The Refugee, the Sovereign and the Sea: EU Interdiction Policies in the Mediterranean

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Series Details 2008, no. 6
Publication Date 10/03/2008
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Starting from an analysis of the refugee regime itself, the paper looks at the possibilities for asserting human rights extraterritorially, on the high seas, in foreign territorial waters and in relation to situations defined as search and rescue missions. On the basis of this, two inter-related dynamics emerge. The first concerns the legal debate surrounding the criteria for establishing extraterritorial jurisdiction. The so far restrictive interpretations applied provide a context for States to deconstruct protection responsibilities towards refugees by moving migration control outside their sovereign territory and into that of a foreign State. The second dynamic is what could be termed a growing commercialisation of sovereignty for the purpose of migration control. By negotiating access to foreign territorial waters or simply outsource the function of migration control to e.g. North and West African countries, European States are exploiting territorial principles of international law to shift and reduce refugee responsibilities. This paper starts from the encounter between a European navy vessel and a dinghy carrying boat refugees and other desperate migrants across the Mediterranean or West African Sea towards Europe. It explores the growing trend in the EU of enacting migration control at the high seas or international waters – so-called interdiction. It is argued that these forms of extraterritorial migration control aim at reconquering the efficiency of the sovereign function to control migration, by trying to either deconstruct or shift correlate obligations vis-à-vis refugees and other persecuted persons to third States. In both instances, European States are entering into a sovereignty game, in which creative strategies are developed in order to reassert sovereign power unconstrained by national and international obligations.

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