Welcome Management: Making Sense of the “Summer of Migration”

In the summer of 2015, the events in and around Europe made international headlines. The keyword was “crisis,” and its sites were multiple – the streets of Athens and the backrooms of Brussels, the shores of the “periphery” and the train stations in the east and center of the continent. As the developments were reported in dramatic fashion, two issues took center stage: first, the final showdown between the Greek government and its European creditors; second, the arrival of refugees fleeing to Europe from countries ruptured by international and civil conflicts, such as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.

These apparently distinct developments were punctuated by an ostensible shift in Germany’s political orientation and self-conception: from the leading disciplinarian of Greece’s debt payments and fiscal policy (with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s advocacy for either harsh austerity or “Grexit”) to the leading humanitarian in EU immigration policy (with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “welcome” speech on the imperative to take in Syrian refugees). Retrospectively, the developments have been variously called the “summer of austerity” and the “summer of migration.”

The short-term chronology and fragmentation of this narrative is problematic, however, for it covers over the longer and intersecting histories that made the crises possible. To grasp the recent politics of austerity and immigration, then, we must account for the historical crystallization of institutional and discursive strategies that have come to govern the formation of European politics at the local, national and transnational levels.

For this we turned to Sonja Buckel, a social and political theorist whose research has critically examined European migration law and border control practices. Both her recent book and her collective research project, co-led with John Kannankulam and Jens Wissel at the Institut für Sozialforschung, explore various contexts and processes of European “transnationalization”: namely, the shift from national migration policies to the construction of a shared “European migration politics,” itself premised on the maintenance and financing of a post-colonial border regime in North Africa, the Middle East and, today, in Turkey and Ukraine. This collective research project also interrogates the internal connection between neoliberal austerity politics and EU immigration politics by focusing on Germany, Spain and the U.K., as well as on regulations and practices of border control such as Blue Card, Frontex, and Dublin II.

Thinking through the present and recalling the recent past, we met with Sonja Buckel in order to make sense of the “summer of migration” and to understand its significance for social and political movements working to forge a different Europe.

WC: Before we turn to the key discursive and institutional strategies that have shaped European immigration and border control policies, let’s begin with some intersections with the politics of austerity. From the perspective of your recent research, how have austerity and migration control come together to set the stage for the double drama of the summer – the showdown between the Troika and Greece’s newly elected leftist government and, soon thereafter, “the summer of migration” that took over the political stage?

SB: In Staatsprojekt Europa, we looked at four different “hegemonic projects” – neoliberal, conservative, left-liberal, and welfare-statist – that have shaped the EU border regime and immigration policies. We understood these projects not primarily as constellations of actors, but as political strategies expressing dominant social forces. With regard to European integration, the neoliberal project, whose promoters include financial institutions and transnational corporations, has clearly been the dominant one. Part of this strategy requires the public authorities of EU institutions and of the member-states to give precedence to the stability of prices over the pursuit of full employment; it entails the attempt to boost growth through austerity measures and supply-side incentives, such as privatization, lower and less progressive taxes, and deregulations of the labor and capital markets.

If we want to understand the current consensus among European elites on austerity programs, as well as the privileged role of Germany in the shaping of these programs, we need to go back to the late 1970s. This is the time when the neoliberal project started being hard-wired into European institutions. The German phobia of inflation has dominated European monetary policy ever since that time, despite France’s attempts to introduce a measure of Keynesianism – with regard to public spending – into the mix.

In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty sealed the hegemony of the German perspective: first, by imposing budgetary “stability” – to wit, a “debt criterion” and a “deficit criterion” – on every member state; and second, by modeling the future euro on the Deutsche Mark. Yet, in spite of having their views inscribed in the Treaty, German authorities never ceased to worry that other European governments did not treat the common rules seriously enough. Thus, in the following years, they endeavored to entrench this preoccupation with fiscal and monetary discipline even more deeply within the fundaments of the EU – namely, in the Amsterdam Treaty and the “Stability and Growth Pact” of 1998. Though the addition of a “growth” element seemed like a concession to France, in truth, it was little more than lip service. The French authorities wanted a European economic government with some powers of social investment and redistribution, but they never got it. What they got instead—as compensation for the German-styled euro and monetary policy to which they consented—was the Eurogroup. The Eurogroup comprises the regular, but informal and unaccountable, gatherings of the finance ministers of the Eurozone. Though France had imagined and hoped for something very different, the Eurogroup’s main purpose became ensuring that the criteria of “stability” are properly respected and enforced.

Later on, with the Lisbon Treaty and the Fiscal Pact, the disciplinarian prerogatives of the Eurogroup and the European Commission were formalized. These entities are now officially empowered to review the budgets of member states and to mandate “healthy” structural reforms – namely, spending cuts in the public sector and an ever-more flexible labor market.

Finally, with the onset of the sovereign debt crisis, the so-called Troika was created – essentially as a creditors’ consortium comprised of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – to take special care, or more precisely to dictate the social and economic policies, of debt-ridden member states. Together with the Troika, the Eurogroup used norms of “economic governance” and its highly informal status during the embattled negotiations with Syriza, the newly elected leftist government of Greece, its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and its then Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. To recall but one example of this informality: Yanis Varoufakis was thrown out of one of their meetings. Varoufakis said: “You can’t throw me out, that’s not how it works here. This entity is governed by unanimity, so my voice also needs to count.” The legal council of the EC reviewed the issue and claimed: “It’s an informal council, so we can do what we want.”

In sum, we can say that the austerity regime of the last five years is nothing more than the final stage of implementing a neoliberal project that was initiated four decades earlier. The sovereign debt crisis proved to be a major advance in this regard, insofar as neoliberal actors took advantage of it to consolidate the power of informal and unaccountable agencies. This was clearly demonstrated in the summer of 2015 with the conclusion of the six-month standoff between the Syriza government and the Eurogroup.

WC: So we can take this as the structural background, as the institutional and quasi-institutional framework for a transnational neoliberal strategy. Throughout the negotiations with Greece, we saw that the Troika largely towed the line of Angela Merkel and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. At that time and still today, how can we best explain the widespread support of even the most disciplinary elements of the neoliberal project in the German media, the political establishment and, to a large extent, the German public?

SB: Yes, this consensus in Germany has deep roots. Throughout the heated negotiations between the Syriza government and the German-led Eurogroup, the German media was an unbelievably uniform front, without almost any other positions in sight. It is important to understand here that the hegemony of the neoliberal narrative goes back to the fiscal crisis and the stagflation of the late 1970s. Just take the example of the university system: in economics departments in Germany there are hardly any Keynesians (without even speaking of Marxist or feminist political economists!). In economics classes, the neoclassical orthodoxy is not taught as one position among others, but as the economic science. This is not just national, but is also reflected in EU institutions. Yet, the very notion of debt does not have the same meaning from a neoliberal or a Keynesian perspective. For instance, the Keynesian economist Heiner Flassbeck1 keeps on repeating that, if the rest of Europe is to have a chance, Germany needs to run a debt. Germany needs to “live beyond its means,” as the neoliberals like to say, for at least fifteen years. That his plea for social spending falls on deaf ears in his own country is an understatement.

WC: Let’s move from austerity politics to immigration policies, and specifically to the apparent disjunction between Merkel on Greece vs. Merkel on refugees (in a word: Willkommen!). Can you spell out the disjuncture? How should we understand this shift? 

SB: I will get to Angela Merkel in a moment. But there again, if we want to make sense of her stance, we need to go back in time and look at what made 2015’s “summer of migration” possible. Our collective book shows how the immigration policy dimension of the neoliberal project became hegemonic a little later than the economic policy dimension – namely, in the second half of the 1990s. It was then that the neoliberal project broke through and crystalized into what we call “managing migration.” Now, as a blueprint, the neoliberal project has no real interest in border control: migrants mean cheap and abundant labor that brings down labor costs for business, all of which plays into the logic of competitiveness. However, to prevail, neoliberals had to make concessions and compromises with the proponents of other potentially hegemonic projects – above all, with the conservatives, who see mobility and cultural diversity as threatening, and to a lesser extent with the left-liberals, who object to the overexploitation of the labor force. Hence the ascendance of the discourse and strategy of “managing migration,” whereby migrants are not rejected as such, but are rather selectively taken in – according to a distinction between “good” and “bad” candidates.

WC: …Like in the UK under Tony Blair where the official discourse was: let’s welcome the “good” hard working economic migrants from Ukraine and Poland but not the “bad” or fake asylum seekers who only want to take advantage of our generosity. Or like in France under Nicolas Sarkozy who introduced the distinction between “chosen” immigration (immigration choisie) for “highly qualified”  workers and “burdensome” immigration (immigration subie) for designating the beneficiaries of family reunification law…

SB: Yes, these are cases that fall exactly into the neoliberal strategy with respect to migration. We found the same logic at work in our research on Germany and Spain. German authorities focused especially on the “highly qualified” migrants to make the point that immigration was “useful,” whereas their Spanish counterparts also made informal openings for “low skilled” migrant workers, including undocumented workers, who play a major role in the agricultural sector. So the neoliberals, provided that they conceded to some conservative demands about still needing to repel migrants, succeeded in imposing their approach.

Migrants at makeshift tent camp in France
Migrants take shelter in one of the makeshift camps, or “jungles,” in Calais, France.
(Alessandro Penso)

However, this consensus, which was not reached in Germany until the end of the 1990s, stands in stark contrast with the atmosphere of the preceding period. From the mid-1970s to the immediate aftermath of the asylum law reform in 1993, the conservative strategy was clearly in the hegemonic position. In our book, there is a remarkable article by John Kannankulam about the various positions in the debate leading to the compromise that tightened the conditions under which refugees could seek asylum in Germany. At the time, there were no European immigration policies – every member state was in charge of its policies – and Germany was faced with a major inflow of up to 400,000 asylum seekers, mostly from war-torn former Yugoslavia. Though refugee centers are frequently the target of violent attacks today, there is really a huge difference, in terms of public discourse, between now and twenty-five years ago. Back then, the governing CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party pushed for a position that looks much more like that of the extreme right wing today than that of Angela Merkel’s position. There was a large consensus that Germany is not a country of immigration. Hence the two-thirds majority that was actually forged in the Bundestag and was needed to change the Constitution (Grundgesetz) so as to amend the article on asylum – an admittedly liberal article that reflected the demands on Germany in the immediate postwar period. So, compared to that moment in recent German history, the “managing migration” approach of the neoliberals represents a notable shift in outlook, though it also integrated parts of the conservative project.

WC: Is there something specific to the neoliberal strategy or to the immigration discourse in Germany that would explain the somewhat surprising two phases following Merkel’s welcoming gesture – the initial support of civil society, and then the political and cultural pushback that followed upon it?

SB: There is still another piece to the story. The neoliberal and the conservative projects were not the only contenders vying for hegemony. The left-liberal alternative also played a part, and this strategy pulls from a range of different players: from the older remnants of the 1960s student movement to more recent forms of civil society activism, stemming from the Greens in the Bundestag and the European Parliament to activist groups like No Border. Until the mid-1990s, these forces were pretty much powerless to challenge the conservative hegemony, at least with respect to immigration. For instance, they could not manage to make their voices heard at the time of the debate on asylum reform.

Then things changed. Somewhat paradoxically, the influence of the left–liberal strategy increased as “managing migration” rose to prominence. With the ascendance of the neoliberal discourse on the economic benefits of immigration, a political space opened for supporters of mobility rights and cultural diversity. The left-liberal alternative – and this is where I would place the German Willkommenskultur – became stronger. Institutions like Pro Asyl gained steam in reaction to Germany’s “asylum compromise,” and it has now become a force that is financed by private left-liberal donations. In this context, refugee councils, church asylums, and other groups also came into being and gained prominence for the first time. Previously, such left-liberal pushes could hardly make a dent in the conservative hegemony. But now they have more resources, both of the economic and discursive kind.

This is the context of “managing migration”: a neoliberal open-border politics has been interwoven with a left-liberal humanitarian and human rights strategy, while also needing to make concessions to the conservative project. It is important to see that what is currently happening with the immigration crisis is not a crisis of neoliberalism. Instead, “managing migration” remains effective.

Now, this is why I think Angela Merkel can advocate for her current position. But one can also think that, of course, personal reasons play a role in Merkel’s persistently welcoming stance – even in the face of growing opposition from the ranks of her own party. Surely, her Protestant upbringing and her youth in East Germany could be quite significant for her sense of duty to people who seek refuge in Europe. At the same time, however, these personal sentiments do not seem to contradict her unwavering attachment to austerity programs in Germany and throughout the Eurozone, regardless of the pain they cause to the peoples of Southern Europe. For Merkel, then, the perennial pursuit of balanced budgets (the Schwarze Null, so famous in Germany) is not in contradiction with the Wilkommenskultur for which she stands. But this sometimes makes it terribly hard to fit together the pieces of the puzzle. I watched Merkel’s New Year’s address to the nation, for example, when she reiterated her determination to welcome refugees. For a moment, I was taken in by her message, and I wondered to myself: Have I been brainwashed? Merkel is sympathetic and progressive! But we need to understand that her stance signals no break with, or crisis of, the neoliberal project.

WC: What a strange situation we find ourselves in! Given this simultaneous boon to both neoliberal and leftist strategies, how would you characterize the new situation of the left after the so-called “summer of migration”?

SB: As I mentioned earlier, the left, or the left-liberal project, contains many alliances and ranges from liberal human rights organizations to No Border activists who reject borders altogether. Before and especially after the “summer of migration,” the convergence between the left-liberal and the neoliberal projects has had the effect of reinforcing and advancing both. In turn, the intersection of neoliberal and left-liberal projects also produces a reaction, which is part of the strident resurgence of the conservative project: for example, in Germany, with the right wing AFD party (“Alternative for Germany”) and the Pegida movement (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”). Yet the reason why these conservative surges are so aggressive and violent is precisely because they no longer hold the hegemonic position.

Right now, for the left-liberal project, the dominant discourse is clearly one predicated on human rights but also on empathy and care. In comparison to a few decades before, there has been a massive shift toward progressive, humanistic arguments. In Germany, we are seeing thousands of people who were never politically active but who suddenly decide that it is their mission to help out with refugees. Even though these people might not have identified with it consciously before, these are overlaps with the left-liberal project and they represent a remarkable discursive shift.

WC: …And so, should we understand what’s going on here in Germany primarily along the lines of humanitarianism and the supremacy of human rights discourse? Despite or because of this, are there sectors of society that are being politicized in new ways that may have long lasting effects? In other words, what are the prospects for left-liberal politicization in the near future?

SB: In the last few years, it is true that many of us who are on the left have been somewhat jealous of what has been happening in Spain, with the Indignados and Podemos, or in Greece, with the Syntagma movement and Syriza. Just before these movements erupted, their future success was anything but foreseeable. The old Spanish cadre of activists told us that nothing was happening in Spain. Then, only three weeks later, new activists came and invigorated democratic politics from the bottom up, and a strong movement grew. The fact that activists there could not only join forces but also win elections – or at least hope to win elections – certainly caused joy and envy from leftist onlookers. So, our first reaction here was: “this could never happen in Germany.” But I don’t think this is necessarily true. For what we see in Germany right now, around and prompted by the refugee issue, are people who were not exactly apolitical before, but who did not feel represented by the existing political parties and system. Like the Indignados in Spain, in 2011, who shouted just that to the political class: “you don’t represent us!”

Now, one could say that this is all just a humanitarian or empathetic reaction, and not a real political mobilization. However, I would respond that when forces from civil society decide to take action, something deeply political and important is happening. And so, it is up to left-liberal activists who, sometimes on the verge of depression, have been waiting a long time for something to happen. It is up to the left to draw on the potential of the present moment. This is what happened with the citizens, activists and intellectuals in Spain: “indignation” begot a new political movement when the left joined and worked together with the people who were politically active. This is what needs to happen. What must be avoided, meanwhile, is a deeply entrenched tendency of the left to look at the Wilkommenskultur activists and say: “they are not politicized or leftist enough, they are acting out of the wrong motives, and so on.” While the potential here is great, this tendency always remains a great danger.

WC: These promising developments also undercut some of the internal accusations among the left, namely that “the actors and movements simply aren’t there.” But there are serious problems any potential actor faces, such as the “neoliberalization” of social democracy or the “common sense” of fiscal and economic austerity. In Germany, for example, the CDU-SPD government coalition (above all Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble) love to tout their balanced budget politics, their Schwarze Null. So even if Merkel’s Willkommenspolitik has opened up new paths for left-liberal activists, what do you see as the key obstacles or problems that remain for the left?

SB: That is exactly right, austerity politics has indeed shaped the social reality we live in. Practically, the endless pursuit of balanced budgets has certainly deprived civil society of important resources. Culturally, the phobia of inflation and the cult of fiscal discipline still prevail. To gesture toward the depth of this neoliberal logic, here is a good anecdote: Heiner Flassbeck, whom I mentioned earlier, was once a State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Finance and advised members of the government on reforms to the European Monetary System, among other things. Over time, Flassbeck has had discussions with politicians, such as key party members of Die Linke (“The Left”), and repeatedly urged them to take a very public position and argue that Germany needed to run a deficit for the next fifteen years; this would improve not only the condition of Germany, but all of Europe. But they would always reply: “sorry, but if I say such a thing about debt on television, people will change the channel immediately.” So, yes, the lasting consensus on the economic dimension of the neoliberal project clearly stands in the way. It prevents a full-fledged politicization of social movements created by the crisis of the European border regime. Yet, I don’t give up hope.

WC: Your recent work endeavors to show how the EU border regime operates through practices of “externalization” and “invisibilization.” After the recent deal between the EU with Turkey was signed, you also claimed “Erdoğan is the new Gaddafi.” Could you elaborate on these observations and explain how “managing migration” is working at the moment?

Collage - on top, Gaddafi and Berlusconi ride in a car, on bottom Erdogan and Merkel walk down a hall
[top] Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrive at a ceremony for the Italia–Libya friendship day in Rome, Italy, August 30, 2010. (Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images) [bottom] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey, February 8, 2016 (Turkish Presidency/Yasin Bulbul/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

SB: My thesis is that the EU border regime operates with two rings of externalization.

The first ring runs through southern and eastern member-states and comprises agencies such as Frontex, as well as various national border police forces, and relies on the Dublin agreement on asylum. According to this so-called Dublin III agreement, every asylum seeker must file for asylum in the country where he or she has entered the EU. Effectively, this means that southern and eastern European countries are bound to get the overwhelming majority of demands – while northern and western States, like Germany, are largely spared. And, indeed, there was a major drop in applications between the end of the Bosnian war and the 2011 Arab springs – leading to the dismantlement of refugee accommodations and shelters, infrastructure which is badly missing today.

The second ring of externalization, which I believe to be the decisive one, depends on post-colonial border enforcement in North and West Africa as well as in Ukraine. Its purpose is that people seeking refuge don’t get to Europe in the first place. In the past, Gaddafi’s Libya was a key player in the operations of this second ring. The Libyan regime would take care of locking up migrants – whether coming from sub-Saharan Africa or expelled from Europe – in terrible internment camps partly financed by the EU. In exchange for such service, European countries and institutions increased their foreign aid to Libya. In 2007, Italy went as far as pouring large amounts of cash into Libya, allegedly as reparation payments for colonial injustice. Yet, this was just a pure tit-for-tat deal. Word for word, Gaddafi famously warned: “if you don’t pay, Europe will turn black.” In short, the EU and its member states just paid so-called transit countries to prevent migrants from entering Europe and to keep the bad treatment inflicted on them out of (European) sight. Thanks to this arrangement, EU states could continue to pretend that, while firm with regard to the protection of their external borders, they nonetheless remained respectful of fundamental rights and the rule of law – on their own territory.

Though there were rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that condemned the outsourcing of such dirty work, what really put an end to the EU-Libya deal was the fall of the Gaddafi regime, as well as others in northern Africa, in the wake of the Arab springs. Since then, the second ring of externalization has been in a state of disrepair – enabling larger numbers of asylum seekers to cross the Mediterranean and reach Italy, and more specifically the Italian island of Lampedusa, on ships. Additionally, with the war raging in Syria, many refugees also moved from Syria through Turkey, which is not part of the EU, before crossing the sea to Greece.

WC: How do you see the future of the European border? Is the second ring being reconstituted – and how?

SB: First, let’s go back to the first ring of externalization for a moment. Because it is important to remember that we can only truly speak about “European immigration policies” since the Amsterdam treaty of 1999. Until then, immigration management was under the exclusive care of the member states. But from 2000 on, European institutions started to intervene in everything from the regulation of asylum – with Dublin III – to border control – with the creation of Frontex, the European border agency. The fact that the European regime is still young (barely 15 years old) partly explains why it functions so poorly. Moreover, rules and decisions at the Union’s level must always be negotiated among member states with different priorities, which means that they tend to express the lowest common denominator and thus lack coherence and efficiency.

Consequently, when the number of migrants rises, tensions among member states are quickly exacerbated: Greece and Italy complain because their load is disproportionally heavier, especially under Dublin III; Eastern European countries, which have become a major point of entry, refuse to share the burden; the UK refuses to be included in the European regime; France, in the wake of the November 13th terrorist attack, has become even less welcoming than before; and so on.

In this tense context, Merkel’s strategy is to stick to the “managing migration” approach: on the one hand, she continues to claim that we – we Germans and we Europeans – are under the obligation and have the capacity to accommodate a large number of refugees. But on the other hand, she understands that she has to make concessions to conservative forces, domestically and at the EU level: these concessions involve getting tougher with economic migrants and increasing the number of “safe” countries – that is, countries whose citizens cannot claim that they suffer persecution or are exposed to war. But this also means making new deals with transit countries, such as Turkey, so as to reconstitute the second ring of externalization.

Whether Merkel’s strategy will prove successful largely depends on the outcome of the negotiations with Turkish authorities. And the Turkey issue is a delicate one: for if convincing Ankara’s government to cooperate is essential to keep immigration politically manageable at home, at the same time, the Chancellor cannot seriously claim that Turkey is a “safe” country either for refugees or for its own citizens.

WC: This brings us to the new predicament surrounding “intra-EU transit countries.” Greece is about to become, like Turkey, a designated warden-nation full of detention camps for migrants, manned by Greek guards but financed by the EU. In the fall, Angela Merkel was actually praising Greece – at first – for taking on that new mission. But now some European officials are threatening to expel Greece from the Schengen zone. How should we understand these ostensibly paradoxical developments? How do you think the EU border regime will “manage” these zones at the edges of public visibility?

SB: Several weeks ago, the EU made a deal with Turkey, and on the next day the Turkish authorities prevented three thousand migrants from leaving the country to reach the Greek border. These people were swiftly relocated and then deported, while large numbers of refugees who were waiting for a passage to Greece were pushed back inland. Turkey has used illegal measures to detain both its own citizens and refugees within its territory. Yet, in spite of the stepped up efforts to police the EU external borders, about three thousand asylum seekers continue to arrive on the shores of the Greek islands every day. Securing and closing off the borders are impossible tasks – if only because the Turkish coast is so long. And living conditions continue to get worse in Syria, so people will continue to flee. Because they don’t see a future for themselves in Turkey, a country that already hosts two million refugees and whose internment camps are hardly appealing, they will keep trying to get to Greece. This is where the inner and the outer rings meet today. The border between Greece and Turkey represents the interface between them.

Now, Greece, which was hard hit by the Great Recession and then radically impoverished by five years of harsh, EU-imposed austerity, is hardly in a position to receive large numbers of refugees: yet every day they come by the thousands, if only because crossing from Turkey to Greece is slightly less dangerous than trying to enter Europe by other routes – even if two thousand people have drowned in the Aegean Sea in the past four years.

Although European and member states officials knew full well that Greece was overextended, they had no qualms about telling Greek authorities: “these refugees are your problem, you should take care of it.” And when it became clear that the government of Athens could not cope, its “partners” started to speak of a “Schexit” – of forcing Greece to exit the border-free Schengen zone, just as the country had been previously threatened with a “Grexit,” an exit from the Eurozone. So far it has been nothing more than an empty threat.

However, the new idea is to deprive Greece even further of its sovereignty by way of endowing Frontex with the power and responsibility to police the Greek border. At this point, Germany, Austria and also Poland are backing this new development. Until now, despite the European Commission’s insistence that immigration policies should be transferred to the European level, the representatives of a majority of member states have not been ready to let go of their national sovereignty. Currently, however, the critical situation faced by Greece may be an opportunity for the promoters of an integrated European border police force to overcome the longstanding resistance.

Regardless of whether Frontex is actually empowered to run border policing in Greece, I still believe that the evolution of the relationship between the EU and Turkey is more decisive. To put it bluntly, what is primarily at stake is whether the Turkish President, Recep Erdoğan, will accept to take on the role once assigned to Gaddafi’s Libya – and what he might get in exchange for its assistance. Without Turkey’s cooperation, Europe in general and Angela Merkel in particular will not be able to externalize and to render invisible the sordid underside of their immigration policies.

Now, from what we know, what has been offered to the Turkish President includes 3 billion euros in development aid, Schengen visas for Turkish citizens – a longstanding and legitimate demand, hitherto denied because German authorities were against it – and the resumption of negotiations on Turkey’s eventual EU membership. These would be positive developments – were it not for the fact that they will bolster the standing and legitimacy of the Erdoğan regime, whose human rights and civil liberties record is appalling.

WC: If this whitewashing deal were to be more widely perceived as such in Europe – say, if and when Erdoğan continues these disturbing measures in Turkey – what consequences might follow for the deal or for the European border regime more generally? Additionally, this raises a complicated question for activists and leftist movements: if the deal fails – whether through politicization or internal rupture – who might ultimately end up paying the price?

SB: I haven’t heard much about the ongoing negotiations in a while, I must say. Angela Merkel traveled to Turkey and signed an agreement at the beginning of December. Immediately thereafter Turkey ostensibly closed its borders. However, the border is too big for such a measure to really be efficient. Since then, however, not much news has filtered thought. The terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, as well as the anxiety created by the Cologne events on New Year’s Eve, seem likely to encourage European leaders to overcome their scruples and reinforce their cooperation with Erdoğan’s regime.

Regarding your second question, it’s really difficult to speak to these problems from a highly normative perspective. One good thing that the “summer of migration” brought to us Europeans is the realization that we are not living in some kind of protected island, where everyone can live in wealth and prosperity so long as European territory is surrounded by huge fences. If anything, the inflow of asylum seekers forces us to reckon with the fact that our (economic, ecological, etc.) ways of life have an impact on the conditions under which people elsewhere suffer. The time of colonialism, in different phases up to the present, still lays out the most elementary conditions for these crises. Even today, our individual and cultural practices, Western foreign policy, and the strategies of corporations play a role in sustaining these conditions. The “summer of migration” has forced us to understand this entanglement. Now, of course, there are people like Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, for whom the problem raised by the “summer of migration” can only be solved with even higher fences, combined with suppression of democracy at home. But one can hope that the current exacerbation of tensions may bring us closer to a more lucid assessment of the world we live in.

Protestors at Blockupy demonstration in Berlin, Germany
Protestors during a Blockupy demonstration in Berlin on June 20, 2015; approximately 1,800 demonstrators marched for support of Greece amidst the country’s economic crisis as well as for aid to refugees coming to Europe. (Adam Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

WC: Given the EU’s border strategy of externalization and invisibilization, what kinds of left-liberal activist work have, in your view, become effective in this context? What, if you will, is to be done?

SB: I think that what needs to be done is exactly what people are already doing. First, here’s an example of local politics taking place right here and now. In Frankfurt, last December, there was a meeting called Frankfurt für Alle (“Frankfurt for Everyone”), which gathered an interesting mix of people: organizations such as Teachers on the Road and Medico International, labor unions, “right to the city” activists and No Border activists, as well as refugee initiatives and homeless initiatives. All these people came together for a progressive migration and border politics, even though they neither knew one another beforehand nor necessarily shared the same political outlook (since the participants ranged from labor union officials to anarchists) – perhaps a realistic version of Negri’s “multitude.” Beyond discussing concrete ways of helping refugees in Frankfurt, they were able to make a collective statement and to integrate the issue in a larger and politicized perspective. This is what I hope continues, this way of establishing networks but also of reclaiming the city of Frankfurt as our city, as a collective good that should be there for everyone – affordable housing for all, Germans and refugees alike. Meanwhile, there is a similar initiative in Berlin.

Aside from acting locally, international solidarity is also essential, and crucial initiatives are underway as we speak: activists from all over Europe are traveling to support refugees in Greece and in Idomeni, for example, which is on the border of Greece and Macedonia. Working together with people who are fleeing to Europe and helping them at each point of their struggle are exemplary modes of activism. For these initiatives are about engaging asylum seekers not simply as objects in need, but as political subjects. As such, and at the risk of sounding overly ambitious, these modes of political action are part of a collective European project – namely, the project of constructing a different and more just Europe.

Interview conducted on January 5, 2016

Translated by William Callison

Recommended citation: Buckel, Sonja (interviewed by William Callison). “Welcome Management: Making Sense of the ‘Summer of Migration’.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

The German Dream: Neoliberalism and Fortress Europe

Neoliberal Xenophobia

During the first half of 2015, as Syriza came to power vowing to resist the dictates of the Troika, the EU contemplated the expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone. That was before Alexis Tsipras’s political turnaround following the July 5 bailout referendum. A “Grexit” may still be on the table today, however, at least for the IMF.1 Despite their Prime Minister’s compliance, today and in the current context of the “refugee crisis,” the Greeks are again under a threat of suspension from the Schengen zone. The same country finds itself at the intersection of the two major European crises of our time.

Of course, one should not conclude that Greece is the problem. In fact, it may be misleading to speak of a “Greek crisis”: both crises are crises not only in, but also of Europe. However, the question remains: is such a repetition a mere coincidence, or is there a strong connection between economic and immigration policies? The answer is complicated by the fact that Germany is also at the intersection of both developments, although in a different role: the German Chancellor’s political handling of the refugees looks radically different than her dealings with the Syriza government. The media marvel: Kaiser Merkel yesterday, Mutti Angela today?2 As the question takes a different shape, an answer becomes more complex: What is the nature of the link between the reign of neoliberalism and political xenophobia in Europe?

Magazine Covers featuring Angela Merkel
From “Kaiser Merkel” (Daily Mail) to “Chancellor of the free world” (Time): portrayals of Angela Merkel in the press, 2013–2015.

In many countries, from Hungary to France, anti-immigration parties have kept growing in the last decade while denouncing the European Union. But in response, during that same period, mainstream political forces throughout the continent (not only openly conservative parties, but also many voices that still claim to be progressive) have generally tried to salvage neoliberal policies by co-opting xenophobic ones. Today, “Fortress Europe” and the neoliberal Union are often two sides of the same coin. Apart from Germany, it looks as if political xenophobia were the price to pay for neoliberal policies: first, in reaction, as their unintended consequence; and second, as a deliberate concession to disgruntled voters from parties in power. Both critics and supporters of neoliberal Europe, including former social democrats, seem to favor xenophobic policies, thereby reinforcing the belief that these shared values have to do with national identities.

That the free flow of capital should result in restrictions on the circulation of workers is somewhat paradoxical. Indeed, the logic behind political xenophobia is certainly not economic: various reports produced by international institutions (from the United Nations Development Program to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) have long pointed out that European economies need more migrant workers, not fewer. As a consequence, it is not unusual, though still remarkable, to see employers support their undocumented workers when they go on strike to defend their rights.3 Neoliberal capitalism knows no borders – neither for capital nor for labor, if outsourcing is any indication. It should thus come as no surprise that political xenophobia needs to be explained politically. It cannot be accounted for in economic terms, or simply according to the cultural logic of national identity.

It is worth remembering that, not so long ago, some of the supposedly progressive promoters of neoliberalism in Europe, far from emulating anti-immigration activists, actually supported immigration. This was true in Britain: starting with the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted on the positive economic impact of (selective) immigration (though more and more at the expense of asylum-seekers). This was also true in Spain, both under the conservative José María Aznar and even more with his opponent José Luis Zapatero: in 2004, only weeks after the Madrid bombings and the elections that brought him to power, one of the new Prime Minister’s first acts was to grant amnesty to about 700,000 undocumented workers. For this neoliberal socialist in Spain, even more than for the New Labour leader in Britain, embracing immigration was yet another sign of a modernity that transcended nationalism in the European Union.

To this day, Blair insists that opening Britain to migrants was no “mistake”: “In 2004 the economy was booming,” recalls the former Prime Minister in a 2015 interview, “and we had a requirement for skilled workers from abroad.”4 But his voice does not resonate any longer; his argument seems to belong to the past. Neoliberalism has renounced supranational modernity in the hope of alleviating national populisms. What happened? Politically, 2005 was a turning point in the European Union. It all started in France, when the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected by referendum on May 29 – three days before the Dutch also voted against it. Some voters, especially on the right, opposed the treaty in the name of national sovereignty; but others, in particular on the left, refused it on the account of its neoliberal policies.

France’s then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, immediately transformed his party’s defeat into a political opportunity for the right. He decided to interpret the vote as a referendum against unbridled immigration – rather than against the dismantling of the welfare state, market deregulation, and widespread unemployment. According to Sarkozy, the European Union offered the best protection of national identities against migrants. His response to the Euroscepticism of French voters, which amounted to an updated version of a Europe of nations, thus avoided any soul-searching concerning economic policies. The fact that his interpretation served to propel him to the presidency in 2007 certainly helped convince other European leaders that, in order to preserve neoliberal policies while escaping popular anger, political xenophobia provided the best solution.

In Britain, Gordon Brown’s promotion to Downing Street in 2007 facilitated the shift to this form of neoliberal populism. In Spain, Zapatero did attempt to resist the pressures of his counterparts, but not for long. The new European consensus against migrants became apparent with the 2008 European Pact on Immigration and Asylum – a French initiative. As a result, despite the previous rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands, a new version (the Treaty of Lisbon) was thus ratified at the European level in 2009 (this time, the only referendum took place in Ireland; the treaty was first rejected, but the problem soon resolved thanks to a second vote). Europe has since been cemented by its common policies, not only in the economic realm, but also concerning immigration: after 2005, political xenophobia has defined the Union just as much as economic neoliberalism.

Compassion and Self-Interest

While the Greek crisis only confirmed this form of neoliberal rule in the most dramatic fashion, the refugee crisis has shaken the foundations of Europe’s immigration policies. Of course, the first explanation that comes to mind is the sheer magnitude of this population transfer. Indeed, numbers matter: TV footage of crowds crossing borders or packing train stations have certainly struck a chord in public opinion and in public discourse. However, the issue is not purely quantitative, it is also qualitative: the nature of this wave of migration questions the usual justifications of xenophobic policies. A declaration by the socialist Michel Rocard, quoted innumerable times since the French Prime Minister first pronounced it in 1989, epitomizes this double logic, which has long prevailed not only in France, but throughout Europe: “we cannot welcome all the misery of the world.”5

The first implication is indeed quantitative. Were “we” to accept some of “them,” “they” would all come: an invasion would inevitably result from this “open door” (or, in French, with another telling metaphor, this “appel d’air”). Never mind that refugees are not exactly the white man’s burden: rich European countries have actually taken in far fewer refugees than poorer ones, such as Turkey hosting more than 2.6 million people (Of course, this has not prevented the EU foreign policy chief from reminding President Erdogan of his country’s moral, if not legal, obligation to let in Syrian refugees.). Relative to their population, even Germany cannot compare with the efforts of Lebanon and Jordan. The reality of asylum in Europe should not be characterized as “all the misery of the world.”

Never mind that refugees are actually reluctant to come to France. The most embarrassing demonstration of this lack of enthusiasm occurred in the city of Munich. This is where, in February 2016, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls proclaimed that “we cannot welcome any more refugees.”6 But one wonders: was not his display of “firmness” meant to make people forget that in the same city, in September 2015, the French refugee agency (OFPRA) tried to recruit a meager 1,000 Syrians to come to France, only to convince a few hundred? To this day, only 5,000 have applied for asylum in France (1.3% of the total in the EU). This is not exactly a new phenomenon: the awful situation in Calais, where migrants are concentrated in dire conditions while enduring brutal harassment by the French state, reinforced by local authorities, is also an indication that France is no “Eldorado” for the “wretched of the earth.” After all, their hope is not to stay in the country, but to cross the Channel.

Regardless of numbers, this frequent French reference to an Eldorado is crucial in another way that helps to understand the common European logic. It implies an economic argument against immigration premised on the opposition between compassion and self-interest. There is indeed a widespread assumption that Europe cannot afford the luxury of generosity – notwithstanding the positive economic contribution of foreign workers (whether undocumented or not) to European wealth. Today, however, the refugee crisis complicates the story as it revives a distinction that had almost been forgotten, at least in certain countries, between “economic migrants” and “asylum seekers.” In the years of the 2000s, the suspicion about the latter kept rising as they were suspected of actually belonging to the former category: “fake” refugees were supposed to be “true” economic migrants.7 For example, even in a context of war, French media and public officials spoke only of migrants, not refugees – at least until the recent crisis. It took the heart-wrenching picture of a body of a three-year-old child on a beach in Turkey to rekindle, albeit briefly, any potential for compassion.8

Nevertheless, recent developments should not be mistaken for a mere reversal of the logic that has long prevailed. Reason is not giving way to passion, nor calculations to emotions, nor realism to idealism. Arguably, in a more fundamental way, the terms themselves have shifted. On the one hand, granting asylum is neither a matter of generosity nor of self-interest; it is a legal obligation, or at least, it is supposed to be one. Human rights are not a luxury; they are fundamental principles inscribed both in international and in national texts. On the other hand, the recent waves of refugees do not fit the familiar stereotypes on migrant poverty. Studies have long shown that migrating from Africa requires some resources, and thus excludes the poorest, but to no avail. However, this stereotype has recently changed: today, Syrian asylum-seekers are perceived as superior to Roma migrants (although the latter, and not the former, are Europeans). They are expected to be engineers, lawyers, and medical doctors – not beggars. Aylan could have been “our” child, as much as “theirs.”

Young refugees skip stones
Young refugees in Greece skip stones on the sea. (Alessandro Penso)

As a consequence, there is a new interest in refugees, in a double sense: for reasons, of class they seem less foreign than other migrants; at the same time, they appear economically worthwhile. Compassion and self-interest need not be in opposition any longer. At least, this is true in the case of Germany: in dealing with the refugee crisis, despite serious resistance in her own country and even more within her own party, not to mention the opposition of other European governments, East and West, Angela Merkel has tried to maintain a German exception within Europe for as long as possible. This qualitative shift has to do with the quantitative one. From the start, the Chancellor has avoided minimizing the influx. On the contrary, she has insisted on the fact, first, that the numbers would be high and, second, that the effort would be long. As a result, the initial choice could not be half-hearted; it had to be irreversible. Once you welcome a million refugees, it becomes difficult to go back and claim that it is impossible to take in “all the misery of the world.” You have to succeed, and thus prove that what you have undertaken is possible. The logic has to shift.

