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Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly

Chapter 1. The Maritime Borders of Europe: Upstream Migratory Controls

Olivier Clochard et Bruno Dupeyron

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1Beginning in the 1990s, the member states of the European Union (EU) began to restrict the entrance of third-country migrants and, as a result, a greater number of asylum applicants began to resort to clandestine methods of immigration to enter the EU. The Mediterranean Sea, the maritime border of Europe, was a place of particular concern, and the monitoring of the EU’s external borders did not slow down these migratory flows. Within this Mediterranean space and on various scales, this chapter explores the migration-monitoring devices that were set up in the 1990s.

2In order to stop these migratory flows from reaching the EU’s external borders, member states first sought to promote increased cooperation in (and with) the migrants’ countries of origin and countries of transit. A common visa policy and interstate information networks were developed, while conveyance companies (such as airlines and shipping firms) were financially penalized if they did not work as “auxiliary” border police to monitor the movement of illegal migrants. In the Mediterranean, military means were employed to stem the migratory flows from the south.

3This chapter documents how the EU has imposed cooperation on peripheral states in order to limit immigration overflows. The case is made that the structural success of the EU’s border-security policy in the face of massive immigration largely depends on the collaboration of the governments of neighbouring states that are not members of the EU.


4Since the mid-1980s the member states of the EU have increasingly resorted to using the Schengen visa, a component of the Schengen Agreement of 1985, as a way to control flows of illegal migrants. This visa is rarely mentioned in debates on illegal immigration, although in France the important research carried out under the direction of Elspeth Guild and Didier Bigo (2003) and the work by the GISTI (an association that helps migrants) has underlined the difficulties encountered by migrants when they go to the consulate of a member state of the EU. If a consulate denies them a Schengen visa, foreigners can file a formal protest at the consulate or, within two months, can file a protest at the secretariat in Nantes, France.

5The Schengen visa is thus an important tool for migratory control, used either in the migrants’ country of origin or on the external borders of the EU. The first border of Schengen space that third-country nationals encounter is often located within the consulate of an EU member state; the decision to grant a visa that will make it possible for them to travel in EU space is made within such a consular establishment. Various cooperative agreements initiated between EU foreign ministries have established generally restrictive practices for consular agents to follow in the granting of visas. Since 2001 there has been a common list of countries whose nationals are subject to visa requirements, but the European Commission has been unable to ensure the consistent use of this list and, consequently, the rules for third-country nationals wishing to enter an EU member state remain diverse.

Schengen-space Borders

6Consular agents, authorized by their ministries of foreign affairs, are the first controllers of Schengen-space borders. Border police and customs agents or immigration officers at airports comprise the next levels of control. These portals through which foreigners must pass are similar to real borders because people can be stopped from entering Schengen space before they even depart. The perception of these ports of entry as borders of Schengen space becomes even more of a reality when a visa is not granted. Many countries base their decisions to deny visas on purely technical aspects of their visa policy, in order to avoid having to explain why some foreigners are not granted visas and, as Guild and Bigo (2003) have asserted, “to remain in the shade of the debates on the borders.” The individual granting of visas, the complex procedures involved, and the delocalization of controls all serve to conceal the authorities’ deep suspicion of the applicants.

7Much more than simply one instrument of control, the visa gives Schengen authorities the power to decide the fate of those who will profit from EU protection or want quite simply to travel to the EU. The Schengen visa policy makes it “possible to reduce the material and visible presence of the delimitation without decreasing its effectiveness, ... so much it seems that the violence of the power is unacceptable only when one sees it acting” (Razac 2000, 102). As well, as Guild and Bigo (2003) noted, “The concept of border is detached from the territory in the sense that it is not the terminal, the limit, the envelope.” The Schengen visa fits into the list of instruments of control that Didier Bigo (1998) calls “policing from a distance” or a “round of applause optics.” In the consulates, these strategies are aimed at determining which foreign candidates will not be granted visas, apart from what occurs at the external borders.

8The Schengen visa policy harmonization that occurred in 2001 has led to increasingly distinct regional policy sets. On the southernmost edge of the EU all the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean, except for Israel and Croatia, have become part of the visa policy process. The difficulty of obtaining a visa leaves applicants in these countries feeling imprisoned. In Tangier, Morocco, for example, the passports of people on standby are sometimes stamped “Hakou Tanja,” which means that their passports have no validity beyond Tangier (Daoud 2002). Thus, for many, this administrative dead end leaves them little choice but to resort to illegal methods of immigration, which can cause them severe suffering.

