The Making of the “Balkan Route” and the East as borderlands

An ongoing collection of posts, texts, images and reflections that destabilize dominant narratives about the “Balkan Route”. The Balkan Route is not a geographic fact — just as there is nothing self-evident about illegal migration —  but can be seen instead as a corridorical planning process that operates above and below national regimes. Instead of a given, fixed space or a container within which “illegal migrants” move from the South and East towards and through Europe, these texts are sources for rethinking the making of the Balkan Route as intimately linked to the making of migrant illegality and European whiteness, a civilizing project in which the very regions and subjects considered “not quite European” are made the center of hypervisible European border enforcement. Rethinking the “Balkan Route” also requires a conceptual and political intervention into what wealthy European countries and the global media name the “refugee crisis”, a naming process by which the actions and movements of displaced migrants are seen as a threat to the stability of these societies, thus normalizing an understanding of a crisis (singular) in terms of security. The notion of crisis also sets apart the struggles of migrants beginning with mid 2015 as exceptional and aberrant to the norms of mobility, triggering a politics of emergency intervention that seems to be directed at a moment but which instead has the effects of reconfiguring lasting geographies of uneven mobilities and differential inclusions. This section attempts to collect interventions that attend to the ways shifting policies, actions and structures of globalized capital — and the changing configurations and relations of nation states, continental blocks and border regimes  — act upon, and are contested by, specific populations and territories. The proposal here is to conceptualize of ongoing social struggles that are unfolding at a number of overlapping scales in the context of a global reconfiguration of colonial relations. — and to see the Balkan Route as a region-making project in which the production of Europe is both enforced and contested.

Balkan Route Closed, EU to declare

New agreements between EU states lead to new “roadmap” – not for the migrants, but for the reconfiguration of European borders. Externalizing border and migration controls continues.
full text here

Beyond crisis: Rethinking the population movements at Europe’s border – Prem Kumar Rajaram  –

Full text here
Reading the movement of people, or really any social phenomenon, as “crisis” puts a frame around a complex social process and effectively separates it historically, socially, and politically from other social processes, non-crises. It creates a series of dualisms, where the “crisis” is the less desirable mirror of a more orderly form of what is effectively the same phenomenon (mobility of populations). The refugee crisis is contrasted with orderly visa-enabled forms of migration. It is a crisis only with respect to the possibility and desirability of a more orderly form of the same. The depiction “crisis” is then an anxious one, based on fear. This suggests that “the refugee crisis” is about states, about their capacity to protect the territorial orders that they guarantee. This is a type of displacement, where the issue becomes an urgent state responsibility and therefore legitimizes the limited ethical and moral bases from which states make decisions about responsibilities. We then have the grotesque sight of states bargaining about which and how many refugees they can be responsible for.


“Refugee crisis” or crisis of European migration policies?- Manuela Bojadžijev & Sandro Mezzadra

full text here

The crisis of European migration policies that plays itself out as “refugee crisis” demonstrates that the binary opposition between the “sealing off” of borders and their “opening” is not particularly helpful when it comes to making sense of the challenges currently confronting us. Migrants will continue to come to Europe, and what is at stake today is the way this migration will be governed and managed. The notion of “differential inclusion” opens a critical angle on the panoply of tendencies and trends emerging out of the current “crisis.” There are good reasons to believe that the selective, hierarchical, and spatially and temporally heterogeneous nature of migration management characterized by differential inclusion will become increasingly manifest. But there are many ways the regime of differential inclusion can be organized against the backdrop of the multiple conflicts, tensions, and contradictions that characterize the present conjuncture.

However, reorganizing the whole government of mobility in Europe according to this tendency requires a further step in Europeanization. And this would not be, paradoxically, a response to the challenge posited by the movement of refugees and migrants, which has been and continues to be a movement toward and across Europe. It is this movement that most effectively challenges the renationalization of politics and the fragmentation of European space. Whether an attempt to meet this challenge from the point of view of a new “governmental reason” at the level of the EU will be successful is difficult to say at this point. It is important to note that what is at stake here is not only the balance of forces within the space of the EU but also the articulation of this space with its multiple outsides, which also means with areas torn by war and crisis. The Balkan route, across territories that have historically been and continue to be liminal to Europe, has become over the last months once again a strategic juncture in this regard.


The world already had a refugee crisis — Caitlin Chandler – from Africa is A Country

full text here

According to UNHCR, there are now 14.4 million refugees worldwide. Over one million of these refugees urgently need resettlement. Most of these refugees are from 14 countries: Myanmar, Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Burundi, Ethiopia and Columbia. (And while UNHCR’s numbers take into account some Palestinian refugees, they leave out 5.1 million Palestinian refugees living in neighboring countries, the West Bank and the Gaza strip.) We do not often hear about the refugees from some of these countries, but they are there waiting for resettlement nonetheless.

see also Europe Is Trying to Rid Itself of the Eritrean Refugee Crisis; full text here


O Balkan Pioneers: Anatomy of an Escape Route

January 11, 2016 – full text here

Serbia 234

There is no Balkanroute. There are routes through the Balkans that refugees are attempting, trails that they are blazing, their direction determined by myriad factors: social, political, economic, personal, emotional. Over recent months, these factors have often combined to funnel refugee traffic along a somewhat prescribed path, this is true, but nothing is certain, nothing is defined.

