Cite as: Tazzioli, M., 2016, "Identify, Label, and Divide: The Temporality of Control and Temporal Borders in the Hotspots" in Martin L. & Tazzioli M., "Governing Mobility through the European Union's 'Hotspot' Centers, a Forum", Society and Space, Nov. 2016
The “hotspot approach” launched by the European Union in May 2015, and then implemented in September of the same year, is characterized less by peculiar infrastructures than by a series of procedures and mechanisms for identifying and selecting migrants (Garelli and Tazzioli, 2016; Kasparek, 2016; Sciurba 2016). The hotspot model—conceived as a series of more variegated and arbitrary measures for fingerprinting, illegalizing, and dividing migrants, rather than standardized procedures—has multiplied across spaces well beyond the physical barriers of those detention centers that have been renamed “hotspots.” The multiplication of the hotspot system is an extraordinary phenomenon in Greece, with a repentine mushrooming of refugee camps since the closure of the Macedonian border in early March 2016 and the eviction of Eidomeni camp in May. These recently established refugee camps work as sorting places, where migrants are identified and partitioned between those considered eligible for relocation and the others who can only apply for asylum in Greece.
A far less visible but determinant feature of the hotspot approach is the accelerated temporality of control, and I contend that this underpins its functioning and structures it in depth. Beyond the materialities of the infrastructures and the daily logistics of migration management, I take here the analytical angle of the temporality of control that is at stake in the official and unofficial hotspots, as well the temporal borders that set the pace of the exclusionary channels of the asylum. More precisely, the accelerated temporality of control is not simply one aspect that can be observed in the daily functioning of the hotspots but, rather, one of the main mechanisms that shape in a distinctive way the hotspot-machine. The EU’s “border strategy” combines the swift pace of control with temporal borders as techniques for further narrowing and hampering the access to the asylum system to discipline and respond to practices of migration that could not be regulated through spatial containment. The islands of Lampedusa and Lesbos are privileged sites for grasping the bordering of temporalities, the practices of control and regulation exercised on singular migrants and on migrant multiplicities through the enactment of specific rhythms of governmentality. Through such an expression I refer both to the disciplining of mobility through dates and “deadlines” that determine migrants’ protection and eligibility for relocation, and to mechanisms of partition, selection and identification that change over time, in a quite rapid and unpredictable way.
An accelerated temporality of control ?
Lesbos, April 20, 2016. The decision to date the events we talk about in the field of migration governmentality is not a trifling detail: the spatial and political transformations that have occurred in the last three years in the strategies of capture, control and containment of migration movements have followed an unprecedented hectic pace. The island of Lesbos is not an exception on this point. The frantic and convoluted rhythm changes in mechanisms of govermentality has reached its peak there soon after the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, signed on March 18, 2016. One month later, sitting outside the fences of the hotspot of Moria, I was observing 230 Pakistani migrants entering the hotspot. After the eviction of the informal camp, called “NoBorder Kitchen” near the city of Mitylene, where they stayed for three months refusing to be fingerprinted and registered in the hotspot of Moria, those migrants have been transferred by force there and detained. In the span of few hours, some of them have been labelled as deportable migrants and have been isolated in the inner area of the hotspot. The others have been allowed to claim asylum in Greece.
Due to the clause contained in the EU-Turkey agreement that considers Turkey a “safe third country,” many migrants who landed on the Greek islands after March 18 have been preemptively excluded from the asylum process and have been placed in the channels of deportation (to Turkey). March 18 can be considered as a watershed in the Greek hotspot-machine, and Lesvos in particular, as stressed by Doctors without Borders: “everything changed in the span of few hours, from March 18 to March 19, when the gate of Moria was suddenly closed, and the migrants who were inside or who arrived after March 19, remained detained there and were not allowed to take the ferry and go to Athens” (Doctors Without Borders Interview, April 21, 216). Indeed, since March 19 all the migrants who arrive on Greek islands are detained until a decision is not taken about their legal status. Currently, migrants in Lesbos are either considered deportable migrants or if they apply for the international protection, “asylum seekers,” in which case they are further divided between the nationalities eligible for relocation and the others who do not.
This accelerated temporality of control did not start in March 2016 but the EU-Turkey watershed produced considerable changes in the modalities and procedures for identifying and selecting the migrants according to new exclusionary criteria, as illustrated above. What changed after March 18, 2016, was not the speed of the politics of control but its modulations and the impact on the migrants. The accelerated pace in the procedures for marking, labelling, and dividing the migrants started already in summer 2015, with the massive arrivals in Lesbos, and more radically with the implementation of the hotspot system in September 2015; however, it affected and touched upon migrants differently. Until the end of 2015, rescued migrants were taken to the hotspot of Moria to register, and the registration was the necessary condition for getting the authorization to leave Lesbos by ferry and continue their journeys to Macedonia and along the Balkan route, with a temporary permit of one month (all nationalities) or six months (Syrians only) to circulate in Greece. The registration process in Lesbos lasted on average no more than one or two days.