However, most interpretations of this political choice have not shifted: they either focus on the moral argument or on the economic one – in terms either of compassion or of self-interest. Analysts have often emphasized the cultural and historical reasons underlying this moral stance, rooted in the German past (from the Protestant heritage to the Nazi and the Communist regimes). While some have applauded the Chancellor’s unexpected fortitude, especially in the face of rising political hostility, many on the right have argued that her strategy is unrealistic, both economically and socially (let alone politically). Conversely, others on the left have dismissed her alleged benevolence: the real motivation, according to this perspective, has to do with the demographic needs of an aging Germany, or even with calculations regarding the price of labor in the workforce. Few have taken seriously the recent shift in political logic: it still appears that Merkel is either a cynic, or an idealist.

Dreams of Empire

Obviously, it remains difficult to reconcile the two sides of recent German policies – the cold rejection of the Greeks and the warm welcome of the refugees. Are they not in stark contrast? Paradoxically, Yanis Varoufakis has joined those who celebrate “the moral nation.”9 The former Syriza Finance Minister starts out by rejecting the facile skepticism of those who look for ulterior motives. “That there are benefits from immigration is beyond dispute – except by racists.” However, if this is equally true elsewhere in Europe, “why is it only Germany and its people that took enthusiastically to welcoming refugees?” Because of “one of Germany’s grandest gifts to humanity: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.” Indeed, “Kant’s practical Reason demands that we should undertake those actions which, when generalized, yield coherent outcomes.”

Why should Varoufakis, of all people, flatter the Germans in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung? Of course, his ironic, albeit serious enthusiasm has to do with the Greek situation: regarding that other crisis, “what should Berlin do? An excellent start would be to apply the same Kantian principle which has been evident in the case of the refugee crisis.” This tongue-in-cheek argument for “universalisable” policies is directed against the (supposed) German incoherence; the text makes a plea for a “moral” coherence: do unto the Greeks as you do unto refugees. But this plea for coherence begs another question: could Germany’s apparent contradictions make sense within the framework of a new logic? The point is not to establish how “sincere” (or “insincere”) the Chancellor may be, but rather to understand both versions in political terms.

What if economic intransigence and moral generosity were but the two sides of the same coin – just like “Fortress Europe” and the neoliberal Union have been for at least a decade – but only in a different political “currency”? Our argument is that this common logic has to do with the improbable emergence of a German Empire within Europe. After the Second World War, the reconciliation of France and Germany became the foundation of the European project.

From the beginning, what was to become the EU developed around this axis. However, the balance of power has changed: it has now become quite clear that Germany leads while France follows. This was manifest during the Greek crisis, perhaps for the first time, and the same Varoufakis confirmed it publicly when he quoted Michel Sapin, the French Finance Minister, who confessed: “France is not what it used to be.”10 One can also think of the recent Norwegian television fiction Occupied: when the EU takes control of Norway, via the Russians, the French Commissioner turns out to be but a mouthpiece for the Chancellor.11 Of course, Germany has been economically powerful for a long time; but only recently have the political consequences of this state of affairs been fully acknowledged.

The comparison of Merkel to Bismarck, the current Chancellor to her nineteenth-century predecessor, as the media frequently did during the first half of 2015, suddenly implied a remarkable change of perspective: in Germany, the popular daily Bild openly called on July 7 for an “iron Chancellor” whose helmet, along with the name of Bismarck, evoked the unabashed glory of the Empire.12 But how could Germany reclaim an imperial status without reviving frightful memories of old wars – as was the case in France? This is where the refugee crisis plays a crucial role: far from entertaining nationalist themes reminiscent of a painful past, especially in Germany, Merkel’s policy has stood firm against the xenophobic and racist themes developed throughout Europe, from Hungary and Poland to France and Britain. Her open-arms attitude is the exact opposite of the scapegoating encountered elsewhere, or remembered from the first half of the twentieth century.

This new Empire is thus a far cry from the old one. In 2013, Ulrich Beck published German Europe.13 In this short essay, the German sociologist denounced the “Merkiavellian” strategy of the Chancellor: the crisis of the euro gave her an opportunity to seize power and become the Queen of Europe. “The new grammar of power reflects the difference between creditor and debtor countries; it is not a military but an economic logic. Its ideological foundation is ‘German euro nationalism’ – that is, an extended European version of the Deutschmark nationalism that underpinned German identity after the Second World War. In this way the German model of stability is being surreptitiously elevated into the guiding idea for Europe.” One could easily argue that this book anticipates the 2015 Greek crisis that finally transformed economic into political power.

In the context of the refugee crisis, our understanding of a “German Europe” has radically changed. Another German sociologist, Heinz Bude, explained in 2015 that Germany was now “Europe’s America.”14 The point was not any longer that all European countries had to become like Germany – in particular in the implementation of austerity policies, such as those imposed upon the Syriza government. The idea was now that Merkel had to lead Europe, whether she wanted to or not. The argument resonated powerfully with the refugee crisis, although it then took on a slightly different meaning: the German rule did become the German exception. In what Bude calls a “society of fear,” contrary to Pegida and other anti-immigration and Islamophobic political forces, the Chancellor does not play on fear. On the contrary: on New Year’s Eve 2015, she made it clear in her address to the German people: “I am confident that if we handle it right, the current major challenge of the arrival and integration of so many people will also present an opportunity in the future.” The subtitles available in Arabic only underlined her confidence.

In this new political economy of affects, desire replaces fear. For Europe’s America, the “German dream” means that the country, just like the United States in the days of Ellis Island, can and will welcome “the wretched of the earth.” Naturally, this is why it attracts them: refugees “love” Merkel. Germans finally transcend their historical guilt, and at long last, become desirable – if only because their own generosity makes them feel good about themselves. The new, unexpected desirability of Germans, in their own eyes as well as in those of the others, profoundly transforms the connotations of the word “empire.” This is most remarkable in Merkel’s mantra: “Wir schaffen das!” (“We can do it!”). Such a slogan not only exudes confidence, it also implies that economic power is the foundation of the “German dream.” This is how generosity and self-interest are related.

What the Germans are offered by their Chancellor is self-esteem: thanks to Merkel’s moral stance, they increase their value, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world. This logic of self-appreciation is at the core of neoliberal subjectivation, as philosopher Michel Feher demonstrates in his work. Indeed, one could argue that there are two symmetrical versions of national self-esteem: one negative, and the other positive. According to this distinction, weak neoliberals, like the French, are tempted by fear. Hence the politics of resentment, such as racism and xenophobia: whiteness is the last, negative resort of national self-esteem. On the contrary, Germans are strong neoliberals. This is why they open their doors and welcome refugees: they can afford it; therefore, it is their moral duty. This is the positive, Kantian version of self-esteem. The “German dream” is thus a way for Germans to claim a “universalisable” identity: they can escape the fate of the past and project themselves in the future. Now is their turn to claim as their own the famous line by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .”

The German Nightmare

Many will object to this apparently naïve presentation: is not the “German dream” but a shared illusion? Why not call it, simply, imperialist propaganda? It is true that this neoliberal dream is more like a myth – precisely like the “American dream.” It is not unreal, though. It may turn into a founding myth that defines the future of Europe, along with the subjectivities of Europeans. Nevertheless, one can easily point to the discrepancies between the dream and the reality of German policies. First, welcoming refugees did not change the sorry plight of economic migrants – although it did affect their administrative definition: in order to make room for Syrians, Germany immediately categorized Balkan countries as “safe,” thereby excluding these migrants from the status of refugees. The new politics of desirability leaves out “economic migrants,” no matter what this distinction may empirically represent.

Second, the influx of refugees only reinforced the European determination to sort migrants as they enter Europe. There have been attempts to share the load of the new refugees. This would actually undermine the Dublin Treaty that requires refugees to apply for asylum in the country they first enter. But the main feature of current policies is still the so-called “hotspots,” that is, the sorting structures conveniently located at the Mediterranean margins of Europe. “Fortress Europe” has certainly not been dismantled. Along with the pressure against Greece, threatened with exclusion from the Schengen zone, the effort to pay off Turkey to stop refugees within its own borders, and to even ask for the support of NATO in order to prevent the boats of migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea, only confirm Fortress Europe’s fortification. Today, two children, like Aylan, drown daily. How many will tomorrow?

Third, in addition to these important qualifications, the political support for a policy that opens the door of the country to (Syrian) refugees has progressively eroded, including in the Chancellor’s own party. This is especially true after the attacks against women in Cologne, as well as in other cities, by men who were mostly migrants., though not recent arrivals in the country. Ironically, these events coincided on New Year’s Eve with Merkel’s address. Of course, it has been established that they were mainly from North Africa; Syrians did not play a major role in the story. But facts barely affect representations. Despite the insistence on the distinction between “economic migrants” and “refugees,” the two have been used interchangeably in the public discussions of the Cologne events. Will Merkel’s policies survive such a blow?

For all these reasons, the German dream may seem, if not a complete illusion, or an actual nightmare, at the very least strongly compromised – from the very beginning, in the summer of 2015, and even more so in 2016. Even if its failure were to be confirmed, that is, even if Merkel’s original impetus, and the arrival of over one million refugees in Germany, did not result in a real, lasting change of perspective, and at long last a questioning of “Fortress Europe,” Germany’s experience would still be worth meditating. For the goal of this discussion about the “German dream” is not to embrace it. The goal is also not to join a chorus of unexpected approval of Germany’s battle against the legitimate government of Greece in order to mitigate the expected disapproval among progressive critics of Germany.

There are at least two reasons to pay attention to what might or might not, in the end, turn out to have been a mere parenthesis. On the one hand, it helps to understand the new logic of empire: while power is still the primary principle, winning hearts and souls may be the second – that is, making power desirable. On the other hand, it encourages us to realize that there is nothing inevitable about the current equation of “Fortress Europe” and the neoliberal Union. It has not always worked this way, and it will not always work this way in the future. There may not be anything more important, for the critics of neoliberalism, than to avoid falling for its ultimate trick: let us remember that there are always alternatives. Political xenophobia is not the necessary consequence of neoliberal policies. Unpacking the two may help to fight them both, since the belief that they are inevitably linked contributes to their political success. This, in the end, is what might be learned from the European tale of two crises.

Recommended citation: Fassin, Éric and Windels, Aurélie. “The German Dream: Neoliberalism and Fortress Europe.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Onboard the Bourbon Argos: The Médecins Sans Frontières Search and Rescue Operation

The Mediterranean Sea, and in particular, the crossing from North Africa, has always been one of the most dangerous parts of the journey for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who risk everything in their desperate bid to reach Europe and a better life. After the Lampedusa boat tragedy of October 3, 2013 in which 366 people lost their lives, the Italian government established Operation Mare Nostrum to increase sea patrols and help avoid further tragedies. The operation ended in 2014 for economic reasons and was replaced by Operation Triton, which was managed by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the member states of the European Union (Frontex). Unfortunately, Operation Triton was more limited in its scope and budget than the one it replaced. Moreover, the end of Mare Nostrum coincided with an increase in the number of people trying to reach Europe and deaths on the Mediterranean began to increase. According to the International Organization for Migration, in April 2015 alone 1,244 migrants lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean.

Frustrated by insufficient action from the EU, in May 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or “Doctors without Borders”), launched a ship, the Bourbon Argos, as an additional search and rescue vessel for activities in the Mediterranean Sea. Specially adapted for search and rescue operations and able to maneuver quickly to respond to calls of distress, the boat is specially equipped and has the capacity to rescue 300–350 individuals at a time. The team on board includes medical staff and experienced search and rescue crew. “With the decision by the EU and Italy not to continue Mare Nostrum at the time more people than ever were reaching their shores, we could not wait on EU shores to see thousands more people die,” MSF declared.

These images were taken aboard the Bourbon Argos on November 13, 2015 and close to the Libyan coast. During the operation 93 migrants of different nationalities, including 31 Nigerians, were rescued from their dinghy by the MSF.

Also by Alessandro Penso: “Passage Through the Balkans

Recommended citation: Penso, Alessandro. “Onboard the Bourbon Argos: The Médecins Sans Frontières Search and Rescue Operation.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Ebbing and Flowing: The EU’s Shifting Practices of (Non-) Assistance and Bordering in a Time of Crisis

The movements of illegalised migrants and the bordering of the Mediterranean Sea have seen momentous transformations since the beginning of the Arab uprisings in 2011.*1 The fall of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the Qaddafi regime in Libya have allowed migrants to at least temporarily re-open maritime routes which had been sealed off through the collaboration between the EU and North African states. The civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2012 has in turn led to the largest exodus since the Second World War While the majority of population movements unleashed by conflicts in the region have occurred on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, record numbers of people have sought to reach the EU by boat, and equally unprecedented numbers of deaths at sea have been recorded – 3,195 in 2014 and 3,772 in 2015 according to IOM data.2 This intense and rapidly evolving movement of people across the sea but also on the EU’s firm land, where migrants have collectively overcome every single barrier that states have erected in front of them, has been labelled a “migration crisis.” This designation, in return, has enabled the deployment of exceptional military, humanitarian and political “solutions” (see “Keywords” in this issue). At sea we have witnessed a multiplication of actors involved in bordering and rescue practices. Border and Coast Guards have been joined by national and multinational military operations, civilian rescue missions and commercial ships and we have seen repeated shifts in their missions, operational logics, and institutional assemblages. On land, developments have been no less impressive. States have been desperately running behind migrants’ turbulent movements and re-erecting border controls between EU member-states and at the EU’s periphery. These newly staged bordering practices echo the changes to the EU’s political and economic geography in the aftermath of the EU’s “debt crisis” and the increasing polarisation between southern and northern European member-states. Rather than a “migration crisis,” then, we will argue that we are witnessing the crisis of the current EU border regime.

Seeking to account for these momentous changes, as we will try to do in the following pages, as well as understanding the forces and logics that have driven them, are certainly challenging tasks. We believe however that this sea-change may be condensed through a paradox: from 2011 to 2013, our research within the Forensic Oceanography project has focused on documenting incidents leading to the deaths of migrants at sea that resulted from what we have called practices of “non-assistance” (Heller and Pezzani 2014), such as the “left-to-die boat” case, in which 72 passengers were left to drift for 14 days in an area closely monitored by tens of military assets deployed in the context of the 2011 NATO led military intervention in Libya (Heller and Pezzani 2012).3 As we write at the end of 2015 however, we are faced with a growing number of cases in which the loss of life has occurred during and partly through rescue itself. This has been the case in the April 12 and 18, 2015 shipwrecks, in which migrants’ vessels capsized while commercial ships were approaching them to operate rescue. As a result, among the more than 2,900 cases of death documented in the central Mediterranean by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in 2015, more than 1,500 occurred during the rescue operation itself.4 In our current investigations, we are thus faced with the following paradox: rescue itself, the act of seeking to prevent imminent harm, has become entangled with death, or even become its very cause.

A survivor draws the collision-course between the migrants’ vessel and the King Jacob cargo ship. The wreck occurred on April, 19 2015; more then 800 people perished in the collision.
A survivor draws the collision-course between the migrants’ vessel and the King Jacob cargo ship. The wreck occurred on April, 19 2015; more then 800 people perished in the collision.

To make sense of this paradox, our hypothesis, to state it at the outset, is the following: the practice of rescue has become more deadly as the result of a shift in smugglers’ practices combined with persistent policies of non-assistance on the part of states. In order to account for this new and disturbing reality, we need to follow carefully the successive shifts in the practices of (non-)assistance and bordering that have occurred at the EU’s external frontier in the last few years. In what follows, the sea – and in particular the central Mediterranean – is the centre of gravity of our analysis. We first summarise the pre-October 2013 conditions that led to structural cases of non-assistance. We then describe the break constituted by the large-scale military-humanitarian operation Mare Nostrum which was launched by the Italian government following two infamous shipwrecks in early October 2013 near the island of Lampedusa. Finally, we chart the rapidly evolving practices of rescue and bordering that unfolded after Mare Nostrum was phased out in November 2014. In particular, we elaborate, the partial privatisation of rescue that filled the gap in the state’s rescue capability, and then, in the wake of the twin shipwrecks of April 2015, the unprecedented involvement of non-governmental rescue vessels and the beginning of what is probably the largest maritime anti-trafficking military campaign since the deployment of a British Navy squadron off the coasts of West Africa in the 19th century, namely EUNAVFOR MED. In seeking to understand these successive shifts in practices of (non-)assistance and bordering at sea, we argue that it is essential to attend to the way they have been articulated with their corresponding practices on firm land within and outside the EU. Land and sea have been locked into a continuum by the Europeanization of migration policies that we describe below.

If we were to imagine a map of these evolving practices, we might use the metaphor of “flows,” not to describe the movement of migrants, as it has long been the case, but rather bordering and (non-)assistance practices themselves.5 These might resemble the cyclical ebbs and flows of tides, expanding and retracting from the shoreline of coastal states across the Mediterranean, but also inward, from the shoreline into European land as well as onto the lands of EU neighbouring countries. The movements of this “mirror tide” flowing on land and sea would be related but non-synchronous. We would see recurrent patterns, but also cross-currents, in which practices of bordering and of (non-)assistance come together and apart, entering novel and surprising configurations, and constantly being stirred by migrants’ enduring and autonomous capacity to collectively move across borders. As we will try to show, it is only by attending to the “gravitational pull” exercised on this tide by, on the one hand, the sweeping geopolitical changes in North Africa and the Middle East, and on the other, the new economic and political geography that has been taking shape within the EU in the aftermath of the “debt crisis,” that we might understand the paradox described above.

The Left-to-Die Boat Case and the Politics of Non-Assistance

Animation of the Left-to-Die boat. (Heller and Pezzani. Liquid Traces – The Left-to-Die Boat Case. 2014)

In the early hours of March 27, 2011, 72 passengers embarked on a small rubber boat, hoping to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. After less than 24 hours, they noticed they were running out of fuel, and called for rescue with their satellite phone. Although the Italian and Maltese Coast Guards, NATO forces deployed at the time for military intervention in Libya, and numerous civilian vessels moving through the central Mediterranean were informed of the position of the boat and distress of its passengers, the immigrants were left to drift for fourteen days in the NATO maritime surveillance area. As a result, only 9 of the passengers survived. 63 people were killed by the reluctance of all actors to rescue them.

The left-to-die boat case, which we have reconstructed by using remote sensing devices against the grain, and which has led to several ongoing legal cases against states involved in the military intervention in Libya, is only one of several cases of non-assistance that have occurred in the last years and needs to be understood within the particular form of sovereignty and government of the Mediterranean Sea. As we have described in more detail elsewhere (Heller and Pezzani 2014), contrary to the popular vision of the sea as a homogeneous and lawless expanse lying outside the reach of state power, maritime territories are in fact crisscrossed by variegated and at times conflicting jurisdictional regimes of “unbundled sovereignty” (Sassen 2006). This allows states to simultaneously extend their sovereign privileges through forms of mobile government and elude the responsibilities that come with it (see Steinberg 2001, Gammeltoft-Hansen and Alberts 2010:18, Suárez de Vivero 2010). For instance, the strategic mobilization of the notion of “rescue” has in several occasions allowed coastal states to justify police operations in the high seas or even within foreign territorial waters for which they would otherwise have little legal ground, thus de facto extending their sovereign capabilities through their patrols.6 Conversely, for several years, the Mediterranean coastal states have been involved in diplomatic scuffles over their respective obligations to assist migrants distressed at sea. One of the most notorious and longstanding conflicts has been between Italy and Malta, which have repeatedly attempted to pass onto each other the burden of rescue, basing their claims on the different versions of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) to which they each are signatories (Gammeltoft-Hansen and Aalberts 2010: 21). In the process, the international legal norms established to determine responsibility for assisting those in distress at sea have been used precisely for the purpose of evading and deferring this responsibility. Furthermore, the criminalisation of assistance by states has also been a disincentive for seafarers to comply with the obligation to provide assistance. Fishermen, for example, have repeatedly been put on trial for “assisting clandestine migration” after rescuing migrants. As a result, many migrants have been left unassisted, leading to human tragedies such as the case of the left-to-die boat.

Maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean. (Forensic Oceanography)
Maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean. (Forensic Oceanography)

How can we explain this drive to non-assistance by coastal states? In order to understand the politics of non-assistance at sea, we need to account for its articulation with the particular migration regime that has emerged on land with the consolidation of the EU. The current architecture of the European border regime is based on two main pillars: the Schengen and Dublin Conventions, both signed in 1990, and gradually enforced in the following years. The Schengen Convention, as is well known, instituted an area of free circulation inside the EU and, as a direct consequence, reinforced the EU’s external borders – including the Mediterranean Sea. This process has involved the increasing militarization of the EU’s outer rim but also the recourse to strategies of “externalization,”7 through which non-EU states have been turned into migration gatekeepers on behalf of the EU. These measures, however, did not stop migrants from reaching the EU but rather forced them to do so through clandestine strategies and therefore in increasingly dangerous ways, such as embarking on unseaworthy boats. What Schengen actually produced, then, was not the end of trans-Mediterranean migration but rather the creation of a mass of “illegals,” a cheap and easily exploitable labour force that has become a large-scale and permanent feature of EU states and their economies (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013; Düvell 2011a and b). The more than 20,000 migrant deaths at sea recorded by NGOs since the end of the 1980s are the necropolitical effect (Mbembe 2013) of this regime of illegalisation.8

Deaths at the Borders of Europe, shown by region and year. (Migreurop. Atlas of Migration in Europe. New Internationalist Publications, London: 2013)
Deaths at the Borders of Europe, shown by region and year. (Migreurop. Atlas of Migration in Europe. New Internationalist Publications, London: 2013)

The Dublin Convention and its successive amendments exclusively addressed asylum seekers and their allocation between member-states. To prevent them from filing applications in several EU countries, the regulation officiated that the asylum seekers first country of entry into the EU would be responsible for processing the asylum claims. Moreover, in order to facilitate enforcement, it made the fingerprinting of migrants and the sharing of this data within an EU wide system (EURODAC) mandatory. As a result, the Dublin Convention locked the EU’s external and internal borders, land and sea, in a continuum for the purpose of migration management (Kasparek 2015: 61). Because rescuing migrants at sea entailed the “burden” of processing their asylum requests once these had been disembarked (Guild 2006), Dublin regulations further created an uneven geography of allocation of migrants within the EU, which became increasingly problematic as the numbers of arrivals by sea increased at the turn of the 2000s. The Dublin Convention thus came to operate for northern EU states as the internal dimension of the policies of externalisation that were being applied outside the EU: a policy of internal externalization through which an inner rim of control was erected in order to select and control migrants’ movements. Furthermore, the Dublin Convention has played a key role in making southern EU coastal states principally reluctant to assist at sea and disembarkment.

Besides the strategies of non-assistance described above, coastal states have conditioned interception or assistance at sea (a process which, while legally distinct, has become increasingly blurry in practice) with swift deportation, thereby avoiding the burden of assistance on land. The latter strategy has been applied, for example, by Spain in relation to Senegalese migrants in 2006–2007 (Gagrielli 2008) and Italy in relation to Tunisian migrants in 2008 and 2011 (Cassarino 2013). Another related measure has been to couple interception/rescue with “push back” agreements which allow deportation of the intercepted/rescued migrants to the country of departure without allowing migrants to set foot on EU’s firm land. Such an agreement was signed in 2009 between Italy and Libya (Cuttitta 2014), and effectively sealed off the central Mediterranean route until its collapse in the Arab uprisings. Through these different strategies, southern European coastal states have managed to stop “peaks” in migration across the sea all the while preventing migrants from filing asylum applications once arrived on land. In these and other instances, what we observe is that the “high tide” of control of, and assistance to, migrants across the EU territory that was enshrined by the Dublin regulation, could only be predicated on a “low tide” of assistance at sea, and vice versa.

The border regime defined by the Schengen and Dublin Conventions, however, has been progressively undermined in the last few years. The above mentioned strategies to evade the responsibility for receiving migrants on EU territory were made inoperative by a succession of events and factors: the fall of the gatekeeper regimes in Tunisia and Libya in 2011, the outlawing of push back agreements by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2012 (Cuttitta 2014), and the fact that the political context in the country of origin of the majority of migrants arriving over the last years in principle qualify them for asylum in the EU. As a result, costal states were left with strategies of non-assistance as their only resort, thereby creating the conditions in which cases such as the left-to-die boat could occur. This, however, did not stem arrivals, but rather increasingly made apparent the EU states’ reluctance – and inability – to provide any form of assistance to migrants on land too. Cracks in the Dublin logic and its uneven geography of allocation of migrants across the EU became increasingly apparent in particular with the 2011 ECHR decision to stop Dublin deportations to Greece because of the appalling reception conditions there (Kasparek 2015: 72). These cracks were widened by the record number of arrivals on the EU’s shores, as of 2013, and by the effects of the global economic crisis, which, as Kasparek (2015: 73) notes, “affected the southern economies the strongest and impeded the ability of regional and national labour markets in the south to absorb illegalized migration.” As a result, southern European coastal states were left with a mass of unexploitable migrants (Feher 2015) whose unruly movements across the continent have eventually brought the whole EU border regime to a breaking point. The contradictions brought about by this situation would explode in all their intensity in the aftermath of two tragic shipwrecks in October 2013, when Italy launched the unprecedented Mare Nostrum operation at sea, but also retreated from assistance on firm land, thereby opening the Pandora’s box of the government of migration inside the EU.

The Twin Shipwrecks of October 2013:
Between Tragic Repetition and Sea Change

The remains of a shipwreck that occurred near Lampedusa, on October 3, 2013. At least 366 people perished in the wreck. (Vigili del Fuoco)

On October 3, 2013, a boat carrying more than 500 migrants sank less than 1km from the coast of Lampedusa, causing the death of at least 366 people and a public outcry.9 Not only did this boat manage to cross the multiple layers of surveillance surrounding Lampedusa undetected, but the survivors of this incident have also claimed that a few hours before the boat capsized, 2 or 3 fishermen’s ships ignored their calls for help (this has not been confirmed or disproven to date). On October 11, when another boat carrying over 400, that was taking on water after it had been shot by a Libyan vessel, the deployment of rescue was delayed for over 5 hours due to the aforementioned conflicts of responsibility between the Italian and Maltese Coast Guards. As the investigation we conducted together with the WatchTheMed network and journalist Fabrizio Gatti revealed, in the end, rescue vessels arrived one hour after the boat had sunk and more than 200 people had died.10 Since both of these tragedies involved practices of non-assistance, they initially appeared as the tragic repetition of the left-to-die boat, with an even more exorbitant death toll.11 In hindsight, however, we can see that these shipwrecks were indices of much deeper changes.

First, these events signalled the impact of the ongoing shifts in the MENA region both in terms of intensity of the crossings and of their composition. As of summer 2013, escalating violence in Libya led a record number of people to attempt the crossing of the central Mediterranean. This trend was exacerbated by what would become the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, the Syrian exodus. While until summer 2013, Syrians had mostly sought refuge in neighbouring countries,12 the increasing numbers of refugees quickly exceeded both the capacity of humanitarian organisations and neighbouring countries alike. The lack of prospects for refugees and the progressive reintroduction of visa obligations by neighbouring countries (Awad 2014) led more and more refugees to attempt to reach the EU by crossing the Mediterranean. The tacit acceptance by the EU of humanitarian encampment outside its territory as the first “solution” to manage the Syrian exodus thus began to collapse. Most migrants involved in the October 11 shipwreck were from Syria. The refugees of the Syrian conflict accounted for the highest share of arrivals in Italy in 2013 and 2014, before, as we will see, their proportion went down in 2015 with the opening of the so-called “Balkan route.”13

Second, the massive crossings that we have witnessed since the summer of 2013 were in part enabled by, and contributed to, a shift in smuggling practices. The smugglers in Libya had been operating a well-established business since the beginning of 2000 and their business relied on stable relations with the Qaddafi regime (Monzini et al. 2015). The fall of the Libyan regime and the ensuing political fragmentation led to changes in smuggling practices that have made the conditions of the crossing more dangerous. The increasing level of violence affecting Libyan society has touched migrants as well, and they have been subjected to multiple forms of violence at different moments in the commerce of passage (AI 2015a, Monzini et al. 2015: 42). The Libyan political fragmentation has led to more volatile relations between smugglers and the factions in control of particular areas – as the shooting of the vessel in the October 11 incident exemplifies – but has also allowed new actors who offered lower prices but did not always possess the know-how of safe crossings to enter the smuggling market (Porsia 2015). This in turn has meant that to guarantee a profitable margin, smugglers had to resort to subpar navigation equipment or load more migrants on board their failing boats. The fall of the Qaddafi regime thus allowed to re-open the central Mediterranean route, but in an increasingly precarious condition, which was further exacerbated by the deteriorating political context in Libya.

Finally, following the October shipwrecks politicians were swift to prescribe more of the same failed policies, including: extra funding for the European Border Agency, Frontex, and increasing surveillance through the launch of Eurosur, the European Border Surveillance System (Heller and Jones 2014). On the policy level then as well, these initial measures gave the impression of repetition. However, faced with the impossibility of ignoring the public outcry caused by these shipwrecks, within two weeks Italy single-handedly launched what has been by far the largest “humanitarian and security” operation in the Mediterranean: Mare Nostrum.14 By prioritizing the task of saving lives at sea, Mare Nostrum (MN) constituted a considerable break with the practices of non-assistance at sea described earlier. However, as we will see, MN’s extension of assistance at sea was conditioned on a shift in the logic of assistance on firm land.

Mare Nostrum: From the Blurring of Security and Humanitarian Logics at Sea to the Retreat of Assistance on Land

Admiral Guido Rando of the Italy Navy shows the operational area of Mare Nostrum (in red). (Photo Ansa)
Admiral Guido Rando of the Italy Navy shows the operational area of Mare Nostrum (in red). (Photo Ansa)

One 135 meters-long amphibious vessel, two frigates, two corvettes, four helicopters, three planes and unmanned aerial vehicles patrolling for over one year just a few miles off the coast of Libya at the monthly cost of about 9.5 million euros: these figures provide an indication of the spectacular scale of the MN operation.15 As Paolo Cuttitta rightly notes, the involvement of the Italian Navy in the management of migration was not in itself completely new, and border control had for several years come cloaked in the language of humanitarianism (Cuttita 2014). The scale of MN, however, was unprecedented; so was the inscription of the humanitarian “duty” of saving lives at the core of MN’s mission which was coupled with the aim of bringing to justice those deemed responsible for putting their lives at risk, i.e. the smugglers. Thus MN constituted a clear shift from principled reluctance to operate rescue and the criminalisation of those who are engaged in it, such as fishermen and cargo ships, to proactively performing rescue and criminalising smugglers.16

This shift of mission produced several breaks in the way rescue and bordering at sea had been practiced until then. With Mare Nostrum the “tide” of rescuing activities reached an unprecedented expansion of the spatial deployment of the operations: whereas until then SAR operations in the undeclared Libyan SAR zone were a rare event and the majority of migrants’ boats reached Italian and Maltese coasts on their own or were just “escorted” for the last few nautical miles,17 now, military vessels were continuously positioned in close proximity to the Libyan coast, and intercepted and rescued every migrants’ boat that they encountered. In practice, then, we might say that the jurisdictional lines of SAR zones that served to allocate responsibility for coordinating and operating rescue vanished, and the Italian state extended its claim to rights and obligations at sea far beyond its normally accepted perimeter (even into Libyan territorial waters), effectively giving the full meaning to the imperial undertones of the operation’s Latin name “our sea,” first used by the Roman empire, and later by the Italian fascist regime. Moreover, while disembarkation had constituted a thorny problem for many years, with MN migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean were taken to Italy by default.

A map of the transit boats detected by Mare Nostrum and Joint Operation Hermes. The different colors on the map correspond to different countries of departure. (Frontex)
A map of the transit boats detected by Mare Nostrum and Joint Operation Hermes. The different colors on the map correspond to different countries of departure. (Frontex)

As Martina Tazzioli has importantly highlighted (2014, 2015), MN managed to focus public attention on the good “scene of rescue,” recasting the role of the state and the military as that of a merciful saviour. At the same time, however, this “scene” obscured other crucial aspects of the operation. First, it obscured the fact that, while a record number of people were rescued, a record number of deaths were also reported, and MN did not make the crossing less dangerous.18 MN assets deployed close to the Libyan coast came to operate as a “half-way bridge to Europe,”19 which still forced migrants to resort to the service of smugglers for the first stretch of their journey. Smugglers in turn provided this service with even more precarious and unseaworthy means, counting on MN’s assets to rescue migrants swiftly.20 During this initial section of the crossing, migrants were also at times intercepted by the diminished Libyan Coast Guard, which reportedly managed to conduct operations of “preventive refoulement” (Cuttitta 2014). That such a large operation geared specifically to rescue at sea could not put an end to deaths at sea only confirms that no rescue operation can undo the political violence of the EU border regime which forces migrants to resort to precarious means of crossing in the first place. The very term “rescue” might in this sense need to be replaced by a long descriptive denomination such as “the practice of preventing death of passengers whose lives have been put at risk by the EU’s migration regime and its production of illegality.”21

Our aim is not to simply debunk or verify the humanitarian discourse surrounding MN. Independent of truth or falsity, our interest is in considering MN’s humanitarianism in terms of the practices it enabled. We are interested in MN as a “moral technology” as elaborated by Didier Fassin (2012), as “spatial organizations and physical instruments, technical standards, procedures and systems of monitoring” which, as Eyal Weizman notes, despite being deployed in the name of alleviating human suffering, “have become the means for exercising contemporary violence and for governing the displaced, the enemy and the unwanted” (Weizman 2012: 4). Through this lens, we can see more clearly what MN actually produced beyond its stated “life saving” mission. In the frame of MN, saving lives and policing borders became one and the same thing. Not only did rescue operations allow the arrest of 330 alleged smugglers,22 these operations also allowed for summary identification procedures to happen already onboard the military ships, which for a time became floating detention centres, extending onto the high seas the biopolitical regime of identification normally applied on firm land.23 This, in turn, allowed for swift repatriation procedures for the nationals of countries with which Italy held readmission agreements, in particular Tunisians and Egyptians.24 MN thus epitomised what William Walters has called the “humanitarian border,” in which the limit between security and humanitarian logics is increasingly blurred (Walters 2011: 138).

A migrant is fingerprinted onboard the ship San Marco in November 2013. (Polizia di Stato)
A migrant is fingerprinted onboard the ship San Marco in November 2013. (Polizia di Stato)

Finally, the good scene of rescue ended at the harbour for all those migrants who were not deported and who, after disembarkation, were stranded for months in different types of camps waiting for the assessment of their asylum request, or left with no other choice than continuing their trip. The flip-side of Italy’s extension of its sovereign “privileges” at sea was in fact the retraction of its sovereign “duties” on firm land, i.e. the disinclination to fingerprint and assist rescued migrants once disembarked, thereby enabling their further movement across EU space.25 As a result, of the more than 170,000 migrants who arrived in Italy only 64,625 filed an asylum application in the country (EUROSTAT data). However, more than a deliberate decision and congruous governmental practice, non-fingerprinting and enabling further movement should be understood as having emerged from, on the one hand, the resolute refusal by migrants to enter the Dublin system so as to be able to choose their final destination and, on the other, the tacit acquiescence of Italian authorities. The sound of the slogan “No fingerprints!” which resounded across the streets of Lampedusa in July 2013 when over two hundred Eritreans staged a protest against identification procedures, corresponds, in a distant echo, with the statement of an Italian Navy official: “it is impossible to force them when all refuse… and, moreover, it is finally a good solution for both, since they could move and Italy does not have to host them” (quoted in Tazzioli 2015: 77). Italian authorities, then, used migrants’ desire and struggle to continue their journey into other European countries – which continues in Lampedusa and elsewhere as we write – to get rid of as many people entitled to international protection as possible, de-facto unlocking the bond between land and sea that the Dublin system had created.26 In other words, the “high tide” of assistance at sea within MN was predicated on the “low tide” of assistance on land.

This practice was not without consequences and caused ripple effects across the EU. As it had already happened following the arrival of Tunisians in 2011, intra-Schengen border checks were re-instated at the main points used by migrants to exit Italian territory towards other EU countries. In places like Ventimiglia,27 Chiasso,28 and the Brenner Pass,29 renewed border checks, which in particular blocked “black” passengers, stirred a wave of protests from migrants and activists. While northern European states vocally deplored Italy’s lax attitude, claiming that Italian authorities were in contravention with EU regulations and unduly exporting the strain on their asylum system to their European partners,30 the Italian government retorted that migration was a “European problem” and that Rome could not bear alone the “burden” of providing for all the migrants who reached the Italian coasts. At stake in this tug-of-war was essentially the attempt by EU institutions and northern states to reverse the tide on land and sea: ending assistance at sea and forcing Italy to reinstate orderly assistance on firm land. EU politicians such as the UK Foreign Office Minister Lady Anelay echoed the Italian far-right in denouncing MN as a “pull factor” for people to cross the Mediterranean, thereby justifying her government’s refusal to fund the continuation of the operation.31 The European Commission pledged to foster a more limited European engagement in the central Mediterranean with a new Frontex operation that would be called Triton. On land, Italy was further pressured to step up its fingerprinting efforts and reinstate the processing of asylum applications.32 During its EU presidency, Italy demonstrated its diligence, taking the lead in an EU-wide policing operation labelled Mos Maiorum in mid-October.33 In late October, a few days before the beginning of the Triton operation and the simultaneous phasing out of Mare Nostrum, a circular by the Italian Ministry of Interior was leaked that requested local police forces to use “renewed care” in identification procedures, even if such a procedure required the use of force.34 Finally, Italy took on a leading role in seeking to re-establish control over migration before the crossing of the sea, in particular through the “Khartoum Process” which was initiated through a high-level meeting between the EU and 28 African states in November 2014 and was dedicated to managing the movements of migrants coming from the Horn of Africa.35 This messy sequence of informal practices and EU wide negotiations demonstrates once again the inextricable link between the politics of migration on land and sea. Italy had challenged this link with operation MN and other EU member-states and institutions desperately sought to re-establish it. 2014 thus saw a phase of rapid tidal change in the politics of bordering and (non-)assistance across land and sea. 2015 would prove even more volatile, leading to contradictory currents and increased turbulence which would prove deadly for migrants.

