Humanitarianism as Politics: Civil Support Initiatives for Migrants in Milan’s Hub

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Humanitarianism as Politics: Civil Support Initiatives for Migrants in Milan’s Hub


  • Giulia Sinatti Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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Abstract:  Humanitarianism is increasingly used to address migration in Europe, from search and rescue operations at sea to reception on land. Scholars often interpret humanitarianism as a means for states to depoliticize migration and prioritize securitization. In this article, I analyze perspectives on humanitarianism among civil society volunteers and workers who, alongside institutions, deliver humanitarian support to migrants. Civil initiatives in this field by independent volunteers, non-governmental organizations and charities have surged, thus shifting tasks traditionally under the responsibility of the state to non-state actors. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in and around the premises of the Hub (a center providing humanitarian assistance to migrants transiting in the Italian city of Milan), I show that engaging in such civil support initiatives raises the levels of political awareness and activism among ordinary citizens. Through insight into the daily actions, motivations and aims of the men and women operating at the Hub, I show that their involvement in humanitarian assistance marks the beginning of a personal journey in which they gradually conceive what they do as far from being in support of depoliticizing state securitization policies and rather as politically loaded.

Keywords:  civil society; depoliticization; humanitarianism; migration; repoliticization

Published:   27 June 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v7i2.1968


© Giulia Sinatti. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.