Geopoliticizing Geographies of Care: Scales of Responsibility Towards Sea-borne Migrants and Refugees in the Mediterranean

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Each year thousands of people seeking better lives in Europe make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. Many of those struggling or stranded at sea are rescued by ‘boat people’ comprising NGOs, humanitarian organizations, coast guards and merchant vessels. Under maritime law there is a duty of care towards anyone that experiences difficulty at sea. There is, too, a duty of care by States who under the same law are required to assist ships and allow the disembarkation of those in danger. Yet this practice has important legal, ethical and practical implications and has been challenged by right-leaning political regimes who, making good on election promises to ease immigration, have prohibited such vessels to dock at their ports. This paper, using a case study approach of the humanitarian vessel the Aquarius, considers the ways in which the geographies of care intersect and collide with the geopolitical framing of migrants and refugees. In doing so the paper makes two important contributions. First, it extends conceptualizations of care geographies which are more typically applied to the spatial outworking of health and wellbeing to European migration. It thinks about how care is administered, contested and politicized. The complex concept of care offers a rich lens through which to critique the framing of seaborne migrants and refugees in Europe. Through giving or circumventing legal responsibilities to provide care, seaborne migrants are either humanized or dehumanized. Second, through unpacking the legislative and ethical frameworks shaping search and rescue (SAR) activities in the Mediterranean, we can observe a distinct ‘geopoliticizing of care and responsibility’ whereby these individuals become pawns in wider power dynamics within the European Union.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished online - 19 Jun 2020


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