This article deals with this ongoing spatial and political recrafting of the Mediterranean sea as a space of migration governmentality. It retraces the recent political and spatial transformations occurred with the starting of the military-humanitarian operation Mare Nostrum in the channel of Sicily and then the handover to the Triton operation coordinated by Frontex. The two specific angles from which it tackles this issue are the politics of and over life that is at stake in the government of migration at sea and the politics of visibility that underpins it. In the first section it analyses the politics and the scene of rescue that has been put into place with the start of Mare Nostrum, tacking stock of the re-articulation of military and humanitarian technologies for governing and containing migrant movements. Then, it discusses the recent transformations occurred with Triton operation and the effects on the level of political actions undertaken by activist migrant groups. The article moves on by taking into account the peculiar politics of visibility that is at stake in the government of migration in the Mediterranean.
Over the last two years, the spotlights on the central Mediterranean switched on and off according to a desultory rhythm. After years and years of migrants dying at sea and with the alternation of moments of high visibility and others in which the island of Lampedusa ‘disappeared’ ( Sossi 2005 ; Cuttitta 2012 ; Pezzani 2014 ), the two huge shipwrecks that happened on the 3rd and on the 11th of October 2013 near the island of Lampedusa, causing the death of 636 people in total, restaged the channel of Sicily and Lampedusa as objects of focus. Indeed, a few days later Italy launched Mare Nostrum, the ‘military-humanitarian operation,’ 1 for rescuing migrants in distress at sea: the Italian Navy was in charge 2 of monitoring and rescuing migrants in a sea-zone spanning from Italian waters up to the beginning of Libyan waters. Mare Nostrum officially ended in November 2014, but actually it was operative until the end of the year from which point Italy pushed the EU to take charge of the operation in the frame of a burden sharing logic; it was replaced by Triton, a EU operation coordinated by Frontex that, nevertheless, has been firmly criticized by activists, human rights groups and even by some politicians for being primarily an operation to intercept and block migrant vessels. 3 Indeed, the vessels that patrol as part of Triton should operate only up to 30 nautical miles from the European coasts. 4 And its principal activity consists in ensuring effective border control and not in rescuing migrants at sea. 5 However, the Italian Navy didn’t stop its patrolling activity in central Mediterranean, but it no longer operated within the framework of Mare Nostrum operation.
Actually, more than a restaging of the same ‘desultory visibility’ ( Tazzioli 2015b ), which was already in place, the two deadly shipwrecks have triggered major transformations in the mechanism of capturing migrants’ lives. The first one consisted in a spatial amplification of the stage of rescue. Indeed, from the epicenter of Lampedusa, the scene of rescue6 —staged by states, humanitarian agencies, migration agencies and journalists—immediately reached the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, including migrants’ points of departure (Libya) and the sea-space of transit between Libya and Sicily. The second one concerned salient re-assemblages in the politics of containment of migrant movements and in the intertwining between humanitarian and military interventions. Therefore, the space of governmentality —as a space of intervention—which has been crafted in the last two years in the central Mediterranean region, is the outcome of these two main displacements. Moreover, the re-crafting of the Mediterranean Sea as a space of governmentality has also been generated through the staging of what I call a humanitarian, real-time politics of visibility that does not merely show how mechanisms of rescue and capture operate, but rather contributes to the production of a border-stage —the Libya-Sicily sea-space as a space of rescue. Humanitarian real-time politics of visibility indicates the real-time gaze ( Walters 2014 ) that national authorities—the Coast Guard and the Navy—non-governmental actors, European agencies (Frontex) and media mobilize on the space of the sea to perform the good border spectacle ( De Genova 2013 ) that is the spectacle of migrant rescue.
Before moving on, some methodological clarifications are needed due to the changing political dynamics that are repeatedly underway characterizing the space of crossing that this article focuses on—the central Mediterranean as a migration space. While this article was being written a series of transformations—both at the level of institutional political responses and of migrant movements—have occurred, undermining the possibility to have a comprehensive analytical standpoint. Confronted with the frantic attempts by EU states to reassess the politics of migration management, in this article I date the descriptions I make of the ways in which practices of rescue and containment are simultaneously at stake. In this sense, the article could appear in part outdated to readers. Nevertheless, the goal here is not to make a chronology of the events but, starting from the specificity of events and the data gathered during the research fieldwork, to propose an analysis about the border displacements that occurred in the military-humanitarian government of migration since the launch of the Mare Nostrum operation. Building on Michel Foucault’s approach to a ‘history of the present’ ( Foucault 1984 ), the theoretical challenge of writing about events that are still underway consists in situating the analysis within the present by stressing the effective way in which migration governmentality operates in response to the migration turmoil, in order then to mark discontinuities and continuities with previous moments.
