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Behind the Curtain of the Border Spectacle: Introducing ‘Illegal’ Movement and Racialized Profiling in the West African Region

Sebastian Carlotti
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Sebastian Carlotti: Department of Political Sciences, University of Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy

Social Sciences, 2021, vol. 10, issue 4, 1-20

Abstract: The introduction of ‘illegal’ migration in West African countries represented a major conceptual policy shift for societies that were historically characterized by intra-regional free movement. However, this transformation went along with severe allegations of racialized profiling of undocumented migrants in many West African societies. De Genova’s concept of the ‘border spectacle’ describes how the presumed ‘illegality’ of migrants is made spectacularly visible in Europe, thus producing a criminalized and racialized portrayal of migrants. Nonetheless, this work argues that today’s illegalization through a racialized representation of migrants has been extended beyond Europe’s boundaries and behind the spectacle’s curtain towards countries of migration origin. Drawing on the cases of Mauritania and Mali, this paper considers their fundamentally opposite reaction to the introduction of ‘irregular’ movement and illustrates the inherent problematics of transferring the figure of a racialized migrant into the West African region. Particularly successful in countries with a history of ethnic conflicts, this process essentially externalized European border practices of racialized profiling. On the contrary, this analysis concludes that the presence of established patterns of regional movement and cross-border habits made it undesirable to either introduce the policy concept of ‘illegal’ migration or to adopt its potentially racialized portrayal.

Keywords: border externalization; West Africa; migration; illegalization (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: A B N P Y80 Z00 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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