#escapes2021 – panel 8

#escapes2021 International Online Conference

Mediterranean Crossings:
Refusal and Resistance in Uncertain Times

University of Milan, 24 – 26 June 2021

The implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach in the Mediterranean Borderscape: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Infrastructure of Migration Management

Convenor: Chiara Pagano (University of Bologna)
Chairs: Bilgin Ayata (University of Graz), Kenny Cupers (University of Basel)

This panel presents the conceptual and empirical insights of the interdisciplinary research project “Infrastructure Space and the Future of Migration Management: The EU Hotspots in the Mediterranean Borderscape”. This research project explored from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective the implementation of the EU’s Hotspot approach in Greece and Italy, as well its implications on Tunisia, Libya and Turkey with ethnographic fieldwork in Italy, Greece and Tunisia. Bringing together social scientific and architectural analysis, the project carried out not only over 100 expert interviews, but also participatory mapping, satellite image and document analysis. The main research objective was to understand the role of infrastructure in migration management by studying the implementation of the EU Hotspot approach. The Hotspot Approach was introduced as part of the EU`s new Agenda on Migration (May 2015) with the stated intention to provide assistance to member states in their governance of migration. A core component of this assistance constitutes the provision of infrastructure for border control, fingerprinting, encampment as well as enforcement assistance by EU agencies. The panel brings together the main insights of the research, offering critical analysis that highlights the differences and similarities of the implementation at the sea borders of Italy and Greece. In Greece, the hotspots on the islands have turned into spaces of protracted mass confinement in vastly overcrowded camps, while the hotspots in Italy operate as facilities of forced mobility to quickly register and transfer newly disembarked persons to other reception and detention centers all over Italy. The key element of the Hotspot Approach is the filtering and sorting out of the newly arriving persons, which occurs in Italy at the intersection of land and sea, while in Greece mainly in the Hotspot facilities. In both cases, the implementation of the Hotspot Approach has resulted in major modifications of migration governance and bordering practices, not only for Italy and Greece but also for the Mediterranean Borderscape altogether. Our core results show that the Hotspot Approach is a complex, opaque and multilevel migration management that occurs neither despite nor inside, but in addition to the national bureaucracies. This new extrastatecraft of migration management routinizes violence and violations. The hotspots are an infrastructure space of biopolitical and biometric filtering, that sorts out the „deserving” from „undeserving” migrants. The design of the hotspot facilities reflects the logic and violence of filtering as well as the prioritization of security over care. The panel will first introduce the conceptual framework and key results of the project and then continues with detailed analysis of the cases by the principal researchers of the project.


Migration management as Extrastatecraft: The EU Hotspots as Infrastructure
Spaces of Filtering

Bilgin Ayata (University of Graz)

This paper will present the background, context and conceptual framework of a multidisciplinary research in Greece, Italy, Tunisia, Libya and Turkey on the role of infrastructure in the EU`s policies to control migration to Europe. In May 2015, the EU announced the introduction of the so-called Hotspot approach that enables EU agencies such as Frontex and Europol to intervene in the migration governance of EU member states such as Italy and Greece which asylum seekers are trying to reach via deadly crossings of the Mediterranean. The Hotspot approach entails a heavy militarization and fortification of the sea and land through new infrastructures, which entails not only physical but also procedural components.

The paper will first discuss the cornerstones of the Hotspot approach and then analyze its implementation by employing the concepts of extrastatecraft and infrastructure space as coined by Keller Easterling (2014). Officially presented as assistance and support for member states, the EU Hotspot approach has to be rather understood as the creation of special zones, in which EU agencies, international organizations (such as IOM and UNHCR), national and local governments are coalescing their powers to enforce extreme and unlawful measures of migration control. We conceptualize this novel form of migration management as extrastatecraft which enables the involved actors to circumvent existing laws and routinizes violence and violations in the hotspots. The Hotspots themselves are infrastructure spaces in which this extrastatecraft operates to implement the processes of filtering and sorting out.


The spatiality of the hotspot approach in Italy: between facilities’ invisibilization and migrant persons’ mobilization

Chiara Pagano (University of Bologna)

The paper explores the implementation of the hotspot approach in Italy as an unprecedent form of multilevel governance of migration attesting for the coalescence of national actors, EU agencies, International Organizations and Non-governmental organizations with the ultimate goal of sorting out third-country nationals’ mixed migratory inflows into groups of “protection seekers” and “economic migrants”.

