Refugees, Europe, camps/state of exception: ‘Into the zone,’ the European Union and extraterritorial processing of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers (theories and practice)

This article outlines the debate over extraterritorial processing in the European Union (EU) from the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) to the Treaty of Lisbon (2009). It will briefly outline the historical precedents, the evolution of policy within the EU, and the role of other models (Australian, American, etc.). This article emphasizes the contested understandings of how these zones might be manifested in practice. It uses evidence from the political history and policy-making of the EU to question Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the state of exception. In fact, the promotion of extraterritorial zones was not merely sold as necessary, if unfortunate, choices. Likewise, the more sinister interpretation of these zones as a regression from the Liberal State to the universe of camps failed accurately to capture what was happening in reality. Firstly, supranational extraterritorial processing was beyond the constitutional or political capacity of the EU. Secondly, at times, the unintended consequences might have led to a liberalization of so-called “Fortress Europe” and caused certain politicians to become disenchanted precisely because the proposed form of extraterritorial processing threatened to institute a rigorous form of burden sharing.


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