Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilDossiers108-2Chasing Down Foreigners at the Fr...

Chasing Down Foreigners at the French-Italian Border (Hautes-Alpes) as a Matter of Social and Racial Policing

Sarah Bachellerie
Cet article est une traduction de :
La traque policière des étranger·es
à la frontière franco-italienne (Hautes-Alpes)
comme « maintien de l’ordre » social et racial


In the town of Briançon (Hautes-Alpes), on the French side of the French-Italian border, the border police (PAF) controls for those who have crossed the border illegally by operating on a discretionary basis. Mobile police practices include tracking down racialised people across the mountains. These practices expose illegal migrants to dangers inherent in the high-mountain environment and are part of a continuum of police and administrative violence committed against them. Migration control in the Briançon area demonstrates how the mountains can be integrated into power strategies that reinforce the dominance of certain social groups. It also shows that borders today, which facilitate the mobility of “legitimate” foreign populations and hinder that of “undesirable” foreign populations, function by identifying individuals and differentiating them on the basis of race and class. The persistence of “police hunts for illegal humans” (Chamayou, 2010) as a control technology helps us, on the whole, to understand how migration control on France’s borders forms part of a “colonial present” (Gregory, 2004).

Haut de page

Texte intégral


1Mountains, like the sea and the desert, are natural environments that are difficult for humans to tame and can be dangerous, even deadly. For migrants, however, these spaces can be especially dangerous when “states think they can use the geopower [of these spaces] to transform them into an impassable frontier” (Heller, Libération, 14/12/2017). In the Alps, between 1920 and 1950, the introduction of administrative and police controls at the French-Italian border made transalpine population movements that had always existed (Siestrunck, 2013) illegal. These controls drove foreigners who were not part of official, government-supervised migration routes to avoid police checkpoints by using more arduous mountain paths (Hanus, 2012). Since the Schengen Agreement came into force in 1993, Italian workers have been allowed to move freely between Italy and France. But as political and media discourse has constructed hostile figures of “migrants” from the southern and eastern Mediterranean region, border guards have been encouraged to target those suspected of posing a “migration risk” (Hanus, 2012). According to Del Biaggio (Libération, 14/12/2017), the increased control at the Schengen Area’s internal borders since 2011 has had the same effect of politicising natural space in the Alps as in the Mediterranean.

  • 1 Asylum seekers arriving in France must start their procedure at the Reception Platform for Asylum S (...)
  • 2 Based on my observations, the frequency of refusals varied over time.
  • 3 A planned 10-km strip of land around the border points (Article L. 213-3-1 of Law No. 2018-778 of 1 (...)

2In the winter of 2016–2017, the Briançon region (Hautes-Alpes, France) became an important transit route for people seeking to emigrate from Italy to France. Most of them were originally from sub-Saharan Africa. Since most of them went to France to legally seek asylum or protection as minors, they should have been allowed to go to the nearest town to ask for protection.1 However, they were forced to cross the border while avoiding police checks because the Border Police (PAF) refused to permit them to enter.2
As early as June 2017, the French state deployed exceptional police resources, such as support from the mobile gendarmerie and the army, to block migrants seeking to cross the border at Briançon. Police controls extended well beyond the area that had been mentioned in the legislation
3 and formed a “border zone” in the mountainous area between the Col de l’Échelle, Montgenèvre and Briançon, and even below Briançon, on the road to Gap, as shown on the map of mobile police practices. These practices sought to prevent migrants from crossing the border and transformed the Briançon mountain region into a “border zone” (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Briançon border zone (2017–2019),a mobile police geography in the high mountains

Figure 1. The Briançon border zone (2017–2019),a mobile police geography in the high mountains

Cartography, S. Bachellerie, 2019André Crous2020-09-14T16:52:00

3Between May 2018 and May 2019, following the development of such a control mechanism, four people of African origin died, two others disappeared, and three were seriously injured while trying to cross this mountainous border area (Tous Migrants, May 2019). In 2018, the Briançon-based association Tous Migrants tallied 2,104 medical consultations for people who had serious physical (frostbite, shock, injuries, broken limbs etc.) or psychological side-effects from crossing the border. According to the association, hundreds of arrests have been avoided thanks to the solidarity of residents who criss-cross the mountains every night to help foreigners endangered by the police presence. However, tourists and residents cross this same border mountain every day without being in any danger. Thus, the process of transforming the high-alpine area into a “police territory” (Jobard, 2001) operates differently depending on who crosses it.

