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Global Migration Centre

Debt and Migration: From Sri Lanka to Paris - Modalities of Financial Assistance in Situations of Uncertainty

This research focused on the modalities of mutual economic aid of Sri Lankans in Paris and combined a study of migration through the lenses of debts. Space of intense circulation and exchanges, node of migratory flows, the area of La Chapelle was scrutinized as a portion of a diasporic space. This focus also encompassed transnational links connected to this part of Paris. Inspired by the classical works of Mauss and Polanyi on gift and diversity of modes of socio-economic integration, we followed not only the movement of people, goods, and information, but also that of debts and conflicts. Every point of view in this body of work - four ethnographic chapters - took us back to Sri Lanka, La Chapelle and then to the heart of different types of revolving credit and cash transfers, respectively. Debt relations are omnipresent and generate obligations and dependency, without which the migrants would yet not be able to circulate. Accounts of migration itineraries enabled further thought on the relationship between migration, debt, credit and reciprocity. By revealing the effective web of social relations activated by migrants in specific situations, we underlined the prevalence of interpersonal relationships, further concretized through hierarchical relations involving links of protection, subordination and solidarity. We thus observed how opportunistic and dependent logics got entangled: mutual aid and competition; reciprocity and debt; cooperation and subordination are never too afar apart.

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P. Gazagne, Dettes et migrations: du Sri Lanka à Paris: modalités d'entraide financière en contextes incertains, Thèse de Doctorat, Genève: Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement, 2011.