From January to April 2015: The Retreat of State-Led Assistance at Sea and the Privatization of Rescue

The phasing out of Mare Nostrum in November 2014 and the beginning of the far more limited Frontex-led Triton operation36 was unanimously criticised by several human rights organisations who predicted that the change would not lead to fewer crossings but rather to more deaths.37 United Nations Rapporteur on Migrants Rights, François Crépeau, denounced the logic of ending rescue at sea on the grounds that it constituted a pull-factor amounting to using deaths at sea as a deterrent.38 To this criticism, the European Commissioner Malmstrom as well as Frontex officials39 responded on several occasions that Triton should not be considered a replacement of MN as it had radically different operational aims and means. Triton had a much smaller budget – initially 2.9 million euros per month – and fewer available assets which were patrolling a smaller area extending up to thirty nautical miles from Lampedusa.40 Moreover, the aim of Triton was border control and not rescue at sea, and it thus involved a very different spatial and operational logic: instead of proactively patrolling the waters immediately off the Libyan coast as assets within MN had, SAR activities were now only to be operated as a secondary outcome of its border patrols, and Frontex assets would only be deployed towards SAR operations if they were called upon to do so by the Italian Coast Guard. If MN signalled the flowing of state sovereignty at sea, Triton signalled its tactical retreat, the rapid ebbing of assistance at sea. Comparing the zone in which most rescues were conducted in 2014 as indicated on the map above with the patrol zone of Frontex’s Triton operation indicated in the animated map below, one could only be left wondering about the fate of all the migrants’ boats that would soon encounter situations of distress in this zone but risked being left unassisted.41

An animated map of bordering and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean between 2013 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography)

In the first five months of 2015, the considerable gap in rescue capabilities left by MN’s (non-)replacement by Triton was partially filled by the massive recourse to shipping vessels as the agents of rescue operations.42 The commercial shipping community had already emerged as a crucial actor during MN, when it started to be involved in rescue operations on an unprecedented level43 but with the ending of Mare Nostrum, it took on an even more prominent role: of the 39,250 people rescued by May 20, 2015, 11,954 were rescued by cargo ships. This represented 30% of the total of the rescued people, thus making the shipping industry the first actor operating rescue in the central Mediterranean. Long opposed and criminalized as part of the politics of non-assistance, the “privatisation” of rescue activities was now not only encouraged but was actively called upon by the Italian Coast Guard. The latter, however, as established by the international legislation on Search and Rescue, still maintained the full control and coordination of SAR operations even in these cases of rescue by proxy. As a result, the scope of state intervention was not diminished, since the Italian Coast Guard actually extended its “SAR capabilities.” In fact, instead of the “privatisation” of rescue, we might speak in this instance just as adequately of the temporary “nationalisation of commercial shipping” to operate SAR.44 This development confirms Sasskia Sassen’s argument that “privatisation” should not be equated with a simple withdrawal of the state from its various regulatory functions, but rather understood as its “repositioning […] in a broader field of power” (Sassen 2002: 173-4). While commercial vessels have contributed to saving thousands of people, their involvement has also posed serious challenges in terms of safety. Commercial ships are not designed to safely approach boats that are much smaller, overcrowded and unstable. Furthermore, they often have a very limited crew, who are not specifically trained nor equipped to carry out the extremely perilous operations necessary to rescue an overcrowded boat on the open seas. As such, and without diminishing the importance of the efforts of the shipping community, it is not surprising that their massive involvement in rescue operations contributed to the two April 2015 shipwrecks, the largest to have occurred in the Mediterranean in recent history.

Map of AIS tracks of vessels surrounding the location of the April 12 2015 shipwreck (DC) off the coast of Libya, in which more than 400 people died. The frantic tangle of AIS ships’ tracks visualized above, typical of this kind of operation, offers a powerful trace of the dramatic moments of search and rescue and points to the disruption of commercial traffic. GIS analysis: Rossana Padeletti for Forensic Oceanography.
Map of AIS tracks of vessels surrounding the location of the April 12 2015 shipwreck (DC) off the coast of Libya, in which more than 400 people died. The frantic tangle of AIS ships’ tracks visualized above, typical of this kind of operation, offers a powerful trace of the dramatic moments of search and rescue and points to the disruption of commercial traffic. GIS analysis: Rossana Padeletti for Forensic Oceanography.

On April 12, 2015, around 4 in the afternoon, over 400 people died while several tug boats were directing themselves to rescue the passengers in distress. According to the survivors, the boat capsized when people onboard panicked while the tug boats were approaching them (the Asso 21 and 24, and OC Jaguar around 4 PM). Barely a week after, on April 18, 2015, over 800 people died in a shipwreck that occurred while the King Jacob, a 147m long cargo ship, was directing itself to rescue the passengers in distress. According to the testimonies we have collected, the boat driver rammed into the cargo ship when the latter turned on its spotlights.45 While we are currently investigating these cases further, it is clear that despite their intentions, the commercial vessels became not merely involved in the rescue efforts, but in the sequence of events that led to the situation of distress and ultimately death of the migrants. Stuck between the shifting practices of smugglers whose operational mode had been adapted to the presence of MN on the one hand, and the EU policy makers’ reluctance to provide assistance at sea on the other, the excessive mobilisation of private vessels for rescue operations led to assistance becoming deadly. In the process, it is as if the two “layers of sea” that had been held separate by the EU’s hierarchical mobility regime and the politics of non-assistance – the first smooth and speedy for privileged passengers and the goods transported by the shipping industry; the second slow and deadly for the “undesirables” of the earth (Agier 2011) – had collapsed into one another again, violently rubbing against each other. As a result, the zigzag movements of commercial ships operating rescue, captured as they were by automatic vessel tracking systems, increasingly came to resemble those of migrants.

The ebbing of assistance at sea resulting from the suspension of MN and its (non)replacement by Triton was thus a murderous policy, which was implemented with full knowledge of the deadly effects it would produce. The data on arrivals, crossing and deaths at sea for the first four months of 2015 tragically confirmed the predictions of human rights organisations: while in the first four months of 2014, more than 26,000 had crossed and 50 deaths had been recorded, in the same period of 2015 an almost identical number of crossings had occurred, but the number deaths had increased to 1,687. The probability of dying at sea had thus increased 30 fold, jumping from less than 2 deaths in 1000 crossings to 60 in 1000 (see statistical annex). Contrary to the claims of EU politicians who saw MN as a “pull factor,” ending MN did not lead to fewer crossings, but to more deaths at sea and a higher mortality rate. Regardless of whether the “high tide” of MN had proven untenable, what is clear is that the “low tide” of Triton and its spectacularly deadly consequences could not be maintained within the regime of the “humanitarian border.” Thus, exposed to the ensuing protests of activist groups and non-governmental organisations, and desperate to resolve the contradictions between its own conflicting imperatives, the EU border regime of (non)assistance and control on land and sea took yet again another direction.

Post-April 2015 Shipwrecks: the De-Coupling of Humanitarian and Security Logics and the “Troikasation” of Migration Management

Like the twin October 2013 shipwrecks, the twin April 2015 shipwrecks signalled another wave of impressive shifts in rescue and bordering practices. A first impressive shift has been the dramatic decrease in the rate of mobilisation of commercial ships for the purpose of rescue operations: the number of people rescued by commercial ships went from 14,796 in the first six months of 2015, to only 705 more in the following six (Italian Coast Guard data, see annex). Clearly, other actors stepped in to fill the gap in rescue capability still left open after the end of MN. First of all, Frontex’s Triton operation was impressively expanded. On May 13, 2015, the European Commission declared that “search and rescue efforts will be stepped up to restore the level of intervention provided under the former Italian ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation.” On May 26, Frontex adopted a new operational plan for Operation Triton, with an increased budget, additional assets and an expanded operational area from 30 up to 138 nautical miles south of Lampedusa, almost reaching the extent that had been covered earlier by MN.46 The expansion of Frontex’s operation in the central Mediterranean in the aftermath of the April shipwrecks can be seen as an implicit admission of guilt by the EU for its deadly policy of retreat.47 Nevertheless, Triton did not become a Europeanised Mare Nostrum overnight. Triton remained first and foremost a border control mission, and rescue continues to be a by-product of this primary mission. As such, Frontex assets continued to not be proactively positioned close to the Libyan coast. Furthermore, the situation in 2015 was markedly different in that the extension of Triton was accompanied by the deployment of other novel operations at sea: the military EUNAVFOR MED operation on the one hand, and non-governmental rescue vessels on the other.

EUNAVFOR MED emerged as the answer to the dilemma that the EU policy makers faced in the aftermath of the April shipwrecks: how not to save migrants – which would allow them to enter EU territory in great numbers at a time of economic downturn – without letting them die – which is untenable in the face of public opinion? The essential outlines of the answer to this apparently unresolvable question were provided on April 22, 2015 by the Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi, in a New York Times OP-ED. The culprits for the unprecedented loss of lives in the Mediterranean, Renzi wrote, were the ruthless Libyan “traffickers” – not smugglers48– the “slave traders of the 21st century.” In order to stop shipwrecks, then, their vessels should be put “out of operation” and those who operate them “brought to justice.”49 While this line of argument of course totally confuses causes and effects, ignoring the fact that it is the very migration regime that forces migrants to resort to traders in the commerce of illegalised passage in the first place, it quickly attracted the consensus of EU policy makers.50 The very same day that Renzi’s article went to press, the EU Council committed to fulfilling these objectives and a project for an EU-wide military operation targeting “traffickers” was formulated.51 In the following weeks, it was further defined according to three operational phases, ranging from surveillance activities, interception and destruction of vessels used for smuggling on the high seas, to direct military action against smugglers inside Libyan territorial waters.52 From the formal beginning of EUNAVFOR MED on June 22, 2015, the mission’s command started coordinating the several military vessels that had been deployed by different states in a more or less chaotic manner in the immediate aftermath of the April shipwrecks.53 With at least five planes and four ships, deployed by twenty-two different countries on a rotational basis close to the Libyan cost, EUNAVFOR MED came to reconstitute the naval force that the end of MN had left vacant.54 This time, however, rather than a “humanitarian and military” operation similar to MN, at work was “a police operation with military means,” as Rear admiral Hervé Bléjean, the Deputy Operation Commander in the Mediterranean, describes it; “the adversaries,” he contends, “are not combatants but criminals, and the aim is not to eliminate them but to bring them to justice.”55 Saving the lives of migrants has been far from the mission’s operational priority. This was clearly illustrated when it was revealed that the UK’s HMS Entreprise had not rescued a single migrant after almost eight weeks of deployment on intelligence-gathering missions near the Libyan coast.56 While it appears that after the summer more rescue operations were conducted, and by the end of 2015 (six months of activity) 8,500 people had been rescued by assets operating within EUNAVFOR MED,57 this number pales in relation to the rescue operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for example, which in eight months of activity rescued 20,129 people.58

Map indicating Search and Rescue areas (dark blue line), Frontex’s Triton and Poseidon area (red), EU NAVFOR MED’s (salmon), joint area of operations (light blue), and the location of interception and rescue missions near the Libyan coast during August 2015. (JO Triton/MRCC ROME)
Map indicating Search and Rescue areas (dark blue line), Frontex’s Triton and Poseidon area (red), EU NAVFOR MED’s (salmon), joint area of operations (light blue), and the location of interception and rescue missions near the Libyan coast during August 2015. (JO Triton/MRCC ROME)

While the operational priority of providing assistance to migrants at sea was stripped of the mission of state-led operations Triton and EUNAVFOR MED, non-governmental humanitarian actors took the initiative to launch a series of rescue operations, constituting a veritable civilian rescue flotilla (Stierl 2015). Here as well, while the involvement of non-governmental actors at sea was not entirely new (see Cuttitta 2014 and Pezzani 2015), it took on an unprecedented scale. In early April 2015, MSF (Holland) had already announced that it would join the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS, in operation since 2014) to provide medical assistance onboard the Phoenix.59 In the aftermath of the April 18, MSF launched two further rescue missions of its own on-board the boats Bourbon Argos (MSF Belgium) and Dignity I (MSF Spain).60 In May 2015 Seawatch, an independent first-aid and rescue operation initiated by a group of German citizens, sailed to the central Mediterranean. Finally, an additional initiative of this kind called SOS Mediterranée is soon to begin its first rescue mission.61 The main patrolling and rescuing zone of the vessels constituting this civilian flotilla lies immediately outside the Libyan territorial waters, between Tripoli and Zuwara, an area that had been covered by MN. While the civilian rescue activities have remained trapped in the “half-way bridge” conundrum that had already proven its limits in the frame of the MN operation – as their intervention could not prevent migrants from resorting to smugglers in order to reach them – their impact has been impressive on both symbolic and operational levels. Because MSF’s action is associated with medical assistance in a war context, its intervention signalled that both the scale of deaths and the militarisation of borders that lead to them have turned the Mediterranean into a war zone. This war zone, however, is created by the EU member-states and their policies, and as such MSF’s discourse can be described as a “reluctant humanitarianism”: it denounces the retreat and inaction of states that has followed the termination of MN and calls on them to redeploy a large-scale SAR operation immediately. In the absence of such an operation, MSF took it upon itself to intervene where states were failing to do so, all the while (like Seawatch) reiterating that saving migrants in distress at sea could not put an end to deaths as long as the exclusionary EU migration policy remained in place.62 By the end of October 2015, non-governmental vessels had rescued over 18,000 people, accounting for 7.6% of all rescued people (see annex).63 In the process, their operations denied states the monopoly over intervention in, and the monitoring of, the seas, thereby enabling civil society to claim its right to monitor the EU’s maritime frontier. To the list of non-governmental initiatives, one would need to add the land-based initiative WatchTheMed and its Alarm Phone project (to which we have contributed), that might be seen as the maritime control rooms of this civil society flotilla. Together, these nongovernmental endeavours have transformed the ostensibly neutral space of the sea into a political arena in its own right.

In the aftermath of April 2015, we can see that the “high tide” of assistance and bordering has risen again to a level similar to that of MN, but this time, the Janus face of MN, humanitarianism and security, have been split into two: the humanitarian mission is operated by the civilian flotillas and the policing mission by EUNAVFOR MED and Frontex. However, both these faces continue to be bound together, in a “secret solidarity,” to borrow Michel Agier’s terms (2010), as the action of non-governmental humanitarian vessels has become integrated, despite their own agenda, with the militarised activities of states. This is exemplified by the view that has become common after civilian rescue vessels leave the scene of rescue. As those onboard gaze into the distance, they see a cloud of smoke rise from the sea: it’s what’s left of the boat on which rescued migrants had embarked after it has been blown to dust by a military ship nearby. This points to a broader ambivalence of humanitarian practice today, which in the words of Michel Agier, is always at risk of becoming the “left hand of Empire,” healing the wounds wrought by the violence of the right hand, and operating in tandem with a politics of containment aimed at the populations of the global south (Agier 2010).64

After a rescue operation is complete, the migrants’ boat is blown up by a nearby military vessel. (MSF)
After a rescue operation is complete, the migrants’ boat is blown up by a nearby military vessel. (MSF)

The redeployment of the humanitarian border in its de-coupled form following the April shipwrecks has not proven more effective than MN in stopping illegalised migrants from either crossing or dying at sea. While the rescue capacity guaranteed by the civilian flotillas and the re-deployment of state actors did somewhat diminish the danger of crossing in the second half of the year, 2,892 deaths have been recorded by the IOM in the central Mediterranean in 2015. This figure is almost identical to that of 2014, and the mortality rate for both years is also comparable (see annex). Just as the effects of the Britain-led anti-slavery campaigns of the 19th century, the last 25 years of policies of closure and militarization demonstrate that repression of smuggling leads to changes in smuggling systems – the shifting of strategies and routes – rather than in their demise. In the meantime, such policies often increase the dangers for migrants in the process.

In fact, the one and only factor that has so far managed to significantly curb the danger of crossing in 2015 has not been a state or non-state operation at sea, whether aimed at policing the border or at rescuing people. The single event that has managed to make the crossing significantly safer for the first time in the recent history of trans-Mediterranean migration65 has been the migrants’ collective choice to change their route as of May 2015 from the central to the eastern Mediterranean, that is from a longer and much more dangerous route to a much shorter and relatively safer stretch of sea. While 806 deaths have been recorded this year in the eastern Mediterranean as well, this number is proportionally much lower in relation to the 856,723 arrivals in Greece than it would have been in the central Mediterranean, leading to a dramatic decrease in the overall mortality rate for the Mediterranean crossing as a whole from 15% in 2014 to 3.7% in 2015 (see annexe). This is, in relation to the figures that have been calculated to date, the lowest mortality rate in the last 15 years (see Fargues et al. 2015). Certainly, having a better chance of crossing the sea alive does not diminish either the human tragedies for those who do not succeed or the hardships migrants are facing once on land; yet acknowledging the crucial role played by migrants’ collective refusal to risk their lives in the central Mediterranean, and the consequent opening of the Balkan route, challenges a recurrent framing of the current events according to which, as Sandro Mezzadra and Manuela Bojadžijev have argued, “migrants and refugees play a passive role while states, governments, and European institutions are the active agents, called upon to intervene.”66

Beyond considering the changing scenario at sea and its impact on the danger of crossing in the aftermath of the April 2015 shipwrecks, in the scheme we have set for the articulation of land and sea, we must further consider the developments that have occurred on land during the same period. In order to do so, we ask: how has the EU sought to prevent the repetition of the unravelling of the Schengen and Dublin regimes on land which had been caused by the extension of state-led intervention at sea through MN? The ongoing crisis of Dublin and Schengen – both in relation to migrants arriving in Italy, and to the record number of people arriving in Greece since the summer 2015 – suggests, in fact, that the attempt to re-implement what we have called a process of internal externalisation has failed. With this failure, the accusations levelled against southern states of being unable – if not unwilling – to provide the degree of control demanded by the EU and its northern member-states has grown. Faced with this situation, within mostly the same succession of institutional meetings that have allowed for the redeployment of control at sea,67 the EU has sought to re-inscribe control on firm land in a newly negotiated way. In short (see Kasparek’s contribution to this issue for further details), the EU has offered limited relocations of migrants from their first EU country of arrival – now labelled “frontline states” – thereby somewhat lifting the “burden” that Dublin regulations have imposed on them, in exchange for southern and eastern European states’ acceptance to re-instate control. This time, however, supervision of the actual implementation of these measures has been entrusted to EU agencies such as Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The personnel of these agencies have been deployed in higher numbers at the external borders of the EU with the aim of operating inside reception centres – now labelled “hotspots” – so as to ensure that fingerprinting and identification are effectively carried out, and “deserving” asylum seekers – a few of whom will be re-located – are efficiently sorted from “bogus” economic migrants who will be promptly expelled through repatriation agreements.68 In this process, Frontex has gone from allegedly being a police force at the service of any European member state, to the executor of northern states’ will against the incompetence of their southern neighbours. We might refer to this move as the troikaisation of migration control since the increasing interference of the northern European states – in particular Germany, the European Commission and EU agencies – into Greece and Italy’s migration management echoes the highly uneven power relations exercised by the tripartite committee led by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to govern the Greek “debt crisis” and crush the Syriza government in Greece.69 The redrawing of economic and political boundaries at the EU level in the aftermath of the “debt crisis” has here been replicated at the level of migration management (see “Crisis” in Keyword in this issue). After being threatened with being kicked out the Eurozone in the Summer of 2015, at the turn of the year Greece finds itself threatened with forcibly exiting Schengen should it fail to reinstate control on migrants arriving on its shores.70

October 30, 2015: The German President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, accompanied by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, visits the Greek island of Lesvos and the newly created hotspot at Morian. During the visit Schulz stated that he hopes “the Greek authorities here speed up as we need the hotspot as soon as possible [and] in an enlarged way.” (European Parliament Audiovisual Services for Media)
October 30, 2015: The German President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, accompanied by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, visits the Greek island of Lesvos and the newly created hotspot at Morian. During the visit Schulz stated that he hopes “the Greek authorities here speed up as we need the hotspot as soon as possible (and) in an enlarged way.” (European Parliament Audiovisual Services for Media)
In addition to reinforcing the EU’s strategy of internal externalisation, the aim of re-erecting the EU’s outer rim of control has not been abandoned either. While the continuing chaos in the country makes enlisting Libyan cooperation impossible, this is not the case for Turkey, which has emerged as the main country of transit since summer 2015. To persuade the Turkish authorities to crack down on the crossing of illegalised migrants, the EU has offered Turkey 3 billion euros as well as additional assistance for the Syrians refugees who reside there. Moreover, the EU has offered to facilitate access of Turkish nationals to the EU through visa programs, and to resume negotiations over Turkey’s integration to the EU. All the while, the EU has suspended all criticism with respect to the Turkish regime’s treatment of its Kurdish population.71 While it has proven recalcitrant,72 at the end of 2015 Turkey demonstrated efforts to enforce tougher controls in the Aegean Sea. Unsurprisingly, and despite the increasing number of NGOs, activists, and humanitarian actors operating rescue missions in the same area of the Aegean Sea, these efforts have coincided with an increase in the cases of death at sea.73 In addition, the EU Commission has presented a proposal to include Turkey in an EU-wide list of “safe countries” where migrants could be easily deported – a measure that the Greek government has already agreed upon.74 Finally, as we write, Germany has taken command of a NATO operation in the Aegean Sea to “stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration,” thus ushering in a phase of de-coupled military and humanitarian operations that had so-far only characterized the central Mediterranean.75 The re-expansion of control at sea that we have witnessed since April 2015 has thus, this time, been coupled with an attempt – unsuccessful to date – to re-inscribe control on firm land within and around the perimeter of the EU. Under the unabashed command of the EU agenise and northern EU member-states, the present regime constitutes successive rims of humanitarian sorting and militarised bordering practices.


October 3 and 11, 2013. April 12 and 18, 2015. These dates, like those of all the other major shipwrecks that have occurred at the maritime borders of the EU before them, do not simply punctuate the cruel and repetitive history of the EU migration regime. Each of these dates also announces a fundamental shift in the policies, practices and discourses that have continuously redefined this deadly border-zone; they mark the making of the Mediterranean into a laboratory from which new assemblages of territory, authority and rights have emerged at a remarkably fast pace. The October 3 and 11, 2013 shipwrecks triggered a rupture in the politics of non-assistance at sea through the launching of the military-humanitarian Mare Nostrum operation and the simultaneous suspension of assistance provided by the Italian state on firm land. The April 12 and 18, 2015 shipwrecks, instead, tragically revealed the deadly consequences of the EU member-states and institutions’ attempt to reverse the MN regime by shrinking state-led assistance at sea and partially privatizing rescue. In turn, the twin shipwrecks of April ushered in the de-coupling of humanitarian and security logics at sea: the latter were performed through Frontex’s Triton operation and the EUNAVFOR MED operation, and the former through the deployment of an unprecedented non-governmental flotilla for rescue missions.

The ruptures caused by each of these tragic events have thus certainly not remained confined to the space of the sea, but have run deep into the already fragile architecture of the EU and its border regime on land; they have expanded the fissures of a system that seems to have entered a perpetual crisis. While the arrivals of migrants on EU shores grew exponentially during the summer of 2015, northern EU states and EU institutions sought to force southern and eastern EU states to re-erect an inner rim of control through what we have called the troikaisation of migration management, all the while continuing to seek to enlist the cooperation in border control of the “transit” states that migrants en route to the EU cross on their way. Indeed, we can see the volatility of the changes over the last two years as the expression of a regime desperately trying to cope with its own contradictions but never quite managing to resolve them. For one, the humanitarian and securitised migration regime on land and sea is stuck between irreconcilable imperatives: it cannot stop people but it does not want to let them move; it cannot let them die but it doesn’t want to save lives either. Within the current hierarchized and exclusionary migration regime, there will not be any resolution to these contradictions. If we come back to the paradoxical evolution to which we pointed at the onset of this article – namely, that of the shift from deaths by non-assistance to deaths through assistance – we can now say that there is only one way out of these equally deadly options: no assistance, but legal access. It is only when migrants are granted legal access to EU territory, and thus to safe means of transport, that the cycle of death may be brought to an end. Until this happens, the migration regime will continually be forced to adapt to the changes brought about by the unauthorized mobility of migrants and the shocks caused by tragic shipwrecks.

The volatile shifts and the desperate search to re-establish an equilibrium that we have observed in the last few months may also be seen as the throes of an emergent regime. The unstoppable momentum gathered through the collective transgression of borders over the last year combined with the deepening of the rifts opened by the “debt crisis” in the architecture of the EU have in fact produced uncontrollable currents that seem to have brought the EU’s border regime, if not the whole of the Union, to a breaking point. Let’s remember that it took the migrant worker struggles and the oil crisis of the 1970s to bring the post-war guest worker regime to an end. What gradually replaced it was the regime of illegalized migration that has been the durable and structural feature of neoliberal economies of the global north. Similarly, we can reasonably formulate the hypothesis that the current crisis of the EU border regime, in the context of the global economic crisis, may lead to a new migration regime, which will be an inextricable dimension of the new phase of capitalism still in formation. Reasonable as it may be, this hypothesis is tainted with pessimism: historically, every new migration regime, while operating differently than its predecessor, has never ceased to deny the full recognition of migrants’ freedom and equality “before, at and after the border,” to paraphrase the advocates of border control. However, in this time of transition, the power of the current migrant struggles may still leave some room for optimism. For after the so-called “Athens’ spring” was crushed by the brutal reaction of the troika, in July 2015, the collective enactment of freedom of movement distinctive of the “long summer of migration”76 (despite the efforts deployed by governmental agencies to quell it) has become the only spark of hope for a different Europe to emerge – a Europe in which the full recognition of freedom and equality is no longer bounded by race, class and state boundaries. Through their movements and struggles, migrants are fighting to realise this idea of Europe, which led them to risk their lives crossing the sea in the first place.

Statistical Annex and References on next page »

Ebbing and Flowing: The EU’s Shifting Practices of (Non-) Assistance and Bordering in a Time of Crisis

Essay text on previous page

Statistical Annex

Data sources:
Arrivals: UNHCR data based on the agency’s border activities, Ministry of Interior and Police data. Data available at: http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php
Recorded deaths: IOM, collected on the basis of statistical data from governments and other agencies, as well as NGOs and media. Available at: http://missingmigrants.iom.int/mediterranean

Central Mediterranean

Migrant arrivals in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (UNHR)
Migrant arrivals in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography based on UNHCR data)
Migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Missing Migrants Project)
Migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography based on IOM data)

Eastern Mediterranean

Migrant arrivals in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (UNHR)
Migrant arrivals in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography based on UNHCR data)
Migrant deaths in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Missing Migrants Project)
Migrant deaths in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography based on IOM data)

(2) Migrant mortality rate

A mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths in a particular population per unit of time. To calculate the migrant mortality rate (MMR) which we can understand as a measure of the danger of crossing the sea, we calculate the proportion of migrants dying in relation to number of migrants who initially left (the sum of the live arrivals and deaths at sea). However, because neither all arrivals nor all fatalities are discovered in relation to illegalised migration – a phenomena that operates by definition in a partially hidden way –, the calculation of mortality based on recorded arrivals and deaths is by necessity incomplete (see Carling 2007). Even though at present the Mediterranean is a highly monitored space and we can thus expect most deaths and arrivals to be recorded in the sources we rely on (UNHCR for arrivals and IOM for deaths), to date, no satisfactory solution to this methodological issue has been applied to migrant mortality at sea. As such the mortality rate calculated for this study should be seen as indicative of tendencies of the increasing or decreasing danger of crossing rather than a highly reliable measure. For a synthetic discussion of the different sources of data on deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, see Spijkerboer and Last 2014. For a discussion of the methodological difficulties concerning the calculation of mortality, see Heller 2015.

Annual fatalities, arrivals, and migrant mortality rate (MMR) in areas of the Mediterranean Sea, 2014–2015
Annual fatalities, arrivals, and migrant mortality rate (MMR) in areas of the Mediterranean Sea, 2014–2015
Migrant mortality rates in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Heller and Pezzani)
Migrant mortality rates in the central Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography)
Migrant mortality rates in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Heller and Pezzani)
Migrant mortality rates in the eastern Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography)
Migrant mortality rates in the Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Heller and Pezzani)
Migrant mortality rates in the Mediterranean during 2014 and 2015. (Forensic Oceanography)

(3) Interception/rescue operations by actor in the central Mediterranean

Data source: Italian Coast Guard

2014 data

Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, 2014
Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, 2014

2015 data

Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, up to May 20, 2015
Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, up to May 20, 2015
Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, up to October 26, 2015
Migrants intercepted/rescued by actor in the central Mediterranean, up to October 26, 2015


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–––– . 2015. “‘Sharing the Burden of Rescue’: Illegalised Boat Migration, the Shipping Industry and the Costs of Rescue in the Central Mediterranean.” Post for the Border Criminologies Themed Blog Series on the Industry of Illegality organised by Ruben Andersson, 2 November 2015 https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/11/sharing-burden
Heller, Charles, and Chris Jones. 2014. “Eurosur: saving lives or reinforcing deadly borders?” Statewatch Journal 23, no 3/4. http://database.statewatch.org/article.asp?aid=33156 (accessed May 15, 2015).
Kasparek, Bernd. 2015. “Complementing Schengen: The Dublin System and the European Border and Migration Regime.” In Harald Bauder and Christian Matheis, eds. Migration and Borders Here and Now: From Theorizing Causes to Proposing Interventions. London and New YorkY: Palgrave MacMillan.
Kasparek, Bernd, and Mark Speer. 2015. “Of Hope. Hungary and the Long Summer of Migration.” Bordermonitoring.eu. September 9. http://bordermonitoring.eu/ungarn/2015/09/of-hope-en/.
Last, Tamara, and Thomas Spijkerboer. 2014. “Tracking deaths in the Mediterranean.” In Tara Brian and Frank Laczko, eds. Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost during Migration. International Organisation of Migration.
Mbembe, Achille. 2003. ‘‘Necropolitics.’’ Public Culture 15 (1): 11–40.
Mezzadra, Sandro. 2011. “The gaze of autonomy. Capitalism, migration, and social struggles.” In Vicki Squire, ed. The contested politics of mobility: borderzones and irregularity. London: Routledge.
Mezzadra, Sandro, and Neilson Brett. 2013. Border as Method. Duke: Duke University Press.
Migreurop. 2013. Atlas of Migration in Europe: A Critical Geography of Migration Policies. London: New Internationalist Publications.
Migreurop. 2015. Search and Rescue in Central Mediterranean Sea. Available at : http://www.migreurop.org/article2619.html?lang=fr (Accessed August 2015)
Monzini, Paola. 2010. Smuggling of migrants into, through and from North Africa. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Monzini, Paola, Nourhan Abdel Aziz, Ferruccio Pastore. 2015. “The Changing Dynamics of Cross-border Human Smuggling and Trafficking in the Mediterranean.” Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), Rome: 1–75.
Papastergiadis, Nichos. 2000 The Turbulence of Migration. Globalization, Deterritorialization und Hybridity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). 2014. The “left-to-die boat”: actions and reactions. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=20940&lang=en (accessed May 2015).
Pezzani, Lorenzo. 2015. Liquid traces: Spatial practices, aesthetics and humanitarian dilemmas at the maritime borders of the EU. London: Centre for Research Architecture, Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths University.
Porsia, Nancy. 2015. “The Exploitation of Migration Routes to Europe: Human Trafficking Through Areas of Libya Affected by Fundamentalism.” In Libya’s Fight For Survival. Brussels: European Foundation for Democracy: 73–87.
Ravenstein, Ernst. 1885. “Laws of Migration.” Journal of the Statistical Society 48: 167–227.
Salvi, Giovanni. 2014. “From Refoulement to Mare Nostrum. The fight against the smuggling of migrants by sea: legal problems and practical solutions.” Presentation given at the 8th Meeting of the Consultative Forum of Prosecutors General and Directors of Public Prosecutors of the Member States of the European Union. The Hague: December 12th 2014.
Sassen, Sasskia. 2002. “A New Cross-Border Field for Public and Private Actors,” in Yale H Ferguson and R. J. Barry Jones, eds. Political Space: Frontiers of Change and Governance in a Globalizing World. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press: 173–88.
Sassen, Saskia. 2006. Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Schmitt, Carl. 2003. The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum
Europaeum. New York: Telos Press.
Steinberg, Philip E. 2001. The Social Construction of the Ocean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stierl, Maurice. 2015. “Maritime Humanitarians, Migrant Suffering and the Idea of Europe.” Antipode (forthcoming).
Suárez de Vivero, Juan Luis. 2010. Jurisdictional Waters in The Mediterranean and Black Seas. Brussels: European Parliament.
Tazzioli, Martina. 2014. Spaces of governmentality, autonomous migration and the arab uprisings. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.
–––– . 2015. “The Desultory Politics Of Mobility And The Humanitarian-Military Border In The Mediterranean. Mare Nostrum Beyond The Sea.” REMHU : Revista Interdisciplinar Da Mobilidade Humana, 23 (44): 61–82.
Tondini, Matteo. 2010. “Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea And Their Return to Libya.” INEX Paper (October 2010): 1–28.
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Walters, William. 2011. “Foucault and frontiers: notes on the birth of the humanitarian border.” In Ulrich Bröckling, Susanne Krasmann and Thomas Lemke, eds. Governmentality: Current Issues and Future Challenges. New York: Routledge.
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Recommended citation: Heller, Charles and Pezzani, Lorenzo. “Ebbing and Flowing: The EU’s Shifting Practices of (Non-)Assistance and Bordering in a Time of Crisis” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Shoreline Visions: Lampedusa

“The wave is the recoil of the stroke and it will be greater or less in proportion as the stroke is greater or less. A wave is never alone but is mingled with as many other waves as there are inequalities on the banks where the wave is produced…Many waves turned in different directions can be created between the surface and the bottom of the same body of water at the same time…all the impressions caused by things striking upon the water can penetrate one another without being destroyed. One wave never penetrates another; but they only recoil from the spot where they strike.” — Leonardo Da Vinci, “Of Waves,” in Notebooks

Father Mussie Zerai

Father Mussie Zerai

Modou Gueye

Modou Gueye

Routes, Corridors, and Spaces of Exception: Governing Migration and Europe

Pedion tou Areos

When arriving in Athens at the beginning of August 2015, I was still thinking about the Euro-crisis and the developments in Greece. Just about a month before, an overwhelming majority of the Greek population had rejected the measures proposed by the EU Commission, and just a few days later, the Syriza-ANEL-government conceded to an agreement, which followed from the notorious marathon-summit in Brussels and which imposed even harsher measures than those rejected by the referendum. The roller-coaster ride of the last six months – from the election victory of Syriza in January 2015 via the preliminary agreement on February 20, when both the Greek state’s finances and the perceived window of opportunity were rapidly shrinking, up to the referendum and the imposition of the third memorandum – had come to a crashing halt. It seemed like an utter defeat of a left and democratic project in, and for Europe. I expected the social movements to be apathetic and paralysed.

Around the 20th of July 2015, some 43 families from Afghanistan and Syria set up camp in Pedion tou Areos park. They had been evicted from the nearby Victoria square, a well-known transit point in Athens for migrants arriving from the Aegean islands who want to organise their onward journey toward Northern Europe. Soon, a bustling solidarity effort by the Greek social movements was under way. The call for donations was met with overwhelming generosity – tents, clothes, and foodstuff of all kinds were donated in huge quantities. Steki Metanaston, the social centre for migrants close to the park, was literally overflowing with donations. In the end, donations were sent by the truckload to the Aegean islands, where every day, hundreds of migrants were arriving from the Turkish coast, and where the Greek state was incapable of providing even the most basic services while the migrants were forced to wait for their registration.

This camp lasted until the 19th of August, when the Ministry of Migration had finally managed to set up an open camp in Eleonas, where all residents of Pedion tou Areos were supposed to be transferred. However, only a minority went with the transfer, while many opted to continue the journey across the Balkans. In the four weeks of Pedion tou Areos, many thousands of migrants – men, women and children alike – must have passed through this ad-hoc structure that was solely upheld by the solidarity of the local population and that enabled many to find a few days of rest, and the necessary contacts before starting to move once again.

This chapter out of the largely unwritten book of the histories of migration is instructive in many ways, as it foreshadows what is now commonly referred to as the European refugee crisis. Since by August, there was already a large, though largely unnoticed movement toward Europe on its way. Even though there were reports about large arrivals of migrants on the Greek islands of the Aegean, like Kos or Lesvos, Europe was still dealing with the fallout of the Euro-crisis and the process that led to the Third Memorandum in Greece. Even the institutions and processes of the European border and migration regime seemed to focus almost exclusively on Italy and the Central Mediterranean. The discussion in Greece, insofar as there was a discussion at all, also assumed a manageable increase in number of migrants. An arrival of 200,000 persons in 2015 was considered an extreme, and rather unlikely, estimate. Throughout the spring, there were occasional reports about migrants passing through Macedonia, but nothing that would suggest a movement of the scale that would begin during and continue after August.

Pedion tou Areos is thus not only representative of the movement of migration already on the way, but also the inability of national and European institutions to forecast, to plan, and to provide for even the most basic necessities and infrastructure. These were important patterns that continued in the following months, which meant that matters were almost exclusively addressed through the solidarity of ordinary people. State and para-state institutions as well as the various NGOs and IGOs in the field were, with a few notable exceptions, absent at first and then late to the scene. Without the efforts of individuals and loosely composed, often ad-hoc groups, there would have been an all-encompassing humanitarian crisis during these last months. Yet it was mostly averted by an effort of solidarity from below. To this end, the European refugee crisis is in fact a crisis of the decade-old attempts of European institutions to control, manage and govern migration on the way to and inside of Europe. Under closer inspection, the European refugee crisis is the crisis of the European border regime – it is a crisis of the Schengen system.1

Refugees burn their life vests in Greece
Syrian refugees burn their floatation vests in Kos, Greece. (Alessandro Penso)

This article explains how the invisible path across the Balkans was first established by these movements of migration, and how it then entered into the European spotlight, and indeed onto the screen of the global public, at the end of August 2015. The transformation of a route into a corridor sheds light not only on new modes of governing migration, but also on Europe writ large. The establishment of the corridor – the proposed declaration of specific parts of Europe’s external borders as “hotspots” and the shift of sovereignty toward centralised European institutions legitimated through these denominations – resemble in many ways the political and technocratic interventions into those states most dramatically affected by the Euro-crisis. The latter was epitomised by the actions of the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund). If this is indeed an emerging pattern of government in Europe, then at stake here is not only the continuation of the European project in the face of a renewed wave of nationalisms, but democracy itself – both in and beyond Europe.

