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Alternative Hospitalities on the Margins of Europe

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This chapter develops a critique of the necropolitical regime of border policing (following Mbembe) immanent to the existence of the European Union as a political and cultural space. It places the attempts to control “illegal” Mediterranean crossings—and the “migrant crisis”—in the context of the EU’s neocolonial and transnational connections among former colonizers and the colonized. Specifically, Nataša Kovačević turns to recent literature, whose preoccupation with the impossibility of a “good life” (to borrow Agamben’s term) in borderland states of exception suggests that an invisible war on migrancy has become immanent to the EU construction of sovereignty. These texts treat the borders as a threshold into Europe rather than any specific country, portraying migrants as new communities taking shape in the process of crossing, their solidarity based on a shared economic predicament despite diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. Mahi Binebine’s Welcome to Paradise and Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits imagine spontaneous communities arising among African migrants crossing the Mediterranean, juxtaposed to phantasmatic narratives of death and cannibalism that subvert the idealization of Europe. Their ethics of mutual aid, compassion, and hospitality call into question dominant representations of political community in Europe and help expand its cognitive possibilities.


An earlier version of this essay appeared in my book Uncommon Alliances: Cultural Narratives of Migration in the New Europe (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

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  1. 1.

    One, by no means unique, example is the case of the migrant boat that set off from Tripoli to the Italian island of Lampedusa in March 2011, carrying seventy-two migrants. Finding themselves stranded in the sea with dwindling fuel and food, they issued a number of distress calls, to both commercial and military vessels, the latter belonging primarily to Italian and Spanish NATO troops. While several helicopters dropped food and water and promised a swift rescue, nobody ended up evacuating the migrants over the next two weeks: they were left to die. Their boat never reached Lampedusa, and instead drifted back to the Libyan coast. Eventually, only nine migrants survived. For more information, see the 2014 film Liquid Traces: The Left-To-Die Boat Case, which assembled the trajectory of the boat recorded by surveillance technologies.

  2. 2.

    Binebine portrays the contemporary African immigration to the EU’s most prosperous countries as an afterlife of colonialism in that the geographic trajectories of migration predictably follow the former colonial ties. In the novel, such ties are solidified by colonial cultural and educational institutions in the former colonies, continuing economic and political inequalities, and the repetitive trope of European tourists visiting the former colonies, oblivious to their historical privilege of travel or residence in such spaces. For a detailed discussion of the European Union’s neocolonial indebtedness to its member states’ colonial pasts, see “Introduction” to my book Uncommon Alliances.

  3. 3.

    The neoliberal structural adjustment programs introduced in Africa by the IMF and the World Bank since the 1970s, which promoted “free market” economies, openness to foreign investment, privatization, and fiscal austerity in exchange for financial loans, have contributed to a rise in inequality and unemployment for a significant segment of the population, driving illegal immigration to Europe (see Pérez 2015 for an overview of these policies and relevant scholarship). In terms of legal immigration, the EU (like North America) favors professional elites and educated middle classes, rather than the unskilled, uneducated labor it imported in the period of vast re-industrialization after World War II.

  4. 4.

    The rise of clandestine migration results from Spain’s 1991 decision “to end Moroccans’ privileged status to enter Spain without a visa and the implementation in 1998 of the … SIVE, Integrated System of External Vigilance,” a hi-tech surveillance system along the Spanish coast (Abderrezak 2009, 461). On the other hand, to accommodate the surge in migration, Spain has signed agreements with Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Mauritania to offer limited-term work visas to workers from these countries (Montouri 2011, 2).

  5. 5.

    They are additionally “unreal” in the eyes of international law because they become the harraga in the act of crossing, those who join the ranks of the stateless by burning one’s identity papers—people without a past or a future, perfect necropolitical subjects. Jonathan Smolin notes that Arabic “hrig, which means ‘burning’” implies not only destroying identity papers to avoid repatriation, but also “a metaphorical burning of the past” (2011, 75).

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Kovačević, N. (2020). Alternative Hospitalities on the Margins of Europe. In: Boletsi, M., Houwen, J., Minnaard, L. (eds) Languages of Resistance, Transformation, and Futurity in Mediterranean Crisis-Scapes. Palgrave Studies in Globalization, Culture and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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