Guest post by Dr Alessandro Corso. Alessandro is ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Department of International Development.

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All talk. Spaceless space for the written word. Voiceless voice from anyone, for everyone. Its echoes, dead, resonate. Lost, desperate and mutilated voice, whispering to the ears, caressing the soul, touching the cords of doubt, to then disappear, submerged by the scrolling of a finger on the screen, small or big, it doesn’t matter; screen which contains the world; world which is held into the reductive gesture of a shocking title, a sexy article, a catchy image or a captivating click. It is all constructed and reconstructed at the speed of mere superficiality. Fast, fast! We must submit, write, tweet; we shall give news, respond, enter into the debate, propose our opinion (Reflections 17/04/21).

8 April 2021. Following one of the ongoing operations of intercepting and transferring back to Libya a group of people hoping to flee the country, Libyan Coast Guard agents opened fire against a group of young and frustrated migrants, fearful of being beaten, imprisoned and left in a state of neglect inside prison-like camps, where human rights are violated. One died, two teenagers were severely injured. A couple of weeks later, on the 22ndApril 2021, 130 people died as they were trying to reach Europe on board of unseaworthy vessels. Alarm Phone had once again reported to competent authorities in Europe and Libya that people in peril needed immediate assistance. One more shipwreck, on a repeated ordinariness of others.

Death has become a key trope of irregular migration. Life has been put to death, people left to die, allowed to seek help and receive it when it is too late. These are not accidents but ‘crimes of peace’. In times of the pandemic, the attention shifts more and more to the care for ‘loved ones’, and life brutalizes itself to reveal its most basic instincts of preservation and struggle for survival; death becomes the specter to be fought and the enemy within. If bestiality showed its teeth when our life was only allegedly put at risk by the presence of irregular migrants, now that life has been legitimately suspended to be preserved, what is the value that we (as individuals and communities) give to irregulars’ deaths?

As the Twitter realm stands on one side or the other of a simplistic image of the reality of forced migration, I am reminded of Lamin, Atta, and the young teenage Nigerian boy I met a few days after his landing in Lampedusa, when I conducted my one-year fieldwork in 2016 and 2017. I will call him Fred. I remember Fred’s crouched posture and lost eyes; tears coming down his pale face. I remember his trembling, which I soon learnt was boosted by the memory of his dead brother, killed by a gunshot before their departure from Tripoli, Libya. Fred told me that his brother had insisted to remain on the boat with him, while one of the smugglers ordered him to go back to the shore. The boat was filled by people, frightened as the journey to Europe was about to begin. An argument broke between Fred’s brother and the smugglers. Someone opened fire. They left. Fred trembled as he barely spoke, and I began trembling too. The echo of that trembling rests in the very broken words I am trying to express here; it extends into the following reflections I wish to pose.

What do we (I know, what does “we” even mean, one could ask?) make of the shootings, the blood, the tears, the words pronounced, written, proposed in the social media, the public debates, the institutional visits, the government declarations, the questions, the answers, the appeals; what is left of them? How to make sense of all these copious and absurd situations  that life keeps announcing? Confronted with horror, evil, inhumanity, and called to acknowledge that it is all human, perhaps all too human, how do we say something which is not doomed to become an object of consumerism, a superficial piece of a useless day of work, repetitive news to be carefully taken in a world of “fakes” where we shall protect ourselves? The threshold between reality and its construction, presentation and artificial representation, is so gray and ambiguous that intellectuals and scholars who work on such issues, begin to expose their increasing difficulties in research methods, choice of style, and ethical position. How do we make our work (that is about others’ lives) matter? Can we do so, or is it only idealistic presumption and moral idealism? Is criminality in disguise, as it appears in the reality of the spectacle of the border, something we shall live with and accept, or is there a different route we shall take?

As we write, we expel our thoughts on the registers of a dead(ly) language; language which speaks and echoes on digital platforms, made of intangible material, so marvelously evanescent, that one struggles to touch it. Nevertheless, such material is the one which enriches our knowledge, accompanies our days, educates our knowing, forms or deforms our self; so evanescent as real. So light and catastrophically heavy. How to deal with it?

Speaking is not enough. A lot has been said, perhaps even too much. There is no doubt that the question of detention in “compounds”, prison-like camps in Libya, cannot take place in the world we know. Truth does not need to be unveiled anymore. It is out there. All that counts (for action to be taken) has been proved and re-proved. After all, what is the ultimate point of proving what has been made explicitly evident to all (who wish to hear)? We must instead attempt to make another step, perhaps a more difficult one. We shall ask who is responsible for what cannot happen, yet it recurrently happens?

As the world moves toward the future, catastrophes emerge at the gloomy horizon. The sun hides behind disturbing clouds which seem to be stealing our breath, nurturing somehow that very state of somnolence which we recognize among each other. Sleeping goes on, the journey continues, and hope is the last to die. We are not yet dead, but alive in the vicinity of a death which constantly flies above us, and from which many oblige and remind us we shall find protection. 

Protection. The screen separates us from one another, and as it produces barriers, it gives us the life we desperately attempt to maintain. Life made out of screens. Screens from which we learn to live distant, distanced, moved away. We move away, yet we are free to speak. Damn, we can express ourselves! Let’s do it then! Let’s speak, let’s scream! Screaming, however, gives the sense of losing hold of the words we utter. The screen may seem like our savior, but it is the one which takes our time away. It also steals our ability to be in the proximity of one another. Without an experienced closeness, everything risks becoming opaque and grotesquely superficial.

Retrieving the gradients of color which experience carries, is an act of responsibility which brings us all together in our shared possibility to apprehend that life goes beyond the fixity of words, structures, systems, reason or logic. Finding such voice within oneself and through others in the world we live in is a common need in front of which we must act. As Matteo Salvini thanks the Italian justice for dismissing the Gregoretti case where the then Italian Minister of Interior blocked more than 100 migrants off the port of Augusta (Sicily) for six days, law keeps obeying to codes of conduct which minimize the reality of suffering of targeted groups of people, telling short and effective stories which serve to justify political negligence and governmental crimes. The Mediterranean speaks a language we will soon or later learn. At that point, we will be asked to speak back. But speech needs to take new tones and shapes. The screen must be broken, and contact must be searched once again, together with justice, clarity, legality and all those responsibilities for which many of us will need to be confronted with. Only when this act of responsibility will be made manifest and thus enacted, we may hope for something better to come.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Corso, A. (2021). Something Better to Come. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/07/something-better [date]