In his 2008 book Mediterranean Crossings, cultural theorist Iain Chambers portrayed the historical “Mediterranean” as a fluid, extraterritorial space of mobility and encounter, which had been enclosed and suspended by the ideological and physical barriers of European modernity. In the introduction to his book, he provocatively stated:
The very right to travel, to journey, to migrate today increasingly runs up against the borders, confines, and controls of a profound “unfreedom” that characterizes the modern world….In the twisted, asymmetrical human economy in which so many are losing their rights-that is, the right to immediate liberties secured by food, health, and education, rather than to the anonymous abstraction of “freedom”-today’s walls, fences, surveillance, and detention announce discrimination, apartheid, exclusions, and new hierarchies.
Chamber’s portrayal of the modern world, particularly Europe, as one buttressed by exclusion is painfully resonant today. Over the past several years, an increasing number of refugees from West Asia and Africa have sought asylum in Europe via land and sea crossings, both regular and irregular, leading to what has been popularly called the “European migration crisis.” Spurred on by rising xenophobia and nativist sentiment across the continent, European nations have attempted to limit the number of people seeking asylum, through various initiatives.
While European nations remain divided over how to address the issue and distribute responsibility for hosting asylum seekers, the EU and its partners have nonetheless “succeeded” in dramatically reducing the number of refugees reaching Europe’s shores. According to the European Council, the number of persons entering Europe through irregular channels has dropped 96% since its peak in October 2015.
But, the shoring up of Europe’s border regime has transformed the Mediterranean into a mass graveyard. In attempting to reach Europe, thousands of refugees continue to drown at sea in high numbers. To this day, the Mediterranean remains one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes.
A new report from the United Nations Refugee Agency entitled “Desperate Journeys” breaks down the cost of reducing the number of asylum seekers reaching Europe over the past three years. Indeed, Mediterranean crossings remain “deadlier than ever.” Between January and July 2018 alone, approximately 1,600 people either died or went missing trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean Sea and along land routes, reflecting a sharp increase compared to the same time last year. While a decreased search and rescue capacity is a major contributing factor, according to the report, the increased death rate is ultimately because “efforts by European authorities to reduce irregular migration” was done “without sufficiently increasing access to safe and legal pathways for those in need of international protection”:
Further actions are needed by European States to strengthen access to protection for refugees in Europe, including their access to States’ territory and asylum procedures including the use of accelerated procedures, enhance the quality of reception conditions for those arriving in Europe, strengthen the response to persons with specific needs, in particular unaccompanied and separated children traveling to and through Europe, ensure a consistent and predictable approach to rescue at sea and disembarkation in the Mediterranean, increase access to safe and legal pathways to protection as viable alternatives to dangerous journeys for those who are in need of international protection, and facilitate timely returns, in safety and dignity, of those found not to be in need of international protection or with no compelling humanitarian needs following a fair and efficient procedure.
The whole report can be read here.