The Invisible Path Across the Balkans

Throughout spring and summer 2015, an ever-increasing number of migrants arrived on the Greek islands in the proximity of the Turkish coast, where they were first registered. After their transfer to the Greek mainland, they usually continued their journey toward Macedonia, onward to Serbia, into Hungary, and thus the Schengen mainland. Even though Greece is part of Schengenland, it has the character of a Schengen island since the accession of both Romania and Bulgaria into Schengen had been postponed many times. Furthermore, since Greece had dropped out of the Dublin system2 in 2011, a registration in Greece and a subsequent entry into the European fingerprint database EURODAC was without consequence – that is, under the Dublin rules no deportation to Greece would be triggered. On their way toward Hungary, migrants could count on the “tacit acquiescence” of these countries, as Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani (2016) so aptly put it. The states just above understood that they were not a destination, but rather a mere transit country, and thus chose the strategy of silently accepting, and at times even facilitating this movement.

Macedonia serves as a good example. Confronted with a growing number of migrants transiting the country, in June 2015 the Macedonian state introduced new legislation, which allowed migrants to move freely within Macedonia for 72 hours in order to reach a reception centre where an asylum claim could be made. The Macedonian state introduced a de facto transit visa, and it is highly doubtful that this was not the intended purpose. Frontex’s claim that “this new legislation appears to have also had an impact on the border security as it was used by migrants for transiting the country rather than reaching reception centres” (Frontex 2015b, 18) appears as a rather diplomatic way of paraphrasing what was going on. The rising number of transit migrants through August proved overwhelming for the state’s capacity, however, and on the 20th of August a state of emergency was declared and the border with Greece was temporarily closed. A growing number of migrants were stuck at the border and, soon enough, riots and clashes with the Macedonian police ensued. After two days, the government reversed its position, re-opened the border, and started to provide special trains from the Macedonian-Greek border to the Macedonian-Serbian border.

The Hungarian government was confronted, however, with the fact that it was its responsibility (nominally, under the Dublin regime) to process the vast bulk of asylum applications from migrants that reached Hungary via Serbia. It was therefore in a similar position to Italy and Greece before 2011. Likewise, the situation of migrants there has been deplorable. The government opted for a policy of mass detention in order to create a deterrent effect, there were numerous reports about ill-treatment of migrants by Hungarian police forces, and even recognised refugees suffered from homelessness and unemployment. Their situation was the combined effect of an openly nationalist and racist government, on the one hand, and the lasting marks of the hit that Hungary took with the global financial crisis in 2008, on the other hand, which led to an IMF intervention and a massive devaluation of the Hungarian currency.

In June 2015 the Hungarian government announced that for “technical reasons,” no more returns would be accepted according to the Dublin regime. This announcement had to be revoked the very next day due to considerable pressure, notably from Austria. It is safe to assume that the announcement was a gambit to increase pressure on the EU summit of the 25/26th of June, where asylum and migration policies were the main item on the agenda, including the relocation proposal from the European Commission. At the same time, construction work on a 175 km fence along the border with Serbia had already been announced and was met with massive criticism within the EU. The Hungarian position can thus be summarised as an attempt to avoid becoming the main country receiving returned refugees in the southeastern part of the EU; this was an attempt not only to remove the country from the messiness of migration, but also the EU migration and asylum framework completely.

With the ongoing construction of the fence, a formal adoption of the relocation scheme by the EU, and rising numbers of daily arrivals of migrants in Hungary, the government temporarily bowed and adopted the same position of “tacit complicity.” The Budapest Keleti train station became the unofficial transit point where migrants established contact with the informal economy of assisted migrant mobility and brokered their continued journey toward Germany and Sweden. Official transport in trains or buses was prohibited for migrants since, nominally, they had to remain in Hungary to process asylum claims, which meant they had to resort to this grey economy. Effectively migrants did not have to remain at Keleti station for longer than just a few hours.

Keleti and the March of Hope

It should be noted that until the end of August, this route of migration within Europe went largely unnoticed. It had been established through the practices of migration during spring and steadily rose in size, but for the most part it was a silent or invisible practice. On the 25th of August, however, an internal discussion paper from the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) leaked to the press. It stated that the BAMF was considering suspending Dublin for Syrian asylum seekers. Its content quickly spread amongst Syrians and was immediately taken at face value. Despite the German government denying this policy change there was no way of taking it back, and Germany became the number one destination country for migrants in Europe. A mere two days later, the Austrian police discovered 71 corpses of migrants in a lorry parked at a motorway car park south of Vienna. Following the discovery, Austrian police intensified its control of vehicles passing through its territory and at its border with Hungary, which resulted in traffic jams of up to 50 km in length. So while more migrants than ever wanted to reach Germany, the passage was effectively blocked as the smugglers suspended their operations.

Video stills from the documentary "We walk together"
Video stills from “We walk together” (Domokos et al. 2015)

The events of the following days mark the emergence of the so-called “Balkans route” from an invisible practice of migration to a highly visible phenomenon. During the week from August 31st until September 4th, thousands of migrants were left stranded at Keleti train station. The Hungarian government oscillated between either allowing migrants to use trains or suspending all international train connections. Later in the week there was an unsuccessful attempt at luring migrants into detention. The situation at Keleti train station grew dire, as basic support was only provided by a few local organisations. Again, both the government and NGOs were largely absent. In the end, the initiative of migrants to start a march on foot toward the Austrian-Hungarian border resolved the situation. The march toward the West, which quickly became known under the hashtag #marchofhope, progressed relatively fast and soon reached a two-lane motorway. The images of this march will surely find their place in the iconography of this long summer of migration: a line of people formed who, after a week of waiting, reappropriated their own mobility to collectively and defiantly leave Budapest. This is brilliantly captured in the video “We walk together” (Domokos et al. 2015). Under the pressure of these images and with the knowledge that a repressive strategy had failed, Germany and Austria announced that they would open their borders and admit the migrants. In the next days, many thousands of migrants arrived in Germany – not clandestinely, but openly in the central train stations and in the heart of the German cities. There, they were welcomed by many people in scenes that were broadcast around the world (see Kasparek and Speer [2015] for a more detailed account of the events).


Keleti and the #marchofhope mark the turning point of the route across the Balkans. They mark the new role that Germany took on, with Chancellor Merkel famously declaring that “We [i.e. Germany] will manage” the arrival and integration of the migrants. Despite immense pressure, the German government has since refused to close its borders (though border checks were reintroduced) or declare an upper limit to the number of asylum seekers that would be admitted. All this has been publicised and praised globally, and provides an astonishing contrast with the image of Germany’s handling of the Euro-crisis. Chancellor Merkel has continued to stress that there can only be a European answer to the movements of migration.

Indeed, however slowly at first, the European institutions started formulating such an answer. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, seized the moment and made the European refugee crisis the central issue of his “State of the European Union” address on the 9th of September. Furthermore, the Commission was quick to adopt a second implementation package for its European Agenda on Migration and has been taking up new initiatives every month; the negotiations with Turkey and the Valletta summit on Migration3 are only the highest-profile examples of these initiatives.

Over the months of autumn, the route across the Balkans remained largely open, but changed in character. The first change was the completion of the Hungarian fence at the border with Serbia. Soon the movements of migration turned toward Croatia, which at first seemed strangely overtaken by the events and which in the following days organised train transport for the migrants. In a most bizarre turn, migrants were transported to Hungary, where, on an open field behind the border, they had to change trains and were transported to Austria. It was only after the construction of a second fence – this time at the Croatian border – that Hungary ceased to be a transit country for migrants. In turn, migrants left Croatia toward Slovenia, and from there on toward Austria.

Both Croatia and Slovenia had the same experience vis-à-vis migration as Macedonia did before. An initial attempt to close the borders and to contain the migrants did not prove feasible, so both countries instead turned to facilitating the transit of migrants. By October, a highly efficient infrastructure of transit had been established across the Balkans, reaching from the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki to several regional distribution centres in Germany. The main architectural feature is the transit camp, geared towards processing migrants as fast as possible, as well as the connecting lines of transport. By this time it was no longer just a route, but rather a corridor, i.e., a narrow and highly organised mechanism to channel and facilitate the movement of people that only states seem capable of providing. While migrants were still able to travel towards the north, the corridor turned the active movement of people, which had constituted the route in the first place, back into a passive mechanism of being transferred. Migrants didn’t travel the route anymore: they were hurriedly channeled along, no longer having the power to either determine their own movement or their own speed.

One thoroughly consistent testimony from migrants is heard in many places along this corridor. Asked why they do not leave the corridor and pursue an alternative path, the answer is that if you leave the flow, you are lost. Outside the corridor, you are subject to the regime of asylum, detention, and deportation. Only inside the corridor, you are allowed to move. The corridor, stretching across and seemingly connecting many countries, has a constitution of its own. One might characterise it as “extraterritorial” to better capture the different laws and rules that apply within (as opposed to those without). That these rules and laws were written elsewhere goes without saying. The EU border and migration regime did not have the capacity to stop the extraordinary movement of people across its borders, but morphing the route into a confined corridor served to re-establish some kind of control over the movements.

This became clear on the 18th of November, when Slovenia first refused entry to all migrants who did not come from either Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Over the course of the next days, all other countries along the corridor followed suit: first Croatia, then Serbia, and then Macedonia. Since Greece had not established this kind of control over its – arguably more complex – border, the Greek-Macedonian border post near the town of Eidomeni became the point of separation of nationalities. Within a few days, thousands of migrants who were refused entry into the corridor were stuck there, and they started to protest. After about two weeks, the informal camp at Eidomeni was evacuated by the Greek police.

Two observations can be made concerning this transformation of the corridor. The first is that the corridor served to establish a new and unprecedented political space. On the 25th of October, the president of the European Commission invited to Brussels the heads of state of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia for the so-called Leaders’ Meeting on refugee flows along the Western Balkans Route. According to news reports, the meeting started with mutual accusations but apparently, over the course of the session, some common understanding was forged. This resulted in a 17-point statement (Leaders’ Meeting on refugee flows along the Western Balkans Route 2015). The individual points on information exchange, limiting secondary movements, humanitarian efforts, migration and border management, fighting smuggling, and trafficking are very much boilerplate policy recommendations – such was to be expected. But the mere fact that heads of state of government from within as well outside the EU – countries within Schengen and outside, with EU candidate status and not, etc. – convened in this way is remarkable by itself, both for its high-level composition as well as the heterogeneity of countries involved. Their common affectedness and the new connection of the corridor created an ad-hoc political space, orthogonal to all previously existing spaces, such as the EU, the Schengen Zone, and so on. Despite widespread skepticism following the meeting and expectations that, soon enough, the individual countries involved would again pursue their own strategies of beggar-thy-neighbour, this has not yet happened.

Second, it should be noted that the particular choice of the three countries of origin (Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) seems to follow less a rationale of asylum than the law of big numbers. For instance, notably absent from this group is Eritrea, which is controlled by a grim dictatorship and is a point of departure for many refugees. The Commission’s relocation proposal, to which we will turn later, focuses on refugees from Syria and Eritrea, since only refugees from these countries have an average asylum recognition rate above 75%. On the other hand, Germany has tried especially hard to declare Afghanistan a safe country so that deportations of Afghan asylum seekers would be allowed. The decision to focus on these three countries seems to be based on the fact that migrants from these places constitute the largest groups in the corridor, with Eritreans usually crossing from Libya to Italy.

In this sense, the corridor represents a space of exception – a space where rules and laws are suspended and a space that is not formally constituted. Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani’s discussion of the shifting character of the Central Mediterranean border since the inception of Mare Nostrum in this issue captures a similar notion. The corridor represents a “half-way bridge to Europe” since in order to enter it, the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea still waits ahead. In the corridor itself, migrants are subjected to a different legal regime that suspends some of their rights. Their access to an asylum system that could guarantee them some kind of status still lies at the very end of the corridor. They move and exist in a legally non-defined state and, as in the case of the exclusion of most nationalities, there is no recourse against such arbitrary decisions.

Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson discuss a similar phenomenon in their recent work “Border as Method” (2013, ch. 7). Under the subheading “Corridors and Channels,” they discuss excisions from national territory, such as special economic zones or free ports. They note that

[t]he strange form of excision, by which states establish such zones and enclaves by removing them from ordinary normative arrangements, allows a plurality of legal orders, labor regimes, patterns of economic development, and even cultural styles to emerge. We argue that these zones [. . .] invert the logic of exception that in recent times many thinkers have used to explain the new forms of securitization epitomized by the camp. Rather than being spaces of legal voidness, they are saturated by competing norms and calculations that overlap and sometimes conflict in unpredictable but also negotiable ways (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013, 208f).

While they discuss established and more permanent zones than the corridor across the Balkans, their argument concerning the character of exception remains notable. It focuses on the productivity of the exception, which is hence characterised not as a voidness of legal norms and regimes, and especially not as arbitrariness in a despotic sense, but rather as the ability to choose from competing orders and to impose new ones. This corresponds precisely with the dubious legality and legitimacy of the emergence and temporary stability of the corridor. It is in this sense that the corridor represents a space of exception, which will characterise the emergence of a new border regime that is rising from the ashes of the old.

Looking Elsewhere Too Late

Writing this essay – after the many months that the European refugee crisis has captured the headlines, just as the Euro-crisis had done before – it is difficult to return to my state of mind back in spring 2015, when the route across the Balkans was still invisible. The question that keeps coming to mind, however, is this: How was it possible that this could even happen, after the EU spent decades building and extending the institutions and mechanisms of the border regime?

To pick but one example: The European border agency Frontex was strikingly absent this summer. Despite its supposedly sophisticated Risk Analysis Unit, charged with forecasting changes in migratory patterns, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the agency has failed to even come close to estimating the events of 2015. The Annual Risk Analysis 2015 (Frontex 2015a), published in April 2015, still mostly focuses on the Central Mediterranean. Even with the events I just sketched out above, the agency remained silent and inactive, only to be called upon in late autumn. More generally, during the long summer, all (analytic or reactive) mechanisms of the EU border regime seem to have failed, while Dublin, the corner stone of the European asylum system, was relatively suspended.

But the answer to the question is: the EU border regime was already in trouble in the spring of 2015. The crisis of Schengen, i.e. the appearance of a dis-integrative dynamic in the Schengen process, can be traced back to the events of the Arab Spring of 2011. The overthrow of the dictatorships – first in Tunisia and then Libya – effectively destroyed the Central-Mediterranean border regime, since the delegation and externalisation of the practices of migration containment came to an abrupt end. The arrival of about 30,000 young Tunisians in Italy following the revolution, the ensuing French-Italian border conflict around Ventimiglia, and the subsequent patches to the Schengen Acquis in 2013 are all well documented.

This development coincided with what can be referred to as a democratisation of the border in the sense of Étienne Balibar (1999), albeit on a very basic, or pragmatic level. The by now famous judgment4 in the case of Hirsi Jamaa et al. vs. Italy of January (2012) re-affirmed the legal force of international law – the Geneva refugee convention in this case – even extraterritorialy. To this end, push-back operations at the EU’s external border were outlawed. Without the externalised border in North Africa, and the border included into the realm of international law, a major reversal of border policies of the EU was necessary. Italy’s government’s decision of October 2013 to establish the Mare Nostrum mission and to prioritise the saving of lives over the “defense of the external border” can be hailed as a courageous step. But it can also be seen as the consequence of Hirsi vs. Italy and precisely the emergence of a new approach to governing the borders and migration, where humanitarian and securitarian rationales are not played out against each other, but are amalgamated. After all, the imperative to save human lives, so far leveraged as a critique of the contemporary bordering practices of the EU, can also lend legitimacy to incisive action on behalf of governing migration.

The third development in the crisis dynamics of Schengen is the gradual disintegration of the Dublin system and, with it, the Common European Asylum System. This steady deterioration of the southern European asylum systems within the EU is a consequence not only of uneven geography but, like the Euro-crisis, of the dominance of one economic model prescribed by the North over another practised in the South. The 2008 Pact on Immigration and Asylum,5 brokered by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, cemented the dominance of Asylum as the European political technology to govern migration over the less formalised model of oscillation between illegalisation and collective legalisation in conjunction with employment as practised in the south of the EU. While the construction, agricultural and care sectors of the southern economies were fueled by access to an illegalised and thus a disenfranchised and exploitable labour force, the northern economies depended much less on this approach. Their migration preferences were rather directed toward the figure of the international high-skilled migrant, while an economic need for migration in the lower income sectors could be easily satisfied by the EU’s eastern expansion. Both the creation of the internal market as well as the space of free labour mobility benefitted the export-oriented economies of the north. With the ban on collective legalisation, the rapidly shrinking capacity of labour markets to absorb immigration, and austerity limiting the resources of the state (not only in the field of asylum, but all social sectors), the Dublin system started to fall apart. It could not guarantee the (from the onset fictional) homogeneity of the European asylum systems.

It was this scenario – the breakdown of the central Mediterranean border regime, failure of Dublin as the internal distribution mechanism for asylum seekers, the emergent divisions within Europe – that the Juncker Commission sought to rectify with its European Agenda on Migration in May 2015 (European Commission 2015a). The history of the Agenda itself details the inability of the current European political process to formulate policy responses in time. After the shipwrecks off the shores of Lampedusa in October 2013, a major overhaul of the EU’s migration and border policies had been promised for summer 2014. The Ukrainian crisis, and the controversial nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as the Commission’s president supplanted these plans. It was only in spring 2015 that the Commission started to adopt the first measures. By that time, the political agenda was dominated by the Italian initiatives Mare Nostrum (and its substitution, the Frontex operation Triton) that re-attempted an externalisation of the border, as well as the rising death toll in the Mediterranean and an anticipated mass arrival of migrants from Libya.

The Agenda is an umbrella for a plethora of initiatives, not all of them new. Its main points can be summarised as Relocation, Resettlement and Europeanisation of the border. Relocation refers to the establishment of a pressure relief valve for the Dublin system, where a quota of asylum seekers from EU member states that are confronted with the arrival of large numbers of migrants (initially Italy and Greece) would be distributed, first voluntarily, then mandatorily, throughout the EU. This scheme was never ambitious. In June the decision to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers was made and, in September, another 120,000. These numbers seem strikingly inadequate given the fact that around 800,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015. However, the proposal was controversial enough to produce a split within the European Union, with major eastern EU member-states such as Hungary and Poland refusing to support the scheme. This led to the first ever majority decision in the Justice and Home Affairs council in June 2015. Resettlement – that is, the transferring of refugees from conflict zones directly to the EU – seems equally doomed, given the refusal of many EU member states to opt into such a plan.


The most ambitious and equally controversial proposal of the Commission, however, concerns the reinforced Europeanisation of the border, which aims at regaining control over this space. This proposal was already part of the European Agenda on Migration of May 2015, but has gathered momentum due to the events of last summer. The Commission proposes to temporarily declare certain portions of the European external border “hotspots,” i.e. zones with high levels of activity of irregular migration. While the Commission is unclear about the precise criteria that would trigger the designation, it would clearly trigger a “hotspot approach”:

The aim of the Hotspot approach is to provide a platform for the agencies to intervene, rapidly and in an integrated manner, in frontline Member States when there is a crisis due to specific and disproportionate migratory pressure at their external borders, consisting of mixed migratory flows and the Member State concerned might request support and assistance to better cope with that pressure. The support offered and the duration of assistance to the Member State concerned would depend on its needs and the development of the situation. This is intended to be a flexible tool that can be applied in a tailored manner (Avramopoulos 2015, emphasis added).

The early formulations of the “hotspot” and “hotspot approach” make it very clear that the Commission is planning a highly flexible approach. There is neither mention of specific architectures, nor a concrete elaboration of what agencies are to be deployed and to what ends. The Commission stresses that this designation is a temporary one, and it ends with the crisis or emergency
being resolved.

Curiously, the EU interior ministers have taken a different view on what a “hotspot” means. To them, it is the return of detention infrastructure in a new guise:

setting up of reception and first reception facilities in the frontline Member States, with the active support of Member States’ experts and of EASO, Frontex and Europol to ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants (“hotspots”) (European Council 2015).

So far, eleven hotspots have been designated, five in Greece and six in Italy. Especially the hotspots in Italy confirm Charles Heller’s and Lorenzo Pezzani’s observation that the scaling up of maritime border operations such as Mare Nostrum and its successor Triton have been accompanied by a scaling down of registration and accommodation efforts on the land, which went hand in hand with the subversion of the Dublin system by the Italian state. The situation is similar in Greece, with EU interior ministers having complained for about a decade that the Greek state is not playing its role in the Dublin procedures. While the “hotspot approach” may use both the language of humanitarianism and support for the “frontline Member States,” it is in fact a massive vote of no confidence concerning the ability, and even willingness of these states to conform to the European rules, as unfair and biased they may be.

Greek refugee hotspots
Identified “hotspots” in Greece as of December 10, 2015 (European Commission 2015b, Annex 4)
Italian refugee hotspots
Identified “hotspots” in Italy as of December 10, 2015 (European Commission 2015b, Annex 5)

With the establishment of the hotspots, this raises important questions about their legitimacy and their internal mechanisms. The concept of the “hotspot” refers to the slight democratisation of the borders that Hirsi vs. Italy brought about; the concept legitimizes it through a humanitarian guise. The initial concept of “hotspots” takes a shortcut and avoids these issues since, nominally, all actions taken in “hotspots” are to be carried out by national officials, thus leaving national sovereignty in these matters intact. The intervention of the European institutions and agencies is supposed to merely consist of an advisory role.

Here again, the specific modes of European government in the Euro-crisis come to mind, where nominal advisory bodies such as the Troika were in fact writing laws and policies to be adopted, and that were only formally, in haste and without proper deliberation, voted into power by the national parliaments. While in May the “hotspot approach” was still predicated on a request of the respective member state, the December EU summit called for a mechanism to deploy these institutions; additionally, it called for a yet to be created European Border and Coast Guard (European Commission 2015c), even against the will of the affected member state. The Commission explicitly spoke of a “shared responsibility” for managing the external borders of the EU.

Governing Europe and Migration

That this is not a fictional scenario became quite clear during the run-up to the December EU summit, when substantial rumors circulated that the EU was preparing steps to exclude Greece from the Schengen zone of passport-free travel unless the country was willing to accept the extended deployment of Frontex at its borders (Fotiadis 2015). Of course this threat eerily resembles the threats of a Grexit, i.e. the exit of Greece from the Eurozone, which was used as leverage this summer to ultimately force through the Third Memorandum.

Thus emerges a new pattern of governing Europe: in ever more policy fields, a declaration of a crisis, of an emergency, legitimates the intervention of European institutions, be it the Troika in the case of the Euro-crisis, or Frontex in the case of the “refugee crisis.” We should note, however, that this is not simply a new chapter in the discussion about the “United States of Europe.” European intervention is now always described as temporary, and confined, and to last only until normalcy is restored. The mechanisms employed are those of the state of exception, though they are always confined to specific and limited spaces. The many quick fixes and patches that already characterise the EU border regime threaten to become the ubiquitous modus operandi of government in the EU. If this is an emerging governmental pattern, it is sidestepping the necessary but long neglected debate concerning the democratic legitimacy of the measures taken.

The parallels between the Euro-crisis and the “refugee crisis” offer insight into the particular and curious case of Germany’s political stances over the course of 2015. Chancellor Merkel has been globally lauded for her seemingly pro-refugee stance, and she has continued to defend it, time and again, against critics both within her conservative party and from other parties. However, this cannot be attributed to a change in policy, since the current German government had already implemented the most severe restrictions on asylum of the last 20 years, and it plans to continue to do so in the near future. Merkel’s steadfast refusal to declare an upper-limit of admitted asylum seekers in Germany per year – a particularly popular demand even in her own party – mirrors the statement of ECB president Mario Draghi during the Euro-crisis. In June 2012 Draghi declared that the ECB was prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. Just as central banks constitute the so-called Lender of Last Resort, Germany has – this summer – taken on the role of Refugee-Receptor of Last Resort. This statement is not intended as praise. It simply means that the possibility of an implosion of the European project is very real; it may merely hinge on the question of whether Germany closes its border or not. For this action would trigger a chain reaction of EU member states adopting the Hungarian model.

The migrations of this summer have exposed the coercion and contradictions at the core of the European project. It seems as if we are confronted with the false choice between either a Europe that would return to the nationalisms of the past or a more centralised EU-architecture that would wield substantial powers of intervention. Neither can be seen as acceptable, lest we overlook the necessity of far-reaching democratization – not only of the borders, but also of the European project writ large.


Avramopoulos, Dimitris. 2015. “Annex I: Explanatory Note on the ‘Hotspot’ Approach.”
Balibar, Étienne. 1999. “Le Droit de Cité Ou L’apartheid?” In Sans-Papiers: L’archaïsme Fatal, edited by Étienne Balibar, Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux, Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, and Emmanuel Terray. Sur Le Vif. Découverte.
Domokos, John, Mustafa Khalili, Richard Sprenger, and Noah Payne-Frank. 2015. “We Walk Together: A Syrian Family’s Journey to the Heart of Europe.” http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/sep/10/we-walk-together-a-syrian-familys-journey-to-the-heart-of-europe-video.
European Commission. 2015a. “A European Agenda on Migration. COM(2015) 240 Final.”
———. 2015b. “Managing the Refugee Crisis: State of Play of the Implementation of the Priority Actions Under the European Agenda on Migration. COM (2015) 510 Final,” 14 Oct.
———. 2015c. “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Border and Coast Guard. COM (2015) 671 Final.”
European Council. 2015. “European Council Meeting (25 and 26 June 2015) – Conclusions. EUCO 22/15.”
European Court of Human Rights. 2012. “Case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others V. Italy. Application No. 27765/09.”
Fotiadis, Apostolis. 2015. “Kicking Greece Out of Schengen Won’t Stop the Refugee Crisis.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/refugee-crisis–greece-schengen-
Frontex. 2015a. “Annual Risk Analysis 2015.”
———. 2015b. “Western Balkans Quarterly. Quarter 2, April – June 2015.”
Heller, Charles, and Lorenzo Pezzani. 2016. “Ebbing and Flowing. The EU’s Shifting Practices of (Non-)Assistance and Bordering Across Land and Sea.”
Kasparek, Bernd. 2015. “Complementing Schengen: The Dublin System and the European Border and Migration Regime.” In Migration Policy and Practice: Interventions and Solutions, edited by Harald Bauder and Christian Matheis. Palgrave Macmillan.
Kasparek, Bernd, and Marc Speer. 2015. “Of Hope. Hungary and the Long Summer of Migration.” http://bordermonitoring.eu/ungarn/2015/09/of-hope-en/.
Leaders’ Meeting on refugee flows along the Western Balkans Route. 2015. “Leaders’ Statement.”
Mezzadra, Sandro, and Brett Neilson. 2013. Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor. Duke University Press.

Recommended citation: Kasparek, Bernd. “Routes, Corridors, and Spaces of Exception: Governing Migration and Europe.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Passage Through the Balkans

In 2015, thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, including children, took up the long journey through the Balkans in the hope of finding safety in Europe.

The movement of people on the Balkans route has put the European political stability around the issue of asylum application and reception at risk. The situation prompted Amnesty International to declare in July that “Serbia and Macedonia have become a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive.” Hungary, with its anti-immigration policies, has invested more than 100 million euros in blocking entry of refugees and migrants on the Balkans route. In mid-September Hungary completed a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia and introduced strict border-control measures prohibiting illegal entrance to the country. In so doing, Hungary set off a domino effect which lead thousands of people shift towards the Serbian border with Croatia in a desperate search for another way into the heart of Europe. However, Croatia also struggled to deal with the flows, and Europe was once again faced with its inability to find a solution and safe passage for thousands of people fleeing war and persecution.

These images were taken on September 15, 2015, on the Balkans route and as Hungary closed its border to the refugees.

Also by Alessandro Penso: “Onboard the Bourbon Argos

Recommended citation: Penso, Alessandro. “Passage Through the Balkans.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Eastern Europe, the Moral Subject of the Migration/Refugee Crisis, and Political Futures

The recent sequence of crisis in/of Europe suggests that every crisis produces Europeanness anew.1 In the midst of the sovereign debt crisis in Greece in the summer of 2015, now so powerfully overshadowed by the migration/refugee crisis, Greek Europeanness came to be questioned, because Greece refused to behave like a responsible economic subject.2 Instead of willingly tightening belts, cutting the state budget and restructuring debt, Greece’s left-leaning politicians and citizens protested the austerity measures proposed by European and international financial institutions. The measure of Europeanness that emerged in the midst of the crisis was not formal membership in European political institutions, but morally infused economic conduct.

A line forms at a crowded refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece
Crowded refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece provide the only legal means to travel further in the European Union, but little more. (Alessandro Penso)

Besides positing a juxtaposition between failed Europeans, exemplified by Greece, and proper Europeans, exemplified by Germany, the Greek sovereign debt crisis also opened the opportunity for not-quite-Europeans, such as Eastern European states and peoples, to assert their Europeanness. For example, following its own financial crisis of 2008, Latvia emerged as an exemplary economic and European subject, because the government led by Valdis Dombrovskis implemented severe austerity measures. Several years later, in the context of the Greek sovereign debt crisis, Latvia reasserted this hard-fought Europeanness, when politicians, civil servants, intellectuals and members of the general public converged in aggressive criticism of Greek irresponsibility and lack of willingness to ‘play by the rules.’

However, this hard-fought Europeanness was fragile. It dissipated in the midst of Europe’s migration/refugee crisis, when it was Eastern Europeans, including Latvians, who emerged as rogue subjects refusing to “play by the rules.” When it was recognized in public and political discourse across Europe that a crisis was afoot and that something had to be done to cope with the large numbers of migrants/refugees trying to enter Europe through Greece, Italy, and Hungary, many of them dying en route, the European Commission proposed refugee quotas to distribute the burden between the European Union member states. Most Eastern European member states opposed refugee quotas. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia agreed to voluntarily take in small numbers of refugees. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland announced that they would only take Christian refugees, while Hungary mobilized troops, prisoners and the unemployed to rapidly build a fence on its border with Serbia (Koranyi 2015).

After the quota plan was approved in the European Parliament in September 2015, envisaging the resettlement of 120,000 refugees within the next two years, the government of Slovakia threatened to contest the decision in court. Following the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, Poland, which had initially supported the plan, refused to carry it out. The President of Latvia, in turn, stated that Latvia will not accept any more refugees until Europe’s border security can be assured.3

In contrast with older European Union member states, Eastern European states did not have significant numbers of residents with Middle Eastern, African or Asian background and were determined to keep it that way. There were protests in many Eastern European cities against accepting refugees. Arguments against accepting refugees that came forth from Eastern European member states voiced concerns about cultural incompatibility, racial and religious difference, security threats, inability to distinguish genuine refugees from economic migrants, negative experience with integration in other European Union member states and localities, lasting socialist legacies of population resettlement that continued to undermine post-socialist polities, poor economies, impoverished populations and imposed solidarity by Europe that invoked memories of directives from Moscow. The left and liberal print and online media on both sides of the Atlantic and within Western and Eastern Europe filled with commentaries that accused Eastern Europeans of lacking compassion and tried to shame them into moral maturity and, by extension, agreeable politics.4

Despite historical and political differences between Eastern European member states, Eastern Europe emerged as an ideal type – an unsympathetic not-quite-European subject mired in racialized paranoia about foreigners, exaggerated concerns about self-determination and self-preservation, and timeworn claims of historical suffering. Different pasts and presents were obfuscated by a moralizing discourse. Disagreeable politics and attitudes were traced to moral failures, which amounted to failed Europeanness. The failed Europeanness of Eastern Europe was juxtaposed to Europe proper, once again exemplified and led by Germany, and thus the moral goodness of Europe was reasserted.5 This goodness was characterized by compassion as a political virtue that demands and legitimates emergency humanitarian measures, which, as Didier Fassin (2001) has argued, go hand-in-hand with the increasingly repressive European migration regimes.

In these preliminary reflections on an emerging situation, I analyze the call for compassion directed at Eastern Europe in relation to public reasoning about the migration/refugee crisis in one Eastern European member state, namely Latvia. I do not take Latvia to stand for the ideal-type subject of Eastern Europe, nor am I interested in tracing its historical difference from this ideal type. Rather, I treat the Latvian case as a dynamic set of arguments through which to analyze the construction of the morally deficient Eastern European subject, as well as the limits of liberal politics of compassion.

I argue – along with other critics of compassion as a political virtue (e.g. Ticktin 2011, Fassin 2001, 2011) – that humanitarian politics enable and reproduce Europe’s migration regimes and that the accusation of Eastern Europe as lacking compassion is yet another manifestation of Europe’s civilizing mission.6 However, I attempt to go further and ask whether more subversive articulations of politics as ethics open alternative ways for thinking about the migration/refugee crisis and political futures in Europe.7

In this essay, I draw on the articulation of “diasporic ethics” and “ethics of cohabitation” in the work of Judith Butler (2015, 2013). These articulations of politics as ethics question hegemonic forms of power that strive for certainty by embracing the uncertainty of living with others as generative of other futures without giving these futures concrete form. However, it seems that in the current historical moment the certainty that modern political forms, such as the nation-state, strive for is becoming more elusive than ever. For example, Wendy Brown (2010) has argued that political sovereignty is becoming detached from the nation-state even as many nation-states are building walls around or through them. Dimitris Papadapoulos, Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos (2008) have suggested that it is not nation-states that govern today, but rather multi-scalar “governing aggregates.” Ivan Krastev (2015), in turn, has argued that representative democracy is in crisis and that this is evident when people in squares around the world do not articulate political demands or offer solutions, but rather assert that “the people exists and is angry.” In conditions when sovereignty, governance and politics are in an increasingly uncertain relationship with modern political forms, there is a pressing need to link thinking about politics as ethics with thinking about concrete forms that other political futures can take.

Becoming Compassionate, Becoming European

Compassion deployed in the context of the migration/refugee crisis is not a “private sentiment” (Arendt 1990, Canovan 1992). It is a political virtue expected to extend to kin and strangers alike. However, according to Hannah Arendt, the private sentiment of compassion risks turning into pity when brought into the public arena, thus preventing engagement with fellow “men” [sic] as political equals (Arendt 1990). Compassion as a political virtue – not unlike tolerance as a political virtue – does not posit such equality (Brown 2006, Dzenovska n.d.). Instead, it posits a hierarchical relationship between the subjects and objects of compassion. Public compassion is about both proximity and distance. It can be extended to strangers (“they are almost like us!”) and to the members of a marginalized group (“they are not really like us!”).

Compassion as a political virtue has been widely criticized.8 In the last decade, scholars such as Miriam Ticktin (2011) and Didier Fassin (2001, 2011), among others, have analyzed compassion as an apolitical sentiment deployed within a humanitarian framework that mitigates, but does not challenge the increasingly repressive state migration regimes. States continue to categorize people on the move as economic migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants with different sets of rights and protections – or lack thereof – attached to each category. The deserving few are allowed to stay, while others are to be deported. Compassion-fueled humanitarianism mitigates this sorting of humans by allowing some of those who would otherwise be deported to stay, because they require medical care (Ticktin 2011), and treating the others humanely and with compassion, as their deportation is arranged (Hall 2012).

Miriam Ticktin (2011) has pointed out that the politics of humanitarian care requires that the deserving subject – the one to be protected rather than deported – be recognizably vulnerable and suffering. As Ticktin writes, “the imagined suffering body is a victim without a perpetrator – a sufferer, pure and simple, caught in a moment of urgent need. No one is responsible for her suffering; those who act to save her do so from the goodness of their hearts, out of moral obligation” (2011: 11). The centrality of the suffering body for the politics of compassion in the context of the migration/refugee crisis is well evident in the public outrage in both Western and Eastern Europe. The public is scandalized that the refugees coming to Europe have iPhones, that they are not sufficiently grateful for food and clothing, and that they are largely strong young men. Where are the vulnerable women and children, the proper object of European compassion?9 Insofar as the deserving refugee is supposed to be vulnerable or suffering, he/she remains in the subordinated position of an object of compassion. Overcoming vulnerability and suffering, in this context, risks withdrawal of protection, yet it is necessary if one is to become a political equal rather than remain a human in need.

In the context of the migration/refugee crisis, it is not only refugees, but also the Eastern European subject that is caught up in this dilemma. For example, after the collapse of Soviet socialism, Latvia and other former Soviet republics-cum-European Union member states, demanded recognition that the injury inflicted upon them by the Stalinist regime, such as mass deportations and killings of those deemed suspect by the regime, was equivalent to crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime. This injury was thought to have affected not only concrete individuals and their families, but also the nation, insofar as its numbers were depleted and about 1.5 million migrants from other Soviet republics were brought in. In the Latvian national imaginary, this was a deliberate Soviet policy aimed at “mixing populations” in order to create Soviet people out of national subjects. About half of the Soviet-era incomers remained living in Latvia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is often noted that the proportion of Latvians in pre-World War II Latvia was 77%, whereas in 1989, on the cusp of independence, it was only 52%.10

Recognition of this injury in the international arena was not sought solely for symbolic purposes, but also to legitimate domestic policies aimed at mitigating it. Latvia, restored in the post-Soviet period as a national state, that is, as a state established for the purpose of ensuring the flourishing of the cultural and historical community of Latvians, has long used this particular argument to justify restrictive language and citizenship policies directed at its Russian–speaking residents, many of whom arrived during the Soviet period and stayed after the collapse of the Soviet state. In the national imaginary, the presence of Russian-speakers in Latvia is a continuous reminder of the historical injury to the nation and a threat to its present and future. It is this sense of embattlement that informs current debates about migration in Latvia, including debates about the migration/refugee crisis.11

While this narrative of historical injury has enabled political claims, it has also produced Latvia – and other Eastern European states making resonant, if different claims – as not-yet European. In the context of the migration/refugee crisis, Latvia is expected to show compassion towards the suffering of others – the refugees – rather than claim that it cannot do so because of its own injurious pasts’ claim on the present and the future. Insofar as it is unable or refuses to do so, it is perceived as post-socialist and not European. But how is one to become European? Judging from the commentaries directed at Eastern Europe, it means leaving the past behind, while at the same time learning from it. The past has to be left behind in the sense of ceasing to make political claims on the basis of historical injury. At the same time, one must learn from the historical experience of victimhood and/or complicity with crimes against humanity that Europe embraces as its painful heritage.

For example, those commenting on Eastern European reactions to the migration/refugee crisis asked whether Eastern Europeans have no shame, refusing to accept refugees when thousands of their compatriots benefited from the kindness of others during the long 20th century (e.g. Hockenos 2015, Sabet-Parry 2015, Gross 2015). Examples provided of such acts of kindness include states in Europe, North America and Australia taking in post-World War II refugees fleeing the Soviet regime or refugees fleeing the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring or the Polish Solidarity movement. Overlooking the fact that some of these acts of kindness were entangled with an often-racialized sorting of people into fit/unfit or deserving/undeserving objects of kindness (e.g. McDowell 2005), these commentators wondered why Eastern Europeans could not see the irony in refusing assistance to those in need when they had received it themselves.

