Rubber Boats & the Planetary Class Struggle

By Richard Braude, 28 October 2016
Image: Régie Air Afrique Visitez L'Afrique En Avion, circa 1936. A different (race &) class of travel

The global border regime excludes from transport those who most need to travel, with deadly consequences. While migrants resist and overcome state control of movement, the dominant sense of the 'refugee crisis' forecloses a perspective of class struggle. Richard Braude analyses the production and distribution of rightless non-citizens by national capitals acting internationally, to recover a sense of the challenge to capital migrants pose as a proletariat




If 2015 will be remembered for many as a year of the great escape, 2016 ought to be chronicled conversely as one of new experiments in walls, prisons, deportations, isolation and abandonment. In the laboratories of their islands and enclaves, European powers have been fixing the breaches in their dams, their experiments covered by a haze of humanitarian rhetoric about fighting the Smuggler on the one hand, and cloaked in the dystopic fear of the Terrorist on the other. Yet while the Aegean boats have been blocked, and tens of thousands of Syrians and Afghans have been trapped in Greece, and despite the dangers, the rejections, the drownings, the imprisonments and expulsions, the number of people attempting the journey from Tripoli seems only to have increased. Death’s numbing cipher looms over all the metrics and narrations alike: over 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean en route this year alone, each zero a thousand hang-man’s nooses. Many more will have died before reaching Libya, and through the forms of enslavement and captivity in a land periodically overcome by gunfire and desperation. In the face of all these dangers which have, in one way of another, been imposed upon them, 150,000 people have already made it to Italy this year – and, unless a new government in Libya can be formed and bought off, another 150,000 will arrive next year as well.


Why are some forced to make such a perilous journey to enter the continent, rather than using the safer routes utilised by the vast majority of those finding their way to European states for either short or extended periods? How has the ruling class over the past year reacted to the resistance to the border regime? And most importantly, how has the struggle of the working class shaped these transformations, and what can we, all of us, learn about the nature of freedom from the material struggles or these hundreds of thousands who are breaching the borders?


To answer these questions, a brief history of the current Mediterranean crossings is given below, and an account of the methods by which the EU and member states have attempted to retake control of the means of movement over the past year. This is necessary to appreciate, as explained in the final section, how proletarian Africans and Asians have gradually but effectively broken the asylum system designed to manage them.


* * *


Much of my perspective and information is owed to the West African migrants in Sicily. If there is an emphasis at times of the Gambian experience here, it is for this reason: not, I hope, to any detriment, but partly to provide some balance to a discourse which, when not dominated exclusively by a white European standpoint, has focussed on the Middle East and, less frequently, on East Africa. While the reach of this essay is broad, it is not comprehensive: I say nothing about the conditions in refugee camps and hostels, about the strikes by paperless workers who have no recourse to courts, about the struggles to build a life. (Indeed, to this extent, such a thing as ‘migrant politics’, would be as broad and far-reaching as a ‘citizenry politics’). This essay is a small anti-capitalist contribution to a fathomless history of entering, surviving and not being sent back.*


1. The Age of Untransport


The romance of migration runs deep in European culture. Charting the routes between cities, the steam covered platforms of the great train stations, the clunking doors; ticket receipts and heavy leather bags, metal trunks. In our burning world, this dream has been transformed into a twisted, darker romance. The rubber boats of the packed and hungry hundreds traversing the Mediterranean, the drownings, the desert, the coast guards and gunboats. The image of the Great Crossing remains, but the train stations of imperial Europe have become the resting points for the homeless refugee, the train tracks of Idomeni the scarred remains of a romance of travel converted into a battlefield.


These narratives unfold under the same curse as their romantic originals. The timeless classical and Biblical comparisons – ‘Exodus’, ‘Odyssey’ – have become all too easy, and too convincing in papering over the historical absurdity of the scenes unfolding. Just as with Lampedusa before, these points of emergency are spectacularised crises caused by a chaotic conflict of different sovereign priorities. The masses have not spontaneously taken the route by the river out of the desert, but have been forced to appear at particular stages along the way. The question that has to be gleaned from these dramatic scenes is this: how is it that in a period of mass, easy transport, people are forced into the most deathly, stupid forms of transport available, in which overloaded, small rubber boats are pushed into international waters, in the hope that after several hours a rescue operation – whether governmental, merchant vessel or humanitarian – will pick up the passengers and continue the journey?


As an important generalisation, it is clear that the schism between the wealthier and whiter airline customers, and the poorer, darker passengers hustled onto Libyan fishing boats dramatically and fatally encapsulates a racialised class struggle of planetary dimensions. When commercial air travel between Europe and West Africa took off in the 1930s, Air Afrique’s posters displayed Europeans in sleek planes overlooking a colourful African landscape, or with startled natives gazing up. After decolonisation they were not altered to show a newly independent African overlooking the European peasantry. Yet the evolution of the methods by which these well-known structures of colonialism have taken on the particular forms we face today reveals the diversity of legal and technological modes which ensure our modern apartheids.


One of the more technical reasons for this ‘Biblification’ of methods of transport are the fines imposed on airliners and ferry companies in the event of hosting a passenger without the right documents.[1] Making airline staff into a form of border police, the direct consequence has been to lock out anyone not in possession of such documents from boarding a plane, even in situations of persecution and war. Such penalties, known as ‘carrier sanctions’, have been in development along with that of mass, long distance transportation since the Second World War. Both the USA and Australia have had such policies since the 1950s, designed more particularly for ocean liners. But national legislation started to become far more common, and enforced in the 1980s. An illustrative an example is the British regulation passed in the face of mass Tamil immigration in 1987:[2] the fines were partly the continuation of a tradition of placing the onus for document control on carriers, but were also a reaction to the industrialisation and massification of mobility through the air which presented new challenges to eager border guards.[3] While air flight has been central to managed refugee programmes since WW2 – notably in Biafra and Vietnam – in 1987 the Tamil refugees flew directly to Heathrow from Bangladesh, using commercial flights, not ones organised by refugee agencies.[4]


Why did air travel become an available option, and one which had to be stopped? Even transport technology is not immune from the twists and turns of the class struggles within capitalism. It was the 1973 fuel price hike that forced companies to innovate in order to decrease the cost of a plane ticket: reducing baggage in the hold to save on fuel costs, reducing the power for take off to save on wear and tear, and thus on fixed capital costs long term.[5] With the deliberate lowering of the oil price through the 1980s, partly to match the collapsing dollar, as well as a global attack on workers’ rights – including in the aviation industry (‘deregulation’) – the price of fuel became lower once again.[6] These combined technological and economic developments thus required new legal methods to control the kinds of masses to whom this new, cheap mode of long-distance transport was to be made available. Fast, secure transport is maintained for those going to business lunches; slow, deathly forms handed over to those fleeing war and dispossession.


