The Visualization of Death at the Border. the Utility and Affective Realm of Representations of Suffering and Death for Political Advocacy and As the Circuits of a ‘Crisis Politics' in Refugee Migrations.
This paper discusses the visualization of refugee journeys, journeys that all too frequently result in death while attempting to cross land or sea borders. Many of these deaths are of women and children, unable to cope with the extremes of border crossings, and particularly when the crossings are at sea on small vessels. The recording of deaths at the border is imprecise, yet numbers are conservatively in the thousands. In this context, the ‘migration crisis’ experienced in Europe in the last months has refocused attention on the plight of refugees drowning while attempting to reach the opportunity for protection from conflicts such as that experienced in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other conflicts. The death of one boy, three-year old Aylan Kurdi, sparked world-wide attention, sympathy and a softening in political hearts in relation to refugee intakes. The way in which the images of the body of Aylan washed up on a Turkish beach were used, circulated and re-circulated is emblematic of the issues surrounding the crisis politics of irregular migration and the challenges of visual cultures in this context. While the images of the body of Aylan were overwhelmingly used in a positive political advocacy for kinder policy responses to refugee arrivals, many examples of visualization of a politics of fear and social distance abound in the context of asylum seekers crossing land and sea borders. The paper draws on some of these examples, such as the ‘off-shore’ detention of asylum seekers by the Australian government, and on the growing literature in visual sociology alongside the sociology of emotions, to argue for a deeper ethic of care in the circulation and re-circulation of representations of disaster and death facing refugee populations.