Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Arab Springs Making Space: Territoriality and Moral Geographies for Asylum Seekers in Italy

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Arab Springs Making Space: Territoriality and Moral Geographies for Asylum Seekers in Italy

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper engages the instabilities of the category of 'asylum' looking at Arab Uprisings' mobility to Italy and highlighting the contested encounter between governmental practices in managing asylum seekers and the embodied experiences of mobility from Libya and Tunisia to Italy in 2011-12. Focusing on asylum application processing, our analysis tackles its sorting rationalities (asylum seekers versus irregular migrants, country of birth versus country of refuge), its produced spatialities (processing centers and 'humanitarian emergency zones'), and its moral predicaments (how vulnerability and protection are put to work). Our aim is to contribute to a political epistemology of asylum whereby asylum's normative instabilities are mobilized to trouble its exclusionary boundaries and the profiling of the refugee as the alter ego figure of the citizen. The paper revolves around four episodes: it opens attending to an epistemological challenge; it stages a critical engagement with the Italian 'North Africa Emergency' in the second and third section; finally, it puts this analysis to work on the terrain of a political struggle to demand a right to presence for Libyan war evacuees.

Keywords: Arab Springs, Arab Uprisings, Tunisian Revolution, Libyan civil war, Schengen, Italian migration policy, European Union, Mediterranean, refugees, asylum seekers, international protection, citizenship, humanitarian regime, humanitarian protection, European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), refugee camp, migration management, securitization, governmentality, "state of emergency"

Introduction

The Arab Uprisings took global audiences by surprise, shaking up the region to an unanticipated extent and staging political change on the southern rim of the Mediterranean. (1) In this paper, we follow the spatial upheavals in the Mediterranean region (Sossi, 2013a) brought by migrations from Tunisia and from Libya to Italy in the times of the Arab Uprisings. We focus on the category of 'asylum' and map the contested encounter between governmental practices in managing asylum seekers and the embodied experiences of mobility from Libya and Tunisia to Italy in 2011-12.

Docking in Italy, people fleeing Libya or Tunisia entered a situation of political and organizational confusion. While the atmosphere upon reception bears some vernacular elements which we will point to in our analysis, we contend that it actually speaks to the problematic spatiality of asylum: its often decried twilight (Benda and Zolberg, 2001; Hathaway, 1997); its drawing on a 20th-century geographic imagination for regulating contemporary mobilities that have long challenged the coincidence between country of citizenship and country of residency; and the ongoing restructuring of its scope, which also refers to the general "respatialization of asylum" (Hyndman and Mountz, 2008, page 250) and to the multiplication of protection statuses (Gameltoft-Hansen, 2011).

Critically engaging the institutional side of this atmosphere of confusion, our analysis traces the disconnect between migrants' embodied geographies and the normative, physical, and geopolitical spaces through which asylum is processed, adjudicated, and finally performed. What is at stake is not a scrutiny of the inconsistencies of the Italian process visa-vis an established legal anchor or a normative ideal. On the contrary, we are interested in enlisting these very inconsistencies as productive forces troubling the normative partitions of migrant mobility, and in intercepting the political spaces they may open. Against a policy and legal foil partitioning migration stories along naturalizing borderlines (economic migrant versus refugee, 'bogus' versus authentic refugee, documented versus 'illegal' migrant), we are instead concerned with capturing the normative and institutional spaces that were troubled by migrants' mobility (Honig, 2001; Karakayali and Rigo, 2010; Mezzadra and Neilson, 2008) during the times of the Uprisings and in understanding how these instabilities may be employed on the terrain of political struggles. …

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