  • 4 All first names with an asterisk have been changed to respect the respondents’ anonymity.

4For the full duration of my fieldwork, in 2018 and 2019, the police practices were mainly mobile and consisted of patrolling and André Crous2020-09-14T21:44:00tracking. The patrols covered the territory with a ubiquitous police presence. The tracking targeted the populations whose identity had to be checked. This check was carried out in two stages: First, the police identified the “suspect” before chasing them and seizing them. Identity checks at the border only involved individuals identified by the police as potentially being “illegal migrants”. The racial targeting of individuals by law enforcement agencies is not necessarily ideological: It can be explained by a simple “pragmatic racialism” (Fassin, 2010) whose goal is to increase the “efficiency” of the controls. However, for the people undergoing the controls, these discretionary practices are experienced as racial, even racist, discrimination, as I was told by Francis*4 and Christian* in May 2019 and in informal discussions with people who crossed the border in 2018 and 2019. They revealed that, “rather than maintaining public order, the presence of police patrols ultimately ensures the reproduction of social order. In other words, it is a way of reminding everyone of their place and, in particular, their place in relation to the state and those responsible for implementing its repressive policy” (Fassin, 2010, p. 113). In this respect, police questioning is a “reminder of national order” but also of “social” and “racial” order (Guénebeaud, 2017, p. 428).

5I analyse the recurring examples of police tracking at the border by using Chamayou’s (2010) theory of the “human hunt”, which is a technology of power that reaffirms an already existing relationship of domination. Instead of taking the form of a confrontation between two equal parties, the balance of power is marked by a radical asymmetry of weapons, and the enemy is not recognised as an equal but as prey. In his work, Chamayou plays on the double meaning of the word “hunt” in French: Thus, “chasse” as expulsion, which involves making undesirable populations disappear, would complement “chasse” as seizing, which means immobilising a prey in order to catch it. The tracking of foreigners or the poor as a technology of domination is rooted in colonial genealogy, and delegating the state’s hunting power to a specific body may be labelled as the birth certificate of the modern police (Chamayou, 2010).

6Thus, police chasing people on the move in the Briançon border area reveals how contemporary borders produce social and racial categories by denying some social groups the right to move or exist in space and exposing them to the violence of that space. My analysis falls within the field of border studies, which, since the 1990s, have denaturalised the existence of national borders by focusing on the process of border construction (“bordering”). Borders are understood as a way not only to control the flows but also to create hierarchical social categories between social groups (“ordering”) and produce “othering” and the social and spatial exclusion of dominated groups (Van Houtum, Van Naersen, 2001). Guarded by police officers who are responsible, among other things, for “policing” the public, the border also maintains political and social “order”. It legitimises the categories necessary to exercise power (the state and the nation, the founders of sovereign power) and endorses the different dominations of class, race and gender (Guénebeaud, 2017), as well as the demarcation between those who have the right to mobility and those who are denied access to a particular space.

7First, I will describe in detail the practices that border control officers use to target the individuals who are to be arrested, and then I will show that this targeting is based on social and racial categories whose hierarchical order it helps to reproduce. Next, I will show that police tracking leads to symbolic and physical violence against foreigners on the move, as well as these people’s disappearance from the public space.

