Refugee agency through bare life? New forms of voice and strategies of imperceptibility at the European borders

Keywords: bare life, refugees, agency, borders, Europe


In the course of the comparatively high numbers of refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 and 2016, several practices of the European border regime became more restrictive. This development accounts for the precarious situation in refugee camps at the external borders of Southeast Europe and the refusal of Mediterranean countries to accept more asylum seekers –against the backdrop of a lacking European solidarity system. Literature suggests that refugees in these contexts find themselves more often in (what Agamben understands as) a bare life situation, which challenges the possibilities for refugee agency at the European borders. This paper reflects on two concrete cases interpreted as bare life situations based on field research in Greece and Italy. It explores conceptualizations considering an assumed change of refugee agency. The first case refers to the situation in former camp “Moria” and the second to practices of irregularization in Southern Italy. The article aims to specify the limitations of refugees’ agency by building on an understanding of agency as relational to the border regime. The findings suggest that the bare life refugees have been reduced to explains the development of new forms of voice in refugee camps and strategies of imperceptibility in irregularity. Thereby refugee acts expose the adversity of border practices, while appropriating and redefining the bare life conditions.

Received: 14 February 2022
Accepted: 06 May 2022


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How to Cite
Ullrich, Maria. 2022. “Refugee Agency through Bare Life? New Forms of Voice and Strategies of Imperceptibility at the European Borders”. Deusto Journal of Human Rights, no. 9 (June), 39-56.