Guest post by Meg Randolph, PhD candidate at the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre, Monash University, Australia. Her research explores the spread of Australia’s offshore detention policies within the Global North. Meg is on Twitter @MegRandolph_

Review of Border Policing and Security Technologies: Mobility and Proliferation of Borders in the Western Balkans by Sanja Milivojevic (Routledge, 2019)

border security
Border Policing and Security Technologies is an excellent contribution to the wider scholarship on border control and the growing role of technology within this space. This book provides a unique analysis of the border developments in the Western Balkans, with a focus on Serbia, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, and Kosovo. This is a crucial region that is widely understood as a buffer for EUrope (a term that is explained later in this review). Dr Milivojevic conducted this exploratory research in a manner which reflects her dual position as both an individual from the region and an academic—as both an ‘insider and an outsider’. This duality is evident throughout the book, as nuanced personal insights are interwoven with the observations and data collected in the field. Interspersed throughout the analysis are historical details that highlight the many changes that have occurred in this region, most notably the changes made in response to the “migrant crisis” in the 2010s. Due to its location at the intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa, migration plays a significant role in this region and, therefore, the policies deployed in this area are of central importance for migration scholars and policymakers. As Milivojevic notes in the book’s introduction, the Western Balkans are underrepresented within border literature. Consequently, this research represents a significant contribution to the field of border criminology.

The introductory chapter presents the varying connotations which surround the concept of the border, alluding to the multiple roles borders now embody. Contemporary borders contain various meanings for different population groups according to their mobility status—that is, the access they have to migration. The analysis of borders rests on four aspects: the nature and formation of borders, their location, the performance of borders, and lastly, the impact that they have on individuals (p. 3). Milivojevic examines each of these aspects and assesses their integration with security technologies.

Chapter Two introduces the reader to the various technologies deployed at border sites in the Western Balkans, and their role in transforming this region into a cyber fortress. This form of fortress seeks to “prevent, delay, or divert the arrival of illegalised migrants and to locate and remove non-citizens from states’ territory” (p.25). These developments are shaped by the complex relationship that exists between select countries and the European Union.  Milivojevic uses the term EUrope (p.13) to reflect the influence that this complicated relationship has had over mobility in the region. The variation of technological border measures implemented in this region further speaks to the nature of this relationship, as demonstrated in the example of Serbia’s biometric passport—a key requirement for gaining visa-free access to the EU. This development is reflective of what Milivojevic has identified as the proliferation of ‘liquid borders’ within digital spaces (p. 4).

Chapter Three explores the role of technological bordering practices in assessing and categorising those who attempt to cross them. Categorisation seeks to minimise risk by identifying those who are permitted to cross while preventing and deterring those deemed a ‘risk’ from continuing their journey. Supporting this process of categorisation is the xenophobic rhetoric associated with ‘risky’ groups who occupy the position of the “other”. Such divisive language works to legitimise the restrictions enforced on ‘risky’ groups.

The categorisation of migrants is assessed further in Chapter Four, where Milivojevic explores the ‘bogus’ label being applied to asylum seekers. It is the function of ‘doing borders’ that has permitted the application of labels to population groups, as Milivojevic illustrates in the example of the Roma people and the ‘bogus’ label given to this group. This label is applied to those groups perceived as migrating for labour opportunities, rather than more ‘acceptable’ reasons. Building on the process of labelling a group as ‘bogus’, states implement additional measures to further exclude these populations

In addition to the techniques discussed above to deter asylum seekers, narratives are circulated to highlight the risks associated with migratory journeys. It is widely accepted that migrant women face increased vulnerabilities during their journeys, specifically those concerning trafficking. Milivojevic documents many instances of violence against migrant women, highlighting their unique vulnerability. The risks associated with trafficking are often used by states as justification for increased border control measures which restricts the mobility of women migrants. However, Milivojevic also documents the resilience of these women; border control measures, narratives of risk, or even their own victimisation experiences fail to deter them from beginning or continuing on their journeys. The stories of women’s migratory journeys attest to their courage and resistance: “women show agency and determination; what motivates them is a desire for a better life, for themselves, their family, and—above all—their children” (p. 109). This chapter illustrates the importance of including women’s voices holistically in the migration space, rather than being limited to the trafficking space.

The resilience showed by migrant women is explored further in Chapter Six through the notion of stealing fire—the use of technology by migrants as a means of challenging the dominant narratives of vulnerability and risk surrounding migration. On social media platforms, people share personal stories of migration and guide fellow migrants. Social media platforms offer a community where key information can be exchanged and sourced. They are also used for communication with family and friends during precarious journeys. This use of technology by migrants has allowed their experiences to be documented, including violent experiences at border sites. Through such documentation, Milivojevic highlights how these technologies can help bring accountability in instances of human rights violations. This is illustrated in the example of Petra László, a Hungarian camerawoman who was convicted of breaching the peace after being filmed kicking and tripping men and women on the Serbia-Hungry border (p. 119).

Milivojevic has eloquently presented the complexities of borders through an innovative analysis documenting border concepts and technological developments within a region defined by increasingly restrictive border practices. Shaped by the migrant crisis of the 2010s, this book has created a window of insight into specific countries in the Western Balkans and the border practices deployed in this region. To contribute further to the discussion of borders and the technologies which now encompass them, future research should seek to expand Milivojevic’s analysis to include the other Western Balkan countries. This book is a great addition to the scholarship of border criminology and is recommended for those interested in the changing role and nature of borders in this region.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Randolph, M. (2021). Book Review: Border Policing and Security Technologies: Mobility and Proliferation of Borders in the Western Balkans. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/10/book-review-0 [date]