Book Review: Corpi Reclusi in Attesa di Espulsione
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Guest post by Teresa Degenhardt, Lecturer in Criminology, Queen’s University Belfast. She has worked on liberal wars, securitization of borders through technology, and migrant’s detention in the UK during Covid-19. She is on twitter @DrTDegenhardt.
Review of Corpi Reclusi in Attesa di Espulsione: La detenzione amministrativa in Europa al tempo della Sindemia, edited by Esposito F. E. Caia and G. Mattiello (Edizioni SEB 27 Motive 2022).
This Italian edited collection gives a critical overview of immigration detention during the spread of Covid-19, showing how different European countries (Italy, Greece, Spain, Serbia, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden) adopted measures that were consistent with their previous practices but were also evolving in ways that demonstrated increased specialization. Some states completely closed down their detention facilities (Spain) or at least significantly reduced their populations (UK, Italy, Nordic countries), whilst others subjected those detained to draconian measures within detention facilities (Greece, Germany, Italy, Nordic countries, Serbia). The collection is organised geographically, starting with countries in the southern areas of Europe and ending in the Nordic region.
The originality of the book lies in its theoretical framework. It thematizes Covid-19 as a syndemic, rather than a pandemic, drawing on a term introduced by Horton, the Lancet’s editor, to highlight how the disease impacted mostly people suffering forms of wealth inequalities. This kind of thematization is crucial, as it enables a critical intersectional perspective.
The theoretical underpinning of the collection is clearly spelled out. It builds on Ruth Gilmore’s abolitionist stance, underscored by Mbembe’s idea of the ‘universal right to breathe’, and the concept of ‘bio-politics’. In this framework, Covid-19 is seen through the words of Arundhati Roy as a ‘portal’, that allows us to see the ‘structures of inequality upon which our world is based … offer[ing] us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality’ (p. 292, 309). The aspiration of the editors is to see frontiers and their violence disappear to create a world in which the ‘monetary resources used to produce death are instead used to enable every human to thrive’ (p. 319).
In the introduction, Shahram Khosravi underscores the need to fight to create more spaces ‘to breath’, outside the structures of violence that impact on ‘people who travel’. The emphasis from the start is on the lived experience of those who travel and are caught in the bureaucratic ‘industry of detention’ at the border. It is crucial to read these people’s lives, voices, and gestures as forms of resistance able to break the silencing to which they are subjected by the state: these include people who refused to take the Covid-19 test to avoid deportation, but even those who harmed themselves, and those who were killed illuminate the violence of the system.
The first chapter (Tazzioli) elaborates the concept of ‘containment to protect’ that developed as a result of inserting sanitary logics into the re-bordering of the world as a result of the health emergency. Crucially, Tazzioli argues the concept of protection should be challenged to reveal what it masks, a ‘substantial ambivalence between care and custody’ (p.31).
The overview of the Italian system starts with a detailed genealogy of the legislative and policy framework (Fabini) and continues with the analysis of the first lock-down policies (Mattiello, Caja, Esposito), in which, despite the politics of depopulation, a number of practices of obfuscation, neglect and silencing were enacted towards those considered least deserving of protection.
The following chapter (Caja, Celoria, Mattiello, Esposito) inserts the post-first-lock-down phase into the wider relationship between the Global North and South. Iliadou’s work underscores the continuities with other forms of medical surveillance at the border used before the syndemic, helping to produce the dangerous migrant at the border of the EU in Greece.
The chapter on Spain (Ana Bellesteros Pena) uses the concept of ‘plasticity’ to suggest that despite the short abolitionist move (Brandariz and Bessa, 2021), the system was quickly re-organised through forms of ‘specialization’. A similar argument appears in Mary Bosworth’s chapter on the UK through the concept of ‘flexibility’. Despite, or indeed because of, the initial release of many detained people (Degenhardt, 2020), the UK took the opportunity to re-organise its detention facilities through a process of specialization and the wider use of temporary detention.
Milivojevic analyses the Serbian system of ‘containment in the open air’ that allows people to move quickly through the country and also constrains them, when necessary, thus shining a light on the conjunction of the syndemic and the increased racism on social media. The chapter on Germany is nicely punctuated by migrants’ stories of resistance, whilst the analysis points to their lack of protection. Finally, the chapter by Lindberg shows how the Nordic countries responded to the pandemic through ‘systemic neglect and abandonment’, and forcefully claims that ‘the authorities have demonstrated that they have enough resources to continue to detain and deport people but not to protect them from the virus’ (p.289).
The book ends with a coda from the editors of the collection re-inscribing the chapters into critical theory and underscoring how the distinction between migrants that are more or less dangerous is functional to the reproduction of racial capitalism, as it individualises the pain and suffering of those caught in the system.
This important collection adds to the literature on Covid-19 and migrant detention. Its critical overview shows some of the differences and commonalities in politics adopted by various states in Europe. Generally, migrants were considered less deserving of health than citizens and were often not protected. Migrants – who are recurrently in the headlines to produce political purchase for politicians - were made invisible in this context. The invisibility/silencing was the product of different practices, but it is clear that states are interested in these people and their bodies only for the demonstration of their strength in controlling borders and to assuage their populations.
This volume has the merit of breaking that invisibility and that silence and demonstrating that some people do care about the lives of ‘those who travel’. As we move out of this strange phase, it is crucial that we collectively reflect on how common resources and energies are used to produce violence under the guise of protection, and find ways to re-imagine the world we inhabit. This collection is a good tool to do so.
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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):T. Degenhardt. (2022) Book Review: Corpi Reclusi in Attesa di Espulsione. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/blog-post/2022/10/book-review-corpi-reclusi-attesa-di-espulsione. Accessed on: 31/03/2023
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