Carrier sanctions such as those introduced to dissuade Tamils from arriving in the UK in the 1980s were, in 1993, written into the Schengen convention, generalising them across Western European states. Moreover, the threat of these fines, and the complex (though often badly informed) system of checks surrounding them has, with shoves and starts, gradually transformed airline staff into a poorly concealed facet of an international border force.[7]


The developments in these legal technologies of border control thus develop move in tandem with those of mass transport, and with the concurrent process of increasingly removing the most developed advanced modes of transportation from those who could benefit from them most. The entire principle of carrier sanctions runs contrary to any humanitarian logic, as those fleeing from war or persecution will almost always be unable to legally obtain passports or visas from their collapsing or hostile countries.[8]


The financial and political impasses on the legal road of course only shifts the track to the same kinds of obstacles on illegal methods. As Paolo Cuttitta puts it, ‘visa obligation is, undoubtedly, the primal instrument of immigration control.’[9] The requirements for visas, however, always include having money in the bank, and very often also involve making sure some of that money finds its way under the table. But in countries overwhelmed by the kinds of dangers which might provoke European states to extend asylum (war, famine, persecution), the inability to claim a visa or passport are is multiplied to the extreme, and without such a document the airlines will not allow a passenger to board for fear of being fined.


The global recession of 1973/4 again marks a watershed here, the end of the bilateral agreements for labour supply from unshackled post-colonial states to their former imperial conquerors. With the economic crash, recruitment programmes and consequent easy access to work visas ended. The result has been the necessity to either join family members who had migrated previously, or to show enough wealth to break through the bureaucratic restrictions. To obtain a visa to leave Senegal for France, for example, will require that the applicant can show their possession of around £10,000; a trip from Senegal to Italy, via desert and sea, might cost a third of that. As a Gambian track puts it, the upbeat guitar betrayed by the Mandinka lyrics’ warning of all the death and dangers of the journey, it nonetheless remains ‘ninesonayata katama Africa‘the easiest way to travel from Africa.’[10]


For the grandparents of those making the trip now, the only cost was the ticket itself: visas were often not even required. For today’s Europe-bound Senegalese, the alternatives might be buying a forged passport, the prices of which have only risen with demand and technological advancement. Thus it was, exactly in the period of global economic slowdown which decreased demand in Northern Europe for labour from the former colonies, that the methods of enabling global migration drastically improved, and the methods of preventing it intensified.[11] This is not only an irony: it is a historical corellation.


* * *


But instead of the air routes, the ‘normal way’ round, more and more people are being forced into taking what is known as ‘the Back Way’. The ‘Back Way’ is far from new, and used to go via Spain. West Africans faced the same life threatening traps along the way. One Gambian who made the journey in 1999 described it as ‘like jahannama on earth.’[12] The Spanish route was gradually and very effectively shut down over the early 2000s. Hundreds, rather than thousands, make it across each year now (to the Canary Islands, the ex-colonial enclaves on Morocco’s northern coast and, very rarely, directly to the Spanish mainland coast), with many being returned to Morocco during the attempt. King Mohammad VI of Morocco formed bilateral agreements with Spain and the EU to control the migration routes, setting a pattern for an ambiguous rule which can be accurately described as both liberal and restrictive for migrants: liberal in that black Africans are tolerated, restrictive in that they are violently prevented from travelling any further North.[13]


Italy has similarly been returning or rejecting North Africans from its shores since at least 1998, to block the development of another ‘Back Way’, especially via Tunisia. As has been decried many times over, the deportations of Tunisians occur without the opportunity for claiming asylum[14] The Great Dam was erected in 2003–4, however, when Libya and Italy hashed out a deal for the returning of all migrants arriving from Libyan shores, sneaked under crocodile-tears for colonialism, encouraging the oil industry and fighting the people-smugglers.[15] (But here we get a glimpse of the mass perseverance of those who would reach and remain in Europe: in 2005, of 11,000 migrants held in deportation centres, though half were deported, the other half were either unofficially released or escaped).[16] 


Colonel Gaddafi was remarkably explicit about the diplomacy behind the policy. Just a year before his demise, he threatened the Italian government: ‘tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and might even be black, as there are millions who want to come in’. The millions he referred to were those who were already working in Libya, providing the backbone to the agricultural and service economy in a country where the regularised citizens experienced perhaps 30 percent unemployment, and relied a great deal on a plurality of state sector jobs for the redistribution of oil capital. Indeed, Libya was historically torn, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, between the necessity of African labour (and Gaddafi’s posturing as a Pan-African revolutionary) and the anti-African racism of its Arab citizenry (and his alternative self-styling as the last Pan-Arab visionary). Demonstrations by Libyans against the Colonel’s open approach to immigration were often the only mass expressions of dissent prior to the uprising in 2011, and this was a racism exacerbated during the revolution by the suspicion that any black Africans could be a mercenary in the pay of the regime.[17]


The racism and violence of Libya has become more than an accidental part of the ‘Back Way’. There is a fluid line of cruelty and abuse between the warehouses set up to imprison and punish the supposed mercenary counter-revolutionaries, and those made to contain the smuggler’s human cargo. In these unofficial prisons, West Africans are often sold between different smugglers, and often coerced into domestic, building construction and sexual labour as a means of ‘paying’ for their ticket. East Africans are more usually taken hostage and a ransom is demanded from their families so that they can continue not only the voyage, but also their lives. For the current purpose, this is important to recognise as part of the cruelty of forcing people to take land routes: it forces people them outr of their own communities and often into those that are actively hostile to them. The abuse and discrimination to which Syrian refugees have been subjected in Egypt and now in Turkey; and the enslavement of young West African men and women in Libya and Algeria; the racism meted out to Afghan families in Iran: these old and complicated histories of hatred and division are forced upon those who have, whatever their desires, plans or expectations, found themselves in Libya’s inter-continental, chaotic limbo.


The ‘Back Way’ is not only long and arduous, it implicitly drags people through lands in which they will be further persecuted. When those who have made the journey to Europe have told me that they would never advise their friends or family back home to repeat it, the sea-voyage is rarely the top of the list; indeed, more often than not, new arrivals are only thankful to Europe for having rescued them. It is the nightmare of Libya which sullens eyes and throws pauses into conversations. The worst stories are of the dreaded ‘Asma boys’, a large gang who kill and steal with particular ferocity against black Africans. One Libyan activist recalls:


As a person that has lived in Libya for some years, I know that with [Gaddafi’s] death, there will be confusion in the town especially for Nigerians. I remember how Nigerians were massacred when there was riot in 2001/2002 in Libya. Most of the ‘Asma’ boys in Libya have said time and again that the day Gaddafi would go would signal the end of existence of blacks in that country.[18]


When the racist European right plead for rescue missions in the Mediterranean to be stopped so as to dissuade people from leaving Libya, they should recall the web of racisms in which their own hatred is already involved, and how those they are tempting to discourage have often already faced down the most brutal and immediate kinds of racist violence. There is no doubt that even without the humanitarian rescue operations, black Africans would still choose the Back Way to Italy once faced with the terrifying reality of Libyan violence. After all, Tunisians (who must evade the coast guard or else be deported) continue to do so – , running ashore on the beaches of Favignana and Torre Salsa. And no doubt countless others drown en route, for whom the tears of their families are more visible than any trace of their journey at sea.


