Social connections and trust among destitute, undocumented African migrants in Barcelona, Spain.
Bermúdez, K. (2014) Social connections and trust among destitute, undocumented African migrants in Barcelona, Spain., no. 287.
This PhD research is based on a 5 month-long participant observation with a total of 18 undocumented migrants of African origin that were residing at an emergency accommodation in Barcelona, Spain between February and July 2010. Study participants had arrived at this flat, managed by a migrant support association, after their available social networks, on which they depended for shared accommodation arrangements, disbanded under negative pressure caused by the 2008 global economic crisis. They were consequently left without the possibility of relying on familiar support to cope with the effects of the economic recession. In this adverse economic context, it was, therefore, essentially important for them to rebuild their relational support systems, to facilitate their exit from destitution. They could not depend on public supports beyond room and board offered at the emergency accommodation because of their undocumented status. However, in this new life setting, study participants faced the challenge of having to consider relationship opportunities with individuals at the flat or in the community who were previously socially distant, as they did not belong to their tight-knit social networks. The fact that study participants showed marked differences in social connectivity while facing this challenge, stimulated research interest in understanding the reasons behind these differences. The social-ecological paradigm of community psychology was selected as an appropriate theoretical framework to approach this topic, as it draws attention to the multilevel factors that could influence study participants' attitudes towards social connection across ethnic boundaries. Application of participant observation methodology as the core data collection strategy allowed use of complementary methods of data collection as were deemed useful to answer the research questions, like informal conversations with different study participants, a weekly support group with all residents, weekend outings with all who wished to participate and, finally, Focus Group Interviews on the topic of interpersonal trust. The research found that undocumented migrants hold high expectations on trust in their social relationships in response to perceived risk in the transnational context, where they face continuous threats of arrest, detention, and deportation. For this reason, they concentrate their social relationships on available undocumented migrant social networks, which, because members usually belong to the same country of origin, allow them to activate culturally-bound social mechanisms that ensure satisfaction of their high trust expectations. When these networks are no longer available, some undocumented migrants may experience difficulties to adjust their trust expectations as necessary to form relationships with non-network members. However, some display a fundamental willingness to cooperate with others over and above usual trust considerations, which appears to constitute a key personal asset to maintain social connection in crisis situations. This research concludes by outlining the implications of this finding for psychosocial support practice with undocumented migrants and members of other socially vulnerable groups, like refugees and asylum seekers, who could benefit from heightened cooperation to enhance social connectivity in critical situations.