Becoming European in the context of the migration/refugee crisis means properly locating oneself in the post-World War II and post-Cold War terrain of suffering and compassion. A mature European subject is thought to be compassionate and extend assistance towards less fortunate others rather than privilege one’s own historical suffering. And yet, regardless of what one thinks of the asylum and immigration politics of Eastern European member states and of the attitudes of their citizens, requiring that they remake themselves from suffering into compassionate subjects is a move that needs to be carefully rethought. It is hardly the case that Eastern Europeans are less human in their capacity for compassion than their Western European counterparts. The difference seems to lie in the fact that they either do not use the sentiment of compassion as a basis for politics or limit its application to a particular nation, race or religion. Perhaps the difference that has emerged between Eastern and Western Europe in the context of the migration/refugee crisis opens an opportunity to understand and address the consequences of the political mobilization of compassion rather than its reassertion.

The Limits of Virtue

In Latvia, arguments against accepting refugees or for accepting a very limited number of refugees follow familiar tropes: Latvia cannot afford to accept many refugees due to continued legacies of the Soviet nationalities policy, poor economy, impoverished population, cultural incompatibility between the potential incomers and local residents, the evident failure of integration elsewhere in Europe, and more. It is these same arguments that, in an endless feedback loop, are taken as indicative of moral failure – of putting exaggerated and parochial concerns with self-preservation ahead of the moral obligation to prevent human suffering. There is one line of argument, however, that seems to fall out of this feedback loop, and it is that those who support intake of refugees do not have an argument. Let me elaborate with the help of an example.

In December 2015, Nicolas Auzanneau, a French-speaking translator of Latvian literature, published an article in which he challenged Alvis Hermanis, a Latvian theatre director, for siding with reactionary forces and against the forces of progress by equating refugees with the threat of terrorism (Ozano 2015). Auzanneau writes that Hermanis’ position is regrettable, because “we know that it is incomparably better to live in an open society, where there is risk of attack, rather than be stuck in the regime of endless hatred, foolishness, fanaticism and nationalism.” Shortly thereafter, Jānis Buholcs (2015), a lecturer in Vidzemes Augstskola, criticized Auzanneau for uncritically embracing narratives of progress rather than putting forth an argument.12 Buholcs goes even further and suggests that it is not only Auzanneau, but the whole debate about refugees that lacks arguments and is dominated by moralization or emotion: if the anti-refugee side exhibits unfounded fear, the pro-refugee side turns to moralization. For Buholcs, a moral argument is a non-argument, because it invokes normative imperatives without engaging with the concrete political contours of the situation.

An anti-migrant protest in Latvia
People protest against the arrival of migrants in Riga, Latvia on September 22, 2015. (Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images)

What, then, are some of the arguments deployed by the pro-refugee side in an attempt to convince Latvia’s residents that they should support accepting refugees? A review of commentaries published in Latvian and Russian suggests that, indeed, the main arguments for accepting refugees are moral. For example, the politician of the ruling Unity party Dimitrijs Golubevs (2015) appeals to Latvian folk wisdom (dzīvesziņa) reflected in folk songs and invoked as the canon of the cultural nation and to Christian values, both of which urge kindness towards strangers. Here, morality that is to lead to acceptance derives from resources internal to cultural and religious traditions dominant in Latvia.13

Philosopher Ilmārs Šlāpins (2015) suggests that Latvians cannot survive, if they isolate themselves from the world and not help anyone. He points out that the fact that Germany, France and Great Britain are accepting refugees suggests that they have matured as nations. With civilizing overtones, Šlāpins validates the Latvians’ concern with survival, only he suggests that survival is not possible by barricading behind national fences, but requires helping others.

While Golubevs and Šlāpins address a Latvian-speaking audience, Olga Procevska (2015), a Russian and Latvian-speaking entrepreneur with a PhD in Communications Studies, reviews the possibilities open for Latvia’s Russian–speaking residents who suddenly find themselves outcompeted by refugees and on the margins of the political problem-space. Procevska writes that the only pro-refugee position available to them is to simply try, but admits that this position is “utterly unfounded and based only on sighing and moralization. This sighing gestures toward hope that refugees will enable Latvian politics to step away from the endless rotation around the Latvian-Russian axis. The presence of refugees might introduce a new variable in the bipolar system, possibly eventually pushing political parties to position themselves not on the basis of ethnicity, but also on the basis of their approach to the tax system, resource distribution and international issues. In other words, on the basis of their ideological approach.”

The Russian-speaking political scientist Andrei Berdnikov (2015) put forth a rare argument, pushing against the limits of the pro-refugee stance from what he posits to be a more radical political position. While affirming his commitment to progressive thought, which remains undefined, and expressing the view that the refugee question could indeed unite progressive Russians and Latvians, he does not rush to join the activists who support refugees, for he finds their politics limited. He suggests that quite a few of them readily support LGBT rights, refugees and Ukrainian nationalists in Maidan, but dismiss the rights of Russian-speaking residents in Latvia, many of whom remain non-citizens.14

The Latvian language pro-refugee commentaries address the nation as misguided in its anti-refugee stance and try to incite positive attitudes towards refugees by drawing on untapped elements of the national tradition or by suggesting that the concern about survival central to the national imaginary cannot be addressed by keeping deserving people out. Berdnikov points to the limits of their politics insofar as it is not consistently applied to all excluded subjects and does not question the national state as a fundamentally exclusive formation. At the same time, Berdnikov does not consider how the minority group he defends – that is, Russian-speakers – might respond to his progressive politics towards refugees. There is sufficient indication that they do not necessarily look favorably towards refugees and that therefore their politics, too, could be deemed limited. This is precisely the site of intervention for Procevska, whose position seems most open for both Russian-speakers and Latvians – the answer is to try without good reason and without guarantees, if only because the “against” positions are unacceptable. She does not delineate traditions from which resources should be drawn or issue a call for inclusion, which would inevitably also be an act of exclusion. She seems to put faith in simply trying.

In a way, Procevska points to an excess within the compassion/repression regime: the people to whom protection is extended or denied, as well as the people in whose name it is extended or denied, are not without agency and do not always follow the script. They craft lives and try to live together, even if under constrained conditions. This presents a variety of challenges of cohabitation. Discussion of these challenges of cohabitation is currently dominated by voices unsympathetic to refugees, as the pro-refugee side seems to distance itself from this discussion out of fear of fueling right-wing sentiments. This is clearly evident in the currently raging debate about the “Cologne assaults” – multiple sexual assaults on and robberies of women by groups of what appear to have been men with immigrant/asylum seeker background on New Year’s Eve in front of the Cologne train station. The incident came to public knowledge 4 days after it occurred, allegedly because the authorities did not want to fan anti-migrant/refugee sentiment. Politically liberal voices commenting on the incident from afar have expressed concern that it is “Christmas come a week late” for the right (e.g. Hinsliff 2016), which makes it difficult to discuss the incident beyond urging the public not to succumb to racialized fears of migrants/asylum seekers/refugees at large and therefore to stop accepting refugees.

The Power of Numbers

It is noteworthy that there seems to be one legitimate argument against accepting refugees – or more refugees – for the liberal side of the political spectrum, and that is the argument of “too many.” For example, it has recently resounded in the media that Sweden’s ability to cope with refugees has reached a limit: there is a lack of housing and the system cannot cope with processing so many refugees (Kingsley 2015). As a result, Sweden introduced temporary border controls with Denmark.15 The Swedish limits are thought to be legitimate, because they are not ideological, but material – they are limits of infrastructure. Germany, too, seems to have reached a threshold, with Angela Merkel announcing that Germany will limit the intake of refugees after all, because “the chancellor knows that the ongoing arrival to Germany of up to 10,000 refugees every day is not sustainable.”16

“Too many,” an argument seemingly about numbers, can be measured in a variety of ways that are not necessarily numerical. For example, a local man in Boston, UK, told me that he had nothing against Eastern European migrants, but that there were simply too many of them.17 For him, it was not necessarily about infrastructure, though I did hear concerns about lack of doctors and nurses in Boston’s medical establishments, but rather about daily life. He said that he could no longer go to the shop in the morning, greet someone by saying “Good morning!” and expect to be greeted back in English. I heard a resonant argument from a Latvian woman living in Boston who was concerned about tensions between locals and newcomers. “There are too many of us,” she said. In turn, the inhabitants of Mucenieki in Latvia – a locality where the asylum seeker reception center is located – have begun to convey discomfort about being a minority in their locality. “Our children are afraid to go to the stadium, because there are too many refugees there,” inhabitants of Mucenieki wrote in a letter to Latvia’s Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma.18

The argument of “too many” assumes that a baseline form of life or quality of life must be retained, whether for the locals, the incomers or both. Some “too many” arguments can and do get easily dismissed as reactionary from within the liberal political frame. More often than not, those are the ones articulated through the trope of the nation or put forth by local communities, for they are thought to be manifestations of fear and prejudice. The kinds of “too many” arguments that are taken seriously across the political spectrum pertain to the state’s capacity to govern, such as the lack of infrastructure faced by Sweden or the lack of policing capacity with regard to the “Cologne assaults” in Germany.

It is worth considering, however, whether positing these different logics of “too many” as qualitatively different is entirely justified. Categories or logics of exclusion come to be mapped onto each other, reference each other and, in practice, tend to produce the same effects, namely keep the same bodies in place or out of place (M’charek et al. 2013). As I was told several years before the current crisis by a staff member of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Latvia, “Latvians are afraid because of the past, and Russians are afraid that they [refugees] will come and eat their булочка [pastry, in Russian].” The effect is the same – both produce negative attitudes towards refugees. In other words, the “too many” arguments of the “unenlightened masses” or “not-quite-European” subjects are not radically different from the “too many” arguments of the liberal European state insofar as they converge in keeping the same bodies out.

Moral arguments for accepting refugees remain tied to state-based humanitarian frameworks that sort people into deserving and undeserving subjects, as well as introduce limits to how much humanism can be tolerated before states run out of the capacity to govern. But is it not the case that contemporary political forms, most importantly the nation-state, would have to be fundamentally reconfigured, if one were to take seriously the ethical obligation towards another beyond the reach of kin and nation and regardless of the state’s capacity to govern? In conditions when more and more people are fleeing unlivable lives – whether destroyed by war, contemporary forms of capitalism, or the environment, what would it mean for political forms to correspond to an ethical obligation towards another as a foundational aspect of humanity(Butler 2015, 2013)? Finally, how can commitment to such an ethical obligation make sense of the existential concerns of embattled communities – for example, the cultural community of Latvians – without rendering them parochial and thus implicitly reproducing the civilizing mission of the politics of compassion?

Ethical Obligations, Existential Concerns, Political Futures

It has been well established that the politics of compassion reproduces rather than challenges the political order of the day. In conclusion, I would like to put forth some very preliminary thoughts about the relationship between invitations to remake individual and collective selves vis-à-vis ethical obligations towards others, the migration/refugee crisis and existential concerns of historical communities, such as that of Latvians.

From within the “ethics as cohabitation” perspective, concerns with survival and self-determination that animate Latvian politics cannot but be dismissed as reactionary and unethical (Butler 2015: 108). Is there a way, however, that a historical community’s wish to exist vis-à-vis a particular substantive tradition, such as, for example, the Latvian way of life, can be reconciled with an ethical obligation towards another? Moreover, is the incompatibility between an ethical or a political problem? Or, to put it another way, how do modern political forms, such as the state, facilitate this incompatibility?

In a recent book, Judith Butler (2013) sets out to rethink conceptions of Jewishness that inform the Israeli polity. Wishing to “depart from communitarian moorings,” Butler proposes that Jewishness can be rethought as constituted through an ethical relationship with alterity, which she terms “diasporic ethics” and which derives from unchosen conditions of cohabitation. For Butler, this ethical relation, this self-departure, holds the potential to rethink the Israeli polity. In another essay, building further on this argument and drawing on Emmanuel Levinas and Hannah Arendt, Butler (2015) elaborates the notion of “ethics of cohabitation” as a more general condition of ethical obligation toward another that precedes the self and is not constrained by communitarian commitments and concerns with self-preservation (Butler 2015). Communitarian commitments and concerns with self-preservation are inevitably exclusionary and therefore both unethical and unfree.  Both of these lines of argument – one challenging the polity at the foundation of the Israeli state and the other positing ethical obligation toward another as always already non-communitarian – seem to leave the state intact by not engaging with it.

In a sympathetic critique of Butler’s work, Julie E. Cooper (2015) suggests that Butler misunderstands the Jewish Zionist project as based on Jewishness rather than political action against historical forms of anti-Semitism. Cooper further criticizes Butler for not considering how the Zionist project of self–determination that derives from this historical-political motivation could be pursed in a re-territorialized manner, that is, outside the confines of the nation-state. One can conclude from Cooper’s argument, it seems, that the problem with the Israeli state is not that it is based on a narrow conception of Jewishness, but rather that it articulates the Zionist project of self-determination with the modern political form of the nation-state. The question that follows is this: if the Zionist project of sovereignty does not require a territorial state, how should one think of organizing life in a particular place? What remains of the state, if the sovereignty of a historical community is disarticulated from it?

I have become interested in similar questions as a result of my research on Latvian outmigration following accession to the European Union and the emergence of diaspora politics as a way to govern the trans-territorial nation (Dzenovska 2015). I have come to think that Latvian diaspora politics entail a pursuit of sovereignty within a framework of recognition (Markell 2003), that is, as a project of knowing oneself as embedded in a substantive tradition in relation to similarly embedded others. Moreover, that this pursuit of sovereignty requires subjects who conduct themselves as Latvians regardless of where they live. Given that a large number of such subjects live outside the territory of the Latvian state, pursuit of sovereignty as knowing oneself among others is increasingly re-territorialized, that is, stretched across the boundaries of different actually existing states. The territorial state still remains crucial for this project, for up until now pursuit of sovereignty has been unimaginable without a state, but it is possible that – at least within the political space of the European Union – the relationship between political sovereignty and the state will come to be reconfigured.

These are preliminary reflections, but they do raise some interesting questions. Julie E. Cooper urges diasporic thinkers to think political agency outside the nationstate. I want to supplement Cooper’s invitation by asking what remains of the state when the project of political self-determination of a historical community, whether civic or ethnic, is separated from it? How is the state to be conceived? Moreover, if pursuit of self-determination is re-territorialized in this way, torn away from the state, who is the subject of ethics of cohabitation? Who is called upon to recognize ethical obligations to the other outside communitarian confines – those living in place or those pursuing the re-territorialized project of sovereignty? Or, to put it another way, is the call for ethics of cohabitation entangled with particular territorial imaginaries? If so, how does it shift if concerns with survival and self-determination become re-territorialized?

Finally, how is the subject called upon by ethics of cohabitation related to the actual bodies engaged in a variety of political practices that prefigure futures, whether on the square, within migrant networks or elsewhere? Contemporary political imaginaries – of the kind that aim to challenge the established order rather than reproduce it – are increasingly turning to prefigurative practices in search of sites and subjects of politics appropriate for the current historical moment, a moment without grand narratives or revolutionary subjects. Political potential tends to be located in a sociality that produces ephemeral collectivities and political hopes, for it is not institutionalized and cannot be institutionalized (e.g. Butler 2015, Dzenovska & Arenas 2012, Harcourt et al. 2013).

And yet, in a situation of crisis, when “the old is dying and the new cannot be born” (Gramsci 1971: 556), is there a need to think not only about subversion and hope, but also about concrete forms of political futures? Can politics as ethics be deployed for the project of giving form to the future?

I thank Milad Odabaei and Michel Feher for their useful comments on an earlier version of this essay. 


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Krastev, Ivan. 2014. Disrupted Democracy: the Politics of Global Protest. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
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Lyman, Rick. 2015. “Eastern block’s resistance to refugees highlights Europe’s cultural and political divisions.” The New York Times. September 12. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/world/europe/eastern-europe-migrant-refugee-crisis.html
Malone, Barry. 2015. “Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants’.’’ Al Jazeera. August 20. Available: http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/editors-blog/2015/08/al-jazeera-
M’charek, Amade & Katharina Schramm, David Skinner. 2013. “Topologies of Race: Doing territory, population and identity in Europe.” Science, Technology and Human Values XX(X): 1–20.
Markell, Patchen. 2003. Bound by Recognition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McDowell, Linda. 2005. Hard Labour: The Forgotton Voices of Latvian Migrant Volunteer Workers. London: Routledge.
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Roland, Gerard. 2015. “Why the rift between Eastern and Western Europe on the refugee crisis?” The Berkeley Blog. September 9. Available: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2015/09/09/why-the-rift-between-eastern-and-western-europe-on-the-refugee-crisis-2/
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Sabet-Parry, Rayyan& Karl Ritter. 2015. “Scant sympathy for refugees in Europe’s ex-communist East.” The Business Insider. September 11. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-scant-sympathy-for-refugees-in-europes-ex-communist-east-2015-9?IR=T
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Recommended citation: Dzenovska, Dace. “Eastern Europe, the Moral Subject of the Migration/Refugee Crisis, and Political Futures.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

On Governing the Syrian Refugee Crisis Collectively: The View from Turkey

According to UNHCR, of the 235 million displaced people in the world today, 60 million are forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. About 80% of this forced migration is destined to arrive in other developing countries, which, in addition to their own social and economic challenges, struggle to develop policies and services to host these vulnerable populations. The Syrian refugee crisis is no exception in that, while we started to hear about the so called “European Refugee Crisis” only in the Summer of 2015, over four million refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria have been hosted by the neighboring countries of Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011. Currently more than half of these 4 million displaced Syrians live in Turkey while the other half is dispersed mainly throughout Lebanon and Jordan.

Even though the number of Syrians arriving in Europe and seeking protection continues to increase, it still remains low as compared to the frontier countries, with a little over 10% of refugees seeking safety in Europe. The number of Syrians in Europe is estimated to be about nine hundred thousand, most of which have arrived in 2015 predominantly through Greece. The map below illustrates the distribution of the Syrian displaced population comparatively and emphasizes the disproportionate burden on the frontier states of the conflict.

Map of Syriann refugees in Europe
Syrians in neighboring countries and Europe (Source: BBC graphic/UNHCR data)

Since the beginning of the crisis, the need for building an international response to this continuing disaster has been widely discussed and yet, has failed to materialize with any tangible results. Even though the international community has acknowledged the humanitarian and legal responsibility for assisting the victims of the conflict, what is meant by this international burden-sharing, and how exactly it can be pursued, has not been elaborated. The pressing need for a collective response only became evident to the international community with the large influx of refugees who moved from these frontier states to the European Union member-states in the summer of 2015, and with the spread of haunting images showing the dead bodies of infants sweeping the shores of countries like Turkey and Greece. What this so called European Refugee Crisis involved was in fact an overflowing of asylum seekers in the frontier states bordering the EU. Subjected to several push and pull factors, these refugees had been largely denied official entryways into Europe and thus forced to relocate.

Some of these factors relate to the worsening economic and safety conditions in the host countries. For one, in the case of Turkey, the number of displaced Syrian people almost doubled in 2015 after the intensification of the conflict south of its border. This means that already crowded Turkish refugee camps could not host more people, and that the already exploitative working conditions of Syrian refugees have worsened. The inability to find employment and make a decent living, in addition to several problems pertaining to social integration, constitutes a major push factor for immigration – as is evidenced by the results of a UNHCR survey conducted with Syrian refugees in various Greek islands. For this survey, a total of 1,245 Syrians were interviewed between April and September 2015 in an attempt to gather data on their demographics, as well as past and future migration plans. The survey first revealed that contrary to what many believe, educationally, refugees are some of the most advanced members of their country: 86% say they have secondary school or university education with significant skills such as engineering, computer programming, and teaching. These data show a highly-skilled population on the move.1 Considering the informational and financial resources necessary for taking this dangerous and expensive route, such a finding is hardly surprising. Equally important are the survey’s results as to what drove these refugees to Europe in the first place. Close to two thirds of the arrivals have indicated that they resided in a third country before coming to Greece, and not surprisingly, that for the great majority, accounting for more than half of the arrivals, this country was Turkey. The interviewees’ main reasons for leaving their previous locations were the lack of non-exploitative employment opportunities that matched their skills, financial needs, concerns for security and protection, search for better opportunities for their children, and the hope for educational opportunities.2

These results also support the view that one of the easiest ways to build a collective response to a crisis of this kind and to prevent it from spilling over into various territories is simply helping the countries at the frontlines in their efforts to cope with the influx of people and develop policies to integrate them, thereby eliminating some of the factors which further push refugees away. While international organizations struggle to sustain humanitarian aid to the displaced communities, the continuation of the crisis calls for a far-sighted approach that looks beyond crisis management and toward socio-economic integration. As many Syrians try to adapt to their new lives in host countries, as they become part of the latter’s urban, economic, and social life, and as their children require educational and psycho-social support, what kind of institutional solutions might give these vulnerable populations the necessary tools to cope with their prolonged transitional status?

At this point, it is important to look deeper into the Turkish experience in terms of the policies that have been developed for integrating the displaced Syrian population and for moving from a security-focused approach to immigration to one that is focused on governance. First, with respect to the international as well as the domestic legal framework surrounding the refugee crisis, Turkey is a party to the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Signed and ratified by 144 nations, this Convention is the preeminent authority on the manner in which host countries are to receive and treat refugees.3 Nevertheless, Turkey raised a geographical limitation when it signed and ratified the Convention and accordingly, only defines persons of European origin as refugees.4 As a result of this geographical limitation, which was once common but now applied by only four signatory states, Syrian refugees in Turkey are not part of an asylum regime. Instead, they are given assistance and resettled in third countries under the status of “temporary protection.” Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey – estimated to host over two million Syrians – has maintained an emergency response of a high standard, predominantly upholding an open-door policy and ensuring non-refoulement. This approach, however, has had a major shortcoming given the prolonged stay of Syrian refugees: the temporary protection regime does not grant any working rights to those who are granted protection (the implications and potential developments in relation to employment will be further evaluated below).

In order to provide assistance – housing, humanitarian aid, education and health services – to Syrian refugees, 22 state of the art camps (soon to be 24) were set-up. Equipped with high standard facilities compared to many refugee camps across the world, these camps host about 217,000 people5 which only accounts for about 10% of the Syrian population in Turkey. The remaining 90%, as indicated earlier, are mostly voluntary urban refugees, seeking to survive and take care of their families outside the camps with much less assistance but with more freedom of movement and less isolation in comparison to the camps.

While the data on this off-camp population is limited, one obvious challenge for this group of refugees relates to employment. While under the temporary protection scheme, Syrians in Turkey can have access to health as well as some education and social services, the lack of an existing legal framework for integration into the labor market constitutes a major shortcoming. The Turkish state officials acknowledge this limitation and point to the internationally well received new draft law which is set to allow the Syrian population the right to apply for work permits within the industries selected by provincial governance boards. As it stands, however, most Syrians practically need to work without a legal framework in order to survive. This has led to the creation of a dual labor market where refugees are willing to work for two-thirds of the wages paid to locals. Furthermore, with the arrival of more and more refugees from Syria, refugees face a fierce competition with other refugees for jobs, leading to a race to the bottom with regard to paid wages. This situation has also resulted in various exploitative practices, lack of any social security scheme, as well as inaccessibility of high-skilled jobs to the refugees. With the new draft law soon to be passed, it is hoped that refugees’ integration into the labor market will be more effective and less of a reason for secondary immigration.

Nonetheless, there is another important barrier to the refugees’ entry into the labor market as well as their access to education: language. In the words of the Syrian refugee activist Lina Sergie Attar of the Karam Foundation: “The challenge is that our southern neighbors, with whom we are culturally more similar and share the same language, do not have the economic capacity to host us; and in Turkey, the country that has the adequate infrastructure and a stable economy [to host us], people speak a different language.”6 Currently, in Turkey, many state, municipal, and non-governmental agencies offer free language education to overcome this barrier. Almost all 330 respondents I surveyed as part of a needs assessment conducted for the International Red Cross, the Red Crescent Federation, and the Turkish Red Crescent, indicated that they absolutely need to learn Turkish, and that the Turkish language is essential to get jobs. This study also shows that a considerable part of this population has above-basic school training and some skills that are quite scarce in the region – the Syrian refugees include a sizable number of electricians, language teachers (mostly English), and mechanics. As a result, overcoming the language barrier will better enable their integration in the labor market.7

Today there is an increasing reliance on community centers that are built across Turkey to address refugees’ barriers to labor market integration. These centers offer services that range from psychological counseling and cultural activities to language courses and vocational-skills training for free. Some of these centers are supported by central or local governing bodies, while others are supported by international organizations or local NGOs and include those formed by refugee groups themselves. A study I recently conducted in the Turkish city of Şanlıurfa, the border city with the highest Syrian refugee population, illustrates that community centers are a great resource for vocational skills training, as a sizable majority of the displaced Syrians are seeking employment for the first time. Rojen, a 35-year-old widow from Aleppo with 5 kids, currently gets paid nearly $8 per day – if she can find work – which is just enough to pay her $120 monthly rent for a mold-infested room. Even a minor improvement in her working conditions will increase the entire family’s living standards considerably. In addition to language, Syrians are interested in skills required for hairdressing, tailoring, textile, manufacturing, and information technologies.8 Most of these professions are also jobs much needed in the area and could address the skills mismatch, as stated by the members of the Şanlıurfa Chamber of Commerce and Industry in separate interviews. Employers also pointed out that for the blue-collar industry jobs in the area, which are not popular among the local population, an expedited training and job placement of the eager Syrians is imminent.

In addition to serving as buffer and training zones facilitating the integration of refugees into the labor market, these community centers have programs for attracting disadvantaged groups, thereby addressing another important aspect of integration. Children are in imminent danger due to their prolonged displacement; most of them suffer from major war trauma and about 70% of them do not take part in any formal education. There are no restrictions on their admission to schools but the hassle of providing the necessary paperwork, lack of language skills, low household incomes, lack of resources and uncertainty concerning the future, are some of the reasons why enrollment is not higher. The psycho-social counseling and various social activities offered by the community centers address these very problems, though in a modest way. For 15-year-old Hala from the eastern Syrian city of Deirez-Zor, who now lives in a household of 9 people, the community center is the only place for socialization as well as education. Even though she had been going to school in Syria, had finished 8th grade and speaks a little English, today she spends most of her time at home. Her family does not have the resources for her education. There is one thing she loves in Turkey, and that is attending drama classes once a week at the IMPR community center established in partnership with the Danish Refugee Council and with donations from the US State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.9

Magician performing for migrant children
Acrobatics and magician performance at IMPR Urfa Community Center (courtesy of IMPR Urfa Community Center).

Syrians escaping the civil war in their country first need basic humanitarian assistance.  However, as indicated by another interviewee, Abdullah, 28, an electrical technician from Al-Raqqah: “The conflict is not going to be over tomorrow, and in the meanwhile, I do not want to sit around in a camp the whole day in idleness and wait for food. I want to make an honorable living with my labor and take care of my family.” With little assistance in language and vocational skills – for those who need it – refugees can learn to become autonomous and better integrate the societies they live in. Hence, one of the best ways to help refugees is to support those developing countries that host 80% of the world’s asylum seekers in their efforts to devise policies such as those underway in the Turkish community centers.

In the past four years, the challenge represented by the Syrian crisis has also led Turkish authorities to create new state agencies involved in immigration-related issues. These agencies bring together the ministries of the Ministry of National Education, Labor and Employment, as well as Family and Social Policies, and promote an approach that is predicated on governance – rather than on the perception of refugees as “guests” or as a population presenting a security challenge. Yet, despite such a state-led effort at social integration, and despite the absence of major incidents stemming from inter-group conflict thus far, public perceptions regarding the reception of refugees is still a cause for concern. The majority of the Turkish population opposes further migration,10 objects to extension of economic and social rights to Syrians, and maintains a high degree of social distance from them. Considering that integration is a two way process, still more work needs to be done to assuage the economic concerns of the host population stemming from realistic conflicts and competitions, and to eliminate prejudices by promoting better social and economic interaction among the different groups.

Practical and financial efforts notwithstanding – it is estimated that the Turkish government has spent over nine billion dollars on Syrians in the country since the beginning of the civil war – as indicated earlier, the social, economic, and legal integration of Syrians in Turkey is far from perfect. This condition constitutes a major push factor for the vulnerable Syrian population to take on a risky journey to the perceived lands of opportunities in Europe. According to the Missing Migrants Project by the International Organization for Migration, 3,771 of those who attempted to reach Europe in 2015 are now dead or missing.11

Map of migration flows into Europe
Migration flows into Europe across the Mediterranean, 2015 (Source: International Organization for Migration)

At once swamped by the influx of Syrians, for the first time since the beginning of the crisis, and haunted by the images of dead bodies sweeping the shores of Turkey and Greece, European political circles have entered into intense discussions about the responsibilities of the international community and the issue of burden sharing. In that process, EU policy makers have come to a new appreciation of the urgency of assisting Turkey in its efforts to deal with Syrian refugees. Their decision to work with Ankara on the migrant crisis – which has also provided a new impetus to the long-stalled EU-Turkish negotiations for EU membership – has been made manifest in the revised “EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan.” The latter was announced on October 15, 2015 during the visit of a European Commission delegation to Turkey and further supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, when she traveled to the Turkish capital, on October 18.12 However, as will be argued below, despite its expressed ambitions, the Plan may neither elicit a significant burden sharing mechanism nor a commitment to resurrect the EU-Turkey membership process due to its focus on securitization of migration and its lack of credibility with regard to other issues.

According to the current Joint Action Plan, Turkey is expected to enact a much debated re-admission agreement within a year, which includes actions in seventy-two issue areas. In particular, Turkey is expected to increase its border control missions and ensure that the re-admission centers are fully functioning and can receive all “irregular” migrants that arrive in Europe after having transited through Turkey. According to the Plan, Turkey can send this group of displaced people back to their respective countries of origin under the conditions that they are not fearing persecution and that it is not possible to provide them with basic necessities such as housing, healthcare and education services.13 At least one third of the three billion euros to be provided to Turkey by the EU is expected to be allocated for the necessary infrastructure that ensures the EU’s frontiers with non-Europe are secured. The initial plan stated that the remaining funds had to be spent on existing Syrian refugees in Turkey, which is approximately equal to only 900 euros per Syrian refugee.14 However, as the EU member-states finalized the payment of the funds on February 3, 2015, it was stated that the remaining funds were to be spent on building refugee camps for the re-admitted refugees instead.15 In other words, the EU’s main expectation in return for financial assistance and for rejuvenating the Turkish accession process is not policies aiming at Syrian refugees’ integration directly, but those that further securitization with increased border controls and containment in camps. Though hardly consistent with the proclaimed intent of the Plan, the fact that it actually focuses on making the EU even less hospitable to refugees is far from surprising in light of the reactions that the arrival of asylum seekers has generated across Europe – to wit, the galvanization of xenophobic feelings and their worrisome politicization as evidenced by the rise of extreme right parties.

In addition to a promise of financial support that is conditional upon reaching vague and potentially impossible targets, such as a fully functioning re-admission system, the EU also pledged to revisit and add momentum to the Turkish candidacy to the EU and grant Turkish citizens a visa-free entry to the Schengen zone.16 The credibility of this commitment is also questionable due to two potential issues. One relates to the ongoing accession process of Turkey, which has been stalled due to the parties’ inability to open new chapters of acquis communautaire in the aftermath of the accession of Cyprus. Because of Turkey’s reluctance to extend the Customs Union it has signed with the EU to a party it has long been in conflict with, namely Cyprus, the commission froze eight chapters of the acquis. Furthermore, Cyprus put a veto on opening six more chapters. Considering that, for their part, the remaining chapters are already open and being negotiated, the only possible way of moving forward in the accession process is either the Commission or the Cypriot government lifting their veto: developments that cannot be counted on at this stage.17 The visa free regime to be granted to Turkey faces a similar challenge: to become a reality, such an agreement needs to be ratified by all member-states of the Union, including those that are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of Turkey’s integration in the EU. The reluctance to any rapprochement with Turkey, on the part of European countries, is further heightened by the rising Islamophobia in many European countries, a tendency that goes back at least half a decade but has been further heightened by the Syrian refugee crisis.

Finally, the credibility of the EU’s revival of the negotiation process with Turkey is also questionable as it follows a long period when the Union told Turkish authorities that they were failing the requirements of membership in the areas of human rights, and the rule of law. Just before the general elections last November, the European Commission announced, quite unexpectedly, that it had postponed its annual progress report on Turkey, amid a key visit of the Turkish officials to Brussels during which the refugee crisis was at the top of the agenda.18 Released five days after the elections, the report elicited a very strong criticism of the Turkish government’s commitment to a democratization process, human rights, an independent judiciary, and freedom of speech.19 Nonetheless, the EU attempted to reinvigorate membership talks along with collaboration on refugees, thereby lending support to the governing AKP party right before the elections.20 Such inconsistencies prompt many observers to argue that the EU’s tactical move toward Turkey’s membership either destroys its capacity as a rules-based, normative power in foreign policy or, alternatively, casts doubt on its actual commitment to Turkish accession.21

All things considered, this essay has illustrated the challenges raised by the Syrian refugee crisis to the members of the international community, and more specifically to the relations between the European Union and Turkey, which is both a candidate to EU membership and the main recipient country for Syrian refugees. Our argument has been that one way of establishing a fair burden sharing mechanism for this humanitarian crisis, one that is geared toward facilitating the well-being and socio-economic integration of this vulnerable population, involves supporting the frontier countries in their governance-oriented policies. Despite the existing political will and the allocation of financial resources, Turkey cannot govern this process alone. Any shortcoming in this realm is reflected in the secondary migration of refugees further to Europe. Having illustrated various challenges posed by the arrival of refugees and observing several policies adopted by Turkey that involve a move away from securitization and towards socio-economic integration of the refugees, there are reasons to believe that supporting these efforts can be quite fruitful. As things stand, the “danger” to which European authorities associate the movement of Syrian refugees toward and through Turkey certainly improve the chances of collaboration between the EU and the Turkish government. However, the roadmap that both parties have adopted seems far from ideal both in terms of assuring the wellbeing of refugees and of putting the future of their relationship on the right track. Indeed, the unrealistic and vague goals delineated by the Joint Action Plan are likely to undermine its credibility in the near future, whereas the mechanisms on which it is predicated fail to provide long-term solutions to the needs of the refugees and the problems that they face.

Recommended citation: Yavcan, Basak. “On Governing the Syrian Refugee Crisis Collectively: The View from Turkey.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

A collaborative project of collective writing

coordinated + edited by:
Nicholas De Genova + Martina Tazzioli

co-authored by:
Soledad Álvarez-Velasco, Nicholas De Genova, Elena Fontanari, Charles Heller, Yolande Jansen, Irene Peano, Fiorenza Picozza, Lisa Riedner, Laia Soto Bermant, Aila Spathopoulou, Maurice Stierl, Zakeera Suffee, Martina Tazzioli, Huub van Baar, Can Yildiz

Note on Authorship: For each of the specific keywords, the first listed name indicates the keyword’s lead author, whereas the names that follow are simply listed alphabetically to affirm the parity of contributions by the co-authors.

Europe / Crisis: Introducing New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”


“Migrant Crisis” / “Refugee Crisis”

Numbers (or, The Spectacle of Statistics in the Production of “Crisis”)

“Humanitarian Crisis”


(The Crisis of) “European Values”


Europe / Crisis: Introducing New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

Martina Tazzioli + Nicholas De Genova

It has become utterly banal to speak of “the crisis” in Europe, even as there have proliferated invocations of a veritable “crisis of Europe” – a putative crisis of the very idea of “Europe.” This project, aimed at formulating New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe,” was initiated in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January 2015, and has been brought to a necessarily tentative and only partial “completion” in the aftermath of the subsequent massacre in Paris on 13 November 2015. Eerily resembling a kind of uncanny pair of book-ends, these spectacles of “terror” and “security” (De Genova 2011; 2013a) awkwardly seem to frame what otherwise, during the intervening several months, has been represented as “the migrant crisis,” or “the refugee crisis,” or more broadly, as a “crisis” of the borders of “Europe.” Of course, for several years, the protracted and enduring ramifications of global economic “crisis” and the concomitant policies of austerity have already been a kind of fixture of European social and political life. Similarly, the events in Paris are simply the most recent and most hyper-mediated occasions for a re-intensification of the ongoing processes of securitization that have been a persistent (if inconstant) mandate of the putative Global War on Terror (De Genova 2010a, 2010c). Hence, this collaborative project of collective authorship emerges from an acute sense of the necessity of rethinking the conceptual and discursive categories that govern borders, migration, and asylum and simultaneously overshadow how scholarship and research on these topics commonly come to recapitulate both these dominant discourses and re-reify them.

As a network of scholars in critical migration and borders studies, we have been particularly concerned to defy the intellectual and political ghettoization of these topics in relation to the ordinarily unquestioned manifold and transversal reality of the multiple “crises” that coexist alongside the purported “migration” or “refugee crisis” in (and of) “Europe.” How indeed may the “crises” associated with border control and asylum and immigration law enforcement be apprehensible as co-constitutive of what is otherwise so ubiquitously known simply as “the crisis” (the economic crisis), as well as the related “crisis” of “Europe” itself (the political, juridical, and institutional crisis of the European Union, and particularly such “European” institutions as the Schengen zone of passport-free travel that has reconfigured the borders of “Europe” by sustaining an “internal” space of [relatively, albeit differentially] free mobility)? Likewise, this critical angle of vision on “the crisis” in and of “Europe” must be further situated within the context of our global historical moment: the recent and ongoing proliferation of wars, civil wars, military interventions, and neocolonial occupations across the planet in which European powers are and have long been profoundly implicated. This perspective illuminates the dire necessity of radically unsettling any self-satisfied European discourse on “migration” or “refugees” as the de facto human refuse of “crises” constructed to be strictly “external” to the presumed safety and stability of “Europe,” erupting always “elsewhere.” In other words, starting from the dramatic increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum in EU-rope because of the violent convulsions and disruptions of war, but also in light of the preemptive unavailability of any other route for migration to Europe for the vast majority of the world’s population, what is at stake here is a rigorously postcolonial critique of the governmentality of migration and asylum and the misleading opposition between “genuine” or “legitimate” refugees and ostensibly“economic” migrants (Garelli and Tazzioli 2013a; Tazzioli 2013; 2014). These contrivances of the global government of human mobility intersect substantially (and consequentially) with the analytical categories that discipline academic research and scholarship. Furthermore, and related to these intersections surrounding human mobility, this project similarly inquires into how these manifold and interconnected “crises” might signal a larger epistemic crisis regarding some of the central and defining categories of thought and action surrounding the contemporary (postcolonial, post-Cold War, neoliberal) constitution of a place called “Europe.”