8This research is based on a field survey conducted in Briançon and Val de Suse, where I arrived in March 2018 for my master’s thesis research (ENS de Lyon). For one and a half years, I participated as an observer (Soulé, 2007) with exiled people in the Franco-Italian solidarity movement, which allowed me to observe the police system and its effects on people on the move in real time. I was one of the “solidarity marauders” travelling through the mountains to observe police violence and offer assistance to lost migrants. I lived in solidarity reception centres, where I collected eyewitness accounts from people arriving on the French side or being escorted back to the Italian side of the border. Unfortunately, as I was personally identified as a member of associative groups opposed to police work and whose activity was illegal, I couldn’t conduct interviews with control officers. I completed my investigation with 45 interviews with residents from the border area and local economic actors, who witness the border work every day.

The targeting of foreigners ‘to be arrested’

9During my fieldwork (2018–2019), I met different tourists visiting the village of Montgenèvre. These people did not even know that the border was being controlled, as it was invisible to them. Their vehicles were never stopped at the border crossing, and they never underwent an identity check when travelling in the area. I asked about this situation: How is it that some people are unaware of the existence of the border, while others are systematically exposed to it?

  • 5 Interviews with residents of Briançon and Névache, March 2018

10The strengthening of border controls began with a “spectacular” phase that ran from spring to winter 2017 and included putting up military roadblocks in the Col de l’Échelle and the Clarée Valley and systematically checking vehicles. Military and police patrols in all the villages in the valley, along with helicopter surveillance, disrupted the landscape and transformed it, according to many inhabitants, into a “war zone”.5 But with the start of the winter tourist season, controls were restricted to particular spaces and times. They were suspended in the Clarée Valley (the main road to Briançon), moved closer to the borderline and the PAF post and increased at night. The police strategies I observed from this period onwards focused on intelligence concerning the crossing routes, which enabled them to pick up “potentially illegal” persons at the spots and times when they were most likely to be found. This marked the beginning of a strategy that targeted foreigners who had crossed illegally rather than one that visibly and systematically enforced control over the border. Throughout my observations of the crossings at Montgenèvre, I found that at the border crossing, a simple glance by the PAF officer at the passengers in the vehicle was enough to determine whether or not there would be an identity check. During mobile patrols in the border area, the criteria used by the PAF officers to target individuals “to be checked” were the following: carrying a backpack or suitcase; travelling at night and/or in a group; showing signs of fear, hiding; and having a skin colour identified as black. Francis*, who crossed the French-Italian border in August 2018, explains that:

  • 6 Recorded discussion with Francis*, May 2019

Already, for the borders, you can see it directly, at the level of controls. When you’re on a bus from Oulx [in Italy] to Briançon [at the border], when the police get on the bus, they already have their targets. When they get on, they look around. If they see white people somewhere, they don’t really check. They go directly to the blacks. And also (...) if you go alone, or you pass with white people, there won’t be any control of your car (...). But, if you come, you only have one black guy in the car, you’re controlled.6

  • 7 Informal discussions with three bus drivers, January–April 2019.
  • 8 Interviews with three first-aid trackers from the resort of Montgenèvre and four lift workers, Marc (...)
  • 9 Eyewitness accounts by people taken back to the border collected on the Italian side, winter 2018–2 (...)

11Between 2017 and 2019, closer cooperation between the French and Italian police forces bolstered the targeting logic. I observed that the carabinieri present in Oulx and Clavière, where a bus was leaving for Briançon, informed their PAF counterparts of the number of “potential” migrants, as well as the paths that the persons appeared to be taking. At the border post, the PAF asked the bus drivers of the cross-border line how many people had got off at Clavière; the drivers I interviewed7 said they felt obligated to answer the police when questioned. The PAF also cooperated with the management of the Montgenèvre ski resort to involve first-aid trackers. Their bosses asked them via the central radio to “go and see” when “migrants are there”8. “It’s not necessarily [because] they’re in danger”, says Quentin*, a tracker in Montgenèvre. “Last year, the PAF didn’t have scooters, so if they spotted [people], they could easily send us.” For the police, relying on rescue trackers has many strategic advantages: They are placed at different locations in the resort, move quickly on skis and snowmobiles and can communicate instantly by radio. Their indirect participation in border surveillance, therefore, allows the entire ski area to be marked out as an identification zone for “migrants”. Finally, residents in the village of Montgenèvre said that many people were being reported to the PAF, which created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the community. These anonymous calls to the PAF led to numerous arrests of foreigners and sometimes of citizens who were in solidarity with them9. Thanks to these police or civilian reports, rather than by randomly spreading out across the entire border area, the police forces could focus on the locations where the targeted persons had been spotted and simply “pick them up”. This is how a patrol –marking out “police territory” (Jobard, 2001) by trying to identify a target among the crowd– becomes a hunt –the chasing of the prey.

