HomeDeath and Migration: Perspectives from the Post-Soviet Space

HomeDeath and Migration: Perspectives from the Post-Soviet Space

Death and Migration: Perspectives from the Post-Soviet Space

Mourir au loin : perspectives de l’espace post-soviétique

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Published on Wednesday, January 20, 2021


This dossier of Revue européenne des migrations internationales proposes to take up a research theme that has undergone a strong renewal of interest in recent years, that of death and migration. This dossier aims to shed light on an area which has been little studied from this angle (the post-Soviet space) and to develop an approach which focuses on the management of bodies 'dead in the distance' (deaths in migration, deaths due to migration). This dossier also focuses on the effects of a certain proximity to death on the practices of foresight and mutual aid (when they exist) in the migratory context, as well as their impacts on migration as a whole. Two thematic axes will guide the contributions: the first concerns the practical modalities of the management of dead bodies abroad; the second concerns mitigating and solidarity practices in relation to the proximity of death in migration.



This dossier proposes to take up a research theme that has undergone a strong renewal of interest in recent years, that of "death and migration”. This dossier aims to shed light on an area which has been little studied from this angle (the post-Soviet space) and to develop an approach which focuses on the management of bodies “dead in the distance” (deaths in migration, deaths due to migration). This dossier also focuses on the effects of a certain proximity to death on the practices of foresight and mutual aid (when they exist) in the migratory context, as well as their impacts on migration as a whole. In view of the current proliferation of research on these themes, and despite Verdery’s pioneering work on the political stakes of the circulation of the dead in the post-socialist space (Verdery, 1999), it is remarkable that one of the most important migratory spaces on a global scale is so poorly represented ― this proposal aims to compensate somewhat for this lack.

Migration within the Post-Soviet Space

Since 1991, the Russian Federation has seen the highest inflow of migrants of any post-Soviet States – and one of the highest in the world. The overwhelming majority of migrants are coming from post-Soviet republics. A variety of migration phenomenon from this region, from the “first” internal economic migrations within the USSR to the current circulations, have been relatively well studied (Thorez, 2007; Laruelle, 2010; Abashin, 2014; Reeves, 2017; Hohmann and Kurbonova, 2018; Abashin, 2019; Demintseva, 2020). However, the experiences of the deaths of relatives, colleagues, neighbours, compatriots and acquaintances among these immigrant populations has been little explored.

There is no territorial, demographic, economic, religious or political homogeneity in the post-Soviet space. However, it can be thought of on the basis of a common historical experience, that of the Soviet Union (Hann, 2002; Fourniau, 2019) and its particularly notable effects on contemporary experiences of migratory movements (whether it be political engineering in terms of migration, a certain relationship with foreign countries, the ability to circulate, or plurilingualism and familiarity with the Russian language, etc.). In fact, since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, migration dynamics in the region have largely contributed to the maintenance of Russia’s centrality as a provider of resources to “brother” countries. Russia has rapidly become one of the world’s leading countries in the number of migrant arrivals – initially Russian-speaking ‘compatriots’ who settle or resettle in Russia. These flows have then become composed mainly of citizens of former Soviet republics (Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus and Central Asia), territories often referred to in Russian as “near abroad” (blizhe zarubjezhe) (Laruelle, 2010). Thus, among the more than 12 million entries onto Russian soil declared to be for professional reasons in 2014, more than 77% come from former Soviet republics (Hohmann, 2019). And although more migration destinations have recently diversified (to Turkey, South Korea, Gulf countries, the United States or Western Europe), Russia remains a central figure, not only in the geopolitics of migratory flows but also in the experiences of individuals and transnational know-how.