At the same time, writing while events are underway allows us to follow a ‘cartography in-the-making’ ( Tazzioli 2015a : 3) about the internal transformations of migration governmentality. The article deals with the ongoing political re-crafting of the Mediterranean as a space of migration governmentality, retracing the recent political and spatial transformations which occurred with the starting of the military-humanitarian operation Mare Nostrum and then the handover to the Triton operation coordinated by Frontex. 7 It is structured around two temporal stages: the first from January 2014 to April 2015, and the second starting the 18 April 2015, when a huge shipwreck occurred near Lampedusa, triggering transformations in the EU’s response to manage and contain the movements of people coming to Europe in search of asylum. The two specific angles from which this article tackles this issue are the politics of and over life that is at stake in the government of migration at sea and the politics of visibility that underpins it. In the first section the article analyses the politics and the scene of rescue that has been put into place with the start of Mare Nostrum, tacking stock of the re-articulation of military and humanitarian technologies for governing and containing migrant movements, focusing on the specific politics of life and over lives that sustains it—namely the peculiar biopolitics mobilized upon subjects who have become shipwrecked persons. 8 Then, the article discusses the recent transformations that have occurred with the Triton operation and the effects on the level of political actions undertaken by activist migrant groups.
The article moves on by taking into account the peculiar politics of visibility that is at stake in the government of migration in the Mediterranean. It concludes with an analysis of the ongoing re-crafting of the EU politics of rescue and containment after the huge deadly shipwreck of 18 April 2015, arguing that a critical understanding of the military-humanitarian government of migration at sea requires going beyond the scene of rescue. This means refusing to engage in the same act of visualization performed by governmental actors, highlighting humanitarianism at a distance and humanitarian spaces of containment enforced at the borders of Europe. The expression ‘humanitarianism at a distance’ refers to the financial support given by EU member states to countries such as Turkey and Jordan to host asylum seekers fleeing wars 9 —instead of opening legal points of access for safe entry into Europe. The expression ‘humanitarian spaces of containment’ designates both the role of pre-frontier played by ‘Neighborhood Countries’ in blocking migrant departures and the political project for externalizing the asylum in the so-called EU Neighborhood Countries. What happens to those who do not even arrive in Europe and who, consequently, are not detected by the radars and the patrols of Triton operation?
The main argument that sustains this analysis is that in order not to mobilize the same gaze of military-humanitarian politics of rescue we should look at the humanitarian frontier in terms of mechanisms of capture, selection, and apprehension of migrants’ lives. Finally, I suggest that in order to take stock of the series of border displacements that have taken place since the start of Mare Nostrum, or that are still underway, it is important to shift the attention away from the space of the sea and investigate the heterogeneous mechanisms of hold over migrants’ lives that the humanitarian regime puts into place ( Agier 2011 ; Pallister-Wilkins 2015 ).
2. Rescue-politics and humanitarian saturation of political actions
In place of ‘humanitarianism,’ I deliberately use ‘humanitarian’ ( Fassin 2007a ) in this article, further articulating the adjective by adding ‘technology of government,’ in order to delimit a specific focus of the analysis, i.e. humanitarian politics as part of different mechanisms of capture and regulation of migration governmentality. Thus, ‘humanitarian technology of government’ is used here to refer to a set of policies, discourses, and interventions whose purpose is to manage and channel migration movements. If, on the one hand, humanitarian technology of government is situated in the broader field of a politics of and over lives ‘that find their measure in body counts, and the real or potential harms of ordinary people’ ( Redfield 2012 : 452), on the other it designates a specific way that migration policies have a hold over migrant lives: channeling their mobility and differentiating between subjects of humanitarian concern, in all its degrees (refugees, asylum seekers, beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, etc.) and its remnants (bogus asylum seekers, rejected refugees, economic migrants). Moreover, if the term ‘humanitarianism’ historically recalls interventions made in the name of the alleviation of human suffering ( Wheeler, 2000 ; Barnett 2011 ; Ticktin 2011 ; Redfield 2012 ), the deliberate purpose of humanitarian technology of migration government is to allocate people in space, leaving some of them without a space to stay.
But far from being an autonomous domain of intervention, the humanitarian technology of government is taken here in its hybridizations with military forms of selection, protection, and containment of people’s mobility. Actually, it is important to observe that, as a broad field of literature has shown, the articulation between military and humanitarian interventions in the field of migration is far from being something new ( Fassin and Pandolfi 2010 ; Walters 2011 ). However, firstly, what matters here is not the entanglement between military and humanitarian per se but, rather, the peculiar way in which it has been recently re-crafted with military forces in charge of performing a humanitarian task 10 . At the same time, humanitarianism itself is reconfigured, I contend, as a politics of rescue. Secondly, the point here not to reaffirm that humanitarianism is historically imbricated with military and security issues, as many scholars have in fact already demonstrated ( Watson 2009 ; Jeandesboz 2015 ; Pallister-Wilkins 2015 ; Vaughan-Williams 2015 ). Instead, what this article intends to show is that humanitarian techniques work in themselves also as a way for containing and channeling mobility.
