Isabella Alexander-Nathani (2021): Burning at Europe’s Borders. An Ethnography on the African Migrant Experience in Morocco, Oxford University Press
I really appreciate books like this, written by courageous women who have spent years of activism and research together with with the people they write about. Natasha King’s book, No Borders, has been one of my favourits. Isabella Alexander-Nathani has done research in Morocco in 2010, and 2012-14, in Rabat, Nador, and Oujda. She also made a film project, and is editing the blog Isabella-writes. On Isabella’s homepage you can learn about her tremendous outreach.
Tho book is not at all lenghty-academic, but it „invites audiences to journey alongside an incredible group of African migrants and refugees, revealing the mass human rights violations found at Europe’s southern borders in North Africa.“ Each chapter starts with a case study which introduces persons of interest, and then reflects on their experience, only by then reflecting that experience and drawing on literature.
The prologue is about the story of Bambino (13 years old), living in one of the makeshift camps at Mt. Gourougou, preparing for the next attack on the Melilla fences. The book ends with chapter 7, again following persons a Guinean brotherhood in the mountains near Melilla, and characterizing the externalization policies and pressures by EU.
Chapter 2 is about a transnational Moroccan family network, and also recounts the history of Black Africans in Moroccan history.
Chapter 3 describes the growing tide of violent racism, and every-day-racism by both Spanish and Moroccan officials, including deportations into the desert, as documented in 2005 and 2013 (by MSF). The capter includes a short history of the monarchy, up to the (limited) regularization of black migrants in 2014.
Chapter 4 starts with a case study of one of the greatest migrant-populated slums in Rabat, „examinating the impacts nof migration and sustained liminality on notions of home, family, community, and traditional gender roles.“ New kinds of Muslim masculinity“ emerging in migrant spaces are examined, and also the vulnerability of female migrants.
Chapter 6 starts with an interview with Ousmane, one of the thousands of black African students who live in „the village“, isolated from the Moroccan poipulation, and it reflects on local concepts of race, class, belonging.
The most important theoretical contribution in this book is about the lack of research on people trapped in liminal spaces between two homes. It is importand to rethink transnational subjects not as interconnected between sending and receiving countries, but rather as liminal, as largely disconnected from both. Chapter 4 and chapter 5, with the title „Burning Yesterday for Tomorrow: Images from the In Between“, introduce the reader to the concept of liminality and to „visual life history collection“ as a methodological approach. Morocco has become a cell or storaging migrants, and it makes no sense to analyze the polarity of origin and destination, as classical concepts do. The Burning is a sustaining and elongated rite of passage. Indeed, I think that introducing a method like this into research on people on the move could lead us to some sort of research on expectations as material forces, and visualization of a transformation which can only be visualized through these eyes of people in liminal positions. It was in 2016 / 17 that we activists in Germany have lost our chance to draw on this migration experience, and invent new concepts of transformation together with the migrants.
Isabella has used her chance, during 3 years of her lifetime. It is a pity that her book ends 2014, and has only been edited in 2021. Academic procedures take their time, but we need more like this.
In her heart-pounding and courageous debut, Dr. Isabella Alexander-Nathani uncovers an unseen side of our global migrant and refugee crisis.
Burning at Europe’s Borders ;invites readers inside the lives of the world’s largest population of migrants and refugees — the hundreds of thousands who are trapped in hidden forest camps and forgotten detention centers at Europe’s southernmost borders in North Africa. “Hrig,” the Arabic term for “illegal immigration,” translates to “burning.” It signifies a migrant’s decision to burn their papers, in order to avoid identification and repatriation on their long journeys to safer shores. But it also signifies their decision to burn their past lives, sacrificing themselves in hopes of reaching a future on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander-Nathani examines this process of “burning,” traveling thousands of miles alongside those who have fled war and extreme poverty across the African continent only to find themselves trapped in Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. This book exposes the political agreements that have led to Europe’s control over African borders and the illicit practices that continue to mold North African countries into brutal holding cells for our world’s most vulnerable.
Burning at Europe’s Borders ;introduces new ways of doing anthropological research in the modern era, as Alexander-Nathani skillfully weaves images and individual stories into her analysis of changing migration flows at our world’s most critical border crossings. Her creative mixed-methods approach included community filmmaking practices and over three years of ethnographic research in African smuggling rings, hidden migrant brotherhoods, and European Union-funded detention centers. This is an ideal cross-over book, promising to engage students, scholars, policymakers, and popular audiences seeking to step inside the heart of our world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
Author(s): Isabella Alexander-Nathani
Full Title: Burning at Europe’s Borders. An Ethnography on the African Migrant Experience in Morocco
Publisher or Journal: Oxford Universita Press
Year of Publication: 2021
Document Type: Book