There’s A Focus On The Boats Because The Sea Is Sexier Than The Land: A Reflection on the Centrality of the Boats in the Recent ‘Migration Crisis’

Pallister-Wilkins.Profile PictureA guest post from Polly Pallister-Wilkins, Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Polly’s work broadly sits in the borderlands between International Relations, Critical Security Studies and Political Geography. More specifically she specialises in the intersection of humanitarian intervention and border control. Her current research is concerned with what she terms ‘humanitarian borderwork’ building on previous research into humanitarianism, border policing and the political sociologies of walls, fences and security barriers. Her regional areas of focus are the Mediterranean, specifically Greece, and the Middle East. She has been an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Amsterdam since 2012 after undertaking her doctoral research at SOAS, University of London. Recent work has appeared in International Political Sociology and Geopolitics. She is also the editor of a forthcoming forum in Mediterranean Politics on the ‘Migration Crisis’.


Lesvos boat landing, November 2015.Pallister-Wilkins

I grew up watching Baywatch. Saturday evenings were the highlight of my week. All that sun, sea, sand and heroics. This may account for my poor bastardisation—and for this I apologise—of Warsan Shire’s evocative verse. In addition I am not suggesting that all focus is on the boats that transport people and the sea they cross even as journeys and modes of travel become a central theme in border and mobility policing and the study thereof. I am labouring under artistic license here.

The appearance of search and rescue operations (SAR) in the Mediterranean and Aegean—beyond those undertaken continuously by commercial vessels and the daily routines of state coastguards—is, Cap Anamur aside, a relatively new phenomenon. The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) was the first non-state actor to engage in humanitarian driven SAR in 2014, joined in 2015 by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and later Seawatch in the southern Mediterranean. These actors are also present in the Aegean, a wholly different operating environment, with smaller SAR vessels, where they operate amongst a plethora of other groups and individuals focused on responding to the danger of the boat journeys of people on the move.

I have the utmost respect for those engaged in a range of practices that I call humanitarian borderwork. These humanitarian borderworkers, mostly volunteers, work tirelessly to alleviate the violence of a European border regime that makes safe and legal travel an impossibility for those seeking life. These people step in and step up to provide assistance for people on the move where Europe, its member states and its large-scale humanitarian organisations, so used to acting the sovereign and intervening elsewhere beyond the borders of Europe, have failed.

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The Status of Syrian Nationals Residing in Turkey

migrants-boat-capsize-mediterranean

Preface.

I have written this blog post about three weeks ago and have been sitting on it, reflecting about it since then, I was not sure if I wanted to write yet another piece on the “Syrian refugees”. But yesterday, we all woke up to the images of two young children lying on the beach lifeless around Bodrum, Turkey, and having read some of the posts available, I felt the need to post this. This is not a happy or “cool” post. This is a post about dire conditions and technicalities on the status of Syrian nationals living in Turkey, and it should be seen as a plea for assistance, and action.

The children in the pictures were Aylan Kurdi, 3 years old, and his brother Galip Kurdi 5, who drowned along with their mother Rehan Kurdi, on their way to Kos, Greece. They were from Kobane, trying the irregular route after their application for private sponsorship was refused by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), and presumably the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada this summer.

As an expectant father, and a human being, those pictures are too brutally heartbreaking for me. They are too real, yet unfortunately they are not exceptional or extraordinary. I was unable to look at the pictures for more than a second, and I don’t think I can ever get to share them or look at them again. Elsewhere on the Visual Cultures Blog, @MarcoBohr makes the point on how we can only confront the inhumanity of the situation by confronting such pictures directly, but I just can’t get myself to look at them again, so I am not posting them or really talking about them in this post. Instead, I look at some of the reasons (structural, institutional, situational) that pushes people to seek such a risky route out of Turkey. The images, in tandem with all those individuals dying in the Mediterranean, en route to Europe, represents a moral/humanitarian crisis and demonstrates the hollowness of the so-called “normative power Europe.” The European Union, US, Canada, Australia, and every other capable country – including the Middle Eastern countries – must be ashamed of their actions, or the lack thereof, in addressing this crisis. As scholars, individuals, and human beings we must not just read about these deaths, we must whatever we can stop others from dying the same way. 

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How is Rape a Weapon of War?

This post summarises a piece for the European Journal of International Relations just published online. An inconsequentially different pre-publication version is also available for anyone unable to breach the pay wall.

UPDATE (8 March): Sage have kindly made the full EJIR paper open access until early April, so you can now get it directly that way too.


I’m sure you have reasons
A rational defence
Weapons and motives
Bloody fingerprints
But I can’t help thinking
It’s still all disease.

Fugazi, ‘Argument’ (2001)

‘Weapon of War’ could be many explanations and I’m not sure of any of them.

UNHCR official, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2010

1. War Rape in the Feminist Imaginary

Rape is a weapon of war. Such is the refrain of practically all contemporary academic research, political advocacy and media reporting on wartime sexual violence. Once considered firmly outside the remit of foreign policy, rape is today labelled as a ‘tactic of war’ by US Secretaries of State who pledge to eradicate it and acknowledged as a war crime and constituent act of genocide at the highest levels of international law and global governance, a development which for some amounts to the ‘international criminalization of rape’. This idea of rape as a weapon of war has a distinctly feminist heritage. Opposed to the historical placement of gendered violence within the hidden realm of the private, feminist scholarship was the first to draw out the connections between sexual violence and the history of war, just as feminists fought to make rape in times of nominal peace a matter for public concern. Feminist academics have, then, pioneered a view of sexual violence as a form of social power characterised by the operations and dynamics of gender. Sexual violence under feminist inquiry is thus politicised, and forced into the public sphere.

But the consensus that rape is a weapon of war obscures important, and frequently unacknowledged, differences in our ways of understanding and explaining it. Continue reading