Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Themed Week on Border Externalisation in Africa



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3 Minutes

Post by Ida Savio Vammen, Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde and Hans Lucht, researchers at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). Their recent Special Issue in Geopolitics, Borderwork in the Expanded EU-African Borderlands, examines the impacts of contemporary European migration management on everyday lives and mobilities in African countries. This is the first part of a Border Criminologies Themed Week on Border Externalisation in Africa, organised by Ida, Signe and Hans. The blog is edited by Alice Troy-Donovan, an intern on the Borderwork project at DIIS. In this themed week on Border Externalisation in Africa, we present research on migrants, mobilities and local governance in EU-African borderlands. This post is part of a collaboration between Border Criminologies and Geopolitics that seeks to promote open access platforms. As part of this initiative the full article, on which this piece is based, will be free to access here for the next month.


Photo by Christian Vium

In January 2022 the Alarme Phone Sahara network reported the  tragic death of a Sudanese man in the desert area of the Algerian-Nigerian border. The man was among the estimated 25,396 people deported from Algeria to Niger in 2021. While the circumstances of his death are yet to be confirmed, the report states that ‘it can be assumed that the inhumane and violent conditions in which arrested migrants are detained in Algerian prisons, transported over long distances across the desert to the Nigerian border and finally abandoned in the middle of the desert in a starved and dehydrated state, are directly responsible for the man’s death.’

The human rights violations, abuse and deaths of migrants abandoned in the desert by Algerian security forces need to be explored in the context of the EU’s policy of border externalisation. This policy serves to restrict irregular migration routes towards Europe and tighten borders through the provision of military vehicles and surveillance technology, forcing migrants to take ever more risky routes. At the same time, the EU collaborates with Niger on deportations from Libya and Algeria, leaving migrants stranded in Niger’s desert where they either perish or are funnelled into EU-funded repatriation schemes. The case of the Sudanese man’s death at the Algeria-Niger border is a stark reminder of the externalised violence which EU border policies help produce in areas located far from the physical borders of European states.  

The varied manifestations, geographies and impacts of border externalisation call for sustained scholarly attention. The contributions to our recent Special Issue, ‘Borderwork in the Expanded EU-African Borderlands’, acknowledge the long history of European attempts to control movement within and from the African continent, from the trading posts of precolonial times to the negotiation of colonial borders at the 1884 Congress of Berlin. In recent years, far from fulfilling its promises of curbing irregular migration or facilitating ‘safe and orderly’ mobility, EU border interventions redirect and displace migrants and migration routes, often with dire consequences. As such, the EU’s current attempts to restrain sub-Saharan migration to Europe is a project with a colonial legacy as well as one with new, unintended and unexpected effects. 

Today, the externalisation of Europe’s borders into Africa encompasses bilateral agreements on the return of migrants, military and security operations, and projects under the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa which marry development and migration aims (through addressing what it calls the ‘root causes’ of irregular migration). Trust Fund activities take place across west, north and east Africa and have received billions of euros of EU funds since the Trust’s inception in 2016.  

Through the lens of everyday ‘borderwork’ we hope to expand the geographical focus of migration research beyond the Mediterranean border and deep into the political, legal and social landscapes of African states. While media coverage in European countries tends to fixate on migrant deaths and other atrocities at the Union’s immediate borders, these spectacles tell us little about how EU migration policy impacts the everyday lives and mobilities of people who are yet to begin a journey to Europe, those who are already on the move, and those who decide not to migrate. As Philippe Frowd writes in the Special Issue for Geopolitics, border externalisation initiatives in Africa have crept inland, with security practices creating ‘an expansive vision of the borderland and bringing controls to key inland nodes.’ Such ‘border creep’ processes makes migration within as well as from Africa increasingly challenging and dangerous.

The scholars featured in this themed week focus on ‘sites of struggle’ where EU border governance combines with multiple global and local political interests. We are excited to share this work which connects highly localised contexts to concepts and analyses which are applicable to other settings in which Western states engage in externalisation efforts, for example the USA and Australia.

Themed Week on Border Externalisation in Africa:

  • Signe Cold-Ravnkilde, ‘Negotiating EU migration politics in a grey zone: the case of Mali’
  • Interview with Phillippe Frowd, ‘EU border externalisation and the migrant transport trade in Niger’
  • Almamy Sylla and Signe Cold-Ravnkilde, ‘Conceptualising EU Returns Governance as ‘Anti-Politics’’ 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Vammen, I. S., Cold-Ravnkilde, S. M. and Lucht, H. (2022) Themed Week on Border Externalisation in Africa. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2022/05/themed-week [date]

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