This chapter examines contemporary contexts where—alongside the humanitarian discourse of migrant-centredness—some ‘irregular’ migrants’ are ‘pushed back’ and/or abandoned on land and at sea. While Foucault’s work goes a considerable way in helping to discern the ‘positive’ characteristics of biopolitical bordering practices, it is argued that more attention needs to be given to the ‘negative’ (or thanatopolitical) dimensions that expose ‘irregular’ populations to death. Giorgio Agamben’s arguments have been strongly criticized, but I argue that a modified understanding of his diagnosis of the sovereign ban—one that rethinks the decision and emphasizes the material potency of its everyday operation—helps to conceptualize the systemic conditions that lead to the loss of life. This is important because otherwise deaths continue to be read as ‘tragic accidents’ in the ‘rhetoric’ versus ‘reality’ frame, which in turn are used to justify more security and surveillance measures under the rubric of humanitarianism.
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