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s Europe continues to grapple with the displacement of people across international borders, we explore the politics of the migration ‘crises’ through a review forum of Ċetta Mainwaring’s poignant book, At Europe’s Edge: Migration and Crisis in the Mediterranean.
At Europe’s Edge begins with the struggles of those seeking to migrate across the Mediterranean to Europe. Such struggles retain a central place throughout the text, which explores how migrant and state negotiations of power and sovereignty intersect. Embedding her analysis in the Maltese context, Mainwaring forefronts the ways in which colonial histories and colonial presents continue to shape struggles over migration across the Mediterranean. Treading a careful line between insider and outsider, she convincingly shows how Malta has carved out its role as a gatekeeper of migration to Europe, in so doing perpetuating a discourse of crisis as a means to exert political influence. Yet the book not only draws attention to the unexpected powers of Malta in the formation of European policies. It also convincingly highlights the power of migrants in animating, shaping and contesting such policies, along with the reductive conception of space on which these rely.
This forum reflects on the significance of At Europe’s Edge from various angles. Alison Mountz draws attention to the centrality of the sea to Mainwaring’s analysis. Highlighting how the book enacts a “shift that is at once epistemological and geographical, away from land to sea,” she invites us to consider the legal ambiguities of responsibility and accountability that arise at sea along with the lethality of such ambiguities for people on the move. Like Mountz, Maurice Stierl notes the historical and contemporary significance of the Mediterranean as a place of mobility. He identifies the politics of crisis as requiring the continuous production of border spectacles, through which migrants are criminalised and subjected to racialised violence. Despite this, Stierl encourages us to take “hope in the migrant and solidarity struggles that challenge the borderisation of society and space.” For Martina Tazzioli, At Europe’s Edge is a reminder of the routinisation of emergency and of the racialised, rather than arbitrary, enactment of violence at Europe’s external borders. She suggests that the ‘margins’ of Europe form “the vantage point for grounding a politics of justice grounded on the materiality of migrants’ struggles.” Finally, Colin Calleja focuses on the dehumanising dimensions of so-called migration ‘crisis’, pointing to a “grim history of migration” in the European context. He invites us to view these in the context of sociological theories of othering as a means to unpack the violence to which the book points.
As Mainwaring herself indicates in closing this forum, the concerns that At Europe’s Edge addresses remain as pressing as ever in light of the severe neglect of migrants amidst COVID, the intensification of violence and pushbacks at Europe’s borders, and the increasing weaponization of migration. The book firmly rejects misperceptions of people on the move as “pawns” and “victims”, continuously reminding the reader that the Mediterranean space is crossed by “people, individuals and families, with their own histories, desires, and reasons for moving.”
At Europe’s Edge has already been recognised with the award for the 2020 British International Studies Association (BISA) Migration, Refugees and Diaspora Working Group best book. It speaks to multiple academic audiences across the fields of Geography, International Relations, Law, Politics and Sociology, as well as to policy and practitioner communities in Malta and beyond. Indeed, it is a must-read not only for scholars of migration, but for all those who are committed to an alternative present and future.
Vicki Squire is Professor of International Politics at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick. Her research explores the politics of migration, displacement, asylum and solidarity activism across various contexts. She is author of several books, including Reclaiming Migration (2021, Manchester University Press), Europe’s Migration Crisis (2020, Cambridge University Press), Post/Humanitarian Border Politics Between Mexico and the US (2015, Palgrave) and The Exclusionary Politics of Asylum (2009, Palgrave). She currently leads the international project Data and Displacement, which explores data-based humanitarian assistance to IDPs (internally displaced persons) in north-eastern Nigeria and South Sudan.