Through the above argument, I do not intend to claim that the reason for the mass drownings at sea are simply the result of segregation in means of transport. Far from it: what the above demonstrates is that these technological divisions are entirely bound to modern methods of ruling class struggle – the utilisation of oil prices in response to working class strength and interlocking histories of racism which divide the proletariat. Rubber boats are not simply a result of poverty and necessity. They are the latest chapter in the ‘Back Way’, the global proletariat’s decades-long struggle against their would-be rulers’ violent methods of enclosure.



2. Reclaiming the Means of Movement


The fall of Gaddafi’s government in October 2011 opened a new chapter in these letters of blood and fire. The ‘Back Way’ would be back on track. The subsequent events had already caused a flurry of discussions and accords in 2012–13 between the EU and the now-fallen interim government.[19] But with the reopening of the civil war in 2014, it became clear that no Libyan government was stable enough to enforce a deal, and different methods had to be developed to retake the means of movement.


The strategy which is being constantly worked on and scaled up is not about bringing in migrants to work, nor is it about definitively keeping people out. The aim of the strategy is to fulfil the state’s basic role in controlling the means of movement, a control which arriving masses had successfully wrestled off the ruling class. The tactics which comprise this strategy, like a trinity of infernal spheres marking the lives of those caught within them, are effected on three levels. The first sphere extends outside of Europe, raising up new borders and barriers to stop people leaving the countries of their birth, and clawing back escapees into the misery from which they had run. The second sphere within this spreads through Europe itself, manifesting in guards at the borders of and on the trains between EU states themselves. The third sphere is found at the ports and islands, in the new carcereal Hotspots. These spheres have the effect of forcing the fingerprinted identification of all new arrivals, closing internal EU borders to prevent internal migration of asylum-seekers, increasing the effectiveness of deportations, and supporting authoritarian regimes to maintain adequate and oppressed workforces.


These spheres are examined in turn below. But as an introduction to our astrological chart, we have to turn to the moment in which the masses seemed to have seized control of the means of movement in the second half of 2015.


The German government’s decision to effectively open the border with Austria for a month has been described by some as taken only after a summer of slow deliberation, and by others as a rash snap decision. Both interpretations involve an act of collective forgetting. Deep into the Syrian civil war, with refugees having been consistently stopped dead in the Mediterranean, the Merkel government had effectively spent over four years blocking the war’s fleeing masses from finding asylum. The mass-entrances up till then, particularly with the ‘discovery’ of the Balkan route in early 2015, had been effected in spite of the Dublin Agreement, which Germany upheld and Greece attempted to flout through waiving people on towards the industrial and more prosperous north.[20] When taking into account the extraordinary timing of the border crisis and the existential threat posed to the EU by the potential exit of Greece from the union, it is not surprising that the German state was so vehemently unwilling to admit that the means of movement had effectively been usurped.[21] It reneged on the Dublin Agreement only one moment before hundreds of thousands of Syrians would amass on the doorstep of Austria; that is, only one moment before the cameras would have had pictures of German police engaging in a truly mass deportation program (again). The German state had played the situation so harshly that this option inched towards reality.


Rather than discuss the validity of the economic reasons German capital may have finally contemplated in relation to a mass immigration, we should examine Germany’s consistent anti-migrant stance in previous years, and its reprisal of this role since the beginning of 2016. One reason that the Merkel’s faction probably did, eventually, decide to give in and aid the war- refugees on Germany’s threshold was in order to steal the thunder from any political opposition. It is for this reason that the only political challenge to her refugee policy has come from within the ruling CDU party itself (specifically its right-wing Bavarian faction) and the Alternative für Deutschland, the new but still weak electoral expression of the German far-right.[22] If these two political tendencies immediately became relevant, it is really only because the CDU had already neutralised other potential opposition through a powerful and convincing performance.


But as the sun rises on the brief moment of passion shown by the German saviour, we find only betrayal and boding, and we can glimpse the chalky faces and grim falsity of the state’s rhetoric, ‘the grandiose alibis to their pitiful floundering.’ [23]


First Sphere. ‘Tackling the root causes’


Merkel’s recent liberal boon has been a reluctance to place caps on the number of refugees being able to claim asylum in Germany. This, however, seems less generous once the rise in deportations is taken into account with a quota now set at 27,000 for this year.[24] Secondly, while Germany’s generous offer extended to Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans above all, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and some regions of Afghanistan are being effectively declared 'safe' for repatriation, making asylum applications by their citizens essentially impossible, with a consequent significant drop in arrivals.[25] Family rejoining is being blocked, asylum seekers with serious health problems are being deported, border police are carrying out raids without warning in order to expedite deportations... The German state is nearing the restrictive and repressive capacities of its British Kamerad.


More than the logic of deportations, however, the most effective method by which the German state has resecured its borders has been to externalise this activity to the cruelty and fences of Idomeni, the Greek-Macedonian border. The spectacular scenes of children being tear-gassed and tent-cities evicted has been helpfully displaced to failed Greece rather than stable Germany. And as the EU’s economic and political leader, the German state is now projecting this process onto Europe as a whole. The great solution to the wave of Syrians, Afghans and others crossing the Aegean was of course the costly deal with Turkey, by which the Erdoğan regime has been given billions in order to police the coasts. At the same time, while Greece had already been repatriating people based on their nationality alone (namely Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, whose potential asylum claims were simply ignored), the authorities under EU pressure also began deporting Syrians and Afghans who did not claim asylum, the nationalities who are more usually guaranteed asylum in western Europe. These deportations have taken place on the premise that Turkey is, again, a ‘secure third country.’


The practice of immediately returning refugees (‘refoulment’, as it is known in international law) is far from new. The Turkey deal is not even the worst example of it – that prize would go to the policy towards Tunisians, who have been consistently deported from Italy to Tunisia since the uprising in 2011, without any chance to claim asylum. The claim was also used in 2009 in relation to Libya in order to effect similar repatriations from Italy.[26] Indeed, the expulsions from the coasts of Italy cast the UN Refugee Convention not so much as an international treaty but vague notes from a 1950s dream diary.


This nightmare of ‘refoulment’ and the externalisation of borders is now also being cast down on Africans of various nationalities, under the guise of ‘tackling the root causes’ of migration.[27] The main sovereign body enacting the EUs general project is, in this instance, not Germany but Italy, via the project of a ‘Migrant Compact 2.0’. [28] The tactic entails holding African states to ransom by threatening to remove their ‘development’ funding if their borders are not taken under control, or if they do not accept deported citizens. Thus the EU has promised the Sudanese dictatorship training for its border police, the construction of new detention centres and, of course, large cash prizes. A recent agreement has even seen group deportations from Ventimiglia directly to the Sudan. Throughout the first two weeks of August, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs toured Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Sudan to firm up the new migration deals, while Merkel toured Mali, Niger and Ethiopia in October, all important states for the transit of migrants from other countries. The tour included the promise of military vehicles to aid the Niger government in halting people trafficking, and a German military base connected with the UN’s mission in Mali. Frauke Petry, the German far-right leader, might have talked about shooting migrants on the German border; the German state is quite literally sending in the troops.


