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Double Book Review: Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe: Outsourcing EU Border Controls to Africa and The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Borders



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Guest post by Oana Pârvan. Oana Pârvan is a Romanian theorist and educator based in London. With a background in Philosophy and Semiotics, she holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths University of London and is the author of The Arab Spring between Transformation and Capture. Autonomy, Media and Mobility in Tunisia (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2020). A member of the international research & practice networks Sound System Outernational and The Critical Computation Bureau, she is Visiting Research Fellow at Media, Communications and Cultural Studies for Goldsmiths, University of London.

Review of Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe: Outsourcing EU Border Controls to Africa, by Christian Jakob and Simone Schlindwein (Daraja Press 2019) and The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Borders, by Martina Tazzioli (SAGE Publications 2019).

The year 2020 was marked by a proliferation of temporary borders, by limitations on mobility, the protagonism of corporate actors and an unprecedented spread of datification, all of which are important tools used against migration. As quoted by Martina Tazzioli at the end of The Making of Migration, in the words of Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad, “thinking about immigration means thinking about the state.” In this sense, both Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe and The Making of Migration offer great analyses of how the European states are developing their styles of governance, mainly by looking into the tools employed in the war on migrants.

Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe is a detailed journalistic account of how the EU is attempting to limit mobility within the African continent as a matter of the EU’s domestic policy agenda, hence the title hinting at the many agreements (with Turkey, Libya, Sudan) aimed at blocking migrants from approaching the European continent. The new “Berlin Wall” not only encircles Europe, but also generates a proliferation of militarised borders in Africa.

By drawing from cables, policy papers, interviews and speeches, Jakob and Schlindwein meticulously describe a process of border outsourcing in several moves: first, the Dublin Regulation makes asylum seekers the responsibility of the states they enter the EU through (mainly Southern Europe); second, particular interventions militarise the borderzones (on land or on water) between Europe and Africa (such as in the case of the border between Spain and Morocco); third, coast states like Turkey or Libya are encouraged to stop and detain citizens crossing towards Europe; lastly, the citizens that do reach Europe are either deported to the European states of entry, or to states that accept them (Germany had deported a citizen of Sierra Leone to Nigeria for example). EU member states are, in fact, keen to establish readmission agreements in return for development aid or by threatening trade sanctions. Germany – whose approach to development aid has grown centred around fighting “irregular migration” by all means, including military ones – has played an important role in initiatives (such as the Marshall Plan with Africa, Compacts with Africa, the Processes of Valletta, Khartoum, Rabat) that put great emphasis on limiting mobility between Africa and Europe and within the African continent.

Yet Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe does more than just highlight the clear responsibility of the EU in its cooperation with characters like Sudanese Major General Hamdan Daglo, accused of war crimes and keen to block the mobility of Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese citizens as part of “working on behalf of Europe,” or the Libyan militias detaining migrants in atrocious conditions (some of which made visible by the 2017 video showing the people auction in the Libyan detention centres). Most importantly, the book exposes the continuity between the European colonial approach to Africa and today’s policies. From the German Development Minister calling the summit around the Marshall Plan for Africa “the largest Africa conference since 1884” (xviii), to the Personal Representative of the German Chancellor for Africa candidly advocating for African governments to “lease out a piece of their territorial sovereignty and permit free development there for 50 years” so that “these areas could become special economic zones for settling migrants with the support of the World Bank, the EU or individual states” (xix), this work provides a rich archive of the difficult dialogue between Europe and Africa, while also indicating directions that could allow for an overcoming of neocolonial trends.

To summarise, the authors argue, Europe desires protected borders and open markets. The novelty is the amount of material that this book contains about African desires and strategies, both as a continent and as single states. This, in particular, makes the work a collection of extremely valuable directions of research. In fact, Africa, if one were to simplify the continent’s intentions, is depicted as aspiring to the exact opposite of Europe, namely open borders (with the African Union aspiring to free movement within the continent) and protected markets (protected from Western corporate predatory strategies). Moreover, contrary to the narrative of aid according to which the West “helps develop” Africa, the figures quoted by the authors suggest the opposite: while Sub-Saharan Africa receives $134 billion a year in development funding, $192 billions flow out of Africa, with $46 billion in profit for major corporations and another $35 billion vanishing in tax havens (218).

More importantly, the EU’s war on migrants, while maintained and radicalised by the corporate interests of the military industrial complex (whose lobbyists riddle the Brussels chambers), is under constant attack from different directions. First of all, by the determination of migrants themselves, whose mobility compensates for unequal distributions of global wealth; remittances can be nine times higher than a country’s development aid (as in the case of Nigeria, 231). Second, by the European civil society, whose grassroots NGOs have supported the safe passage of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean, and also by the African leadership of individual states, like Uganda, who show the benefits of refugee-friendly policies.

