Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean, makes up for most of the forced removals carried out in France. To give an order of magnitude, in 2017, 25,274 people were detained in ‘metropolitan’ France and 17,934 were detained in Mayotte for only 256,500 inhabitants, which represents more than 70% of the people detained in ‘metropolitan’ France that year (La Cimade, 2017). The vast majority of these detainees (94%) were removed from Mayotte to the Comoros. I argue that migration control at this border bear necropolitical consequences that are heavily gendered. While all undocumented Comorians face the arbitrariness of arrest and deportation as well as the socio-economic dispossessions that illegality produces, women face particular challenges within the death-worlds of necropolitics (Mbembe, 2019). Entrenched barriers to the regularisation of their administrative status endanger their access to healthcare and degrade the conditions for life long-term. The constant risk of arrest and massive forced removals engender furthermore dangerous border crossings, each instance exposing the passengers to the risk of death. Yet it is also their reproductive power that is criminalized, their intentions are read by the State through the lens of the nation’s racialised reproduction, relying on biased and partial understandings of local mobilities.

Within procedures of forced removal, pregnant women are furthermore caught up in a specific rendering of the care/control nexus at this border. I propose the notion of humanitarian bureaucracy to account for the involvement of medical personnel in the summary deportations of pregnant Comorian women from Mayotte to the Comoros. In addition to their usual consultations, hospital midwives are asked to assess the health of pregnant women arrested at sea in order to state whether they can be lawfully detained, while deportations happen within hours owing to the specificities of this postcolonial migration regime. The notion of humanitarian bureaucracy traces how a series of bureaucratic acts, duly sanctioned by qualified professionals, performs a minimal and fragmented biopolitical surveillance that neutralizes the question of responsibility and rejects the racialized Other into a liminal space between failing to “make live” and avoiding to “let die.” Humanitarian bureaucracy represents thus an ambivalent power, stemming from biopolitics yet producing necropolitics through processes of racialization.

Speaker bio:

Nina Sahraoui is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Paris Centre for Sociological and Political Research (CNRS) conducting the project CYBERGEN (2021-2022). Her research revolves around studies of migration, gender and health exploring the politics of borders, humanitarianism and care. Nina published her doctoral research with Palgrave Macmillan under the title Racialised Care Workers and European Older-Age Care. From Care Labour to Care Ethics(2019). Among her recent publications: the edited volume Borders across Healthcare (Berghahn Books, 2020) as well as articles in JEMS, Society and Space and Social Science and Medicine, among others.