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Standoff Politics, Bureaucratic Blockades and EU Migration Governance in the Central Mediterranean

Authors: Michael Gordon*, McMaster University
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, Europe
Keywords: Migration, Borders, Search and Rescue, NGOs, Standoff, Blockades
Session Type: Paper
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In recent years, the Mediterranean Sea has been transformed into a hyper-visible site of exclusion in the production of the European border spectacle. The shifting EU political landscape has meant that ‘standoffs’ commonly occur between EU member states and civil society search and rescue (SAR) NGOs following rescue operations at sea. As a result, migrants are often stranded on NGO vessels for an extended period of time, creating rescue boats an intermediate space of off-shore containment in the migration process. The act of containment on boats moves beyond the territorial confinement experienced by people on the move and becomes manifest in these specific mobile border sites. The standoff process represents yet another attempt by EU actors to manage migrant mobility, criminalize rescue and extend European borders. The paper critically examines civil society SAR NGO boats at sea as a political space in the contestation of European borders, arguing that despite EU efforts to contain mobility, rescue boats also represent mobile sites of resistance that enable the enactment of political subjectivity. The involvement of civil society SAR NGOs disrupts regional bordering practices and contests the perceived singularity of state authority at sea as EU actors seek to re-articulate international space as the sole purview of the state. As a result of this contestation of state authority at sea, NGOs are often subject to numerous forms of bureaucratic blockades that seek to impede these organizations from their continued involvement in rescue operations.

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