“Registering forms of border violence”
In our series of interviews with Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees, here’s our exchange with Forensic Oceanography on their project Border Forensics.
As in all our interviews, firstly, can you tell us who you are?
After focusing on migrants’ deaths across the Mediterranean Sea since 2011, we are now launching a new project called Border Forensics (BF), which aims to adapt Forensic Oceanography’s strategies for visual and spatial analysis of migrants’ rights violations to less documented areas of mobility conflict in and at the borders of Europe. Border Forensics, which now has a base as an association in Geneva, will continue to operate across the fields of art, human rights activism and research.
What made you think of the project?
Simply put, while the Mediterranean Sea is the deadliest border zone in the world, today, thanks to the tireless work of rescue NGOs and the Alarm Phone, today civil society has developed a strong capacity to intervene, document and demand accountability for violations at the maritime frontier. But there are many other border zones that generate border deaths and violations, and where the capacity of civil society to document and contest these forms of violence is not at all as developed as in the Mediterranean.
For example, the crossing of Sahara Desert is made more perilous for migrants by the EU’s policies of externalised border control. The International Organization for Migration has counted more than 2000 deaths in the area since 2014, but there are no reliable figures. The Alps have also become a landscape of death – with more than 60 deaths since 2016 counted by researchers – as states bordering Italy have sought to prevent migrants’ onward movement, a pattern also observed along the Balkan routes. Finally, isolated cases of migrant deaths occur within European cities, as borders proliferate into their social fabric as a result of “hostile environment” policies such as that adopted in the UK, which relegate migrants to conditions of survival. In fact, restrictive bordering policies and practices precaritize migrants’ entire trajectories, before and after the EU’s external borders. Whether these forms of violence remain invisible – as in the Sahara -, or on the contrary are hidden in plain sight – as is the violence of border in European cities which is normalised – the lack of capacity to register these forms of border violence and understand them as such limits demands for accountability and change and allows them to be perpetuated.
With Border Forensics, we seek to expand our project to contest border violence wherever it materialises. While borders remain at the centre of our analysis, we will investigate border violence regardless of where it manifests itself, the juridical status of the people affected, and whether or not they have recently crossed international borders, acknowledging how racialised border policies and understandings also lead people who have not necessarily moved in the course of their lives to be categorised as “migrants” and be abused as a result. Moreover, with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the repeated conflation by states of the “war on the virus” and the “war on migration” they have been waging for years, we have seen eruptive and mutating border violence. Our work is thus all the more important in the wake of the pandemic.
What will your project contribute to Europe, post-corona?
Generally, our project contributes new tools to document and counter border violence, strengthen migrants’ and civil society’s capacity to hold states accountable for border violence and to foster democratic public debate. By offering the public a clear and inescapable understanding of EU bordering policies and practices and their lethal effects, we bring to the fore the EU’s responsibility, which is that of its institutions, but also its citizens. European publics, civil society and researchers alike often focus on areas of mobility conflict separately. Our project instead emphasizes that the Sahara, the Mediterranean, the Alps and European cities are interconnected rims of border control deployed by EU states along a migration corridor. These areas of mobility conflict are key sites where European borders crystallize because of the lack of solidarity of European states with migrants from the global south, and between European states themselves.
This project’s framing thus allows for a new political problem to emerge, which in turn transforms the way it can be addressed, shifting from national(ist) solutions to European and transnational ones. We hope to spur discussions as to what might be more just migration policies founded in the reality of migration, not the denial of migrants’ lives. These contributions will remain as important as ever in post-Corona Europe. At the same time, in documenting and visualising the violence of European borders, we also want to question the way the borders of Europe are (re)produced within images, maps and other forms of visualisations. We then use artistic strategies to contest the various manifestations of the violence of borders, but also seek to challenge the borders that insinuate themselves in the field of aesthetic practice.
How do you envision it to grow from local to pan European?
Border Forensics will build upon the work that we have done with Forensic Oceanography (FO) for over 10 years. FO already operates as a node in a transnational network of initiatives which have attempted to fight border violence and support migrants’ rights and freedom of movement. For each investigation, we bring together a large group of activists, NGOs, journalists, human rights groups and cultural practitioners and institutions across Europe. In the context of Border Forensics, we will expand our collaborations with new researchers and other actors across the different borders zones we focus on.
And – to conclude – how does your project help to make Europe an open and shared public space for everyone?
While our project is focused on developing art-based strategies to register border violence, we always emphasise that this violence is a structural outcome of border control and that only an approach founded on solidarity and justice can durably put an end to the mobility conflict. In the process of our investigations and exhibitions, we create a shared space for collaboration and reflection that extends across Europe and beyond, contributing to bringing into being the profound social and political change we call for. We seek to transform the public’s understanding of Europe and its borders, and to contribute to forging new understandings of what it might mean to be “European” in an age of migration. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to a world in which migration can be exercised as a freedom and borders may become spaces of “passage and transformation” (Glissant 2006).
Granted: 39.860 euros