The situation of the EU’s relation with the Gambia is both particular and instructive. Gambia, a country of only 2 million people, has been ruled by a dictator, Yahya Jammeh, for 22 years, ever since a bloodless coup which overthrew the independence leader, Douwa Jawara. Inspired largely by Colonel Gaddafi’s ‘revolution’, Jammeh maintained strong links with the Libyan government until 2011, when he condemned their violent reaction again the uprising. This was an irony which was not lost on Gambia’s own opposition activists, who are routinely arrested and beaten. In a foiled attempt to foment a similar revolt in the small West African state, three men were sentenced to life imprisonment, one of whom died in prison.[29] More recently, in May this year, Jammeh’s regime put down street protests against repressive electoral measures, resulting in the arrests and murder of several opposition leaders. The state maintains a monopoly on trade, buying up goods from producers and selling to the markets. For many who want to survive above the poverty rates thus imposed by the government, the options are either to engage in black market trade and illegal exporting to Senegal (which can lead to torture and blackmail if caught), or escape to more prosperous countries. Despite appeals, the EU makes no statements relating to the oppression of the Gambian regime. Instead, a deal has been struck to allow the deportation within 48 hours of Gambians identified by their own police in Italy (a plan yet to come to fruition).[30] Vehicles and computer equipment have been promised to the Jammeh regime in order to patrol the borders, and border agents sent to Rome for training.[31] Fortress Europe is not only a European project: it is that of an international ruling class, to keep the poor both out and in.


Second Sphere. The enemy within.


The spheres close in. If the first tactic has developed through pushing the most violent and coercive border activities to beyond plain sight, the second sphere passes across our European horizons: the policing of the internal borders. Again, it ought be emphasised how the strategy of the past years’ changes have not been aimed at simply blocking entrance to Europe, but retaking control of movement in general, including within Europe itself.


The difficulty in closing Europe’s internal borders, of course, has been the supposed free-flow of movement within the Schengen zone. The problems of maintaining the free movement of peoples necessary to the image of a functioning European union, and its trade priorities, while nonetheless closing the borders to the passage of non-Europeans between member states has been resolved through the most primitive of identification procedures: skin colour.[32] When ‘migrants’ have been identified on the main land routes cutting across EU member states and had their papers checked, the only way this has been achieved is through first controlling the non-white passengers. In other words, the European tourist (and also often the Syrian refugee) is passed over, while the Eritrean teenager must hide under the seats. Even further than this, within Germany the movement of asylum seekers is restricted according to the postal zones in which they are lodged, establishing a kind of authoritarian use of internal documents which again, of course, will only be checked based on an initial assessment of skin colour. This creates an uneasy meeting between the newfangled, sophisticated methods of identification – mass fingerprinting, mass recording of facial recognition data for the EURODAC database – and the most retrogressive modes of ‘reading off the body’.


The segregation-style border controls have had the consequences of trapping people in new tent-cities of extreme poverty, suspended in an intense admixture of desperate attempts to cross and measureless waiting. At the time of writing, tens of thousands of proletarian Africans and Asians find themselves stranded across Europe at the points between countries of transit and their destinations. At Como, the Brenner Pass, Ventimiglia, at Calais, Dunkirk, Idomeni.[33] At the same time, the internal borders are continually being shown to be permeable, and the administration of the refugee system reliant on an apparently unachievable level of bureaucracy, especially in states whose infrastructure has been depleted following austerity programmes. East Africans have continually gone on hunger strike in Lampedusa against the forced taking of finger prints; occasionally but nonetheless continually, boats arrive independently of the coast guards, evading surveillance; the fences of the Hotspots have been breached before fingerprints have been taken, the beaches of Ventimiglia swum, the mountain pass of Brenner crossed. Young Africans – teenagers, sometimes even children of 8 or 9 years old – are making their own way autonomously across the continent either to reach families and friends, and to make their asylum claims in Northern states which hold greater prospects for all their citizens, by birth or otherwise, than their Southern cousins. Control over the internal borders is certainly incomplete.


These very physical barriers have caused the amassing of non-EU citizens in Italy and Greece. Of just under 60,000 new arrivals trapped in Greece, only 13,000 have made asylum requests, of whom around 600 have received responses. Of these, 500 have been rejected.[34] For many, the prospects of industrialised Germany and financialised Britain would make asylum in Greece a disastrous compromise. In Italy, a system of hostels and holding centres which accommodate the more than 100,000 asylum seekers has reached its breaking point, with every centre over-full and protests against the lack of legal and material support now a normal occurrence.[35]


To deal with this predictable situation, the month-long amnesty provided by the German state was replaced by the proposal for a cross-EU relocation program. This programme was based on a contradictory premise: in order to enter the scheme, refugees would first need to enter Europe by the ‘Back Ways’, and then could be relocated from Greece and Italy (marking the programme out as significantly different from previous post-war large scale refugee programmes such as those in Biafra and Indochina). Furthermore, the numbers of refugees which member states promised to accept were extremely low, in the end only adding to the right-wing panic about the effect of refugees on European society. And despite the extraordinarily low expectations which EU set for its relocation programme, it has failed in the extreme. The relocation system has currently effected only a few thousand transferrals across Europe.[36] It is here that, as well as regaining its monopoly on the legitimate means of movement, the collective will of the European bourgeoisie has decreed there will be as little movement as possible.


Third Sphere. The Hotspot approach


The final sphere: the prison. Months before the momentary opening of the German border, in May 2015 the European Commission had already agreed on the establishment of a ‘hotspot approach’ to the border crisis, a plan which may have been projected much earlier.[37] From September onwards, a group of sites in Greece and Italy have been identified as ‘hotspots’, making them destinations for agents from Frontex, Europol and other European police organisations, who oversee the fingerprinting of all new arrivals from rescue operations. This marks a significant shift from previous years when fingerprints were taken at migrant hostels and camps sometime after arrival, meaning that the operation was easy to avoid for those who wanted to make their way to other EU countries to claim asylum; indeed, groups of Eritreans were dumped on the side of Sicilian roads and Syrians and Afghans waived through to Athens for the connections onwards. With forced fingerprinting, however, this has all ended, as – in accordance with the still ratified Dublin Agreement – the country in which an asylum seeker enters (known through the taking of fingerprints) is the one in which they must make an asylum claim.[38]


These varying interpretations of the ‘Hotspot’ approach partly derive from the conflicting priorities of individual member states in protecting their borders and means of movement, as well as from the the conflicting priorities of the EU as a whole. These contradictions are pushing themselves into the foreground with the proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard that would finally fulfil the kind of militarised border control operations which, till now, Frontex officials have only idly doodled on their iPads. What kind of legal authority can be invoked by a European police force working across member states? The latest negotiations for the agency agreed that ‘National authorities would still manage their borders day to day, but could seek help from the new agency in a crisis.’[39] As with the Hotspot ‘solution’ of the past year, the only response is to appeal to crisis management and states of exception.[40] Indeed, so long as these contradictions in the EU continue, its border agencies must necessarily follow suit.


