How the EU is using departheid as a necropolitical tools against migrants

By Amina Adebisi Odofin

European governments have tried to slow down the flow of migration since the 1970’s (Kalir, 2019). The fight against migration that started 50 years ago through simple visa reformation has now resulted into (in)directly exposing vulnerable groups to hyper violence and monitoring. Global number of refugees is highest since World War II (UNHCR, 2015), whereby the word ‘crisis’ can be found in both academic and media discourses. A lot of the measures taken by the European powers have had little success. On the one hand one can argue that the limitations of access to asylum procedures and the decrease of the rights of asylum seekers may have caused for an overall increase in illegal entrances. Those who have entered the EU’s territory through those illegal entrances, will be labelled as “illegal” and therefore change the quality and course of their lives. On the other hand, the EU member states have been unable to guarantee sufficient provisions and recourse to refugees to seek asylum. Thousands of migrants who are stranded deep into the European territory resort to informal urban and rural life space with little or no state intervention. Which could lead us to assume that the EU ‘s liberal values and norms that should be guaranteed for everyone on EU’s territory are out of the question for some. While liberties in Europe for Europeans such as the right to education, healthcare and mobility privilege are embedded in European societies they seem far off for those who can’t even exercise they Right to Asylum without facing exposure to repressive measures in the so-called liberal Western States. In this paper, we will discuss how the racialisation of the asylum seekers and the creation of the “camps” as state of exception is used by the EU to fight the migration flow. I want to reiterate political theories that are broad, by implementing these theories on a micro-level. The aim of this paper is to show the reader how departheid (Kalir, 2019) is used as a necropolitical tool against migrants.

Departheid in migration-policies
Departheid is an ideology of governance that is aimed at the management of populations that have been labelled as “illegal”. It is an overall concept, that allows us to go beyond the materiality of illegalizing migration, police-raiding, forced deportation, imprisonment, forced removal –and to grasp the widespread ideology undergirding this reality of legitimized, inhumane practices (Kalir, 2019). According to Kalir, departheid is a tool to preserve White supremacy (Kalir, 2019) The roots of departheid can be found in colonialism, where western legitimacy and entitlement were established. In the case of migration, it is also the west that decides who is “legitimate” and who is “illegal”. Looking from a historical perspective it is a natural evolution for the West since they always have given some kind of negative meaning to the Global South through orientalism (Said, 1979). The similarities between “departheid” and “apartheid” is not a coincidence, they both share similar classification and segregation of a people predominantly based on race, in order to expose them to exclusion or deportation. Characterised by the classification of people based on the legality of their migration status, departheid is a common trait in the current migration issue. Although a person cannot be “illegal” since illegality is defined as an action against the law, it is a common word used by the media and even scholars. Although it is hard to categorize someone as “illegal” according to the universal human rights , immigration law has the power to create this illegality by defining “legal” and “illegal” ways of border-crossing (De Genova, 2002).

Illegalized populations are often excluded in specific areas, such as ethnic neighbourhoods, prisons, detention centres or refugee camps.

To implement a clear understanding how being “illegal” can affect someone’s life, I have interviewed a person who lived twenty years illegally in Belgium. At the time of conducting this interview, the person in question who would like to remain unknown, is 34 years old man and was asked what illegality means to him and how it has shaped his life

“I always knew I was a ‘sans papiers’. But you know going to Saint-Gilles to school, I wasn’t the only one who was illegal, so as a kid it so didn’t bother me that much. It was my family went to Morocco I felt excluded and left out, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t go. It is when I started to become an adult that I had a harder time, I would sit in my room days in a row, because I feared being caught. I never had the opportunity to graduate, I worked occasionally on the market in Brussels, selling socks for a Flemish store owner, I never made more than 40 euro’s a day. But what was I going to do about it? I couldn’t do anything, I knew it and the store owner knew it because I was here “illegal”. During my “sans papiers” years, I never went to the hospital, I never went abroad, I was trapped here. Sometimes it crossed my mind just to turn myself in and let myself be deported. I missed home, there was no place for me in society. I literally had no papers, therefore it is like I didn’t exist, something that doesn’t exist can’t go to school, get medical help, or go back to Morocco for the summer. Almost 20 years passed by before I got my residence card, I don’t want to clean but I have no choice. I’m not getting younger, I’m not going back to school now, I must start to build my life. “

