Borders and Bodies: Eritrean Asylum Seekers' Biographical Narratives of Their Journey of Escape

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Efrat BEN ZEEV, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel
Habtom MEHARI, Hebrew University of Jerusalm, Israel
Nir GAZIT, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel
Much of the recent literature on irregular migrants and border-crossing focuses on governmentality and biopolitics. To use Agamben’s term, the bare lives of irregular migrants are often viewed from a vertical angle, as objects of study and as masses.  However, in this paper we look at migration through the migrant’s eye, as a subject, from a horizontal perspective, through the embodied experience of the voyage and the sense of proximity between life and death. 

We focus on the journey’s adversities to the migrant’s body – hunger, thirst, being hidden in packed pickup trucks and airless containers, and for those less lucky, being sold to owners of torture camps established to raise ransom money. Migrants describe a journey in which their condition shifts between two opposite ends -- on the one hand, being in total control, making use of their accumulated knowledge, bodily fitness and natural resourcefulness, while on the other hand, being entirely out of control, merely an object handled by others.  Our paper explores the voyage through biographical narratives on the body and the senses, and explores the meaning attributed to those in retrospect. 

The paper is based on over twenty interviews in Tigrinya and English, conducted between 2013 and 2015. The interviews were conducted with Eritrean asylum seekers who arrived in Israel illegally, through its Southern border, between 2007 and 2011.  These asylum seekers walked to Ethiopia or Sudan, and then were smuggled through Egypt and the Sinai.  In addition to analyzing the interviews, we incorporate media reports, Human Rights Organizations’ publications, court affidavits and films, well as observations from Tel Aviv’s migrants’ district, Holot’s detention center, and the border through which the asylum seekers arrived.