The aspiration and intended purpose of these New Keywords is to effectively “hijack” the dominant discourse surrounding and superintending how we speak of and think about the conjunctures of “Europe” and “crisis.” Specifically, we posit our interventions into this contradictory problem space from the distinctive critical vantage point enabled by our engagements with the perspectives and experiences of migration and borders. Hence, the primary motivation behind our collaborative work has been to engage in the kind of theoretical dialogue and debate that aims to interrogate and disentangle the multifarious articulations of “migration” and “crisis,” highlighting that the so-called “migration crisis” in fact supplies a crucial lens for grasping the wider dynamics of “crisis” in and of “Europe” and the European border regime (see “Border Regime” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

Nevertheless, while we seek to problematize the very language of “crisis,” it is imperative to underscore that this collaborative intervention arises also amidst the horrific spectacle of migrant and refugee mass deaths that has been produced as a consequence of the European border regime. Far from downplaying the frequently tragic dramas of the migrants and refugees who have braved the violence of Europe’s extended and expansive borders – and the monumental fact that 2015 has been the single most deadly year on record for illegalized migrants and refugees seeking to cross these borders, especially across the Mediterranean Sea – let alone the protracted travails of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants repeatedly blocked during their “long march” across numerous borders through the Balkans, this project nevertheless emphasizes the generalized crisis of the government (and control) of human mobility instigated for the European border regime by autonomous migrant and refugee movements that have defied the borders and appropriated the space of Europe.

On November 18, 2015 all the borders from Slovenia to Macedonia-FYROM were closed to the refugees who were not from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Refugees from other countries were subsequently stranded at the border for 22 days. (Lisa Hamou-Mamar)

The multiplication of borders and border-zones (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013) within and around the amorphous “European” space is seen here as a cascade of reactive responses put into place by a diverse variety of formations of sovereign power. These heterogeneous state formations include the European Union (and various subsidiary agencies such as Frontex, the EU’s border policing operation), as well as particular EU member nation-states, European states that are not EU members, as well as the junior partners in the peripheries of “Europe” who have been variously sub-contracted to police the borders of EU-rope, such as Libya prior to 2011 or Turkey now (albeit with much greater and more complex strategic geo-political and military stakes). Despite their significant differences and inequalities, all are substantially dedicated to disciplining migratory movements that objectively challenge outright the regimes enforcing selective access to the “right” of cross-border mobility and the exclusionary criteria of the “right” to asylum. In the face of militarized border police brutality, including rubber truncheons, stun grenades, and tear gas, as well as razor-wire fences, and the ever-present horizon of interdiction, prolonged detention, and deportation, we are reminded nonetheless of migrant and refugee mobilizations, such as the ad-hoc protest march that departed from Budapest’s Keleti train station and occupied a six-lane highway heading to Austria, chanting “Freedom!”

After three days of camping in front of the Keleti train station in central Budapest, hundreds of refugees decided to take matters into their own hands and walk over a 150 km to the Austrian border.

Beyond such dramatic and overtly politicized mobilizations, however, migrant struggles to appropriate movement and claim space – to enter Europe, claim asylum, and move onward to northern countries in the quest for safer and more promising places to stay – are visible in any European border zone, from Lampedusa to Lesvos, from Melilla to Nicklesdorf, from Ventimiglia to Calais (see “Migrant Struggles” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

“We are not going back. The situation is bad. We need freedom to pass.”

In the face of the “migration crisis” and the “crisis of Europe,”therefore, we are reminded of what Sandro Mezzadra has depicted as “the politicality of migration movements” and must begin to contemplate the politics of “the crisis” from the critical standpoint of what he designates a “Border-Europe,” a “Europe” constituted by the proliferation of borders and border struggles (Mezzadra 2016).

Thus, the collaborative work compiled here operates at a significant distance from the current proliferation of discourses about the “migrant” or “refugee crisis,” challenging the taken-for-granted meaning of the term “crisis” by looking at the productive dimension that the declaration of a state of “crisis” of “emergency” generates. In the face of the epistemic crisis of both state and other institutional actors (as well as academics) in taking stock of the heterogeneity of practices of migration towards and across “Europe,” we seek here to re-craft some of the most commonplace taken-for-granted categories undergirding the dominant discourse from the standpoint of a constitutive struggle over mobility and space. That is to say, these New Keywords respond to the urgency of producing a collective counter-discourse about migration and refugee movements and the purported “crisis” that ensues, starting from an epistemological destabilizing and theoretical questioning of the very meaning and function of certain key concepts and categories, such as “humanitarianism,” “refugee,” “migrant,” “mobility,” and so forth. By focusing on the (at least) two-fold “crisis” that has dominated the media spectacle and the discourse of the political establishment – “the (economic) crisis” and “the migrant/refugee crisis” – and by refusing the systematic separation of these and other related figures of “crisis,” we hope to direct critical scrutiny toward the frameworks and practices of governmental intervention enabled and energized by the proliferation of“crisis.” Likewise, yet still more importantly, we aim to call attention to the new spaces produced by the diverse manifestations of the autonomy and subjectivity of the migrants and refugees themselves. The politics of austerity, acutely affecting southern European countries in particular, coupled with border enforcement strategies that preemptively illegalize mobile people seeking asylum, together impact upon both “Europeans” and “non-Europeans” – citizens and migrants alike – and thereby simultaneously re-fortify the “obscene inclusion” (De Genova 2013b) of war refugees and other illegalized migrants into the socio-political fabrics of local “European” economies.

Reflecting upon and engaging with spatial and political transformations that are still underway, however, we are notably confronted with the methodological problem of keeping up with the ongoing border struggles and the concomitant reconfigurations of the mechanisms of capture and control that are at play in governing human mobilities, in the dizzying context of the diverse array of recent events in Europe that have directly affected our areas of inquiry. In particular, we must mention the various closures of EU internal borders in the securitarian aftermaths of both the arrival of large numbers of refugees and migrants in the second half of 2015 and the violent events in Paris on 13 November 2015. We must likewise note the moral panic erupting over the sexual assaults in Cologne/Köln during the 2016 New Year’s Eve festivities, which have authorized a new round of debate over the criminalization and prospective deportation of “asylum-seekers.” Consequently, ours is necessarily an intrinsically tentative and always-incomplete grappling with the immanent task of theorizing the contingencies and irresolution of socio-political conflicts and struggles in which we are still immersed. Hence, while these interventions can in no way pretend to provide any semblance of an exhaustive account or comprehensive analysis of the recent political transformations occurring in “Europe,” the keywords that we have chosen – “Crisis”; “Migrant Crisis”/ “Refugee Crisis”; Numbers (or, The Spectacle of Statistics in the Production of “Crisis”);“Humanitarian Crisis”; “Mobility”; and (The Crisis of) “European Values” – each of these signal broad rubrics that allow us to repeatedly tackle anew, and from somewhat different critical angles of vision, the larger over-arching question of the relation between (the government of) migration and (the government of) the wider multiplicity of apparently disparate and divergent formations of “crisis” in Europe today.

It is perhaps self-evident, but particularly noteworthy, that these texts have emerged amidst the still-unfolding and unpredictable repercussions of the securitarian and military responses–within Europe and abroad – by numerous EU authorities and member states to the attacks in Paris of 13 November 2015, which will continue to have multiple impacts upon human mobility at large. These ramifications are particularly consequential for the social and political conditions of refugees and migrants, both for those within the space of “Europe” as well as for those beyond the borders who may yet seek entry to “Europe.” Nonetheless, and very importantly, this is also true for EU-ropean citizens – especially those racialized as “Muslims” or “Roma” or other supposedly “non-white” (“non-European”) “minorities” (De Genova 2010c; De Genova and Tazzioli 2015; van Baar 2016b). On the one hand, all migrants and refugees may now be newly figured as always-already “suspect” – potential “terrorists” who have infiltrated Europe alongside the influx of “genuine” refugees.

Stranded at the border between Greece and Macedonia, refugees chant “we are not terrorists.”

Moreover, Syrian refugees and migrants, in particular, who hitherto have widely enjoyed a distinctly preferential treatment over and against others seeking asylum in Europe, have now been abruptly re-fashioned as inherently suspect and thus, special candidates for the dubious status of “bogus” refugees, albeit now re-figured as potential “secret agents” with the nefarious mission of entering Europe only to perpetrate “terrorist” atrocities. On the other hand, the repeated and successive closures of various internal EU borders have simultaneously accelerated the “crisis” of the Schengen area of “free” mobility (long celebrated as a paramount achievement of European integration), while nonetheless summoning new formations of still more enlarged powers of integrated sovereignty to be configured at the EU-ropean scale. Therefore, simultaneous with the “crisis” of Schengen, we seem to be witnessing its re-fortification through an aggressive push for the unprecedented securitization of the EU’s external borders, specifically targeting EU citizens.

The New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe” emerged from a workshop convened by Nicholas De Genova and Martina Tazzioli at King’s College London on 25–26 June 2015. Notably, this is the second iteration of the “New Keywords” endeavor, and follows an earlier but related dialogue that culminated in the analogous project of collective authorship and collaborative publication, coordinated and edited by Nicholas De Genova, Sandro Mezzadra and John Pickles, which appeared in print as a Special Thematic Section on “New Keywords: Migration and Borders” in the journal Cultural Studies (Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Both of these experiments in thinking and writing together stem from the meetings of a multi-disciplinary research network on “The ‘European’ Question: Postcolonial Perspectives on Migration, Nation, and Race,” initiated by Nicholas De Genova and Sandro Mezzadra with migration and borders scholar-activists and activist-scholars from the UK, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Latvia, and the Czech Republic, as well as Turkey, Iran, the United States, and Ecuador.

Therefore, this interrogation of the conjunctures of “Europe” and “Crisis” is also a contribution to reformulating and expanding the purview of what Nicholas De Genova (2016) has called “the ‘European’ Question” – contending that we must recurrently and unrelentingly ask: What indeed is “Europe”? and Who may be counted as “European”? Posited first and foremost from the conjoined perspectives of migration and race, the “European” Question demands a persistent attention to the postcolonial dimension of the borders of “Europe” and the boundaries of “European”-ness at the core of our analysis. Fundamental not only as a vital corrective against the (re-)bordering of would-be critical reflection within the academic boundaries of migration and refugee studies but also for problematizing the vexed politics of race, national identity, citizenship, migration and asylum in “Europe” today, the “European” Question has supplied a defining framework for debate among the contributors to these New Keywords. Extending this interrogation of “Europe” through the critical lens of “crisis” – the multiplicity of invocations of “crisis” in and of “Europe” – including of course the rationale of “economic crisis” as the presumptive authorization of austerity and reactionary populist backlash – these interventions around “the crisis” therefore emphatically remind us that what is at stake is nothing less than the very question of “Europe” itself. Situated, as we are, in discrepant relations to “Europe” and “European”-ness, we nonetheless seek to seize hold of our moment of “crisis” as a moment of opportunity through which it may be possible to think and act differently in the aspiration to make the place where we live into a place where life is worth living, together.

Essay series continues on next page…


Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”


Charles Heller, Nicholas De Genova, Maurice Stierl, Martina Tazzioli + Huub van Baar

Over recent weeks, months, and indeed, years, there has been an astounding proliferation in public discourse of the word “crisis,” particularly in the European context. Most recently, we have seen the repeated invocation of a “refugee crisis,” alternately labeled a “migrant crisis.” Similarly, this same phenomenon has been depicted in terms of a “humanitarian crisis” while nonetheless depicted always also as a “crisis of the asylum system” and a “crisis” of Europe’s borders, which is to say, a “crisis” of “border control” (simultaneously signaling a “crisis” of enforcement and policing and a “crisis” of refugee “protection”), and thus, a “crisis of the Schengen zone.” Notably, alarmist reactions to the multifarious “crises” relating to the (“unauthorized”) movement of people – particularly across and within the EU’s borders – have largely served to justify the necessity of new “emergency” policies and the deployment of new means of control. Nonetheless, migration is sometimes figured as the necessary “solution” to what is often depicted as Europe’s “demographic crisis.” Furthermore, this particular conjuncture of “crisis” talk (and crisis-mongering) cannot be separated from the more pervasive discourse of “the crisis”: “economic crisis,” “financial crisis,” “debt crisis,” “crisis of Euro-zone,” “banking crisis” and the attendant recourse to a widespread promotion of the notion that “austerity” is necessary and inevitable. Within this wider framework of austerity policies, moreover, we likewise have become attuned to a more or less permanent “housing crisis.” Alongside this more narrowly economistic (neoliberal) repertoire of “crisis” discourse, therefore, we have been subjected to a parallel invocation of a “crisis of European institutions,” associated with the perennial problem of the European Union’s “democratic deficit” and thus also a “crisis of democracy,” sometimes equated even with a “crisis of the idea of Europe.” As scholars of critical migration and refugee studies, we propose that the so-called “crisis” – currently mobilized in the face of the horrific effects of the EU-ropean border and immigration regime and visa policies by the mass media, politicians, policy makers, and other state as well as non-governmental authorities – can provide a prism for unpacking and interrogating these numerous interlocking “crises.”

Notably, it is another “crisis” – a “crisis” of “the Arab world” or “the crisis in the Middle East” –which is figured as the source of an inordinate portion of the illegalized migrants and refugees entering EU territory through its external borders. Syrian nationals fleeing the civil war have been particularly prominent, but the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, previously one of the advance outposts of the externalized EU migration regime (see “Externalization,” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015), has consequently enabled illegalized migrants from across Africa, the Middle East, and beyond to cross the country’s porous frontiers in their quests to access Europe by braving the European border zone in the Mediterranean Sea. Libya’s “failed state” thus reappears now as one of the “weak links” in the chain of “European” border control. Thus, the “migration crisis” is often discursively and analytically represented as a byproduct of “the crisis in the Middle East,” the labeling of which is inseparable from justifications for renewed military interventions in an amorphous geo-political region from Afghanistan to Somalia to Mali (with repercussions even further afield, as in Nigeria and Cameroon).

Indeed, it would appear that the externalization of “the migration crisis” has become a key strategic objective of the EU. Insinuating that the “crisis” itself has been, in effect, inflicted upon “Europe,” the highest ranking figures in the EU have concurred that it is the proper role of the states in its wider “neighborhood” to solve the “crisis.” Accordingly, under the cloud of this abnegation of EU-ropean responsibility, the EU and numerous African states engaged in a two-month long tug of war, culminating on 11–12 November 2015 in the summit in Valetta, Malta. The Valetta negotiations reiterated a well-worn managerial concern “to address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement,”1 and declared a new “advance” with respect to “returning persons who are not entitled to stay in Europe,”2 a very tired euphemism for the obligatory neocolonial collusion of “sending countries” in the deportation of their nationals from EU-rope. Despite the proclamations of mutual “interdependence” between “Europe” and its African “neighbors,” therefore, Valetta exposed the extent to which the ongoing “migrant crisis” has served to authorize anew the protracted (post-)colonial struggle over dominance and power. Hence, EU-rope’s highest ambition has been to find ways to export its “crisis” to its poorer “neighbors,” and thus has sought to convert its “crisis” into a neoliberal test of postcolonial “responsibility,” whereby the ostensible legitimacy and sovereignty of African nation-states is presumed to derive from dutiful service to the mandates of re-fortifying the borders of “Europe.” Nonetheless, despite these rhetorical gestures and extortionist power plays, the Valetta Conference appears to have produced little substantive action: at present, no African country has any “readmission” agreement in force with the EU (Bunyan 2015).

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris and the resultant proclamation of a “state of emergency” in France – although virtually all of the alleged culprits in this attack appear to have been EU citizens – multiple European authorities have resorted to calls for the reactivation of internal borders within the EU, in an abrupt departure from the Schengen agreements, as well as an unprecedented securitization of the Schengen area’s external borders. In fact, over the last year, we have repeatedly witnessed the alternation of the opening and closure of various EU border-crossing points – between Greece and Macedonia, between Croatia and Slovenia, between Italy and France, between Sweden and Denmark, among many others – and the temporary suspension of Schengen in the name of “emergencies” associated with what has come increasingly to be represented as a twofold “human threat”: a bewildering and uncontrollable “mass influx” of refugees escaping war zones, and an amorphous “invasion” of migrants or refugees re-figured as potential “terrorists.” Furthermore, following the moral panic over sexual assaults during the 2016 New Year’s Eve festivities in Köln/Cologne – allegedly perpetrated by unruly “North African or Middle Eastern” young men (purportedly including “asylum-seekers”) – newly arrived, “culturally alien,” “unassimilated” (and by implication, unassimilable) “Muslim”/“Arab” “asylum-seekers” are similarly re-figured now as potential “criminals,” and particularly as “sexual predators” and “rapists,” prone to dangerous and violent types of “deviancy,” to be rendered deportable and expelled. Hence, the “emergency” associated with the uncontrolled arrival of migrants and refugees has quickly become not only a matter of border enforcement but also mundane policing, and signals an incipient “crisis” of social order.

Notably, the European “debt crisis” also seems to be deeply intertwined with the “migration crisis”: among the countless criticisms of fiscal “irresponsibility” leveled against Greece (now more than ever severely debilitated by EU austerity policies), for instance, it is crucial to recall the allegation regarding the Greek state’s apparent incapacity to “manage” the influx of an estimated three-quarters of a million refugees and migrants who arrived on its shores in 2015 alone, leading to threats to suspend Greece’s inclusion in the Schengen zone “unless it overhauls its response to the migration crisis.”3

The wild proliferation and continuous eruption of the language of “crisis” evidently commands some critical scrutiny (see Roitman 2014 for the most comprehensive review of the relevant literature and a very instructive critical discussion of Koselleck 2006; Shank 2008; Starn 1971; Parrochia 2008, in particular; cf. Agamben 2013; Béjin and Morin 1976; Foucault 2007; Klein 2007). First of all, if the term “crisis” is commonly used to denote a situation of disruption of the norm within a prior situation of presumed stability (Roitman 2014:4), and thereby associated with imminent danger demanding immediate action, we must recognize that – regarding illegalized migration into and across Europe – the very distinction between (and separation of) what is ostensibly “stable” and “in crisis” is altogether tenuous, indeed, dubious. Illegalized migration in Europe arises as a very predictable and inevitable effect of a migration regime that forecloses mobility for the great majority of people from most of the world. The illegalized migration regime is geographically heterogeneous and extensive and temporally enduring. Furthermore, it operates through the putative “failure” of multiple states to prevent the exit or entry of migrants and refugees who have been effectively denied any legal right to access these various states’ territories. A state of “crisis” with regard to illegalized migration across the EU’s frontiers is therefore the norm rather than the exception, and the convulsive but plainly routine government of illegalized migration appears to both operate through “crisis” and yet to be in a permanent crisis itself. Likewise, the global financial “crisis” of 2007–08 and its continuing repercussions within the EU and the Euro-zone are best understood to be unsettling, destructive, and violent features of the normal functioning of capitalism, rather than some unforeseen or unfathomable anomaly. As David Harvey demonstrates, “crises are essential to the reproduction of capitalism. It is in the course of crises that the instabilities of capitalism are confronted, reshaped and re-engineered to create a new version of what capitalism is about” (Harvey 2014:ix). Furthermore, the ongoing turmoil of war and civil war across multiple regions of the globe, and particularly in the Middle East and Africa, can only be adequately comprehended as the very predictable result of colonial and neocolonial occupations and military interventions during not only the last several years but rather over the last century or more (Gregory 2004). Hence, we can only ask: When was the Middle East not “in crisis”? When was Africa not “in crisis”? Or, to put the question more precisely, we may ask with Janet Roitman: “how can one think about Africa—or think ‘Africa’ [or indeed, ‘the Middle East’]—otherwise than under the sign of crisis?” (2014:98n6), which indeed is to say, “otherwise than in terms of pathology” (2014:114n76). While we must be wary of recapitulating well-worn colonialist and Orientalist tropes attributing violence and volatility to these regions, it is imperative to draw attention not to any supposedly inherent proclivity toward violence or incapacity for selfgovernment but rather to the contradictory legacies of conflict and the enduring realities of social and political fracture that originate with European (and Euro-American) imperialism and their deeply destabilizing effects.

Hence, it is doubtful whether the “crisis” label can serve to clarify anything, and rather more likely that it serves instead to further obfuscate. As Roitman (2014:5) cautions, “through the term ‘crisis,’ the singularity of events is abstracted by a generic logic, making crisis a term that seems self-explanatory.” It is therefore instructive to recall the political uses that “crisis” may be pressed to serve. Labeling a complex situation (such as that of the contemporary dynamics of mass migration and refugee movements) as a “crisis” and therefore as “exceptional” tends to conceal the violence and permanent exception that are the norm under global capitalism and our global geo-politics, and may serve to perpetuate the conditions that have led to the purported “emergency” in the first place. Reinhart Koselleck (2006) offers a useful genealogy of the term “crisis,” underscoring that the concept originally evokes decision and judgment, helping to draw our attention to the new spaces of intervention and government that discourses about the (multiple) European “crises” have opened up.

Indeed, the proclamation of “crisis” consequently serves the ends of particular forms of governmental intervention, usually through the deployment of authoritarian measures: a situation of “crisis,” after all, appears to demand immediate responses that cannot afford the more prolonged temporalities of democratic debate and deliberative processes, or so we are told. In this regard, Giorgio Agamben (2013) has incisively remarked:

The concept ‘crisis’ has indeed become a motto of modern politics, and for a long time it has been part of normality in any segment of social life . . . ‘Crisis’ in ancient medicine meant a judgement, when the doctor noted at the decisive moment whether the sick person would survive or die. The present understanding of crisis, on the other hand, refers to an enduring state. So this uncertainty is extended into the future, indefinitely. It is exactly the same with the theological sense; the Last Judgement was inseparable from the end of time. Today, however, judgement is divorced from the idea of resolution and repeatedly postponed. So the prospect of a decision is ever less, and an endless process of decision never concludes. Today crisis has become an instrument of rule. It serves to legitimize political and economic decisions that in fact dispossess citizens and deprive them of any possibility of decision.

As if to illustrate Agamben’s contention, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Gilles De Kerkove, glibly remarked to the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee in a meeting following the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”4 Here we confront the well-worn sensibility that has always informed the most reactionary political forces as well as the most parasitic forms of disaster capitalism (Klein 2007; Loewenstein 2015; Mirowski 2013) – that “crisis” always signals “opportunity.”

What “crisis”? Whose “crisis”? Who gains, and who loses, from the labeling of the present conjuncture as “crisis”? These are the urgent and critical questions that we must ask every time we encounter the word “crisis.” If we are skeptical of the language of “crisis” in analytical terms and critical of the political consequences that this rhetoric facilitates, we nevertheless certainly cannot deny that we have been confronting a period of momentous transformations in and around Europe, which is still unfolding rapidly before our eyes, and for which we are at pains to provide an account. Following Roitman, we may reaffirm: “ The point is to observe crisis as a blind spot, and hence to apprehend the ways in which it regulates narrative constructions, the ways in which it allows certain questions to be asked while others are foreclosed” (2014:94). If the term “crisis” can be of any use, then, it is in recalling its etymological meaning, from the Greek krisis (from krinein): “to separate, decide, judge, a distinctive force” (Starn 1971:3; cf. Agamben 2015; Koselleck 2006; Roitman 2014:15-16). A crisis, rather than referring to an external and objective state of affairs “out there,” would instead point to a moment of deep change that challenges our capacity to judge and make sense of it. If there is in fact any use in naming any crisis at all, therefore, it may be first and foremost an epistemic crisis – a crisis of knowledge and the categories of knowledge — or in Roitman’s words, an “epistemological impasse” claimed or invoked in order “to found the possibility for other historical trajectories or even for a (new) future” (2014:4).

How do we, as scholars of borders and migration, propose to contribute to the considerably more expansive collective task of producing a critical “history of the present” (Foucault 1984), in a way that would be grounded in our particular field of inquiry but extend beyond it? How might we, in Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson’s terms (2013), use borders and migration as “epistemic devices” to interrogate our contemporary historical and sociopolitical conjuncture? Some of the conceptual repertoire that has been developed to critically analyze borders and migration may be instructive, we propose, for making sense of some of the wider socio-spatial recompositions at work in the present historical conjuncture. Migration and borders undoubtedly serve as “political seismographers” of sorts, registering, through their movements in time and space, some of the deep transformations affecting the wider historical and geo-political scene, in this instance, “Europe” and its vicinity. However, the movements of migrants and refugees themselves are not simply “moved” by deeper or greater forces, and rather must be understood to constitute subjective and autonomous motive forces of social and political change in their own right (see “Subjectivity” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the proliferation of a “crisis” of borders and migration “in” Europe also involves a kind of spatial proliferation that makes it impossible for any of these phenomena to be neatly confined within the presumed parameters of “Europe”: we cannot “contain” our analysis within “European” (much less, EU-ropean) geo-political boundaries (see “Counter-mapping” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Indeed, the very borders and boundaries attributed to “Europe” are unsettled by the transnational dynamics and inter-continental scale of migrant and refugee movements, and therefore by the spatial multiplication of socio-political interconnections among and across these different but interrelated “crises.” Moreover, the prevailing focus on the “problems” that these “crises” cause for and in “Europe,” or on how these “problems” would appear to have been caused somewhere “outside” of “Europe” or on its “margins,” persistently portrays these “troubling” movements as chain reactions that originate somewhere “external” to “Europe” (or at least outside of its “core”). Affiliated thus to what always seem to be endemically chaotic borderlands or warzones – and only worsened through the opportunism of “smugglers” or “corrupt” government officials in these spaces ostensibly marred by lawlessness or, at best, a deficit of the “rule of law” – such illegalized migrant and refugee mobilities are depicted as moving always through regions that are insufficiently policed, finally to end up in “Europe.” Apparently compounding lawlessness with still more lawlessness, defying the “rule of law” with their blatant “illegality,” these “irregular” migrants and refugees can apparently only corrode the socio-economic, cultural, political, legal “order.” Such imaginings and representations of contemporary illegalized migration suggest not only that “Europe” is confronted with a “crisis” that originates “elsewhere,” therefore, but also that “Europe” is a kind of “victim” of unfathomable conflicts erupting elsewhere, derived from the incapacity or incompetence of (postcolonial) “others” to adequately govern themselves. By implication, the “unwashed masses” who flee such places similarly can be presumed to be essentially incompetent for properly “modern” (“democratic,” self-governing) citizenship (De Genova 2013b). Likewise, such representations insinuate that “Europe” (with its multiple contradictory regimes of citizenship, security, and border and migration management) is somehow an “innocent” bystander, not implicated in the “causes” of these “foreign” conflicts and “crises,” whether in direct and immediate socio-economic, developmentalist, and (geo-)political senses, or in the more complex and mediated historical sense (Walters 2010).

Thus, critically analyzing the “European” border “crisis” involves repudiating at the same time the sort of methodological Europeanism (and methodological Eurocentrism) that sustains many analyses about migration and borders “in” Europe, by refusing to uncritically assume “Europe” (or indeed, EU-rope) to be the singular or primary spatial referent of these multiple crises (Garelli and Tazzioli 2013b; van Baar 2016a). What is more, from the point of view of sheer numbers, the “refugee crisis” has a far greater magnitude in other places, particularly in the immediate borderlands of the various conflict zones, and thus, represents a far more dire “crisis” for many countries of the so-called Global South. Nevertheless, the current transformations have in common the distinguishing characteristics of profound spatial upheaval both in Europe and beyond, and involve a veritable re-drawing of borders and other spatial boundaries (see “Counter-mapping” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Again, to make sense of what otherwise presents itself as a “crisis” of border control for the various sovereign powers implicated in the heterogeneous and externalized superintendence of the European border regime, the primacy of the autonomy and subjectivity of human mobility is paramount.

Let us briefly examine two illustrative and instructive examples:

Migration and “the Arab Spring”: The series of Arab uprisings that ensued from the catalytic events in Tunisia, which culminated in the fall of the Ben Ali regime on14 January 2011, eventually included the fall of regimes in Libya and Egypt and situations of severe political unrest in other countries such as Bahrain and Yemen, as well as protracted civil wars in Libya and Syria. Not unlike the protracted formations of migrant and refugee movements from Afghanistan and Iraq, the plight of Syrians fleeing violence since 2012 exemplifies the paradigm of migration as a mere “reflection” (or byproduct) of wider global geo-political dynamics, since we may perceive these mobilities as “determined” by the successive phases of the conflict. However, such an account fundamentally fails to account for the collective movement that these migrants and refugees constitute, overcoming each and every border that has been erected to obstruct their pathways and impede their trajectories, and therefore apprehensible – objectively speaking – as one of the most important instances of mass transnational civil disobedience in recent history. Perhaps in hindsight, we may one day regard these mass global movements of border defiance as we now understand such historical events as the Salt March led by Gandhi or the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King. The migration of nearly 30,000 Tunisians in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Ben Ali regime allows us to think further about the articulation between migration and revolutionary processes, rather than conceiving of migration as merely a secondary effect of an apparently more primary political process that may be imagined to be strictly confined spatially and delimited temporally to an “elsewhere,” ostensibly outside of Europe (Garelli et al, 2013; Garelli and Tazzioli 2013a; Tazzioli 2014). Tunisians seized the opportunity of the temporary power vacuum in January 2011 to cross the sea to Italy in broad daylight, often to the sound of songs and the beating of drums. By seizing their freedom to move across the borders that had been sealed to them through the collaboration between the Ben Ali regime and the EU, they indicated that their aspirations to freedom and justice were directed not only in opposition to the way their country was governed within, but also against the way they were governed by the EU’s violent and discriminatory migration regime from beyond (but also encompassing) Tunisia’s borders (Garelli et al, 2013). Once they arrived on Italian territory, Tunisians succeeded in evading controls for a time, sending a crisis of control rippling through the Schengen zone – with particularly de-stabilizing consequences between Italy and France. In the summer of 2011, having arrived in Paris, Tunisian migrants occupied a building and posted banners audaciously announcing their own spirit of revolutionary generosity toward a Europe wracked by “the crisis”: “We’ve come to help you do the same.” Notably, European social movements contesting the imposition of austerity policies thereafter resorted to the repertoire of occupying the central squares of their most important cities, often explicitly invoking the inspiration that came from their counterparts during the dramatic events of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

Migration and the EU’s Uneven Geography: The European “debt crisis” and the “crisis of the Euro-zone” have been both the product of EU’s uneven geography and a catalyst further aggravating this unevenness (Gambarotto and Solari 2014; Hadjimichalis 2011). As Étienne Balibar (2012) has incisively noted, “one part of Europe is transforming another part into an internal post-colony” through a process of “zoning” in which “the inequalities of globalization reproduce themselves” in the heart of these countries and regions. However, “the limits between the zones,” Balibar continues, “are blurry, unpredictable,” contributing to the destabilization of “historical nations”: it is difficult to anticipate “between which countries will they pass, or within which country, between which regions.” It seems to us impossible to apprehend the current rippling effect of the “crisis” of migration and borders without inscribing it as a volatile force coconstituted with these shifting zones, the moving contours of which can be partly read through the very mobilities of migrants and refugees. Migrants and refugees have crossed the sea or trekked across the Balkans, but have consistently sought to move further onward from their ports of arrival or border crossings by land in the southern and eastern European “peripheries,” and aimed for northern and western countries where they may have better prospects of receiving legal protection and social benefits, as well as finding jobs or linking up with already existing migratory networks. Migrants’ movements thus register and maneuver among the increasing differentials within EU-ropean territory – not only in terms of narrowly economic gaps between standards of living, but also with regard to social welfare provision, legal protection, and so on – and thus constitute a kind of “rating agency from below”5: migrants are not only “voting with their feet” through “strategies of exit” (Hirschman 1970), but also “rating with their feet,” downgrading or disqualifying countries that they deem to be not sufficiently “European” – not fulfilling their ideal of “Europe” as an obscure object of desire. However, these aspirations defy the Dublin regulations – according to which the first EU member state to register an incoming migrant/refugee’s petition for asylum is responsible for processing the individual applicants’ claim, and to which the “asylum-seekers” are thereafter to be spatially confined. Thus, migrants and refugees’ desires have instigated a deep political crisis at the level EU institutions as well as between member states, as exemplified by the tense situations at the borders between Italy and France (Ventimiglia), between France and the UK (Calais), as well as between the numerous countries of Eastern Europe and their more prosperous neighbors to the west and north, such as Germany and Sweden. Both in terms of the comparative attraction for migrants, and in terms of the lines of conflict surrounding the different states’ duties and competencies for border enforcement, an increasing core-periphery dynamic is at work within the space of the EU. The pressure being currently exerted on the so-called “frontline states” (the member states located at the EU’s southern and eastern borders) further confirms that the uneven geography of “Europe” is continuously being reconfigured. Hence, we are observing forms of internal externalization (see Heller and Pezanni, in their adjoining contribution to “Near Futures Online”), reminiscent of the processes of externalizing migration enforcement and border control to various non-EU countries since the beginning of the 2000s (see “Externalization” in Casas-Corte et al. 2015). In the process, the increasing role of Frontex calls for new EU-level border policing and asylum processing agencies, and the more general pressure of states such as France and Germany on member states at the “front lines” of the European border regime, demanding greater vigilance and dedication to the ceaseless task of controlling human mobility, begins to more and more resemble the troikaization of migration control.

It is impossible to understand the current rapidly shifting trajectories of illegalized migrants and refugees, and the volatile bordering practices that are desperately aimed at containing them, short of articulating them within these wider socio-economic and political processes. Nevertheless, as these examples show, migration and borders are deeply enmeshed and participate in the wider transversal transformations affecting the meta-“European” region, and conversely provide a productive and indispensable perspective from which to interrogate them. Through the critical lens of migration and borders, therefore, “the crisis” in and of Europe – ramifying across the full spectrum of economy, politics, law, and policy – may be revealed in a radically new light.

Essay series continues on next page…


Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

“Migrant Crisis” / “Refugee Crisis”

Nicholas De Genova, Elena Fontanari, Fiorenza Picozza, Laia Soto Bermant, Aila Spathopoulou, Maurice Stierl, Zakeera Suffee, Martina Tazzioli, Huub van Baar + Can Yildiz

Mass media news coverage has vacillated remarkably between depictions of a European “refugee crisis” and the implicitly more derisive label “migrant crisis.” It is a telling fact that literally every BBC News article related to these topics posted is accompanied with a kind of disclaimer: “A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.” In short, in this example and many others, the epistemic crisis related to migration and refugee movements is deflected and displaced: the vexed question of how most appropriately to characterize people on the move without “authorization” across nation-state borders is deferred to a presumed eventual decision on the part of the “proper” governmental authorities, the ostensible “experts,” who purport to manage Europe’s border regime by assessing asylum claims and adjudicating the matter of who may qualify as a “legitimate” and “credible” refugee (see “Politics of protection” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Until such a day of reckoning, however, all refugees may be reduced to the presumed status of “mere” migrants. Indeed, in the discourse of the “migrant crisis,” it would seem that the term “migrant” in fact refers exclusively to “illegal” migrants, and therefore is profoundly implicated in the rendering of “migration” as inextricable from a global / postcolonial politics of class and race. Here, we are reminded furthermore that the very term “asylum seeker” is always already suggestive of a basic suspicion of all people who petition for asylum within a European asylum system that routinely and systematically disqualifies and rejects the great majority of applicants, and thereby ratifies anew the processes by which their mobilities have been illegalized (De Genova 2002; 2013b). As the outcome of the exclusionary politics of asylum, the current “refugee crisis” is in fact producing an enormous expansion of the rejected refugee population in Europe, and thus recomposing their “migrant”/(rejected) “refugee” “illegality” in relation to new formations of class and race inequalities (see “Migrant labour,” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

To begin with, it is crucial to highlight the fundamentally misleading and unstable character of the opposition of the terms “refugees,” “asylum-seekers,” and “migrants.” Unlike “refugee,” for instance, the term “migrant” does not strictly correspond to a specific legal status and by implication does the work of consigning various people on the move to the nebulous category of presumptive “irregularity” or “illegality.” Nonetheless, as suggested above, the more rarefied term “refugee” can tend to relinquish any analytical substance to the narrowly juridical (and highly exclusionary) determinations of governmental authorities. Meanwhile, the term “asylum-seeker” overtly signals the subjection of people on the move to the asylum application procedure, but commonly encompasses both those who will and will not ultimately be granted the status of “refugee,” as well as various intermediary juridical categories of partial recognition and provisional (often precarious) “legality.” Yet, “asylum-seeker” in no sense adequately describes the complex historically specific social and political trajectories of those who find themselves compelled to apply for asylum in the absence of any other “legal” routes for mobility and access to Europe.

Furthermore, migrant subjects who come to be officially recognized as “refugees” and find themselves in possession of a temporary “legal” status nonetheless experience the precarity that is produced by the EU’s exclusionary politics of asylum. Indeed, the contradictory polices of abandonment and control that are deployed by governmental authorities (both EU institutions and national states) in order to govern asylum are characterized by a profound ambivalence that generates various absurd hybrids for those who inhabit “the margins of the state” (Das and Poole 2004), who come to resemble “half-citizens” or “illegal citizens” (Rigo 2007). Subjected to contradictory legal conditionalities, these semi-“legal” migrant/refugee subjects are sometimes trapped in protracted conditions of precarious “legality” and legally enforced immobilization, while at other times, the uncertainties of their juridical condition compel them to move restlessly across state borders under conditions of illegalized mobility and irregularized (temporary) residence (Picozza n.d.). For example, some refugees (originally from sub-Saharan African countries, who had been living and working as migrant workers in Libya for years) escaped persecution and civil war in Libya in 2011, and upon arrival in Italy, were treated as “asylum-seekers” or “temporary refugees” under the North Africa Emergency plan. Then, after enduring homelessness and unemployment in Italy, sometimes for more than three years, when they decided to abandon their destitution and move on in search of better life prospects, crisscrossing Europe, they were abruptly converted into “illegal migrants.” Those who have been registered as “asylum-seekers” or granted tentative “legal” statuses in an EU member state, such as Italy in this instance,fall under the EU’s Dublin regulation: hence, when they relocate to other EU countries to temporarily live and work “irregularly,” they are re-illegalized (reduced to the status of mere “migrants”), and upon apprehension by authorities, may be deported back to Italy. A juridical instability and a geographical hyper-mobility results, which can be understood as an effect of the tensions and conflicts between migrant subjects’ attempts to freely move and make their lives in Europe, on the one hand, and the efforts of EU and nation-state authorities to control and manage these contested mobilities. “Europe” thus emerges as a space of competing practices where borders are continually contested, negotiated, and re-defined, with the vexed question of asylum figured as a central contradiction of the taxonomic power and mechanisms of border control and migration “management” (see “Politics of protection” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). This condition of subjection to the Dublin regulation is in no sense unique to this example, however (Brekke, J. and Brochmann 2015; Kasparek 2015; Picozza n.d.; Schuster 2011a,b), and increasingly reveals how thoroughly the EU-ropean asylum system works effectively as a machine for the production of migrant “illegality” (De Genova 2013b).