9What is the relationship between this distrust of western European countries for people from third countries and the number of people who must mortgage their lives to go to Europe? The question is very complicated, but it is important to note that, in many cases, visa regulations are contradictory. This is illustrated, for example, by comparing the goals set out in the Declaration of Barcelona (November 27-28, 1995) with the current obstacles that nationals of the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean must overcome in order to be legally admitted to Schengen space. The aim of the Declaration of Barcelona was to reinforce the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Signatories committed to

acting in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as with other obligations resulting from the international law, in particular those which rise from the regional and international instruments to which they are a party.

10Moreover, the declaration noted that

the parties will abstain from developing a military capacity which goes beyond their legitimate needs for defence, while reaffirming their determination to arrive at the same level of security and found mutual confidence with the least possible quantity of troops and armaments.

11In many capitals of developing countries, access to embassies of member states of the EU is characterized by long queues in the streets. For example, in the cities of Tangier (Morocco), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), or Algiers (Algeria), the lines of people start before dawn, the only visible sign of the process they will have to undergo. In the district of Hydra in Algiers “hundreds of Algerians, come from almost all the areas of the country, wait, sometimes all day, to penetrate in[to] what resembles a fortress” (Maschino 2003). The consular agents’ strict interpretation of the rules can have a devastating effect on applicants, particularly those in line who do not speak the language of the consulate and thus do not understand the process. As well, the forms are not always translated into the local language.

Criteria for Granting Visas

12Third-country nationals wishing to travel within the EU must meet a set of demanding standards in order to be granted a Schengen visa. Among the principal criteria taken into account is the “migratory risk.” Those applying for a visa, and especially those from developing countries, are automatically suspected of wanting to remain beyond the period that may be granted to them. The Common Consular Instruction published in the Official Journal of the European Communities (C313) on December 16, 2002, and addressed to the diplomatic and consular representations of the member states, specified the various types of Schengen visas, the documents that must accompany a request for visa, the checks to be carried out by the diplomatic representation on each applicant, the conditions for the delivery of visas, and so forth. The Instruction clearly specifies that

the consular cooperation... will relate to the evaluation of the migratory risks. Its particular aim will be the determination of mutual criteria on the instruction of the files, the exchange of information on the use of false documents, on the possible clandestine immigration networks and on the refusal of a visa in the case of obviously nonfounded or fraudulent requests. [Finally] it is appropriate for this purpose to exert a particular vigilance on the “populations at risk”: unemployed, people stripped of stable resources...

13Thus the criteria for applicants can vary according to a person’s nationality, situation, profession, and so on.

14The important analysis carried out under the direction of Elspeth Guild and Didier Bigo (2003) in The Setting Apart of the Foreigners: The Logic of the Schengen Visa, as well as various academic articles (see, for example, Maschino 2003), has revealed the difficult process that foreigners must undertake in their country in order to obtain a Schengen visa. These works also revealed the secret arbitrary practices that take place within the consulates of member states of the EU. Although applicants face a great diversity of obstacles, the most crucial is the linguistic barrier. The country in which the visa candidate is located is the next most crucial element, as it is generally easier to apply for a Schengen visa from one’s country of origin. This is not as important for those who have a good social and professional situation, such as company managers or highly qualified professionals, but it is an additional barrier for those who are refugees in another country and wish, for various reasons, to live in an EU member state.

15Applicants must give many guarantees. In addition to the usual documents required for a visa request, such as the completed form and a passport, each Schengen consulate may require other documentation, the inevitable result of the adoption of certain arbitrary criteria by some member states’ consulates. These may include a letter from the applicant’s employer authorizing the person to take leave, a certificate from the airline on which the applicant will travel, the applicant’s latest payroll statement, and a statement from the applicant’s bank for the previous six months. Some member states’ consulates in Lebanon, for example, require candidates to provide not only their completed application form and passport but also photocopies of their old Schengen visas; if necessary, a certificate of medical insurance that will be valid in the EU for the duration of their stay; bank statements; a certificate from their employer, specifying the date they were recruited, the wage they receive, and the duration of their vacation; their social security card; their airline reservation and ticket at the time the visa is issued; a certificate of accommodation from their host, certified by the proper authorities; a copy of the host’s identity card or the residency permit of a relative in the EU; and a certificate of marital status. Completing all these elements is a long and tiresome process, particularly since an incomplete form often results in the applicant having to return to the consulate. Moreover, if an applicant’s completed document arouses suspicion, it is often denied and the applicant is not told on what grounds this decision has been made. Thus obtaining the invaluable stamp of approval often comes at considerable cost to the applicant.

16In the end, applicants may never hear back from the consulate. (Maschino 2003 gives several examples of Algerians who never received an answer to their request.) If, after two months, applicants have not received an answer, they can assume they have been rejected and their request will no longer be considered. They receive no explanation for why they have been rejected, which for many evokes feelings of incomprehension, injustice, and arbitrariness: it is as though they have been part of a lottery they could never win (Guild and Bigo 2003). Although there are no statistics, the obstacles generated by some EU countries for certain visa applicants are very real.

