Evacuation and LE BAL: Usages géopolitiques de l’image

I’ve been given the honour of presenting at the autumn symposium organised by LE BAL at the EHSS, Paris, in a few weeks. This year the theme is on geopolitics and the use of the image. I’ll be talking alongside: Kader Attia, Valérie Jouve, Marie-José Mondzain, Michael Neuman, Lorenzo Pezzani, Irit Rogoff, Éric Sadin, Susana de Sousa Dias and Marie Voignier.

My intervention is going to begin and linger with an image I’ve used a few times in recent talks on my evacuation project, the BBC graphic used to illustrate the panic to repatriate foreign nationals during the beginning of the Libyan crisis in 2011. The image, along with several others, gives us some different windows into the politics of the evacuation.

The BBC image isn’t a classic infographic of lines and arrows designating evacuee pathways (although the different designations of evacuee is crucial here, as well as who and what qualifies for an evacuation), as writers interested in mobility will know to be incredibly suspicious of a line from A to B. Instead, the image’s source is Drillinginfo International (and curiously Royal Holloway), which outlines the different locations of oil refineries, pipelines and oil and gas fields, with a rather vague icon of ‘desert oil fields’. Unsurprisingly, the evacuation of many of the first foreign nationals were oil workers based in these locations, which reveals something of the speed and dexterity with which evacuation is conducted for particular kinds of valued subject. The (bio)political-economy of evacuation insurance policies deserves much more attention in this context.

Other images show the evacuations from different cities and sites, including the desert oil fields, to Malta, which became the locus of many international efforts to coordinate the complex logistics of the evacuations. In-fact the British High Commission in Ta’ Xbiex was the location of a non-combatant evacuation coordination cell, used by a partnership of several European and non-European states to organise their efforts. In the talk I’ll unpick these lines, the political and financial mechanisms those states and others used, and the relationship between law, diplomacy and military force.

But in particular, I’d also like to indicate that many of the heroic infographics used to describe the evacuations disguise the immediate and longer term immobilities of migrants from other countries, especially sub-Saharan African workers who were stuck at the Tunisian border or trapped in Benghazi after being denied entry to other country’s evacuation routes, what the European Commission called its air and sea ‘bridges’.



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