Passeurs: Narratives of ‘Illegal’ Migration across the Western Alps
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The contemporary migration crisis destabilizing the European Union has revived political attention over borderlands at the center and the outskirts of the Schengen region. Crossing the Alps is a hazardous step in the route of migrants heading north; particularly traveled is the path to cross the French-Italian border. Episodes of life-threatening border crossings are not new in this region where professional people smugglers – passeurs in French – have existed since the 1920s. I will present some of the numerous and heterogeneous narratives – biographies, documentaries, and novels – that shed light on the figure of passeurs as they have served different waves of migrants since World War II: Jews, Eastern Europeans, Africans, and Syrians. Insisting on the ethical commitment of humanitarian passeurs and their deep knowledge of the borderland’s landscape, these narratives challenge official accounts of “illegal” migration and resonate with the disobedience of European civilians acting in solidarity with migrants.
Federica Di Blasio is a Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Italian at UCLA. She studied Comparative Literature at the University of Bologna in Italy, the University of Tours in France, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has published on French author Georges Perec and presented her work on contemporary narratives of migration in the Mediterranean at several conferences. Her dissertation analyzes representations of mobility and aesthetic approaches to globalization in Italian literature and cinema, including authors from the Fascist period to the present. The UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies generously supported her research in the summer of 2017.
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