The social construction of racial identification

12I was surprised by the sense of obviousness with which the police and their informants seemed to identify “migrants” in the border area with just a glance –all the more so since, in a tourist resort, foreigners are not unusual. In Montgenèvre, however, the tourist offer is aimed at the middle and wealthy classes, and the “international” clientele comes mainly from what are called the “northern” countries (Italy, Belgium, United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Israel etc.). Montgenèvre resembles what Anderson (2014) characterises as a “white space”: It is a space reserved for the middle and upper classes, which, in the context of structural social inequality, comprises light-skinned people, whose presence there is constructed as “normal”. For example, Audrey*, an Australian woman living in Montgenèvre, notes the gap between her own condition and that of the racialised foreigners whose legality is questioned and are subject to controls: “I can’t understand why this is so scandalous. I’ve been living here for 25 years, I’m a foreigner, and I’m white; I’ve never had any worries.” As Dorlin notes (2009): “‘White’ refers rather to enjoying what one might call a certain ‘social transparency’ (…)”, which implies that “we don’t have to endorse any infamous mark [of otherness].”

13For his part, Francis* explains how the mere fact of being “black” in the border zone seems to trigger police intervention:

  • 10 Recorded discussion with Francis*, May 2019

14“The police at the borders... treat us differently. When you’re going through the woods to avoid the police, when you get arrested with whites, they never ask the whites for papers. We were arrested, with a small group in the forest, at the border, with the whites, they targeted the blacks, asked us for papers, ‘What are you doing here?’ and all that. And what’s just as bad is that there are often – even among us – blacks who are French! (...) We can pass with white friends, but they control the French blacks.”10

15Thus, police identification reproduces social categories rooted in the collective imagination, which helps to normalise “white” bodies while stigmatising “black” bodies.

16It has happened that people on the move, understanding that the work of the border is based on categorising individuals, subvert social norms as a strategy for crossing. Bauman’s (1997) theory, which presents the “tourist” as the mirror opposite of the “vagrant” in migration, has been put into practice at the Montgenèvre resort. During my observation sessions there, people who had the stereotypical attitudes of “tourists” (moving around in the middle of the day, in the middle of the village, having a drink out in the open, wearing sportswear, hiking boots, a ski suit, skis or snowboard) were not stopped by the police. Nobody would give them a second look, regardless of their skin colour. Thus, for a racialised person who had crossed the border illegally, playing the role of a well-to-do tourist in Montgenèvre is way to “pass” (Guénebeaud, 2017) that makes it possible to escape the police’s racial focus and, thus, literally cross the border without being targeted for arrest.

  • 11 Interview with residents of the border zone, March–June 2018

17In the course of my investigation, all light-skinned people on the move (Kurds, Arabs, Kabyles, Afghans, Kosovars) who played the role of ‘tourist’ managed to escape control by the PAF. However, many “black” Africans who used the same strategy were not as successful. This confirms the prevalence of racial discrimination in border crossings: If ‘white’ migrants can get away with it in the same way as tourists and residents, it means police pursuits are exclusively reserved for people perceived as ‘black.’ Based on their experience of what they see on a daily basis, many observers who are involved in solidarity with the exiled describe the PAF’s control practices as “black hunts.”11

Tracking as a technology of domination

  • 12 All of these cases were observed on a regular basis between March and June 2018.

18Tracking as a police technique prescribes the gestures and behaviours of the person it identifies as the “prey” (Chamayou, 2010). It compels the chased persons to take more risks when walking in the mountains, to go into hiding (thus depriving themselves of potential help from passers-by), to wait in the cold, to lie down in the snow and to take detours on other slopes while running in the dark12. For example, in March 2018, at -10°C, a person told me that they had been lying in a puddle of frozen water in the village of Montgenèvre for three hours because they were hiding from police patrols.

