“Ambulances of the Sea”: The Terracization of Maritime Aid

Abstract: Humanitarian agencies assisting migrants and refugees at sea have historically described search and rescue ships as “floating hospitals” or “ambulances for the sea.” This strategy of terracization has allowed them to dial down the political rhetoric that pervades discussions of rescue. However, more contemporary aid workers have come to reject the tactic, criticizing the use of land-based idiom as a neutralizing tool. Based on archival research and in-depth interviews conducted between 2019 and 2020, this article charts such a volte-face of humanitarian thinking. It argues that, in the wake of this shift, the terracization of aid work has become less viable—not only for relief workers but also for academics.

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