Mediterranea: Thinking through a Political Invention in Tumultuous Times

Photograph: Francesco Bellina, 2019.

This conversation initially appeared in PARSE journal. It is re-published here, lightly edited for style, with the kind permission of the editors, and accompanied by the photographs of Francesco Bellina.


In a brief text titled “Preface on Transgression,” initially published in 1963, one year after the death of Georges Bataille and reflecting on the contribution of his thought, Michel Foucault discussed the complex relation between transgression and limits.1 It is worth quoting an excerpt from this extraordinarily poetic and spatially evocative text in full:

Transgression is an action which involves the limit, that narrow zone of a line where it displays the flash of its passage, but perhaps also its entire trajectory, even its origin; it is likely that transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses. The play of limits and transgression seems to be regulated by a simple obstinacy: transgression incessantly crosses and recrosses a line which closes up behind it in a wave of extremely short duration, and thus it is made to return once more right to the horizon of the uncrossable.2

Discussing the relation between limits and transgression, this text announces Foucault’s lifelong engagement with the questions of power and resistance.3 Foucault here underlines the co-constitutive relation, and constant hand-to-hand struggle between transgression and limits. Limits are constantly adapting to the practices that transgress them, which in turn may cease to be transgressive at least for a time – until transgressive practices reposition themselves to regain the “political edge,” or a limit moves back against them. This conceptualization offers a useful perspective from which to think the relation between non-governmental initiatives and bordering practices at the EU’s maritime frontier over the last years. These developments in turn provide a context for the focus of this conversation with Sandro Mezzadra and Beppe Caccia, which is Mediterranea. This “non-governmental action,” organized around a civilian monitoring and rescue ship is one of the most recent and innovative initiatives deployed against the deaths of migrants at sea, in support of their freedom to move, and in defiance of the drastic policies deployed by the Italian government during Matteo Salvini’s term as Minister of the Interior.

The 2011 Arab uprisings led to the toppling or destabilizing of the authoritarian regimes in North Africa that had served as the pillars of Europe’s policy of externalized border control.4 These popular uprisings – and the foreign military interventions that accompanied them in the case of Libya – also made the European border regime vacillate. In Tunisia, migrants took advantage of the power vacuum to seize the freedom to move, which the Ben Ali regime had denied them in tandem with the EU. The counter-revolutionary turmoil that spread in Libya and Syria further triggered large-scale population movements across the region. European states have struggled to respond to this crisis of the European border regime triggered by migrants’ movements, deploying new means of militarized deterrence and containment so as to channel and block migrants’ unruly trajectories.

In the wake and in support of the illegalized migrants who re-opened the Mediterranean frontier in 2011 – and faced the violence of its roll-back since then – a multitude of non-governmental actors have also taken to the sea. They have deployed new and highly innovative initiatives to support migrants exercise their freedom to move and block the violence of borders. Together, they have turned the in-between space of the “Medi-terranean” into a transnational space of political experimentation, and a space of politics in its own right. Without any claim to being exhaustive, we should first of all mention the mobilization of the families of the disappeared in Tunisia, which came together in 2011 with the support of Italian activists to demand truth and accountability for the disappearance of their loved ones.5 My colleague Lorenzo Pezzani and I have contributed to this renewed phase of activism at sea by initiating a research project called Forensic Oceanography in the same year, which has mobilized surveillance technologies against the grain to document the violations of migrants’ rights at sea towards litigation.6 Since 2013, we have collectivized these tools by making them available via the WatchTheMed platform. The Alarm Phone project emerged from this process in 2014, extending the underground networks of solidarity of No Border activists across the sea through a civilian emergency phone line to support migrants during the crossing.7 These initiatives challenged the boundaries of what and who can be seen and heard across the Mediterranean frontier, but still left the capacity to intervene to rescue people in distress in the hands of states.

The ending of the Italian “military and humanitarian” operation Mare Nostrum – which was a veritable policy of abandonment – led to a staggering increase in migrant deaths at sea in early 2015,8 and triggered in response a new important development in activist practices at sea: the deployment of rescue vessels, which soon came to constitute a rescue flotilla. The trajectory from their deployment at sea to their current criminalization can be analyzed through the lens of Foucault’s comments concerning the relation between limits and transgression. While, as the work of Maurice Stierl and Paolo Cuttitta has shown,9 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on rescue at sea are far from homogeneous and can be positioned along a wide spectrum in terms of their (de)politicization, their deployment in 2015 was a highly transgressive moment. Critical humanitarian organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and much smaller NGOs such as Sea Watch, vocally denounced the lethal retreat and inaction of states, calling on them to redeploy a large-scale Search And Rescue (SAR) operation. Through their very presence, rescue NGOs wrestled away from states the monopoly of the capacity to monitor and intervene at sea. Rescue NGOs quickly demonstrated a fundamental impact at the operational level, rescuing 75,000 people between 2014 and 2018 – many of whom might have died without their presence. At the same time, however, one could argue that their operational effectiveness put them at risk of complicity as they established a “division of labor” with state agencies: NGOs ran rescue operations, allowing state agencies to focus on security activities, including destroying migrant boats in their wake. In other words, rescue NGOs were at risk of becoming the “left hand of Empire,” healing the wounds wrought by the violence of the right hand.10 Faced with their unwilling complicity with the security logics of states and the normalization of their presence, several NGOs were questioning their activities by autumn 2016. In meetings and discussions in which we took part, they asked themselves repeatedly “How do we regain a political edge?” While they considered what shifts in their activities might re-position them in opposition to states, in the following months states turned against NGOs instead.

After successfully sealing off the Aegean thanks to the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, the attention of policymakers returned to the central Mediterranean, where the only available partner facing Italian shores was the shattered Libyan state, and particularly its unsavory coast guard units.11 Outsourcing border control once again to these Libyan partners – as had been the case in 2009 – demanded that NGOs be sidelined. After all, if the newly equipped Libyan units were to intercept migrants leaving their shores effectively, the same migrants could not be rescued by NGOs that would bring them to European soil. Furthermore, to allow the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants at gunpoint with impunity, the monopoly of states over the maritime frontier’s aesthetic regime had to be restored. For all purposes, then, the Mediterranean had to be de-humanitarianized. Since the summer of 2016, Italy, with the full support of the EU, has stepped up its collaboration with the Libyan coast guard, and at the same time led a virulent campaign of delegitimization and criminalization of NGOs – a two-pronged policy we have called Mare Clausum.12 From then on, the very same rescue activities that had been temporarily normalized became increasingly transgressive once again.

