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Ethnography up the stream: the UK ‘let them drown’ policy and the politics of bordering Europe

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date11/02/2016
Host publicationExternalizing migration management: Europe, North America and the spread of 'remote control' practices
EditorsRuben Zaiotti
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (print)9781138121591
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Place, Space and Politics


In October of 2014, the United Kingdom Foreign Office announced that the UK would no longer support planned search and rescue operations on the Mediterranean, such as the Italian Navy operation Mare Nostrum which was in effect in the period between October 2013 and October 2014. The UK’s position, dubbed by the media the ‘let them drown’ policy, was that search and rescue constitutes a ‘pull factor’ for migration, and that withdrawing rescue patrols from the sea would deter migrants from attempting the journey. This chapter reviews the UK debate on the ‘let them drown’ policy and interprets its unveiling as the emergence of a new, openly anti-humanitarian model of border control. It argues that in order to understand how political agency and responsibility for such decisions is distributed within the polity, we must revisit, in terms of both theory and method, the relationship between the sites where conventional national and EU politics is exercised and the design and functioning of the EU border regime. This is exemplified by an ethnographic case study of a parliamentary report supporting the UK government’s position.