The purpose of this dossier is to shed light on the current state of these movements and experiences from a specific approach: that of the movement of people who died far from home, within this space, as well as the conditions under which their circulation is made possible after death. Analysis of the reciprocal and mutual effects of death and migration (what one does to the other and vice versa) has particularly progressed over the past decade, as evidenced by the comprehensive literature review recently carried out by Lestage (2019). Work of the previous decade emphasised the forms of organisation of migrant groups or “communities”, around the repatriation or burial of the dead (among others, Chaïb, 2000; Gardner and Grillo, 2002; Gardner, 2002; Petit, 2005; Berthod, 2006; Aggoun, 2006). The most recent decade, however, has shown a diversification of approaches. Among them, we can cite impact of border violence and the effects of securing borders on the risk of death in migration, the ethical and political issues linked to the identification and territorialisation of sometimes (often) unclaimed foreign bodies, and the forms of political contestation linked to care and dignity of the dead – one’s own or those of others (Heller and Pezzani, 2014; Steputtat, 2014; Kobelinsky, 2017; Kobelinsky and Le Courant, 2017; Ural, 2016; Stierl, 2016; Anteby-Yemini, 2018; Berthod, 2018; Cuttita and Last, 2020). The dossier of the REMI coordinated by Lestage on death in migration in 2012 already heralded this diversity (Alaoui, 2012; Moreras and Tarrés, 2012; Saraiva and Mapril, 2012; Lestage, 2012), which has only become even more pronounced since then.

This dossier thus proposes to capture a particular moment – that of death happening abroad – within a particular space – the post-Soviet space – in order to understand not only how migratory flows are perpetuated and anchored in the territories of arrival, but also how the management of the deceased can contribute to perpetuating and shaping transnational groups over time, on both sides of the borders they cross.

A twofold approach is at the heart of this publication project: on the one hand, a questioning of the financial, logistical and ethical logic – still poorly known within this very large space – which governs the collective management of the dead and their burial on the spot or repatriation. On the other hand, a questioning of the effects of death (its daily proximity, its representations, its effects on the feeling of danger, on migratory projects, etc.) on practices of preventive practices and adaptation to risk, both in relation to the administrative and financial situations of immigrants and the socio-political and media contexts surrounding migration. In particular, we propose to explore the practices of creating communal resources as linked to the will to care for the dead, whether it be through associative or mutual organisations, political mobilisation, or via networks linked to the workplace.

To develop these two points, we propose two thematic axes: (1) Caring for the dead in migration: identification, circulation, return of bodies (2) Perception of the risk of death in migration: strategy, foresight, political activism

Axis 1 – Caring for the Dead in Migration: Identification, Circulation, Return of Bodies

Despite its recurrence in the media, “early” or violent deaths of migrants and the level of care given to deceased migrants have been relatively unexplored in the post-Soviet area. The focus here will be on individual, family and collective practices of managing death far from home or in transit, and the processes of identification and transfer of the deceased’s body. Exploration of the “chains of intervention” and the participation of different actors in these networks – family, village, religious, associative, as well as undertakers or funeral transport companies – will make it possible to involve different scales of constraints and actions in the analysis (border policy, administration of death, welfare system, families’ economic resources, etc.). Starting from networks of relationships woven by death, the practical adaptations of death ritual to the context of life in transit (or in forced immobility, such as during the closure of borders linked to the COVID-19 epidemic), the possible multiplicity of networks (ethnic, religious, territorial) and the constitution of new spaces of mourning and places of memory (Ansari, 2007; Rachédi et al., 2016) are also explored.

Paradoxically, the migratory context can lead to caring for the dead of others: the state, by distinguishing ‘its’ dead from the dead of foreigners (Lestage, 2019), sometimes encourages the organisation of self-help groups that go beyond these citizen/foreigner categories, with the aim of responding to a certain ‘ethic’ of mourning and death. Thus, it happens that people no longer only bury “their” dead, but also those of others. However, this requires an investment in time, energy and funding that is not insignificant: these practices of caring for the dead in the context of mobility raise  questions about the collective way of doing things (Stierl, 2016) and encourage us to question the meaning of “community” (Leservoisier, 2019) – and in particular the link of identification with the dead. In this context, how are ethnic, religious and civic affiliations negotiated? The post-Soviet space appears all the more relevant for shedding light on these questions as the conception of nationality inherited from the Soviet Union and current nationalist tensions fuel the stage for ethnonymic groups – the “Azeris”, the “Tajiks”, the “Uzbeks”, etc. – to primarily identify along these lines with  the purported cultural and religious characteristics. The diversity of practices surrounding the management of dead abroad lend themselves to formation of nuanced and complicated affiliations and networks in the context of death in migration. 