19Between March and June 2018, I transcribed 14 accounts of police “chases”, which happened almost every week. The border control officers were trying to submit individuals whom they regarded as “illegal migrants” to identity controls after apprehending them in the mountains. These scenes often took place in the dark, so the control officers were equipped with night vision equipment. Because the targeted individuals did not have such equipment, they sometimes fell, got separated from their group, lost their bearings, were exposed to hypothermia and drowning etc. The most tragic case was the death of Blessing Matthews, who drowned in the Durance River during a police chase on 7 May 2018. On the same day, I had recorded an interview with Aboubakar* in Briançon. Having been wounded in the leg, he was limping heavily:

A - (...) Because the police were chasing us. [...] We took the road, there, after the border, there. The police were there with the binoculars, while we were lying in the snow. We were lying in it. When the police came, I got up, I started running. Three people followed me. [...] When we André Crous2020-09-15T10:27:00got the tar back, we had to walk little by little, little by little, little by little, little by little. When you see the vehicle, you hide, when you see a vehicle, you hide. [...] [In the morning], we saw the policeman entering the village. To surprise us, in front of us, like that. There were four of us. Yet he followed the three people. I went upstairs and hid in the caves there. He grabbed the three people there. [...] He caught them.

  • 13 Interview on 17/05/2018 with H., "caught" then deported to the border

20Some eyewitness accounts also describe a variation of chases (“ambushes”), which happens when a vehicle chases a person through the forest to lead them to the place where a group of policemen are waiting to “pick them up”13.

  • 14 Discussion with Francis*, 26/05/2019
  • 15 Collection of eyewitness accounts from persons who had returned, April–June 2018

21During my conversations in Clavière or Oulx with people who were about to cross the border, I found that most of them refused any crossing strategy other than hiding at night through the mountains. They would immediately adopt the posture of prey that would be imposed on them by the police strategy of tracking. More in-depth exchanges with people who have crossed this border suggested to me that this attitude was rooted in the traumas they had inherited from interactions with the police in their countries of origin or in the process of migrating through Italy or Libya. According to Francis*, people who have already crossed several borders anticipate police arrest, and it is this fear that leads them to run or climb in the mountains to avoid controls, increasing the risks they take and, thus, putting themselves in danger14. Of the thousands of people who crossed the border during my investigation, only a few, convinced of the legitimacy of their presence and passage, attempted to present themselves at the border crossing and claim their right to enter France15. However, these people were the most exposed to police violence (the cases of police violence reported in 2018 had almost always been preceded by an act of resistance on the part of the person arrested: refusal to give fingerprints, refusal to get into the car that drove them back to Clavière etc.).

  • 16 These violations are detailed in Anafé’s report, Persona Non Grata, Consequences of Security and Mi (...)
  • 17 Collection of eyewitness accounts from people who were refused entry, April–June 2018; communiqués (...)
  • 18 Case recounted by a volunteer from the Le Mamba association in Marseille, May 2019

22This constant and anticipated fear is explained by the fact that this border tracking is part of a “regime of pervasive violence” (Babels, 2018) in Europe against migrants. Following arrest, the legal violations16 that take place inside the PAF border post continue the symbolic violence by denying the arrested persons the status of citizens and, therefore, of political subjects. Psychological violence (insults, threats) and physical violence (robbery, beatings)17 also take place there: They are ‘degradation ceremonies’ (Blanchard, 2014) that have the effect of producing humiliation. Those who are victims of such violence are not entitled to any assistance, either medical or legal, to defend themselves. The effects on individuals of this continuum of physical and psychological violence against them can be felt over the long term: For example, a person who had crossed the border, returning to Briançon by chance a year later, suffered a psycho-traumatic crisis that put him in hospital for several weeks18. Thus, the hunt at the border is the inaugural mark of “government through anxiety” for undesirable foreigners (Chamayou, 2010), which seeks to constantly remind them of their illegitimacy and deprive them of their capacity for resistance.