The Schengen Visa and the Control of Illegal Immigration

17The governments of the member states of the EU have also used the Schengen visa to force peripheral third countries to control the number of their nationals who are allowed to migrate to or travel within Schengen space. These governments increase the number of visas awarded to third-country nationals provided that their state of origin improves its border controls and readmits people in unusual situations who have transited through its territory. These visa negotiations take place within various diplomatic frameworks, and in certain countries of origin it becomes clear that some of these practices violate the immigration-offences section of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This new type of infringement violates the rights of those who have illegally crossed the borders of their own state or of Schengen space, or who have remained in an EU member state beyond the authorized period. As Salvatore Palidda noted in March 2003 at the ELISE Declaration meeting sponsored by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEP), “Tunisia is taking this route and several African countries would be under pressure from the States of the [European] Union to create this type of offence” (cited in Bigo and Guild 2003). In 2003, in return for agreeing to cooperate closely with the Italian police to supervise the Strait of Sicily, Tunisia obtained 60,000 visas for its nationals who wished to profit from seasonal work in Italy. These types of debates are increasingly on the agenda of meetings between member states of the EU and third countries. One of the principal objectives of the French minister of the interior’s visits to Senegal and Mali in 2003 concerned this issue. The minister, on behalf of the French state, proposed to increase the number of French visas for Senegalese nationals in exchange for a substantial increase in the number of consular passes necessary to escort Senegalese without residency permits out of France and back to Senegal. In 2002 foreign nationals of Senegalese origin or those who had crossed through Dakar into France could not be deported without such passes; of the 632 consular passes that were requested by French border police from the Senegalese consulate, only 26 percent of the requests were granted (Zappi 2003).

18Fifteen years after the signing of the Schengen Agreement, the member states’ ministries responsible for the management of migratory flows were delighted that the Schengen consular network guaranteed “preliminary controls of the borders, that there is a dense fabric of relations between the consulates making it possible to filter the bona fide from the mala fide and that dissuasion regarding those who want to come on the Schengen territory is effective” (European Commission 2001). However, the current monitoring of illegal immigration that is carried out within the representations of the various member states is not sufficient. Between the consulates and the ports of departure, illegal migrants have considerable room to manoeuvre, either bypassing border controls without being stopped or resorting to using intermediate agents (frontier runners, customs officers, obliging people, and so forth).

19In this climate of distrust, since 1992 EU legislators have constrained peripheral third countries by forcing them to assume and share responsibilities that previously were the domain of border police. The legislators’ subsequent development of a network of liaison officers who are posted to third countries for the purpose of increasing migratory controls within them has further constrained the third-country governments.


20During the 1990s, the member states of the EU became increasingly worried about the inadequate border controls in visa applicants’ countries of origin or transit. Consequently, they first reinforced their legislation concerning the responsibility of applicants’ countries of origin or those who allowed the transit of foreigners who did not have the required documentation. They then developed methods to control the flow of illegal migrants into countries vulnerable to this problem. Liaison officers from member states were put in place to anticipate the levels of external frontier checks necessary to the EU, and these officers have increasingly functioned as part of a network. Indeed, this collaboration was recognized officially by authorities of the EU in 2004.

The Systematization of Financial Sanctions

21Transport companies play a large role in the control of migratory flows. With the implementation of the Schengen Agreements of 1990, the member states of the EU were given the authority to force all conveyors to collaborate in the control of migratory flows (until this time, only air-transport companies were required to do so). In order to avoid financial penalties, companies implemented controls that were equal to, and as effective as, those of the border police. In this field the policy followed by France is often a precursor to those followed by the EU as a whole. For example, the French directive passed in June 2001 considerably reinforced the sanctions against conveyance companies. Conveyors carrying illegal foreigners would now face financial sanctions of up to XEU 500,000. In 2003 the French agency known as CIVIPOL carried out a study of the feasibility of maritime frontier checks for the European Commission. Its report affirmed that “the reporting and the recovery of the fines planned for the conveyors in accordance with the directive... should be more systematic and a part of the product could be mutualized to ensure the technical operations of improvements of controls” (CIVIPOL 2003, 53).

22In the present context of increased competition and in order to avoid state sanctions, legal conveyors inevitably refuse to transport people who wish to leave their country to seek asylum. Although it is impossible to estimate the number of times this occurs, the multiple examples revealed by the work of Kristenn Le Bourhis (2001) indicate that the policies of these new controllers of immigration lead to discriminatory practices.

