top of page
Image by Emile Guillemot

 Public Engagement 

As a student society, the CMS views its engagement with the wider public in Cambridge and beyond as a vital part of its work in the field of Migration, and a step towards a wider public recognition of migration-related issues. As the CMS team, we see our public engagement as part of a wider struggle for greater fairness of migration-related systems and social justice in general. Thus, this segment of our website is dedicated to projects that draw attention to injustices and advocate for the rights of all migrants.

Cambridge Migration Society& Public Engagement

We Support the Demilitarise Cambridge Campaign 

20211101_demilitarise cambridge.jpg

On Monday, 1 November, 2021, a coalition of student and community groups of Cambridge is launching the demand to Demilitarise Cambridge. The gathering for the demonstration will take place outside Great St. Mary's at 12 pm. See the event announcement here:


The demand of the initiative is clear: The University of Cambridge should stop its propping-up of arms companies because it entails complicity with war crimes, human rights violations, illegal occupations, and authoritarianism around the world. We do not want to be a party to these crimes!


The Cambridge Migration Society supports this demand. Our university must take an ethical stance and cut its relationships with companies that produce and sell arms, armoured vehicles, and anti-riot and military technologies. As migration researchers, we understand that arms and technologies used in wars, armed conflicts, illegal occupations, and repression of dissidents by authoritarian regimes are not only killing and oppressing people, but also causing forced displacement and exile of millions of people around the world. In-depth qualitative research of forced migration inevitably includes gathering of knowledge on war, political violence, and authoritarianism. The research conducted by some of our members reveals the magnitude of trauma and distress experienced by the people who were forced to flee their homes due to war and political violence. Many had experienced violence, human rights violations, and imprisonment back home, and/or lost their loved ones. They continue to live with these traumas as refugees. As migration scholars and students at the University of Cambridge, we refuse to be complicit in war crimes and political violence that have displaced and continue to traumatize some of our research participants.


One does not have to be a researcher to see the direct connection between arms’ sales and forced migration. The people with whom the scholars of forced migration work understand this connection very well, as they have witnessed and experienced on their own skins the violence caused by the arms and technologies produced in the Global North and sold to whoever is willing to buy them, with no ethical considerations. They know very well that it was these arms and technologies in the hands of authoritarian rulers, occupying regimes, and paramilitary gangs that caused their displacement.


However, contemporary public and even academic discussions of migration and refugeehood often silence this connection, as they focus only on the migration itself and/or the issues of migrants and refugees in the receiving countries. Very few are willing to expose and address the cynical fact that the receiving countries in the Global North and the private companies they harbour are producing and selling the very weapons of war and oppression that have displaced the people that seek refuge within them. Therefore, by supporting the Demilitarise Cambridge campaign, we as the Migration Society wish to bring forward the connection between arms sales and forced migration. Forced migration does not begin in the counties of arrival of exiles and refugees, not even in the places where the war crimes and human rights violations are taking place; it begins (and often ends) in the places where the arms, and war and anti-riot technologies are produced and sold from. As migration scholars, we have the duty to bring forward these facts.


First, exposing the direct link between arms sales and forced migration is a crucial intervention into the current hegemonic public and political discourses about migration and refugees, which legitimize the increasing border violence and violence against people-on-the-move in Europe. The hegemonic discourses about migration and refugees present migration as a problem from the perspective of the receiving countries. The current migration and asylum regimes in Europe are making it ever more difficult for people fleeing wars and persecution to migrate and find refuge. In the past years, thousands of people have lost their lives on their way to safety. On the one hand, the militarized border regimes and restricting migration and asylum policies in the Global North – that cause death and suffering to already traumatized people – can only seek legitimacy by silencing the fact that the sales of arms, and anti-riot and military technologies from the Global North to the Global South, are a direct reason for mass migration. While in fact only a minority of forcefully displaced people from the Global South come knocking on the fortified doors of Europe, they have got every right to do so, and to be offered safety and rights, given the complicity of European countries in their displacement. And on the other hand, the silence about the complicity of the Western countries, the arms companies residing within them, and the prestigious research institutions such as the University of Cambridge that support them in political violence and displacement makes space for the anti-immigration discourses that legitimize border violence and violence against people-on-the-move. Thus, the struggle against border violence and violence against people-on-the-move must necessarily include the exposal of complicity and demands for demilitarisation.


