What I’m Reading: Les disparus

europe-2069532_1920.jpgI am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Les Jours is an independent French media source bankrolled by subscribers and investors. (Full disclosure, I am a subscriber.) Each ‘obsession’ is a long-form multimedia article that can be read on any type of technology. It is almost an online magazine, with each article being called an episode and filled with photos, sounds and other information. The obsession that I chose to read, amongst others, was Les disparus: sur la trace des migrants morts en Méditerranée (The vanished: following the path of dead migrants in the Mediterranean). The first episode is available to read, and is in French. I chose three particular episodes on which to focus: episodes five, ten and twenty. I am solely responsible for the translation, and regret any errors.

Released over a span of seven months, Taina Tervonen describes efforts to identify dead or missing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from objects left behind from sunken vessels. She also describes the European Union’s reaction to the crisis–mostly negative and unhelpful.

In episode five, Après les tragédies, l’Europe refermée (After the tragedies, Europe shuts down), Tervonen visits the island of Lesbos, where many asylum seekers washed ashore, dead or nearly so. She writes that “in October [2015] alone, there was a peak of 220.579 people” arriving from the Mediterranean (Tervonen 2018). Instead of helping Greece and Italy, the European Union decided to reinforce border controls and not much else (Tervonen 2018). This may have been the simplest measure, but it did not reduce the flow of people. The people of Lesbos, according to Tervonen, were “abandoned by Europe, whilst also suffering under austerity imposed by Brussels” (2018). Showing a strong front against refugees and asylum seekers may assuage the minds of xenophobes within the EU, but does nothing to help the people aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

Tervonen writes that at the height of the crisis, in September 2015, the EU entered into negotiations with Turkey “to limit and organise the influx of migrants” (2018), and then also with some African states to propose development aid in exchange for better border controls. She writes, “for the first time, development was officially conditioned on border control” (2018). Numbers, whilst reduced, did not fall to zero; however, the European Union has made those seeking refuge and asylum more and more uncomfortable, meaning they make more dangerous choices in crossing.

Tervonen describes the effects of the ‘better border controls’ in episode ten, L’Europe délocalise le tri des migrants (Europe outsources the sorting of migrants). The European Union sorts exiled people into two groups, refugees and economic migrants, and for the most part, that sorting happens in Greece and Italy (Tervonen 2018). However, after 2016 negotiations, that sorting started happening in Libya and Niger, the former a country with no central government and the latter incredibly poor and unable to handle the amount of people that are trying to cross through.  The refugee camp in Agadez, Niger is run by international organisations, and concerns itself with the sorting of ‘real’ refugees and ‘fake’ asylum seekers (Tervonen 2018), as if people leaving their country are doing so for some sort of amusement. There are many steps and interviews at these camps, where there is not enough food or sanitation for the numbers that keep arriving. Also, the development aid is slow to come, angering people in the city (Tervonen 2018).

In episode 20, Le jeune homme et la mer (The young man and the sea), Tervonen updates the story with new measures from Europe. They are cruel and Kafkaesque, and do not help the countries from which people flee. The conditions in Libya, a country that deals with the sorting of asylum seekers, are “well-known and regularly denounced in NGO and various UN agency reports” (Tervonen 2018). There is a system of voluntary returns, but as Tervonen writes, ‘voluntary’ is a laughable concept when you’ve been starving in a camp or prison in Libya and Niger (2018). As of July 2018, Tervonen writes that there are “at least 6500 people detained in official prisons and multiple thousands in clandestine ones, according to the UN” (2018).

The European Commission put forth three possibilities for a continued system of sorting: asylum centres in Europe organised by Frontex and the European bureau of asylum; asylum centres in Northern Africa organised by the UNHCR; finally, countries neither EU or NATO, in Europe or in Africa, with no real oversight by any organisation (Tervonen 2018). The extreme right in Europe does not like the first option, and the second and third options are places where asylum seekers are being treated poorly.

Though the numbers of new arrivals has lowered, there are still thousands in camps waiting for some word. A legal route is nearly impossible; the EU is only concentrating on “border surveillance, on sending people back and [so-called] control centres” (Tervonen 2018).

This control is only one way, of course. As Tervonen (2018) writes, sitting in the Gambia in Palma Rima, enjoying the sun: “There are so many White [Europeans], like me, who travel without issue from one continent to another, without any risk except for a pick-pocket or a hangover.” Europeans do not give the same rights to those to whom they have caused harm, and it is most obvious in these countries that must support tourism but are not allowed to seek something better, or receive help from those countries that used them in the past.

photo credit: Kreative Hexenküche

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