Tracking as disappearance; the struggle for visibility

  • 19 Interviews in Oulx with people arrested and returned to Montgenèvre, January–March 2019

23Tracking is also part of another “technology of violence” that is used against those crossing the border illegally and involves the programmed disappearance of their bodies and trajectories in space (Boyce, 2012). While police work in the border zone of the Briançon area does not put a stop to the flow of illegal immigrants, contrary to what it claims to do, it has the concrete effect of chasing undesirable people out of the frequented areas of the resort. The zones where people are apprehended are the forests and the mountain areas away from inhabited areas. In addition, checks are concentrated in closed spaces, like the border post, where dozens of people sometimes crowd together19, removed from the public space and the outside. According to Tina*, a seasonal worker in Montgenèvre: “That’s how it is, the [foreign] people who are in Montgenèvre, the gendarmes arrive and...” Her silence is followed by a sweeping gesture in which she mimes the disappearance of migrants in the eyes of the population.

  • 20 Interviews with resort workers, January–April 2019

24The management of the border work also has a temporal dimension to it: The police are deployed in a massive show of force outside the tourist seasons and in a more controlled manner “in season”20. Since the summer of 2018, PAF officers have increasingly resorted to using civilian equipment during the day (hiker’s outfits, unmarked vehicles) and incorporating the resort’s workers and infrastructures into the control system: All of this makes the police presence more discrete. Residents who go out at night on the tracks and footpaths of Montgenèvre, specifically in the areas where people pass who have entered the country illegally, in order to come to their aid, witness a whole different scene. One of them, Boris*, has watched explicit tracking scenes:

  • 21 Interview with Boris*, Briançon resident and “marauder”, March 2018

“Races – chases – I’ve seen a lot of them. I would say, manhunts more than chases. They were coming in cars like cowboys, screaming. It’s happened to me at least a dozen or 15 times –on snowmobiles on the ski slopes or in cars on the roads. They were chasing them. I’ve seen demented scenes in the streets of Montgenèvre.”21

25Thus, the radical discrepancy between police practices at day and those at night can be understood as a double attempt to conceal the political use of violence from “legitimate” populations, allowing it to be deployed in an unconstrained and obvious manner against “undesirable” populations.

26For this reason, the collectives and associations that have been formed in Briançon and Val de Suse in support of migrants and against migration policies are actively working to “make visible” in the public (and media) space the daily experiences of foreigners who are subjected to police arrests. To reintegrate this violence into the concrete space where it takes place, various events were organised at the ski resort in 2018 and 2019: Banners were put up on the tourist infrastructure, and stories of police violence were read out loud or distributed in the form of leaflets. These activist practices aim to directly attack the process of invisibilisation that characterises migrants in the border area by claiming the legitimacy of their presence in Briançon and elsewhere.

Figure 2. A protest organised by various French and Italian activists at the Montgenèvre resort after the death of T

Figure 2. A protest organised by various French and Italian activists at the Montgenèvre resort after the death of T

Photograph, S. Bachellerie, 23 February 2019


27The targeting strategy has the effect of radically dissociating two types of experiences lived by foreigners in this mountainous area: The first is one of pleasure and entertainment (for “international tourists”); the other is one of flight and fear produced by police chases (for illegal foreigners, mostly from Africa and the Middle East). The phenomenon of the partitioning of space produced in the border zone is similar to what Fanon (1962) describes as the colonial world’s “compartmentalisation of the world”: “The colonised world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the border, is indicated by barracks and police stations” (Fanon 1962:47). Making people who are illegal in the eyes of the law invisible is a typical mechanism of the colonial context, which involves concealing the violence deployed in “the colonies” from the gaze of “the metropolis” (Gregory, 2004; Butler, 2002). According to Gregory (2004), this “colonial present” takes the form of a “war without witnesses”.

