We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


Burning at Europe's Borders

An Ethnography on the African Migrant Experience in Morocco

Isabella Alexander-Nathani

Publication Date - 20 January 2020

ISBN: 9780190074647

288 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

Exposes the world's largest migrant and refugee crises at Europe's southernmost borders in North Africa


In her heart-pounding and courageous debut, Dr. Isabella Alexander-Nathani uncovers an unseen side of our global migrant and refugee crisis.

Burning at Europe's Borders invites readers inside the lives of the world's largest population of migrants and refugees--the hundreds of thousands who are trapped in hidden forest camps and forgotten detention centers at Europe's southernmost borders in North Africa. "Hrig," the Arabic term for "illegal immigration," translates to "burning." It signifies a migrant's decision to burn their papers, in order to avoid identification and repatriation on their long journeys to safer shores. But it also signifies their decision to burn their past lives, sacrificing themselves in hopes of reaching a future on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander-Nathani examines this process of "burning," traveling thousands of miles alongside those who have fled war and extreme poverty across the African continent only to find themselves trapped in Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. This book exposes the political agreements that have led to Europe's control over African borders and the illicit practices that continue to mold North African countries into brutal holding cells for our world's most vulnerable.

Burning at Europe's Borders introduces new ways of doing anthropological research in the modern era, as Alexander-Nathani skillfully weaves images and individual stories into her analysis of changing migration flows at our world's most critical border crossings. Her creative mixed-methods approach included community filmmaking practices and over three years of ethnographic research in African smuggling rings, hidden migrant brotherhoods, and European Union-funded detention centers. This is an ideal cross-over book, promising to engage students, scholars, policymakers, and popular audiences seeking to step inside the heart of our world's greatest humanitarian crisis.

Burning at Europe's Borders is a volume in the series ISSUES OF GLOBALIZATION: CASE STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY ANTHROPOLOGY, which examines the experiences of individual communities in our contemporary world. Each volume offers a brief and engaging exploration of a particular issue arising from globalization and its cultural, political, and economic effects on certain peoples or groups.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Isabella Alexander-Nathani is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, educator, and human rights activist. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, her work is motivated by her belief that storytelling has the power to humanize complex political issues. Her latest book, Burning at Europe's Borders, and related documentary film, The Burning, uncover the human sides of our global migrant and refugee crisis. Alexander-Nathani's work has been featured on BBC, CNN, NPR, PRI, and Al Jazeera, and she is a regular contributor to SAPIENS, where she writes a monthly column called "Borders." Her speaking programs have brought her to stages around the world, including the United Nations General Assembly and the Parliament of the World's Religions, where she has delivered keynote addresses to audiences of more than 10,000. The American Anthropological Association presented her with the "Emerging Leader in Anthropology" award in 2016, and her latest project has been supported by multiple grants from The National Science Foundation. She has held faculty positions in the Departments of Anthropology and Film Studies at Emory University and the Department of Social Sciences at Morocco's national university. She currently serves as Founder and CEO of Small World Films, a non-profit production studio. She uses grounded research and social impact storytelling to lift the voices of marginalized populations to the global stage and fight for international policy change.


"Dr. Isabella Alexander-Nathani is paving the way for a new generation of human rights activists. She has spent her career on the frontlines, willing to sacrifice her life in the fight to advance human rights in unseen corners of the world. Her work lifts the voices of the most vulnerable and has convinced world leaders that we can no longer talk about human rights without talking about race. It is thanks to her that we now know the untold stories of Africa's migrant and refugee crisis. She is a true freedom fighter, and this book is poised to lead her legacy."--Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Civil & Human Rights Activist

"Bearing witness to the hopes and dreams of some of the most desperate and vulnerable migrants of our time, Alexander-Nathani creates a refuge for their stories in this stunning book. An ethnography written with heart and deep knowledge, it is essential reading for understanding our global migrant crisis."--Ruth Behar, University of Michigan, Author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart

"Burning at Europe's Borders is a breathtakingly ambitious and bold account of the travails of migration across an extended geography encompassing much of Central and Western Africa and the cruel racialized severities of border enforcement in North Africa. Simultaneously, it presents a multifaceted study of Morocco as a country profoundly shaped by its own history of migration to Europe, as a postcolonial junior partner in the brutal policing of Europe's externalized borders, and as a pivotal crossroads for the diverse migrant and refugee movements seeking to transgress the ever more fortified and deadly borders of Europe. Alexander-Nathani's book is a rich ethnographic work of compelling description, sensitive narration, and deeply empathetic storytelling--an outstanding achievement."--Nicholas de Genova, University of Houston, Editor of The Borders of "Europe": Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering

"An important and innovative contribution to our understanding of Europe's migration crisis. Alexander-Nathani's moving prose and nuanced analytical insights shine a much needed ethnographic light on the lives of African migrants and refugees who struggle to find freedom and happiness in a world of increasing inequality and violence."--Jason de Leon, University of California, Los Angeles, Author of The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