This involves stressing the protean nature of the humanitarian border, i.e. its ability to transform into different mechanisms of government and to relate ‘to other strategies and tactics of governmentality, namely surveillance, securitization and militarization’ ( William 2015 : 13). Drawing on critical migration literature that mobilizes a Foucaultian perspective 11 for conceptualizing the humanitarian in terms of ‘reason’ ( Fassin 2011 ) or ‘frontier’ 12 ( Walters 2011 ), I focus on the government of migration at sea for bringing attention to the forms of capture that humanitarian technologies put into place acting on migrants’ lives and the spatial re-crafting they generated. Humanitarian forms of capture and humanitarian spaces are not self-standing objects but rather represent modulations of the migration regime characterized by the dislodging of people’s freedom channeling their movements and transforming subjects into lives to rescue or into ‘remnants’ in excess.
Over the last two years the duty of saving migrant lives at sea has been put on the agenda of many EU meetings and documents. On the one hand, the two huge shipwrecks that happened near Lampedusa in October 2013 marked a turning point in the EU discourse and practice of migration management, since the image of a massive number of dead bodies on the beach of Lampedusa appeared as the limits of tolerability. However, on the other hand, the restructuring that occurred in the government of migration at sea is not merely the effect of a prompt, responsive strategy in the wake of those two shipwrecks; rather, due to the escalation of wars and conflicts in many parts of the world—Syria, Eritrea, and Libya, to name only a few—the number of people who were escaping to seek protection in Europe had already become massive at the end of 2012. Indeed, given the tough restrictions imposed on people’s mobility by the Visa regime 13 , which prevented those people from coming to Europe safely, many of them decided to cross the Mediterranean. Thus, the readjustments in the strategies of intervention of EU countries regarding migration at sea were in part already about to be put into place.
However, saving migrant lives at sea has also become the main discursive tenet of non-state actors and of activist groups, tracing in some way the boundaries of their field of action: what I call here rescue-politics designates an humanitarian approach to migration that puts the rescue of migrants at the core both of discourses and of effective interventions made by governmental and non-governmental actors. In August 2014 the first Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) rescue operation started. MOAS was put in place by a Maltese couple and consists of a private rescue operation ‘to support vessels in need of assistance, coordinating its efforts with other search and rescue authorities around the Mediterranean.’ 14 Equipped with vessels and drones, the MOAS team started as a mission alternative to state rescue operations—with the idea that saving migrant lives at sea should also be an issue that involves civic responsibility; then, in a second stage, it worked in collaboration with the Italian Navy, assisting them during rescue operations and detecting migrants in distress at sea. In autumn 2014 a transnational group of activists based in France, Germany, Italy, and Tunisia set up Alarm Phone, an alarm number that migrants at sea can call in case of distress. However, different from MOAS, the Alarm Phone group is not equipped with vessels and thus it is not a ‘rescue service’; rather, it acts according to a watching the watchdogs strategy, calling national coast guards to put pressure on them and ‘following up on the rescue operation on their response, making known to them that we are informed and ‘watching’ them’ 15 . The idea behind the project is to intervene in spaces that are usually restricted to state authorities, controlling and demanding that they operate in a prompt and adequate way for rescuing migrants at sea.
The duty to rescue, which represents the technical and specific way of saving migrant lives at sea, is currently the landmark of activist groups, human rights campaigns, and national authorities involved in maritime patrolling. In fact, in the face of the deadly effects of borders, the humanitarian rationale has absorbed and redefined all forms of engagement in supporting migrant movements. Far from being the other pole of the mechanisms of containment and control, the humanitarian rationale ( Fassin 2011 ) is one among the most effective technologies for governing, selecting, and containing migrant lives—and indeed, we can call it the ‘humanitarian technology of government.’ 16 As far as the government of refugees at sea is concerned, in the face of massive migrant deaths the humanitarian logic grounded on the duty of rescuing lives in danger has also permeated activist groups, saturating the space of the critical discourse.
