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A special seminar co-hosted by Border Criminologies, COMPAS, and IMI

This paper starts with an observation made by many migrants and refugees stuck at Europe's borders: that reception and detention facilities have become a money-spinner and a racket. 'This place is a business', one migrant at a large Sicilian reception centre told journalists in 2015. 'We are the business. The commodity. They keep us here and make money from us.' Similar comments were voiced by migrants and former migrants during my own research along the Spanish-African borders - as one deportee put it, 'there is lots of money in illegal migration'.

In conversation with the extensive literature on the biopolitics (and necropolitics) of borders, I will in this paper approach this business as a 'bioeconomy' in order to highlight how punitive controls facilitate specific forms of profiteering and predation. Beyond the production of 'cheap' (deportable) labour and the political usefulness of selective exclusion often highlighted by the literature, the bioeconomy perspective that I tentatively develop here is rather concerned with the extraction of financial and other 'value' from the very vitality of 'life itself' (Rose 2007).

In migrant detention/retention we see perhaps the crudest example of a bioeconomy at work, as people's lived time is instrumentalised in various ways - whether as a means of deterrence for police or as a straightforward business of beds occupied and kickbacks paid. In drawing on Sassen's (2014) recent work on 'expulsions', the paper concludes by asking whether migrants are canaries in the coalmine of an increasingly prevalent mode of predatory extraction profiteering from life itself.

About the speaker

Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist with the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science and an associated researcher at Stockholm University's Department of Anthropology. He is the author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe (University of California Press, 2014).

The Changing Face of Global Mobility

This conference, held in January 2016, celebrated IMI's tenth anniversary

IMI team at tenth anniversary conference

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