Community policy is increasingly directed towards externalising borders, partly through new bilateral or Community agreements with third countries, and partly through restrictive rules for NGOs working towards the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

The management of the EU’s external borders has over time led to a substantial dislocation of Europe, leading some authors to speak of a ‘spatial relocation’ of the Union (Tazzioli, 2016, p. 13). This spatial reconfiguration has taken place through specific processes, most notably three:

1. Strengthening of the external borders [see the border control budget] through a secure approach, which has resulted in increased sea patrols and ground controls;

2. Policies for outsourcing border controls to third countries (e.g. Morocco, Turkey, Libya);

3. Bilateral agreements with third countries on return.

In general, through these agreements, the signatory third countries undertake to recover migrants expelled from the EU in exchange for a return; in the vast majority of cases consisting of a proportion of visas or money. Control and externalisation of borders naturally lead to other costs, not all of which can be easily quantified. For example, the geographical displacement of the places of detention (Tazzioli, 2015) has certainly worsened living conditions of migrants (Mountz et al., 2013), since many countries have either not signed the Geneva Convention (eg. Libya), or – despite having signed it – do not yet appear to be pursuing minimum standards of reception (Butler, 2004).

As a result of increasingly restrictive border outsourcing policies, the number of arrivals via the central Mediterranean route has significantly decreased since July 2017 (graph). This has been especially the case since Italy signed the so-called Memorandum of Understanding with the Libyan National Reconciliation Government on 2 February 2017 for the purposes of ‘combating irregular immigration’ and ‘trafficking in human beings’, and strengthening border control in Libya. The influx decline in the first six months of 2018 was 81.42% compared to 2016 and 80.09% in 2017 (Ministry of the Interior, 2017).

By stopping migrants from reaching the EU, border externalisation has made it practically impossible to identify cases where there is a real need for protection, so much so that Paolo Cuttitta once noted that “asylum, rather than being outsourced, is being completely cancelled” (Cuttitta, 2012, p. ?). The decrease in the number of arrivals has been countered by the (percentage wise) increase in the number of deaths in the Mediterranean as well as increasing human rights violations cases in Libyan prisons and centres (link Amnesty/Cuttitta et al, 2020).


Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York:Verso.

Cuttitta, P. (2012). Lo spettacolo del confine: Lampedusa tra produzione e messa in scena della frontiera. Milano: Mimesis.

Cuttitta, P. & Last, T. (2020). Border Deaths. Causes, Dynamics and Consequences of Migration-related Mortality. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.

De Genova, N., Mezzadra, S., & Pickles, J. (2015). New keywords: Migration and borders. Cultural Studies, 29(1), pp. 55-87.

Mountz, A., et al. (2013). Conceptualizing detention: Mobility, containment, bordering, and exclusion. Progress in Human Geography, 37(4), pp. 522–541.

Tazzioli, M. (2016). Border displacements. Challenging the politics of rescue between Mare Nostrum and Triton. Migration Studies, IV(1), pp. 1-19.

Tazzioli, M. (2015). Which Europe? Migrants’ uneven geographies and counter-mapping at the limits of representation. movements. Journal for Critical Migration and Border Regime Studies, 1(2), https://movements-journal.org/issues/02.kaempfe/04.tazzioli–europe-migrants-geographies-counter-mapping-representation.html.