3. The protean borders of humanitarian governmentality
The ‘success’ and the pervasive character of the humanitarian rationale in the context of migration at sea is partly given by the difficulty both in opposing such a discourse and in building an alternative way of preventing deaths, to the extent that one does not step out of the discourse on the deadly effects of borders and stop to accept the exceptionalization of migrant movements. Indeed, to focus exclusively on a politics of rescue involves taking for granted, or at least accepting, that in order to escape wars and seek protection certain people have to put their lives in danger—by crossing the sea and risking death. It could be argued that what is dislodged from the beginning in the humanitarian government is subjects’ freedom (of movement). Similarly, the emphasis on the deadly effects of borders and on the necessity to provide assistance to the migrants contributes to upstaging the regime of mobility containment that is actively supported by the same EU countries that engage in rescuing migrants. In order to step outside of rescue politics, I suggest looking at the humanitarian technology of government as a mechanism of capture and apprehension exercised on migrant lives: not only is it very often difficult to distinguish between rescue operations and patrolling operations for intercepting migrant vessels 17 ; it should also be observed that the operation of rescue and the humanitarian regulation of migration at sea have a two-fold effect: to make migrants safe and to capture them for channeling their mobility ( Kasparek et al., 2015 ). As detected and rescued, migrants become shipwrecked persons whereas the recent rescue and patrolling operations—Mare Nostrum and Triton—have contributed to opening new ‘spaces of governmentality’ ( Tazzioli 2015a ). The two-sided function of the rescue and, more broadly, of humanitarian government—saving and capturing migrants—actually results in what William Walters calls the ‘humanitarian frontier’ ( Walters 2011 ). This frontier, I contend, on the one hand produces an enlargement of the border-lines—a borderization of spaces—and on the other makes drowning migrants the targets of border activities and mechanisms of detection. In fact, in order to be saved, migrants have to be one of the primary objects of border surveillance; and in turn, border surveillance is broadened to rescue activities. Indeed, as Sergio Carrera and Leonard den Hertog explain, in the recent EU Regulation for the surveillance of its external borders, the notion of border surveillance has operationally widened to include search and rescue operations:
Border surveillance is not limited to the detection of attempts at unauthorized border crossings, but equally extends to steps such as intercepting vessels suspected of trying to gain entry to the Union, as well as arrangements intended to address situations such as search and rescue that may arise during a border surveillance operation. 18
However, at the same time this means that humanitarian migrations become objects and targets of border activities. Moreover, the distinction between rescue operations and interceptions is finally blurred into the broad definition of border surveillance that includes humanitarian and securitarian tasks. Therefore, looking at the politics of rescue as a double-sided hold over migrant lives ( Basaran 2015 )—which makes migrants safe and, at once, captures and channels their movements—enables us to grasp the weaving between military and humanitarian tasks that have been at play in the Mare Nostrum operation and in Triton, too. Indeed, it is important to remark that Mare Nostrum was presented as a military and humanitarian operation, in which the Italian Navy was in charge of rescuing migrants in distress at sea. In this light, the handover to Triton, which with respect to Mare Nostrum marked a further border displacement in the government of migration at sea towards a renewed strategy of not letting people arrive, should not be seen as a form of drifting away from the humanitarian concern. Indeed, humanitarian techniques of intervention are among the heterogeneous mechanisms for governing migration, exercising a hold over migrants’ lives.
Thus, both the intertwinement between military and humanitarian (Mare Nostrum) and the handover to an operation whose primary tasks are border control and the withdrawal from rescue duties 19 shed light on the protean borders of migration governmentality: migrant movement is actually selected, hampered, and monitored by different regulative mechanisms that become holds over the lives of migrants, and the humanitarian technology of government is one of them.
If on the one hand I have highlighted how humanitarian techniques, far from being the other pole of mechanisms of control and containment, work inside the politics of monitoring and channeling migration, on the other I would like to dwell now upon the specific functioning of humanitarian politics. I look at the recent re-assemblages of humanitarian and military interventions in the field of migration from the point of view of the subject that they shape and postulate. Indeed, as Didier Fassin illustrates, the humanitarian government can be conceived first of all as a politics of life ( Fassin 2007b ): in particular, what is at stake in the humanitarian way of governing, according to Fassin, is ‘the right to live as such” more than human rights’ ( Fassin 2014 : 31). Thus, a politics of life postulates a specific meaning of life any time that it addresses certain subjects. What I suggest is that together with a politics of life , the government of migration at sea involves also a politics over lives: through that expression I aim to stress, first, that the fact of becoming a shipwrecked person is the result of specific migration policies—the visa regime, which does not allow people to move freely—and second, how borders impact people (differently). Indeed, beyond postulating a specific meaning of ‘life’ and concretely shaping migrants’ lives—for instance treating them as shipwrecked persons or as ‘bogus’ asylum seekers—the humanitarian technology of government also acts upon (migrant) lives mobilizing mechanisms of capture ( Jeandesboz 2015 ). In this sense, I build on Foucault’s definition of biopower as regulatory political technology—that brings ‘life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations’ ( Foucault 1998 : 143)—and at the same time as a dispositif capture of lives—‘a power over life’ (139) that takes hold over the bodies and life at large ( Lemke 2012 ). It is important to stress this twofold engagement with life enacted by humanitarian techniques, I suggest, to the extent that we want to draw attention both to the implicit meaning of life such techniques presuppose in addressing migrants and the effort in taming and channeling ‘troubling subjectivities’ or unexpected movements.