Germany’s much-celebrated putatively “humanitarian” response to the dramatic influx of refugees and migrants, implemented over the summer of 2015 – effectively opening its borders (albeit very selectively, primarily for people from Syria) and notably, partially suspending the Dublin regulation – has to be understood as a retroactive adjustment to the fact that migrants and refugees have been crossing these same borders for at least two years and have been living “irregularly” on German territory in ever-increasing numbers. Moreover, in Germany as elsewhere, this sort of de facto “amnesty” (masked as a “humanitarian” policy) has been accompanied at the national as well as EU levels by the implementation of new restrictive asylum policies for other (illegalized) migrants and refugees. With the summary designation of various states as “safe third countries,” for instance, a policy of relative “welcome” for some has allowed for the preemptive exclusion of other refugees based only on their national origins, as well as the prospective deportation of many more refugees who have been petitioning for asylum in EU-rope for several years.1 Such national-level measures must be seen alongside the new forms of EU-level border control and migration management, such as the proposals for a new system of asylum-seeker allocation and distribution among member states – the so-called “quota system” – which would impose new forms of coerced mobility as well as forms of forced immobilization, analogous to those long instituted through the Dublin regulation, for migrant subjects.

Indeed, over the course of 2015, European responses to the arrival of people in search of asylum has been increasingly characterized by a politics of containment, aiming to block migrants and refugees prior to entering the territory of EU member states, at the “pre-frontiers” of “Europe.” The bilateral agreements signed by the European Union with Turkey at the end of 2015, as well as the EU military operation European Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNavFor-Med) to “fight migrant smugglers,” have resulted in increasing numbers of refugees and migrants halted in Turkey or Libya. Yet, the politics of containment has been enforced within the “European” space as well: with the creation of new detention camps – the so-called “hotspots” – points of entry such as Greece and Italy have been transformed into spaces of detention, sorting, and deportation, where the crude criteria of nationality has commonly become the main distinction utilized for partitioning those who are permitted to enter EU-rope to seek asylum and those who are blocked or illegalized (see “Differential inclusion/ exclusion” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Thus, an expedited asylum procedure is meant to also serve the ends of expedited deportations for all those who are disqualified.

As a new and ambiguous form of detention center, “hotspot” emerges as the name for a new strategy for the capture of migrant mobilities: they reconfigure the demarcation of borderzones at the external frontiers of EU-rope (and also within the “European” space) that trace exclusionary partitions among migrants and refugees, giving some a pass as “legitimate” while illegalizing others as “unworthy” of asylum. The “hotspot” system, first launched in May 2015 and officially implemented in September in Italy and Greece, represents the restructuring of mechanisms of capture and identification in response to the migration “turmoil” at the external frontiers of Europe. According to these “hotspot” logics, Greece and Italy should operate as border zones for the enactment of a sort of pre-selection process, identifying and fingerprinting as quickly as possible all new arrivals and partitioning them as either “genuine” prospective refugees and all others, who promptly become deportable. Lampedusa and Lesvos will hereby function increasingly as island prisons, where the supposedly accelerated temporality of fast identification procedures – conducted “on the spot” – is combined with an indefinite detention (and protracted immobilization) for any migrants or refugees who refuse to be fingerprinted.

October 2015: While the weather deteriorates, refugees wait for registration without adequate shelter, food, medical care or sanitary facilities in the Moria “Hot Spot” in Lesvos, Greece.
September 2015: Moria Refugee Camp in the Greek Island of Lesbos. (Anadolu Agency)

In December 2015, 250 Eritrean refugees organized a protest on Lampedusa, demanding to be released from the camp where they had been detained for two months for refusing to give their fingerprints.

“No Fingerprint!”

Thus, centers of first “reception” in EU-rope become spatial traps for migrants. Likewise, the so-called “military-humanitarian” modes of border government are transformed into a police function, performed by EU-ropean actors (such as the border enforcement agency, Frontex) alongside humanitarian ones (such as UNHCR).

These new forms of bordering only exacerbate the uneven geographies of “Europe,” however. For example, on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Samos, local governments have largely acquiesced and accepted the transformation of their islands into “hotspots,” welcoming the arrival of assorted humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR, the Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders. In striking contrast, the local governments of other prospective Greek island “hotspots,” such as Kos and the small island of Agathonisi (near Leros), have persistently refused the implementation of “hotspot” camps and the installation of humanitarian NGOs, claiming that both the border policing and humanitarian functions will merely convert these islands into magnets attracting the arrival of more migrants and refugees on their shores and, consequently, damage the local tourism-driven economies. Hence, in the context of the economic “crisis,” authorities and many other local interests on these islands perceive the EU-ropeanization of their management of the “migration” and “refugee crisis” as simply another manifestation of a larger “European threat” that has devastated Greece’s economic viability, more generally. From the standpoint of some of EU-rope’s beleaguered borderlands, therefore, the deepening integration of military tactics and humanitarian techniques reappears not as a “solution” to the “crisis” of the border but rather as one more series of measures that will further escalate the (double) “crisis.”

Furthermore, transit zones such as the Eidomeni camp at the Greek-Macedonian border – where the deeply consequential partition between “refugees” and “everyone else” is made on the crude basis of nationality (such that only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are allowed to cross) – or the makeshift self-organized refugee/migrant camp at Calais near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel leading into Britain – where many migrants are periodically apprehended and deported by French authorities – operate informally as de facto “hotspots.” Reacting to the practices of mobility and the spaces of transit instigated by migrant subjects, these official and informal “hotspots” are simply among the most prominent signs of the new compulsion for EU and nation-state institutions to re-organize their responses to the autonomy and subjectivity of migration, in a feckless effort to sort, rank, and manage these human mobilities – all the while callously eroding any presumed “right” to asylum, and re-instituting the larger mechanisms for the preemptive illegalization of cross-border mobility on the part of the majority of humankind.

The multiplication of borders and the heterogeneity of border zones (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013) have been the hallmark of the ongoing “crisis” of migration in Europe. The perfunctory and euphemistic expression “mixed migration flows” is increasingly used by policy makers to reflect the veritable impossibility for states and migration agencies to fully domesticate and discipline the unruly practices of mobility that constantly exceed the boundaries of existing governmental categories and criteria for partitioning distinct formations of human mobility. What is commonly called “the migrant crisis” or “the refugee crisis” actually reflects the frantic attempt by the EU and European nation-states to control, contain, and govern people’s (“unauthorized”) transnational and inter-continental movements. Indeed, the naming of this “crisis” as such appears to be precisely a device for the authorization of exceptional or “emergency” governmental measures – and then their normalization – toward the ends of enhanced and expanded border enforcement and immigration policing. It could be said, then, that the “crisis” itself operates as a critical moment that allows governments to push through controversial policies while citizens are too intellectually distracted, emotionally manipulated, or otherwise paralyzed by the border spectacle to organize any adequate or consequential form of resistance (De Genova 2002; 2013b; see also “Border Spectacle” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015; cf. Klein 2007). The ongoing “crisis” therefore corresponds above all to a crisis of sovereignty and the exercise of a power over classifying, naming and partitioning the “migrants”/ “refugees.”

Notably, the very terms “migrant crisis” and “refugee crisis” tend to personalize “crisis” and relocate “crisis” in the body and person of the figurative migrant/refugee, as if s/he is the carrier of a disease called “crisis,” and thus carries the contagion of “crisis” wherever s/he may go. Most importantly, the figure of the migrant/refugee hereby threatens “Europe” with its incurable and contagious malady. Whether this figure of personified “crisis” appears in the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas, or at the barbed-wire barricades on land – from Calais to Ceuta to the small border towns of Hungary or Bulgaria – the illegalized migrant or refugee’s physical presence and transgressive mobility delivers “crisis” to the amorphous symbolic membrane surrounding amoeba-like “Europe,” whenever and wherever it is “violated” by “foreign” bodies. Some of these embodiments of “crisis” are literally converted into figures of death as the corpses of migrants and refugees become spectacularly visible through the proliferation of images of dead bodies floating in the sea or washing upon the shores of “Europe”; others are hunted, wounded, exhausted, covered in dust and mud, or depicted in frenzied crowds, charging fences or climbing through the windows of trains – like cockroaches, commonly likened to a menacing “invasion” or catastrophic “floods,” if not outright “infestations” or “swarms”: wherever they are heading, they appear to bring “the crisis” with them. These spectacles sterilize Europe and divorce it from its “umbilical connection” (Hall 2008) to the diverse regions from which illegalized migrants and refugees come, and thus systematically dissimulates Europe’s precisely (post-)colonial interest in the natural resources and human labor of these (usually) formerly colonized lands. Migration thus presents itself as a disruptive manifestation of the postcolonial heritage of Europe (De Genova 2010c;2016). The terms “migrant” or “refugee crisis” therefore seem to be aimed at compelling us to imagine a “crisis” embodied in the human beings who, through their illegalized mobilities, now come to be racialized as “migrant.” In this context, the migrant struggle slogan, We are here, because you were there! continues to afford a resounding understanding of this phenomenon called “crisis” inasmuch as it invites us – indeed, requires us – to recognize Europe’s role in the very production of this “crisis.”

However, it remains crucial to underscore that the current “crisis” of border control and migration “management” is instigated, first and foremost, by the sheer autonomy and subjectivity of human mobility itself, and arises as an effect of the multifarious and entangled reasons for which people move across state borders without “authorization” or, alternately, find themselves stranded en route, stuck someplace along the way in their migratory trajectories. In this regard, in the face of the proliferation of alternating and seemingly interchangeable discourses of “migrant” or “refugee crisis,” the primary question that must be asked is: Whose “crisis”? In fact, this is fundamentally a “crisis” of (postcolonial) state power over the transnational human mobility of those whose movements are otherwise presumptively disqualified as “illegal” (effectively, on the grounds of global class, race, or nationality inequalities). Thus, we may begin to appreciate that this “crisis” is really a moment of governmental impasse that is being mobilized and strategically deployed for the reconfiguration of tactics and techniques of border policing.

This “crisis” therefore must also be seized as an opportunity for re-thinking and re-inventing border struggles toward the ends of reinforcing and enhancing the elementary human freedom of movement (De Genova 2010b). In particular, it is crucial to call attention to the new spaces of “transit” opened up by the migrants and refugees themselves, and consequently the ways in which these “irregular” human mobilities have scrambled and re-shuffled the social and political geography of “Europe.” Furthermore, we must begin to recognize and theorize the convoluted (un-mapped and potentially un-mappable) migratory routes that correspond to migrant and refugee movements across the European space that do not abide by the unidirectional (Eurocentric) arrows of the hegemonic cartographic representations of “the crisis” propagated by Frontex or the IOM (see “Counter-Mapping” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). In this respect, the “crisis” of the European border regime provoked by the myriad autonomies and subjectivities of human mobilities presents us with a moment replete not only with as-yet unresolved conflicts but also unimagined potentialities.

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Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

Numbers (or, The Spectacle of Statistics in the Production of “Crisis”)

Maurice Stierl, Charles Heller + Nicholas De Genova

A significant practice deployed to instill a sense of “crisis” with regard to contemporary movements of people into “Europe” is the constant circulation of accounts of dramatically rising numbers of recent migrant and refugee arrivals. In short, there is a politics of numbers that is crucial for any critical migration and borders scholarship or activism to expose. This numbers game, exploited by national governments, EU institutions, and international organizations, as well as fear-mongering news media and right-wing populist political parties, routinely serve to fortify the more general staging of a spectacle of “invasion” or “inundation” conjured by images of seemingly desperate “foreign” (orientalized) masses seeking entry to places where they ostensibly do not belong, have no legitimate claim, and are presumably unwelcome. The Mediterranean Sea in particular has long been a space for the staging of continuous “border spectacles” (De Genova 2002; 2013b) where migrant vessels arriving on European shores evoke phantasmatic imaginaries of “siege.” Alongside this proliferation of images and discourse, an incessant circulation of numbers thus plays a crucial role in the production of a “crisis” of migration and borders.

The strategic use of statistics generates the homogenized and aggregate representations that are decisive for erasing the individuality and political subjectivity of people on the move as well as effacing their collective struggles and hardships, and thus for portraying “unauthorized” border crossers as a menace. Some political collectives, such as United, have offered counter-counts, emphasizing the urgency of circulating data and other information with respect to those who have lost their lives braving European borders, but whose tragedies have largely gone uncounted by state authorities and border policing agencies such as Frontex. Here, we seek instead to interrogate how the discourse and sense of “crisis” is produced through the politics of counting, or, what we will call the spectacle of statistics.

Notably, the imaginary and rhetorics of migrant “invasion” seem reserved for the countries of the so-called Global North – the EU, the United States, and Australia, in particular. However, the statistical graphs and maps representing numerical data quantifying the supposed “mass influx” of migrants or refugees into the sacrosanct space of “Europe” – themselves echoed by the wave shape that high and low points of interceptions predictably produce in graphs – conceal as much as they reveal. In the first place, by focusing exclusively on the movement of people across the frontiers of the EU, they by definition leave out the reality that countries neighboring conflict zones have borne the inordinate burden of providing safe haven for people fleeing violence, taking in hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of refugees, usually for several years if not decades. Of the millions of Syrians who have fled their country since 2011, more than 2 million re-settled in Turkey, more than 1 million in Lebanon (where Syrians now make up roughly a third of the total population), more than half a million to Jordan, and several hundreds of thousands to Iraq and Egypt. Likewise, hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees and about half a million South Sudanese refugees have relocated to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The same is true for the disproportionate number of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, who have primarily moved into neighboring countries. That some among these untold millions of displaced people would also seek to move toward Europe cannot be surprising. Any of these countries of the so-called Global South would surely have far greater grounds to speak of a “refugee crisis” than the EU. Indeed, by contrast, British politicians and news media began to refer to a “crisis” at Calais in the summer of 2015, when the border barriers were charged by only several hundred (or at most, two or three thousand) migrants and refugees, whom the British Prime Minister himself depicted as “swarms.” Moreover, it is also vital to recognize that European wealth, power, and prestige have long been deeply implicated in the imperial domination and pillage of the same countries and regions of the so-called Global South from which these migrant and refugee movements originate. Such European implicated-ness of course includes not only histories of direct colonial plunder and domination, but also various manifestations of past and present interference, investment, and intervention as well as disregard and malign neglect that have contributed to violent postcolonial instability and the consequent dislocations that have “uprooted” migrants and refugees in the first place. Thus, refusing the methodological Europeanism (Garelli and Tazzioli 2013b) of this statistical spectacle allows (and requires) us to ask: Whose crisis is this?

Challenging the ways in which numbers are deployed is not to suggest that the changing number of migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe is in any sense politically insignificant. The year 2015 has indeed been a historic and monumental year of migration for Europe precisely because disobedient mass mobilities have disrupted the European regime of border control. As critical scholars of migration, maintaining a “critical distance” from this numbers game in our own research is important in itself, but what seems all the more urgent is a more elementary general skepticism toward the spectacle of numbers in favor of questioning how, why, by and for whom, and to what ends these acts of (official) counting are performed. As Nando Sigona (2015) has pointed out, for example, the release of figures on migrant and refugee arrivals plays a crucial role in framing and generating public debate. In that knowledge, therefore, the European border agency Frontex released data suggesting that, as of September 2015, 710,000 “migrants” had entered the EU. However, comparing these numbers to those collected by the IOM and the UN (which differed substantially), Sigona detected that Frontex had in fact been double-counting: they elided the difference between multiple entries (or attempted entries) by individual migrants with the specter of a multiplicity of migrants, repeatedly counting the same individuals who had each crossed into EU territory several times as so many distinct “migrants.” Likewise, the de facto “uncountability” of many of the newly arrived has equally been instrumentalized in discourses calling for heightened “border protection.” The “crisis of the Schengen system,” largely provoked by the inability or unwillingness of many governments to register “asylum-seekers” desiring to simply transit through their countries in order to reach central and northern EU member states, have thus exacerbated imaginaries and rhetorics surrounding “the uncounted” (and thus uncontrolled) “illegal” migrant as a purportedly “dangerous” other within Europe.

Statistics then, beyond their seeming “objectivity,” play a crucial role in framing a given phenomenon as a seemingly self-evident “problem,” and similarly are instrumental for shaping affective and political responses to it. The border spectacle that Nicholas De Genova (2002; 2013b) has incisively analyzed is therefore at work in the very production of statistics but it is also further generated and sustained through the mobilization of the resultant numbers: statistics of interceptions on land or at sea appear to quantify an otherwise elusive and amorphous “threat,” which only becomes “real” and “objective” to the extent that it is measurable. Once counted, then, the alleged “problem” is effectively objectified, and its “reality” appears to be verified. Ironically, this “threat” thus seems to materialize only in the moment of its neutralization through capture by the police power of the state. Through the production of such numbers and the spectacle of statistics, then, it is simultaneously the fetishized menace of “illegal migration” and the securitizing work of states and their border policing agencies that are made visible and given a semblance of “reality.” Hence, alongside other border spectacles, the spectacle of numbers assists in the construction of illegalized migration as “the problem” to which border and other immigration law enforcement measures must be addressed, while the political disorder and economic catastrophes that migrants and refugees have fled are relegated by implication to the status of a mere externality, someone else’s responsibility “elsewhere.” Furthermore, the European border and immigration regime itself, which directly produces the illegalized condition of these migrants and refugees in the first place, appears to simply need further fortification. Hence, the statistical construction of the magnitude of the “problem” of migration predictably leads merely to more securitized and militarized tactics of border control (see also De Genova 2011; 2013a).

Notably, a spectacle of statistics is comparably at work in relation to the “debt crisis,” “the financial crisis,” and all the related avatars of “the crisis” in which the graphic representation of quantitative data (such as credit ratings, currency ratings, growth rates, and so forth) proliferate in the daily news – as if they communicated anything meaningful about our actual economic conditions (Antoniades 2012). The statistics that otherwise might allow us to discern the deeper dynamics that led to the “debt crisis” – specifically, who has benefited from or been devastated by them – almost never enjoy such spectacular prominence. For example, the dramatic surge in the shares of aggregate wealth and income monopolized by the richest 0.1% of the population that was enabled by the turn to neoliberal strategies of accumulation beginning in the 1970s, while real wages and living standards plummeted for the great majority, would suffice to point to an epochal “restoration of class power” (Harvey 2005). Likewise, other statistics – for example, showing the differential expenditures of EU states over time, state revenues from taxes, and the inequalities of tax structures – would allow us to see that it is not that EU states that are imprudent “spendthrifts” but rather that through neoliberal reforms and tax cuts for those with higher incomes, a significant portion of wealth has been increasingly kept in (or returned to) private hands. For years, increasing public and private indebtedness was facilitated and manipulated through financial markets, and thereby made vulnerable to speculation. In the wake of the 2007–08 financial crisis, however, the speculative logic of these markets (through which debts had come to be financed) increased public debt exponentially, to the inordinate benefit of banks and financial services corporations but to the excruciating detriment of social welfare (Attac 2011: 46–62). Thus, we may detect again that the spectacle of numbers in the production of “the migration crisis” – where statistics are also persistently mobilized to generate the specter of onerous public costs in the form of social welfare spending for “opportunistic” migrants and “undeserving” refugees – must be made legible alongside the perfect opacity of the statistics that otherwise conceal the extent of our deepening generalized immiseration through neoliberal strategies of capital accumulation.

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Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

“Humanitarian Crisis”

Martina Tazzioli, Nicholas De Genova, Elena Fontanari, Irene Peano + Maurice Stierl

Beyond the ongoing disputes and unresolved debates among politicians, policy-makers, advocates, journalists, and scholars over the validity or usefulness of the labels “refugee” or “migrant” for designating those who have come to Europe over recent months or years seeking asylum, what is plainly at stake today in the border regions of Europe is a mass displacement of people fleeing the violence and disruptions of life arising from wars, occupations, insurgencies, and civil wars. It has become convenient politically to attribute much of the current “crisis” to events in Syria (where there continues to be a pertinent question of continuing, renewed, or expanded military intervention by various global or regional powers), but the mobilities of people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Mali, among many other countries of origin, immediately raise the specters of warfare, invasions, and protracted military occupations perpetrated by various European powers (albeit usually alongside the United States). In short, the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe has its origins to a significant extent in areas of severe conflict that have been instigated or aggravated directly by strategic European geo-political and economic interests across the globe.

Thus, it is indispensable to identify the war-migration nexus as an essential part of what today needs to be deeply investigated both for re-thinking a politics of asylum beyond the well-established exclusionary criteria and for revitalizing a critique of the larger European border regime (see “Politics of protection” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Over the last few years, the government of migration in the Mediterranean Sea in particular has been characterized by military-humanitarian interventions intended to simultaneously “rescue” and “interdict” migrants. Operations such as Italy’s Mare Nostrum and Frontex’s Triton, focused on the task of intercepting migrant vessels even prior to their distress at sea, have directly contributed to this sort of militarized humanitarianism. Through this equivocal politics of “rescue,” and of course always as a result of the restrictions imposed by EU-rope’s Schengen visa regime, subjects “in need of protection” have been effectively forced to convert themselves into shipwrecked lives to be saved at sea. Meanwhile, a concomitant politics of preemptive containment has involved preventing migrants from even leaving Libya’s shores to come to Europe to seek asylum, and has been enacted through the negotiation of various bilateral agreements with so-called “third countries” in order to fortify the “pre-frontiers” of Europe. Furthermore, the launch in the summer of 2015 of the EU military mission EUNavFor-Med has been officially promoted as a “war against smugglers” and as a militarized strategy for protecting migrants from “traffickers,” but in fact signifies the coordination at the EU level of efforts to contain migrant and refugee mobilities and forcefully obstruct and disable the logistics of migratory crossings at sea. Meanwhile, increasingly during the second half of 2015, the “politics of rescue” has been substantially replaced with enforcement policies aimed at either blocking or repelling refugees and migrants at the eastern borders of EU-rope. Simultaneously, new measures are underway to install asylum processing centers in Turkey in order to circumvent the continued intrusion of the “refugee crisis” onto “European” territory. In this respect, notably, not only border policing as such but also the asylum system itself becomes implicated in the further externalization of the EU’s border controls (see “Externalization” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

Humanitarianism has thus been conscripted to play a crucial role in re-framing the governmental rationale of “migration management” and border control amidst an escalation of border deaths: refugees and migrants, or rather, “people in need of protection” – in striking contrast with those who were previously suspected of being “fake” or “bogus” refugees – have increasingly come to be represented in the mass media and governmental discourses as vulnerable and desperate persons to be “saved” from the perils of maritime crossings on unseaworthy boats, and thereby “protected” from their own migratory aspirations as well as the real or imagined predations of “criminal” syndicates of migrant “smugglers.” Nevertheless, refiguring these migrants and refugees thus as “victims” in need of protection and rescue has not in any substantial way undermined the simultaneous socio-political and legal construction of them as “illegal” (and hence, undesirable and unwelcome) “migrants,” finally susceptible for detention and deportation. On the other hand, the humanitarian purview of border control re-institutes the implicit opposition between “refugees” and (“economic”) “migrants,” routinely invoked to legitimize the former and stigmatize the latter. By implication, unlike “mere” migrants (figured as opportunistic and lawless), “refugees” (figured as innocent victims) deserve to be rescued.

However, particularly in the aftermath of the spectacle of terrorism, with France’s proclamation of a “state of emergency” in reaction to the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, and in the wake of the moral panic over sexual assaults during the 2016 New Year’s Eve events in Cologne/Köln – along with the various re-establishments of EU internal border controls in the face of the more general “refugee crisis” – the refugee has been recently re-figured as the potential “terrorist” who surreptitiously infiltrates the space of Europe, or as the potential “criminal” or “rapist” who corrodes the social and moral fabric of “Europe” from within. Nebulous and spectral affiliations are invoked to encompass refugees, migrants, “smugglers,” “sexual deviants,” “criminals,” “terrorists,” and “foreign fighters” as an inchoate continuum: hence, the “fake” asylum-seeker re-appears now not only as the actual (duplicitous) “economic migrant,” but also as the (deviant) “rapist” whose “culture” or “morals” are simply inimical to the “European” way of life, or as the (devious) “terrorist” who conceals himself among the “genuine” refugees in order to wreak havoc upon “Europe.” Thus, the misleading binary opposition between “migrants” and “refugees” is further complicated through the insinuation of a tricky continuum ranging from people “in need of protection” to “predators” or “enemies” against whom “Europe” itself must be protected.

The hyper-visibility of various border scenes of “rescue” are invariably accompanied by “the obscene supplement” of “subordinate inclusion” (De Genova 2013b; see also “Differential inclusion/exclusion” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). What happens to migrants and refugees after the spectacularized scene of perilous arrival, “rescue,” and disembarkation – particularly, after being rejected as refugees – is systematically overshadowed. Thus, the spectacularization of “the humanitarian crisis” obscures other realities, most notably the subordinate incorporation of “rejected asylum-seekers” and other illegalized migrants through the exploitation of their labor (see “Migrant labour” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Furthermore, alongside these (non-EU citizen) “asylum-seeker” workers, there is the invisibilization of the untold hundreds of thousands of EU-citizen workers employed in many of the same jobs under virtually the same or very comparable conditions, from agricultural labor to low-paid marginal service work in cities, such as various forms of domestic service or cleaning offices. Hence, the spectacle of “humanitarian crisis” serves to occlude other possible narratives and analyses concerning cross-border mobility, and – by thus effectively re-bordering these parallel mobilities and social conditions and re-fortifying the juridical inequalities of the regime of citizenship – fuels divisions and antagonisms between “citizens” and “migrants” over access to work and resources. Simultaneously, as with any other “emergency,” the humanitarian “crisis” is seized upon as an economic opportunity. Here, border externalization does not operate only in relation to mechanisms of rescue / selection / immigration control – all highly lucrative enterprises for the military-security-prison-industrial complex – but is also evidenced in the forms through which refugee and asylum-seeker management (which serve simultaneously as forms of containment and control) are provided, through the devolution or outsourcing of diverse types of service provision (from screening to housing to counseling) to private companies and third-sector organizations. Whether mired in high-profile public scandals, as was the case with the “Mafia Capitale” affair in Italy (which exposed the entanglements of politicians from across the spectrum with neo-fascist gangs and profiteering service providers), or ensconced in the ordinary workings of the governmental machinery, as in Sweden (where the costs of accommodation for asylum-seekers charged by private companies are exorbitant), the management of migrants and refugees under the humanitarian regime is a multi-million-euro business.

The “humanitarian crisis” has thus been pivotal for the consolidation of a governmental regime comprising a complex ensemble of public authorities, private businesses, and third-sector agencies collaborating in various ways in the management and control of “asylum seekers” and “refugees,” enacting a minimalist biopolitics that ensures their most basic needs of survival, rather than facilitating the expression of their autonomous subjectivities and the pursuit of their migratory projects. Indeed, through various legal restrictions (such as expressly temporary juridical statuses or prohibitions on mobility, residence, and work), coupled with spatial confinement or social segregation, the humanitarian regime aims to produce and discipline “passive”(victimized) subjects, who – if they transgress these restrictions and violate the multiple borders and legal constraints imposed by humanitarian government – are immediately treated as “suspect” or “dangerous” people: they are summarily illegalized and must consequently be brought under extraordinary control and surveillance. Vacillating between treating the migrants and refugees on unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean Sea as “victims” to be “rescued,” while thereafter (within the ensuing days, weeks, or months) seeking to arrest and discipline them as “illegal” border crossers when they attempt to continue their migratory trajectories further onward in EU-rope, the “humanitarian crisis” is a sign of the vexations that both EU and nation-state authorities confront in classifying and regimenting these contested and disobedient mobilities.

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Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”


Lisa Riedner, Soledad Álvarez-Velasco, Nicholas De Genova, Martina Tazzioli + Huub van Baar

The consolidation of the Schengen zone within which border controls were eliminated, and more generally, the institutionalization of the ostensible “right” to freedom of movement within the EU for the citizens of signatory states, have been defining hallmarks of European integration during recent decades. The contemporary “crisis” of migration in Europe dramatically exposes the deep limits and exclusionary dimensions of these particular EU-ropean formulations of “freedom” in the context of the broader government of human mobility. Recently, and repeatedly during 2015, the “right” to freedom of movement for EU citizens and denizens alike has been more and more restricted, and border controls within the Schengen area have been re-introduced. Nonetheless, migrants and refugees simply keep arriving. Hence, the measures for governing mobility and ostensibly stopping “unwanted” migratory movements – particularly, the movements of those who are considered to be deficient according to dominant criteria of “employability,” or those purported to lack properly “European values,” and thus, according to racist rationales, who may be considered a “threat” to “Europe” – have simultaneously been continuously confounded as migrants persistently defy these controls. The incorrigibility of these autonomous mobilities has consequently prompted the repeated announcement of new “crises” (such as the “refugee crisis” or alarmist proclamations about a parallel “crisis” of “poverty migration”). Here, of course, we are reminded of the long history by which the mobility of labor has served simultaneously as both a resource for capitalism as well as a disruptive and potentially subversive force (see “Migrant labour” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015).

National governments in the EU’s wealthier member states (such as Germany or the UK) resort to discourses of “poverty migration” to problematize specifically “European” mobilities as the ostensibly “unwanted” by-product of the larger regime of “free” mobility within the EU. “Mobility,” it would seem, turns into “migration” quite easily. According to this rhetoric, “mobility” pertains to those who bring investment or enhance profitability, whereas “migrants” are those who perennially threaten the viability of “national” economies and social welfare systems (see “Differential inclusion/exclusion” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Through the imposition of various restrictions on access to social benefits, the putative “right” to mobility is rendered profoundly conditional, as it becomes thoroughly contingent upon access to “regular” work contracts in the formal labor market. Those who cannot meet more or less stringent requirements are designated to be economically “inactive” and consequently denied various social rights, and may be subjected to harsh regimes of workfare, or even eviction and deportation (van Baar 2012; Riedner 2015). For example, Belgium recently expelled more than 7,000 EU citizens because they had worked with formal labor contracts for fewer than twelve months and had been unemployed for more than six months prior to expulsion. Thus they were deemed an unbearable burden on the welfare state.1 For many, then, the much-celebrated EU-ropean “freedom of movement” is not a right in any substantive sense, but rather serves to intensify the neoliberal obligation to be engaged in wage labor or some other form of productive economic activity, and thus to accept increasingly precaritized working and living conditions. This process of re-disciplining labor goes hand in hand with conditionalization of social rights, their pervasive denigration as mere “dependency” on welfare benefits, and the withdrawal of mobile persons’ “right” to stay.

We begin to detect, furthermore, that the “migrant” predicament is not reducible only to the potential withdrawal or conditionality of the simple “rights” to move or to stay, but also the more expansive (partial, differential) exclusion from the substantive entitlements of citizenship, such as access to state services and social welfare benefits, and thus also a withdrawal of social, labor, and political “rights” (see “Differential exclusion” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). This corresponds closely to what Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson (2013) have described as the “multiplication of labor.” Thus, current attempts to restrict “internal” (EU) mobilities could be interpreted as experiments within the EU-ropean neoliberal laboratory for governing migration without border controls as “free” but highly conditioned mobilities, whereby migrants are nonetheless subjected to the conditionalities and contingencies imposed through the amplification of “workfare”-like technologies of government (Riedner 2015).

The current “economic crisis” and the resultant widespread increase in precaritization have triggered various re-orientations of mobility across and also beyond “Europe,” contributing to the (renewed) “migrantization” of various EU-ropean citizens and denizens alike. In the protracted context of “crisis”-driven neoliberal austerity across Europe, there has been noteworthy evidence of new forms of migration as well as reversals in the direction of more long-standing migratory processes. Hence, migrants originally from the so-called Global South who now possess Spanish or Italian passports abandon joblessness and home foreclosures in the debt-strangled “European South” and relocate to more prosperous northern European countries, now as EU citizens availing themselves of their “right” to mobility. Meanwhile, an additional consequence of economic “crisis” and austerity in Europe has been a noteworthy increase in mobility out of EU-rope altogether. Spanish and Italian nationals, for instance, have increasingly migrated as “tourists,” overstayed visas, and sought “irregular” residence and employment in North Africa or South America.

Notably, the movement of young Europeans with relatively high levels of formal education or skill migrating (within or out of Europe) in search of employment opportunities – particularly in “unskilled” work – signifies that mobility is also inseparable from processes of “de-skilling.” For instance, the increased presence of (formerly unemployed) Spanish citizens who have recently moved to Morocco to find jobs in call centers is a considerable phenomenon. The estimated number of Spaniards currently based in Morocco is approximately 25,000, while the number of those who are registered at the Spanish consulate as residents is only about 3,500. Of course, the conditions of migrant “irregularity” for Europeans in North African countries such as Morocco or Tunisia are in no sense comparable with the illegalization in those countries of sub-Saharan migrants (usually with aspirations of eventually making their way to “Europe”). Thus, there is increasing evidence of a kind of “differential illegality,” with quite glaringly unequal implications for distinct categories of migrants’ divergently racialized lives: detainability and deportability for sub-Saharan (Black) migrants, on the one hand, and benign neglect and tolerated presence for European (white) migrants, on the other. This example helps to clarify that the “migrant” condition cannot be reduced narrowly to legal status alone, and that the actual ways in which distinct categories of people and their respective mobilities are effectively governed must be carefully taken into account. However, the re-orientation of mobility across the Mediterranean is not limited to “Europeans” moving southward: return migrations from Europe to the Maghreb (and many other countries and regions of origin) has likewise been a significant but largely undocumented and unmapped phenomenon that should be investigated in its global articulation with the effects of “the crisis” in Europe.

Likewise, EU-uropean nationals have increasingly been migrating out of the continent altogether, particularly to Latin America and the Caribbean. A recent study carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reveals, furthermore, that since 2010 this trend has been accompanied by a marked decrease in the movement of people in the other direction. For the first time since the year 2000, more people migrated from Europe to Latin America than the reverse: in the year 2012, for example, approximately 182,000 European nationals left for Latin American and Caribbean countries, as compared to approximately 119,000 Latin American and Caribbean nationals who moved to the EU (IOM 2015). The leading EU-ropean countries of this recent out-migration notably include not only debt-strangled Spain, Italy, and Portugal, but also France and Germany. Among these, the Spanish case is truly remarkable. This Spanish migration has, due to shared language and historical interconnections, perhaps predictably prioritized Latin America as its main destination. According to the Fundación Alternativas,2 some 700,000 Spaniards left the country between 2008 and 2012. Figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) show that another 547,890 people left in 2013. However, the profile of these European migrants is notably not reducible to that of “return migrants.” In other words, this is not simply a statistical illusion generated by Latin American or Caribbean migrants returning from Europe to their home countries. Instead, the majority of these European migrants are “crisis migrants” (or, rather, austerity refugees) – native-born “Europeans,” now turned “economic migrants,” seeking new life and job opportunities in countries such as Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, or Bolivia, places that have conventionally been almost exclusively depicted as “sending” countries.

Despite these extraordinary numbers, however, this significant reversal in the configuration of “migration” in the European context has not been depicted in the European media or dominant political discourse as a European “migration crisis.” Apparently, “Europeans” cannot be conceived as “economic migrants.” Such a categorization is customarily overburdened with racial, gender, class, and national prejudices, and evidently reserved for those who migrate from the impoverished (formerly colonized) countries of the so-called Global South (“peripheral” countries, in the place formerly known as the Third World) to the rich ones fashioned as “the core” of the world economic system, where “European” countries, particularly the former colonial powers, historically secured their self-styled centrality. Thus, it seems to be no longer quite a “natural” or self-evident condition that “Europe” is figured as a space of prosperity that acts as a magnet for “economic migrants” from the “underdeveloped” countries. In the contemporary “crisis” scenario, Europeans have increasingly joined ranks with Africans, Asians and Latin Americans as mobile persons compelled to seek their fortunes and new life opportunities in faraway lands. However, the juridical and socio-political conditions under which Europeans migrate outwards predictably are utterly different from those imposed by the European border regime: Latin American and Caribbean countries generally receive the European newcomers with open arms, with virtually no immigration restrictions imposed on them. Nevertheless, these contemporary reversals of European mobility are important signals of a reversal of fortune for EU-rope. Yet, this reversal in the direction of migratory movement is seldom taken as evidence that European countries are plagued by “failed” economies, or that the neoliberal ambush of European welfare states has proven incapable of preventing the exit of their citizens due to the increasingly acute precaritization of their living conditions.

Undoubtedly, the process of selectively labeling some migrant and refugee mobilities as a “migration crisis” while concealing the “crisis migration” of others has profound and productive effects. Reinforcing anti-immigrant racism and nativist hostilities, perpetuating postcolonial bigotries, and aggravating forms of both blatant and subtle violence against those deemed to be “non-Europeans” all serve to de-fuse or re-direct some of the potentially most explosive socio-political dynamics constituting Europe today (De Genova 2015; De Genova and Tazzioli 2015). Nevertheless, the massive movement of unemployed or under-employed EU citizens toward the most prosperous EU countries, usually to work in low-paid service jobs beneath their formal qualifications, is another major feature of the contemporary processes of “crisis migration” in EU-rope, more generally. Consequently, alongside the predictable anti-immigrant racism toward (“non-European”) “foreigners,” the increasingly shrill anti-immigrant politics of countries such as Britain over recent years have been discursively re-tooled, now predominantly obsessed with “migration” from the rest of EU-rope.