Hotspots as spatial and temporal “chokepoints”
Lampedusa, February 2016. The temporality of control in Italy has been less subjected to frantic alteration than in Greece, at least at the level of the effects produced on migrants’ lives. The logistic of the hotspot in Italy has been structured around a quite centralized mechanism for channeling migrants and transferring them from the places of first arrival in the South of Italy to hosting centers across the country. Nevertheless, even in Italy the pace of migration controls is formed by criteria of selection that are not constant in time, following desultory changes in the practices of government. On the island of Lampedusa the rapid decisions taken by the police about whether or not a migrant should be let to claim asylum or not, gave rise to a huge number of illegalized migrants on the Italian territory. The detention center of Contrada Imbriacola in Lampedusa was the first in Italy to be renamed a “hotspot,” in September 2015—after that, Trapani became a hotspot in December, Pozzallo in January 2016, and Taranto in March.
For about four months (November 2015-March 2016) migrants who landed in Lampedusa were subjected to a mechanism of preventive illegalization and hampered from the possibility to claim asylum. Upon disembarkation, migrants in Lampedusa are taken from the harbor to the hotspot where they are quickly identified in the span of few hours by the Italian Scientific Police, while Frontex and EASO officers control Italian authorities, checking that these latter fingerprint all migrants and transfer them to EURODAC database. The hotspot procedures rapidly identified migrants who were eligible for relocation (Syrians, Eritreans, Iraqis), and approved their asylum applications. The majority of migrant nationals from West African countries—among which Nigerians and Gambians, who in early 2016 were the first two nationalities of migrants arriving in Italy—and all migrants from “North Africa” have been illegalized “on the spot” (Garelli and Tazzioli, 2016). The non-juridical label of “economic migrant” was used for denying them the access to the asylum procedure. These preemptively illegalized migrants were given a decree of expulsion that obliged them to leave Italy with their own means in seven days. Yet, most of them remained in Italy as illegalized migrants, except those migrants nationals from Nigeria, Egypt, and Tunisia that can be quickly deported due to the repatriation agreements between Italy and these countries.
In this regard, it is important to highlight that Italy has been put under pressure by the EU concerning the obligation to fingerprint migrants. In this way, the preventive exclusion from the channels of the asylum can be seen as Italy’s strategy for not paying the cost of humanitarian assistance. In short, in a time of economic crisis, the cost of the asylum system has been reduced to the minimum, keeping out most of the migrants from humanitarian support, producing them as irregular migrants on the territory. Therefore, the accelerated temporality of control was functional to narrow the space of protection as much as possible and to temporally anticipate the threshold of deportability. That is to say, instead of waiting up to one year or more for the result of the asylum procedure, and in the meanwhile granting rights to asylum seekers, Italian authorities illegalized on the spot many migrants transforming them into irregular and thus potentially deportable subjects.
But which specific form of control is at play? And where does this accelerated temporality apply? As suggested by the main title of this intervention (identify, label, and divide), the strategy of control deployed by the hotspot-logistics, and that reverberates well beyond reception centers, does not exercise a constant monitoring of migrant conducts over time. Rather, what matters is that fast partitions are made among migrant multiplicities and that everybody is registered and his/her digital traces are stored in EURODAC, in order to mark his/her first entry in Italy.
Related to this, the accelerated temporality of control actually concerns the first stage of migration management upon disembarkation. On this point, it is worth recalling the argument pushed forward by Dimitris Papadopolous, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tisanos in the book Escape Routes through the notion of “decelerated circulation of mobility,” contending that “camps appear as the spaces which most drastically attempt to regulate the speed of this circulation and to decelerate it” (Papadopoulos, Stephenson, and Tsianos, 2008: 198). Coming back the political context of the hotspot system, such an analysis is helpful for clarifying that the accelerated temporality of migration governmentality concerns the rapid procedure undertaken by national authorities for deciding upon migrants’ status and for dividing them. Instead, by looking at the hotspot system from the point of view of its impact on migrants’ lives and on their journeys, we see that it works as a spatial capture practice that slows down migrants’ speed, a machine of illegalization of many people in seek of asylum. The temporality of control is a strategy of government through and over time.
However, the hotspot-logistics—formed by the material infrastructures of the hotspot, by the identification procedures and the mechanisms for channeling migrants—not only obstruct and decelerate migration movements at the same time that they speed up identification and selection procedures; the Italian context also sheds light on the obstructed and slow pace of the institutional channels where migrants allowed to claim asylum. In fact, while according to Italian directives, migrants should stay in the hotspot no more than 72 hours, people remain in Lampedusa on average two weeks, and some of them up to four months. This is first of all because the transfer to hosting centers situated on the mainland can take time given the limited number of places available.
