An Unending Odyssey: Trade And Death In The Mediterrenaen
The world’s deadliest border is also among its most profitable trade routes.
I recently started reading Robert D. Kaplan’s Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age.
In his opening line of the first chapter Kaplan boldly states, “The Geopolitical map of Europe has moved south, back to the Mediterranean, where Europe borders Africa, and the Middle East. The Mediterranean has now begun to achieve a fluid classical coherence, uniting continents.” This is a fascinating assertion given the Mediterranean’s position today as the world’s deadliest border.
Thousands of poor and working-class people seeking expatriation to Europe die in the attempt to reach it from the Middle East and North Africa every year.
Put in contrast to lot of the nearly four million refugees who have fled Russia’s war in Ukraine into comparatively open-armed acceptance of European Union states, this tragedy seems even more grotesque.
This function of the Mediterranean as a lethal barrier preventing entry of unwanted people makes a lot more sense through the lens of another book I’m reading. In Borders & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, Harsha Walia explores how borders are used as an authoritarian mechanism to maintain racial-caste hierarchies, positing that “Borders are an ordering regime, both assembling and assembled through racial-capitalist accumulation and colonial relations.” She explains, “While borders are hierarchically organized and permeable for white expats, a handpicked immigrant diaspora, and the rich investor class, they form a fortress against the millions in the “deportspora,” who are shut out, immobilized, and expelled. The global turn toward deportation and detention as the central means of immigration enforcement is attendant to the rise of neoliberalism. The consolidation of spatial carcerality through prisons and borders correlates with wealth concentration, dismantling of public services, and the simultaneous manufacturing and disciplining of surplus populations.”
Kaplan’s assessment is no less valid: A 2021 report by The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) — an Athens-based think tank — found that the “value of Mediterranean exports to the rest of the world (including intra-Med flows) [was] about US$1.9 trillion in 2019.”
If we are to understand the role of affluent societies in maintaining human rights and human security, how will they resolve this contradiction of the Mediterranean as a bridge and as a boundary?
This question is an urgent one. The magnitude of trade flows through the Mediterranean is immense. And Europe’s rising median age will leave it wanting for more immigrant workers — immigration accounting for the most significant counterweight to aging populations in rich countries — in the decades to come. Europe owes the world a plan for a future in which the cost of its trade outflows is an equitable one. It must not continue to be paid in the lives of those shipwrecked chasing the siren-song of its prosperous societies.