Waiting for the Smuggler: Tales Across the Border

in Public Anthropologist
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According to mainstream media and political discourse, human smugglers are among the cruellest figures of our time, individuals who prey on migrants’ need for assistance. Motivated by the circulation of this pejorative view in media and political discourse, I carried out ethnographic research with Syrian refugees and smugglers in Turkey, Greece, Jordan, and Lebanon with the ultimate goal of documenting what being a smuggler entails for the very actors of this unfolding drama. Fieldwork showed me how human smuggling was rooted in patterns of cooperation and support. And yet, most if not all my interlocutors, including the “smugglers” themselves, spoke of smuggling in negative terms. What I argue in this paper is that the smuggler, a category functional to the security apparatus, is not only manufactured within law enforcement circles and mainstream media, but even by those very people who are discriminated or targeted by states’ migration policies.

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