"Making it" through immobility: New NGO-mediated bordering strategies in The Gambia

Authors: Martin Aucoin*, West Virginia University
Topics: Political Geography, Africa
Keywords: Bordering, Non-Governmental Organizations, migration, mobility, The Gambia, Europe
Session Type: Paper
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Militarization has been and continues to be a key element of bordering practices in states around the world. The European Union, however, is increasingly attempting to extend border enforcement into migrant “sending states” through a variety of strategies that rely heavily on non-state actors. This is especially the case in The Gambia, where organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, the International Organization for Migration and a variety of European charities and NGO’s actively work to immobilize would-be migrants in country. Drawing on key informant interviews, participant observation and document analysis, this paper traces the activities of three migration intervention projects in The Gambia, from 2016 to the present. It illustrates a variety of public-information campaigns, micro-loan funding programs and youth-engagement events that encourage would-be migrants to “stay home” and “make it here”. These interventions draw heavily on the logic of humanitarianism and hinge on the rhetoric of youth empowerment while reproducing discourses of illegality and irregularity. They target Gambian communities at a variety of scales: from public spaces to schools; in rural villages and private homes. The capacity necessary to implement these projects comes through a combination of highly mobile European ‘experts’ and the adaptivity of the Gambian development-aid industry, which constantly shifts focus to remain competitive for funding. These novel bordering strategies, however, may inadvertently create spaces where migrants and returnees may more visibly contest the unequal geographies of power at play through their increased access to European decision makers, news networks and social media platforms.

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