Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Review: Immigration Nation: Aid, Control and Border Politics in Morocco


Nabil Ferdaoussi
Doctoral Research Fellow at HUMA-Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Nabil Ferdaoussi. Nabil is a Doctoral Research Fellow at HUMA-Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town.

Review of Immigration Nation: Aid, Control, and Border Politics in Morocco, by Lorena Gazzotti (Cambridge 2021).

Immigration nationThe launch of the New Migration Policy (Nouvelle Politique Migratoire) in 2013 marked a historic shift in Morocco’s approach towards migration governance. This policy shift sounded the death knell of a dark history of border violence and declared the birth of a new era of ‘humane’ integration. Hailed as progressive and unprecedented in the region, these reforms sparked the attention of a host of European donors, International Organizations (IOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), seeking to step up cooperation with Morocco in its endeavor.

This period marked the rise of what Lorena Gazzotti dubbed in her book, Immigration Nation, ‘aid industry’. The author shows how aid and development projects insidiously stretch out the tentacles of border control to untapped sectors such as labor, healthcare and development cooperation. Taking her cue from a dense forest of theoretical strands in critical humanitarian studies, border studies, migration diplomacy and development studies, Gazzotti lays bare the internal workings of aid-funded organizations in Morocco, tracing the otherwise elusive and serpentine patterns of border control they reproduce.

The kind of border control that is retrenched by aid development projects, Gazzotti reminds us, is far from being coercive, benevolent and spectacular; rather, it’s elusive, malevolent and spectral. Gazzotti exquisitely expressed this conception with the following metaphor: “Studying the working of border power through aid can sometimes feel like chasing a ghost” (p.8). Exploring the elusive power of slow violence through aid does not, however, rule out the endurance of the border spectacle which amounts to fast violence: they coexist and work in sync.

Gazzotti’s analysis of humanitarian borderwork in Morocco is circumstantial in detail and wide-ranging in scope. With her Foucauldian toolkit, Gazzotti pries open the workings of border control within the realm of aid-funded projects, revealing how their implementation, or the lack thereof, induces forms of marginalization that usually escape our attention. While aid-funded organizations are the sole source of assistance to vulnerable migrants from West and Central Africa, their assistance is rooted in and conducive of border control. On the one hand, migrant assistance projects are limited due to the European donors’ interest in security and containment. On the other hand, as frontline caregivers, aid-funded organizations are endowed with the biopolitical power to decide who does and who does not deserve assistance. In the context of labor integration, UNHCR deploys disciplinary strategies where displaced Africans adapt certain behaviors of refugeehood to receive financial assistance by the agency.

Immigration Nation is a riveting account where the author delicately pieces apart the spurious humanitarianism of Morocco’s policy reforms, on the one hand, and the bordering practices of aid-funded organizations on the other.

Gazzotti unveils how Morocco, after being a country of transit since the 1990s, has evolved  into a country of settlement, a narrative which aid industry ‘performatively’ sustained and consolidated. Drawing on original dataset, the author brilliantly unfolds the ‘inoperative’ underbelly of the integration structures that qualify Morocco as a country of settlement, describing the label ‘immigration nation’ as an ‘empty signifier’. At the same time, the discursive construction of Morocco as an ‘Immigration Nation’ has been widely publicized, reiterated and reified by donors and aid-funded organizations, thereby manufacturing a ‘regime of truth’ around the settlement of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco. Gazzotti shows how labor integration activities barely end up in the employment of racialized migrants. Conversely, aid-funded organizations blame migrants for failure to secure employment, instead of imputing their failure directly to the brittle labor infrastructures of the country. Not only are these programs inefficient in practice; they act a site of disciplinary power where helpless, displaced migrants are produced and molded accordingly.

Gazzotti takes a deep dive into the history of immigration in Morocco, retracing the migratory roots (and routes) in the country as far back as to the Arab Conquest and trans-Saharan slave trade. The recently invented history of immigration is discursively coterminous with the history of the EU’s border externalization. The aid industry sings the ‘Immigration Nation’ mantra in chorus all the same.

While aid expands the reach of the border, it does so through unpredictable patterns of power relations among different actors. In this way, the book deconstructs three common (mis)conceptions peculiar to the aid industry. First, donors are not all-power in gaining the full corporation of their partners in border control, never mind the outsourcing of their policy mandates verbatim into the field. Second, IOs and NGOs are equally not almighty; while they are autonomous actors with certain missions to assist migrants, they can be subject to blanket repression by local authorities, particularly in border regions. Third, subcontracting states like Morocco may accept or decline the implementation of certain projects, depending on the financial, political and diplomatic benefits the project may reap for them. Furthermore, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are not all equally receptive of donor’s aid. Gazzotti sketches out a typology of three kinds of actors: the newcomers, the radicals and those on the doorstep. The newcomers are actors who decide to accept security-related funding from donors, leaving out their cooptation into border control normalized and unquestioned. On the other side of the spectrum, the radicals express their incredulity towards European donors, conceiving of aid money as an attempt to beguile civil society actors into border externalization strategies. Those standing on the doorstep of aid industry are, for the most part, migrant-led organizations, with a modicum chance of receiving aid money.

The book is a feast for critical border studies scholars interested in humanitarian borderwork within hybrid regimes. It is equally an important contribution to the burgeoning scholarship of migration diplomacy in the global south.  It is definitely an eye-opening, well-informed read. The way Gazzotti builds on and engages with the works of Moroccan migration scholars, senior and junior alike, is immensely inspiring and convivial, setting a genuine move to decolonize migration knowledge production.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

N. Ferdaoussi. (2022) Book Review: Immigration Nation: Aid, Control and Border Politics in Morocco. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2022/10/book-review-immigration-nation-aid-control-and-border. Accessed on: 30/05/2024

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