Beyond Smuggling: Tunisia’s on-the-ground responses and perspectives to EU’s counter-smuggling practices

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On September 2018, a group of Tunisian fishermen were charged by Italian authorities with migrant smuggling after towing a boat carrying migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Public pressure in both Europe and Tunisia claiming the fishermen were not smugglers but rather providers of humanitarian assistance led Italian courts to drop the charges later that month.

Despite the visibility of migrant rescues in the European migration landscape, there is scant empirical research on how the people involved in them (and more specifically those accused with smuggling) conceptualize their experiences. Much less is known about the perspectives of the people from Europe’s southern neighbourhood who engage not merely on smuggling, but who in the context of their everyday activities encounter migrants in transit. This is of particular importance in the context of Tunisia, which despite having implemented migration controls in line with EU’s demands has yet to enact legislation criminalizing migration-related activities (e.g., smuggling of migrants and human trafficking).

How do Tunisian people conceptualize mobility and smuggling, given the very lack of legislation criminalizing the practice in that country? How does that clash with European perspectives concerning the facilitation of irregular migration? How does the case of the Tunisian fishermen challenge or counter European understandings of smuggling?

This presentation by Gabriella Sanchez, relying on the legal case against the Tunisian fishermen, introduces some preliminary ideas concerning these questions, which will be explored in the context of the EU-LISTCO project on areas of limited statehood and contested orders.

The EU-LISTCO project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovative programme under grant agreement n° 769886.