"In this rich and poignant ethnography, scholar, activist, and storyteller Alexander-Nathani invites us to listen to the voices of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who remind us that what we call a migration 'crisis' is, in fact, a reception crisis on the part of the European Union. This book is at once a courageous ethnography, an act of solidarity, and an insightful piece of scholarship that meticulously traces the externalization of European borders, exposing its racial undertones and revealing its catastrophic effects. It bows to the resilience, courage, and determination of those whose movement is changing the face of our world--those who are being sacrificed and burned, not only for the sake of the loved ones they leave behind, but for all our sakes. Ignore them at our peril."--Yannis Hamilakis, Brown University, Editor of The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration

"This book brings to life the untold stories of the migrant and refugee crisis currently unfolding at Europe's southern doorstep in Africa. In a skillful balance of solid research and first-hand accounts, Alexander-Nathani weaves a captivating story of humanitarian crisis in a way that is both theoretically grounded and highly readable. Layering her text with case studies opens windows into real lives and puts readers in direct conversation with those whose stories are defined by their liminality. But the real heroic effort here is the author's decision to place the words of migrants alongside and equal those of the scholars and theorists she analyzes. In doing so, Alexander-Nathani has redefined the art of academic storytelling, asserting deep human truths and moving subtly beyond scholarship to activism."--Ann Shafer, Harvard University, Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Art and Architecture

Table of Contents

    List of Illustrations


    Chapter One. Introduction
    The Question of Ethnography
    New Forms of Ritual
    Mapping Morocco
    A Rooftop Home away from Home
    A Place at the Table
    A Note on Chapter Structure

    Chapter Two. At the Crossroads: Africa on the Map of Human Migrations
    Introductory Case Study: A Transnational Moroccan Family Network
    The Homes Remittances Buy
    Who Has the Right?
    Refugee "Crises" in the Headlines
    From Early Models to Contemporary Studies of Human Migration
    The Trouble with the Mobility Transition Model
    The Tiered Development Model
    A New Migration Hump
    Slave to Solider to "Seasonal" Laborer
    Measuring Migrations: How Far or How Strange Is the Destination?
    Morocco's Critical Place at the Crossroads
    Berber to Muslim: The Islamic Conquest of the Maghreb (647-709)
    The Arab Slave Trade (650-1900s) and Morocco's Black Army (1672-1727)
    The French and Spanish Colonization of Morocco (1860-1956)
    The Post-Colonization Migration Boom (1956-2005) and Morocco's Transition into a "Destination" (2005-present)
    An Island Surrounded by Land

    Chapter Three. Colony, Monarchy, Muslim Democracy: Morocco as the New "Destination" for African Migrants
    Introductory Case Study: Two Sides to Every Story
    The War on Migrants, the War on Drugs
    Aid from the Other Side
    The Long Road Home
    Trapped at the Gates of Europe
    A Brief History of the World's Oldest Monarchy
    The Colonization of the Maghreb: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of King Mohammed
    V (1927-53, 1957-61)
    The "Years of Lead": King Hassan II and the Building of Morocco's Military Police State (1961-1999)
    A Modern Monarchy: King Mohammed VI Builds a Bridge between the Muslim World and "the West"
    The Arab Spring and the Moroccan Exception
    The (Il)Legalization of Morocco's Newest Subjects

    Chapter Four. Vulnerability and the Gendering of Political Status
    Introductory Case Study: A Neighborhood No One Calls Home
    Doing "Man's Work"
    Strangers Sleeping Side by Side
    Mother, Sister, Daughter, Wife: The Vulnerability of the Female Migrant
    Neither Mother, Nor Sister, Nor Daughter, Nor Wide: The Role of the Female Researcher
    Migrants as the "New" Muslim Men
    Learning from Comparative Studies of Migration
    The Transnational Paradigm
    Transnational Subjects at Home and Abroad
    Questioning across Borders
    When is the Migrant a Refugee?

    Chapter Five. Burning Yesterday for Tomorrow: Images from the in Between
    Introductory Case Study: A Journey to the Space in Between
    Memory Making: How One Man Builds a Narrative [and One Researcher Rebuilds It]
    Traditional Life History Collection and a Call for Visual Data
    Phino: A Visual Life History
    Luca: The Digitization of Visual Life History
    Mapping Migrants' (Dis)Location

    Chapter Six. "Le Peril Noir": The Racialization of Political Status
    Introductory Case Study: The Senegalese Exchange
    University Village: A Space for Here and Now
    New Racisms on the Rise
    The Language of Difference
    Race as Nationality: Placing Black Moroccans
    How We "Other": From Racialization to Legalization
    Inside and Outside of the Lines

    Chapter Seven. Conclusion
    The Legality of Undocumented Movement
    Policy and Practice on the Other Side of the Border
    Border Externalization: A Modern Spanish Ruling of the Moroccan Border
    The Weight of their Journeys
    At the Threshold: Migration as a Sacrificial Rite de Passage
    A Return to the Beginning



Related Titles