• To identify whether there is a de-territorialisation process in place, effectively extending the sovereign powers of the State beyond its borders, in managing migratory flows, and

  • To determine whether such process may contribute to the on-going adaptation or even constitute an outright change of the current paradigm in view of massive migratory flows.

  • Today the concept of borders in migration control and refugee protection appears more elusive than ever. The traditional system of awarding international protection to refugees was premised on a physical border, at the gates of which an individual may request international protection. The same applies for the process, whereby the State distinguishes between those entitled to international (or even additional) protection and the migrants that it may not wish to accept within its territory. In view of the unprecedented flux of migrants and asylum-seekers in the countries of the Global North, States the world over, including in the EU, have erected barriers to (mixed) migration flows, encompassing measures of non-entrée, such as visas, carrier sanctions, extraterritorial patrolling of maritime borders, ‘safe third country’ devices and accelerated removal processing. To these one may add new and different forms of ‘contactless’ control of cross-border migration, employed particularly by the EU and its Member States in seeking not only to deter but also to pro-actively restrain the onward movement of refugees and migrants to Europe. Such contactless control measures include remote surveillance techniques, also by the use of advanced earth observation systems (satellites, drones); or cooperation with a local administration, e.g. Libya, which acts as a proxy and manages the relevant flows. The EU-Turkey Statement, purported to halt the flow of irregular migrants to Greece; the EU-Libya cooperation at maritime and land borders; talks on extra-territorial processing camps in neighbouring States; information campaigns in third countries on the ‘risks’ of irregular migration; and the Italy-Libya Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to train, equip and fund the Libyan Coastguard (partly through EU resources) are but a few examples of such extraterritorial containment schemes designed to completely outsource controls and thwart departures.

    Needless to say, such immigration control beyond borders challenges the foundations of the refugee protection scheme, traditionally built on the notion of borders and territory. Given the current trend towards ‘extraterritorializing’ migration control, one set of concerns arises out of the putative jurisdictional limits of human rights obligations: human rights treaties obligate States to protect persons within their ‘jurisdiction’, the meaning of which has recently been heavily contested. Secondly, migration control is a shared endeavour among States, as several of them may be –and indeed usually are– implicated in the impugned conduct, raising questions about shared responsibility. Thirdly, migration control is often outsourced, raising further questions about State responsibility in general as well as the specific responsibility to uphold human rights obligations by both States and their agents.

    The discussion of borderless immigration control fits neatly with the on-going discussions around the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first ever comprehensive global UN document attempting a common approach to international migration just adopted in Marrakesh (10-11 December 2018). The concept of human mobility underpins the Compact, largely reflecting an understanding of the world as a unified space, roughly corresponding to a globalized economy, where people, citizens, consumers are to move freely beyond borders in pursuit of sustainable development. Indeed, the GCM explicitly purports to contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, using the potential of migration as leverage for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    And it goes without saying that the global management of migration within and beyond borders strikes at the heart of political, societal and legal discourse in Greece. The way that the international community currently agonizes over and will eventually opt to govern global migration and the ‘borderless’ policies that will come up to manage migration do have direct repercussions on Greece as well as the European project as a whole.

    The research project was supported by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (H.F.R.I.) under the “1st Call for H.F.R.I. Research Projects to support Faculty Members & Researchers and the Procurement of High-Cost research equipment grant” (Project Number: HFRI-FM17-1415).