4. Humanitarian visibility and the government of migrant multiplicities
Hence, focusing on rescue politics in the Mediterranean from such a standpoint, we can interrogate the kind of subject that is produced and posited as the target of military-humanitarian intervention, going beyond legal categories. A first thing to notice is that a considerable border restructuring has occurred since the starting of Mare Nostrum in the way of addressing the people on boats that are rescued by the Navy or by the Coast Guard: indeed, despite the mixed use of different denominations in the European and the Italian media (migrants, refugees, ‘profughi’), I contend that the referent of life, which is the object of rescue politics, ultimately corresponds to the image of the shipwrecked person . Actually, in the moment of the rescue operations at sea, migrants are saved as people about to drown who could not arrive in Europe other than through rescue by military forces: from being people escaping wars, once at sea they become shipwrecked persons to rescue. In a nutshell, it could be stated that from being asylum seekers they turn out to be shipwrecked lives, i.e. from being subjects who should benefit from protection, migrants at sea become people to rescue. In this regard, the politics of life that is at stake in the government of migration at sea works not only ‘by defining who is worthy of rescue and who is not’ ( Basaran 2015 : 3), but also through a more radical operation that consists in presenting migrants at sea as shipwrecked persons—and not as subjects in need of protection.
Appearing in political discourses and in the media as lives to save—and to be saved in the technical sense of being rescued at sea—is the result of a humanitarization of migrants insofar as their presence cannot be overshadowed because they try to be detected at sea as a means of being rescued and because, as people fleeing wars, they cannot be depicted by states as merely bogus refugees. Indeed, being aware of the Mare Nostrum operation, migrants started to equip themselves with Turaya satellite phones making sure in this way of being traceable and seen. In fact, migrants from Libya facilitated their traceability by national authorities and monitoring systems, anticipating in space and time border patrols by sending an SOS as soon as they entered international waters. Since for people in distress at sea being visualized on the map by real-time monitoring tools means opening and highlighting a space of rescue intervention, migrants staged their own capture by the mapping gaze and demanded to be rescued. In this way, the humanitarian visibility has been in part yielded by migrants’ exposure and traceability that demanded their being seen and saved. At the same time, riding on the humanitarian visibility that governs their movements, and becoming traceable to monitoring eyes, they promptly made themselves visible as objects of the humanitarian and of the ‘good border spectacle’: the capacity to detect was turned into an inescapable duty of rescue. By speaking of humanitarization of migrants I want to highlight, on the one hand, the unquestioned exceptional mobility of certain people who, in order to escape wars and find a safe space to stay, must redouble their risky condition as escapees by risking death at sea; on the other hand, humanitarization refers to a broader trend that is underway in the politics of asylum and that consists in the degradation of international protection and refugee status into temporary humanitarian protection. More than people deserving protection, they are subjects whose right to live can be assured only by becoming lives rescued by military actors.