The Balkanroute is not a route. It is tempting to think of it this way, as something discrete, an actual path being trod into the landscape by hundreds of thousands of feet, which changes course occasionally when a fence is built somewhere, but which we could draw (in pencil, please) on a map…

But volunteers, activists, and refugees at these transit points know: there is no Balkanroute. The transit point at Adaševci, Serbia, could become a camp tomorrow—they have been preparing for the eventuality, should Croatia decide to close the border, for example—or it could disappear. And even in its current form and with its current status as an established destination for state-provided buses, it is foolish to assume that all—or even a majority—of travelers crossing Serbia move through Adaševci.

Officials would certainly like them to, and many volunteers agree that it is safest. There are smugglers, crooked cab drivers, gangsters and bandits waiting around every corner to take advantage of vulnerable calves who stray from the herd. Obnoxious as this metaphor is, it is not an exaggeration—and I suddenly understand why the slang term for a smuggler of migrants traveling north in the Americas is coyote.

But I digress. The Balkanroute is not a route, it is an ecosystem. It is an organism. It is a “constellation of vital phenomena.” I will continue calling this beast the Balkanroute, and as shorthand I will continue to refer to such vital phenomena as transit point, camp, volunteer, refugee, smuggler, official, and state as if they were meaningful categories. But my main goal is to demonstrate that they are not.


Understanding the ‘Balkan Route’: An Interview with Clandestina

a perspective on the link between the financial crisis of the Eurozone and the emergence of the Balkan Route, from Greece. full text here

The emergence of the Western Balkan route as it exists today is very much connected to the so-called crisis. Before the crisis there were around 400,000 sans-papiers living in Greece. Now probably around half of them have left. Many went to Turkey to work in the new factories built across the Turkish-Bulgarian and Turkish-Greek borders. Also, since 2011, 300,000 Albanians have left Greece because of the crisis. Many of them had been here for over 20 years, their children don’t speak Albanian.

The majority of transit migrants coming to Greece saw the country as a stopover, a place where they could work to cover their onward journey. After the crisis this was no longer possible: There were no jobs anymore. As a consequence, the smuggling circuit changed. People who had no money to pay for smugglers anymore started walking up to Serbia on the medieval foot track along the Vardar river, that joins the Danube in Serbia. At the moment, this path follows the railway tracks that begin in Idomeni. From 2011 to 2014, around 200,000 people left Greece, mainly using this route.

The crisis was a major turning point also on another level. Migrants tried their luck in petty smuggling because there were no other jobs. Many started charging fees of a few (like 10 or 20) Euros for a trip across the border. So many ended up in prison, because unlike the professional smugglers who, in many cases, have contacts with parts of the police or can achieve deals by pointing to the “small fish” of the smuggling industry to be arrested in their place. This loose involvement with smuggling destroyed a lot of solidarity networks inside the communities.

In other words, the crisis was the beginning of the Western Balkan route. It is the moment more people started to walk. The state made the borders more permeable to the north. Migrants were unofficially allowed to exit Greece this way because they could no longer make money for the smuggling business, and the state didn’t want to have too many people stuck in Greece. During the first years, the number of people passing through this route was steady but low. The situation in Syria made the numbers grow at a very fast rate.

Declaration of Insanity – Najwa Sabra

full here

Waiting is a systematic tool of cruelty. I become a bit less human every time I wait at a red light when I can clearly see that there are no cars. So I cross with a skip in my step. I feel like a gladiator who just won his fight against dehumanization, and each time I wonder whether behind their stares of disapproval, people standing on both sides of the road, waiting, are in reality very impressed.

“In Germany, we don’t do things this way. You have to learn that, if you want to live here”. Learn won’t you? Learn the impossible language, learn how not to offend anyone, and learn your place. Learn not to seem entitled or ungrateful. Smile and say thank you. Be the poster refugee for Germany’s Willkommenskultur.*

The sealing off of the ‘Balkan borders’

Balkan borders

Photo: Gavgelija, Robert Atanasovski, AFP


The EU has finally struck a deal with the Turkish government at 29.10.2015 in which 3 bilion Euros per yer, visa liberalizations and unfrozen EU membership negotiations, negotiations that the EU froze with Turkey in 2005 under pretense of  R. Erdoğans government style as authoritative, will be exchanged for the Turkish role as an external Schengen border ‘guardian’. With this EU again proved that its interests have to be protected at all costs, quickly ignoring previous comments regarding the current Turkish president R. Erdoğan, as well as his increased surpression of Kurdish people, media critics and activists in the recent years. Political Machiavellism labels and continue to label Western politics throughout the history and it doesn’t leave out other political actors around the globe.

The construction of the European Union’s immigration system

October 25, 2015 – full text here

Unser Europa hat keine Grenzen

The EU elites are labeling its recent proposals as the ‘Europeanisation‘ of the EU’s external borders. Citing The Guardian (source:

This would entail national governments surrendering some of their powers on those frontiers and granting at least some authority over refugee admissions, detentions and deportation to EU bodies such as Frontex, the fledgling borders agency.’

Dramaturgy of safe corridor through the Balkans

October 14, 2015 – full text here

At the moment borders and other points on the refugee route through the Balkans offer a quite different sight than the one from not a long time ago. Blocked borders, self-organized refugee camps at the train stations and around border crossings and occasional police violence gave way to the non-declared corridor of safe passage and for some time now reports about police violence remain practically absent. True, Hungarian governement due to the perceived needs of its domestic audience is still staging a show “heavily armed guardian od the Schengen border” and yet it is itself fully cooperating with the police forces of neighbouring countries in organising the transfer of thousands of people through the country. After initial disagreements between various Balkans’ states, non-coordinated responses and a certain degree of improvization – the latter was characteristic for Slovenia – European Union has by now managed to establish a unified and controlled regime of management of people at practically the whole territory of the Balkans.