses of power asymmetry due to researcher’s and participant’s positionalities and the possibility of triggering traumatic memories or causing upset during the course of interviews and conversations. These issues have been addressed and tackled by using a series of precautions and a great amount of reflexivity, self-awareness and flexibility.

4.6.1 Confidentiality

Names, particular facilities and associations mentioned by my participants during the interviews in any written document have been anonymised through the use of pseudonyms and personal sensible data, whose diffusion could represent a possible danger of harm or privacy violation, has been omitted. Data (i.e. interviews recordings, transcripts and notes) has been safely stored in an

Figure 5. Steps in thematic analysis (Ngulube, 2015 adapted from Braun and Clarke [2013; 2006])


encrypted external hardware while a backup has been done using another identical device kept in a different place. I have removed interview recordings from my personal laptop right upon completion of the analysis.

No need for formal ethical clearance from an external institution nor special concerns regarding public dissemination of the thesis have been detected.

4.6.2 COVID-19 pandemic

Possible risks to participants and to me regarding the COVID-19 pandemic needed to be considered. By choosing to conduct an “on-field” research rather than a “digital” one, risks of contagion, both for researcher and for the participants, deriving from potential contacts during the

“mapping out” process, observation and conversations, needed to be acknowledged. In order to tackle these particular issues and the ones related to possible fines and controls from the police due to the ongoing lockdown, I managed to organise the encounters with my participants in safe locations which did not require them to move in order to meet me. We always respected social distancing and every COVID-19-related measure in force in Italy and in Piemonte during the 3 fieldwork period.

4.6.3 Participants’s vulnerabilities

My research focuses on asylum seekers. This group can be considered as vulnerable due to different factors and determinants. The UNHCR (2017) points out the presence of two major categories of vulnerability, often overlapping, in asylum seekers and refugees’ reality: the “situational vulnerability”, related to contextual circumstances regarding the flight or the resettlement country, and the “individual vulnerability”, relating to individual characteristics or circumstances placing a particular person at risk (UNCHR, 2017:2). As discussed, one of the most prominent sources of physical risk and situational vulnerability was represented by the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e. risk of contagion and potential problems deriving from laws’ application arbitrariness). Nevertheless, other potential risks derived to participants’ individual vulnerability needed to be considered.

Researching migrants and, in this case, asylum seekers can be challenging due to participants’

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