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Migrations across the Mediterranean: Histories of movement and the politics of agency in the current crises

Journée d’étude


Today, thousands of people die annually crossing the Mediterranean Sea while over a million are escaping armed conflicts or repressive regimes in Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. In Syria alone by the end of 2015 45% of the population is dislodged from their homes of whom 3.11 million people left the country, whereas 6.36 million continue to live there as population in movement. While many refugees manage to arrive to the islands of Southern Europe, they attempt to break through borders constructed at different sites of political Europe. Their number has already tripled in 2016 compared to the previous year. Masses stay in, or transit through migration hubs, such as Lampedusa or Lesvos located around the Mediterranean. The number of child refugees is particularly rising and according to the UN children now make up one in three passing through Greece, skyrocketing from one in 10 in early 2015. These pathways characterize a visible form of human distress and urgency that distinguishes migration in Europe today. Current public debates have often endorsed nation-state focused, threat or victim-oriented approaches while the agentive capacities of migrants together with persons who engage in solidarity activism with them are neglected. Longer term historical evolutions of migration patterns and international relations that helped to create the state of affairs tend also to be ignored.
Migration across the Mediterranean is not a new phenomenon. Already the Greek civilization created a Mediterranean culture via exchanges to which contributed later on also Arab and European empires including the Russian. Of course, patterns of migration changed considerably over time according to political, social and economic circumstances. For example, the Ottoman Empire with its bureaucracy created a particular form of circular migration of individuals for military and administration influencing populations from the Balkans and Anatolia up to Northern Africa. On a different level, movements of workforce changed in the context of decolonisation during the Cold War while the politics of “non-alignment” brought future African leaders to universities in the Balkans.
European integration definitively has changed the context of migration in this area. It aimed to create mutual dependence and security by deleting first trade barriers to goods and capital, and then to the flow of people. As the internal EU borders gradually became more permeable, a growing number of Member States came to share a common external European border along northern Mediterranean. Abolition of internal border controls and increased internal movement enforced a common European external border control, Frontex. In the same time, France under Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to gather the European, Middle Eastern and North African countries of the rim into a new “community” coined after the EU’s evolutionary model. But, as the Arab spring forced rulers out of power in some, and created dialogue on democracy through means of civil resistance in all states of the eastern and southern Mediterranean, these propositions that also wanted to channel migration failed.
In the light of these past evolutions, this workshop brings forth the transformative agency of migrants in transit across the Mediterranean in the recent history of the area. It scrutinizes actions of the political actors involved. Observing the changing political and lately humanitarian action in the field might help us to understand the logics of the actual “refugee crises,” and also to formulate possible alternatives for current political action. These need further attention and can benefit from a view to the modern history of migration across this area.


Organizers: Rinna KULLAA, Marc LAZAR, Jakob VOGEL
Partners: Centre d'histoire de Sciences Po/FinCEAL, Academy of Finland


Introductory remarks: Rinna KULLAA (Academy of Finland/Centre d’histoire Sciences Po) and Jakob VOGEL (Centre d’histoire Sciences Po)

Panel 1: Historical, Social and Anthropological Perspectives to Migration and its Past

David DO PACO (Centre d’histoire Sciences Po)
Le pont sur le Danube: construire des frontières et réguler les mobilités humaines d'ans l’Europe du Sud-est du dix-huitième siècle

Houda BEN HAMOUDA (Paris 1 - SIRICE)
L'enjeux de la question migratoire dans les relations euro-maghrébines, dans les années 1970.

Réflexions sur les enjeux de l'après-expulsion au prisme des mobilisations d'associations d'expulsés en Afrique.

Comment: Catherine de WIHTOL DE WENDEN (CERI, Sciences Po-CNRS)

Panel 2: Round Table Discussion: Current Practises and Efforts to Mitigate the Refugee Crises in the Mediterranean

Klaus VOGEL (Captain, Founder of SOS Méditerranée organization)
Ana Cristina JORGE (Head of Joint Operations Unit, Frontex)
Corinne BALLEIX (In charge of European immigration and asylum policies, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France)

Concluding discussion

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