In this person’s testimony, we can both sense the materiality and continuity of departheid. The continuity of colonialism by limiting the mobilisation of the ‘subject race’ is in full force and effect here, since the interviewee couldn’t leave the country for twenty years. Subject race is a concept brought forward by Hannah Arendt, are those who are treated as inferior to the European colonizers (Arendt, 1951). Economic gains are argued to be a drive for departheid, the interviewee was clearly part of the “reserve army’ that Kalir discusses, with no rights, no union protection and seeing this exploitation as the only way to make some money. This brings me to my next point, how this “reserve army” could be can be likened to Mbembe’s (2003:40) “death-worlds”, in which the conditions and political inaction of the country give its residents a status of "living "Dead" (2003: 40); not actively killed (like a "bright life"), but destined to suffer long-term brutal conditions and insults. Keeping “illegal” migrants alive such as the interviewee is, could increase the profit of the capitalists.

Necropolitics and departheid
Achille Mbembe’s perception of necropolitics is inspired by both Foucault’s and Agamben’s work on biopower, despite their Eurocentric approaches. For Foucault, biopower hints at the historical shift to the use of power to protect, regulate and manage the lives of "legal" civilians (Lemke 2011). Thus, biopolitics can be understood as an emergence of liberal nation-states that lean towards the use of democratic, legal and regulatory agencies to manage lives within its borders, and in some cases even beyond them (Brachet, 2016). Through necropolitics, Mbembe tries to build upon Foucault’s Eurocentric concept that was based on the events of the last century, of the “making die/letting live”. By incorporating events beyond the European territory wherein race had played a central role such as colonisation and slavery a more contemporary “letting live/making die” was created (Fassin 2009; Sparke 2014:690). For Agamben, power is not based on the capacity to assume rights, but the real power of sovereignty is to be found in “bare life”: life included in the political realm by a contradictory exclusion, exposed to the violence and the decision of the sovereign power (Genel, 2006). In the case of the position of the EU towards migration, this kind of management is present in the techniques of migration control (Davies et al,2017). Through departheid, the EU is creating bare-lives by labelling migrants as illegal to justify their restrictions to rights and mobility.

Agamben’s “state of exception” can also be found in necropolitics, not in relation to the camps per se, but more about the oppression and brutal violence that can happen within those camps. For Mbembe a state of exception is a spatial creation of a sovereignty outside the political realm where the state of law is suspended. Necropolitics in the present time can be predominantly exercised through the creation of a state; the state of exception. For Mbembe, seeing "others" as a threat to life and safety is one of "many hypotheses about the early and late characteristics of modernity itself" (2003: 18). Since the very beginning of the migration crisis numerous events took place that were direct violations of human rights (Crépeau & Purkey, 2016). Whether it is in camps in Europe such as Calais or at the US border with Mexico, people all living within so called free land, in secluded camps in deprived conditions, with little hygiene to protect them from Covid-19 (WHO, 2020). Mbembe brings forward that within those spaces how brutality was administrated to the colonial body. He argues that through racism and structural supremacy of the West, they can determine who is worthy of protection and who isn’t.

Departheid has two sides: the materiality and the continuity of the management of a population that is being labelled as “illegal”. The materiality is that “illegals” face constant violence in the form of deportation, hyper surveillance, and imprisonments. The materiality of departheid is also for “illegals” to become part of a “reserve army”. Like the interviewee stated in the interview, he saw no other option than to accept the exploitation since it was his only shot to earn money. The “reserve army”, that has no union protection, no rights have similarities with the “Living Dead” that Mbembe’s discuss in necropolitics. The “reserve army” faces severe exploitation, violence and is for the oppressor more valuable alive than death. The reserve army could increase the profit of capitalists all while not having legal protection. The “illegality” also causes that people cannot move freely, fear of being “exposed” so they avoid state institutions such as hospitals, police, schools etc. The state of exception for illegal people in Europe is beyond the camps, it is everywhere, since they are stuck in a sovereign territory and are not granted the same rights and protection as the others. The continuity of colonialism is the other side of departheid. Where the mobility of “the subject race” is limited and it is designed to preserve white supremacy. The unethical and illiberal measures taken by the European Union to deal with the migration crisis need to be addressed and redefined. Millions of people are dying in the Mediterranean Sea because of the push back policy, which can let one to argue that the European Union is deciding who to let live and who to make die. Letting people drown may not be an act of direct violence but it is the European Union who decides to disguise their Necropolitics by letting the migrants die in a more “natural” way. By this short analysis, we could argue that departheid is being used as a tool to engage in necropolitcs.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."