23Finally, it is important to recall that during the European Council of Seville in June 2002 the prime ministers of Spain (José María Aznar), Italy (Silvio Berlusconi), and the United Kingdom (Tony Blair), whose countries were all confronted with the problem of illegal immigration, called for financial sanctions against these migrants’ states of origin or transit outside the EU. This idea was rejected immediately by the European Council, but it did stimulate the European Commission to develop ways to “integrate the problem of migration in the foreign relations of the European Union” (European Commission 2003).

EU Police Activity in Countries of Departure

24According to Regulation (EC) 377/2004 of the European Council of February 19, 2004, relating to the creation of a network of “immigration” liaison officers, such an officer is

a representative of a member State detached abroad by the immigration department or other proper authorities... to establish and maintain the contacts with the authorities (of one or more country) in order to contribute to the prevention of illegal immigration and the fight against this phenomenon, the return of the illegal immigrants and the management of legal immigration.

25Since the end of the 1990s each member state of the EU has increased the number of liaison officers it stations in third countries. Their principal functions are to supervise migratory flows and to facilitate cooperation between third countries and member states. The liaison officers thus try to negotiate their ability to operate in third countries and an agreement for the readmittance of migrants turned away from EU borders in exchange for a more flexible visa policy. Until 2004 the authorities in Morocco, for example, refused to allow the French liaison officer to operate in Tangier, so his action was limited to Rabat Airport.

26The functions of these officers have been increasingly harmonized within the member states to achieve greater effectiveness. For instance, French liaison officers call upon their EU colleagues in countries where their physical presence is not ensured anymore, and vice versa. Within the framework agreement for investigating the enormous number of illegal immigrants arriving on the southernmost coasts of the EU, member states make a concerted effort to pressure the authorities of the third country from which the boat departed. The liaison officers stationed in that third country work to have all those involved in the transit of illegal migrants arrested and to slow down this type of migration. Although these types of arrivals always have an important media impact, their numbers are small. According to CIVIPOL (2003), this type of arrival accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of clandestine arrivals. However, typically, these events cause member states to take action.

27The example of the East Sea, a ship that left Latakieh in Syria and was wrecked in 2001 on the beaches near Fréjus in France, is interesting. Various letters of request from member states for the names of those responsible were addressed to Lebanon and Syria, leading in 2003 to the arrest of one of the organization’s covert partners. The organizer, a Syrian national supposedly responsible for the transport of 900 Kurds to Europe, was arrested and imprisoned in Lebanon. The divisional commission agent of the Police International Technical Cooperation Service (SCTIP) in Beirut, Lebanon, noted, however, “that the pressure of the European countries was not enough, because officially the sleeping partner was released on a decision of the Lebanese court” (Clochard and Dorai 2005).

28Many Kurds pass through Lebanon. The political institutions of countries of transit such as Lebanon tolerate the organization of these migratory networks insofar as it is a lucrative trade. According to various sources, the price of crossing the Mediterranean on board the East Sea was about US$ 3,000 per person, a total cost of almost US$ 3 million for a shipload of migrants. The trade also enables countries of transit to deport foreigners whom they do not wish to have in their country (Clochard and Doraï 2005).

29In an attempt to prevent further problems, a system for the control of sea transport was set up in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, although until 2005 there was no legal basis for stopping suspect ships on the open sea. For example, the ship Le Monica, while transporting several hundred Syrian Kurds to Lebanon in March 2002, was stopped by the French navy, but because the navy was not authorized to intervene the ship was able to continue on to Catane, Sicily.

30In order to support aircraft or warships belonging to maritime patrols, the navies of other member states of the EU now “directly or through the antiterrorist mission of Euromarfor” (CIVIPOL 2003, 34) monitor suspect ships. Their goal is to keep departing boats close to the coast of the country of departure in order to enable countries such as Greece, whose coastguard patrols the Aegean Sea, to intercept suspect vessels. Within sight of the Italian coast the Italian navy has, on several occasions, caused suspect boats to deviate from their sea route, going beyond the twenty-four-mile limit, sometimes with dramatic consequences. For example, on March 31, 1997, the Italian navy collided with a boat while trying to intercept it in the Strait of Otranto. The boat capsized and eighty-seven Albanian nationals drowned. The CIVIPOL (2003) report, which has become a tool for the establishment of the EU’s maritime borders, indicated that such maritime operations “fall under a strategy of containment” (CIVIPOL 2003, 37). However, at sea, international law (notably Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, December 10, 1982) requires all human beings to lend assistance to those in distress.

