Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

The Politics of Helping Refugees

Citizens' Support between Humanitarianism and Political Activism

Larissa Fleischmann



Public discourses on the European asylum and border policies have begun to shift away from the notion of a “Fortress Europe:” the perceived closing and fortifying of Europe‘s external borders is increasingly subject to the public‘s critique. Such dissident voices call for urgent alternations and put pressure on the European Union to change its course of action towards the non-European “other.”

This changing attitude has been particularly indicated by the media reaction towards the migrant boat which sank on its way from Libya to Europe near the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea in October 2013. The incident, which caused the death of more than 300 African refugees, triggered an enormous outcry across the European member states and was framed as a “tragedy,” “drama” or “European failure.”

Non-state Actors, i.e. actors that operate outside the realm of formal politics, also gain an ever-greater role in contesting the European border and asylum policies–and thereby render the discourse on “Fortress Europe” increasingly untenable. This includes social movements, such as the “Rote Flora” demonstrations in Hamburg; activists and refugees who try to call attention to their situation by hunger strikes or the occupation of public spaces; as well as non-governmental organizations that work towards a fairer engagement with refugees in Europe. All these voices share an important argument: the European border policies are at odds with the fundamental values of Europe. Thus, the debate is importantly connected to the question of the identity of Europe and its place in the wider world.

My dissertation project therefore aims to examine the dissident voices of non-state actors in order to explore their understandings of the European identity and border. I am also particularly interested in their influence on formal politics and public discourses.

These voices appear to be especially important: non-state actors are not confined to the borders of nation-states but transcend them by acting at the transnational or regional level. They might thus articulate alternative visions of Europe and its borders by moving beyond the modernist logic of territoriality and sovereignty–and might therefore be able to make better sense of the intensified mobility in our globalized world.