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Introduction to the Oxford Migration Conference 2021: Borders and Justice


 ‘A no borders politics, then, is a politics of refusal, politics of revolution, and a politics of repair’.

Harsha Walia 




First of all, we would like to say how grateful we are for the more than 200 fantastic submissions we received. While it was incredibly difficult to choose and we did not make decisions lightly, it was also inspiring to read so many fascinating papers and to witness so many working on this topic theoretically and practically, and often both. Many of our panellists are both researchers and activists, and have worked on migration justice for years. We are especially grateful to have people join us who have experienced forced migration themselves.


After weeks of intense preparations, the conference is finally here and we are looking forward to a packed week of presentations, discussions and much to think about. We hope you will enjoy the work being presented as much as we do. And while we hope the conference will be back in person next year, we are also grateful that people from all over the world are joining us, with time zones ranging from BST -8 to +11.


We are aware that our conference can only ever provide a modest glimpse into the depth of our presenters’ work and fields. Though not easy, we did our best to strike a balance between maximising contextual breadth while giving each presenter adequate space to share their perspectives. While the conference is a temporary space, we hope to connect people beyond the week and maybe inspire future work and projects. That said, we hope the Conference Special Issue, as published by Routed and featuring submissions from our panellists, will provide for more longevity. The Conference recordings will also be available on the Border Criminologies Youtube account shortly after. 


Please do not hesitate to reach out to the panellists or to us, even after the conference week, at!


If you can, please consider donating. You can purchase donation tickets on Eventbrite. All donations will be divided equally among five organisations, all of which contribute to the conference week: Otros Dreams en Acción, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Oxford against Immigration Detention, Statewatch, and ArtConnects.




This year’s conference stands under the theme ‘Borders and Justice’ – and we will explore its vast interpretations during nine panels, a keynote and a short film screening. 


From our very first discussions, inspired by abolitionist perspectives, we wanted to create a conference that would also be forward-looking, bringing together researchers and activists. 


Therefore, we are thrilled to have Harsha Walia join us for the keynote speech on Monday – we believe that her work in activism, organising and writing embodies the conference and has inspired many of us. In her newest book, Border and Rule, she advances an argument for no borders. She articulates that borders and justice are intrinsically counterposed and her work centres the border as a tool of the carceral state. A politics of no borders reaches beyond statist epistemologies. 


Initially, we envisioned the structure of the conference week moving from the more abstract theoretical debates to the more concrete and the work that is being done on the ground, and culminating in an effort to reflect and reimagine our worldmaking.

While working on the conference, we realised the format we envisaged created false dichotomies – the ‘abstract’ and the ‘concrete’ are not actually mutually exclusive, just as notions of ‘histories’ inevitably speak to the present. Moreover, movement building and theorising are not necessarily isolated acts. We also did not want to save all the reimagining for the end but rather highlight the resistance visions woven throughout. 

We begin with the Border Histories panel which will provide the foundation of debates to tackle the continuities between colonial practices and today’s border management. The panels that follow cover the many components of border enforcement and bordering, including the most recent challenges for people on the move related to COVID-19. While as we mentioned, resistance is present throughout, our final panel is posed to demonstrate various facets of current resistance, covering legal responses, local activism, as well as philosophical reimagining.



The OMSS Committee is made of volunteers from the MSc Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, MSc Migration Studies, MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance, and DPhil in Politics and International Relations. The Society takes advantage of the world-class migration research taking place at Oxford to connect graduate students, faculty, and practitioners. Central to these efforts is the Annual Conference, which took place first in 2013. The Conference reflects the interdisciplinary and diverse academic interests of the degree members. As a Society, we are uniquely positioned to experiment with our Conference, which takes place online for the second time this year. The submissions here do not represent OMSS or Oxford University. You can learn more about us here.




We would like to thank the many people who helped to make this virtual conference possible, both during the conference week and in the many months of preparation: First of all, we would like to thank all those who submitted for the conference and the chairs who kindly agreed to moderate the panels and weave the different strands together.

Thank you to Routed Magazine for again allowing us to publish a special issue on the conference and to the editors for making it possible despite tight deadlines, to Border Criminologies and the Oxford Migration and Mobility Network for co-hosting this year’s conference, to the Refugee Studies Centre and COMPAS, and to the Oxford Department of International Development for providing the most important tool for an online conference – a Zoom account.


And thank you for engaging with the magazine and panels. We look forward to meeting you virtually throughout the conference week!



Isabella Little and Sarah Zellner 

OMSS co-presidents 

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