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Journal Article


Heller C, Pécoud A. Am. Behav. Sci. 2020; 64(4): 480-500.


(Copyright © 2020, SAGE Publishing)






Migrant deaths in border-zones have become a major social and political issue, especially in the context of the Euro-Mediterranean refugee/migrant crisis. While media, activists, and policy makers often mention precise figures regarding the number of deaths, little is known about the production of statistical data on this topic. This article explores the politics of counting migrant deaths in Europe. This statistical activity was initiated in the 1990s by civil society organizations with the purpose of shedding light on the deadly consequences of "Fortress Europe" and of challenging states' control-oriented political strategies. In 2013, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) started to count migrants' deaths: while this intergovernmental organization seems to follow up on civil society initiatives, it actually works with different political objectives. Rather than criticizing states, IOM aims at conciliating the control of irregular migration with the prevention of deaths. IOM's statistics on border deaths illustrate the humanitarianization of the border, as denunciation of migrants' deaths and life-saving activities become integrated in border management and border control. In producing statistics on border deaths, IOM depoliticizes this data and challenges the critical framework that was central to earlier civil society initiatives. Finally, the article explores ways in which statistics on border deaths are being repoliticized to challenge European states' immigration policies.

Language: en


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