The Border that Death Creates

A pressing issue that is not given enough attention in the media is the degree of violence experienced by migrants at EU borders and the transnational effects that holds. Iosif Kovras and Simon Robins shine a light on the issues that undocumented migrants and their families face due to methods of security implemented at the border. Present day levels of securitization and militarization are increasing in an attempt to keep migrants out and are resulting in violent deaths that take place on state lines. Contrasting state policies of dealing with dead migrants versus dead citizens are pushing the emotional component of the border into the homes of migrants’ families. The modern-day refugee crisis has changed and it stretches far beyond the massive migration of people into European states; it is changing the discourse around Mediterranean migration from “one concerned with the threat to Europe, to humanitarian concerns”. States within the EU are failing to deal with this humanitarian crisis and, as a result, the indirect victims are those families living in ambiguity, uncertain of the status of their loved ones.

The contemporary border is a shifting phenomenon presently shaped by death at the border as a result of increased securitization. Through an analysis of death as the border, we see the underlying impact that the deaths of would-be migrants at the EU frontiers create. While the physical border separates citizens from aliens, death as the border is what separates families from their loved ones and creates a border that presents a strong emotional component. This extension of the contemporary border contributes to the growing humanitarian crisis because it is constructed from the bodies of migrants and the trauma felt from their family members. Different forms of exclusion and inclusion are experienced at the border and remain highly evident after death through the management of dead bodies within the EU.

Source: Daily Mail.

Lesbos, Greece, is a popular destination for migrants and refugees; 500,000 arrived in 2015–a huge number for an island of roughly 86,000 people. The fundamentally different policies enacted by governments in the EU in response to dead citizens or dead migrants emphasize the dire situation at hand. The living migrant is seen as the biggest “‘threat’ to national security” and is placed under the microscope of surveillance, but the moment those migrants die at the border, death is seen as an accident and thus not the responsibility of the state. These policies are evident in cemeteries, where migrants’ bodies are scattered throughout and buried at unmarked graves. 97% of Greek citizens are identified at the time of death, which is an exceptional number even by international standards, while only around 20% of migrants are identified. The state authority’s failure to take responsibility for the bodies of migrants leaves the issue in the hands of local authorities who lack the necessary funds to properly identify and bury every body. This contributes to forms of exclusion felt by migrants after death. Consequently, this lack of action holds repercussions abroad where the transnational effect of the border is felt; where families wait to hear from state officials if their loved ones are alive or not.

This poses an interesting question: what makes one human life more valuable than another? Giorgio Agamben explains this concept through his framework of “bare life”, which illustrates the inhumane treatment of migrants at the border inherent to this humanitarian crisis. Migrants are placed in these situations of extreme vulnerability to state’s power, a position of isolation, in other words, the point between inclusion and exclusion, where the migrant holds no rights in any legal system. When a person is stripped of their rights, deemed as ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’, they are immediately seen as an excess, “as something other than human” and undeserving of sufficient consideration at the time of death. Those who are not valued in life are in effect not valued or seen as grievable at the time of death and these forms of exclusion are what shape the present-day refugee crisis. As a result, migrants end up unidentified and their bodies left among the masses. The families of would-be migrants are left suffering in ambiguity, uninformed of what has happened to their loved ones who fell at the mercy of the border.

Additionally, a German newspaper has recently released a list of the names of refugees and migrants who have died trying to reach Europe. This list is over 46 pages long and holds the lives of 33, 293 migrants and refugees. The newspaper wanted to document the lives of innocent people who have fallen victim to increased securitization at EU borders since 1993. With that being said, the border has recently shown to be at a violent peak, as proven by 5,079 migrants dying or gone missing last year due to EU states no longer being able to prevent the massive movement of refugees and asylum-seekers from coming into the country. Instead, the power of state sovereignty is exerted through attempts to control the flows of migrants through increased security and surveillance. This inhibits migrants’ right to a decent life and thus infringes not only on their human rights to survive, but also on their rights to move freely and live in a world they deserve. Managing the flow of people while keeping some level of state power alive through security is the reason deaths are increasing at the frontiers. State authorities are not taking responsibility for these deaths because migrants remain outside of the legal system. Death creates the most significant border of them all and the neglect of the state’s response on the issue only makes matters worse. The families abroad, unable to rely on official statements from the state authorities, are left forgotten and faced with consequences far too massive to ignore.

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