And second, the struggle for demilitarisation of our institutions is not only a move against our own complicity in war crimes and human rights violations, but also a crucial part of the struggle against forced migration. We must emphasize that the central problem of forced migration and refugeehood is not people’s arrivals, but people’s displacement. Our research shows that most refugees and political exiles would never have fled their homelands, leaving their homes, friends, and families behind, if their lives were not made impossible by the violence. Thus, demanding demilitarisation, starting at our own University – but not ending there – is a necessary act of solidarity with the communities that are being split and devastated by the violence caused by the arms and technologies produced right here, with the support of our University. The demands for demilitarisation at home should be the first step in a bigger struggle against political violence, war, and authoritarianism that cause forced migration of millions of people around the world.


It is time to say NO to participation in political violence and war crimes around the world!

It is time to demilitarise Cambridge!

See you on the streets of Cambridge on 1 November!


Cambridge Migration Society



End criminalization of migrant / refugee solidarity and assistance

Public engagement

Public Letter

On November 17, 2020, two political asylum seekers from Turkey in Greece, ALİ CAN ALBAYRAK and HÜSEYİN ŞAHİN, were unlawfully detained and arrested under the allegation of “human smuggling” on the Greek island of Lesbos, for helping two other political refugees from Turkey, who came to the island in order to seek asylum in Greece. We, the Cambridge Migration Society, and the academics and students researching migration, wish to express our solidarity with the two imprisoned refugees and our outrage at the continuous criminalization of migrant/refugee solidarity and assistance in Greece and in Europe in general.

In Turkey, Kurdish patriots, socialists, and other critical segments of society that struggle for basic human rights, equality, and democracy have been subjected to increasing attack by the authoritarian Turkish regime. This includes endless detentions, imprisonment, torture, and murder. The Turkish state has forced thousands of dissidents to flee their country, emigrate to Europe and other countries around the world, and become political exiles. 

Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin are two socialists who have been fighting for democracy and political freedom. In Turkey, they were repeatedly detained, arrested, and subjected to violence while operating as members of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (Ezilenlerin Sosyalist Partisi, ESP). They were forced into exile due to the violence, persecution, and draconian prison sentences they were handed to by the Turkish authorities. They became political asylum seekers in Greece, where they continued their political struggle against the Turkish regime and systemic injustice in general. Their solidarity with other political refugees against Greek government’s increasingly inhumane anti-migration policies was both an honest humanitarian act and a legitimate act of struggle for rights and justice of those oppressed and vulnerable.

While they were on Lesbos, Albayrak and Şahin met with two of their colleagues from Turkey, both lawyers who had arrived on the island in order to seek international protection, fleeing political persecution in Turkey. As NGOs and refugee solidarity groups in Greece have extensively observed and reported, the Greek authorities, following wider European anti-immigration policies, have resorted to preventing refugees from finding safety in Greece. This includes the illegal practice of pushbacks, which are informal cross-border expulsions of individuals or groups to another country without due process, including sea pushbacks from Greek islands to Turkey. Had the two lawyers been pushed-back to Turkey, their lives would have been in danger, as they had been severely persecuted by the Turkish state. Thus, Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin were there to protect their colleagues from being put in such danger and to assist them in their asylum application. The false allegation of “human smuggling” made by the Greek authorities against Albayrak and Şahin exemplifies the continued criminalization of migrants/refugees, and migrant/refugee solidarity and assistance.

Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin, who have lived in Greece as refugees for more than a year, were apprehended by the Greek police on Lesbos, while helping the two newcomer political refugees. They were beaten and detained on Lesbos, and were later arrested by a prosecutor's order and taken to prison on Chios island. After being subjected to violence and torture by the Greek police on Lesbos, they were also subjected to nude search and mistreatment in the prison of Chios. All their personal belongings were confiscated by the Greek authorities. Since November 2020, the two have remained imprisoned unlawfully for a crime they did not commit. We are concerned for their wellbeing and call for their immediate release.

