- The Struggle of Migrant Women across the Mediterranean SeaWatchTheMed Alarm Phone
The WatchTheMed Alarm Phone is an activist project that runs a 24/7 phone hotline for people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.1 Our group consists of about two hundred activists in over a dozen countries, on both sides of the Mediterranean. Since we launched our project in October 2014, we have supported groups of migrant travelers on about 2,800 boats. The Alarm Phone network operates in all Mediterranean regions, and in particular between Turkey and Greece, Morocco and Spain, and Libya and Italy—currently the three main migratory routes across the sea. When we receive emergency calls, we try to identify the locations of the boats and learn as much as possible about the particular situation and predicament of the precarious passengers. We ask: Where are you now, when did you depart, what can you see around you? How many people are on the boat, how many women, men, and children? Are there sick or injured people on board? What is the condition of the boat, is your engine running, do you have fuel, water, food? Has anyone gone overboard? We also alert coast guards and nongovernmental rescue forces to the presence of boats in distress and seek to hold state authorities accountable, in cases of delayed rescue and violations of the law of the sea or refugee conventions.
The Alarm Phone advocates for freedom of movement for all and understands itself as a practical intervention seeking to counteract the violence that Europe's borders produce, with the Mediterranean Sea being the deadliest border zone in the world. While, in the US context, the Sonoran Desert is used to kill, in Europe, it is both the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. The desert and sea seem to "naturalise" migrant death and provide a moral alibi for US and European governments, when, in fact, they are strategically deployed as deadly obstacles to forms of precarious migration. The Alarm Phone typically publishes a report every few weeks on our own activist experiences as well as the more general political developments in the different regions of the Mediterranean Sea. The following text is composed of updated excerpts from one of these reports published in March 2018. We felt it was time to [End Page 1029] focus more on the particularly gendered experiences of sea migration, which are often not sufficiently examined.
Stories of Women at Sea
Stories of women struggling across sea borders are rarely heard. When we do hear them, women are often simply portrayed as subordinate, exploited, and passive victims who depend on male companions, and who lack individual migration projects and political agency. The erasure of their agency and voices is also the effect of hegemonic narratives on migration to Europe, in which "the migrant" is routinely imagined as young, able-bodied, and male: more an abstract figure than a human being, and commonly constructed as a dangerous subject against whom border enforcement and deterrence policies are legitimized. Knowing well that the personal is political, and the political is personal, we wanted to hear women's voices and stories, and be inspired by their disobedient movements, their strength, their resilience, and their resistance. This Alarm Phone report was published shortly after International Women's Day in 2018, a day when women led demonstrations all over the world, from Spain—where the first nationwide "feminist strike" took place against sexual discrimination, domestic violence, and the wage gap—to Turkey, where the crowd of protestors shouted: "We won't shut up, we are not afraid, we won't obey."
The European border regime is also a gendered regime. It creates hierarchies of mobility, making it impossible for many women to leave their places of predicament in the first place. If they are able to leave, they have particularly gendered experiences, and unfortunately, many are exposed to systemic forms of gender-based violence. The increasing securitization of borders and the criminalization of migration are the main factors contributing to ever-more risky journeys, and the need to find professional help in overcoming border obstacles. Given these ever-lengthier and costlier journeys, exploitative situations are common, and "consensual...