Yet, in many cases the extended permanence inside the hotspot of Lampedusa was the consequence of collective or individual forms of refusal with vengeance on the part of migrants, who opposed to the obligation to be identified and give their fingerprints. December 17, 2015; January 6-7, 2016; May 8-16, 2016: these are the most salient temporal landmarks of collective migrant refusals that took place in Lampedusa in the form of public protests and sit-ins, not to mention the individual and silent resistances that are not captured by the spotlights of the media and that remained fundamentally unknown and invisible. These collective refusals jammed for some time the hotspot logistics, since the police detained them indefinitely in Lampedusa due to their resistance to be fingerprinted.
It cannot pass unnoticed that in the Explanatory note on the “Hotspot” approach, the European Commission the accelerated temporality concerns the possibility “to intervene, rapidly and in an integrated manner, in frontline Member States when there is a crisis due to specific and disproportionate migratory pressure at their external borders.” Similarly, in The European Agenda on Migration, which is the text through which the EU launched the “hotspot approach,” the speed required in the hotspot does not concern the time needed for finding a solution and a protected space for people seeking asylum but, rather, the capacity to “swiftly identify, register, and fingerprint incoming migrants.” Thus, more than transit points, the hotspots appear as spatial and temporal “chokepoints,” that is as sites of mobility disruption. Mobilizing Debora Cowen’s seminal work on logistics and readapting it to the hotspot context, I suggest that migration management necessitates spatial and temporal chokepoints to slow down and select migrant movements, and its main fear is that these crucial sites could be jammed and unsettled in their functioning (Cowen, 2014).
When spatial containment does not hold. The temporal borders’ cut.
As I illustrated above, nationality certainly represents the main criterion used both in Greece and in Italy for establishing exclusionary partitions among migrant multiplicities. Yet, particularly in the Greek context, at some point nationality has become not enough as a parameter for keeping out migrants from the channels of the asylum and of relocation. March 18, 2016 is only the first threshold introduced by Greek authorities with the support of EASO for restricting the number of eligible candidates to the asylum. Moreover, while the date of the signature of the EU-Turkey agreement produced a split temporality, formed by a “before” and an “after,” migrants’ eligibility for the relocation and for the pre-registration procedure have been subjected to proper temporal borders; namely, temporal borders are enacted in this case as time intervals into which migrants fit.
The government of asylum seekers who entered Greece in the last year and half pivots around a dense calendar of dates that establishes, on the basis of the day of arrival of the migrant in the country and on other related events, who is not allowed to access the relocation procedure. The relocation scheme is in place only for those who entered Greece before March 20, 2016; Iraqis who have been registered after July 1, will be excluded from the relocation; the pre-registration procedure is applicable only for those who arrived between January 1, 2015, and March 20, 2016. These are some of the time-intervals, that migrants must be lucky to match in order to be “potentially successful candidates” for being allocated in some place in Europe and not being illegalized. When strategies of spatial containment and the criterion of nationality are not enough for disciplining mobility and narrowing the access to protection, states introduce temporal borders that vertically cut across the sites where migrants are identified and registered, producing a further hierarchization of “legitimate” mobilities. In other words, instead of working as thresholds for granting non-negotiable rights to people fleeing wars, temporal borders multiply and increase restrictions both to migrants’ presence in Europe and to migrants’ access to asylum.
Temporal borders have been mobilized by states as a strategy of spatial containment and scattering functioning through the channeling and slowing down of migrants’ movements. In this sense, the temporality of control represents a fundamental analytical angle for grasping the disciplining of unruly mobility.
 Lesvos, Kos, Chios, Samos, and Leros in Greece; Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Taranto, and Trapani in Italy.
 Since the hotspot is a restricted access reception center, this could be reconstructed only from the direct testimonies of the migrants who left and have been transferred to Sicily, or those who during the day used to go out from the hotspot of Lampedusa. In fact, in order to prevent possible turmoil inside the hotspot, the Italian police de facto unofficially allowed migrants going out during the day passing through a hole in the fences that migrants themselves made.
Doctors without Borders (2016) Personal interview, April 21.
Garelli G and Tazzioli M (2016) The EU hotspot approach at Lampedusa. Opendemocracy.
Kasparek B (2016) Routes, Corridors, and Spaces of Exception: Governing Migration and Europe.
Papadopoulos D, Stephenson N, and Tsianos V (2008) Escape Routes: Control and subversion in the twenty-first century. London: Pluto Press.
Sciurba A (2016) Misrecognizing and confining asylum. From a subjective fundamental right to an instrument of clandestinization at the era of the ‘Hotspot Approach. Filosofia del Diritto, forthcoming.
Martina Tazzioli is Lecturer in Geography at Swansea University and Visiting Lecturer at City University of London. She is the author of Spaces of Governmentality: Autonomous Migration and the Arab Uprisings (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and co-author, with Glenda Garelli, of Tunisia as a Revolutionized Space of Migration (Palgrave, 2016). She is co-editor of Foucault and the Making of Subjects (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Foucault and the History of Our Present (Palgrave, 2015).
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