Bordering the Central Mediterranean Search and Rescue Assemblage

Since the beginning of 2015, the news about migrant boat disasters in the Mediterranean Sea have been filling the headlines of major national and international media. Horrible pictures of boat wrecks and floating bodies of migrants have made it to covers of well-known newspapers. Very soon, statistics suggesting that 2015 might be the deadliest year for migrants who have been crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life appeared. However, the death of so many migrants comes as a surprise, as the Mediterranean Sea belongs to one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Various different actors (national search and rescue bodies, merchant vessels, fishing boats, military vessels, civilian-volunteer manned vessels, NGO craft and boats under the Frontex mandate), bound by the international search and rescue legislation, can come to rescue migrants’ boats in distress. Since the international search and rescue obligation has not been always followed to the letter, this research has been dedicated to searching for an understanding of the inclusions and exclusions of actors in search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea (an area between Northern Africa and Italy). It has also aimed to outline the boundaries that actors may face when entering or exiting the area of search and rescue.

This research has conceptualized search and rescue as an assemblage composed of heterogeneous elements that entangle one another and that are entrusted with a strategic purpose. Moreover, it has specifically used Bruno Latour´s approach to assemblages and their mapping, as this has allowed the researcher to understand how inclusions and exclusions of actors in the assemblage arise and what constitutes the boundaries of the assemblage. It is argued that different elements of the search and rescue assemblage – such as legislation, actors’ scripts or their discursive strategies – can become means of both actors’ inclusion in and actors’ exclusion from the assemblage.

These elements can at the same time become boundaries for involvement of actors in rescue operations. However, the irregular rhythms of actors’ inclusions and exclusions in search and rescue suggest that actors’ experience of political subjectivity can determine the shape of the assemblage and its boundaries. Furthermore, it is argued that the shape of the Central Mediterranean Search and Rescue assemblage can largely depend on the mechanisms of power being exercised within the assemblage. It is for the lack of power mechanisms that would force actors into the assemblage and also for the existence of mechanisms that make it less probable and more difficult for certain actors to get involved in search and rescue that so many migrants die on their way to Europe.

(Pdf download, 1401 kb, ENG)