Accepted paper:

Inhabiting the Humanitarian/Security Nexus in Malta


David Edward Zammit (University of Malta)
Amalia Creus

Paper short abstract:

The Maltese state-sponsored "humanitarian/security" nexus offers restricted protection based upon acceptance of bureaucratic patronage: NGO activists discursively vernacularize international law and asylum seekers present their selves as deserving clients searching for a righteous intercessor.

Paper long abstract:

Between 2002 and 2012, hundreds of African asylum seekers reached Malta annually by boat. This coincided with the development, pre-EU entry, of a legal and institutional framework for managing asylum claimants. In the same period various NGOs emerged, deploying different forms of advocacy and support on behalf of asylum seekers. This paper reports on interviews conducted with both NGO activists and asylum seekers over the last decade and on ethnographic fieldwork pursued by the first author since 2006. We show how the development of a state-sponsored humanitarian/security" discursive framework for managing these asylum seekers entailed their subjectification via a range of institutional statuses which construct them as "less than real refugees," while offering them protection premised upon acceptance of bureaucratic patronage. Against the background of the constraints imposed by the humanitarian/security nexus, we explore: (1) the career trajectories and worldviews of refugee rights advocates, the way they position themselves in relation to dominant migration-related discourses and the forms of activism they promote; (2) the narratives through which asylum seekers seek to re-configure their experiences in Malta and to rightfully request protection. Since refugee rights advocates are expected to pay lip service to the humanitarian/security nexus as the price for the institutional cooperation they need to operate effectively, this limits the forms of advocacy they may adopt. Asylum seekers learn the limited effectiveness of protests based upon legal rights and try to selectively establish and manipulate patronage relationships with Maltese institutional actors (including particular activists).

panel P157
Refugees and Migrants Network and Mobilise with Activists and NGO workers