Our message is blunt: migrants are dying who need not. […] It is time to do more than count the number of dead. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants.

William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organisation for Migration (IOM)


With this post, we urge the IR academic community to take action to help stop the deaths at the Mediterranean Sea and other border zones of the European Union.

In case you do not have the time to read the entire post, please click here[1] to sign an Open Letter from IR academics and wider community to European decision makers, so safe and legal routes of entry to the European Union can be opened. No one is illegal.

In short, the petition urges European decision makers to:

  • Open legal and secure channels to all migrants, and ensure that refugees have access to the European territory where their individual situation can be assessed;
  • Stop making access to the EU for non-EU nationals conditional upon the signature of readmission agreements by their country of origin, and stop using external cooperation as a means to reinforce border controls;
  • Urgently prioritise search and rescue tasks over surveillance, and provide both financial and technical support to competent Search and Rescue (SAR) mechanisms and not to Frontex;
  • Urgently activate the 2001 Directive on Temporary Protection, and address resettlement needs of refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, particularly victims of the conflict in Syria, in sub-Saharan Africa, and everywhere else;
  • Immediately revoke of the Dublin Regulation that is hindering mobility.

In short, these policy measures would ensure that no one has to die, or rely on smugglers’ services in order to enter Europe. The requirements are based on the tireless work that the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) has done in the Mediterranean death zone for years. The recommendations are therefore based on solid, research based knowledge.

By mid-October we will contact key European news agencies and ask them to publish the letter. At that point, our signatures and press releases will be addressed to EU representatives and decision makers.


According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants project, Europe continues to be the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migrants. This has largely to do with the fact that there are no legal means for migrants to enter Europe, and hence the only available means to file an asylum claim within the EU is to physically set a foot on European soil. This means that, in order to apply for asylum, there is no other way but to cross the border irregularly, by relying on unsafe boats and dinghies of the smugglers.

As of 3 September, the annual toll of deaths in the Mediterranean had risen up to 2,701. From these people, 999 came from Sub-Saharan Africa, 359 from the Horn of Africa, 315 from Middle East and North Africa, 18 from South Asia, while 1,010 bodies remain unidentified.

But that’s just for this year. Even if the humanitarian spectacle is now unfolding before our eyes in the media, the phenomenon of migrants having to die on their way to Europe is not new. For most of us, this is not news. This has been going on for years. During all those years, the solutions to stop the deaths have been there, in the hands of European decision makers. The crisis we are witnessing thus is not simply a humanitarian crisis. It is a political crisis, where bad politics makes people die.

During all these years of dying, many of us academics have known the solutions. Nevertheless, apart from those, whose own work deals with the theme, perhaps involving methods of activism, most of us have remained silent, letting the deaths to continue. Now, however, the time has come to speak out, as a community, with one clear message: the decision makers have to use the means available to stop the deaths. Those means are listed in the Open Letter.

Political crises are not simply spectacles. They are not just tragedies. They are also political openings, where it becomes possible to intervene so to make things better, more just, less violent. In the case of the Mediterranean political crisis we, as an academic community, have a means to intervene. It is called the expert voice – that is, the very privilege of our position as both witnesses and analysts.

In fact, as International Relations scholars, we are perhaps particularly responsible to speak out. We are, after all, the people who make a living from the analysis of the humanitarian/political spectacles like the one being witnessed in Europe now. The political meanings of Aylan’s image in the media, for instance, are likely to be discussed in various conference papers and articles in years to come, whether as an example of ‘trauma porn’, or something else. And all that critical analysis of ours is still as important as ever. Now, however, at the political opening of the crisis, we must use our position to intervene, in order to make things better, more just and less violent.

Until now, the international academic community has remained surprisingly silent about sustainable solutions to the crisis. As a community we have, quite bluntly, left the activism to human rights organisations or individual scholars and citizens, while focusing on critical analysis of what is going on. While the critical analysis is utterly important and necessary, our role as a community cannot stop there.

An Open Letter from Academics to Decision Makers has been created in order for the academic community to speak out, as a community. It is a tool. It does not matter who created it, what matters is the aim.

The tool, however, seems not to work very well. Since its launch some days ago, we have managed to gather approximately 150 names. That is very little, not even a whisper from an actor imagined as an “international academic community” as we like to portray ourselves at conferences like EISA, ISA, and the like.

We refuse to believe that the reason for this is that academics would not believe in the message of the Letter. We refuse to believe that, as a community, we have turned too cynical to believe that change is possible. We refuse to believe that, as a community, we only care about critical analyses of the spectacle.

We want to believe that the reason for the low number of signatures is the fact that very few people know about the Letter, or its purpose. Putting aside cynicism, and frustration, we believe a Letter like this can help make a difference. However, to do so, at least three things are required.

First, we need a lot of signatures, please sign.

Second, to gain a lot of signatures, the Letter would need to go viral amongst academic communities across the world. It would require the maximum attention in the social media. Thus, in addition to signing the Letter, please distribute it to your own networks via Twitter, Facebook and personal emails. Recurrently, if need be.

Thirdly, for the Letter to go through in the media in October, and to gain maximum attention there, we would need not only a lot of names, but also Big Names from the higher ranks of the International Academia. Please, utilise your personal networks to get influential individuals to sign the letter. Also, if you have good contacts with media that could be utilised when publishing the letter with signatures, please get in touch with us directly.

Thank you!

Tiina Vaittinen & Federica Caso, Federica Caso & Tiina Vaittinen (in no particular order of authorship)

[1] We are aware that using a platform such as for political activism may be problematic, but we needed a workable platform to collect signatures – plenty of them we hope – before publishing the Open Letter elsewhere. Thus, even if in principle you would not sign petitions in, we do hope you would make an exception this time.


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