Axis 2 – Perception of the Risk of Death: Strategies, Foresight, Political Activism

This second axis is undoubtedly the least explored so far. In Russia, racism (Zakharov, 2015; Agadjanian et al., 2017; Abashin, 2020) and “migrantophobia” (Hohmann, 2019) is fuelled daily by a press and geopolitics that are globally hostile to migrants. The significant role of social networks in the circulation of “shock” information (whether perceived as “pro” or “anti” migrants) and rumours contribute to a strong public perception connecting migrants and death. The question here is how representations of death associated with migrants or the migratory project can influence representations of risk and social practices in relation to migration.

While a certain amount of research in other regions has brought the existence of solidarity “funds” to light (Petit, 2005), few studies have been carried out to grasp the terms and conditions of participation in self-help networks – or the reasons for not taking part in them. Because, for reasons that can be diverse and that should be explored ― instability of the migratory stay, lack of financial means, isolation, fear of the visibility that this may entail, refusal to submit to community control or integration into the society of arrival that does not require recourse to it, among others ― not all immigrant persons wish or have the means to participate in collective strategies for dealing with the deceased in a community capacity. This second axis proposes to explore individual and collective perceptions related to death, in the context of specific administrative and professional situations, family imperatives, health situations or projections into the future, etc. Proximity to (the risk of) death during migration have contributed to the development of preventive strategies of varying degrees of informality, which will be analysed.

The effects of the proximity of death on mitigation strategies can also be approached from the point of view of families remaining in the country of origin. For a long time now, a number of studies on migration have looked at migration from the point of view of those who remain (the “left behind”). Many have highlighted the discrepancies between the expectations and life goals of migrants on one hand, and their families on the other. These studies explore the interdependent, and possibly burdensome expectations of income that can arise, the role of ICTs in the constitution of transnational families, etc. (Archambault, 2010; Laruelle, 2010; Hoang and Yeoh, 2011; Reeves, 2011; Ikuomola, 2015; Hannaford, 2017; Urinboyev, 2017).

However, here again, few have studied the effects of death on families and on the societies of departure. Yet the arrival of coffins at airports, railway or bus stations can raise a wide array of questions among witnesses, ranging from the circumstances of death (did he/she die with dignity?), to the value of a life lost early and abroad (Butler, 2009; Fassin, 2018), to the possibility of continuing the migratory engagement through another family member, where possible. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, migration income is a major part of household resources. How do families cope with the tragic event of the early death of a family member, which at the same time results in a potentially significant loss of income? What can be said or done when, on the contrary, death brings back to the family a “disappeared” relative, one of these people having chosen to break the family bond and its consequences? What ethical or even political considerations can these experiences lead to? These are all questions that seek to shed light on the links between experiences of death, reflexivity and adaptation strategies in migration.


  • Start of call: January 1st, 2021
  • Deadline to send abstracts (answer in the following weeks): March 1st, 2021

  • Deadline to send articles for peer-review: December 1st, 2021
  • Deadline to send articles in their final version: June 1st, 2021
  • Publication: December 2022

Submission Modalities

Proposals for articles should be written in French or English, and should include the author’s affiliation, a title and a 300-word abstract.

They can come from different disciplines of the social sciences, and should be sent to juliette.cleuziou@univ-lyon2.fr

before March 1st, 2021.

