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Work Packages

Whis project initially was divided into three main work packages, each dedicated to one type of sanctuary practices. After joining O. Terentyeva in 2022 an additional forth work package was added.

Image by Akira Hojo


Church Asylum

In its contemporary variant, church asylum refers to cases where religious congregations harbor undocumented immigrants in order to shield them from law-enforcement authorities. In the US, the New Sanctuary Movement was formally launched in 2007. In Europe, the official launching event of the New Sanctuary Movement took place in Berlin in 2010 with an international conference, the adoption of a Charta, and the formal proclamation of a European Network of Sanctuary Churches (Just 2014). The movement includes active sanctuary alliances in Germany, Belgium,
Norway, Switzerland, France, the UK, and the Netherlands. In both Europe and the US church asylum has come under intense criticism by authorities. Churches are accused of putting parochial morality above legality and misusing religious prerogatives to unduly infringe with state matters, essentially undermining the liberal-secular political order.


Sanctuary Cities / Firewall Policies

Sanctuary cities (and also counties and states) are local-level jurisdictions that adopt firewall policies aimed at providing a safe environment for irregular immigrants to participate in society, make use of institutions, and receive services without fear of persecution (Lasch et al. 2018). Although firewall policies are themselves enacted by authorities, they also involve insubordinate behavior as subnational jurisdictions refuse to comply with national authorities. Since 2016, the largest European advocacy network for irregular immigrants, PICUM, has adopted firewall policies as one of their key advocacy goals (Levoy, Keith, and Geddie 2016). Non-cooperation measures and firewall policies are justified in practical terms and “as a necessary moral and ethical response” (Lasch et al. 2018, 1754) to inhuman immigration policies. Critics in turn reject these policies as illegal and unethical, arguing that they contradict federal legislation, expose local populations to danger and unduly protect undeserving immigrants.

Image by Andrea Ferrario
Image by Li Yang


Humanitarian Rescue Operations

Humanitarian rescue operations have so far not been analyzed as an instance of the politics of sanctuary, but they also attempt to create a temporary safe space for immigrants through life- saving operations at the borders, often in defiance of governmental authorities. Indeed, recent developments indicate a growing trend towards the criminalization of these operations (Carrera et al. 2016). Those NGOs that still operate in the Mediterranean do so despite mounting pressure from European governments. Their critics see them as contributing to the high death toll in the Mediterranean, while they see themselves as the last bastion of humanity. It is an innovative aspect of this project that it will analyze humanitarian rescue operations as the morally-motivated provision of sanctuary in the form of a temporary safe space for immigrants fearing for their lives and bodily integrity.


Power Relations Within Sanctuary Networks: a Postcolonial Approach

This new work package involves a case study of the recent cases of church asylum and church occupation by migrants in Europe (2000-2022), particularly on cases that have drawn considerable media attention internationally. This work package aims to focus on the representation of the asylum seekers/irregular immigrants involved in these incidents and the mediatic representation of sanctuary through a postcolonial perspective. It will allow us to map power relations within sanctuary networks in the researched countries mentioned.

Image by Vlad Hilitanu
Image by Amir Shahabi


Sanctuary in desert borderlans

This new work package emerged when in 2023, a new PhD student, Teresa Schütze, joined the project. Theresa’s PhD project investigates practices and spheres of sanctuary in desert borderlands. It looks at initiatives in the Sahel-region, as well as the Sonoran desert to further our understanding of the territorial preconditions of sanctuary. On the one hand, migration governance of migration in these desert borderlands is characterized by the involvement of a multiplicity of national, international and supranational actors. On the other hand, state’s absence and a form of active neglect shapes often life-risking migratory experiences on these territories. Further the project is interested in the subject-object relations evolving in sanctuary and general migrant support initiatives within post-colonial contexts, and how this is reflected in the normative justifications on which the activities are based.

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