A passionate exclamation in a foreign language immediately grabs the attention, but soon fades away to give way to a sweet-toned feminine voice. Accompanied by soft, mournful music, this voice sings that she has been woken up by a bird telling her stories about ‘children with blue hearts’. Children who are unheard, children who cry. The listener is informed that the time of looking away is over, as voice and music jointly climb the dramatic ladder. During this climb, in which the voice becomes more emphatic and the music swells, the artist asserts to sing for ‘life’, for ‘rights’, and for the ‘children with no voice’. Everything indicates that an issue of great importance is being raised here. No effort is spared to get the audience emotionally involved. But what children exactly is this all about? This is revealed in the chorus, when the top of the dramatic ladder is reached. The line ‘flows of us lost at sea’, quickly followed by ‘protection for the smuggled hearts’, leaves no room for doubt: it’s about the miserable fate of the youthful victims of human trafficking. The ‘blue hearts’ must stand for these innocent unfortunates.
But the blue hearts Alexiane (2022) sings of in her identically titled song stand for something else as well, as becomes apparent from the website of the UNODC (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime). This organization runs the campaign ‘blue hearts’, of which the song is a part. They state that these blue hearts are supposed to symbolize not only the ‘sadness of those who are trafficked’, but also the ‘cold-heartedness of traffickers’. In this way, victim and culprit are lucidly and seamlessly linked.
The solutions envisaged by the UNODC naturally follow from this simple problem analysis. On the one hand, they try to raise funds for the victims, and, on the other, further cases are sought to be prevented by helping governments to make effective migration policies and supporting their efforts to prosecute traffickers. By doing this, the UNODC claims to contribute to one of the Sustainable Development Goals, namely to: ‘facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people’. Thus, the UNODC offers a crystal-clear picture of victim, perpetrator, tactics, and goal regarding human trafficking which is airtight. Right? Well, no. Anything but. While it is clear that migrants are indeed victims, the UNODC’s assertions about the causes, the proper strategies, and the disered goals are not only dubious, but harmful as well.
Starting with the cause. So, who is actually to blame? The focus on human traffickers of the UNODC should be seen as a ‘comfortable alibi for evading or denying any responsibility’, as Di Cesare (2020, 69) claims. ‘A clutch of unscrupulous ‘smugglers’, ‘slavedrivers’ and ‘traffickers’’ is thus designated as completely guilty and the only real cause of migration (Di Cesear 2020, 69). Looking at it more critically, however, it should be seen that the foundational causes are not trafficking practices, but state practices. Firstly, it should be recognised that states by erecting restrictive borders are the more fundamental factor, simply because, as Walia (2021, 149) writes, ‘the economy for extorting traffickers would collapse if there were no border controls’. Secondly, that people despite the deadlyness of the borders make the life-threatening decision to defy them is in large parts a result of the colonialist and capitalist exploitation by the very same states that are now fighting ruthlessly against these self-inflicted migrations (Walia 2021, 155).
Furthermore, this misindication of causes inevitably leads to the proposal of inadequate and harmful strategies as well. Chasing the traffickers, hypocritically helping the migrants, and making “better” policies concerning the borders, respectively ensure that migration goes further underground, that the racist idea of ‘white man’s burden’ is reinforced, and that exclusionary border policies become even more restrictive (Walia 2021, 149,155; Di Cesare 2022, 69).
Finally, the pursued goal. In seeking orderly migration, UNODC shows itself most clearly as an arm of the intergovernmental organisation the United Nations, by defending the interests of states. Instead of striving for a world in which migration is no longer necessary, but nevertheless possible by guaranteeing the human right to move freely, their aim is to further strengten the already predominant sovereignty of states by bolstering their deadly border policies in order to make migration ‘orderly’ (Di Cesare 2022, 14).
In conclusion, ‘Blue Hearts’ by Alexiane is an example of the legitimation of a problematic problem analysis of human trafficking, and thus of the restrictive border project. Not only the lyrics themselves, but also the emotional charge of the song, the use of a singer with roots in the targeted region (Senegal), and the incorporation of an indigenous language in the song (the ‘foreign language’ at the beginning is Wolof, a language from West Africa) all contribute to the message that Europe and Africa, and in fact the whole human race, must turn against the inhuman acts of a group of bad guys. But as shown, the suggested crystal-clear picture of the problem turns out to be a misleading and damaging mirage on closer inspection instead. It is time to counter this hypocritical marketing aimed at further restriction with a truly fundamental critical voice. It is time to replace symptom control with cause control.
Alexiane. 2022. “Blue Hearts.” Gion Records.
Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, translated by David Broder, 5-77. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Walia, Harsha. 2021. “Fortress Europe.” In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, 135-160. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
 As stated on the Blue Heart campaign brochure, accessible via https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/blueheart/tools.html.