Texts need to conform to house style (https://journals.openedition.org/remi/5848)

Selection Committee/Coordination

  • Juliette Cleuziou (assistant professor at the anthropology department of the University Lumière-Lyon 2. She has been working in Tajikistan since 2011, where she is conducting research on ritual economy, kinship and gender, particularly in the context of marriages. She has also been working in Russia since 2008, and is interested in the effects of migratory flows from Tajikistan on societies of origin and on the formation of Tajik communities in Russia. She is currently coordinating a research project on the ritual, economic and political dimensions of the management of dead bodies among Tajiks in Russia)
  • Françoise Lestage (anthropologist, professor, URMIS, University of Paris/CNRS/IRD – casier 7027 – 75205 Paris cedex 13; francoise.lestage@u-paris.fr)
  • Julien Thorez (geographer, research Fellow, CERMI-CNRS-Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-EPHE-INALCO – 27, rue Paul Bert – 94204 Ivry-sur-Seine; julien.thorez@cnrs.fr)




Abashin Sergey N. (2020) Существует ли в России расизм?, [online]. Last checked on 16/09/2020. URL: http://liberal.ru/migration/7604

Abashin Sergey N. (2019) Returning Home and Circular Mobility: How Crises Change the Anthropological View of Migration, Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia, 58 (3), pp. 155‑168.

Abashin Sergey N. (2014) Migration from Central Asia to Russia in the New Model of World Order, Russian Politics & Law, 52 (6), pp. 8‑23.

Agadjanian Victor, Menjívar Cecilia and Zotova Natalya (2017) Legality, Racialization, and Immigrants’ Experience of Ethnoracial Harassment in Russia, Social Problems, 64 (4), pp. 558‑576.

Aggoun Attmane (2006) Les musulmans face à la mort en France, Paris, Vuibert.

Alaoui Soraya El (2012) L’espace funéraire de Bobigny : du cimetière aux carrés musulmans (1934-2006), Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 28 (3), pp. 27‑49.

Ansari Humayum (2007) ‘Burying the dead’: making Muslim space in Britain, Historical research, 80 (120), pp. 545-566.

Anteby-Yemini Lisa (2018) Mourir en migration: Le cas des demandeurs d’asile subsahariens en Israël, Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 144, pp. 131‑154.

Archambault Caroline S. (2010) Women Left Behind? Migration, Spousal Separation, and the Autonomy of Rural Women in Ugweno, Tanzania, Signs, 35 (4), pp. 919‑942.

Berthod Marc-Antoine (2018) La circulation des morts, l’ancrage des corps et le deuil sans frontières, Diversité urbaine, 18, pp. 87‑104.

Berthod Marc A. (2006) Expérience Migratoire et Identité Dans La Mort Transnationale: Les Défunts Portoricains Rapatriés de New York, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 31 (61), pp. 145‑168.

Butler Judith (2009) Frames of war: when is life grievable?, London; New York, Verso.

Chaïb Yassine (2000) L’émigré et la mort: la mort musulmane en France, Aix en Provence, Edisud.

Cuttitta Paolo and Last Tamara (2020) Border Deaths: Causes, Dynamics and Consequences of Migration-related Mortality, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press.

Demintseva Ekaterina (2020) Migrants in a Post-Soviet City. Introduction, Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research, 12 (1), pp. 5‑9.

Fassin Didier (2018) La vie: mode d’emploi critique, Paris, Le Seuil.

Fourniau Vincent (2019) Transformations soviétiques et mémoires en Asie centrale. De l'"indigénisation" à l'indépendance, Paris, Les Indes Savantes.

Gardner Katy (2002) Death of a migrant: transnational death rituals and gender among British Sylhetis, Global Networks, 2 (3), pp. 191‑204.

Gardner Katy and Grillo Ralph (2002) Transnational households and ritual: an overview, Global Networks, 2 (3), pp. 179‑190.

Hann C. M. (2002) Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia, London, Routledge.

Hannaford Dinah (2017) Marriage Without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Heller Charles and Pezzani Lorenzo (2014) Traces liquides : enquête sur la mort de migrants dans la zone-frontière maritime de l’Union européenne, [Mylène Trouvé et Matthieu Renault trad.], Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 30 (3&4), pp. 71‑107.

Hoang Lan Anh and Yeoh Brenda S. A. (2011) Breadwinning Wives and “Left-Behind” Husbands: Men and Masculinities in the Vietnamese Transnational Family, Gender & Society, 25 (6), pp. 717‑739.

Hohmann Sophie (2019) Migrations post-soviétiques en Russie et affirmation de la Nation, Herodote, 174 (3), pp. 141‑157.

