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Migration and the Contemporary Mediterranean

Shifting Cultures in Twenty-First-Century Italy and Beyond

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Edited By Claudia Gualtieri

This collection of essays presents a study of migration cultures in the contemporary Mediterranean with a particular focus on Italy as a point of migratory convergence and pressure. It investigates different experiences of, and responses to, sea crossings, borders and checkpoints, cultural proximity and distance, race, ethnicity and memory, along with creative responses to the same. In dialogic and complementary interaction, the essays explore violence centring on race as the major determining factor. The book further submits that the interrogation of racialized categories represents different kinds of critical response and resistance, which involve both political struggle and day-to-day survival and coexistence. Following the praxis of cultural and postcolonial studies, the essays focus on the present but draw indispensable insight from past connections and heritage as well as offering prognoses for the future. The ambitious aim of this collection is to identify some useful lines of thought and action that could help us to think outside intricacy, isolation and defensiveness, which characterize most of the public official reactions to migration today.

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10 Back way to Babylon: (Unauthorized) migration and postcolonial consciousness in the Gambia (Paolo Gaibazzi)

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PAOLO GAIBAZZI

10 Back way to Babylon: (Unauthorized) migration and postcolonial consciousness in the Gambia1

ABSTRACT

The Gambia has in recent years become a primary source of undocumented boat migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. This chapter seeks to make sense of this phenomenon by analysing the wider socio-cultural context in which travelling to Europe and other destinations acquires meaning and attractiveness in the Gambia. It does so by unpacking the metaphor of ‘Babylon’, a term adapted from reggae culture, with which young Gambians refer to Europe and the West more generally. Babylon captures both the dangers and the opportunities of migration to Europe. Far from solely articulating a discourse about the migratory elsewhere, however, the imaginary of Babylon also expresses a critique, and to an extent resistance, vis-à-vis the postcolonial establishment’s promise of emancipation and progress.

Introduction

Unauthorized migration from the Gambia to Europe has recently attracted much attention, nationally and internationally. Numbers of Gambians arriving to Italy primarily through Libya has risen fivefold. In 2016, Gambian ← 245 | 246 → boat migrants numbered nearly 12,000, and accounted for 7 per cent of the arrivals, significantly outnumbered only by Nigerians (14 per cent) in the West African bloc (Ministry of Interior of Italy 2016). For what is the smallest country in continental Africa, with a population of under 2 million, which is perhaps 1 per cent of that of Nigeria, these are indeed remarkable statistics. Sheer...

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