The March 2018 general elections in Italy, and the ensuing institution of far-right leader Matteo Salvini as Minister of the Interior, sent a shock wave through Italian society that rippled across the Mediterranean as he radicalized the Mare Clausum policy. On June 10, 2018, Salvini announced the closure of Italian ports to the disembarkation of rescued migrants via a tweet, and forced a first NGO vessel, the Aquarius, to divert its path towards Spain.13 In the weeks and months that followed, the criminalization of rescue NGOs was further stepped up, in Italy as well as in Malta.14 After June 2018, NGO vessels were reduced to “an average of one vessel operating at any given time” off the coast of Libya, and the possibility of their complete expulsion seemed real.15 During Salvini’s term, the Mediterranean became increasingly a “battlefield,” with intense struggles surrounding every single boat seeking to cross the Mediterranean.16

It is in this context of “shock,” as Sandro Mezzadra describes it, and urgency to act, all the while taking stock of the limitations of existing nongovernmental rescue activities, that a new disobedient rescue operation, Mediterranea, was initiated by a left-leaning platform in Italy. Mediterranea has explicitly affirmed its very presence at sea, its monitoring and rescue activities, as acts of disobedience and opposition to the Italian government, and connected its operation at sea with social movements able to mobilize on firm land across Italy and beyond. In a phase of violent political backlash, Mediterranea has offered one of the most inspiring and effective political and practical interventions, not only holding its ground but regaining the initiative, and re-imagining “what a ship can do.”17

In October 2019, I sat down with Sandro Mezzadra – political theorist and activist, who has inspired several generations of thinkers and activists, including myself, and contributed to launching Mediterranea – and Beppe Caccia – veteran political organizer and coordinator of Mediterranea. One year after Mediterranea’s ship, the Mare Jonio, set sail on its first mission, we discussed the key orientations of the project, and assessed the project’s achievements and the challenges it faces. We first addressed the context for this new initiative, and why it appeared necessary to go beyond the standard “rescue NGO,” which had established itself as a new repertoire of non-governmental action since 2015. We then unpacked the thinking behind some of the key characteristics of the project: the hybrid political form of the platform; the question of the human as both a trope of humanitarian reason, but also a radical demand in the face of dehumanization; the connection between intervening at sea and across multiple scales on firm land; and finally the radical politics of the law enacted by Mediterranea that we could think of as a form of strategic transgression. Thinking through this political experiment was timely, since our conversation took place shortly after Salvini was ousted from the governing coalition in September 2019 and forced back into opposition. Our discussion then coincided with a moment of renegotiation of the relation between transgression and limits in which Mediterranea and others are forced to reposition their activities. The virtuoso political thinking of Sandro Mezzadra and Beppe Caccia, which should be read alongside a broader series of interventions by other Mediterranea members published in South Atlantic Quarterly, demonstrates clearly that (self-)critical thinking does not preclude political action, but provides the condition to sharpen it in the face of an ever-shifting context.18

The interview transcript is accompanied by photographs from the “On a gagné” [“We’ve won,” or “We’ve prevailed”] series taken by documentary photographer Francesco Bellina while on board the Mare Jonio in Summer 2019. They record one rescue operation of 98 precarious travelers, on August 28, 2019. They had escaped from Libya two days before, but their engine had problems and the boat’s tubes had started to deflate, leading to the death of six people before they could be rescued. Following the rescue by Mediterranea, the Italian government refused to let the passengers disembark in an Italian port. While on the 29 August the Italian Coast Guard transhipped 64 people in dangerous conditions, the Mare Ionio remained blocked off the coast of Lampedusa for six more days with the 34 remaining migrants until it could finally enter the port. Upon arrival, the Mare Ionio was seized. Bellina’s photographs unfold a narrative that runs parallel to the conceptual and political issues addressed in this conversation.

Bellina is a sympathizer of Mediterranea, and his photographic practice resonates in many ways with Mediterranea’s political intervention. He replicates, at the level of image production, Mediterranea’s attempt to enter a particular type of action, and practice it differently. First of all, while not denying the hierarchy that exists between the rescued and the rescuers (with whom Bellina was associate), he seeks to approach equality in the relations he establishes with the precarious passengers, including in his acts of photography. Permission to photograph was sought from the migrants, the pictures were shown to and shared with them. Second, Bellina’s photographs evade climactic portrayals of human suffering and heroic rescue that are so characteristic of images of non-governmental rescue activities. His anti-spectacular gaze reveals what escapes either the securitizing or humanitarianizing perspectives: the fragility of the rescuers, the moments of calm, of thought, or fraternity that migrants enact and experience, even in the most precarious circumstances. Portrayed neither victims nor villains, what is fore grounded is the precarious passengers’ persisting dignity and autonomy.

Charles Heller

Responding to the Shock of Salvini, and the Limits of Humanitarian Action

Charles: I’m delighted to be with both of you today to discuss and think through the political innovation and experiment of Mediterranea. I’d like to start by asking both of you to talk briefly about your own background. I know that you shared some struggles, but you also have distinct trajectories. I’m particularly interested in how your personal trajectory shapes your approach to the Mediterranea project.

Sandro: Maybe I could start by saying that Beppe and I first met some 30 years ago, even longer, so we share a lot. We have followed both convergent and divergent paths. We have collaborated on many projects. For instance, on the UniNomade project – now EuroNomade – an attempt to bring together activism, militant investigation, and the projection of knowledge. As far as I’m concerned, it is quite easy to say what brought me to be part of the Mediterranea project since the beginning. As you know, I have been working on migration and borders for many, many years. I have shared both scholarly and activist projects at the nexus of borders and migration. So it was quite natural for me to join the group of friends that were beginning to work towards what would become Mediterranea in June 2018.

Charles: I’d like to ask you further about how you see the connection between your research over the last years on critical logistics, in particular in relation to migration and borders, and your engagement in Mediterranea, which has at its core the chartering of a boat to monitor and rescue migrants at sea.19 How does your critical theorization of logistics shape the way you seek to answer the question: “What can a ship do?”

Sandro: Of course, there is no straightforward relationship between research and activism, but I did indeed start work on logistics four or five years ago, because I was interested in the new mobility paradigm connected with the development of logistics since the 1960s. So the question of mobility was kind of a bridge between my interests in migration and my interest in logistics. When we started searching for a ship for Mediterranea in late June, early July last year, I found myself right in the center of the world that I had been studying because of my interest in logistics. So there was a kind of shortcut, and all my work on logistics suddenly came to the surface, because I saw logistics embodied in the world that I was exploring when looking for a ship. A critical logistical gaze helps one focus on multiple flows, on the bottlenecks but also on the “seams.” This has become increasingly important for me, also in my work in migration.20 And it has helped me to stress even more the priority of movement, which has always been a guiding principle in my writing on the topic as well as in my activism.

