Guest post by Ruben Andersson, postdoctoral researcher in the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics. His book, Illegality, Inc., is forthcoming with University of California Press.

Source: European Voice
London may be hot, fume-choked, and abandoned to tourists at this time of year, but a one-day migration conference at King’s College London nevertheless managed to attract an enthusiastic audience to discuss ‘the borders of Europe’―important, not least, at a time of increasingly dramatic and tragic arrivals in Italy, despite the advanced controls and large investments at work along southern European shores. The conference, organised by Nicholas De Genova, connected two distinct fields of study that have seen significant scholarly advances in recent years: the ‘autonomy of migration’ on the one hand, and the ‘tactics of bordering’ on the other. The former term is usually taken to refer to how migrants’ mobility always exceeds the means used to control it. Yet the presenters, drawing on field research in Greece, North Africa, and further afield, threw down some challenges to the notion of ‘autonomy’ by showing the intricate entanglement of controls and mobilities at Europe’s borders.

From Greece, we heard evocative tales of waiting among refugees from Syria and elsewhere―an experience, it should be noted, that is increasingly shared by those at the sharp end of Europe’s controls, whether in the UK, Scandinavia, or elsewhere. Among Greece’s stranded refugees, the question of whether to opt for the asylum process in a system stacked against applicants, or else to bet on a difficult journey further north, was but one of the dilemmas faced by those marooned in legal and political limbo. Drawing on Foucault, Maurice Stierl raised the tantalising suggestion that a ‘broken subject’ is being produced in Europe’s borderlands, worn down by controls, the threat of racist attacks, and the lack of escape routes, as well as by the ever-present fear that keeps refugees and their families stranded indoors, waiting for a glimmer of light on their narrowing horizon.

From Europe’s maritime borders, meanwhile, Martina Tazzioli told us about the ‘humanitarian’ military operation in Italian waters, Mare Nostrum, and of the difficulty in mounting a critique against migration controls once they are framed as rescues. One way of doing so, it was suggested, was to take the long view, looking beyond the border spectacle of boat interceptions and towards the ordeals on African and European soil that bracket this brief moment on the open seas. From the northern shores, we heard about the experience of waiting among refugees and migrants, mirroring that of Greece, as well as about the escape attempts engaged in―often with official connivance―by those who desperately seek to leave Italy. From the southern shores, we then heard of attempts to leave the camp of Choucha in Tunisia, officially closed by UNHCR, now that the large influx of sub-Saharan refugees after the Libyan conflict has subsided. Rejected refugees and those demanding resettlement still linger there, however―and with other exit routes closed to them, the boat journey becomes an increasingly attractive option, despite the obvious dangers. On these two shores of the Mediterranean, it was suggested, the border can be approached as a struggle rather than as a line of demarcation, in this way prompting us to look beyond the media spectacle of rescues and arrivals.

Stephan Scheel took us even further away from the border spectacle. We heard how Europe’s visa regime―despite its far-reaching implications in the governing of mobility―is much less studied than spectacular controls at land and sea borders, giving us, as migration researchers, pause for thought. Seeing the visa system as a site of struggle, the paper invited us to consider how potential travellers may ‘appropriate’ mobility through various means, including through modified paperwork and romantic liaisons with European tourists. In these struggles, the incentives for potential migrants to look ‘good on paper’ or to enact the role of romantic lover under the authorities’ gaze add a performative angle to the intricate interactions with the ‘remote’ or invisible border of bureaucratic controls.

Source: NPR
Finally, Clara Lecadet told us about an often neglected aspect of Europe’s migration control landscape: protests against such controls and deportations in origin countries. In Bamako―long a dumping ground of sorts for deported Malians, as well as for other West and Central Africans detained in Morocco, Libya, or Algeria―local associations have engaged in vocal resistance against official collaboration with the ‘deportation regime,’ reaping significant political gains in the process. We were also reminded that European policies on ‘returns’ amount to euphemisms, at the very least, as many of those forcibly sent back do not ‘return’ to a home in which they resettle, but rather only wait for an opportunity to leave again, their migratory struggle far from over.

European ‘tactics of bordering,’ in this sense, cannot control the movements they target. Instead, the papers gave us ethnographic lenses through which to see the intricate entanglemnts between border tactics and migrant counter-tactics. And such entanglements, it may be argued, in turn produce novel forms of abject mobility and temporary stasis―rather than full ‘autonomy’ or definitive blockage―at and beyond the rich world’s borders.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Andersson R (2014) Tactics and Counter-tactics in Europe’s Border Control Landscape. Available at: (Accessed [date]).