Daniela Debono (European University Institute)

"Twisting and turning: Moral deliberations of borderworkers on the EU’s Mediterranean external border"

9 November 2017, 2:00 pm


Borderworkers challenge the dominant notion of the ‘humanitarian border’ and in so doing, their portrayal as ‘cogs in the wheel’. This is significant since institutional actors position themselves along the humanitarian-security axis. Borderworkers as frontline field personnel working ‘on the ground’ with incoming migrants give a different rendition of the border system and how it works, due to their strategic location in the system. Their narratives are interesting not only because they shed light on paradoxical elements constitutive of the first reception system, but because they are attempts at rationalising the system and their role within it. Narratives are infused with both ethical concerns and cynicism, and the migrant rendered to ‘bare life’ serves as a moral compass. This article builds on long-term multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in southern Italy with borderworkers working for a range of different entities such as the police forces, international organisations, EU agencies, local NGOs, and migrants. By analysing the ‘twisting and turning’ of the narratives of borderworkers, the article looks at how they cross cut on issues considered irreconcilable in dominant representations. The article concludes that these fraught narratives point towards the inherent tensions in the border regime constructed on moral foundations which make it difficult to accommodate the ‘human’.