Building on the results of fieldwork conducted during 2019 in a number of Italian hotspot locations, the paper presents a genealogy of the hotspots in Italy. The adoption of the Italian Interior Ministry’s Roadmap (28 September 2015) for the implementation of the New European Agenda on Migration (May 2015) inaugurated the implementation of the hotspot approach in Italy. Few already existing facilities nearby or right at ports of landing were adapted as closed hotspot facilities. Yet, unlike what happened in Greece, the introduction of new procedures was prioritized over the set-up of new facilities in the Italian case. Starting from February 2016, the Standard Operating Procedures regulating the functioning of Italian hotspots were implemented in all landing sites, regardless of the presence of actual hotspot facilities. This attested for the high mobility and liquidity characterizing the hotspot approach in the Italian case, which is also strictly connected to practices of migrants’ mobilization throughout, and out of the peninsula. In order to better understand these aspects as part of new EU bordering practices, the paper will assess how implementing the hotspot approach in Italy also entailed complementary policies that exceeded the EU space, such as the suspension of search and rescue activities in international waters, and the most recent renewals of bilateral agreements with Libya and Tunisia. Moreover, it will be argued that the implementation of the hotspot approach in Italy resulted in postponing protection of potential asylum seekers while systematizing violations against all third-country nationals irregularly reaching the Italian territory, namely by conducting summary vulnerability assessments and procedures of nationality attribution aimed at biometric registration.


The Hotspot Approach in Greece: The infrastructure space of filtering at the
Eastern Mediterranean Borderscape

Artemis Fyssa (University of Basel/Graz)

By 2019 the Greek version of the Hotspot approach had become a synonym of congestion and liminal infrastructure. What was initially designed as fast-track processing facilities for border control ended up creating some of the largest refugee camps in Europe that emerge as a distinct infrastructure space.

In my paper I analyze the collaborations of state, supra-state and international actors within the Hotspot’s infrastructure space that allow for the emergence of an extrastatecraft zone along and across the Eastern Mediterranean. I argue that the key aim in this process is filtering by way of a narrowly conceived right to asylum. The prioritization of filtering remains evident across the 5 hotspots’ facilities, regardless of the adaptable improvisations that are evident in terms of the built environment as well as in the institutional actors’ collaborations. With a comparative analysis of the implementation on 5 Islands I will focus on how the hotspots’ filtering process adds yet another layer to the necropolitical dimension of the EU migration management politics, that consists of the creation and maintaining of deserving and undeserving migrants both of whom are nevertheless obliged to endure the inhumane conditions of the hotspots’ facilities. The paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted on the 5 islands by employing semi-structured interviews with key actors in 2019, while it contributes to the critical migration scholarship, borders and bordering and the scholarship on migration infrastructure.


The Role of Infrastructure in EU Migration Management: An Architectural lens on
the Implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach in Greece

Alaa Dia (University of Basel)

This paper explores the implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach by analyzing the built- environment of hotspot migration centres (RICs) in Greece. I argue that these hotspot facilities took a “penal” turn by creating a built-environment that forcefully detain and channel asylum-seekers through the Hotpots approach procedures. This has led to the creation of multiple exclusion zones at the level of the facilities, the island, and the wider border scape that restrain, sort and contain migration flows towards the EU.

First, I will present the core features and characteristics of the built-environment of three hotspot facilities on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Leros. By studying the hotspot’s built- environment in comparison, I will show how the hotspot facilities’ construction and design have formalized and normalized the “penal” built characteristics and the criminalization of migration by reflecting on the migration management practices into a material reality with long-term consequences. In a second step, I will illustrate evidence from the built- environment of how the architectural setup facilitates and enables the hotspots facilities as spaces of exclusion and sorting out mechanisms. Here, I will decipher how a combination of different architectural elements and functional areas are common to administrative centers, refugee camps and detention facilities are employed in varying ways in the hotspot facilities.

The paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork and document analysis, satellite images, architectural surveys, and interviews. The paper engages with and contributes to the scholarship migration infrastructures and architecture, as well as critical migration research.

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