Coming back to the humanitarian technology of government as a politics of life and over lives, it is necessary to analyze how the twofold level at which migrants are addressed as lives to be rescued, i.e. as part of a temporary multiplicity—the group of the rescued persons—and as singular individuals. Imagine the harbor of Pozzallo, Sicily, on 24 July 2014. A day like many others in Pozzallo, one of the main harbors in Sicily at which the vessels which are part of the Triton operation disembark migrants rescued at sea. Before being identified and sorted into different reception centers, among the group of the migrants rescued at sea, two of them are arrested by the police as supposed smugglers. Before the arrival of the vessel of the Coast Guard, the presence of the migrants rescued on the vessels is announced by the personnel of the Coast Guard in terms of an approximate number, ‘about 600, among which about 30 [are] women.’ 20 What matters, at that stage, is not who they are, and not even how many they are exactly. They do not form a coherent group, in terms of nationalities or of migration experience, but while on the boat what is important is their number, rough as it may be. Ultimately, for the military-humanitarian actors that go and rescue them, the governability of that temporary multiplicity depends on the approximate number of people on the boat. This focus on approximate multiplicities to govern is not a secondary matter: the politics of rescue in the Mediterranean ‘save’ migrants in groups—an undefined number of people on a vessel—and once disembarked, they will be partitioned between those who will enter the slow channels of the asylum system, and those who will be put in the fast channels of deportation. 21 It could be argued that the rescuing power saves and acts on migrants as multiplicities and stops with rescue operations at sea, while singular individuals are then governed not as lives to save but as possible fake refugees. Singular migrants at sea are saved as part of the ‘ x ’ number of shipwrecked persons on a vessel in distress; but once migrants are identified and disembarked, it is not the logic of rescue that they are governed by, but rather the exclusionary channels of the asylum together with mechanisms of fast deportation. Thus, the humanitarian government sloughs its skin: from rescue politics that act on ‘ x ’ number of migrants on a vessel in distress, to the selective sorting criteria of the asylum articulated with non-humanitarian mechanisms of deportation. Ultimately, as Pallister-Wilkins incisively argues, ‘those categorized as at risk become a risk when they enter the space marked by the border and policed by the border police’ ( Pallister-Wilkins 2015 : 54). In this sense, it could be suggested that in the government of migration at sea, we witness a displacement of the pastoral paradigm described by Foucault: the politics of saving lives at sea is exercised only at the level of migrant multiplicities; differently from the pastorate that acts upon omnes and singulatim and that, although the population is its main object of government, it is ‘an individualizing power’ ( Foucault 1979 : 227) for which ‘the salvation of a single sheep calls for as much care from the pastor as does the whole flock’ ( Foucault 2009 : 256). 22 Moreover, the verb ‘to rescue’ nicely captures the distinction between the rescue politics that act on migrants at sea and the salvific power of the pastorate: indeed, migrant lives are ‘saved’ at sea in the technical sense of ‘being rescued,’ i.e. not left to die, but once brought to safety they are subject to the exclusionary channels of the asylum system or even treated as irregular migrants.
Nevertheless, shifting the gaze beyond the sea is necessary so as not to narrow the humanitarian government to a specific figure of a humanitarian subject (in this case the shipwrecked person). Indeed, not only is the humanitarian government, in its different forms, far from being a uniform political technology and, rather, takes into account and produces different subjectivities—refugees, rejected refugees, shipwrecked persons, etc.—but also the same individuals are often subjected to various mechanisms of capture, selection and labeling during their migrant journeys, as objects of humanitarian concern or as targets of military and securitarian measures. Therefore, what characterizes humanitarian regulatory mechanisms is their heterogeneity and their hybridization with military measures, as well as the transformative nature of these techniques of government, which clearly emerges in the ‘handover’ from Mare Nostrum to Triton and the coexistence of rescue operations like Mare Nostrum with EU Police Joint Operations against migrants in the European territory, such as Mos Maiorum. 23 More importantly, in order to grasp this heterogeneous functioning of humanitarian techniques and the protean character of the mechanisms of migration governmentality, 24 we must bring attention to the identity reshuffling to which migrants are subjected: migrants escaping wars, to shipwrecked persons on a boat, to asylum seekers on national land, and finally to rejected refugees or people who are granted temporary protection. To this purpose it is important to go beyond the scene of the rescue at sea—where migrants are depicted as lives to be rescued—and take into account the border effects on migrants’ lives, building on a longer temporality that looks at what happens to shipwrecked persons both before and after the moment of the rescue.
