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2024 | Book

Political-Humanitarian Borderwork on the Southern European Border

Mainstream Humanitarian Organizations Within and Beyond the Hotspot System in Sicily

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About this book

This book focuses on the role mainstream humanitarian organizations have in the functioning of the border management system on the southern European border (i.e. Italy). In particular, the author analyses the mainstream humanitarian organizations and NGOs (i.e. Red Cross, the UNHCR, Medici per I Diritti Umani – MEDU, Terre des Hommes and Oxfam) and their role within and beyond the implementation of the so-called ‘hotspot approach’ in Sicily. This work suggests that a vision of humanitarian action as just anti-political and complicit with migration control can be questioned. This book suggests that a) mainstream organizations have been able to politicize their positioning and actions vis-à-vis authorities when migration policies have been tightened; b) mainstream organizations’ political borderwork has helped to promote incremental change in the status quo rather than a radical one. Finally, this book suggests that the discourses and practices of mainstream and grassroots actors seems to be characterized by similar contradictions.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter
Chapter 1. Introduction
Abstract
The role played by non-state actors, and in particular by humanitarian ones, within the governance of international migration is an object of debate in the literature. By investigating the role played by mainstream humanitarian organizations on the southern European border, this research aims to (a) further investigate the political forms taken by humanitarianism on the ground, and (b) explore if and how mainstream humanitarian organizations are able to challenge the current border management system. Recently, the literature highlighted that grassroots humanitarian actors counter both mainstream humanitarianism—mainly seen as complicit of the state—and governments. In this respect, this research also explores (a) if and how mainstream humanitarian organizations’ discourses and practices are different from/similar to those of grassroots groups, and (b) what are the implications of these differences/similarities in terms of contributing to the (de)politicization of the current system. The research is based on ten months of fieldwork carried out in Sicily between 2017 and 2018, and it uses three main methods: document analysis, semi-structured interviews and direct observation. The book contributes to refining the discussion on the (de)politicizing role of humanitarianism by arguing that the view of humanitarian action as exclusively complicit with state-driven goals seems to be too narrow. The book argues that the issue at stake—on which further research would be needed—is more about the forms and the limits of the politicization to which humanitarian actors contribute.
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 2. The Italian Border Management Policy Strategies
Abstract
Since the 1990s, the Italian migration and border management strategy has revolved around two main poles: (a) the attempt to prevent, deter and contain migration in collaboration with neighboring countries; (b) the routinized management (and filtering) of migrants reaching Italian shores based on the “turning a blind-eye” approach. Procedures adopted to manage migrants reaching Sicily included: the first aid and transfer of migrants in reception centres; their successive registration and identification; the sorting between forced (in need of protection) and voluntary (to be repatriated) migrants and the attribution of different legal statuses on the basis of this dichotomy. This overall strategy was consolidated over time. Since at least 2005–2006, mainstream humanitarian organizations started to be increasingly and systematically involved in the management of migration on the southern Italian border. Since the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, and at least until 2018, Italian governments adopted further restrictive policies in the attempt to contain migratory flows and to exclude migrants (i.e. the hotspot system of 2015 and the security decree of 2018).
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 3. Humanitarianism, (De)politicization and Migration Control
Abstract
The literature highlighted the role played by humanitarian organizations in perpetuating institutional categorizations that reproduce hierarchies on the grounds of protection and humanitarian logic and criteria. As the entitlement to rights is closely linked to migrants’ legal status (which is basically defined by national policies and international rules), humanitarian actors contribute to depoliticize the current border regime when they uncritically reproduce states categories and filtering processes. Other scholars emphasized humanitarian organizations’ role in contributing to counter bordering processes by supporting migrants, by claiming for their rights, by acting as watchdogs of states and by claiming for more openness. Particularly, recent literature argued that humanitarianism of grassroots groups is able to politicize the EU border and migration regime and to challenge both the mainstream humanitarianism and the neoliberal governance of migration. While the literature mainly described mainstream humanitarianism as complicit of governments and migration control, this book tries to go deeper in the understanding of the concrete forms and limits of its attempts to challenge and transform the current status quo towards a more egalitarian order.
