Disaster (Im)Mobility: Migrant Caregivers' Experiences of the Fort Mcmurray Wildfire

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Emma JACKSON, University of Alberta, Canada
On May 3rd, 2016, a wildfire swept through the remote community of Fort McMurray, leading
to the largest prolonged evacuation in Canadian history. As the main service centre for the
Canadian tar sands, the fire devastated what has become a notable outpost of transnational
labour. Over the past 30 years, thousands of workers from around the world have migrated to
the region, including hundreds of oft-overlooked domestic workers whose social reproductive
labour braces this extractive economy. Migrant caregivers, in particular, are precariously tied to
this ‘land of opportunity’— bound by short-term employment contracts tied to single
employers. Thus, in following the assertion that disaster reveals hidden power relations, I turn
to the experiences of live-in caregivers to investigate how vulnerability is produced by
(racialized and gendered) regimes governing migrant labour. Holding secondary citizenship
status with the conditional promise of attaining permanent residency, I argue that caregivers’
experiences of the wildfire were profoundly shaped by both their physical and labour
(im)mobility. Furthermore, in turning to caregivers’ transnational survival strategies, I argue
that disaster scholarship must look beyond nation-state borders to better understand how
experiences of disaster are increasingly entangled with, and shaped by new patterns of
immigration policies, gendered labour, and border regimes.