Francesca Soliman is a PhD student in criminology at the University of Edinburgh’s Law School (Scotland). Francesca’s research looks at the social harms caused by borderization, with a particular focus on its impact on border communities at the external margins of the EU. Francesca’s work seeks to further develop the emerging discipline of zemiology as a tool to analyse the wider impact of border policies. Francesca published her proposed methodology under the title ‘States of exception, human rights, and social harm: Towards a border zemiology’ in the journal Theoretical Criminology.
In my contribution, I will discuss findings from my ethnography of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, Italy. Sea-crossers from the North African coast arriving in Lampedusa must be swiftly transferred to the mainland following identification in the island’s Hotspot. However, their stay often stretches into weeks or months. Given the poor conditions inside the Hotspot, migrants are unofficially allowed to roam the island, periodically turning Lampedusa into an open-air detention centre. Lampedusa’s residents’ tolerance of this practice varies depending on the migrants’ skin colour. Residents typically report hostility towards ‘cocky’ North African migrants, while ‘grateful’ sub-Saharan Africans are considered deserving of help and protection. This view is shared by both supporters and opposers of migration, broadly reflecting the asylum system’s categorisations of North Africans as economic migrants and sub-Saharans as refugees. While this racialised hierarchy of victimhood appears to overturn colourism by being more sympathetic to those with darker skins, a rigidly enforced victim-saviour dynamic assigns them a subordinate position compared to residents. The paternalistic views of helpless and passive sub-Saharans expressed by residents are instead a continuation of colonial racial stratification; support for refugees thus does not challenge the racist foundations which underpin anti-migrant sentiments.