The term ‘Hotspot’ itself remains both lexically and legally vague enough to allow European involvement while still deflecting any legal responsibility onto the host country. The word very probably derives less from wifi access in coffee shops and more from the works of the well-known criminologist Lawrence Sherman.[41] In 1989, Sherman showed that information from police databases could be used to establish periodic presences in particular areas in a city in order to deter increased criminal activity on the site – a crime ‘hot spot’ – as opposed to simply responding to reports of crime as they came in. Fundamentally, Sherman’s method attempted to use extant police data to handle a resource management problem. Sherman’s research was to become extremely influential over the next decade in the creation of the infamous ‘zero tolerance’ policing in New York, which included the essentially racially targeted ‘stop and frisk’ practice, with full-force patrols deployed on-site once the ‘hotspot’ had been identified.[42] It is hard to imagine that these associations, although they have evaded the attention of specialists in human rights law, have been anything but obvious to Frontex’s own researchers.[43]


The policing background to the term explains its oscillation between a description of points of merely ‘irregular’ entrance into the EU by non-EU citizens, and the targeting of criminal smuggling operations. For example, in one of the early documents from May 2015, Hotspots are defined both as dealing with ‘unexpected migratory pressure’ and ‘locations that are particularly affected by the refugee crisis’. But when Europol proposed the European Migrant Smuggling Centre in November 2015, the focus was stated to be on ‘geographical criminal hotspots’; at its launch a few months later it was described as focussing ‘on areas with high levels of criminal activity.’[44] The language of the Hotspots has thus gradually revealed its original drive: not merely to identify points of entry, but of criminal activity. The potential contradictions in this approach are revealed by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration, when after waxing lyrical about migrants as ‘victims’, ended his speech by saying forcefully: ‘We tried to build a wall against all the criminals.’[45] His architectural metaphor does not include doors.


The main result of the Hotspots’ criminal investigations in Italy has been the identification, arrest and imprisonment of the young West African men who are forced by armed Libyan traffickers to drive the boats. The boat drivers, as starved and traumatised as other sea-crossers, on landing are then detained for months or years in Italian prisons.[46] Thus in the end, in drawing on American police science, the police at Europe’s maritime borders have also replicated its effects: interrogating, arresting and incarcerating young black men. The persecution of the black enslaved and trafficked continues down the generations, on all sides of the ocean.


A landing in Palermo (Image: Richard B)


3. Breaking Asylum


The sea that calls all things unto it calls me, and I must embark. For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallise and be bound in a mould.

– Khalil Gibran, The Prophet. (1923)


What has been the result of all these rules and regulations, mashed together in continual attempts to systematise and ‘rethink’ migration? Is this a movement of Africans and Asians simply ‘bound in a mould’ of European understandings of the refugee and asylum? Or is this a proletariat which is shaping, even breaking such thought and praxis?


To answer these questions, above I have given an account of the historical specificity of the current moment. The apparent moment of border opening and acceptance at the end of 2015 was really only a blip in an otherwise continuous development of twenty-first century repressive techniques of combating the struggle to enter Europe, one which continues a decades long history of erecting technological and legal barriers in confrontation with mass transportation. The question remains however of what is different about the current border crisis from previous ones.


The twentieth-century refugee system was never meant to deal with people taking flights from one side of the world to the other of their own accord in order to escape war zones, dictatorship and dispossession. It was not meant to deal with the inexorable connection between capitalism (including its most dire consequences), work and mobility. We can look to two axes in the history of asylum law. Between the world wars, the internationalisation of passports helped along by the League of Nations, including the issuing of ‘Nansen’ passports to the stateless, was based on the idea that everyone had a national group into which they could be placed, with appropriate documentation.[47] Refugees were meant, therefore, to be identifiable due to their flight because of persecution as an ethnicity, their nation being at war and in exceptional cases, the lack of a homeland. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the great refugee movement was again of white Europeans within Europe who were left physically homeless (many from the USSR), and who were give transport to white countries throughout the world: Canada, Australia, the United States. The second axis is the 1951 Generva convention on refugees, for whereas the Nansen system recognised that everyone has a nation, but some national groups do not have states, the Geneva convention repealed this recognition of collectivity, instead emphasising the well-known necessity for having a personal, individual reason for flight. In keeping with the logic of human rights – rather than self-determination – the problem recognised was not a limitation on the social life of the collective but the life of the individual.[48]


This distancing from the collective has been partly mitigated since through the awarding of various kinds of ‘B-level’ humanitarian statuses from the 1960s onwards, forms of asylum which recognise a kind of collectivity based on failed or failing states, civil wars.[49] A collectivity of bloodshed, rather than of blood. Yet the basis of the asylum system today remains the recognition only of the individual and the problems which she describes to the state from whom she asks protection.


This attitude has far-reaching consequences not only forms of recognition, but also forms of resistance, as I explore below. It also helps explain why today’s border crisis has found no quick solutions. The asylum system as it stands has faced innumerable challenges when the masses fleeing a global industry of war and bloodshed have left their countries and entered another, whether Angolans escaping Portuguese massacres in the 1960s or Salvadorians abandoning the military junta in the 1980s. In these examples, as in so many others, people claimed asylum in neighbouring countries, often housed for years, even decades, in tent-structures provided by the UN. In contrast to this, the Back Ways have presented the first moment of mass entrance into Europe, where the failings of those entirely temporary and inadequate responses can be witnessed by the society which made the rules and funded the tents.


Even in the early 1990s when the Schengen accord was formed along with much of EU-wide migration policy, the discussions focussed on Eastern Europeans who had moved to Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the years moved on, however, more and more countries gained access to the EU, thus regularising previously irregular/illegal migrants. The unprecedented aspect of the post-Arab Spring border crisis, has been the mass entrance of document-less African and Asian proletarians in a period in which white European workers have almost all been legalised.[50] This is, in part, what has brought the racialised aspect of the current border crisis to the fore in such a startling manner. What we face now is significantly different from post-War crises. This is not about war-refugees in Europe being settled in former colonies, or those in former colonies being shunted into other ones. The movement from Syria has been dominated by war refugees moving despite (indeed, because of) the lack of any serious organised programme of support; simultaneously, a racialised border system has been bolstered to block the formation of particular diaspora communities in Europe, namely African, South Asian and North African ones.[51]


The movement into Europe despite this attempted blockade, this gradual and material challenging of the legal technologies established to manage Africans and Asians, is also a movement by a working class. The proletarian nature of this mass has been often overlooked due to the tussle between other terms of naming: the refugee and the migrant. For good reasons, this division – between the willing and the compelled – has been challenged by both liberals and anti-capitalists eager to assert the legitimate claim to protection of all those who arrive, thus describing everyone as a ‘refugee.’ Equally, there have also been arguments that the term ‘migrant’ ought be used irrespective of motivations, again for the sake of claiming the status of protection for all, without the need for justification. This division of terminology betrays, however, two fundamental aspects of capitalism to which we ought be better attuned:


1) The search for paid (usually waged) employment is the prerequisite of survival for the vast majority of human beings. Migrants are almost always ‘economic migrants’ in the sense that, for instance, one destructive aspect of war is the blockage to the daily economy, and the consequent inability to earn. Simultaneously, fleeing one’s country entails abandoning a site of work (whether field, factory or home), and the consequent need to locate to another.