31The illegal transit through third countries, the increasing number of illegal migrants arriving by boat, and the analysis of the CIVIPOL report led the French government to introduce Law 2005-371 of April 22, 2005, which modified certain arrangements relating to the method used by France’s maritime police to combat illegal migration by sea. Until that time the French state could not in theory fulfill any operation aimed at preventing an infringement of its immigration laws beyond its contiguous zone (the maritime zone in which migratory controls can be carried out). By legalizing this type of control, France can now use its navy throughout its entire maritime space to fight illegal immigration. Whereas, before 2005, monitoring of illegal immigrants was mainly carried out by border police at ports of entry, French territorial waters are now monitored by the French navy, which has the legal authority to stop any ship not raising a flag or without a nationality.

32In the case of suspect ships flying the flag of another state, French navy ships can intervene provided they are authorized to do so by the other state. In the same way, monitoring can be carried out in territorial waters of a foreign state provided that the foreign state has delegated this power to the proper French authorities. In the current context, it is assumed that in the near future the European Commission will develop a general directive based on the French initiative. A new function of French liaison officers is to negotiate with authorities of third countries to extend the monitoring privileges of the member states of the EU.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (MEDA) Program

33In January 1998 the High Level Asylum and Immigration Group, a group of experts set up by the EU, developed an action plan to control irregular immigration and to decrease the number of requests for asylum coming from Iraq. In 1999 the project was extended to five other countries-Albania, Afghanistan, Morocco, Somalia, and Sri Lanka-but Morocco refused to implement the plan. Consequently the EU turned to the MEDA program (a product of the Declaration of Barcelona) and developed measures to prevent illegal immigration within the program’s framework. Since then, however, the EU has failed to meet the initial objectives of MEDA-to reinforce the socioeconomic organizations and develop the democratic institutions of the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean. The conclusion of the presidency of the Euro-Mediterranean conference of foreign affairs ministers in November 2004 (Council of the European Union 2004) confirmed the lack of EU action on this issue by noting the many problems still to be resolved:

In the light of the common problem of illegal migration to Maghreb countries and the subsequent transit migration to the EU, characterized by human suffering, there is a need for intensified cooperation that addresses root causes as well as negative effects of transit migration and the possibility of a dialogue with third countries to address the issue. This cooperation should involve all aspects of illegal migration, the fight against human trafficking and related networks as well as other forms of illegal migration, border management and migration-related capacity building. Support for capacity building and providing technical assistance to countries meeting their obligations under the Geneva Conventions could be considered.

34The MEDA-CEPOL (European College of Police) program was initiated in Valence, France, in 2002, as a specific technical instrument of EU cooperation. The first phase of a wider program took place from March 1, 2004, to March 1, 2006. The function of the MEDA-CEPOL program is to reinforce migratory controls and anticipate the level of monitoring that is required in the majority of the Mediterranean transit or emigration countries. The EU police who are stationed in the majority of the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean are the principal monitoring instrument and are controlled by France. The fight against terrorism and illegal immigration has thus become a priority of the EU, preceding other concerns such as measures to restrict criminal networks involved in money laundering, drug trafficking, or cybercriminality.


35Since the Seville summit in June 2002, cooperation between the member states of the EU has reached a new stage. In a document titled Towards an Integrated Management of the Member States External Borders of the European Union (May 2002), the European Commission defined four major requirements: to ensure mutual confidence between member states; to provide the resources necessary to counter terrorism; to guarantee a high level of security inside the EU after expansion (in particular, after new member states have been authorized to apply all of the Schengen assets of EU membership); and to increase the effectiveness of the fight against illegal immigration, in view of the principles of the right of asylum. However, the French Coordination for the Right of Asylum (CFDA) commented that

this last reserve [is] quite formal because the remainder of the communication does not make at any time reference to the means under consideration for the respect of these principles. It would at least have been convenient to recall that, according to the convention of Geneva, the illegality of the crossing of a border cannot be applied to an applicant of asylum. This silence is characteristic of all European work relating to the control of the borders (CFDA 2004).

36Thus, under the aegis of the Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum (SCIFA), which is composed of those responsible for border control for the twenty-seven member states of the EU, a common management plan for the EU’s external borders is being worked out progressively. Increased illegal migrant flows in the Mediterranean often lead European Convention countries to intensify police and military presence on their external borders, and, if necessary, to use high-tech military equipment to prevent illegal migrants from reaching Schengen space. In addition, operational cooperation at the external borders is reinforced, both between member states and with neighbouring states.

Joint Member-state Operations at EU External Borders

37During 2003 the SCIFA coordinated seventeen pilot projects for monitoring external EU frontiers. In the long term these various cooperative projects, initiated by the sharing of the costs of frontier checks during the conference in Thessaloníki, Greece, in 2003, are expected to lead to the creation of an EU border-police force. An EU agency based in Warsaw, Poland, and established in May 2005 does not carry out external frontier checks, but, via its own personnel as well as detached national experts, it coordinates and assists the external border-check operations of member states. Previously a similar structure had been based in Germany for land borders. Specialized agencies may also be created for air and maritime borders in Italy and Greece, respectively.

