KOEPPEN–GEIGER CLIMATE GROUP
Csa (HOT SUMMER MEDITERRANEAN)
a. CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN
Over the past 30 years, more than 30,000 migrants have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. These, however, are not ‘natural’ tragedies. Rather, they are the result of specific state policies and practices of border control, which do not only make migrants’ journeys extremely precarious but also distance migrant deaths from the eyes of the European public, shifting the blame onto the sea itself.
Complex and overlapping jurisdictions at sea play a fundamental role in creating the structural conditions that lead to the death of migrants at the EU’s maritime frontiers. At sea, border crossing is a process that can last several days and extends across an uneven and heterogeneous territory that sits outside the exclusive reach of any single polity (Item 1). Overlaps, conflicts of delimitation, and differing interpretations of these legal geographies have allowed states to simultaneously extend their sovereign privileges through operations at sea, while eluding the responsibilities that come with those privileges, including that of rescuing and disembarking people in distress (Items 2 and 3). Through this and other forms of liquid violence, the Mediterranean’s geopower – its watery terrain, the architecture of waves, the seasonality of meteorological conditions – has been weaponised and the sea turned into a perilous liquid mass (Items 4, 5 and 6).
As part of this process, Mediterranean islands and islets have been turned into spaces of exile, in which infrastructures of containment and abandonment intersect with the increasing risk of wildfires on a warming planet (Item 12). This carceral archipelago of migrant detention is often built upon deeper histories of confinement, revealing its historical entanglement with the politics of colonial expansion and segregation in the region (Item 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11).
Research by Dimitra Andritsou, Forensic Oceanography, and Stefanos Levidis
In early March 2017, the then-French minister of Interior Bruno Le Roux paid a visit to the site officially known as ‘La Lande’, or heathland, where the so-called migrant ‘ Jungle’ had been located. In an interview to the press, he declared: ‘I wanted to be in Calais today with the elected officials and the mayor to see that the dismantling [of the ‘Jungle’] was a successful operation and that it will now continue with an ambitious project to return this territory back to nature.’ Following its destruction, the site was designated by local and regional government to be absorbed into the neighbouring nature reserve, Fort Vert, and ‘renatured’ with a landscape design intended to prevent of new settlements. Through interviews with the actors involved, this short film follows construction of this landscape, addressing the ways in which a certain vision of nature becomes part of the border apparatus and interrogating the intersecting mobilities, rights, and co-existence of various forms of life.
The 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) has divided the world’s oceans into different search and rescue areas, for each of which the countries concerned are responsible for assisting people in distress at sea. However, the elastic nature of international law has often been strategically mobilised by coastal states to avoid engaging in rescue missions. In the central Mediterranean Sea, in particular, the delimitation of SAR zones has a long and conflict‐ridden history. Tunisia has so far refrained from defining the boundaries of its SAR zone, while Italy and Malta have overlapping SAR zones and are signatories to different versions of the SAR convention, a situation which has led to repeated standoffs and cases of non-assistance to migrants in distress. At the same time, the strategic mobilisation of the notion of ‘ rescue’ has allowed coastal states – and in particular Libya, which has only recently declared its SAR zone pressured by European states – to justify offshore police operations, thus extending the possibility for its patrols to intercept migrants on the high seas.
Over the last few years, operational areas of different maritime activities (search and rescue operations but also border control and military activities) have been drawn and redrawn across the Mediterranean. For instance, in 2014 EU agencies sought to deter migrants by reducing rescue operations, thereby increasing the risks of crossing – though well aware that this would lead to an increase in the number of fatalities. As explicitly stated in a document produced by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, cutting back rescue operations ‘could become a deterrence for facilitation networks and migrants... taking into account that the boat must now navigate for several days before being rescued or intercepted.’ What documents like this one reveal is the process of design that is at work in the production of hostile environments.
The video and report Death by Rescue reconstruct the lethal effects of the decision made by Italy and the EU to cut back search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean in late 2014. In particular, Death by Rescue argues that by terminating the ‘humanitarian and security’ Mare Nostrum operation, Italy and the EU enacted a policy of non- assistance through which they knowingly created a lethal rescue gap that shifted the burden of complex rescue operations onto commercial ships, which are not equipped for this task. This led to a striking spike in the danger of crossing, exemplified by the twin shipwrecks of 12 and 18 April 2015. Both wrecks took place during the course of attempted rescues by commercial ships, and led to the loss of more than 1,200 lives combined.
Many of the present-day tensions surrounding contemporary legal geographies in the Dodecanese archipelago derive from the inconclusive nature of the Paris Peace Treaties, the agreement by which Italy ceded the islands to Greece after decades of colonial occupation. After the end of the negotiations that sought to translate these colonial-era maritime boundaries to a contemporary legal map of the sea, the border line that had been agreed upon between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman empire in 1913 was inherited by the young nations of Greece and Turkey. To this day tensions arise over inconsistencies in the treaty regarding the limits of territorial waters, the status of rocks, and other ambiguities in the archipelago. Sections of the border remain grey: unresolved, overlapping, and only unilaterally respected.
The island of Leros, in the Dodecanese archipelago, has been marked by a succession of stories of confinement and imprisonment: from the Italian colonial occupation, passing through the creation of camps for political prisoners during the 1967-74 Greek military dictatorship, to the current infrastructures of migrant detention present on the islands.
The Aegean Islands have in recent years been one of the epicentres of the so-called migration crisis. They are one of the main migrant landing points within European territory because of their proximity to Turkish coasts. As such, they have quickly been transformed into spaces of detention, with thousands held in formal detention centres or simply denied authorisation to leave for the mainland. This carceral archipelago thus constitutes an interstitial space – not quite yet part of continental Europe, not anymore part of Turkey – whose liminal status has been mobilized to perform the work of border enforcement: to hurt, to obscure, to deter, and to hold. This condition builds upon a long history of disputed territories and geographies of exile spanning the entire Aegean Sea. The documents presented here were produced in the 1990s by the Greek government in response to a longstanding territorial dispute with Turkey over the Imia/Kardak rocks, in the Dodecanese archipelago. While meant to provide evidence of sovereignty, these files detail in fact the impossibility of reducing a geography as dense and plural as that of these ‘rock-islets’, as they are called in Greek, to legal text. Despite all efforts, these islands slip away from the map.
Smouldering Grounds investigates the recurring occurrences of fire that have taken place at the migrant camp of Moria, in Lesvos, Greece. Since its establishment in 2013, the outbreak of more than one hundred fires have been reported in and around the camp, culminating in the September 2020 blaze that burnt it to the ground. These conflagrations have been a symptom of various intersecting phenomena: chronic overcrowding, failing humanitarian infrastructures, acts of protest against deplorable living conditions, as well as prolonged droughts and heatwaves across Southern Europe. As a result, the camp could be said to exist in a constant state of smouldering: a precarious and highly volatile condition of slow, flameless burning, that quickly erupted into sudden outbursts. Smouldering Grounds operates as an investigative tool that records reports of fires gathered from social media, official accounts, and sources living inside of the camp into four interactive formats – an archive, timeline, map, and media archive. As a public repository, it endeavours to highlight the political urgency of the phenomenon, as well as to prompt further research and (legal) action.