Powerlessness and sovereign inequality in border externalisation | Management of irregular migration

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from: 10:30
to: 12:00

Join this seminar that will address powerlessness and sovereign inequality in border externalisation, as well as the management of irregular migration.

To begin with, this seminar will focus on powerlessness and sovereign inequality in border externalisation. An important aspect of Global North states’ so-called ‘border externalisation’ strategies is the pursuit of bi- and multilateral agreements with Global South states, agreements intended to contain migrants away from their destination state’s territory. Observers routinely condemn this strategy, arguing that it undermines migrants’ basic human rights and allows states to avoid their obligations under international law.

The presenter suggests that the Global North’s pursuit of such agreements is often objectionable for yet another reason, namely when and because it entrenches unequal interstate relations by degrading disadvantaged states’ agential powers. In broad strokes, he argues that Global North states’ pursuits of externalisation agreements often do this by placing South states in choice situations in which they are forced to become complicit in the entrenchment of their own powerlessness. Because this runs directly counter to one of the fundamental principles of international law and politics – sovereign equality –, we have strong pro tanto reason to think that deals resulting from such processes are devoid of binding authority.

Furthermore, the management of irregular migration in Europe will be explored. How do European states address irregular migration and how has their management of such migration evolved over time? Given the diversity of political and socio-economic conditions across Europe, existing theories of migration policy development would predict that states would adopt a unique set of policies regarding this phenomenon. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that European states have increasingly adopted similar, highly restrictive policies.

To address this question empirically, the presenter developed a novel typology of what he calls approaches to irregular migration management. He argues that policies targeting irregular migration have two overarching characteristics: (1) they can either address irregular migration that has already occurred or prevent it from occurring in the first place, and (2) they can coerce individuals into compliance with migration regulations or incentivise individuals to transition back to regularity or avoid falling into an irregular status. This creates four ideal-type management approaches. He subsequently constructs a novel Irregular Migration Policy Dataset, which codes the policies adopted by 16 European states from 1945 to the present. Using this dataset, he shows that states have converged towards what he calls punishing and suffocating approaches over time. This challenges existing theories and calls for closer examination of public decision-making regarding irregular migration.


Prof. Martin Ruhs (Migration Policy Centre, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, EUI);


Lukas Schmid (Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute);

Filip Savatic (Sciences Po Paris).