38The Mediterranean and eastern member states of the EU are very interested in the creation of an EU border-police force. Currently, because of their geographical position and the length of their borders (maritime and terrestrial), Spain, Italy, Greece, and Poland, in particular, carry out most of the monitoring of illegal migrants on behalf of the majority of the member states. In March 2003 the Greek president proposed a more equitable sharing of the monitoring function based on four criteria: the geographical locality of a country, the nature of its borders, the degree of illegal migratory pressure it experiences, and the quality of its control measures. However, his proposal created a division between member states. Moreover, the European Commission noted that, although each member state financially guarantees security provisions at its external borders, the commission does not have the financial resources to enhance these provisions. Thus, pending the creation of an EU border-police force, cooperation between member states of the EU is organized at their borders.

39As for maritime control, Spain coordinated two operations called Ulysses I and II, both of which included the participation of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Portugal. The first monitoring operation, from January 25 to February 8, 2003, extended from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Sicily and was carried out by naval forces exclusively. Eleven ships carrying 326 immigrants were intercepted during Ulysses I. The second operation, from May 27 to June 2, 2003, which focused on the archipelago of the Canary Islands, used the aerial and marine patrols of the British Royal Air Force (Nimrod) and the French Marine Nationale (Atlantic) to support interventions by the Spanish Guardia Civil and a corvette of the Portuguese navy. Seven boats carrying 139 immigrants were intercepted. According to CIVIPOL, although the legal framework was not adapted “to make it possible for ships of Member States to intervene in waters of another State and under its control,... the operation Ulysses 2 in the Canaries of May 2003 showed the dissuasive effectiveness of the use of the Surmar patrols (heavy planes with the long operating range of anti-submarine fighters), of Nimrod of the Royal Air Force and Atlantic of the Marine Nationale” (2003, 27 and 87). Considering the resources that were used, the operation was indeed similar to a military deterrent force.

40At the end of 2003 another project, Neptune, was implemented to prevent ships carrying illegal migrants from evading the maritime patrols in the central and eastern Mediterranean. Coordinated by Italy, the project included the goal of identifying those responsible for the maritime movement of illegal migrants in order to freeze their resources and prevent them from operating.

Joint Operations of Member States and Third Countries

41The member states of the EU have continued to appeal to nearby third countries that serve as points of origin for illegal migrants, or allow them to transit through their territory, to participate in the fight against illegal immigration, with the promise of important financial assistance for doing so. Within the EU framework “twinning conventions” have often been established between the first fifteen member states and subsequent EU applicant countries such as Cyprus and Malta. At external border posts, stickers or signs that read “Co-financed by the European Union” indicate the existence of such a convention, a process in which liaison officers play an important role. At the time of the Kosovo crisis in 1998, which generated a large flow of exiles from Albania, to Italy, member states sent logistical personnel and police brigades into Albania, to ensure that humanitarian aid reached the country and to reinforce the monitoring of Albanian ports.

42Another example of joint operations between member states of the EU and third countries is the monitoring of the Channel of Otranto. Set up by Italy, this mission also includes France and Spain in maintaining security in the western Mediterranean. To some extent it preceded one of the missions of the European Maritime Force (Euromarfor) (Foucher 2000, 86-87).

43An EU program, ARGO, was then established to facilitate administrative cooperation involving issues of external borders, visas, asylum, and immigration from January 1, 2002, to December 31,2006. It “should be regarded only as one modest precursor of broader activities in this field” (point 3 of preamble). This program highlighted thé desire of member states of the EU to control and “influence the movements” of a great number of foreigners coming from third countries. For instance, in the Spanish-controlled North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla, the shore road between Tangier and Ceuta that connects several monitoring stations was financed mainly by the EU. Further, since February 2005 the Spanish Guardia Civil and the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie have alternately supervised (one week per month) the coasts located around Nador (Morocco) and Almeria (Spain).

44These first steps toward the creation of an EU border-police force underline member states’ increasing use of the EU framework agreement to put pressure on neighbouring third countries, to consolidate the requests for asylum controls at their borders, to restrict the number of foreign arrivals in their countries, and to implement a common policy of deporting people under certain circumstances. The fortress-like walls built around the Spanish possessions of Ceuta and Melilla, which border on the Strait of Gibraltar, reveal the type of border configuration toward which the external borders of the EU seem to be converging.

