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Refugees and Mountains

Call for papers: Deadlines : July 15th 2019 (abstract) and Decembrer 1st 2019 (full article). Guest editors : Cristina Del Biaggio, (Université Grenoble Alpes and the Pacte research centre) and Leila Giannetto, (researcher with Euricse, Trento, and the International and European Forum on Migration Research (FIERI)). With Coralie Mounet, for JAR/RGA (Université Grenoble Alpes).

A new issue has recently arisen for Alpine academic and political communities: dealing with the arrival of forced migrants (asylum seekers, refugees and individuals whose applications have been rejected) in mountain regions. This applies to two contexts in particular: crossing national borders located in mountain areas, and hosting new arrivals in mountain regions.

  • 1 Alpine Refugees, edited by Perlik. M., Galera G., Machold I., and Membretti A., currently in press (...)

This issue was a key topic of discussion in two seminars held in Salecina, Switzerland, in May 2017, and in Pettinengo, Italy, the following year. These seminars expanded the debates that had primarily concerned Italian researchers to the Alpine region: in 2016, the journal Dislivelli published a special issue on “Montanari per forza”, or “Forced Mountain Inhabitants” (no. 64, February 2016), and a book entitled Alpine Refugees is currently in publication (edited by Perlik. M., Galera G., Machold I., and Membretti A.).1

Having noted the increased focus on this area in the academic, political and media discourse, in this thematic issue we propose to investigate the topic in greater depth around two questions that mirror one another: what impact do refugees have on mountains and mountain inhabitants, and what impact do mountains and mountain inhabitants have on refugees?

First area of interest: What impact do refugees have on mountains and mountain inhabitants?

The distribution of asylum seekers across Europe has been extensively discussed in the bodies of the European Union, and criticised by researchers and representatives from civil society. The current distribution policy, based on the Dublin Regulation and thus dependent on the first country of arrival for asylum seekers, has been criticised for its negative impact on the individuals concerned (Povlakic, 2012), but also on the labour market. The policy does not take into consideration either the skills or qualifications of asylum seekers, nor regional workforce requirements. As the European Network of Public Employment Services (2016) notes: “A large proportion of refugees will become future labour force, so understanding where workforce and skills are needed is essential to address skills gaps and help refugees integrate faster.” Considerations of matching up labour demand and supply in mountain regions would therefore be of interest to this thematic issue.

In addition, faced with the challenges of depopulation seen in some Alpine valleys, communities are relying on hosting displaced people as a way to counter the negative demographic trend and closure of public services (schools, public transport, etc.) in rural areas. Hosting asylum seekers and refugees may therefore present these valleys with an opportunity for economic development (Cavalli, 2016; Membretti, 2017). Communities in Italy, most notably Riace (Sasso, 2012), have already found some success using this approach.

The majority of hosting schemes for displaced people have been facilitated by organisations in the charity sector. Their management of hosting schemes, often with support from local institutions, has made it possible to trial innovative projects that have linked hosting schemes to preserving and developing local areas, and to preventing traditional skills from dying out. These projects have enabled the regeneration of local areas and host communities, creating opportunities for all residents and allowing key public services to reopen.

The historical and epistemological angle represented by the image of the “mountain as refuge” is a further element for consideration. It will be of interest to this thematic issue, particularly in relation to the way it sheds light on ongoing moves to develop “solidarity cities” and “refuge cities”, some of which are located in mountain regions.

Authors are therefore invited to consider the following questions:

  • What is different about hosting forced migrants in mountain regions, compared to at a lower altitude or in an urban setting?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the mountain space when it comes to the social and professional inclusion of forced migrants? And how should matching up of labour demand and supply (or lack thereof) in mountain areas be considered?

  • What hosting and integration strategies and policies have been implemented in the different countries in the Alpine region, and in other mountain areas around the world? What actors, organisations and/or institutions (public and/or private) are involved in these initiatives, and how?

  • What is the impact of hosting policies on the integration of forced migrants?

  • How should the links between the local population and new arrivals be considered? How have local populations been included in the hosting process? This poses questions about reconstruction of identities.

  • What (dis)continuities can be seen in the historical image of the “mountain as refuge”, in the light of current hosting schemes in mountain regions?

Second area of interest: What impact do mountains and mountain residents have on refugees?

Displaced people may be situated at altitude due to a policy of marginalisation and relegation rather than a policy of hosting, whether sought out or enforced. Displaced people do not choose their place of residence, but are assigned to it.

The spatial distribution of centres for displaced people may therefore be based on a rationale that aims to prevent displaced people from being integrated into the socioregional fabric, by placing them in limbo (Diken, 2004). Non-integration thus plays a political and administrative role: cutting displaced people off from social ties with the host population and civil society in the local area so that they can, if need be, be deported without protest. In Switzerland, the use of locations at altitude as part of the marginalisation of displaced people has primarily affected the most vulnerable individuals (failed asylum seekers) (Duvanel, 2009; Vital, 2013). They may also be placed in such locations with the aim of breaking all social ties, as a way of encouraging them to leave.

