Claudia Aradau and Martina Tazzioli, Covid-19 and rebordering the world Radical Philosophy 2.10 (Summer 2021)
In April 2021, dozens of asylum seekers were moved back to the Napier Barracks in the UK, after the barracks had been emptied a month earlier following protests and media reports on its unsuitable conditions. Migrant support groups and NGOs denounced the ‘terrible conditions of the substandard accommodation and the effects it is having on its residents’. 1 Asylum seekers organised many protests against the unliveable conditions and several started hunger strikes. In the wake of this mobilisation, the Independent Inspector of Migration, Border and Asylum also reported inadequate resources and that the ‘environment at both sites [Penally Camp and Napier Barracks], especially Napier, was impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation’. 2 Finally, public outcry after a Covid-19 outbreak at the barracks led the Home Office to transfer the asylum seekers to hotels where they were to wait to be transferred to an accommodation centre or a flat, according to the ‘dispersal policy’ that has been enforced in the UK since 1999. At about the same time, the UK government introduced hotel quarantine for travellers crossing borders from a number of countries deemed a risk for bringing ‘mutant’ Covid-19 variants to the UK. Notably, this continuum of hybrid forms of confinement has been enforced in the name of both migrants’ and citizens’ protection.
In fact, as Foucault has retraced, the responses to diseases reveal specific regimes of power and of power transformations – leprosy: sovereign power; plague: disciplinary power; smallpox: biopower and security dispositifs. 12 The ongoing rebordering of the world should be situated within this history of contagion, health and borders and, at the same time, grasped in its specificity. Yet, Covid-19 is the first pandemic that has triggered a global lockdown. Fassin has pointed out that the current health crisis ‘is not unprecedented because of the pandemic, but because of the response to the pandemic. We have had worse pandemics in the past, but we have never had one for which confinement has been imposed on a global level’.