2) The second is the militarised methods and persecutory effects of the process of capital accumulation. Migrants are almost always ‘refugees’ in the sense that those who leave their homes for elsewhere most likely do so due to the state-backed forces of dispossession by which industrialists force artisans out of their workshops, farmers off their land and workers from one city to the next.[52] The ‘economic refugee’ as a term may have gone out of fashion, but the claim to international protection via recourse to economic instability has even recently been recognised by a (very) few Italian judges.


That is, the basic situation of a capitalist world entails that people, regardless of their nation, must in general search for work on the one hand, and are plagued by violent and repressive state-sanctioned politics to force them out of subsistence and into the labour market on the other. From landgrabs by Jammeh in The Gambia, to the Oromo protests in Ethiopia, from the ISIS invasion or Raqqa to Sudan’s Unregistered Land Act,[53] the peasant is being dispossessed. And on the other side there stands the rapid creation of labour forces: the rise of free trade zones and factories in Nigeria and Turkey, the continual bombing and reconstruction in Libya. And alongside these forms of exploiting the newly landless, there are the modes of state control more generally, of taxation and monopoly.[54] That is, the reasons behind economic migration can be just as rich and descriptive of capital’s worst aspects as anything provided by a war reporter, even if sensational. And the result as always is the formation of a proletariat.


It is exactly the processes of dispossession which stand out as the shared experience of so many people from so many different states who are making use of the rubber boats. Here the question has to take a turn, has to turn back on itself to look at the people, the subjects at the centre of this all. Away with the fences and police science, all these barbs and mangles. The proletariat is asserting itself as a dispossessed mass on leaving their homelands, and as a worker on route and entering – simply because the solution to the variegated problems we all face on this planet is perceived as, or truly is, the wage. A ‘wage’ is not just a bargaining tool within the labour activist’s shed, but represents often the only ready or imagined solution to the problems imposed by capital, exploitation, dispossession etc – as paradoxical as that remains.


If this is the case, that this is literally a workers’ movement, why does it not express itself as such? For the simple reason that the worker identity of the new masses of the Back Ways is constantly, deafeningly undermined by the generalised necessity to lie and dissemble, to present oneself as something else. For in order to gain access to documents under the asylum regime as it stands, the worker must present themselves as anything but. Age, religion, sexuality and even nationality is betrayed and dissimulated. In this respect, the document process itself is restricting, and runs against the very freedoms of expression it professes to protect. The rules imposed upon the entering masses mean that the working class must profess to have abolished its desire to work in order to gain the mobility and legality to labour. The proletarianised masses are arriving at the ports desperate to work, to earn, for the paradise of the wage: our response is that they must stay quiet, must complain only of war, and never say too loudly that they wish to survive here as well. Some kind of identification of the working class is present even prior to the obtaining of a wage, but it denies itself so that the wage can be received with the blessing of the law.


In this essay, Syria is treated not so much as the emblem of 21st century border crises, but the exception. The Syrian war has forced rich and poor alike to flee their homes, or the places where their homes once were, often clutching their passports in the new prisons which await them in an economically-bombed out Greece. But in another way the Syrian refugee flow is just as representative of the crisis of identity more generally, inasmuch as the number of Syrians entering Europe from Turkey might be greatly exaggerated.[55] While the UNHCR statistics for Syrians entering via Greece are high, many of those passing through as Syrians are from other Arab speaking countries: a Moroccan friend has told to me of how many of his countrymen have managed to pass through in this way (even if their claims might not be successful in the end). I have spoken with a sympathetic border control worker who admitted to systematically passing off Pakistanis as Afghans en masse in order to help their applications. ‘Back Ways’ are not only geographical; they are methods (‘hacks’, perhaps) of circumventing legal barriers.


Eritrea provides another case in point. In 2011, just over 600 Eritreans were recorded crossing the Med. At the point of writing, in October 2016, the figure already stands at over 8,000 for this year alone.[56] One of the country’s few resistance movements, Freedom Friday, scrawls the words ‘Where is your brother?’ on the walls in Tigrin, indicating the high numbers of emigrants and the disappeared in the small dictatorship.[57] Yet the vast numbers of Eritreans arriving may also be due to the whims of international politics: many of the self-claimed Eritreans are without doubt from Ethiopia.[58] Ethiopians certainly have their own problems, notably in facing land dispossession: several hundred Ethiopians have been killed in the past months during the election period. Yet the secrecy and authoritarianism of Eritrea have made applications for asylum by Eritreans – and those successfully claiming to be such – almost guaranteed (for now).


There are Gambians who claim to be from the rebel-held Senegal (Casamance); Senegalese who claim to be from Jammeh’s dictatorship. Tunisians who claim they are from Egypt, Malians from Ivory Coast, Ghanaians from Nigeria, Muslims to be Christians, Christians Muslims, gay straight and straight gay. The schemes and nuances of the European asylum system thus have had a concrete effect not only how and why people can enter, but is transforming communities themselves; undoubtedly the pretence of being Syrian will have repercussions for a whole generation of Arab speakers now in Europe. It is altering identity and subjectivity – how we name ourselves, how we think about ourselves, and act out that thought, how we construct an ‘ourselves’ in the first place.


Stories circulate among new arrivals, narratives whose structures are often first whispered in the holding barracks of Tripoli: which African countries are currently in favour, how long applications take in which European countries; what age one should admit, and how to prove it; how to pretend to be a Christian, or to be gay; who in your family is alive, and who dead. These little mass myths, this collective proletarian script-writing represent a method of resistance, a form of sabotage within the European asylum system. Perhaps ‘sabotage’ seems to strong a word – but we ought remember that the consequences of failure to insert oneself within these codes is exclusion from all structures of the state, no legal recognition and physical hyper-exploitation.


In the face of the deathly catastrophes of the past decades of migration into Europe, it is by now commonplace to lament the demise of human rights, to the extent that the left has been faced with the options of either proclaiming the end of the system, drowned as it is in the quagmire of a ‘humanitarian regime’ or, more frequently, to reassert the absolute necessity of defending the very fundamentals of the system as the only conceptual discourse available.[59] Both of the options run the risk, however, of prioritising concepts over material struggle, and making recourse either to or against a juridical framework rather than recognising how it is the material struggle itself which, fundamentally, has broken and made a farce of the conceptual framework established to manage it. This is not to find romance and resistance in the horrors of flight and poverty. It is simply to recognise that the powerful consequences of the movement of these millions of Africans and Asians, over decades, has had not only an effect on their own material future, but on the ideas and practice of us all. When pundits comment and judges lament that the ‘asylum system is broken’ they make a grammatical error which does a disservice to their education. The asylum system has been broken.


