HRIT Podcast Episode Six

Europe’s “Refugee Crisis” and Dynamics of Mediterranean Migration and Reception: What Kind of Crisis? For Whom?

This episode focuses on contemporary migration to the EU, and in particular on circumstances related to Mediterranean crossing. Eleanor Paynter, a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies at OSU, speaks with Dr. Vicki Squire, a Reader in International Security at the University of Warwick, UK.

More specifically, this conversation addresses issues related to what has been termed a migrant or refugee “crisis” in Europe. For whom is the situation really a crisis, and what is at stake? Although Mediterranean migration is not a new phenomenon, boat crossings from North Africa to the shores of Southern Europe increased after the Arab Spring in 2011, and again during the Syrian conflict. Between 2015 and 2016, approximately 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland, many of them having arrived via sea routes or after crossing the Balkans on foot. Media coverage of Mediterranean migration has focused especially on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants arrive (and which was featured in the 2016 film Fire at Sea, by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi). Yet other locations are also key sites. Since mid-2015, the EU’s hotspot approach has attempted to distribute the reception process across multiple sites, and Squire’s recent projects have focused on so-called hotspots, in Greece and Italy, as well as both arrival and transit sites in Malta, Germany, and Turkey.

In her work at EU and US borders, Dr. Squire has focused on the notion of dignity. A fundamental concept in human rights, dignity is key both to survival and, of course, in circumstances of death and burial. Migrant deaths make headlines in extreme cases, such as the 2013 memorial held in Lampedusa for a shipwreck on Oct. 3 in which 366 people died, but deaths are, in fact, a regular part of precarious border crossing. Squire has recently compared the contexts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern US to discuss how migrant deaths constitute what she terms “biophysical violence,” or “abandonment to death by natural causes.” In this podcast episode, Squire refers to directives such as Operation Blockade, enacted in the El Paso, Texas, area in 1993, which blocked well-trodden migration paths, prompting routes to shift to more dangerous desert crossings.

While Squire’s work aims to develop better understandings of these dynamics for scholarly and policy purposes, she is also concerned with how border issues are narrated to and understood by the broader public. The recent Crossing the Mediterranean by Boat research project involved 250 interviews with migrants, and a map featuring a selection of those interviews is now available as a public resource.

Artistic collaborations represent another way in which this academic work reaches a wider audience. Artist Bern O’Donoghue responds to these issues as a humanitarian crisis. O’Donoghue’s recent installation “Dead Reckoning,” in which origami boats represent migrants who have drowned at sea, also featured narratives from the Crossing the Mediterranean by Boat project.

The interactive dimensions of Dead Reckoning help convey research findings, including individual migrant narratives, in tangible ways, and through dialogue. This art-research collaboration joins a growing body of recent artistic exhibitions that have garnered attention for a range of issues related to forced displacement and precarious migration, including work on shelter at MOMA, underwater sculptures off the coast of Spain, and a display of objects left by migrants crossing the desert in Arizona. As Squire suggests at the end of this episode, by engaging audiences with issues and research findings through artistic media, this kind of collaboration challenges us to consider the significance of our positions as witnesses to these ongoing situations.



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