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On 21 August, 2018, an Italian Coast Guard ship the Diciotti rescued 177 people off the coast of Lampedusa. The people on board had fled Eritrea, Syria, Egypt, and Bangladesh and were seeking asylum in Europe. After Malta refused their entry, they had been left at sea until the Diciotti picked them up. When the Coast Guard ship docked in Catania, Sicily, the migrants were not allowed to disembark as the then Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, refused their entry. They were confined and detained on board. How can we explain this apparent paradox between rescue at sea and refusal of entry?

To understand the meaning of the Diciotti incident and the broader trends it represents, we need to see this impasse as part of a paradigm shift. The people on board were caught in a historic movement away from humanism and human rights norms and towards resurgent nationalism and its darker undercurrents. These undercurrents are backed by the violence of the state that tend to be glossed over by the perceived legitimacy of criminal justice measures. The Global North, that is, affluent democratic societies, are in the middle of a major transformation of governance and transnational legal orders are at the center of it. They are becoming increasingly dependent on an expansive and imperialistic form of power that transcends nation-state boundaries. This is a kind of penal imperialism that creates new borders of inequality and reproduces hierarchies of human worth.

To investigate this transformation, this project relies on global case study methods and “object ethnography” as it tracks the border through space to map social relations.  The talk will outline the empirical and analytical approach. Background TLO paper available upon Request: Barker (forthcoming) The Criminalization of Migration: A Regional Transnational Legal Order or the Rise of a Meta-TLO? In Shaffer and Aaronson (eds) Transnational Legal Ordering of Criminal Justice, Cambridge University Press.

Martin Hällsten will be chairing the seminar.