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 4. The Implementation of the Hotspot Approach in Italy
Abstract
By drawing on ten months of fieldwork, this chapter focuses on the implementation of the hotspot approach in Sicily between the end of 2015 and the end of 2018 and discusses the main implications of the adoption of this restrictive policy tool in relation to the previous system. The hotspot practices implemented in Sicily during this period contributed to increasing the differentiation of legal statuses attributed to migrants, as well as the stratification of migrant access to territory and rights. However, while the hotspot approach was framed by the European Commission and Italian authorities as a new tool, the main vision underpinning the introduction of the hotspot system was based on the migration management paradigm. Moreover, hotspot procedures have mostly been based on the bureaucratic routines of migration control that have characterized southern EU border management at least since the beginning of 2000s: in this sense, despite the migration and refugee crisis rhetoric, the dichotomy forced (to be accommodated) versus voluntary (to be repatriated) migrants continued to underpin migration management practices at the southern border of Italy.
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 5. Mainstream Humanitarian Organizations Politicizing the Increasingly Restrictive Border Management System
Abstract
Humanitarian third sector organizations (TSOs), regardless of their involvement in the institutional migration control system, were able to cooperate and intervene to defend migrant rights and to counterbalance the restrictive turns identified in this study. These organizations used their position on the ground to (a) concretely supporting migrants, (b) finding solutions for those excluded from reception centers and (c) collecting information useful for different types of advocacy strategies (e.g. outsider, insider, sector coordination). By ensuring potential asylum seekers’ rights and by providing support precisely to those migrants irregularized and excluded from the Italian reception system, TSOs challenged the status quo based on the deterioration and violation of migrant rights. While these rights-based strategies did not promote a radical change and remained within the preexisting legal framework, they did nonetheless contribute to contest the increasingly restrictive climate. Thus, the political dimension of the TSOs’ interventions described below is mainly related to their role of bulwark against the violation of migrants’ rights and the increasingly restrictive policies. During the two restrictive turns identified in this study, the humanitarian TSOs’ political borderwork contributed to an incremental rather than radical change of the status quo in the current border management.
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 6. Mainstream Humanitarian Organizations Depoliticizing the Border Management System
Abstract
Most of the discourses and practices carried out by mainstream third-sector organizations (TSOs) countered the tightening of border management. However, they remained within the legal framework preexisting the reinforcement of border policies. TSOs’ interventions focused on ensuring that the state respects the rights of those who are already entitled to them at least in principle. From this perspective, the TSOs’ borderwork did not promote a radical political agenda. The TSOs’ emphasis on vulnerability and the focus on asylum seekers’ rights contributed to counter the deterioration of these rights and to contrast the increasingly restrictive turns. However, vulnerability discourses and practices legitimized—and fitted within—the preexisting order based on the distinction between people in need of protection and so-called economic migrants to be rejected. This chapter describes how TSOs fell short of contributing to a radical change of the current border management and how they contributed to the perpetuation of processes of stratification of migrants’ rights, of migrants’ incarceration and of migration securitization.
Roberto Calarco
Chapter 7. Conclusion
Abstract
Seeking to move beyond the view of humanitarianism as exclusively complicit with states and migration control, this book argues that the issue at stake, on which further research would be needed, is more concerned with the kind of politics to which humanitarian actors contribute and the forms and the limits of the politicization to which they contribute. The borderwork of the mainstream humanitarian organizations analyzed in this study can be considered as a political-humanitarian borderwork: the line between the two was blurred and the humanitarian intervention was also used to accomplish, and to make possible, the political one. Furthermore, the kind of (de)politicization processes to which these actors contributed can be specified. This book highlights that (a) the mainstream humanitarian organizations, not unlike grassroots groups, have been able to politicize their positioning and actions vis-à-vis the authorities precisely when the latter have further tightened migration policies, and (b) the political borderwork of the mainstream humanitarian organizations has helped to promote an incremental change in the status quo rather than a radical change of the border management system.
Roberto Calarco
Backmatter
Metadata
Title
Political-Humanitarian Borderwork on the Southern European Border
Author
Roberto Calarco
Copyright Year
2024
Electronic ISBN
978-3-031-40504-4
Print ISBN
978-3-031-40503-7
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-40504-4