Frontier Spaces under a “Benevolent” Eye

45Since 1998 the Spanish Guardia Civil has deployed an arsenal of methods aimed at slowing down the entrance of illegal migrants from Morocco through a system known as the Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior (Integrated System of Exterior Vigilance, or SIVE). It has evolved “from a system of control [that was] semi-mobile and exclusively terrestrial to a very flexible device including air and maritime intervention units” (Migreurop 2004). Thirty-four hundred additional agents have been recruited since 2001, and during 2004 three towers equipped with radar and thermal and infrared cameras were erected to reinforce the work of the Guardia Civil. Spanish border police use these very powerful technological instruments to monitor all movement in the Strait of Gibraltar, including movement beyond Spain’s maritime borders. Each monitoring station can detect movement within a ten-kilometre operating range and maritime patrols in the contiguous zone are used increasingly to monitor coastal roads. (Beyond the twenty-four-mile limit, the monitoring of member states’ external borders can complicate the process of determining maritime borders, especially when the coasts involved are opposite rather than adjacent.) Finally, since the end of 2003 the Guardia Civil has used sensors that are so powerful they can detect heartbeats from a distance.

46Each suspicious movement that is detected can be sent in real time via satellite to various naval and land border-police units. Suspect boats trying to reach the Spanish coast are then intercepted and any foreigners on board are detained in refugee internment centres. People of Moroccan nationality are often sent back to Morocco in less than twenty-four hours. (On a personal note, one of the authors of this chapter was reminded of the existence of this border when he crossed between Algeciras (Spain) and Tangier (Morocco) in August 2002, and he observed a young man crouching behind an isolated table where an agent of the boat company stamped passports. This young man had failed in his attempt to reach Spain, a fact that is often forgotten in the routine of the Spanish borders.) The CIVIPOL (2003) report on controlling the EU’s maritime borders predicted that these kinds of detection technologies would reduce “to ten percent the chances of success of one patera [smuggling boat] to unload its passengers without being located and being hailed either at sea or on the shore” (27). Still, hundreds of Guardia Civil agents continue to regularly search the wooded zones of the Spanish coastal road between Algeciras and Barbate for those who may have gotten that far.

47With the reinforced and enhanced monitoring in the centre of the Strait of Gibraltar, boats carrying illegal migrants, known as pateras, were forced to take much longer routes, via the Alboràn Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. This change in sea routes was indicated by an increase in the number of drownings beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. In June 2003, in response to this change, the SIVE was equipped with mobile radar on vehicles, which allowed it to widen its sphere of activity to include a large part of the Andalusian coast from Huelva to Almeria (a distance of approximately 500 kilometres), and in 2005 the Andalusian border gained six additional fixed radar towers. The SIVE was also deployed on the archipelago of the Canary Islands, with three fixed radar-tracking stations and a mobile station located on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, the two islands closest to the Moroccan coast. Spain’s objective in extending its borders is to cover its maritime spaces in great detail “and to closely control the bodies and their movements at the borders where the power of the State in fact is most seriously put to challenge” (Migreurop 2004).

48Thus, in addition to its role in the fight against drug trafficking, the SIVE is now a major element in monitoring the movements of illegal migrants and preventing them from reaching the southern borders of Europe. “During the first eleven months of the year 2003, the rescue services at sea ‘assisted’ nearly 5,500 people, a figure [that is a] very clear increase compared to the previous years” (Bejarano 2003,51). Since 2004 Spanish authorities have justified the installation of various monitoring devices, at a cost of nearly XEU140 million (using funds partly granted by the EU), by noting that they make it possible to save lives in the open sea. However, these electronic devices can fail in fog or high seas. For example, on December 23, 2004, these devices failed to detect thirteen men in a boat drifting off the island of Fuerteventura, all of whom died from exposure. Another example was a boat that was “transport[ing]... forty-three people, four of whom had to be hospitalized because of their serious state of hypothermia” (Agence France-Presse 2004). The writer Tahar Ben Jelloun (2003) blamed Spanish authorities for some of these shipwrecks. In a posthumous plea on behalf of fifty people who drowned on October 25, 2003, only 500 metres from Cadiz harbour, he called attention to the fact that the Guardia Civil waited one hour before intervening. These few examples emphasize how the use of new technologies contributes to changes in strategies employed by those who transport illegal migrants, in many cases increasing the risk involved for those desperate to reach the EU’s shores.


49Beginning in 2003, several member states of the EU began to consider externalizing their asylum procedures in third countries. The government of the United Kingdom initiated this process in June 2003, when it proposed to the European Council of Thessaloníki that transit-processing centres be created in third countries. In addition to these centres for asylum applicants, the British proposal recommended that regional protection areas in the countries of origin or departure be installed, in order to offer “better protection to the people transferred close to their homes, and to develop legal ways by which real refugees will be able, if necessary, to come to Europe” (​news/​2003/​apr/​blair-simitis-asile.pdf). Although the British proposal was not adopted, various European Commission statements that were issued later underlined that the British idea had become a serious element in the evolving asylum and immigration policies of the EU.