This is not to argue that asylum is a useless or unhelpful concept. Its history is too rich to be so easily dismissed.[60] But the why and how and by whom it has been broken, instead of just whether this is a good move, must be given equal importance. It has been broken by an international proleriat who must break it in order to surpass its utilisation as a method of border control, who have to deny and refashion their whole self-presentation and identify in order to move and work freely in Europe, and to gain the documents necessary to freely return home at their choosing.


In deference to these spheres and technological barriers, we nominate everyone making the deadly crossing as ‘asylum seeker’, ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’, too often as the expense of other names. But, as should be clear from the first section, people do not necessarily take boats because they are refugees; they necessarily claim asylum because they are forced to take the boats. We ought not follow the border police as they run down the roads of a perverted logic which leads to simplistic divisions and imposed subjectivities for the sake of appeasing a racist ideology. A global working class has already moved the signposts along the way, and snuck round the back. We must think again about how to assist those moving into Europe in the ways which they themselves want, and which recognise a myriad of desires and identities: to allow workers to work, refugees to recover, and for humans to flourish and be free.


That is, a young Gambian man who has fled the widespread political oppression meted out by that dictatorship, and wishes to organise for the downfall of the dictator, requires a different form of solidarity from, say, a Nigerian woman who is caught in a trap of indentured sex-work, and wishes to free herself; and she in turn should be met with a different kind of support from that offered to a middle-aged Ghanian man who has borrowed enough money to be smuggled to Europe and now wishes to work to send money home to buy some land in the former Gold Coast and literally dig for gold with a shovel and pick. The common element between these different subjects is nothing other than their place in a global regime of documents which serves the rich and excludes the poor. That they then find themselves pushed into the same gruesome means of transport is the result of distinct histories forced to converge through the chinks in Europe’s armour on Africa’s north coast and the islands of the Aegean sea. Their position as economic migrant or political refugee, while of seeming relevance across the political spectrum, has the unintended but crucial effect of voiding both their common identity as workers and the most salient and heartfelt differences between the passengers.


In Fula, one of the many languages of West Africa, which proliferates in dialects and variations which cross the state boundaries imposed by European powers, the closest word to migrant is ‘koɗo’, or ‘hoɓɓe’ in the plural form. Much like the French ‘etranger’, the word brings together both ‘stranger’ and ‘foreigner’, simply someone who is unknown. Those fleeing the war in Sierra Leone who stayed in Gambia in the 1990s were such ‘koɗo’. But the word also encompasses the idea of a ‘guest’, such as the ‘koɗo’ who is housed in a mosque as a student. Here is but one example. There are many others: guest, wanderer, traveller, worker, boat rider, draft dodger, runaway, escapee, the excarcerated, Biafrans, Baye Faalians, gate jumpers, wall climbers, ex-slaves, the refouled, Libyan labourers, scafisti, the bombed out and the thrown out. For those who would offer a hand across the waters and through the air, our language ought not be limited to the terms concocted by regimes of international law. Our experience is richer than the tussle between a few limited terms forged in other wars and places, terms which have been outrun by those escaping the misery those histories have imposed upon them. But of all these terms, the struggle is not to create new subjects made distinct by their experiences in a net of racism and imperialism, but to end that struggle itself, to abandon the rubber boats by the shoreside and for the workers of the world to simply ascend the boarding steps of a jet, and fly away.


Richard Braude lives and writes in Palermo



* An essay which would have been impossible without Batch, Elsa, Kamal and other workers of the world.




[1] An innovative campaign against these measures is being pushed by:

[2] Erika Feller, ‘Carrier Sanctions and International Law’, 1989; O'Sullivan, ‘The Intersection Between the International, The Regional and the Domestic: Seeking Asylum in the UK’, 2009. This was arguably only continuing a policy of rejecting refugees adopted in the UK from the Thatcher government onwards, resettlement of Vietnamese refugees being the last of such programmes. See Kushner and Knox, Refugees in an Age of Genocide, 1999, p. 335.

[3] An early proposal for ship-owners posting bonds for security that their passengers would not rely on state charity upon arrival can be found in the USA of the 1830s. John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport, 2000, pp. 94–5.

[4] Jeff Crisp, A Troubling Tradition of Excluding Refugees. On the Vietnam program, see W. Courtland Robinson, The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees, 2004. Vietnamese refugees – the original ‘boat people’ – were also barred from air travel, but long distance air travel was simply not an option in the 1970s.

[5] Fuel was certainly not running out, but the alliance of oil producing states was used to combat the wages the global working class were winning in the great revolutionary wave. See George Caffentzis, The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse.

[6] Rigas Doganis, Flying Off Course: The Economics of International Airlines, pp. 12–13.

[7] An example, again from the UK: ‘CCTV images are used to match a picture of a passenger coming from a gate to a passenger who is found  in the airport without proper documents. If the undocumented passenger can be traced back with CCTV to a gate at which a certain flight arrived at a certain time, the airline can be charged.’ Sophie Scholten, The Privatisation of Immigration Control through Carrier Sanctions, 2015, p. 143. For the above also see Tilman Rodenhäuser, Carrier Sanctions and the Privatization of Immigration Control, 2014, p. 223–8.

[8] Erika Feller, ‘Carrier Sanctions and International Law’, 1989, p. 56.

[9] Paolo Cuttita, ‘Territorial and Non-territorial: the Mobile Borders of Migration Controls’, 2015.

[10] Badinunka, Koma Silo, 2015.

[11] Anna Triandafyllidou, Irregular Migration in Europe: Myths and Realities, pp. 9–13.

[12 ‘My Back Way Story’, Whats On Gambia, April 2014 (account from 1999). i.e., hell (Hausa).

[14] See Nick Dines, ‘Thinking Lampedusa: border construction, the spectacle of bare life and the productivity of migrants’, 2014, p. 433.

[15] On blaming people smugglers, we might do well to remember that ‘The merchant is the bailiff of the whole system and takes the hatred of others upon himself. The responsibility of the circulation sector for exploitation is a socially necessary pretence.’ Adorno and Horkheimer, Elements of Antisemitism.

[16] See Rutvica Andrijasevic, Lampedusa in Focus: Migrants Caught between the Libyan Desert and the Deep Sea, 2006, p. 121.

[17] Andrei Netto, Bringing Down Gaddafi, pp. 14–15 and 78. Daniel Kawczynski, Seeking Gaddafi: Libya, the West and the Arab Spring; Caffentzis, Rambo on the Barbary Shore.

[19] This included an agreement between Italy and the interim Libyan government in 2012, and an EU border mission in Libya in May 2013, which was abandoned four months later. Agreements were signed between El-Keib and Mario Monti, which were effectively torn up following the outbreak of the second civil war in 2014.

