Midnight Traveler © The Party Sales & Hassan Fazili

Decolonising La Mer Mortelle: The Experiences of Migrants at the European Borders

EU countries have the most mortal borders of the world, with thousands of deaths of African and Middle Eastern people each year and many more detained or living under deplorable circumstances as “illegal”—which makes them easily exploitable and deportable people. In this first edition of Decolonising La Mer Mortelle, we center the experiences and ideas of refugees themselves to explore alternatives for today’s lethal situation. How to get out of the current dynamic in which public empathy surges at dramatic moments, but is succeeded by policies that supposedly “prevent” dramas, yet actually worsen refugees’ situation?

Critical voices increasingly argue that the situation at the European borders could only be possible due to the survival of coloniality, where the lives of some people are considered so much less worthy than those of others. The Francophone Martinican author and politician Aimé Césaire talked in the context of such deep inequality in terms of “thingification,” which he considered the essence of colonialism. Most recently the agreements with Tunesia made by the EU, initiated by the Dutch government in cooperation with Italy—after warnings for grave human rights violations from many sides—are a case in point.

In the series Decolonising La Mer Mortelle we will ask how refugeehood and migration can be decolonised. In this first of two meetings, our panel will put the experience of migrants in the center. They will focus on the possibilities of three alternative approaches: the autonomy of migration (Sandro Mezzadra), the phenomenology of freedom from refugees’ perspectives (Shahin Nasiri) and the decolonisation of political and cultural imaginaries about “refugees” (Nadica Denić). With a column by Farhad Alizadeh, who lives in Paris and lived in Lesvos and Thessaloniki as a refugee before.

In the second meeting, we will look at the bigger picture and possibilities to change structures and infrastructures for migration along decolonial lines. What could be better and more fair ways for the EU to respond to the world’s refugee crises that will most probably only increase in the near future due to climate deterioration and war?

About the speakers

Sandro Mezzadra teaches political theory at the University of Bologna and is adjunct fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of the Western Sydney University.

Shahin Nasiri is a lecturer in applied ethics and philosophy of science at the Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and will be lecturer in philosophy at Tilburg University from October 2023 onwards. His PhD-dissertation ‘Rethinking the Notion of Freedom from the Perspective of Refugees’, will be defended on 13 september 2023 at the University of Amsterdam. 

Nadica Denić is a film researcher and curator based in Amsterdam. Her main research interests include documentary theory and practice, film-ethics, and cultural memory. As a PhD researcher at the University of Amsterdam, she explores the ethics of engagement with first-person documentaries about migration in Europe. She has curated and moderated various film events, and has been a member of IDFA’s selection committee since 2019.

Farhad Alizadeh became a refugee himself and found his calling in Greece to support people in need, initially working in Moria on Lesbos Island, and later extending his support to Kos and Leros, where he assisted in registering and supporting vulnerable individuals by working at the UNHCR organization. In addition to his humanitarian work, Farhad made a remarkable effort to integrate into Greek culture by learning the Greek language. This dedication allowed him to become a cultural mediator in Thessaloniki, bridging the gap between refugees and the local community.

Yolande Jansen (moderator) is Associate Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. She also is a Special Professor for the Socrates-foundation at VU University, where she holds the chair for ‘Humanism in relation to religion and secularity’.

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