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'The "Others" amongst "Us": International VENI Conference in Leiden

International experts from several academic disciplines came to Leiden on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 December 2017 to participate in the international conference 'The "Others" amongst "Us": Thoughts on Western Societies, Otherness, and the Law'. The conference was the closing event of the research project ‘The “Others” amongst “Us”: Western Societies, Otherness, and the Law’. The conference was organized by Dr. Moritz Jesse, associate professor of European Law at the Europa Institute in Leiden and was part of Jesse’s NWO (Dutch Scientific Organization) financed VENI research.

From left to right: C. della Croce, C. Murphy, M. Hattmannsdorfer, L. Tsourdi, D. Kostakopoulou, D. Thym, D. Acosta, V. Moreno-Lax

In a time of crisis, social divides become particularly visible. They affect notably minorities including immigrants. Looking at the area of immigration, the speakers discussed the Law and how it relates to social divides. Underlying was the notion that minorities at large and immigrants in particular tend to be conceived of as ‘others’ in society, which naturally raises questions on the construction and effect of ‘otherness’ in ‘our’ Western societies. Naturally, many ways on how ‘otherness’ is expressed in law and policy were introduced, ranging from encounters of migrants with border patrol agents in the Mediterranean, reception conditions for asylum seekers in the EU, to the new Status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit, and the economically vulnerable migrants in the EU.

During the conference, reoccurring themes best described as ‘pillars of othering’ crystallized in almost all policies/law discussed: (1) the question of formal equality of migrants and the practical use of equal rights without adequate support for outsiders, i.e. immigrants, without sufficient knowledge of ‘how things are done’, (2) connected to the first point, the effects of bureaucratic demands which turn good ideas into practically useless dead paper, (3) the alienation of immigrants through measures (officially) not intended to alienate them, stimulating a feeling of discrimination and stigmatization, while the legal status of immigrants is generally favorable for integration, such as counterproductive integration requirements or requirement for family reunification, (4) the justification of ‘othering’, in the sense of differentiations made between immigrants and host society, with reference to financial needs, e.g. protecting the welfare state, or (national) security.

‘Othering’ of immigrants, thus the differentiation between the host society and the newcomer, is seldom the official goal of policies or legislation. However, as the conference has shown, it is often the unintended side-effect of policies focusing on the legal situation of immigrants.

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