When the EU signed an agreement with Turkey last Spring to “end the irregular migration” from Syria using containment and return measures, it was framed as a radical departure from normal border control practices. But in fact, countries that attract high volumes of irregular immigrants have increasingly come to rely on countries of origin and transit to contain these flows before would-be migrants can reach their borders. Skeptics claim that this is a cynical attempt to skirt refugee protection obligations and limit immigration at any cost. Supporters see it as an effort to protect would-be migrants from unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers and to make international migration more orderly and safe. Both are partially true. To understand these agreements, we have to look at their history, and the ways that they have become normalized over time. While country of origin participation in containing irregular migration was initially seen as a normatively exceptional solution of last resort, it has become increasingly institutionalized in international law and expected in state practice. This normalization has been influenced by exogenous shifts like increased smuggling, trafficking, and criminality associated with irregular migration over time, as well as the increase in perceived security risks associated with migration. But it has also been the result of norm entrepreneurship by major destination states that have sought to make these types of arrangements more palatable over time. The result has been a fundamental re-imagination of state borders and border controlling practices.
Kate Tennis is a PhD Candidate in International Relations at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC. Her dissertation, “Contentious Cooperation: Managing Migration between Sending and Receiving States” explores the politics of border control externalization from the perspective of migrant sending and transit states, with a particular emphasis on Caribbean anad Mediterranean border control and interdiction initiatives. Her broader research interests include nontraditional security issues, border security, global governance, and deterrence. Kate holds an MA in International Relations and Diplomacy from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and a BA in International Development Studies from McGill University.