Beppe: I would like to highlight both the elements of continuity and discontinuity. Of course I will start from myself, but I feel that to some extent it is possible to apply this perspective to other people involved in this adventure. If I look at my background, I started not just studying, but being practically involved in migrant struggles at the end of the 1980s, beginning of the 1990s. Migration became an issue in Italy in 1989, with the first large-scale arrivals from North Africa, Asia, and Africa, and with the anti-racist mobilization around the killing of Jerry Masslo, a South African political refugee, engaged in organizing laborers in the countryside of Villa Literno, victim of a vicious racist murder. But the summer of 1990 was crucial: most of northern and central Italian cities saw migrants coming from the South to the North to work in manufacturing industries and services for the first time in recent history. They were homeless, and therefore squatting abandoned and empty buildings, in Rome, in Milan, in Brescia, in Padua, in Bologna. This was the beginning of the experience of “Città Aperta” (Open City) in Genoa as well. Later my relation to migrant struggles took different forms: I was, for example, a city counselor for a long time, and I acted as deputy mayor for social welfare in Venice for five years – between 2001 and 2005 – and local migration policies were part of my institutional responsibilities. We operated in a period of transition between two distinct phases: in the first phase, we managed two big refugee camps on the Venetian mainland to respond to the massive arrival of refugees coming from the Balkan wars, mostly Roma people arriving from Serbia and Bosnia, and from Kosovo; the second phase was marked by the attempt to overcome the management of refugees in these two emergency camps, and starting a pioneer project that later became the first Italian system of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, the so-called “SPRAR” system that started with a pioneering project in Venice in the early 2000s. At the same time, our efforts as city government were geared towards guaranteeing new civil, social and political rights to the status of migrants – “non-citizen residents” – who lived and worked in the Veneto metropolis, in stark contrast and opposition to the racist policies of the right, implemented at national level even then. So I have a long-standing relation with migration, and there is a continuity in this respect. When the discussion around Mediterranea started, I have to say that my involvement in collective political projects had come to a pause around 2014-2015 and I was, together with other comrades, investigating the role of cities, from the perspective of a “new municipalism” on a European scale. We were addressing the migration issue from the point of view of cities as a possible alternative actor in shaping an alternative approach to migration, working on concrete cases such as Barcelona, Grande-Synthe, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Palermo, around the concept and practices of “solidarity cities” and the possible construction of networks between them. There is, of course, a sort of continuity in that, but there are many aspects of discontinuity. First of all, in the form of activism, Mediterranea clearly was and is something different from the traditional forms of activism we practiced in our past experiences. There are discontinuities also in the main goals, in the modes of communication, as well in operational aspects of the project.

Charles: I’m sure we’ll come back as well to your experience in the municipality of Venice and how it informs your thinking of the role of cities within the Mediterranea project, but now I’d like to ask you to describe the context that made the Mediterranea project urgent and why you felt that, simply launching another rescue vessel – which has now become a “repertoire” of non-governmental action – was not enough.

Sandro: The context is well known: we described it, for instance, with some detail in the article that was published in Viewpoint. It was this kind of shock that we experienced, when in June 2018 Salvini inaugurated his “closed ports” policy by denying the Aquarius of SOS Méditerranée the possibility to disembark in Italy the passengers it had rescued. We immediately perceived that as a qualitative shift in the process of criminalization of humanitarian intervention that had been started by Marco Minniti, the Minister of the Interior of the previous center-left government, in the summer of 2017. In order to cope with this qualitative shift, we had to invent something new. A qualitative shift in the criminalization of humanitarian intervention and NGOs, as I was saying, but also a qualitative shift in the management of the border, in the European border regime we had been criticizing for many years.21 With Salvini, we had the impression that we were confronted with an attempt to challenge the very principle of differential inclusion and exclusion that had been the goal of the European border regime in the previous years. So we immediately perceived that the war on NGOs could not only correspond with the intensification of the war on migration at sea, but also with a dramatic hardening of the conditions of migrants on firm land. So, since the beginning we had these structural connections between the sea and the land in mind. And we were aware of the fact that we had to maintain this connection while looking for something new. “Something new,” what does that mean? We asked this question first of all, as Beppe was saying, in relation to the usual repertoire of activism. The port of Catania was closed, so what could we do? Let’s go to the port, let’s organize a demonstration, let’s issue calls… All these things were necessary, we didn’t question that, but we had the impression that they were not enough, that something else was needed. For us, the sea was something new, because if you think of this small group of people that started discussing the project, nobody had experience with the sea. Nobody had a background in NGOs. So these were worlds that were very far away from our experience. Imagining a ship at sea engaged in search and rescue operations was definitely new for us. But we then also started a discussion regarding established forms of humanitarian intervention at sea, and, in the light of the process of criminalization, the limits of those existing forms of intervention were apparent. It was clear that the governmental turn of humanitarianism since the early 2000s had reached its limit, and it was no longer possible to present humanitarian intervention as neutral. The politicization of humanitarianism was apparent. This is the reason why our project could not be a repetition of the classical forms of intervention of NGOs. For us, it was very important from the start to stress the relation between sea and land. As you know, in the established forms of humanitarian intervention, the intervention has to happen where the crisis becomes manifest, which is at sea. From the start, we had a critical stance with respect to this focus on the emergency, on the sea, so we started to imagine a project able to build multiple bridges between sea and land. This is maybe the main peculiar characteristic of Mediterranea with respect to established rescue NGOs.

Beppe: I would like to expand on this last point, because I think it’s quite crucial to better understand the origins and current developments of Mediterranea and to focus on the differences with rescue NGOs – which absolutely does not entail distancing ourselves from them. First of all, we have a deep respect for NGO activities since 2015: we are talking about organizations and their ships able to save tens of thousands of lives at sea. And from the start we have closely collaborated with rescue NGOs, in particular Sea Watch, and we are constantly trying to push for cooperation and wider political alliances, including all search and rescues NGOs. But looking at our background, we were informed by a critique of not only the theoretical frame and public discourse on “humanity” and “humanitarianism” that has emerged since the end of the 1990s, but more specifically on the progressive integration of non-governmental activities in new kinds of war operations. In the Italian debate, a crucial turning point was the war on Kosovo in 1999: that was the moment in which the center-left government decided to participate in the NATO war operations, and at the same time organize a wider non-governmental project of humanitarian assistance on the ground in Kosovo, “Operation Rainbow.” The proximity of humanitarian actors and logics could also be observed more recently with the “military and humanitarian” operation Mare Nostrum and, after the ending of Mare Nostrum, the growing role of search and rescue NGOs in the Central Mediterranean, which was to a large extent integrated in the structures of coast guard and navies operating at sea, with a real level of operational cooperation with the State Maritime Research and Coordination Centres, and also with a political integration of NGO activities in search of rescue at sea in the European policies of border management. The criminalization process and the following unprecedented conflict between rescue NGOs and the Italian government constitutes a break with this past complementarity, and is one of the new dimensions of the Salvini phase that Sandro described. The rise of Salvini – we should add – is part of a global reactionary political cycle, which we can see in Australia, in Indonesia, in India, in the United States, in Central Europe and elsewhere, in which migration policies play a crucial strategic role. So to confront Salvini, we had to confront the changing role of NGOs and the humanitarian field in this new political phase. We have to deal with the new approach of European nationalist forces on the Balkan route, as well as on the Central Mediterranean route.

