he experience of migration means different things to different people. When in the 50s my father emigrated to Australia the Maltese government had a scheme to support emigration – he was given money to cover his travel and to start him off in the new country which at the time was receiving migrants from the European continent with open arms. Notwithstanding the difficulties of living in a foreign land and the hard work to support his family in Malta and save enough money to be able to return to his homeland and start his own business, he was living and working in a country where he felt wanted and encouraged to work. The experience of migrants which this gripping book presents is of a different nature. The author, Ċetta Mainwaring, an academic with a social conscience has so ably and thoughtfully presented the experience of the Mediterranean migrant crossing within a political, social and cultural understanding of the experience.

In my opinion this book grapples with two important concepts, the other and otherness, and the concept of crisis. These two highly loaded concepts guide the pages of this book. The haunting voices of those who, notwithstanding Europe’s emphasis on the fortification of its external borders, continue to cross the Mediterranean with often tragic consequences. This book shows how Europe uses small states on the southern periphery to apply border management politics.

In sociological analyses, otherness plays a central role in one’s understanding of how different groups within society interact and create relationships. Such relationships create social identities, that is how an individual or a group of individuals relate to establish certain social categories. These social categories mold our ideas about ourselves, and our belonging to a specific group. Mead (1934) emphasized the importance of interaction with other people, interaction that molds our behaviour and self-image. The so called looking-glass self, developed in Cooley’s (1998) work shows that we define our identity within the framework of a social community. Through socialization we create our individual identity. The looking-glass self metaphor describes “neither ‘an over-socialized self’ characterized by passive internalization of given habits and values nor ‘unencumbered self’ cut loose from social constraints” (Hans Joachim Schubert, in Cooley, 1998). Thus, Mead’s work shows that identities are produced through interactions with others and our self-reflection about these interactions. The belonging to a group is exclusively intertwined with the belonging of the other to our group – thus when society creates social borders to create the insider and outsider, the different and the similar the self-image is being distorted. On the other hand, the alterity created by the media and political representation of the migrant as the other and the outsider gives credence to the politics of push-backs and the disregard of human suffering.

In Bauman’s (1993) notion of ‘otherness’, identities are set up as dichotomies in which ‘them’ is the other of ‘us’, thus through a process of othering society constructs a dichotomy between the in-group (the natives) and the out-group (the non-natives) – those who society perceives as less worthy of rights which the in-group demands as a matter of justice. The construction of otherness creates an asymmetrical power relationship in which only members of the dominant group are in a position to impose values on the other, devaluing the cultural values held by the other. This leads to a process of dehumanization and devalorization of the cultural values of the other. These dichotomies are not natural, but they are socially constructed and create power relationships. Obviously, this power is exasperated by the workings of social institutions like the media and its representation of the phenomenon. The way media speaks of the migration phenomenon adds to what is accepted as ‘normal’ and what is considered as ‘other’.

This dehumanization process has made it possible and acceptable to enact deadly policies in the European Union and the Mediterranean, where for instance “transferring responsibility for twenty-seven people to another country took priority over saving their lives” (Mainwaring, 2019: 3). 

The second concept that in my opinion Mainwaring’s work emphasizes is that of crisis. 

The media and political discourse have persistently emphasized migration as a crisis – a crisis that Europe is facing due to migration of thousands of people from one country to the shores of Europe (often based on overinflated numbers). Too often migrants are seen as the perpetrators and not as the victims, a cause of crisis and not a symptom of a sick political situation that leaves humans no other option but to flee for their lives. This publication, through the narration of stories of migrants fleeing and crossing the Mediterranean, explores how migration and the crises leading to human movement have their roots in histories of social change and human crises – a contextualized process of a political nature. Mainwaring’s text which starts with the tuna pen incident, when a group of migrants stranded in the middle of the Mediterranean, were transported on a tuna farm and left waiting for days while politicians discussed their fate. This catapulted the silent awareness of the African migrant plea to the attention of the media. This incident although it led to policy discussions amongst European and Mediterranean countries, brought about very little change. In the ensuing years, thousand continued to drown making the Mediterranean Sea a cemetery for thousands of migrants. This situation uncovers the true conscience of Europe. It shows how Europe was more concerned with issues of fortification of the external political borders than saving lives. Migrants, as Mainwaring writes, are “reduced to symbols of suffering or criminality and disorder” (2019: 4). 

Migrant crises continue to this day. A recent tragedy being the Lebanese Crisis. Syrian refugees who had found refuge in Lebanon are now once again forced to move together with thousands of Lebanese nationals to the shores of Cyprus to try to find a new life away from poverty and suffering. In the past years, the currency in Lebanon has lost over 90% of its value, putting over 82% of the population in extreme poverty. To add insult to injury, the sectarian divides between Sunni, Shia Muslims and Christians have meant that some decided to make the perilous journey through the Mediterranean to the coast of Cyprus moving once again the discussion about migration from the margins to the center – discussions that highlight the political nature of the situation at the center of which are the thousands of migrants whose only quest is to have a better life were their families can live. Once again Europe fails to see the human plea, but decides to send the Cypriot coast guard to push back these migrants without even the basic needs of food and water. Amongst these migrants were people with serious health problems and a pregnant woman close to her delivery date (Rybarczyk, 2021).

At Europe’s Edge speaks of a grim history of migration which European politicians frame as a crisis that needs to be controlled through more stringent border controls. It is a publication that still has relevance to discussions taking place today and in the future regarding migration.  It seems that, notwithstanding the failure of such policies, our politicians seem to resort to the same failed solutions of the past. The book also shows the role small countries like Malta can play within EU migration policies and the possibilities of solutions which go beyond border control, entertaining ideas that value the human and solidarity with populations that are experiencing injustice and inequality.


Bauman Z (1993) Modernity and Ambivalence. London: Polity Publication.
Cooley CH (1998) On Self and Social Organization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Mead GH (1934) Mind Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Edited by Charles Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Rybarczyk K (2021) Refugees fleeing Lebanon look to Europe – but Europe looks away. Social Europe, 21 October

Prof. Colin Calleja B.Ed.(Hon), M.Ed. (Melit.), Ph.D (Leipzig) is the Dean of the Faculty of Education and Head of Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning. He is an Associate Professor in Differentiated and Diversity Pedagogies. He is also the promoter and national and European coordinator for the Let Me Learn Process. Professor Calleja has authored a number of peer reviewed journal articles and books.