Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The Coloniality of Encampment and Deportation as a Mode of Mobility Governance


Time to read

5 Minutes


Clayton Boeyink
Nina Sahraoui
Elsa Tyszler

Guest post by Clayton Boeyink, Nina Sahraoui and Elsa Tyszler. Clayton is a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh focusing on the DiSoCo Project, which seeks to improve healthcare at the intersection of gender and protracted displacement amongst Somali and Congolese refugees/IDPs. Nina is Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Researcher at the CRESPPA, CNRS in Paris. Her research is situated at the crossroads of migration, gender and healthcare studies. Elsa is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Sociological and Political Research in Paris. Her work focuses on borders, migration control, gender and critical race studies. This is the fourth post of Border Criminologies’ themed series on 'Postcoloniality and Forced Migration' organised by Eva Magdalena Stambøl, Sharla M. Fett, Nina Sahraoui, Martin Lemberg-Pedersen and Lucy Mayblin.

In our co-authored chapter for the volume Postcoloniality and Forced Migration, we bring together three case studies: the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa, the French overseas department of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, and Tanzania in East Africa, to explore how coloniality permeates migration governance to date (see the work of Anibal Quijano, or in the field of migration of Encarnacion Gutiérrez Rodriguez). We are particularly interested in how racialized hierarchies continue to underpin migration policies, and how these have been central in the organization and control of the mobility of colonized subjects within European colonialism and beyond.

Scholars engaging with the coloniality of migration most often analyse how the colonial project is still manifest today in exclusionary and racialized immigration and development policies in Europe and other White settler countries such as the US and Australia (see for instance the work by Lucy Mayblin or E. Tendayi Achiume). In our chapter, we build on this literature as well as on research that explores how the colonial powers transmuted these practices of mobility control to former and current colonies in Africa (see for instance the work by Oliver Bakewell or Hanno Brankamp and Patricia Daley).      

Ceuta and Melilla

In the Spanish-controlled territories of Ceuta and Melilla, still contested by the Kingdom of Morocco, the genealogies of border fencing, violent push-backs and confinement can be traced back to colonial logics specific to their contexts and rooted in their historicity, as explored in our first case study. Inscribing itself within the current European fight against ‘illegal migration’, the figure of the Black and dangerous migrant serves to reactivate a violent defence of these remaining territories of the Spanish Empire. During ‘hot-returns’ carried out at the fences of the enclaves, the undesirable Black bodies can be beaten or even killed, in continuity with colonial and slave regimes. Since our chapter has been written, another instance of lethal violence unfolded at these borders. On 24 June 2022, nationals from Central, West and East Africa attempted to enter Melilla. The violent repression by the Spanish and Moroccan border guards in charge of preventing these entries resulted in the death of at least 37 people and over 300 injured (Amnesty International, 2022). This new massacre embodies in a paroxysmal way the war on Black migrants that has been waged since the 1990s on the Moroccan-Spanish borders, and testifies once again to the licence to kill given to the Spanish Guardia Civil and the Moroccan auxiliary forces to "defend" the Spanish and European borders. In order to try to understand this extreme violence, which continues with impunity, it is necessary to contextualise the current events and place them in the long history of this border.

a fence
Melilla’s border fence, photograph by Elsa Tyszler.


Second, we analyse how in the French overseas department of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean (a territory claimed by the Republic of Comoros with the formal support of the General Assembly of the United Nations), Comorians are caught up in restrictive migration policies that simultaneously organize their immobilization – by keeping people undocumented – as well as their forced mobility through on-going massive deportations. On the one hand, the average length of residence in Mayotte of the 40 women of Comorian origin interviewed by one of the authors was 10.7 years while the majority of these women were in an irregular situation and faced financial, social and administrative barriers to their regularization. On the other hand, these persons live in a permanent state of deportability as Mayotte breaks French records for the forced removal of people year after year. In 2017, 25,274 persons were detained in metropolitan France and 17,934 in Mayotte (for only 256,500 inhabitants). In terms of actual removals, in 2021 Mayotte represented 77% of all forcibly removed undocumented persons in France (including metropolitan France and its overseas territories). The coloniality of this system lies in the fact that many French migration-related laws and rules do not apply in Mayotte, not so much as a matter of ad-hoc exception, but more so as a legacy of the systematically different position of colonial territories within the French ensemble.

a beach
The number of fatalities caused by border crossings in small fishing boats between the Comoros and Mayotte is unknown, photograph by Nina Sahraoui.


Finally, the third case study traces how in spite of strong anti-colonial rhetoric and policy, the Tanzanian state entrenched ethno-racialized hierarchies, particularly toward Burundians, that hark back to the colonial instrumentalization of ‘tribal’ identities that aimed at creating borders and controlling the labour force. For instance, Burundians have long been derogatorily referred to as ‘tractors’ for being known as hardworking, yet exploitable farm labourers. Moreover, since 2017, despite most encamped Burundians feeling unsafe to repatriate, the Tanzanian government have subjected them to border closures; shutdowns of vital humanitarian aid programmes and markets; and even kidnapping, ransoms, torture, and forced repatriation to Burundi in a concerted bid to push them to leave the country. Even at the time of writing, in July 2022, one of the authors received a message from a Burundian interlocutor about their fear of being violently returned to Burundi after a recent trend of wealthy neighbours repatriating due to sustained assaults on the economy by the Tanzanian state.

Nyarugusu refugee camp in north-western Tanzania
Nyarugusu refugee camp in north-western Tanzania, photograph by Clayton Boeyink.

Racial hierarchies as colonial continuities in migration control

These three postcolonial settings represent different historic, political and socio-economic contexts. Yet it is striking that in spite of local specificities, the colonial legacies of mobility management appear in all cases in contemporary migration policies. Reviewing mobility related practices such as collective refoulement, mass forced removals and strict encampment policies, we aim at debunking the narrative of exceptionalism that is often associated with such present-day restrictive migration governance and oftentimes mobilized to legitimate harsh measures and strict regulations.      

Although we recognize that there are myriads of differences in logics and practices of migration control through the longue durée and contemporary histories of our case studies, the chapter demonstrates that the racialized hierarchies inherited from colonial rule underpin many of the most repressive dimensions of migration control across different postcolonial settings, albeit differently. Borders created under European colonialism as well as former logics of mobility control continue to shine through in these three case-studies. Our cases also hint that colonial and pre-colonial orders are entangled in the production of contemporary racialized hierarchies and their attached inequalities.      

We, thus, argue that the practices of control and repression of undesirable mobilities today are anchored in old colonial practices and inscribed in patterns of continuity rather than exceptionalism. Our comparison indicates that far from constituting ad-hoc solutions to ‘exceptional problems’ such as unusually high arrivals, these migration policies are imbued with the racialized hierarchies inherited from the colonial governance of these territories. Our chapter is an invitation to further explore the striking patterns of coloniality across seemingly disparate geographies, empires, and histories in Africa and elsewhere. We see the prevailing continuities of the past Eurocentric and colonial order of the world created across continents in the contemporary management of migrants through their continued racialization.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

C. Boeyink, N. Sahraoui and E. Tyszler. (2023) The Coloniality of Encampment and Deportation as a Mode of Mobility Governance . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/05/coloniality-encampment-and-deportation-mode-mobility. Accessed on: 15/07/2024

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