Coming back to the question of continuity – or discontinuity – I think that for people like Sandro and myself it’s different compared to other people who are part of the project, because I feel a total continuity with the discourse regarding borders and autonomy of migration, for example. I see our operations at sea as aiming to build a militant infrastructure for the right of movement, for the right of mobility. For us, the subjectivity of migrants, the central role of the migrants’ movements, is also central to our operations at sea. This perspective also distinguishes us from most other NGOs, but we share it for example with the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone approach. We share the idea that we need to build infrastructures that are able to support, to facilitate, to give more space, to migrants as central actors. Even in our search and rescue operation, we feel that the core is not humanitarian activity, but the ability of migrants to organize their escape – in this specific case – from Libya. To organize themselves in being and surviving at sea, to organize themselves in permanently challenging the border, the closure of ports and so on. In this sense, I feel there is a strong continuity between our involvement in Mediterranea and our common backgrounds.

Sandro: I think this is a really crucial point which I would like to emphasize. To put it very succinctly: we can say that the established NGOs consider humanitarian intervention as primary, and as a basically technical and neutral issue. In our case, at least in the way Beppe and I consider Mediterranea, what is primary is the movements and struggles of migrants and our intervention is secondary. In such a conjunction, it is not possible to think of our intervention as technical and neutral: it is immediately political, and this politicality expresses itself through the building of infrastructures that support the migrants’ movements, migrants’ practices. Maybe that is the connection with the topic of logistics that you were mentioning in the beginning.

Beppe: I have to add in relation to established NGOs that it was quite clear in the summer of 2018 that most of them where close to giving up on being able to sail again. Without wanting to exaggerate our role, I think the first mission of our ship Mare Jonio in October 2018 was clearly reopening this maritime and political space for rescue NGOs, which regained courage, political courage, to persist in deploying or deploy again their activities at sea. In this sense Mediterranea was an important factor for reopening a space for the possible, of initiative, across land and sea.

Charles: I would like to come back to the question of the relation between, on the one hand, seeking to support migrants crossing the sea and averting their deaths, and on the other hand the broader opposition to Salvini. Do you see a hierarchy between these aims or rather an inextricable relation, which make both simultaneously indispensable, and the condition for either of these aims being achieved? What are the tensions that may arise from the attempt to articulate these two levels? It seems to me thinking through, and experimenting with, this articulation, is quite essential today in light of the sequence of struggles at the maritime frontier since 2011. This has been a trajectory during which we have really seen extraordinary inventions of new non-governmental practices. However, despite the importance of these initiatives and the unprecedented capacity to intervene at the maritime frontier they generated, they have not been able to prevent the violent roll-back of the border regime in the wake of the peak of migrants’ capacity to overcome borders that was marked by the 2015 “Summer of Migration.” These shifts demonstrate that as important as our direct struggles at the border may be, we also need to find ways to intervene in the broader political processes that shape the tactical field in which we operate. Mediterranea has been important in showing in which direction we might seek to enact that articulation.

Sandro: We really started from the sense of shock I described earlier, related to the condition of migrants at sea and the criminalization of humanitarian intervention. Needless to say, the electoral success of Salvini had already been a kind of shock, but what happened with the Aquarius was a real threshold. In the following months, supporting migrants at sea and to struggle against Salvini were pretty much the same thing. But yes, you are right, we tried to move the struggle from the maritime frontier to firm land, and I think this is something important for all of us engaged in border struggles: we have often repeated that border struggles are not only fought along literal borders. More generally there is a need to connect practices of solidarity with migrants attempting to cross borders with more general topics. We cannot effectively support migrants without addressing the roots of the problems they are confronted with. And those roots have to do with the way in which societies are organized, with geopolitical divides, but also with political and social conflicts crisscrossing the societies in which we live. And we have to intervene in such conflicts: this must be understood as part of border struggles. Going back to Salvini, I think Mediterranea was able to play an important role in the social mobilizations against the government, and not only in the ones directly related with issues of border and migration.

A Platform for Political Organization

Charles: Our conversation so far covers the ground for the necessity, the impetus of Mediterranea, and some of its key orientations. I’d now like us to go deeper into the concrete form this project has taken. You’ve already alluded to fact that Mediterranea took the political form of a platform producing a non-governmental action. I’d like to ask you to reflect on this concept of platform, which does not exclusively belong to the left, but circulates in the field of governance, or in particular economic activities too. What is the platform as a form of political organization? What are its potentials in terms of building alliances, but also, what are some of the difficulties and tensions that this form of organizing generated?

Sandro: Platform is a term that is heavily influenced today by its use in logistics, and also, beyond that in forms of platform capitalism, such as Uber, Deliveroo, etc. A platform is a mobile and flexible device of connection, and I think that in Mediterranea, at least in the best moments, we were able to turn such a logistical rationality into a powerful tool of political organization that enabled the cooperation between quite different actors. In Mediterranea, you have a political party, Sinistra Italiana; you have a huge civil society organization, ARCI; you have social centers such as ESC in Rome and TPO/Labàs in Bologna; you have Moltivolti, which is a kind of non-profit company in Palermo; you have the Catholic organization Emmaus. So it is diverse in terms of the actors it brings together, which is reflected in turn in the broad range of political cultures. And I think this is one of the reasons why, maybe unconsciously, we took the term platform to describe the kind of organizational form that we were building.

Beppe: There is also another point connected with our earlier discussion, which we can make more explicitly refer to the international level. Among the motivation leading many of us to start this project, there is also a disappointment, or better, a boredom with the state of the left in Italy – not only with parties on the left, but also with social movements – and the desire to overcome this situation through the open and flexible form of the platform. That is also one of the deep motivations of our engagement in Mediterranea: none of the established political forms – party, movement, trade union, association – were satisfying as possible forms for engagement and activity. And I think that if you look at the diversity of actors that compose the Mediterranea platform described by Sandro, you see that the most active members of each of them are people who are dissatisfied with the current situation, and who share the need to find alternative forms of organizing through the hybridization of existing ones. In forging Mediterranea as a platform, we took some elements characteristic of NGOs’ typical mode of action – in organizing skilled teams for rescue at sea. We took, clearly, some forms of the capitalist logistical enterprise – in establishing our small shipping company, managing the ship and most of the operational activities. We drew also on the ability to organize events, raise funds, typical of social and cultural associations. We took elements from the radical social movement experience we have in both our backgrounds, since they are fundamental in mobilizing people in the streets and forging a permanent connection between the sea and land. And we were also able to draw on the legal expertise of human rights actors, and finally the institutional engagement of MPs. So it is really an attempt to forge a hybrid organization, that tries to valorize the different competencies and the different levels of possible initiatives of the diverse sectors taking part in Mediterranea, each of which has its own tactical mode and field.