28The practices of control in the Briançon border zone confirm the theories of Butler (2002). By going beyond Agamben’s (1998) notion of “abandoning” illegal migrants to a “bare life”, Butler shows that authorities select the bodies exposed to violence according to criteria of class and race. Mbembe (2006) echoes her views by claiming that black bodies are the target of “necropolitics”. People who are migrating are not only “abandoned” to the violence of the mountain range but also forced by police practices to risk their lives in deadly spaces. The violence they experience is part of a “system of racialized management” of the border (Rosas, 2006).

29Within border studies, new approaches from feminist theory challenge the representation of borders as a tool of sovereign power that strikes subjects in a unilateral way (Donzelli, 2013). On the contrary, by presenting borders as “borderscapes” crossed by contestations, they claim that border violence allows the emergence of “political creativity” (Brambilla, Jones, 2019). However, tracking as a prism analysing social relations at the border invites us to question this idea. According to Chamayou (2010), tracking prescribes the roles of predator and prey, which are distributed in advance by relations of domination. In the specific space-time of a border zone that can be crossed according to conditions set by police tracking, and as long as the hunt lasts, the headlong rush and the constant fear it imposes on the hunted leave little room for rebellion.

30By updating and reinforcing racial and class hierarchies, the practices of migration control at the upper Alpine border play an active role in the process of compartmentalising the contemporary world and, thus, maintaining an order whose genealogy is colonial. This social and racial policing can be understood through the idea that the hunt for workers begins in the process of imperialist acquisition of resources and labour power over the entire planet in the service of the globalised capitalist economy (Chamayou, 2010). Therefore, for people who can no longer ensure their subsistence in their country of origin, the act of leaving for another country could be considered the first step in chasing migrant workers. This plays out both symbolically and concretely when the police hunt them down as they cross the Alps.

Haut de page


Agamben G., 2016 [1998].– Homo Sacer. Le pouvoir souverain et la vie nue, Le Seuil.

Agier M., 2008.– Gérer les indésirables : Des camps de réfugiés au gouvernement humanitaire, Flammarion.

Anderson E., 2015. “The White Space”, in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1, pp.10-15.

Babels (collectif), 2017.– La mort aux frontières de l’Europe : retrouver, identifier, commémorer, Le Passager Clandestin.

Bauman Z., 2011 [1997].– Le coût humain de la mondialisation, Fayard/Pluriel.

Blanchard E., 2014.– « Contrôles au faciès, une cérémonie de dégradation », in Plein droit n°103, pp. 11-13.

Boyce G., 2012.– “Beyond the sovereign gaze”, in Arizona Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 1.

Brambilla C., Jones R., 2019.– “Rethinking borders, violence, and conflict: From sovereign power to borderscapes as sites of struggles”, in Society and Space, 0, pp.1-19.

Butler J., 2005.– Vie Précaire: Pouvoirs du deuil et de la violence, Amsterdam.

Chamayou G., 2010.– Les chasses à l’homme, La Fabrique.

Donzelli S., 2013.– “Border Studies Theoretical approaches, themes of inquiry, and suggestions for future work”. Migration Litterature Review, no Working Paper.

Dorlin Elsa, (dir.), 2009.– Sexe, race, classe, pour une épistémologie de la domination, Presses universitaires de France.

Fanon F., 2004 [1962].– Les damnés de la terre, La Découverte.

Fassin D., 2015 [2010].– La Force de l’ordre. suivi de La Vie publique des livres, Points.

Galtung J., 1969.– “Violence, Peace, and peace research” in Journal of Peace Research 6, pp. 167-191.

Gregory D., 2004.– The Colonial Present, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq. Wiley-Blackwell.

Gregory D, (dir.), 2006.– Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence, Routledge, 2006.

Guenebeaud C., 2017.– « Dans la frontière : migrants et luttes des places dans la ville de Calais », Thèse, Lille 1.

Hanus P., 2012.– « La zone frontière du Montgenèvre après 1945 : espace institué, espace négocié » in Migrations et Société, n°40, p. 201.

Jobard F., 2002.– Bavures policières ? La force publique et ses usages, Broché.

