Humanitarian Borders

Humanitarian Borders

Unequal Mobility and Saving Lives

Polly Pallister-Wilkins


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The seamy underside of humanitarianism

What does it mean when humanitarianism is the response to death, injury and suffering at the border? This book interrogates the politics of humanitarian responses to border violence and unequal mobility, arguing that such responses mask underlying injustices, depoliticise violent borders and bolster liberal and paternalist approaches to suffering.
Focusing on the diversity of actors involved in humanitarian assistance alongside the times and spaces of action, the book draws a direct line between privileges of movement and global inequalities of race, class, gender and disability rooted in colonial histories and white supremacy and humanitarian efforts that save lives while entrenching such inequalities.
Based on eight years of research with border police, European Union officials, professional humanitarians, and grassroots activists in Europe’s borderlands, including Italy and Greece, the book argues that this kind of saving lives builds, expands and deepens already restrictive borders and exclusive and exceptional identities through what the book calls humanitarian borderwork.


Polly Pallister-Wilkins:
Polly Pallister-Wilkins is a political geographer and an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam, where she researches and teaches on the spatialities of injustice with a specific focus on borders and mobility alongside the geographies and politics of humanitarianism. She has been researching humanitarian responses to border violence since 2012, undertaking extensive fieldwork with border police and humanitarian organisations across Europe and with a concentrated focus on Greece.