50On August 12, 2004, the idea of externalizing the EU’s asylum procedure re-emerged. Otto Schilly, the German minister of the interior, and Giuseppe Pisanu, the Italian minister for foreign affairs, proposed creating transit centres in Libya, under the euphemistic name of “immigration gates,” in order to avoid new human dramas off the Mediterranean coasts. Thus humanitarian reasons became the pretext for the establishment of foreigners’ camps in third countries. However, these proposed transit centres caused serious concerns for many. On one hand, Libya has not ratified the Geneva Convention on Refugees; on the other, many feared that such camps would cause some asylum candidates to take longer and more dangerous maritime routes to reach Europe, to avoid having to go into a transit centre.

51Opposition from other member states to the proposal was not as hostile as expected, although discord existed between certain member states. Statements from the European Commission during 2004 emphasized the willingness of states such as Belgium, Spain, France, and Sweden, which were opposed to this proposal and to the earlier British proposal, to seek a settlement with the initiators, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. In the absence of a consensus, it was suggested that such a policy could be included within an intergovernmental framework, like Schengen space itself, in order to overcome the opposition of some member states. As for preventing asylum-seekers from crossing illegally from Libya, a partial solution was achieved when EU sanctions against Libya were lifted on October 11, 2004. The EU could now supply Libya with the necessary equipment to control illegal immigration along its coastline and land borders. Tripoli asked for and received helicopters, fast patrol boats, radar, and apparatus equipped with night glasses to monitor its coastline (approximately 1,800 kilometres) and to stop flows of migrants from crossing its land borders (approximately 4,300 kilometres). The European Council commented on April 14, 2005, “It is essential to initiate cooperation with Libya as regards to migration” (​).

52Clearly, the commitment undertaken in 1999 at Tampere, Finland, by the member states in favour of “an integral and total application of the Convention of Geneva” to the EU’s system for asylum is crumbling. Various principles of externalization (visas, liaison officers, foreigners’ camps, and so on) are likely to reinforce the imbalance that already prevails between the rich member states that are rarely confronted with having to welcome asylum applicants and the poor states that receive the majority of the refugees and displaced people. The various transit-centre proposals constitute implicit attempts to circumvent international agreements that the EU states have judged to be too constraining. They are the extension of a logic that is already largely at work, according to which asylum-seekers are no longer viewed as people who may be in need of protection but rather as a danger from which Europe must protect itself. The concept of asylum-seekers being locked up in camps evokes images of immigration as a criminal offence. Indeed, it is becoming difficult to know where the borders of the EU are located. The security approach being taken by member states opens the door to would-be migrants being given a numerical identity and being subjected to migratory “traceability” (Dana 2004). Thus practices that have been part of the world of fiction for many years-biological methods of identification such as fingerprint, iris of the eye, facial, or voice recognition-are becoming standard practices in the fight against illegal immigration. The member states have confirmed their willingness to implement high standards of control over certain immigrant populations, primarily by giving them the means to return more easily to their countries of origin. However, as Agamben (2004) points out

One could not... exceed certain thresholds in the control and the handling of the bodies without penetrating in a new biopolitic era, without taking another step in what Michel Foucault called a progressive animalization of the man brought into play through the most sophisticated techniques.

53The expanded physical area of migratory monitoring around the EU and elsewhere in the Western world (Australia, Canada, and the United States) underlines the international dimension of the immigration controls that have been established by these countries. This evolution is a consequence of the process of externalizing asylum and immigration policies. Although mainly used in the field of economics until the beginning of 2000, the term “externalization” is now used by multinational companies that establish subsidiaries in developing countries, as well as in referring to the delocalization of migratory controls in third countries.

54However, the migratory controls that have been used by the member states of the EU since the beginning of the 1990s have never included a preplanned and coordinated strategy of action on this issue. Rather, individual member states adjust their policies according to their means, particular situations and crises, and the level of migratory flows at their borders. The EU’s visa policy, the law authorizing a network of liaison officers throughout the world, the system of fines against those who are involved in transporting illegal migrants, and the significant technological devices deployed at external borders have led to a system in which the EU’s territory can still be accessed, but doing so involves increasingly long, difficult, and dangerous routes for the increasing number of asylum-seekers who must resort to entering that space illegally.

55An exhaustive description of the procedures and technical devices for controlling migratory flows from third countries that exist on the maritime border of the Mediterranean was not the principal objective of this chapter. Rather, the objective was to analyze tendencies, what Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp (2004) has referred to as “tensions at the borders of Europe.” In the end the member states of the EU have sought to protect themselves from international flows of migrants by sanctifying the space they control.



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Post-Doctoral researcher at the Local Government Institute, School of Public Administration, and lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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