5. The humanitarian border beyond the scene of rescue
So let us imagine Milan, June 2014, central rail station, almost any day since autumn 2013. Dozens of Syrians, sometimes even hundreds, stop temporarily in Milan, coming by train from Sicily, where the Italian Navy disembarks migrants rescued at sea. When they arrive at the train station Garibaldi, the police in Milan, who are regularly informed by Polfer (the Italian railway police) of the arrival of groups of Syrians, takes them to the central railway station where they are given food by the municipality of Milan and where they wait before being sent to one of the temporary hosting centers in the city. This tacit free railway channel, through which Italy de facto allowed Syrian refugees to move northward, was the result of a temporary sync between Italy’s disobedience to the Dublin III regulation and Syrians’ strategy of movement. Actually, for about one year Syrians were allowed to escape by the Italian police and not fingerprinted, since the great majority among the Syrians aim to reach Northern Europe (Germany, but also Sweden, France, and the UK). And in this way, by not sending fingerprint data to EURODAC, Italy was not legally responsible for processing Syrians’ asylum claims. Indeed, after stopping a few days in Milan, all Syrians were used to trying to cross the Swiss border in order to continue their journeys. However, not only were many of them blocked by Swiss authorities and pushed back to Italy 25 : in September 2014, after being admonished by the European Union for its repeated disobedience of the Dublin III regulation, Italy adopted new regulations that required personnel in the hosting center to take fingerprints also ‘by force.’ 26
And what happens to those who have not even arrived in Europe? Or, to put it differently, what happens at the borders of Europe, at the edges of the scene of rescue staged by military-humanitarian operations at sea? First of all, it should be observed that deaths at sea actually have not stopped at all, as the many shipwrecks that have occurred in the last year confirm, 27 despite the hyper-visibility of Mediterranean migrations after the patrolling of Mare Nostrum and the political focus on migrants at sea ( Sossi 2015 ). Moreover, there have also been deadly ghost shipwrecks that have not even been detected by national authorities and of which I, together with other people, have been informed by friends of the victims situated on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. 28 However, at the same time that shipwrecks and ghost shipwrecks continued to happen, political and institutional re-assemblages of the border regime were also under way at the frontiers of Europe. Indeed, in spring and summer of 2014 the Tunisian Coast Guard intercepted and rescued many migrant vessels and disembarked the migrants on board in Tunisia. 29 Once in Tunisia some of them were transferred into provisional hosting centers and others put in jail, in the prison of Whardia in Tunis, where migrants are told to pay for a return flight ticket to their country of origin and, if they do not, threatened with deportation to Algeria ( Garelli et al., 2015 ). In October 2014 the push-backs of Syrian refugees made by Greek authorities toward Turkey started to be quite frequent, 30 and in the following months Turkish authorities started to block migrant vessels before they could reach Greek waters. 31 The construction of different pre-frontiers of Europe is certainly not a new political project, since bilateral agreements of EU member states with Neighborhood Countries that also include the engagement of third countries in patrolling maritime frontiers for blocking migrants and the outsourcing of migration controls date back to the 90s 32 ( Boswell 2003 ; Cassarino 2010 ; Bialasiewicz 2012 ; Casas-Cortes et al., 2013 ).Yet, one year after the start of Mare Nostrum, the enforcement of the Mediterranean pre-frontiers of Europe has become the main EU strategy for containing migration movements and to decrease the number of asylum seekers arriving in Italy and Greece. Moreover, what characterizes this planned enforcement of the pre-frontiers of Europe is that it would involve an externalization both of border controls and of humanitarian protection. In Rome, on 28 November 2014, the Ministers of EU member states and the Ministers of some African states—among them Eritrea, currently governed by a dictatorship—sign the Karthoum process, 33 which establishes the engagement of non-European signatories states in activities of migration control and migration management ( Morone 2015 ).
To sum up, the EU politics of containment on the one hand, formed by the ongoing restructuring of the pre-frontiers of Europe, and the staging of the scene of rescue in the Mediterranean on the other hand, have been played out simultaneously. Yet, from the northern shore of the Mediterranean the latter was much more visible than the outcomes of the bilateral agreements with North African countries involved in blocking migrants’ departures. In the aftermath of the huge shipwreck that happened on 18 April 2015, this two-fold politics of rescuing and containing migrants at the same time, has been reshaped in the direction of a more and more prominent politics of containment, enacted, however, in the name of the need to protect migrant lives. Actually, soon after the deadly migrant shipwreck of 18 April, that caused an un-presented and still uncertain number of deaths—between 700 and 900, the EU reacted by tripling Frontex’s annual budget 34 and by extending the Triton operational zone up to 138 nautical miles south of Lampedusa. Thus, the space of rescue expanded again, covering a stretch of sea similar to which the Navy had under Mare Nostrum. This decision was welcomed by media and humanitarian actors as a restoring of the politics of rescue and in fact no more deadly shipwrecks have been attested in the central Mediterranean over two months. Yet, the European Migration Agenda established by the European Council in April 2015 includes the decision to extend the Triton operation and, at the same time, pushes for the strengthening of bilateral agreements with third countries for ‘tackling migration upstream,’ 35 namely, preventing people fleeing wars from arriving in Europe to seek asylum.
In summer 2015 the vessels operating under Triton again started to reduce patrolling activities, although this ‘retreat’ was not an object of political attention. Moreover, precisely at the same time that Triton’s range of action was officially extended, the EU politics of containment was reframed by the launch in June of EUNAVFOR, the EU war on smugglers, officially conceived to save migrants from smuggling networks identifying, seizing and destroying suspect vessels. 36 Actually, the ‘politics of targeting’ ( Chamayou 2015 ) envisaged by EUNAVFOR that consists in fighting smugglers to protect migrants, reveals a refashioning of the military-humanitarian rationale: would-be refugees are protected by hampering them from leaving by boat. The attack to the ‘logistic of migrant crossing’ ( Garelli and Tazzioli 2016 )—by diverting and seizing migrant vessels—is a way to decrease the number of potential refugees reaching the scene of rescue and becoming shipwrecked lives to save.