The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics at Europe’s Borders accentuates and deepens some of the points made by Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe with a gaze firmly focused on some of these years most spectacular borderzones, namely Calais and the hotspots on the Greek islands, but also on less visible passages like the Alpine crossings between Italy and France or Switzerland. This work is refreshing for the way in which it creates proximity: with the philosophical traditions it draws from (Michel Foucault, Frantz Fanon, Foucauldian feminist Elsa Dorlin, Fanonian ethopsychiatrist Roberto Beneduce) and with its empirical grounding that takes the reader from the torrid and overcrowded Lesvos hotspot where a migrant is fingerprinted by a Greek policeman under the surveillance of Frontex to the icy mountains around Bardonecchia (Italy), where locals have been saving the lives of people trying to cross the Alps towards France at least from the times of WWII.

The Making of Migration provides great detail of the processes through which people are made governable as migrants and of what results from the consequent mushrooming of hostile environments. It shows in what ways a person is governed when they are produced as both a risk and a vulnerable subject. The title draws from E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class to make a point that goes beyond the sociological binaries of object/subject and agency/structure, both at an individual level (advancing the notion of singularity) and at the level of collective formations (advancing the notion of multiplicity). The making of migration refers to the following ambivalence. On the one side, the heterogenous strategies of governmentality by which certain people are produced as migrants: not only through detention and policing, but also through forced mobility, the production of unliveability, the subtraction of people’s “material and legal terrain,” alongside the construction of tools of control informed by data extraction, mostly located in concentration points such as the hotspots where many asylum seekers are blocked on the Greek and Italian islands. On the other side, these interventions aimed at dividing, scattering and wearing down people produced as migrants also result in the formation of temporary collective bodies in constant movement, acting politically in occasional transversal alliance with locals, which the author defines in terms of “migrant multiplicities,” “motley formations” and “unstable mobile communing.”

This much needed intervention in political theory operates along many methodological shifts which will hopefully reset the direction of future research on migration. First of all, the use of people on the move as a point of departure shatters premises such as methodological nationalism or a sedentarity-centred approach. In fact, those “migrant multiplicities” are not only temporary and constantly in motion, but they also act from outside the space of citizenship and so pose a theoretical challenge to predetermined concepts of collective formations (not only class, but also the precariat, the multitude, the assembly) more used to permanence in time and space. In this sense, The Making of Migration grounds philosophical innovation in embodied empirical research, not the other way around.

By drawing attention to the temporality of violence perpetrated through the heterogenous strategies of dispersal/detention/abandonment/forced mobility/legal illegibility of asylum law/temporary borders and domino deportations, The Making of Migration makes visible how biopolitics can also “not make live without letting die.”

In resonance with Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe, the author details the importance of the biometric and data market emerging out of the refugee camps, while making a deeper and topical point on data extraction. The data extracted from migrants’ lives and mobility (through interviews and fingerprinting but also through drone and radar surveillance) becomes a priceless object of capitalization which supplements the one derived from the exploitation of migrant labour or the profit generated by the detention industry. This “biopolitical value” is extracted both from individual conducts as well as from the refugee population as a whole and supports the calculation of policing patterns, the predictability of future “flows of migration,” as well the capitalization upon data sets by international financial institutions (89).

Beyond deconstructing stereotypes about migrants (often seen as either victims or as revolutionary agents) and anti-immigration policies (often thought to only work through detention or dispersal), this work helps the reader unlearn the practice of “seeing like a state” (132), namely that of automatically asking “how to govern migration?” or “how to govern migration more fairly?”. It does so by “politicizing mobility while mobilizing politics” through an attention to “the materiality of struggles, the racialized policies and the mechanisms of exploitation that sustain and shape different practices of mobility,” but also by tracing “the historical and political genealogy of different ways in which mobility has been regulated, enacted and problematised” (102).

The Making of Migration is essentially an act of political recomposition. Rooting her reasoning in Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh’s work on the outlaws of the Atlantic and the motley crew (multiracial formations of former enslaved people and workers-turned-pirates), the author traces the roots of mobility and transversal alliances as practices of resistance against exploitation going back to the 17th century. Consequently, consistent technologies of separation, isolation and dispersal of the “unruly mobs” are shown as part of the arsenal of governance at least since the start of capitalism. France, for example, demonstrates great continuity between the “spatial disciplining of former colonized populations and the biopolitical governing of migration in the French cities,” from the Code Noir to the racist policing of the 2015 riots in the banlieues and the current dispersal of any collective formation of migrant multiplicities (110). Reading The Making of Migration will benefit political theory scholars with an interest in contemporary collective formations and biopolitical articulations of control and containment.

Both books are generous in creating the political and historical background necessary for understanding how atrocities like Aylan Kurdi’s death or people being auctioned in the Libyan detention centres can be stopped. While they both deconstruct xenophobic tropes and point out the holes in narrow anti-immigrant media narratives, what they most importantly achieve is imagining a more transformative politics and putting on paper the history that future generations will draw upon in understanding the struggles of their ancestors in the European borderzones.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Pârvan, O. (2022) Double Book Review: Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe: Outsourcing EU Border Controls to Africa and The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Borders. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2022/02/double-book [date]

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