Sandro: Yes, I think this hybrid character of the platform is very important. Let me make three comments on this. First, as Beppe was saying, we have had to establish a small firm – a “social shipping” company. While it is formally separate from Mediterranea, it is crucial for its operations. Second, in order to make this process of hybridization possible, we established points of maximum consensus between all these different actors for the platform: people shouldn’t die while crossing the Mediterranean; rescue should not be criminalized; let’s charter a ship to rescue migrants in distress. On the basis of this consensus, a lot of things happened in the following months. Third, we did not abandon the aim of organizing a movement around Mediterranean. We organized hundreds and hundreds of initiatives and really tried to stimulate a wide process of appropriation of Mediterranea. This is another difference with the established NGOs. Because the form of popular support they usually call for is donations so as to support the operations at sea. We have worked since the beginning in a completely different direction. If you attend one of the initiatives, you will see that we don’t just ask for people’s “support,” rather we ask people, “what can you do to become Mediterranea?” “What is needed here, in this particular town, in order to have Mediterranea as an actor?” I think it’s a completely different interpellation.

Charles: This does feel like a very important lesson in terms of political organizing – formulating a set of broad aims, slogans, that allow a multiplicity of actors to gather and then enable decentralized and disseminated appropriation at the local level – a lesson that one could also draw from other movements, such as the feminist strike. But with this broad spectrum of participation come also certain tensions. You’ve told us about the common ground, but what about the lines of friction, which, of course, exists in this diversity? And how has Mediterranea sought to overcome them in practice?

Beppe: As you can imagine, working in this hybrid form is sometimes chaotic, problematic, and exhausting, and there are several outcomes of this diversity of actors that I find deeply problematic. For example, Mediterranea has developed a specific style of communication, which is completely different from that which characterized our past political experiences and that have made me feel uncomfortable several times. From my point of view, it’s sometimes too simplified, too insistent on the emotional aspects of saving humans. But at the same time, I feel that my own discomfort is also a test of the ability of this language to address many and different people. The different actors engaged in the platform also have very different styles of organization. Working through these differences demands patience and seeking to understand different points of view, and assessing the different possibilities through the lens of their capacity to effectively achieve Mediterranea’s strategic goals.

Sandro: I must say that I, too, often have problems with the legalistic and humanitarian discourse sometimes employed by Mediterranea, with the visual communication that was at times very different from my own sensibility: images of children, of women, the kind of classical repertoire of humanitarian visual culture. But I agree with Beppe: what is very important is the fact that we have been able to manage such differences and being effective in advancing our goals.

Contentious Humanism

Charles: Picking up on this last point concerning humanitarian language and imagery, maybe we can address the question of the human, which is also central to the Mediterranea project, and its very name. Having “saving humans” associated with Mediterranea brings the project closer to a more conventional humanitarian discourse and logic. But at the same time, Sandro, you’ve emphasized in your thinking how the human can be a battleground of affirmation and denial. In this reading, the human is not only a consensual notion around which a broad spectrum of sensibilities can be gathered, but one that allows the drawing of lines of conflict and alliance. How does Mediterranea conceive of the human and how does this conception overlap, but also differ from the human within more mainstream humanitarian reason?

Sandro: First of all, the slogan “saving humans” connects to the central element forming the common ground of Mediterranea we were evoking earlier: that no one should die at sea, regardless of their origin or the administrative categories states impose on to them – whether they are a migrant, an asylum seeker, or a passenger on a ferry boat. From this point of view, I think the slogan is quite effective. However, I am well aware that people die crossing the Mediterranean not because they are human beings, but precisely because they are migrants, asylum seekers. So there is a kind of double bind that you have to keep in mind. On the one hand, we mobilize the reference to the human in a very simple and direct way. On the other hand, we are perfectly aware that the human is deeply hierarchized, and that specific figures of the human face the violence of the border at sea.

The second part of the question concerns the way in which we conceive of the human, which seems to be the kind of “consensual notion,” as you were saying. I agree with that, but I do not think that the conceptualization of the human provided by humanitarianism is the only possible one. If you take that conceptualization, it is true that it is a consensual conceptualization: it sets minimum standards, and then it applies those standards to people in distress. Personally – and I wouldn’t say that this is shared by all members of Mediterranea – I try to address the question of the human from a different perspective. I look first of all at people in this distress, which means in this case migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the Mediterranean, and I listen to their claim to be human. It is a claim to be human while confronted by material processes of dehumanization, of negation of their humanity. So my question is: “how does the human look from the perspective of those who experience its negation – its ‘massacre,’ in the terms of Franz Fanon?” That is for me a very important question. And I think it is clear that if you pose the question of the human in this way, it is not a consensual notion, but rather one predicated upon radical lines of division. Against the background of those lines of division, it becomes possible to invent the human, and to speak of the human as a battlefield.

Beppe: I agree with Sandro’s critical perspective and I think we need to recall the particular context – post summer 2018 in Italy – in which this battle over the human is being waged. A context marked by quite virulent public debates, in which considering that migrants are human, and that every human being should be saved is far from common sense. In the current state of debate, we had to start again from such fundamental assertions, and seek to build a counter-hegemony from there.

Charles: This connects for me to one of the important lessons I draw from the recent sequence: that the political meaning and effectiveness of humanitarian practices and discourses are highly contextual. The practice of rescue NGOs has oscillated between being initially highly transgressive – like in 2015, when NGOs seized from states the monopoly over intervening at sea – to being normalized when, as you mentioned earlier, there was a high level of operational integration of NGOs and state actors, to being transgressive once again as they came under attack from governments criminalizing them. Certainly the same can be said of the category of the human: it regains political edge in a moment when claims to humanity encounter denial and negation.

I’d like you to further address another twist of perspective that Mediterranea seeks to introduce in relation to the human: that saving migrants at sea is also a way of rescuing the humanity of Italian citizens. This is an important move, which echoes with Aimé Césaire’s analysis of the relation between the colonizer and the colonized formulated in his Discours sur le Colonialisme (1955), where he argued that “the colonizer, who […] gets into the habit of seeing the other man as a beast, accustoms himself to treating him like a beast, tends objectively to transform himself into a beast.”22 In this light, we can see Mediterranea as an act of refusal, on the part of Italian citizens, to accept their own dehumanization as a result of the inhuman treatments of migrants. Could you expand on how Mediterranea mobilizes this argument, which also has the potential to undo some of the binaries and hierarchies between the savior and the victim which are so central to humanitarian reason? 