[20] The Dublin Agreement is the intra-European accord by which those claiming asylum must make their claim in the state in which they enter, i.e. according to the agreement, someone cannot enter Italy and then claim in Norway. The only means of enforcement of this accord is via the identification (through photographs and fingerprints) of those entering. If someone can evade identification on entrance, then they can make their way to another state and claim asylum there, under the spurious argument that they were trafficked directly to that state without knowledge of having entered Europe via another.

[21] See John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport, 2000, p. 26.

[22] Judith Meyer, ‘The Refugee Crisis: What is Germany's Game?’, September 2015. It is worth noting that the AfD was even smaller at the time of this decision than they are now; i.e. they did not pose a real electoral threat. Also see Stefan Kuzmany, Merkels Wende Die Umfallerin’, Spiegel March 2016.

[23] Césaire, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, translated by CLR James.

[24] ‘Der Abschiebe-Skandal!‘, Das Bild May 2016. Less than 3 percent of the ‘one million’ refugees taken in over 2015 might seem like a surprisingly low figure. However, it is unclear how many of those who entered Germany intended to, or will, remain.

[26] The argument was later defeated in court: ‘Humanitarianism and migration in the Mediterranean borderscape’, 2015. Note 2.

[28] Barbara Spinelli, ‘Something Rotten in the Migration Compact 2.0 of Matteo Renzi?‘, Open Democracy, June 2016.

[29] Amadou Scattred Janneh, Standing Up Against Injustice: A Memoir, Xlibris 2013. Their crimes were distributing t-shirts and attempting to establish a radio station.

[30] Corallina Lopez Curzi, ‘The Externalisation of European Borders: Steps and Consequences of a Dangerous Process’, Open Migration, July 2016; Alexandra Embiricos, ‘The back way to Europe: Gambia's Forgotten Refugees‘, Open Democracy, May 2016.

[32] John Torpey already noted in 1998 the tendency for the Schengen zone to create a policing situation based on skin hue: The Invention of the Passport, 2000, p. 154. On the economic effects of these internal border controls, see Europe’s Border Checks Become Economic Choke Points, New York Times, March 2016.

[33] The alternative route from Greece to Bulgaria takes German-bound asylum seekers through neo-fascist Hungary, and thus has largely not been used.

[34] ‘Over 13,000 Migrants Have Applied For Asylum‘, Ekathimerini, July 2016; ‘Migrants on Mainland Greece Pre-Registered‘, Ekathimerini, August 2016.

[35] For example, see my report from Castelvetrano: ‘A Barricade in Limbo’, Red Pepper, January 2016; and more recently Alberto Biondo, ‘Mincemeat’, Borderline Sicilia, October 2016. The overcrowding of the hostel network might also explain the various methods of disposing of excess asylum seekers, whether the abandonment of the presumed ‘boat drivers’ as mentioned above – or the practice earlier this year (eventually defeated) of handing out of ‘deferred rejection notices’, driving out of town and dumping people on the side of the road.

[36] UNHCR weekly report, August 9, 2016.

[37] Note that this was part of the ‘2013-17’ policy cycle; another earlier move was the JOT Mare team launched in March 2015, and seems to have been superceded by the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC), because it was Mediterranean specific.

[38] The Hotspot model was trialled in Italy, and then established in Greece. The infrastructural changes have only comprised a heightened presence of European border police agencies at landings and the conversion of migrant hostels at the ports into restricted access identification centres, overcrowded and understaffed. Lucia Borghi, ‘So Many Arrivals, So Little Protection’, Borderline Sicily, July 2016. Also see my own ‘Dublin is Over‘, Open Democracy, October 2015.

[40] Federico Casolari, ‘The EU’s Hotspot Approach To Managing The Migration Crisis: A Blind Spot For International Responsibility?’, The Italian Yearbook of International Law, n. 25, 2015, pp. 9–10.

[41] Lawrence W. Sherman, P. R. Gartin, and M. E. Buerger, ‘Hot Spots Of Predatory Crime: Routine Activities And The Criminology Of Place’. Criminology, 1989, n. 27, pp. 27–56.

[42] Franklin Zimring, The City That Became Safe, 2011.

[43] In 2003 the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime extended the use of the term ‘hotspots’ to encourage the use of police databases in combating global human trafficking, a use which has become increasingly common. Kristiina Kangaspunta, ‘Mapping the inhuman trade: Preliminary findings of the database on trafficking in human beings’, 2003. p. 84; Lincoln J Fry, ‘The Use of Hotspots in the Identification of the Factors that Predict Human Trafficking’, 2008. Note however the entire incompetency of the Hotspots as they exist now for making any interventions on behalf of the victims of human trafficking.

[46] See the upcoming Oxfam report, Presunti scafisti: le vittime invisibili del traffico di esseri umani. For an illustration of the landings, see my report, ‘Fool's Gold: A Night-Time Landing in Palermo’, Borderline Sicily, September 2016. In Greece, those arrested are usually young Turkish men who are promised large sums by the entrepreneurs on return; when caught, they face swift trial and extremely long prison sentences.

[47] John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport, 2000, pp. 124–31.

[48] The ceding of a form of collectivity – that of nation and self-determination – to a form of individualism does not, of course, redeem it of the horror of repressive homogeneity.

[49] Aristide Zolberg, Astri Suhrke and Sergio Aguoyo, Escaping from Violence: Conflicts and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World, Oxford 1989, p. 26.

[50] Anna Triandafyllidou, Irregular Migration in Europe: Myths and Realities, pp. 9–13. This is in no way to diminish the horrendous situation faced by many Rom across Europe.

[51] See Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, ‘Reframing Senegalese Youth and Clandestine Migration to a Utopian Europe’, 2014.

[52] For an excellent interpretation of such migration as itself a form of conscious resistance, see A. I. Asiwaju, ‘Migrations as Revolt: The Example of the Ivory Coast and the Upper Volta before 1945’, The Journal of African History, 1976, pp. 577–94.

[53] Sudan: Land grabbing and displacement, New African Magazine, May 2015.

[55] Patrick Kingsley, The New Odyssey, pp. 202–3.

[56] This figure may seem low in the context of the million people who crossed into Europe in 2015. For context: so far in 2016, around 320,000 people have crossed, around a half of whom entered before the near closure of the Aegean route. That is to say, the 8,000 people is representative of around 7 percent of arrivals since the EU-Turkey deal. Given the huge diversity of nationalities making the Central Mediterranean crossing, Eritreans thus represent the second largest group (after Nigerians): See the UNHRC data site.

[58] Mary Harper, ‘Has Eritrea's Migration Problem Been Exaggerated?’, BBC Africa, June 2016.

[59] Susan F. Martin, Forced Migration and the Evolving Humanitarian Regime, 2000.

[60] See Simon Behrman, ‘Freedom from Seizure’: Law and Asylum in Conflict, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London 2014.