A warm welcome to the ‘Migration and Development’ 13th Annual IMISCOE conference in Prague!

An interview with Professor Dušan Drbohlav, UntitledGEOMIGRACE, Charles University in Prague

Translated from Czech

The organizer of this year’s IMISCOE conference on “Migration and development” is GEOMIGRACE – the Geographic Migration Centre established within the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague. We met with the director of GEOMIGRACE and main organizer of the conference, Professor Dušan Drbohlav, to discuss the upcoming conference to give you an insight into what participants can expect in Prague.

Thanks Professor Drbohlav for accepting to be interviewed. Can you please share with us why the topic “Migration and development” was chosen for this year’s annual IMISCOE conference? Why is this topic important this year?

First of all, we as organizers, together with IMISCOE, think that this topic is very important, as it has to do with the main drivers which stand behind the current migration flows. There are anchored economic and social differences worldwide, which are strongly connected with the movements of people around the world. Obviously, it also corresponds with the current refugee crisis, but not only that. Besides the current relevance of the topic, we see that in general the relation between migration and development is an under-researched topic. Moreover, we need to pay attention not only to what development brings to migration, but also how migration influences development. In this context, there are three very important subtopics connected to the theme: diasporas, remittances and brain drain. We think that also within IMISCOE we could pay more attention to these complex issues. If you take a look at what has been done within the network and what all research activities are about, it seems that more research on the migration and development nexus would surely be appreciated.

Could you please tell us about the selection process of participants for the conference?

The interest in IMISCOE summer conference has exceeded its capacity, which was already shown in Geneva last year. However, the conference this year in Prague has received even more applications. This year 331 individual papers, 47 panels and 22 workshops have been submitted. Surely, we as organizers, would not be able to admit all the applications as limited space and resources are available for the conference. Therefor a selection based on certain criteria was needed. First of all, a commission composed of 12 experts (6 members of Czech team and 6 foreign members of IMISCOE) evaluated all the applications according to the originality, actuality, importance of the topic and the quality of the abstract.

However, other criteria were also taken into account. First of all, some workshops are organized from the standing committees, which are embedded as long-standing research clusters within IMISCOE and meet annually at the conferences. Moreover, IMISCOE is open for applications worldwide and we are seeking applications from other continents outside of Europe too. Thus, this year we will have participants from inter alia Asia and America.

What can participants expect to find in this conference?

The program of this conference is highly interesting and diverse. Participants can look forward to high-quality conference papers on different topics. I would like to stress that the migration and development topic does not dominate the conference. This can instead be viewed as the motto of the conference. Indeed, there are some other interesting topics reflected by the participants too. For example, many papers concentrate on integration process in the broadest sense of the word. Moreover, there is a reflection of contemporary refugee crisis. Participants also can look forward to two keynote speeches which will be delivered by distinguished scholars, – Professor Peggy Levitt from the US and Professor Ahmet İçduygu from Turkey. Moreover, we will also organize three so-called semi-plenaries. The first session focusses on immigrant integration, comparing the European and American experience which will be presented by professors Richard Alba and Nancy Foner. Professor Franck Düvell will present a talk on the refugee crisis and Professor Agata Górny will talk about migration and integration issues in Central and Eastern Europe.

What makes Prague or the Czech Republic a special venue to hold this conference?

Migration is an important part of Prague, which is turning into a multicultural city in terms of the diversity of its population. But most importantly, as in many other countries, this is a highly discussed and polarized topic. There are various views here which support migration but, on the other side, there are also groups representing radical anti-migration views and almost nothing in-between. In this context, to have a conference which will introduce empirical based knowledge on migration and integration, is of an immense value. As in such complex issue as migration, it is very important to have rigorous research before organizing or imposing any decisions around the topic. This indicates that we need to strengthen the awareness of the necessity to rigorously study the phenomenon, before any decisions are put in action. Moreover, I would like to say, that we arranged two new activities, which will open the IMISCOE summer conference more towards the hosting nation and the public. First of all, we are going to organize the workshop at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where representatives of the Ministry along with members of IMISCOE Directory Board will have an opportunity to discuss how Czechia deals with the topic of migration and development. Secondly, we offered free participation in the conference to about 20 representatives of Czech GOS and NGOs working on migration and/or integration issues in Czechia. Hence, they can learn important lessons while using this experience further in their work.

Is there a special message you would like to convey to the participants?

We all look forward to receiving the participants at the conference. Even though the Albertov campus is small, it is a historical venue and grants a specific academic energy. As I see it, it is important to see what is going on in the stage, but it is even more important to see what is going on behind the stage. That is why these international gatherings are crucial, as people meet and have a possibility to discuss papers and contemporary issues, and to plan common research and publication activities during cultural events. To sum up, in Prague, we look forward not only to exchange academic and professional experience, but also to the opportunity to get together, drinking Czech beer, Moravian wine or Czech mineral water and discuss migration issues at first hand.

Authors: Ludmilla Kopecka and Elida Cena

Ludmilla Kopecka is a PhD candidate and lecturer at i.a. the Faculty of Humanities Charles University, Prague. Her research focuses on the migration of students from Russia to the Czech Republic.
Furthermore Ludmilla works as a project coordinator at the Migration Awareness Program. within the IMISCOE PhD network she is a member of the Soundboard and was one of the initiators and organizers of the first IMISCOE PhD workshop in 2015.

 Elida Cena is a PhD candidate at Edge Hill University, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on Albanian migrants and their children who have permanently returned to live in Albania. The aim of the research is to examine the experiences, ways of negotiating the return and the impact on their identities.
She is also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK. Within the IMISCOE PhD network she is a member of the Soundboard.