Hohmann Sophie and Kurbonova Rukhshona (Eds.) (2018) Santé et migration en Asie centrale, Cahiers d’Asie centrale, 27.

Ikuomola Adediran Daniel (2015) An exploration of life experiences of left behind wives in Edo State, Nigeria, Journal of comparative research in anthropology and sociology, 6 (1).

Kobelinsky Carolina (2017) ‪Exister au risque de disparaître. Récits sur la mort pendant la traversée vers l’Europe, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 33 (2), pp. 115‑131.

Kobelinsky Carolina and Le Courant Stefan (2017) La mort aux frontières de l’Europe. Retrouver, identifier, commémorer, Paris, Le Passager Clandestin.

Laruelle Marlène (2010) Dynamiques migratoires et changements sociétaux en Asie Centrale, Paris, Petra.

Leservoisier Olivier (2019) L’association Pulaar Speaking à la croisée des chemins. Dynamiques migratoires et débats autour du sens à donner à l’action communautaire au sein du collectif migrant haalpulaaren (Mauritanie, Sénégal) aux États-Unis, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 35 (1&2), pp. 125‑147.

Lestage Françoise (2019) Comment les cadavres des migrants sont devenus des objets sociologiques. Notes sur quelques travaux en sciences humaines et sociales (2012-2018), Critique internationale, 83 (2), pp. 193‑203.

Lestage Françoise (2012) Entre Mexique et États-Unis : la chaîne entrepreneuriale de la mort des migrants, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 28 (3), pp. 71‑88.

Moreras Jordi and Tarrés Sol (2012) Les cimetières musulmans en Espagne : des lieux de l’altérité, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 28 (3), pp. 13‑26.

Petit Agathe (2005) Des funérailles de l’entre-deux Rituels funéraires des migrants Manjak en France, Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 131‑132, pp. 87‑99.

Rachédi Lilyane, Montgomery Catherine and Halsouet Béatrice (2016) Mort et deuil en contexte migratoire : spécificités, réseaux et entraide, Enfances Familles Générations. Revue interdisciplinaire sur la famille contemporaine, 24.

Rahmonova-Schwarz Delia (2012) Family and transnational mobility in Post-Soviet Central Asia: labor migration from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Russia, Baden-Baden, Nomos.

Reeves Madeleine (2017) A Family Affair, in Sophie Roche Ed., The Family in Central Asia. New perspectives, Berlin, Klaus Schwarz Verlag, pp. 273‑288.

Reeves Madeleine (2011) Staying put? Towards a relational politics of mobility at a time of migration, Central Asian Survey, 30 (3‑4), pp. 555‑576.

Saraiva Clara and Mapril José (2012) Le lieu de la « bonne mort » pour les migrants guinéens et bangladais au Portugal, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 28 (3), pp. 51‑70.

Steputtat Finn (2014) Governing the dead: sovereignty and the politics of dead bodies, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Stierl Maurice (2016) Contestations in death. The role of grief in migration struggles, Citizenship Studies, 20 (2), pp. 173‑191.

Thorez Julien (2007) Itinéraires du déracinement. L’essor des migrations de travail entre l’Asie centrale et la Russie, Espace populations sociétés. Space populations societies, 1, pp. 59‑71.

Ural Nur Yasemin (2016) Mourir en diaspora : les pratiques funéraires des « minorités » musulmanes originaires de Turquie en Allemagne et en France, Paris, EHESS.

Urinboyev Rustam (2017) Establishing an “Uzbek Mahalla” via Smartphones and Social Media: Everyday Transnational Lives of Uzbek Labour Migrants in Russia, Constructing the Uzbek State: Narratives of Post-Soviet Years.

Verdery Katherine (1999) The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change, New-York, Columbia University Press.

Zakharov Nikolay (2015) Race and racism in Russia, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.


  • Monday, March 01, 2021


  • mort, migration, espace post-soviétique, rituel transnational, risque, prévoyance, solidarité, death, migration, post-Soviet space, transnational rituals, risk, foresight, solidarity


  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Death and Migration: Perspectives from the Post-Soviet Space », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/15tb

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