Beppe: Yes, in our communication we often argue that we are first going at sea to save ourselves. This we might argue is an ambivalent but productive “Eurocentrism” – we are seeking to rescue some of the basic values our society claim as its own. In this sense the constant reference to grammar and syntax of “fundamental rights” and their constitutive value for “European civilization” must also be considered as part of a profound reinvention of a conflictual theoretical practice on this ground, starting from a radical questioning of the same rhetoric on European identity.

Sandro: I’d like to add that the process described by Césaire is already quite entrenched in this country (Italy). We are increasingly surrounded by “beasts”, in the sense described by Césaire, in this context rescuing “ourselves” necessarily means reinventing an “us.”

Operating Across Scales of Struggle

Charles: I’d like to come back to the articulation between land and sea, for which you have described the rationale earlier, but I’d like to hear a bit more about how you operationalized that articulation, maybe highlighting how the link is not only one between sea and land in general, but specifically with cities. You referred to hundreds of events across Italian space, large meetings, demonstrations, but also at times a small gathering of people – what you call presidio – in many different cities. Mediterranea has also sought to develop alliances with municipalities. In a sense, one might say that Mediterranea has not only experimented with the question “what can a ship do?” – the title of one of your joint articles, but also – along with other actors such as Alarm Phone and Seebrücke – “what can a city do?” What are the potentialities, but also the limits and difficulties you’ve encountered at this level?

Beppe: The strongest examples of effective relation between the sea and land are to be found in Germany, where a movement such as Seebrücke is wider, better rooted and has succeeded in spurring more concrete initiatives in the relationships between social actors, NGOs, and municipal governments. Another crucial example is offered by a city like Barcelona, where the “city of refuge” project has very effectively connected rescue activities at sea – in particular thanks to the Open Arms base in Barcelona – and social inclusion activities in welcoming people rescued at sea in the urban context. Nevertheless, Italian mayors did make some very important public statements, for example, the mayors of cities like Palermo, Naples, and, maybe less visible but not less important, Bologna, Milan, and smaller cities all around the country. Several times, and particularly during stand-off situations with civilian rescue ships stranded off the Italian coast as a result of Salvini’s decrees, those mayors have intervened politically with a strong and clear voice criticizing the national government, declaring their ports open, offering availability for the reception of shipwrecked people. I think, however, that while this relationship between the land and sea already has been powerfully articulated, it has to become even more so. Because at the same time as the state was seeking to seal the maritime border and criminalize rescue over the last the two years, one of the main problems in the Italian context was the reception of migrants on the mainland. A crucial part of Salvini’s policies was the quite successful attempt to dismantle the reception system, and, at the same time, to tighten the option of gaining legal permission to stay in Italy.23 In response to this attack on the process of reception over the past year, the role of cities has been crucial. Cities not only understood as municipal government, but the intertwining of migrants’ self-organization, associations, social movements, and institutions. This fabric of the city has demonstrated the ability to connect the activities at sea with the struggle to defend the right to stay and to obtain legal status, to access facilities able to accommodate people arriving with dignity. And from this point of view, I have to highlight that one of the most interesting results of Mediterranea was reopening, 20 years after the anti-globalization movement, a real dialogue with the Catholic Church, which plays a specifically relevant role in the Italian context. A dialogue that was enabled by the courageous positions taken by Pope Francis and part of the Catholic clergy. So I think this is a really productive perspective. We will see further effects of these political changes that start from the grass roots level in cities, villages and parishes, and lead all the way up to the Vatican.

Sandro: Regarding the relations with the municipalities, I want to stress again the relevance of the work of construction from below that has been nurtured by hundreds and hundreds of initiatives in many different places – squatted social centers, small ARCI circles, institutional places. This construction work has been a really important part of Mediterranea for me, and it has contributed to strengthening the opposition to Salvini’s policies at sea and on land. The slow interweaving of this social fabric has in turn allowed us to gather larger mobilizations demanding that migrants be disembarked during stand offs, to have our ships liberated.

Charles: You were just mentioning the stand-offs and the way the mobilization to demand the disembarkation of rescued passengers occurred in many Italian cities – not only in the port cities where they were held for weeks. Mediterranea has in this sense been very effective in multiplying and disseminating what you call the “Mediterranean battlefield,” extending it far beyond the limited boundaries of the liquid environment. And this attempt to articulate and operate across scales of struggle – to riff on the title of Nancy Fraser’s book, starting from the materiality of a particular infrastructure of support, a boat, extending to the fabric of the city, to a municipality, to a party, to the state, to the EU – is something other actors such as Alarm Phone, Seebrücke are also experimenting with. It seems to me this is an extremely important terrain, which has implications beyond migration and border struggles. At the same time, Mediterranea has explicitly been formulated as an Italian project. How does one operate across scales, and what may be the tensions that arise between them?

Sandro: Yes, it’s a crucial point: Mediterranea as a project had, since the beginning, kind of “national qualifications” for very pragmatic reasons. Firstly, because we had Salvini in Italy. Right-wing populism is definitely a transnational phenomenon, but it has localized manifestations, and we had to confront them in Italy. Secondly, because until then all the ships involved in the search and rescue operations were flying foreign flags, and it seemed to us important to have a ship flying the Italian flag, for a very pragmatic reason.

Beppe: But also political reasons, since one of the main components of Salvini’s racist propaganda was the focus on the “foreign” organizations, flying foreign flags, facilitating migrants’ “invasion” of Italy.

Sandro: For all of these reasons, we have emphasized the Italian flag, even though we are not nationalists. Even though we used this national qualification tactically, since the beginning we have tried to intensify, multiply the relations with other people and organizations outside of Italy, particularly in Europe. With Seebrücke, or with the city of Barcelona, but not only in Europe, also in Tunisia, for instance, where we’ve begun to develop a very interesting relationship with the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES). I am aware that we need to do more in this direction, that we have to work hard to further transnationalize our struggles. We have to work towards the Europeanization of Mediterranea, which does not mean the projection of Mediterranea onto the European scale, but rather the nesting of scales within Mediterranea in order to experiment with these multi-scalar politics that you were rightly emphasizing as a need.

Charles: In relation to the stand-offs you mentioned, Mediterranea did not only lead large popular mobilizations across Italian cities, but also effectively mobilized legal and parliamentary politics with the aim to force open Italian ports. In this way, I find Mediterranea has practiced a highly effective politics of the law. While monitoring human rights violations at sea is an important part of your mission, you have gone beyond what we might refer to as the “anti-impunity” orientation of human rights practice in relation to closed ports, shifting from strategic litigation to what one might call “strategic transgression.”24 What has been Mediterranea’s thinking and experimentation concerning the politics of the law?

