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The rich world’s borders increasingly seem like a battleground where a new kind of ‘threat’ is fought back – the so-called ‘illegal migrant’. At Europe’s southern frontiers, sea patrols, advanced surveillance machinery and fencing keep migrants out, much like at the US, Israeli or Australian borders. Such investments have created a dense web of controls that displaces the border both inward and outwards, into the borderlands beyond it. This article, building upon recent border studies and ethnographies of illegality, explores Europe’s migration controls by focusing on their temporal aspects. In the borderlands, it shows, irregular migrants are not only subjected to extended periods of waiting, as migrants often are; they also face an active usurpation of time by state authorities through serial expulsions and retentions. The ways in which migrants’ time is appropriated reveal a complex economics of illegality, complementing existing ‘biopolitical’ perspectives on Europe’s borders.

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Journal article

Publication Date





795 - 809