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  • Author or Editor: Mattias De Backer x
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While some research has been undertaken in recent decades into sexual violence against women in public space, the same cannot be said about everyday, ‘mild’ forms of harassment. From field research in Brussels between 2013 and 2016 with young people, the majority of whom have a (Muslim) migration background, we can conclude that physical violence happens only rarely and that the fear experienced by these young women relates to a more general, ambient state of vigilance, which relates to feeling out of place; public space remains a predominantly masculine domain. One of the main findings of the study is that ‘mild’ forms of harassment are used as a strategy of social control by men hanging out and that young women apply defence tactics to protect themselves against the perceived dangers in the public domain. Street harassment is embedded in dual affective dynamics, which generates feelings of belonging among young men and feelings of threat in young women. Here street harassment emerges as a mode of social control which ‘keeps them in their place’.

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The pandemic has had a much harsher effect on vulnerable urban groups such as refugees, asylum-seekers, undocumented migrants, and the homeless (see also Volume 2, Chapter Sixteen). For many of these, public space is an important realm not only for leisure and social contact, but also as a source of shelter and income. The current crisis, however, has left a lasting imprint on how public spaces are policed, often to the detriment of these groups. Rather than the pandemic being a great equalizer, it has sharpened social differences with regard to urban undesirables’ use of public spaces.

In Belgium, during the first weeks of the sanitary crisis, the pandemic was framed as a security threat, which included calling the national COVID-19 decision-making body ‘The National Security Council’ and launching marketing campaigns that implored people to ‘keep safe’. This ‘securitisation’ (Goldstein, 2010) of a health crisis provided police forces with exceptional powers, similar to those given during times of terrorist threat.

In the securitization logic of the lockdown, the police increasingly focused on maintaining order in public space and keeping ‘everyone in their “proper” place in the seemingly natural order of things’ (Dikeç, 2005: 174). Hayward (2012) uses the metaphor of ‘container spaces’ while discussing police strategies like ‘kettling’ – a means of containing and enclosing protesters into a designated perimeter. The police became managers of public space, moving populations to designed places, like board game players moving pieces around. As Rancière (2001: 8) cynically noted ‘“Move along! There is nothing to see here!” The police says that there is nothing to see on a road, that there is nothing to do but move along.

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In the concluding chapter, we reflect on the everyday experiences of young refugees and asylum-seekers in public spaces and how they are shaped by dominant political discourses in the host society, while also being expressions of (micro-)political claims to belonging and the right to the city. The complexity of political issues and the hostile political contexts in which refugee youth often find themselves is a key issue for ongoing research in this field. So too are the creative and engaging ways in which young refugees engage in, resist, challenge and rework political issues in different spaces and times. Such analyses also include reflections on what constitutes the publicness of public spaces and the role played therein of visibility.

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The introductory chapter of the book explains the overall focus on refugee youth as active agents and our interest in urban space. By putting personal and everyday geographies of refugee youth central we do not overlook structural forms of exclusion that take place but we show how young people themselves make sense of their lives in the new places of arrival. By putting their experiences centre stage we move beyond the mainstream domains, formal community or organisational settings and locations. The various chapters in the book illustrate how our focus on public space offers opportunities to explore meaningful spaces for refugee youth that include spaces that might be created by refugee youth themselves. Moreover, this collection explores the lived experiences of refugee youth in urban public space in a highly diverse range of international contexts and with specific attention to gender which allows us to illustrate how urban public space is actively produced in many different ways.

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Migration, Justice and Urban Space

Telling the stories of young refugees in a range of international urban settings, this book explores how newcomers navigate urban spaces and negotiate multiple injustices in their everyday lives.

This innovative edited volume is based on in-depth, qualitative research with young refugees and their perspectives on migration, social relations, and cultural spaces. The chapters give voice to refugee youth from a wide variety of social backgrounds, including insights about their migration experiences, their negotiations of spatial justice and injustice, and the diverse ways in which they use urban space.

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