Conversely, displaced people may find in mountain regions a new environment in which they can settle, work and live; particularly as the cost of living in these regions is low and the attractions of the local area hold great potential, especially from a tourism perspective.

Mountains – particularly the Alps, but likely also other mountain ranges – are also a crossing point for displaced people. Mountain ranges are sometimes divided by national borders. The decision of countries in the northern Alps to close their borders has had an impact on the journeys made by displaced people, who have been forced to take increasingly dangerous routes to reach their country of destination. Some have lost their lives along the way, with the material conditions and climate of mountain regions - particularly in winter – contributing to making mountains brutal, hostile and sometimes deadly. Medici Senza Frontiere has recorded twenty deaths on the border of the southern Alps since 2016 (Medici Senza Frontiere, 2018; Quadroni and Luppi, 2017b, 2017c, 2017a).

Authors are therefore invited to consider the following questions:

  • How is the practice of placement at altitude perceived and experienced by forced migrants? This practice may be analysed from the perspective of integration or disintegration.

  • How do mountain communities react to the arrival of displaced people in mountain regions? An opportunity to profile solidarity and/or xenophobic movements.

  • What is known about the brutal conditions and deaths on mountain borders? What are the dynamics, actors and consequences involved?


Article proposals, around 1,000 words in length, should be sent in either French (if the author is a native French speaker) or English (if the author’s mother tongue is any other language) by 15th July 2019 to Cristina Del Biaggio,, Leila Giannetto, and Coralie Mounet,, as well as the editorial team, addressed to Olivier Vallade, Final articles are expected by 1 December 2019. Final articles must be submitted in one of the languages in which the review is published: Alpine languages (French, Italian, German), Spanish or English. The author must see to it that the article is translated into the second language after it has been assessed. One of the two versions must be in English. If the article is submitted by a native English speaker, the second version must be in French. Publication of the articles is tentatively scheduled for September 2020.


Bernardot M, 2008.– “Camps d’étrangers, foyers de travailleurs, centres d’expulsion  : les lieux communs de l’immigré décolonisé” Cultures & Conflits (69) 55–79

Cavalli A, 2016.– “Immigrati tra buonisti e cattivisti” Dislivelli 64 10–12

Diken B, 2004.– “From refugee camps to gated communities : biopolitics and the end of the city” Citizenship Studies 8(1) 83–106

Duvanel L, 2009.– “Fiasco de la politique Blocher” Droit au logement. Le journal de l’ASLOCA (188) 6–7

European Public Employment Services, 2016.– “Labour Market Integration of Refugees – Key Considerations”, ?sa =t&rct =j&q =&esrc =s&source =web&cd =2&ved =2ahUKEwjH073d2OrfAhXIzIUKHRgbAwsQFjABegQICRAC&url =https %3A %2F %2Fsocial %2FBlobServlet %3FdocId %3D16068 %26langId %3Den&usg =AOvVaw2zhMfPdd3670MBlunUafbh

Medici Senza Frontiere, 2018.– “Fuori campo”, Medici Senza Frontiere,

Membretti A ed, 2017.– Per forza o per scelta : l’immigrazione straniera nelle Alpi e negli Appennini (Aracne, Canterano)

Perlik M. Galera G. Machold I., Membretti A., 2019 (à paraître).– Alpine refugees. Cambridge Scholar Publishing.

Povlakic K, 2012.– “Accords de réadmission | La banalisation d’une tragédie” Vivre Ensemble (136),

Quadroni A, Luppi M, 2017a.– “I morti di confine a Ventimiglia” Open Migration,

Quadroni A, Luppi M, 2017b.– “Morire di confine a Como” Open Migration,

Quadroni A, Luppi M, 2017c.– “Morire di confine al Brennero” Open Migration,

Sasso C, 2012.– Riace, terra di accoglienza (Edizione Gruppo Abele),

Vital R, 2013.–“Life in Paradise”

See also

Special issue of the journal Dislivelli, « Montanari per forza », n° 64, 2016.

Special issue of the journal Dislivelli, « Rifugiati alpini », n° 79, 2017.

Filmography :

Bozzolo Sandro, il Murràn. Maasai in the Alps, 2015

Cannito Francesco & Cusani Luca, Il rifugio, 2012

Thomson Christopher, The New Wild : Life in the Abandoned Lands, 2017

Abandoned Lands, 2017

Vitale Roman, Life in Paradise, 2013

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1 Alpine Refugees, edited by Perlik. M., Galera G., Machold I., and Membretti A., currently in press by Cambridge Scholar Publishing.

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