Sandro: The politics of the law has been central to Mediterranea since the beginning. Indeed, a quite wide team of lawyers, legal scholars and legal practitioners have been part of the project from the start and played a role in shaping it. Of course, there are many ways to tackle the question of the specific form of the politics of the law in the experience of Mediterranea. What I would say is that such a politics has been important in supporting the operations at sea, but also in creating opportunities for communication on land. Mediterranea has employed different kinds of legal tools, addressing the different scales of the law of the sea, which is really of a multi-level order. You have a kind of national legal order that plays a role, you have international law and its different branches, you have a law that is specific to the sea, you have a European dimension at play in the Mediterranean. Mediterranea has tried to play on these multiple levels, sometimes also playing off one level against the other. And this is what makes the politics of the law particularly interesting and effective from my point of view. 

Beppe: I think that we were able to start from the analysis of the legal practice of our enemies in the past, which was effectively a creative use of the maritime international legal framework. We are not legalists, we don’t put our trust in the formality of the law, and we are aware that there are facts and power relations that are the foundations of the law. Our enemies have been able to create, step by step, some facts that structurally altered international maritime law. Just to give some examples: the creation of Libyan maritime authorities, when everyone knows the situation on the ground in Libya and the nature of the opposing militias; the fiction of a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Tripoli, when it is known that it is Italian military and intelligence services that coordinate the activities of the so-called Libyan coast guard; the recognition by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) of a Libyan SAR zone, despite the paradox that it is devoid of any possible place of safety to disembark migrants. States and their agencies have creatively and actively used legal frameworks by producing facts that challenged the historical framework of maritime and international rules.

Our approach to the politics of the law has been to reverse this logic: to create real counter-facts with a rhetoric aiming to restore the law of the sea and respect for international conventions. For example, when I received an email from the Italian coast guard transmitting the order, originating from the Italian Ministry of the Interior, for us to accept the coordination of the Libyan authorities since the passengers we rescued were located in the Libyan SAR zone, it was essential to be able to justify our refusal by answering immediately from the ship with a long and articulated list of international laws and conventions that made it not only impossible but criminal to obey this order. In turn, this allowed us to formulate the legal justification for our disobedient action of entering an Italian port without authorization. And by transgressing the orders of the ministry, we were able to activate the judicial power in Italy, diverting the accusations against us towards Italian and European authorities: as a result, some judicial procedures that started with investigations against ourselves as facilitators of illegal immigration – under Article 12 of Italian Migration Law – have become investigations into different state agencies for several violations and complicity in crimes against humanity. Of the three criminal investigations into as many SAR events in which Mediterranea was involved, the first has already seen the acquittal of all charges against our Commander and Head of Mission, while we expect a similar outcome for the others. I think this is the crucial point of Mediterranea’s not only defensive, but offensive politics of the law: creating facts, conditions, through practical action, in a way that allows active use of the law and legal forums. 

Sandro: It is a kind of a syncopated practice, alternating between a rhetoric of restoration of legal norms and (counter-)facts. Importantly, our politics of the law acknowledged the internal contradictions, the frictions between the different state apparatuses, different rationalities, and we tried of course to play on those contradictions and frictions. We are adopting a classical approach of deconstructing the unity of the state to open up spaces of struggle. Beyond the icon of sovereignty, it is possible to discover the materiality of a fabric of interests and actors that are not necessarily consistent. Mediterranea tries to play within such a fabric, always keeping in mind that at sea there are other levels of law beyond the state.

Charles: Through this practice of strategic transgression, Mediterranea paved the way for other rescue NGOs – such as Sea Watch and its highly mediatized entry led by Carola Rackete –   effectively leading to the reopening of Italian ports.

Beppe: Consider that, since December 2018, and particularly after the first case, when in March 2019 Mare Jonio of Mediterranea disobeyed the order to stop outside the Italian territorial waters and instead entered the port of Lampedusa, all the civilian ships – sometimes after several days of unjustified stand-off – have ultimately been able to disembark all rescued migrants they had on board in Italy, despite the bombastic rhetoric and illegitimate decrees of Salvini.

An Ambivalent Victory: Thoughts on the Conjuncture

Charles: The struggle for last successful disembarkation from the Mare Jonio was captured in a  video filmed by photographer Francesco Bellina that went viral. It shows Luca Casarini, Mediterranea’s head of mission, announcing to the “brothers and sisters” on board that the right to disembark had been secured with a simple cry “On a gagné!” [“We’ve won!” or “We’ve prevailed!”]  to which the passengers respond in chorus “Liberté! Liberté! Liberté!” This video is extraordinarily powerful and moving. Watching it, we felt that this cry of victory concerning this specific group of rescued passengers, was also a cry of defiance against Salvini. After all, as you mentioned, in June 2018, no one knew if a year from then a single rescue NGO would still be operating at sea. Today, NGOs are still there and Salvini is out of government, so it’s legitimate to release a cry of victory. But just as we know that the trials migrants face will not end with their disembarkation, the ousting of Salvini from government is only the beginning of a number of other trials for Mediterranea, and the Italian left more broadly. What are your prospects concerning the new situation that is still emerging and how Mediterranea will seek to operate in relation to it?

Sandro: The empathy that characterizes Luca enabled him to pick the right words in the right moment.  The migrants’ chants of “Liberté” that resonate with his words tell us a lot about the political dimension of the movements of migration across the Mediterranean. Such a crucial concept as freedom is at stake in those crossings.25

Beppe: Coming back to some of the questions of representations and communication we discussed earlier, some people chose to criticize us for circulating this video because they consider that we shouldn’t show migrants’ moments of joy, only their suffering…

Sandro: Coming back to your question concerning the current conjuncture: while Mediterranea played a role in the process that led to the fall of Salvini, we’re currently facing a very complicated situation. I would say that both in Italy and at the European level with the new Commission, we are today confronted with attempts to normalize the working of the border regime, which does not mean going back to the past. We have to be aware of the fact that the European border regime has been in crisis since 2011, and that 2015 dramatized the crisis. So it will be a new kind of assemblage, predicated upon a couple of key orientations. First of all, externalization has to continue. We need to continue to criticize the border regime in this time of normalization, although we have to be aware of the fact that in this normalization, there is no space for closed ports, and for a rhetoric that ignores the pain and death of people crossing. The European elite does not want such a politics. Furthermore, in many European countries, including Italy, there is a growing demand to open channels of recruitment for economic migrants. Facing these tendencies, as we said before, we are surrounded by beasts in the sense of Césaire: the consensus for Salvini is growing and growing, so we have a very fragile government. If we have elections in six months, there is a high possibility that Salvini comes up with a coalition that is even more to the right than the former one, in which case we will be confronted with a radical challenge to any attempt to normalize the border regime. So it is really a kind of transition in which there are several different tendencies, and we would need to further discuss the meaning of this growing consensus for Salvini, which is against the needs and the requests of an important section of the Italian and European elites.

