Forced Immobility

Undocumented Migrants, Boats, Brussels, and Islands

in Transfers
Godfrey Baldacchino University of Malta, Malta

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Over April and May 2020, some 425 undocumented male migrants, mainly of Sub-Saharan origin, making the perilous crossing by boat from Libya toward Europe across the central Mediterranean, were saved and taken aboard by Maltese search and rescue vessels. However, instead of being immediately ported and disembarked, they were transferred to four “pleasure boats” and left bobbing on the high seas, some for forty days, while the Maltese government sought out other European countries who might be willing to take in some of them. This article uses this episode to foreground the manner in which boats and ships are serving as floating islands, also in international waters, producing a modern form of forced immobility and arrest.

Contributor Notes

Godfrey Baldacchino (PhD, Warwick, UK) is Professor of Sociology at the University of Malta, Malta; President of the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA); founding editor of Island Studies Journal; and former Canada Research Chair and UNESCO co-Chair in Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada. E-mail:

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies