Hernan Delvalle, Rita E. Hauser Fellow, Harvard University and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (Netherlands)
Borders, migration, exclusion: The role of civil society and humanitarian aid in an increasingly polarized political context
The increase in border restrictions for asylum seekers and migrants raises pressing moral, legal, and political questions. How to respond to human migration has become one of the most divisive political issues of our time. Through the experience of MSF’s operations at sea and on land assisting asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the panel will explore how the plight of people on the move has been weaponized to serve a variety of political agendas. We will discuss how civil society, state institutions and political leaders struggle to define narratives to influence policy and public debate. This timely discussion should help us shed light on the dilemmas that emerge for societies both in Europe and in the Americas.
Hernan will offer an overview of the rise and fall of civilian-led operations to rescue asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean between the years 2014 and 2018. Drawing on Hernan’s experience in MSF throughout this operation, we will explore the complex relationship between NGOs and state authorities at the southern European maritime border. We will see how the humanitarian deployment to ‘save lives’ came under fire for ‘aiding illegal immigration’ amidst a polarization of the political debate and growing pressures to ‘secure the border’ and prevent asylum seekers from reaching Europe.
The case explores the challenges for civil society organizations assisting people marginalized by state border policy, and raises critically urgent questions around solidarity, identity, belonging, nationalism, xenophobia, and exclusion
Hernan del Valle has led humanitarian aid operations for the past 15 years. His work has taken him across five continents assisting people affected by armed conflict and forced displacement. He was involved in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operations in the Mediterranean Sea, which over the past three years rescued tens of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing Libya toward Europe in fragile boats. As MSF’s head of humanitarian affairs and advocacy, del Valle was a privileged witness to the difficult political challenges that emerged for MSF throughout this operation, not only in its relation with European governments but also engaging with a civil society bitterly divided by debates on migration.
His work at Radcliffe reflects on the role of and challenges for MSF in assisting people marginalized by state policy in this context. It explores the fundamental questions that emerge around borders, exclusion, identity, nationalism, citizenship, and fundamental rights in contemporary Europe.
Del Valle is a lawyer who specialized in international law and human rights at the University of Buenos Aires, in Argentina. He holds a master’s degree in politics of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and has conducted work in forced migration at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in South Africa. He has been a guest speaker on the politics of aid and forced migration at Boston University, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Oxford, the University of Tokyo, and the University of Vienna.