Beppe: I think that this situation now is more difficult than six months ago, because of this transition described by Sandro. We are in a more slippery and contradictory context, where our counterpart is less easily identifiable, the contours of border management policy more elusive, the rhetoric of “dialogue,” even with NGOs, more ambiguous. Mobilizing people has become less easy. In this context, I think we need to focus the discourse of Mediterranea, from this sea-land point of view, against border externalization, and specifically against the EU-Italian agreement with Libyan militias, because I think that is the main contradiction and weakness of the normalization process. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that the beasts can come back in government, and so we have to reinforce our infrastructures, preparing ourselves for the worst in the next few months.


1 This essay first appeared in “Hommage Georges Bataille,” Critique, no. 195-196 (1963): 751-770. It was published in English as “A Preface to Transgression,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977).
2 Foucault, “A Preface to Transgression,” 34.
3 See, for example, Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 777-795.
4 In this section I draw from ongoing research led in collaboration with Lorenzo Pezzani. See, among others, “Forensic Oceanography: Tracing Violence Within and Against the Mediterranean Frontier’s Aesthetic Regime,” in Moving Images: Mediating Migration as Crisis, eds. Krista Geneva Lynes, Tyler Morgenstern and Ian Allan Paul (Bielefeld:Transcript Verlag, 2020).
5 Martina Tazzioli, Spaces of Governmentality: Autonomous Migration and the Arab Uprisings (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); Martina Tazzioli and Glenda Garelli, Tunisia as a Revolutionised Space of Migration (New York: Palgrave Pivot, 2017).
6 For an overview, see Sophie Hinger, “Transformative Trajectories – The Shifting Mediterranean Border Regime and The Challenges of Critical Knowledge Production. An Interview with Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani,” Movements: Journal for Critical Migration and Border Regime Studies, no. 4 (2018).
7 See Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani, and Maurice Stierl, “Disobedient Sensing and Border Struggles at the maritime Frontier of Europe,” Spheres –  Journal for Digital Cultures, no. 4 (2017): 1-15.
8 See and Heller, Pezzani, and Stierl, “Disobedient Sensing.”
9 Maurice Stierl, “A Fleet of Mediterranean Border Humanitarians,” Antipode 50, no. 3 (2018): 704-724; Paolo Cuttitta, “Repoliticization Through Search and Rescue? Humanitarian NGOs and Migration Management in the Central Mediterranean,” Geopolitics 23, no. 3 (2018): 632-660.
10 Michel Agier, “Humanity as identity Humanity as an Identity and Its Political Effects (A Note on Camps and Humanitarian Government),” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 1, no. 1 (2010): 29-45.
11 Gerda Heck and Sabine Hess, “European restabilization attempts of the external borders and their consequences,” HarekAct (June 20, 2016).
12 See the “Mare Clausum” report, June 2018.
13 “Mare Clausum.”
14 For a review, see the report by Sergio Carrera, et al. “Fit for purpose?: the Facilitation Directive and the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants: 2018 update,” European Parliament, Policy Department of Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Study for the PETI committee (December 2018).
15 EUNAVFOR MED Op SOPHIA – Six Monthly Report 1 June – 30 November 2018, Part A (January 18, 2019).
16 Sandro Mezzadra and Maurice Stierl, “The Mediterranean Battlefield of Migration,” Open Democracy, April 12, 2019.
17 Sandro Mezzadra and Beppe Caccia, “What Can a Ship Do?Viewpoint Magazine, January 7, 2019.
18 South Atlantic Quarterly 119, no. 1 (January, 2020).
19 See for example Sandro Mezzadra, “MLC 2015 Keynote: What’s at stake in the Mobility of Labour? Borders, Migration, Contemporary Capitalism,” Migration, Mobility, & Displacement 2, no. 1 (2016): 30-43.
20 Sandro Mezzadra, “Sealing Borders? Rethinking Border Studies in Hard Times. Working Paper Series,” B/ORDERS IN MOTION, no. 3 (Frankfurt (and-der-Oder): Viadrina, 2019).
21 Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).
22 Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 41. I have kept the term “beast” instead of “animal” used in the English translation to remain closer to the original French term “bête.”
23 Consider, for example, the abolition of the humanitarian permit through which the exclusion that economic migrants faced was partly overcome in the past five years.
24 For a discussion, see Itamar Mann, “The New Impunity: Border Violence as Crime,” University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 42 (2010).
25 See Sandro Mezzadra, “Abolitionist Vistas of the Human. Border Struggles, Migration, and Freedom of Movement,” forthcoming in Citizenship Studies.

Authors of the article

graduated in Philosophy (University of Padua), received a Ph.D. in European and Euro-American Political Studies (University of Turin), and is a scholar in the History of Political Thought. He is active in Italian and European social movements, from occupied social centers, to Genoa in 2001, to Blockupy Frankfurt in 2015, and NoG20 in Hamburg 2017. He was from 1997 to 2014 a city councillor and from 2001 to 2005 the deputy mayor for Social Affairs of Venice. He has been a fellow (2016) of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in Berlin and an advisor (2018) of Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana in Bologna. Since June 2018 he has been among the promoters of Mediterranea Saving Humans, an Italian civil society platform which manages a rescue ship (“Mare Jonio”) in the Central Mediterranean sea.

is a researcher and filmmaker whose work has a long-standing focus on the politics of migration within and at the borders of Europe. In 2015, he completed a Ph.D. in Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently Research Associate at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), Graduate Institute, Geneva. Together with Lorenzo Pezzani, in 2011 Heller co-founded Forensic Oceanography, a collaborative project based at Goldsmiths that has developed innovative methodologies to document the conditions that lead to migrants’ deaths at sea, and which has generated human rights reports, articles and videos that have been exhibited internationally.

teaches political theory at the University of Bologna (Department of Arts) and is adjunct research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of Western Sydney University. In the last decade his work has particularly centered on the relations between globalization, migration and political processes, on contemporary capitalism, as well as on postcolonial theory and criticism. He is an active participant in the "post-workerist" debates and one of the founders of the website Euronomade. With Brett Neilson he is the author of Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor (Duke University Press, 2013) and of The Politics of Operations. Excavating Contemporary Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2019). He is currently coordinating the Horizon 2020 project PLUS (“Platforms, Labor, Urban Spaces”).