SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

A Game of Risk: boat migration and the business of bordering Europe

Ruben Andersen (LSE)

Date: 17 October 2012Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 17 October 2012Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Seminar


Irregular, clandestine or ‘illegal’ migration by land and sea is rarely out of the political and media agenda in Europe despite its statistically limited significance. Taking this mismatch as its starting point, this paper focuses on the industry that has emerged around clandestine migration, rather than on the migrants themselves. 

Based on anthropological fieldwork in West Africa and Spain, it explores one aspect of this industry in particular: the transnational policing networks and surveillance systems put in place to target, conceptualise and visualise clandestine boat migrants. At the helm of this joined-up migration control strategy is Europe’s young border agency, Frontex, and national security forces such as the Spanish Guardia Civil, which have in recent years patrolled West African waters and the Mediterranean in search for clandestine migrants. 

The latest step in this transnational integration of border policing is what is known as Eurosur, the European external border surveillance system. The vision underpinning this system is a full, streamlined surveillance cover of Europe’s southern maritime border and the African ‘pre-frontier’ beyond it. 

This paper explores these emerging systems through an ethnographic lens, focusing on the conceptualisation of migration as ‘risk’ in Frontex-led borderwork, as well as on the operationalisation of this risk-based vision through Eurosur and increasingly intricate networks linking up African and European forces. It seeks to draw out the tensions and conflicts that make the business of bordering Europe a fraught and contradictory enterprise, while inquiring into what effects the border regime has on the clandestine travellers it targets.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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