HOMInG’s Paolo Boccagni will give a presentation at the forthcoming Athens Conference of the ISA RC21 – Urban and Regional Development. Paolo’s presentation is entitled Safe in, unsafe out? Perceptions, reactions and implications of the pandemic among the residents of an asylum centre. It will take place on Friday 26 August, from 1.30 to 3pm, as a part of a session on “Negotiating the pandemic city: the precariously housed and their practices of inhabitation during COVID-19”. See the abstract of Paolo’s presentation below.

Paolo Boccagni (University of Trento)

Safe in, unsafe out? Perceptions, reactions and implications of the pandemic among the residents of an asylum centre

What does ‘stayhome’ mean and entail, when home takes the functional and temporary shape of an asylum reception centre? Based on a four-year ethnography in Northern Italy, I explore the impact of the pandemic on the lived experience of the centre and on the residents’ interaction with the outer city. On the inner side, within a segregated environment of parallel normality, social distancing was systematically less implemented than outside. While the pandemic made the centre empty of social initiatives, inaccessible to external visitors, and perhaps unsafer for caseworkers themselves (who strictly limited their visits to the residents’ rooms, unlike fellow residents did), face masks have been rarely in use. It was as if the centre, as a home of sort, was protected by a tacit regime of familiarity – or indeed, of mutual lack of care. Once the interactions with the outside were constrained, what happened inside, including covid infections, was a secondary concern. However, the economic and relational price to pay for asylum seekers has been remarkably higher than the health-related one. On the external side, their presence in the public urban space was initially discouraged or outright stigmatized, feeding into a deep-rooted sense of suspicion towards people perceived as out-of-place. More fundamental though, to the eyes of residents themselves, are the long- term consequences of the pandemic. These involve less contrasting attitudes or values around vaccination, as in the mainstream public debate, than the further erosion and precarization of job opportunities, hence of their long-term chances of local integration. Overall, my study invites acknowledging not only the inherent ambivalence of the stayhome rhetoric, but also the fundamental aftermath of the pandemic. In that respect, the lived costs (and perceptions) of covid among displaced migrants do not necessarily overlap with those of the majority society, while being equally or more severe.