Death on the Aegean Borderland

  • Mija Sanders Independent Scholar
Keywords Syrian refugees, Necropolitics, Turkey, borderlands, Migration, Death, Aegean
Keywords Syrian refugees, Necropolitics, Turkey, borderlands, Migration, Death, Aegean


In this article, I seek to change our understanding of necropolitics with regard to how host states and refugees themselves deal with their dead. Through technocratic practices for the former, and biophysical violence for the latter, I provide a reading of existing practices of processing the dead in which state and national boundaries follow migrants into the ground. I explore the necropolitics of displacement in order to understand Syrian affective experiences of shock, or sadma, under borderland policies, Turkish governance, and practices of intimate sovereignty in refugee deaths. Death for Syrian refugees on Turkey’s borderlands is the culmination of a series of transnational and local governance practices. It is also part of the material landscape of refugee displacement and of the Turkish government’s care sector—the processing of bodies and the conducting of funerary services. These services are meant to respond respectfully to frequent migrant deaths, despite the Turkish government’s warnings about the dangers of crossing the Aegean through human smuggling and the enhanced policing of the Aegean borderland meant to deter irregular crossings. For Syrians, however, police conduct on the Aegean borderland and the government’s management of memorials are contentious issues that enhance their sense of the necropolitical practices of governance and experiences of them as sadma. This work seeks to change our understanding of necropolitics with regard to how host states and refugees themselves deal with their dead, through twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork with Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey in 2017–2018.

Author Biography

Mija Sanders, Independent Scholar

Dr. Sanders is a PhD graduate of the School of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona. Her 2020 dissertation is titled "Politics of Care and Reverberations of Trauma: Syrian Refugees in Izmir, Turkey." Her dissertation explores a broad framework of international, national, and local institutions including care and assistance sectors (health care and humanitarian aid), the labor market, and urban settlement that are part of the interface between Syrians and the Turkish state. It connects Syrian affects and emotions to the institutions that regulate their everyday lives through multiple interventions. Currently Dr. Sanders is working on a book based on her dissertation.


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