Mbembe A., 2006.– « Nécropolitique », in Raisons politiques, 21, pp. 29-60.

Ritaine É., 2015.– « Blessures de frontière en Méditerranée. Introduction ». Cultures & Conflits, no 99-100, pp. 11-24.

Rosas G., 2006.– “The managed violences of the borderlands : treacherous geographies, policeability, and the politics of race”, in Latino Studies, 4, pp. 401-418.

Siestrunck R., 2013.– « Faits divers, principe humanitaire et contrôle des migrants dans les Alpes du Sud (1850-1920) », in Hommes & migrations no 1304, pp. 121-125.

Soulé B., 2007.– « Observation participante ou participation observante ? Usages et justifications de la notion de participation observante en sciences sociales », in Recherches Qualitatives 27, pp. 127-140.

Van Hotoum H. et Van Naerssen T., 2001.– Bordering, Ordering, Othering, Blackwell.

Reports :

Tous Migrants, 2019.— « L’accueil des personnes exilées dans le Briançonnais et les Hautes-Alpes, Constats, Initiatives, perspectives », mai 2019.éfense_des_droits_des_exilés_dans_le_briançonnais.pdf, visited 23/09/2020.

Media :

C. Del Biaggio et C. Heller, interview in Libération, 14/12/2017., visited 23/09/2020

Haut de page


1 Asylum seekers arriving in France must start their procedure at the Reception Platform for Asylum Seekers (Plateforme d’Accueil des Demandeurs d’asile, or PADA) in the regional capitals. Unaccompanied minors must go to Children’s Social Welfare (Aide Sociale à l’Enfance) at the Departmental Prefecture.

2 Based on my observations, the frequency of refusals varied over time.

3 A planned 10-km strip of land around the border points (Article L. 213-3-1 of Law No. 2018-778 of 10 September 2018)

4 All first names with an asterisk have been changed to respect the respondents’ anonymity.

5 Interviews with residents of Briançon and Névache, March 2018

6 Recorded discussion with Francis*, May 2019

7 Informal discussions with three bus drivers, January–April 2019.

8 Interviews with three first-aid trackers from the resort of Montgenèvre and four lift workers, March–April 2019

9 Eyewitness accounts by people taken back to the border collected on the Italian side, winter 2018–2019; Interview with B., Montgenèvre resident, April 2019.

10 Recorded discussion with Francis*, May 2019

11 Interview with residents of the border zone, March–June 2018

12 All of these cases were observed on a regular basis between March and June 2018.

13 Interview on 17/05/2018 with H., "caught" then deported to the border

14 Discussion with Francis*, 26/05/2019

15 Collection of eyewitness accounts from persons who had returned, April–June 2018

16 These violations are detailed in Anafé’s report, Persona Non Grata, Consequences of Security and Migration Policies on the French-Italian Border, published in November 2018.

17 Collection of eyewitness accounts from people who were refused entry, April–June 2018; communiqués from the “Chez Jésus” collective, May, June, August 2018.

18 Case recounted by a volunteer from the Le Mamba association in Marseille, May 2019

19 Interviews in Oulx with people arrested and returned to Montgenèvre, January–March 2019

20 Interviews with resort workers, January–April 2019

21 Interview with Boris*, Briançon resident and “marauder”, March 2018

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The Briançon border zone (2017–2019),a mobile police geography in the high mountains
Crédits Cartography, S. Bachellerie, 2019André Crous2020-09-14T16:52:00
Fichier image/jpeg, 279k
Titre Figure 2. A protest organised by various French and Italian activists at the Montgenèvre resort after the death of T
Crédits Photograph, S. Bachellerie, 23 February 2019
Fichier image/jpeg, 554k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Sarah Bachellerie, « Chasing Down Foreigners at the French-Italian Border (Hautes-Alpes) as a Matter of Social and Racial Policing », Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 108-2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 13 octobre 2020, consulté le 06 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Sarah Bachellerie

Master of Social Sciences (with specialisation in Geography). ENS de Lyon.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
La Revue de Géographie Alpine est mise à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search