Moreover, we also call to end the abhorrent practice of criminalizing migrant/refugee solidarity and assistance in Greece and in Europe in general. Unfortunately, this example of violent persecution and unlawful imprisonment of people helping refugees in Greece is not an exception. In August 2018, media outlets all over Europe have published the cases of Sarah Mardini - herself a refugee from Syria - and Sean Binder - a German citizen, Irish resident, and son of a Vietnamese refugee - who were arrested for their humanitarian acts of assistance to refugees in the Aegean sea on behalf of the Emergency Response Centre International. They were accused of being part of a criminal organisation, money laundering, people smuggling, and spying, facing 25 years in prison. They were released on bail after 100 days in jail - but their trial continues. In February 2019, a British citizen, Abdullah Gürlekan, and a political asylum seeker from Turkey in Greece, Vedat Yeler, were arrested for helping their activist colleagues, refugees who had just arrived in Greece from Turkey, by meeting them in order to assist them in applying for international protection. They were imprisoned for nearly a year under false “human smuggling” charges. 

Furthermore, these unjust acts of the Greek authorities are part and parcel of the broader European anti-migration discourses, policies, and practices. International observers such as the European research platform ReSOMA, Caritas Europa, the Red Cross, Fidh - International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights at Sea, Amnesty International, as well as journalists and academic researchers (e.g. Basaran 2014; Fekete 2018; Duarte 2019; Carrera et al. 2019) working in the field of migration have reported on the increasing criminalization of migrant/refugee solidarity and assistance in Europe in recent years, and its damaging consequences. In 2019, researchers at the ReSOMA have identified at least 49 cases of investigation and criminal prosecution in 11 EU Member States, involving a total of 158 people. The cases have only multiplied since. One well-known example is the case of the German captain Carola Rackete, who was arrested on the Italian island of Lampedusa for rescuing people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea (complying with the international maritime law). In addition, Amnesty International and critical journalists have reported on the increasing criminalization, intimidation, harassment, and prosecution of people defending refugee/migrant rights and assisting refugees/migrants in need in Northern France. One example is the case of Pierre-Alain Mannoni, a researcher at French national research centre CNRS who was accused of “aiding and abetting illegal entry, movement and residence” in 2016 for offering a lift in his car to three young injured women from Eritrea near the French-Italian border, so that they could reach the next hospital and receive medical assistance. He was on trial for more than four years before finally being acquitted of all charges in 2020. Another example is the case that became to be known as the “solidarity trial” of the Belgian journalist Anouk Van Gestel and 11 others, who were accused of “human smuggling” in 2017 for hosting asylum seekers in their homes and lending them their phones. Four of them were finally acquitted after 15 months of trials. In all the cases in which the accused were found not-guilty, justice was reached with the help of a wide national and international support and solidarity with the accused.

Refugee solidarity is not a crime. We condemn the Greek authorities for their violent anti-migration policies in general, including criminalization of migrant/refugee solidarity, and for their hostility towards political exiles such as Ali Can Albayrak, Hüseyin Şahin, Vedat Yeler, and many others. These are people who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for justice and equality, and they deserve international protection. Instead, they are treated with the same kind of violence as that from which they fled and sought refuge in Greece. It is unacceptable to subject people who flee violence to further violence and persecution for their humanitarian acts of solidarity. Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin must be immediately released from prison!

Finally, we condemn the European migration policy-makers and institutions for their discourses and policies that criminalize migrant/refugee solidarity and assistance. In addition to their failure to provide the needed assistance and support to people who flee war, persecution, and economic devastation (for which the countries at the core of Europe have been directly or indirectly co-responsible with their geopolitical and international economic actions), the European anti-immigration discourses and policies also encourage, normalize, and legitimize the persecution of those who conduct humanitarian acts of refugee/migrant solidarity and assistance. The criminalization, harassment, and persecution of migration activists, NGO workers and volunteers, journalists, and others who stand in solidarity with migrants/refugees has to stop!

We, the Cambridge Migration Society, and the academics and students researching migration, stand in solidarity with Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin. We find their solidarity actions just and necessary under the current European migration regime of expulsion and criminalization of migrants/refugees and migrant/refugee solidarity. Solidarity with the oppressed is a political and humanitarian responsibility of not only Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin, but of all of us. We call for the immediate release of Ali Can Albayrak and Hüseyin Şahin from prison, and for the end of criminalization of refugee/migrant solidarity and assistance in Greece and in Europe. 


The Cambridge Migration Society

bottom of page