In times of “crisis,” therefore, we must ask anew: Who has become a migrant? Which forms of human mobility are classified, or recognized, or disavowed as manifestations of “migration”? Moreover, it is crucial to ask: Who does, and who does not, come to be governed as a “migrant”? These developments signal noteworthy transformations. Some forms of “mobility” have been converted into “migration” (as in the transformation of intra-EU “mobility” from southern or eastern Europe into labor markets in more prosperous northern and western European countries); likewise, some forms of “migration” have turned into “mobility” (as in the “secondary migrations” of Latin Americans or Africans from Spain or Italy into other European countries following their “regularization” and acquisition of European passports, or similarly, the summary reclassification of previously undocumented migratory movements from eastern European countries into western European labor markets following the accession of their countries of origin to EU membership and consequently, their reclassification as EU citizens engaged in their rightful free “mobility”). The EU-ropean experiment with mobility thus offers a striking context in which to contemplate how cross-border mobility alone does not necessarily become apprehensible as “migration,” and likewise, how juridical status alone (e.g. “illegal migrant,” “refugee,” “EU citizen,” “tourist,” “diplomat” and so on) seems insufficient to enclose a mobile person within (or release her from) the socio-political burdens of becoming a “migrant.”

If “migration” cannot be adequately defined in exclusively juridical terms – according to which kind of border is crossed, and under which legal parameters – we must consider, furthermore, whether the very classification of particular forms of mobility as “migration” always already imply particular forms of discrimination and domination. Here, we must immediately confront the diverse ways in which the problematization of particular mobilities as “migration” raise questions of difference and “foreign”-ness that may be overtly constructed in either “cultural” or narrowly legal terms, but are nonetheless principally constituted according to logics of race and class. We are reminded therefore of what Nicholas De Genova (2016) has called the “European” Question, and the always ambivalent and unstable constitution of “European” identity in relation to the putative “outside” of “Europe” (understood to be a postcolonial formation of racial whiteness) and simultaneously in relation to those who inhabit the amorphous extended borderlands of “Europe” itself and their “not yet” or “not quite” status as “white”/“European.”

Here, and particularly in the case of the “mobility” of (South) Eastern Europeans, we deal with a newly articulated form of what Maria Todorova (1994; 1997) has called “Balkanism”: that specific and ambiguous kind of Orientalized imagination and representation according to which, due to its alleged “inferior” status, southeastern Europe, or “the Balkans,” simultaneously does and does not belong to “Europe.” At the time of Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution in the 1990s, Balkanistic reasoning served as one of the dominant ways to legitimize “military-humanitarian” interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. While these practices were frequently considered to be interventions in a space external to “Europe,” at the same time they were commonly legitimized on the basis of the contention that crimes against humanity “on European soil” were an intolerable scandal and had to be combatted (Balibar 2002/2004: 1–6). And even while the then-manifest Balkanism was operationalized as a kind of “nested” Orientalism (according to which, for instance, “the Serbs” would be more “brutal,” “violent,” and “cruel” than “the Croats”), in the end, all of the Balkan “peoples” were nonetheless considered to be effectively indistinguishable and comparably “problematic,” for they could all be expected to resort to “ancient hatreds” and violent “primordial” nationalisms. As Slavoj Žižek (2000) has argued in his reflection on the “Western” imagination of the Balkans, what “Balkanism” offers to the Western gaze is “what it likes to see in the Balkans.” This is “a kind of exotic spectacle that should either be tamed or quarantined . . . a mythical spectacle of eternal, primordial passions, of the vicious cycle of hate and love, in contrast to the decadent and anemic life in the West.” In the contemporary version of Balkanism, those who are coming from (South) Eastern Europe to western Europe to look for work opportunities, or to flee socio-political circumstances (particularly in the case of the Roma), are again considered to be largely indistinguishable – but now are homogenized as “poverty migrants,” “social (benefits) tourists,” “bogus asylum seekers” or “fake refugees” (see also footnote 6, above). While, in public discourse and political debate, this representation of citizens from the new or candidate EU member states has been predominantly mobilized to “irregularize” the status of Roma and to “securitize” their situation (van Baar 2015), we have nevertheless been able to observe a trend towards what could be considered to be a more general “Gypsification” of all (South) Eastern Europeans, according to which they are racialized on the basis of many of the stereotypes that are customarily attributed to Roma through the derisive “Gypsy” label (as lazy, dirty, criminal, irresponsible, profiteering, and so on).

At the same time, particularly when they move across the purportedly “borderless” space of EU-rope, racially minoritized Europeans of Roma or Sinti backgrounds (most of them EU nationals and, thus, EU citizens) are often designated officially as “nomads,” and effectively pathologized as incorrigibly mobile “populations.” Despite this specter of “excessive” mobility, however, nation-state governments and local municipalities enact enforcement measures precisely in order to obstruct Roma / Sinti settlement and to re-mobilize them by subjecting them to coercive evictions and displacement. To truly understand such regimes of EU-internal migration, however, we must also move beyond simplistic critiques of the racism against “Roma” and “Sinti” that naturalize these very identities, and thereby become complicit in the imposition of such racialized (“ethnic”) categories from above. Particularly when what is at stake is often a racialization – or specifically, a “Gypsification” – of poverty (Van Baar 2016b), it seems more productive to ask who comes to be racialized as “Roma” or “Sinti,” under what circumstances, and how these categories are contested and with which effects. This analytical perspective also opens up possibilities to better understand the strategic and situational character of the particular struggles of self-identified “minorities” for rights and recognition. Thus, the mobility of the poor, and especially the racially stigmatized poor – even despite ostensible EU citizenship – is scarcely tolerated, and subjected to special policies and regimes of evictability (van Baar 2015; 2016a). Paradoxically, it seems that as soon as these “unwelcome” mobile “citizens” use their “right to free movement” and look for better labor opportunities outside their countries of birth, they are summarily converted into (deportable) “migrants.” Thus, the EU-ropean government of mobility entails (specifically neoliberal) experiments with borders and migration through the modulation of the “freedom of mobility,” establishing various terms and conditions related to formal and regular employment and economic “independence” that enhance new conjunctures of racism and produce new zones of internalized borders and boundaries.

The “migrantization” of various distinct but related practices of mobility is a phenomenon that until now has remained rather un-remarked, under-theorized, and un-mapped, as the meaning and the socio-political condition of being “governed like a migrant” cannot be adequately comprehended within the narrow parameters of juridical status alone. In this scenario, intra-EU-ropean mobility has provided a socio-political context in which the autonomy of human mobilities of various kinds unsettles and challenges the dominant neoliberal model of internal (EU / Schengen) “freedom of circulation.” These mobilities have thereby produced unforeseen fractures and divisions within the “European” space itself – between the presumptive (self-anointed and self-authorizing) “core” of Europe and the southern and eastern “frontiers” and “transit zones” where the putative “inside” and “outside” of “Europe” have become increasingly blurred and confounded.

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Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”

(The Crisis of) “European Values”

Can Yildiz, Nicholas De Genova, Yolande Jansen, Laia Soto Bermant, Aila Spathopoulou, Maurice Stierl + Zakeera Suffee

What, indeed, are the values often referred to as distinctly “European”? How has the project of European integration, now effectively synonymous with the European Union, ensured that such “European” values have been re-branded as specifically EU-ropean? The European Commission asserts that the EU “is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”1 Purportedly conceived around this set of supposedly shared values, the EU is routinely lauded as a “post-national” enterprise where sovereign power is shared amongst its member states, for the collective good of all. The several stages of EU enlargement and integration were formulated around the key accession criteria of respect for, and promotion of, the EU’s “democratic” values, and among the chief characteristics of (properly) “European” societies are counted: “pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men.”2 For its efforts to create a community “united in diversity,” the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and in their acceptance speech “From War to Peace: A European Tale,” European Commission President Barroso and President of the European Council Rompuy declared: “Over the past sixty years, the European project has shown that it is possible for peoples and nations to come together across borders. That it is possible to overcome the differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’.”3 Indeed, for a time, many on the Left across Europe also entertained the illusion that the project of “Europe” might present openings that seemed to promise possibilities for a politics that could transcend the European legacies of nationalism, fascism, the Nazi genocides of the Jews, Roma, and Sinti, the treacheries of Stalinism, the impasse of the Cold War, and the bitter disillusionments of “post-socialism.” Nonetheless, numerous scholars have noted the contradictions inherent in the vision of liberal democracy on which the EU-ropean project relies for legitimacy. As Talal Asad notes, while “it is often conceded that several peoples and cultures inhabit the European continent,” it is also believed, seemingly paradoxically, that “there is a single history that articulates European civilization – and therefore European identity” (2003:170). It is indeed this homogenized civilizational and identitarian Europeanism that riddles the “European” project with the incontrovertible contradictions of its own (post-)coloniality. Indeed, it is precisely this agonistic project of re-stabilizing a “European” identity that requires a fatuous discourse of “European values,” which in fact serves no other end than to re-inscribe and re-affirm “the differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’.”

The “single history that articulates European civilization,” of course, has always looked strikingly different from the standpoint of those who were colonized, enslaved, tortured, raped, mutilated, or massacred by Europeans in their diverse but interconnected quests for imperial power in the consolidation of global capitalism. Indeed, such values as the respect for human dignity, liberty, equality, solidarity, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, justice, and so forth would appear instead to have been the precious achievements of struggles that were always fundamentally and profoundly anti-European. There was, after all, never a moment in the history of modern slavery that was not riddled with the specter of sabotage, defiance, and insurrection, nor any moment in the history of European colonialism that was not similarly haunted by resistance, mutiny, and insurgency. In these contexts, furthermore, the hallowed “rule of law” was usually no less than the systematic rationalization of systemic injustice and brutal violence. At the very core of any contemporary values of liberty or equality, therefore, we must recognize the acts of individual and collective rebellion on the part of those whom European power sought to muzzle, throttle, and flog, and from whose bonded labor such an inordinate proportion of European wealth and prestige was mercilessly wrenched.

The very assertion that such values could be depicted as “European” (or “Western”) is itself a deplorable act of pillage and, furthermore, a re-bordering that would seek to impose anew a proprietary enclosure on the universal heritage of liberation struggles that properly correspond to the global commons. Indeed, the promulgation of the very notion that there is such a thing as “European” values is a core component of the contemporary project of Europeanism, which tends to casually elide the whole history of centuries of European colonial domination around the world and the resultant global (post-)colonial fact of white supremacy. Thus, Europeanism today is predicated upon a staggeringly shallow reconstruction of “European” history as an insular and hermetically-sealed affair. Of course, amidst the current proliferation of these self-satisfied ideological narratives of “European” culture, civilization, values, and identity, the overtly racist outrages of neo-fascist / far-right populisms merely make explicit and blunt the delicate matter of the inextricability of any Europeanism from the propagation of “European”-ness as a formation of racial whiteness, even as it emphatically dissimulates race in favor of ostensibly “cultural” or “civilizational” constructions of difference, and above all, in most prominent opposition at present to those “values” cynically attributed to “Muslims” (De Genova 2010a; 2015; De Genova and Tazzioli 2015).

Following numerous incidents in 2015 that fashioned the figure of “Europe’s” “Muslim” Other in securitarian terms (as a threat of religious “fundamentalism,” “fanaticism,” and “terrorism”), the abrupt outbreak in January 2016 of a moral panic over a multiplicity of sexual assaults during the New Year’s Eve festivities in Köln/Cologne, allegedly perpetrated by “unruly mobs” of young men, casually characterized as being “of North African or Middle Eastern appearance” (and eagerly depicted as including “asylum-seekers”), notably reinvigorated the racialization of “Muslim” identity. In the face of these offenses, the racialization of “Muslims” / “Arabs” could now be represented in terms of unsavory “cultural” differences that must be excoriated and criminalized as transparently inimical to “European values.” Thus, the rather selective logic of “antiterrorist” suspicion that has been mobilized for the purposes of more stringent (external) border enforcement, once confronted with the palpable presence of recent arrivals of “Muslim” refugees and migrants, has been promptly re-purposed as a considerably more expansive problem of (internal) policing, emphatically conjoined to arguments for new powers to expedite the deportation of (“criminal”) “asylum-seekers” deemed to be dangerously “deficient” in terms of “European values.”

There is a specificity to the dissimulation of race in the European context which has to do with the ways in which it is imagined both historically and geographically. Historically, as David Theo Goldberg (2006; 2009: 151–98) argues, in the hegemonic European imagination, race is operative within Europe only to the extent that it is temporally confined to the Nazi period and principally concentrated on the genocide of the Jews. Geographically, it is otherwise projected outside of Europe as something that pertains to “others,” “elsewhere”: there is of course some public recognition in various European countries of the role of race and racism on the parts of their regimes in the colonies, but it remains paltry. Usually it is fully projected as strictly “external” to Europe, and not seen as a practice and legacy of “Europe,” and imagined as having no traces (or in any case, only negligible ones) within contemporary (“post”-colonial) Europe (Gilroy 2004). Contemporary Europe “itself” – the “Europe” that is customarily exalted as the inheritor of universalistic “values” of the Enlightenment, and the self-anointed “inventor” of liberal democracy – simply cannot acknowledge race, and hence pretends to know no racism. This self-conception of a race-blind “Europe,” where racism is simply a thing of the past (and which can only pertain now to the atavisms of the far-right fringe), is reflected and reinforced in EU-ropean border policies today (Jansen 2015). The presence and racial struggles of fellow citizens (co-nationals) with personal or family backgrounds in the postcolony, and the very belated, slow but steady advance of postcolonial critique within European universities, together are gradually introducing a significant (albeit still meager) shift in wider perspectives and sensibilities. For example, in the Netherlands, the Dutch disgrace surrounding Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) has met with increasingly vociferous controversy and ever-more effective critique. In France, the uncompromising decolonial militancy of the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR) has persistently put race into the foreground of contemporary debates, although this movement has met with unrelenting hostility from across the political spectrum, particularly in the contemporary neo-“Republican” ideological landscape following the reinvigoration of “antiterrorist” securitarianism in 2015 (De Genova and Tazzioli 2015).

Dissimulating race and disavowing the socio-political dynamics of racialization, Europeanism has a long history of imagining “minorities” as fundamentally “different” and, by implication, inimical to properly “European” cultural identities and values, thus converting them into “cultural” and/or “religious” problems and questions: The Jewish Question, The Gypsy/Roma Question, The Muslim Question. The recent critical proposal to instead turn “Europe” itself into such a Question (De Genova 2016) invites us to reverse the focus and examine anew those pronouncedly European histories as formative of the global histories of race and imperialism. This does not mean a reducing of religious difference or the differentialization of religion to race, but rather bringing the socio-political history of inter-religious relations and race together. The Jewish Question, Marx already noted implicitly, was always in fact the “Christian Question,” and it has always been intimately connected to the history of race. It is no coincidence that turning “Europe” into a Question has been proposed by scholars of critical migration and race studies more or less in tandem with those more directly concerned with the histories of religious difference and inequality in relation to secularism and secularity in the European context (Anidjar 2012; Jansen 2016; Nathan and Topolski 2016). Bringing the insights of those critical discourses together is of premier importance during this time of “crisis,” so marked by the rise of new manifestations of anti-Muslim racism complexly intermingled and mostly overlapping with the histories of antisemitism, Islamophobia, Orientalism, and anti-Gypsyism.

Scrutinizing more rigorously the racial underpinnings of our “civilizational” categories, especially those surrounding religion, is crucial in the French context, for instance, where the racial dimensions of the social position of “Arabs”/“Muslims” have been pronouncedly evident at least since the first Headscarf controversies in 1989, but in which the sacrosanct concepts of secularism and laïcité simultaneously retain an aura that the French (white) left does not dare to question. “Secularism” thus remains wedded to a concept of religion that is deeply embedded in both Christian and European racial history. Thus, a secularist and “Republican” ideological impasse continuously adds fuel to the “re-theologization” of debates that are only apprehensible in social and political terms (Jansen 2016). This sort of ideological refraction and the accompanying discursive diversionary tactics have indeed been among the eminent strategies for re-animating race and racism – precisely through its culturalist dissimulation and disavowal (Balibar 1991; Gilroy 1987).

Meanwhile, where race has not been completely relegated to derisive silence, clumsy and superficial discourses of “superdiversity” pretend to name the real harvest of empire that, for many decades now, has amplified the actual racial heterogeneity and socio-political complexity of “actually existing” Europe, but the notion of “superdiversity” woefully lacks any meaningful postcolonial analysis or decolonial critical perspective. Indeed, recourse to the anemic rhetoric of “superdiversity” is proffered as a comfortably de-politicized surrogate for previous debates around “multiculturalism,” which have long been considerably more contentious precisely because they were perceived to open up a space for more candid engagements with race and racism, as well as other social formations of difference (such as religion). Whereas liberal proponents of “multiculturalism” promoted more pluralistic affirmations of difference, however, “multiculturalism” has also been increasingly domesticated and coopted. Hence, “respect for difference” and multiculturalist “tolerance” are themselves now retrofitted as putatively “European” values. Furthermore, as Finex Ndhlovu (2015) argues, the “hegemonic dominance of Euro-American perspectives, which include multiculturalism and superdiversity, has meant that the promises held by other ways of knowing, reading and interpreting the world have been consigned to the fringes of mainstream identitarian discourses.” In addition, the systematic disregard and endemic ignorance of theory from the South, as Ndhlovu characterizes it, in favor of the reductionist lens of (super) “diversity,” merely replicates the vectors of unequal power that uphold anachronistic notions of “European” identity (as a supra-national racial formation of whiteness) by containing and encompassing the racialized identities of supposedly “non-Europeans,” both inside and outside of “Europe.” Such hegemonic multiculturalisms, in other words, merely reinstate the status of “non-white” difference within Europe as so many “non-European” exceptions – discrepancies from the norm, to be “integrated,” domesticated, and neutralized. A critical scrutiny of “European values,” then, is necessary for a decolonial interrogation of “the crisis” in and of “Europe.”

We may perhaps see most clearly how these grandiose gestures about “European values” in fact operate as technologies of government when they are “dressed down” as the more mundane (but no less pompous) “values” claimed as the virtues of particular nation-states. We need only consider, for instance, how such purportedly “fundamental British values” as “a belief in freedom” and “tolerance of others” become conjoined in the discourse of British Prime Minister David Cameron to the neoliberal imperative of “accepting personal and social responsibility” and the implicitly authoritarian mandate of “respecting and upholding the rule of law” – all “as British,” we are assured, “as fish and chips.” Unabashedly asserting that such values may be claimed as “a matter of pride and patriotism” regarding “traditions” that “set Britain apart,” Cameron goes on to congratulate the British for having given “so much of the world the way of life that they hold so dear.”4 That such “gifts” were the poisoned bequest of centuries of colonial domination, apparently, in retrospect requires no mention. Writing in the era of an earlier British societal “crisis,” confronting the rise of neoliberal globalization and the concomitant austerity regime of Thatcherism, Stuart Hall and his colleagues detected that postcolonial “crisis” – specifically, “the crisis … of an advanced industrial capitalist nation seeking to stabilise itself in rapidly changing conditions on an extremely weak post-imperial economic base” – generated the conditions of possibility for “a decisive return” to a narrow exclusionary cultural politics of English national identity (Hall et al. 1978). Similarly, today, the pervasive obsession with “home-grown terrorism,” “radicalization,” and “extremism” – while not overtly racializing “Muslims” or other so-called “second-generation migrants” as non-white, or directly affiliating “terrorism” with Islam – manifests a revised version of what Hall and his colleagues discerned in the racist right-wing demagogue Enoch Powell, as a “pervasive, paranoid sense of crisis facing social order and authority” (Hall et al. 1978). Thus, the democratic ideal of “the rule of law” gets cynically transposed into a disciplinary demand for “respect” for the law, and converted – especially for “Muslims” and others racialized as “non-white” – into a punitive discourse of “law and order,” which is to say, ever-more draconian policing and surveillance.

It is unsurprising, then, that the question of (“European”) “values,” and therefore identity, is so acutely tied in with a discourse of “crisis.” Shorn of the parochialism of Cameron’s (post-Thatcherite) fish-and-chips populism, now elevated to the level of “European” values, such propositions become all the more ungrounded, abstract, and ideological. The Europeanization of the values of freedom and equality nonetheless remains a flagrant act of hijacking the struggles of the millions who historically languished under European rule.

When the very idea of “Europe” is purportedly based upon a set of values centered around notions of human rights, democracy, and inclusion, and when it sanctimoniously promotes itself as a force for peace in the world, using “soft” or “normative” power or even “moral” force, furthermore, the ways in which EU borders are enforced and human mobilities are governed must necessarily pose profound and radical questions for “Europe” and its cherished “values” (De Genova 2016). In enunciating, demarcating, and defending its complex borderscapes, where precisely does “Europe” (EU-rope) emerge? As what exactly does this “Europe” become manifest as? Who indeed is included or excluded in the name of Europe?

With the activation of migrant and refugee “illegality” at the borders of “Europe,” there are also differential enactments of degrees of “European”-ness, which is to say, different degrees of access to “legality” within (but also beyond) the EU-ropean space, activated as different degrees of “belonging” or potential “deservingness,” related to various degrees or approximations of racial “whiteness.” When referring to the so called “refugee crisis,” for example, the Greek government emphasizes how Greece has shown a “human face” to the refugees arriving by boat on the Greek islands, and has thereby purportedly exhibited its “European values.” Emphatically contrasting this hospitality on the Greek islands with the implied or explicit allegation of “inhumanity” on the part of the Turkish state, Greece effectively re-inscribes itself within “Europe” by depicting Turkey as the site, just beyond the borders of “Europe,” where “the problem” of a “migration” or “refugee crisis” begins. Thus, apart from the violence and upheaval in places such as Syria – so this particular “European” logic goes – the actual reason for “the crisis” is a combination of Turkish governmental disregard for both the humanitarian needs of the refugees and the predatory ruthlessness of Turkish “smugglers” who are purported to be “sending migrants to their deaths.” Hence, we see the recapitulation of Europe’s self-serving rhetoric of criminalizing and denigrating “the smugglers” as inhumane “criminals” and virtual “slave traders,” reproduced now in the reanimation of familiar orientalist gestures with regard to the putative “barbarism” of Turkey. Thus, the Greek-Turkish maritime border across the Aegean Sea becomes implicated in competing projects of re-essentializing and de-essentializing the historically racialized boundary between “European” Greece and “Oriental” or “Asiatic” Turkey.

Nevertheless, as the allegedly true starting point of “the crisis,” Turkey is likewise figured as the ultimate site – emphatically “outside” of “Europe” – where a “solution” must be put in place. Thus, EU-rope’s cynical strategy today, as has been true for several years, is to outsource its putatively “un-European” border violence by externalizing border enforcement to its “European” (non-EU) peripheries and (“non-European”) “third countries,” such as Turkey (see “Externalization,” in Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). The repeated insistence, almost a mantra, of all sorts of European politicians at both the national and EU levels that the “migrant” / “refugee crisis” should first and foremost be “managed” (if not “solved”) through the processing and so-called “admission” of refugees “in their own region” – along with simultaneously “stricter” control of the EU’s external borders – is fully in line with this strategy of “outsourcing” border enforcement. Through these and similar strategies of border externalization, however, countries such as Turkey become “valuable” junior partners in the European border regime with substantial leverage, and thus acquire a semblance of semi- or quasi-“European”-ness. Meanwhile, in exchange for Turkey’s vital service in enforcing the borders of “Europe” (as well as its strategic geo-political and military role in the region), EU-rope casts a blind eye towards the brutal atrocities committed by the Turkish state toward its subjugated Kurdish “minority” as well as the repression of anti-war dissidence within Turkey. Turkish military actions and persecution perpetrated against the Kurds actually produce “internally displaced” refugee populations, yet these systemic abuses do not really impede the process by which Turkey is effectively becoming more “European” – which is to say, more useful and valuable to the EU-ropean border regime, and thus, more potentially “worthy” of membership in the EU. Simultaneously, since the summer, following the threat of a “Grexit” (a Greek exit from the euro currency union as a result of the “debt crisis” and the prospect of Greece defaulting on its loans), a new threat has been imposed in turn on Greece: its possible expulsion from the Schengen zone, precisely because Greece has been increasingly deemed incapable of adequately fulfilling its role as a premier watchdog at the EU’s border with Turkey. The question that begs attention, therefore, is the extent to which notions of “European”-ness become a tactically malleable and highly relative exchange value in relation to the convulsions of the expansive EU border enforcement regime. From the critical standpoint of migration and borders, therefore, we must demand: What exactly satisfies the requirements of upholding “European values” in a context where such a high premium is placed on being useful and valuable to the EU-ropean project and the externalized projection of “European” border zones?

The contemporary “migration” or “refugee crisis” – or, rather, the unprecedented and disruptive force of disobedient human subjectivities appropriating mobility toward and across Europe and claiming space within Europe – has instigated a crisis of representation by juxtaposing these supposedly magnanimous “European values” with the truly violent and callous European border realities. The (temporary, but repeated) resurrection of nation-state borders by several member states since the summer of 2015 has starkly manifested the frailty of European unity and “solidarity” in haphazard attempts to regain at least the semblance of control. While Europe’s border work – and especially its (flagrantly “un-European”) violence – have been and continue to be externalized and outsourced to “third countries” or peripheral member states, the unsettling and determined movements of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants through the Balkan routes into central and northern European countries have provoked humanitarian/securitarian “emergencies” across the continent. Images of countless thousands of “unauthorized” (and frankly unwelcome) travelers relentlessly menaced by European border enforcement authorities, beaten and gassed by riot police or soldiers, have circulated around the globe. Likewise, Europe’s maritime border policing, which has converted the Central Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea in particular into gruesome scenes of mass death, have repeatedly exposed a border regime truly predicated upon atrocity, by both omission and commission. That these horrific spectacles of desperation and death are predominated by the evident and plainly cruel disposability of lives and bodies racialized as non-white – and thus, “non-European” – only seems to abundantly re-confirm that the project of “European” integration has in fact been dedicated all along to the re-institutionalization of what Étienne Balibar (1999/2004:43–45) anticipated to be a “European apartheid.”

While the EU-ropean project is substantially new and unprecedented in significant ways, the deeper historical roots of its infrastructure of expressly “European” apartheid remind us that apartheid was always indeed a truly European value, a special variant of a world economic, geo-political, and racial order of European colonialism that has profoundly shaped the brutal contours of contemporary global inequalities of wealth, power, and prestige. In this regard, it is precisely from the critical vantage point made possible by migration and borders that we may incisively discern the extent to which the self-styled “European values” of dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, rights, justice, solidarity, and peace have always been postulated, in fact, as values “for Europeans only.”


Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe”


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Recommended citation: New Keywords Collective. “Europe/Crisis: New Keywords of ‘the Crisis’ in and of ‘Europe’.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).

Palermo Open City: From the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis to a Europe Without Borders?

Leoluca Orlando is one of the longest lasting and most successful political leaders in post-war Italy. He has been elected mayor of Palermo – a city that was once the stronghold of the Sicilian mafia, no less than four times since 1985 – most recently in 2012 with over 70% of the popular vote. This despite campaigning to rid his city and region of what Orlando refers to as the plague of organized crime. A plague which nevertheless maintains its tenacious hold on important areas of economic, social and political life on the island.

The walls of the Council Chamber in Palermo are studded with plaques to the memories of public servants, priests and ordinary citizens who have been murdered by the Mafia, including several of Orlando’s closest partners. Indeed, it was the murder of Piersanti Mattarella – the then-regional president of Sicily in 1980 – that obliged the young human rights lawyer to abandon a promising university career for the highly dangerous vocation of public office. Piersanti’s brother Sergio is currently the President of the Italian Republic and remains a close friend and confidant of Palermo’s outspoken mayor.

Now aged 68 and three years into what may well be his final mandate, Orlando is fired with a new mission – that of restoring Palermo to its historical primacy as the cradle of a cosmopolitan “Arab-Norman” Mediterranean culture. “The city of Palermo is not a Mediterranean city,” argues Orlando, “it is a Middle Eastern city in Europe” that shares as much in common with Beirut and Djibouti as with Rome or Hamburg.

Although Palermo’s first citizen is often accused by critics of being better at performing the role of embattled mayor than at the practical politics of sorting out Palermo’s notorious transport problems (Orlando has even won an award for an acting role in a German feature film), the City Council has shown its commitment to recognizing Palermo’s increasingly diverse population by instituting a Council of Cultures (Consulta delle culture). The council’s members are elected from among the city’s some 125 different nationalities and 100 spoken languages.

The young President of the council, Adham Darawsha, is a Palestinian doctor who emphasizes the importance of representing the city’s diverse population – and, in particular, of “promoting the richness of culture and the capacity for dialogue among the various communities, uniting political representation with different cultural and social activities.’1 The Council of Cultures sees its role as guaranteeing that new residents of the city are able to take their place as full citizens in the city’s political and institutional life, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.

Mayor Orlando sums up the work of the Council of Cultures as “the practical application of a model where citizenship rights are related only to residence.”2

The rejection of “the tyranny of the residence permit” is a key principle of the Orlando administration’s support of international human mobility. The Charter of Palermo, which was approved by the City Council in March 2015, bears the subtitle: “From migration as suffering to mobility as an inalienable human right.”

By insisting “Io sono persona, I am Human,” Orlando – in his capacity as the regional President of the Association of Local Authorities, which includes other provinces across Sicily, and in working with his own administration – aims to deploy the institutional resources of the municipality on behalf of those whom the national authorities fail to protect. According to the Palermo Charter,

There is a need to . . . carry out a radical reform of the citizenship law [which has been] postponed for decades by the Italian Parliament. The archaic reference to jus sanguinis has to be abandoned . . . and time and red tape that hinder the recognition of Italian citizenship has to be reduced without leaving it to the discretion and/or the sensitivity of local administrations.3

The Charter also affirms the right to work, health care, social assistance, and housing. Its authors insist that with the abolition of the residence permit, which traps migrants in an inferior and precarious legal status, it will be more possible to treat migrants “as people, as human beings, regardless of the document that establishes their status . . . [I]t means seeing them as active citizens able to develop value for the community and for the place where they live.”

It is time that the European Union abolishes the residence permit for all those who migrate, affirming the freedom of movement of people, as well as of capital and goods, in the globalized world.4

Sicilians – who for centuries were forced to emigrate to the industrial north of Italy, Europe and the New World in search of land to farm or work to sustain themselves and their families – know the historical realities of a globalized world all too well. In more recent years Sicily has been the principle arrival point for a growing population of refugees and migrants traveling through Libya and across the Mediterranean in dangerous, overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels. The sinking of two migrant smuggler boats off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 and 11 October, leading to the deaths of nearly 400 refugees, caused such a level of international outcry that the Italian navy and coast guard launched the emergency search and rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum, which succeeded in saving over 150,000 lives before it was wound down in October 2014.

Faced with another tragic sinking in April 2015, taking over 800 lives when a smuggler vessel capsized during an attempted rescue operation, the European Union was forced to double the size of Operation Triton (launched as a more minimal search and rescue response following the cessation of Mare Nostrum). The Port of Palermo became a landing ground for dozens of rescue disembarkations. Survivors were often greeted on the quayside by Mayor Orlando and the Archbishop of Palermo, Corrado Lorefice.

Orlando has clearly been deeply affected by his encounters with the survivors of these perilous journeys – many of whom have been pulled out of the sea after having witnessed their fellow passengers drown. He is not afraid to repeat the accusation that the European Union is guilty of “genocide’ in the Mediterranean for failing to guarantee safe passage to millions of people who have been forced to put their lives into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers in order to avoid death and persecution.

“Sicily” is by contrast, in Orlando’s view, “a positive example for the rest of the world. Imagine in the last 20 months, 300,000 immigrants arrived in Sicily – you have not heard one single act of racism, one single act of intolerance. Neither a simple ‘go home!’ Nothing, nothing, nothing . . .” He encourages those who want inspiration for a more humane response to consider the fact that the small town of Pozzallo, with its 16,000 inhabitants, saw 38,000 immigrants arrive in the previous year – all with no acts of intolerance.

Orlando insisted that the previous practice of making newly arrived refugees to Palermo run a gauntlet of armed police had to stop. He has urged those looking for better ways of treating asylum seekers to “come to Palermo” because “everything is well organized – health care, cultural mediators, social help, the Caritas volunteers, the Red Cross, and anything are working well . . . [T]he tragedy is before they arrive, the tragedy is when they leave the Port of Palermo.”

The Palermo Charter also highlights why those who are keen to exploit the hapless victims of war, conflict and famine are just as present in the territory of Italy as in Africa: “The situation of . . . Italian hospitality is already very critical. If hospitality and integration processes . . . are not guaranteed, the protection system is likely to reproduce favor-seeking behavior and become a factory of marginalization that will impinge on all of us.”5 The Charter goes on to criticize the “opaque management and concentration of people in places that defy [the] possibility of control,” which is something of a euphemism for the ongoing corruption scandal surrounding the immigration “welcome” industry centered on Rome – “Mafia Capitale.”

Due to the large concentration of first reception centers (known as CARA) and smaller second stage accommodation facilities (known as SPRAR) in Sicily, lucrative contracts, which spontaneously created various “cooperatives” and “not for profit” organizations, have successfully and corruptly been obtained in Rome via the so-called “Tavolo di coordinamento nazionale sull’immigrazione” (national coordinating table on immigration). The migration reception and accommodation market across Italy, and especially in Sicily, has become a byword for criminality, exploitation and trafficking.

Indeed, as one of Italy’s leading human rights and immigration experts, Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, has pointed out, the absence of a genuine policy of asylum support is the main reason why so many refugees and migrants who land in Sicily see Italy as a transit country to be crossed as soon as possible rather than as a place of refuge. Vassallo points to the recent case of a group of Sudanese refugees who were left without water in an occupied social center (Laboratorio Zeta) in Palermo, where they constantly faced the risk of eviction despite the fact that they had nowhere else to live. The Sudanese were forced to trek across the island in search of barely-paid, illicit agricultural work controlled of criminal gangs. Their lack of legal status and the often 3 year-long wait for a decision from the local asylum commission leaves refugees like the Sudanese in a limbo – a limbo that no charters or declarations from the marble halls of the Palazzo Municipale are capable of resolving.6 There are also well-documented accounts of young Nigerian women who were trafficked out of Libya as refugees and who – after only a few days in a Palermo reception “welcome center” – were found working as prostitutes around the streets of the port. According to local NGOs, many of them are under age and are left to the mercy of pimps and traffickers by the authorities. This is how the underground and criminal economy of the Italian South, as well as many northern cities, benefit from the precarious status and the denial of human rights that Italy’s failed asylum system perpetually reproduces.

But despite the propensity of European politicians to “imagine that the European people are intolerant,” in the view of the ever-optimistic Mayor of Palermo, “in the stomachs of European people there is a culture of welcoming.” Certainly, the many Austrians who volunteered to drive stranded refugees across the border when the Hungarian authorities refused to provide transport to the thousands of migrants trapped in Budapest support Orlando’s interpretation. Likewise, the spontaneous welcome committees that greeted exhausted refugees upon their arrival in the train stations of southern Germany must support Orlando’s interpretation. Yet, the “events of Cologne” on New Year’s Eve (the alleged sexual assaults on women by young male migrants) as well as the right wing, anti-migrant “patrols” in Sweden, France and Finland all point to a more troubling response to the refugee crisis. They point to the dangerous potential for political exploitation by chauvinist and xenophobic political parties and governments.

An apposite passage in Benjamin Barber’s If Mayors Ruled the World (2013), also cited by Zygmunt Bauman, seems to capture this crisis of governance, which has been revealed (rather than engendered) by the so-called migration crisis:

After a long history of regional success, the nation-state is failing us on the global scale. It was the perfect political recipe for the liberty and independence of autonomous peoples and nations. It is utterly unsuited to interdependence.7

This sentiment was also echoed by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, in a “Manifesto” for places of refuge (We, the cities of Europe) launched in September 2015. The mayors of Paris, Lesvos, Coruña, Cadiz, Santiago de Compostela, and Zaragoza have also adhered to this call:

We, the cities of Europe, are ready to become places of refuge. We want to welcome these refugees. States grant asylum status but cities provide shelter. Border towns, such as Lampedusa, or the islands of Kos and Lesbos, are the first to receive the flow of people seeking asylum, and European municipalities will have to take these people in and ensure they can start a new life, safe from the dangers from which they have escaped. We have the space, services and, most importantly, the support of our citizens to do so. Our municipal services are already working on refugee reception plans to ensure food, a roof, and dignity for everyone fleeing war and hunger. The only thing missing is state support.8 

The manifesto continues:

For years European governments have spent most asylum and migration funds on reinforcing our borders and turning Europe into a fortress. This mistaken policy is the reason why the Mediterranean has become the graveyard for thousands of refugees attempting to come and share our freedom. It is time to change our priorities: to allocate funds to ensure refugees in transit are welcomed, to provide resources for cities that have offered themselves as places of refuge. This is not the time for hollow words or empty speeches, it’s time for action.9

Whether they are veteran champions of a Sicily freed from the blight of organized crime (such as Leoluca Orlando) or new political leaders who have emerged from movements for economic justice and the right to housing in the wake of globalized austerity (such as Ada Colau of Barcelona), we can detect in this new urban movement a strong demand for solidarity – a solidarity that extends not only across the Mediterranean, across the countries of Europe, but also across continents. Just as the medieval walls that once surrounded the fortified cities of Christian Europe had no purpose in an age of capitalist driven urbanization, so the barriers and borders that the European Union seeks to erect against those who demand the right to life and freedom cannot be maintained in the face of a global justice that is unequivocal and universal in its application and practice.

As the European Council and the European Commission attempt to rebuild and strengthen Fortress Europe from the ruins of Schengenland, humanitarian rescue and solidarity operations are being criminalized in the fatal waters and on the shores of the Aegean – from Dunkirk, Presevo, Idomeni and Lesvos to Lampedusa. Thousands of volunteers from Europe and around the world are thus forming an international brigade of support – a brigade that refuses to be fenced off, tear gassed into submission, or intimidated by border guards, riot shields and truncheons.

The struggle for a Mediterranean and a Europe without borders is also, as Leoluca Orlando put it, the struggle for “the right not to die in the country of one’s birth.” Having contributed to the generation of the conflicts from which over 80 % of the refugees are fleeing, it is now incumbent on Europe’s leaders to offer solutions instead of paying states with dubious human rights records to meet its own legal and moral obligations. The coming months and years will demonstrate whether the European Union’s determination to submit progressive migration policies (whether local, regional, or national) to a logic of exclusion and expulsion will hold together its crumbling acquis communautaires – namely, the accumulated legislation and court decisions comprising European law.

Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk may well have underestimated the determination of Mediterranean Europe’s progressive civic leadership to defend their politics of solidarity against the dehumanizing logic of the impermeable frontier. In this brave new world of nations on the move, a political class that refuses to accept the need (as Orlando reminds us) to re-imagine what it even means to be European will be condemned to deal with a far more dangerous prospect: an alienated and angry lost generation whose memories of their initial encounters with Europe risk being dominated by hostility, prejudice and fear.

Recommended citation: Orlando, Leolucca and Parker, Simon. “Palermo Open City: From the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis to a Europe Without Borders?” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).