In this regard, it is important to remark that the EU’s fight against smugglers is certainly not something new in EU migration politics and in fact it has represented, since the early 2000s, one of the main tenets for legitimizing practices of arbitrary detention and deportation, as well as interception of migrant vessels on the high sea. Ultimately, also when Mare Nostrum was in place, the chase against mother-ships used by traffickers before transferring migrants to smaller boats has been one of the main activities done by the Navy beyond rescuing migrants ( Cuttitta 2015 ). 37 Nevertheless, without presenting EUNAVFOR Med as a radical rupture within the EU politics of control, it is important to stress the partial discontinuities and to read the declared EU war against smugglers in the context of the current military-humanitarian approach to migration in the Mediterranean. Indeed, as I illustrated above, the politics of rescue and containment —producing shipwrecked lives to save and blocking migrant departures at the same time—is at the core of the present military-humanitarian government of migration. The launch of EUNAVFOR signals a further twist in the politics of containment that consists in encapsulating the humanitarian discourse on protection inside warfare: migrants will be saved not as they are rescued at sea but rather, because they will be taken away from smugglers. More concretely, this entails that by targeting smugglers, migrants themselves are actually hampered from the possibility of leaving.
Saved from the risk of dying at sea—through military-humanitarian convoys migrants escaping wars are not envisaged to freely move, with no visa restrictions, as a condition for moving safely and not becoming lives to rescue. If we concur with Nicholas De Genova saying that ‘if there were no borders, however, there would indeed be neither citizens nor migrants’ ( De Genova 2015 : 13), it is simultaneously true that borders not only produce migrants and citizens, they also act on subjects’ freedom in order to govern it by activating a complex regime of capture. Hence, it shows that one should focus on the productive dimension of borders, in shaping and governing subjects as migrants and as citizens, and at the same time that borders are apparatuses of capture activated for taming the recalcitrance of subjectivities. In this way, freedom—the freedom to move and to safely find a space for living—is not even contemplated in the narrative of the rescue politics . Migrants at sea are not saved in the perspective of being then free to move without risking their lives: on the contrary, once rescued they are put in the juridical channels of the asylum and the luckiest among them will be granted humanitarian protection. Thus, the channeling and containment of migrants’ movements appear as the only way to make migrants safe. The handover from Mare Nostrum to Triton has been critically described as a comeback strategy towards a reinforced securitarian approach to the government of migration at sea. Corroborating such a view, human rights associations are demanding the activation of an effective European system of rescue, 38 criticizing Triton as an operation of border control and pushing for a kind of Europeanization of Mare Nostrum. In this article I have argued that rescue politics and the humanitarian-military way of governing people’s movements have also saturated the political horizon of the criticism and actions that challenge migration policies and the deadly effects of borders. Against a linear border narrative that considers Triton merely as re-establishment of border control and a push-back strategy after the stage of a politics of rescue, I highlighted the dismissal of migrants’ freedom that humanitarian (and military-humanitarian) politics entails, producing them as shipwrecked persons that can move only at the price of their lives and if demanding to be rescued. Thus, instead of pushing for a disentanglement of humanitarian politics from securitarian and military measures ( Anderson 2014 ) I illustrated the common basis upon which they are predicated in terms of containing and selecting (certain forms of) mobility. And, together, I challenged a conception of humanitarian government as the opposite pole of the politics of control and containment, showing rather the constitutive hybridization of heterogeneous forms of governmentality and the protean character of the humanitarian borders. Nevertheless, this does not mean that nothing has changed with the end of Mare Nostrum and the start of Triton. On the contrary, I suggest that the indisputably different tasks of Triton and Mare Nostrum—border control as the primary task instead of rescue operations 39 —and the different sea area officially covered by the two missions, should lead us to interrogate what Triton and the changes that have occurred in the scene of rescue mean. In other words, instead of comparing Mare Nostrum and Triton as such, it is important to look through the spatial and political transformations in the government of migration at sea and beyond the sea that the handover to Triton enables us to grasp by gesturing toward the pre-frontiers of Europe. 40 Indeed, the scene opened after the huge shipwreck of the 18th of April, with a twist towards a politics of containment done in name of protecting migrants should be read in the light of the attempt by the EU to build humanitarian spaces of containment in third-countries according to a strategy of not letting people leave .
This work has been produced within the framework of the Unit of Excellence LabexMed- Social Sciences and Humanities at the heart of multidisciplinary research for the Mediterranean - which holds the following reference 10-LABX-0090. This work has benefited from a state grant by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche for the project Investissement d'Avenire A MIDEX which holds the reference n ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02.