Bibliography File Note.
Policy, media, activist and academic discourses often portray migrants and refugees in the extreme, as victims or villains. This portrayal obscures the agency demonstrated by migrants and refugees and evidenced in their own accounts of their journeys. It also reifies the power of the state to ‘secure’ borders and control migration, and conceals the contested politics of mobility and security visible in negotiations between migrants, borders guards, smugglers, fishermen, and other actors. In this article, I take an ethnographic approach and conceptualize the border from the bottom up as a contested site of negotiation. The analysis reveals the ways in which migrants negotiate with their smugglers, amongst themselves, and with border guards in order to circumvent state controls when entering the state clandestinely. In doing so, it questions traditional conceptualizations of sovereignty, security and citizenship. The article then analyses how migrants continue to demonstrate agency after arrival within state territories and how this agency can have an impact not only on micro, everyday encounters, but also on the macro level: my research demonstrates how migrant agency can have causal and constitutive effects on state relations and power. The article draws on participant observation and over 130 interviews I conducted with migrants, refugees, fishermen, NGO representations, and policymakers between 2007 and 2015 in Malta and Cyprus.