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Regular version of the site

Migration Expert Stresses Importance of Diversity Ahead of Panel on European Refugee Crisis

On October 22, the HSE Public Policy Department and the Course on Comparative Migration Policy will hold a panel discussion on the European refugee crisis. Dr. Mahama Tawat, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences and a specialist in comparative migration policy, will serve as one of the panel members. Dr. Tawat recently spoke with the HSE news service about his research interests, what attracted him to HSE and his views on tolerance and diversity.

— Migrants and refugees have long been the focus of your research. Like other topics you study, the issue of minority rights is timely for Russia. Have you been looking into that recently?

— Yes, indeed. Humans have always moved. I always like to remind people that we all come from Africa where modern humans or homo sapiens originated. It seems that some took the southern route and went straight to Australasia. Others went north and later to Europe and Asia. Then it became more entangled.  Human palaeontologists and evolutionary geneticists are still trying to piece this story together, but their findings are fascinating when you read them.

The issue of migration will not go away soon. I have a new research focus on eastern Europe and Russia. As the refugee crisis has shown, eastern Europe is the new frontier. I have just submitted an article reviewing migration policymaking in the region to an international academic journal. I also supervise the research of Master's students from countries like Hungary and Kazakhstan.

Quite frankly, I was surprised myself by some of the findings. While national identity or the ‘who we are’ is as often suspect, in eastern EU countries it was not defined in ethnic terms until the Syrian refugee crisis. Rather, it was defined as Europeanization, which in a nutshell means adopting western European ways. This is despite the presence of old ethnic cleavages linked to their largest transnational minority, the Roma, and extra-territorial minorities such as Hungarians in Slovakia. It appears that the national boundary shifted violently with the prospect of ‘more significant others’, i.e., Muslim Syrians, arriving in high numbers. Russia has behaved as predicted. It has given priority to refugees from eastern Ukraine who are closer to its definition of ‘who we are’.

The size of immigration and cultural distance do matter to a certain extent, but there is more to this as the article explains.

— You joined HSE in 2014. How would you assess your first year of living and working in Moscow?

My first year in Moscow and at HSE has been quite smooth. There have not been any ‘biggies’.  I am thankful to the university for that. The Centre for Advanced Studies has provided support for my research, and the Department of Public Policy has given me the opportunity to teach. The Academic Support Centre of the Faculty of Social Sciences and the International Faculty Support Unit have helped with administrative and logistical matters. I appreciate their goodwill.

Of course, there are always difficulties, especially when one is a newcomer. But I have lived in many parts of the world and have learned to keep things in perspective. I like my neighbourhood. My relationship with my landlord is so good that we have just agreed to prolong the lease.

— What did you find attractive about HSE when you decided to join our university?

First, the fact that the university wanted to give young foreign academics a head start by providing them space and some autonomy to conduct their research. This is very important.  At older universities, people sometimes become blasé, and it is difficult for young academics to find breathing space. Second, I perceived that the university wanted to attract academics on the international job market by offering conditions that are similar to those offered by other global universities. Third, the job qualifications matched my profile.

— What is the main message to students when you teach Modern Political Science? 

I welcome alternative perspectives on the issues we discuss during lectures. This can be enlightening for me and the whole class. I often remind my students that I not only teach but also conduct research. So there are still many things out there that one needs to uncover. And they may be the ones doing these discoveries. However, I insist on convincing argumentation backed by facts and illustrations.

— What do you think could be a universal message to young people to teach them tolerance?

The message is that diversity is the essence of things. This diversity is not only ethnic but social. There are many lifestyles. We have goths, Rastafarians, vegetarians... and these communities are transnational. As John Donne wrote, ‘no man is an island’. No country can survive without trade, which means that borders will always be open. Globalization has only made this more imperative. At the same time, everyone should endeavour to fit with his or her environment in order to promote harmony. Of course, this should not come at an unbearable cost.

Anna  Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service 

See also:

Political Analysis and Public Policy Programme Leads to Exciting International Career

After graduating two years ago from HSE’s Master’s programme in Political Analysis and Public Policy, Svetlana Kosmakova took a job with the International Committee of the Red Cross as a Migration Program Officer. She recently spoke with Sanjay Rajhans of the HSE News Service about her studies at HSE, the trajectory of her career, and what advice she would offer prospective students in Political Analysis and Public Policy.

Educational Experience in Russia

Matthew Boadi-Ampong from Ghana is a first-year student of Master’s programme in Political Analysis and Public Policy. He has shared his impressions of studying at HSE and living in Russia.

HSE Graduate Applies Lessons to Work in Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Cultural Affairs

Since 2008, Indra Prasetya has been working as Chief of Protocol at the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Cultural Affairs. A graduate of Gadjah Mada University with a degree in Social and Political Science, the 33-year old native of Kebumen, Indonesia went on to spend two years in the HSE Public Policy Department studying Political Analysis and Public Policy.

Student from Morocco: from Winter School to HSE Master's Program

Hamid Ait-El-Kaid is a second-year student from Morocco of the Master's programme in Political Analysis and Public Policy. His first exposure to HSE took place during a Winter School for prospective students in February 2014. After learning about the Public Policy programme, he decided to apply to HSE.

Migrants Give More Births Than Locals

Women who have moved to another part of the country tend to have higher fertility than those who stay in the same community all their lives. Relocation often improves a woman's life circumstances and broadens her choice of marriage partner, thus supporting her reproductive intentions, according to Svetlana Biryukova, Senior Research Fellow of the HSE Center for Studies of Income and Living Standards, and Alla Tyndik, Leading Research Fellow at the RANEPA.

Employers Not Interested in Migrant Workers' Experience and Education

In Russia, the demand for migrant workers is highest in economically developed and resource-extracting regions, in areas with low population density, and in construction and industrial companies. Employers prefer to hire low-skilled migrants with no education beyond secondary school and limited work experience of less than a year, since these workers are much cheaper than locals. These are some of the findings from a study by Elena Vakulenko, Assiant Professor at the Department of Applied Economics, HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences, and HSE student Roman Leukhin.

Migrant Flow from Central Asia to Russia Will Increase

In the near future, the number of migrants from Central Asia coming to work in Russia will increase – particularly from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries where remittances from their citizens working in Russia stand at almost half of their respective GDPs, according to a joint study by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).

Migrants’ Children Forget their Homeland and Native Language

Children of labour migrants from Central Asia don’t want to preserve their ethnic  self-definition, i.e. to speak their native language and follow their cultural traditions. They try to distance themselves from people of their ethnic identity and become fully locals. Both Russian schools and parents further this process, concluded Raisa Akifyeva, senior lecturer at the St. Petersburg School of Social Sciences and Humanities Department of Sociology, as a result of her research.


of students who attend schools in the inner Moscow suburbs are children whose native language is not Russian.

Myths Keeping Muscovites and Migrants from Finding Common Ground

Relations between Muscovites and migrant workers from the CIS are plagued by myths circulating in the mass consciousness. In her research,  Yulia Florinskaya , a Senior Researcher with HSE’s Institute of Demography, refutes prevalent statements that migrants not only take jobs from Muscovites, but also seriously increase the burden on healthcare and intentionally maintain illegal status.