Time at Sea, Time on Land: Temporal Horizons of Rescue and Refuge in the Mediterranean and Europe

  • Naor Ben-Yehoyada


The reigning view of unauthorized and forced Eurobound movements is that, whatever their various shapes, in essence they all impinge on the same contradiction between universal humanity and bounded citizenship. This contradiction now lies at the core of the European political order. Against it, the chapter argues that the period of 2015–2017 aggravated migrants’ plight but also brought several changes of substance and not just in magnitude. I compare the dynamic relationship of migration and its interception along two kinds of routes: over sea and over land. Important features of this relationship include how routes have changed and the way interception policies have been enacted. The framings used by politicians, officials, journalists and activists to understand migration also play a role, too. During the summer of 2015, European authorities and public opinion turned their attention from the Mediterranean alone to a combined focus on the sea and the overland parts of the Western Balkan route. Consequently, the route was considered to terminate not the migrants’ arrival on EU soil but at the last EU stop in their projected voyage. Meanwhile, differences emerged in how the various actors saw the people and their cause or reason for moving along either route: regarding trans-Balkans, the overarching frame for addressing the Mediterranean situation had been “saving lives”, yet it came to be seen as a “refugee crisis”. This difference in framing corresponds to the different role context and history play in the treatment of each route. The maritime scene cast migrants in danger of drowning as the emblems of abstract humanity, bringing to the forefront the obligation of universal hospitality, demanding action without needing a context or history. Against this context-less universality, the landed routes framed people along them as (mostly Syrian) refugees of war, which includes both a context and a history. The obligation these scenes demand of Europeans and their institutions changed as well, going from that of timeless humanitarian benevolence to one of retributive justice.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naor Ben-Yehoyada
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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