EU migration policy and migrant human rights: the protection and negation of life at EU borders


  • Daniela Lo Coco



Italian theory, immunitas, human rights, EU, migration policy, biopolitics, externalisation


This article addresses the contradiction between the generalised use of human rights’ protection within EU migration policy and the production of deaths at borders. Through an analysis of the EU’s migration policy, this article suggests using Esposito’s concept of immunitas to bridge inherentcontradictions. Protection of life and the production of death are constitutive mechanisms of Western modern politics. This argument implies thathuman rights and the protection of life metaphorically legitimise the EU’s control of migration from third countries, while blurring the underpinning logics of government, coloniality and racism. The article concludes that protection and the negation of (certain) lives are intrinsic to the EU’s migration policy.


ABAD, R. and RODRÍGUEZ, J. (2005). 'Cinco inmigrantes mueren tiroteados en Ceuta tras intentar saltar la valla 600 subsaharianos' El País, September 30th 2005

AGAMBEN, G. (2016). El poder soberano y la nuda vida. Valencia: Pre-Textos.

AGAMBEN, G. (2019). Estado de excepción, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo Editora

AGIER, M. (2011). Managing the undesirables. Refugee camps and humanitarian government. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, (2018). Cruel European migration policies leave refugees trapped in Libya with no way out.

BALZAQ, T. (2008). The external dimension of EU justice and home affairs: tools, processes, outcomes', Centre for European Policy Studies, Working Document No 303.

BAMBRILLA, C. (2015). Brambilla (2015) 'Exploring the Critical Potential of the Borderscapes Concept' Geopolitics, vol. 20, no.1, pp. 14-34.

BAMBRILLA, C. (2020). 'Revisiting 'Bordering, Ordering and Othering': An Invitation to 'Migrate' Towards A Politics of Hope' Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, no. 112, pp. 11-17.

CALHOUM, C. (2013). 'The idea of emergency: humanitarian action and global (dis order' in D. Fassin & M. Pandolfi eds. Contemporary states of emergency. The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions, Zone Books, Brooklyn, NY.

CAMPA, R. (2015). 'Biopolitica e biopotere. Da Foucault a l'italian theory oltre' Orbis Idearum, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 125-170.

CASTLES, S. (2004). 'The Factors that Make and Unmake Migration Policies' The International Migration Review, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 852-884.

CEAR, (2015). Marruecos: desprotección y vulneración de derechos de las personas migrantes y refugiadas a las puertas de Europa.

CEAR, (2017). Refugiados y migrantes en España: los muros invisibles tras la frontera sur

CHURRUCA, C. (2019). 'Shrinking protection space through gatekeeping and fencing strategies. The impact of EU's migration control on the protection of asylum seekers and forced migrants at EU's external borders' Spanish yearbook of international law, no. 23, pp. 170-182.

COLLYER, M. (2019). 'From preventive to repressive: the changing use of development and humanitarianism to control migration' in MITCHELL, K., REECE, J., FLURI, J.L., (Eds). (2019) Handbook on critical geographies of migration, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing

COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES, (2002). Integrating migration issues in the European union's relations with third countries. Communication from the commission to the council and the European parliament Brussels, 3.12.2002 COM (2002) 703 final

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, (2002). Presidency Conclusions, Seville European Council, 21-22 June 2002, 22 June 2002

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, (2003). Presidency Conclusions, Thessaloniki European Council, 19-20 June 2003, 20 June 2003, available at:

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, (2004). Presidency Conclusions, Brussels European Council, 4-5 November 2004, 8 December 2004, 14292/1/04, available at:

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, (2005). Presidency Conclusions, Brussels European Council, 15-16 December 2005, 16 December 2005, 15914/05, available at:

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, (2008). Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, 16 December 2008, OJ L. 348/98-348/107

2008, 2008/115/EC, available at:

CUTTITTA, P. (2018). 'Repoliticization Through Search and Rescue? Humanitarian NGOs and Migration Management in the Central Mediterranean' Geopolitics, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 632-660.

CUTTITTA, P. (2019). 'The central Mediterranean border as a humanitarian space' in N Nyberg Sørensen & S Plambech (eds), Global Perspectives on Humanitarianism: When human welfare meets the political and security agendas. DIIS REPORT, no. 3, vol. 2019, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Copenhagen, pp. 15-28. <>

DUVA, J, (2007). 'Los sueños amordazados de Osamuyi' El Pais, 17 June 2007.

ESPOSITO, R. (2005). Immunitas. Protección y negación de la vida. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu editores.

ESPOSITO, R. (2006). Bíos. Biopolitica y filosofia. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu editores.

ESPOSITO, R. (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN.

ESPOSITO, R. (2012). Communitas. Origen y destino de la comunidad. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu editores.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2005). European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament 'On Regional Protection Programmes' 1 September 2005, COM(2005) 388 final

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2005b). Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, Priority Actions for Responding to the Challenges of Migration: First Follow-Up to Hampton Court, 30 November 2005, COM (2005) 621 final, availableat:

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2011). High representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy 'Joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council Human Rights and Democracy at the heart of EU external action

- towards a more effective approach'. Brussels, 12.12.2011 COM (2011) 886 final.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2011b). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions 'The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility' 18 November 2011, COM (2011) 743 final,

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2015). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. A European Agenda on Migration, 13 May 2015, COM(2015) 240

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (2020). Communication from the commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Brussels, 23.9.2020 COM (2020) 609 final

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, (2005). Official Journal of the European Union, CE 226, C 226 E/228, 15 September 2005

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, (2005b). Official Journal of the European Union, C 33 E/598, Resolution on Lampedusa, P6_TA (2005)0138, Thursday 14 April 2005.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, (2012). Parliamentary Questions, 19 January 2012. Subject: Death of Idrissa Diallo in the Detention Centre for Foreigners (CIE) in Barcelona. Permanent violation of human rights, mistreatment and repression in Spanish Detention Centres. Question for written answer E-000333/2012 to the Commission Rule 117, Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL)

EUROPEAN UNION, (1992).Treaty on European Union (Consolidated Version), Treaty of Maastricht , 7 February 1992, Official Journal of the European Communities C 325/5 December 2002, available at:

EUROPEAN UNION, (1999). Council of the European Union, Presidency Conclusions, Tampere European Council, 15-16 October 1999, 16 October 1999.

EUROPEAN UNION, (2007). Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community, 13 December 2007, 2007/C 306/01, available at:

EUROPEAN UNION, (2010). Regulation No 439/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 May 2010 establishing a European Asylum Support Office, 19 May 2010, OJ L.132/11-132/28; 29.5.2010, (EU)No 439/2010.

EUROPEAN UNION, (2012). Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, 26 October 2012, OJ L. 326/47-326/390; 26.10.2012

FASSIN, D. (2012). Humanitarian reason: a moral history of the present. Berkeley: University of California Press, Berkeley etc.].

FASSIN, D. (2016). La razón humanitaria. Una historia moral del tiempo presente, Prometeo Libros, Buenos Aires.

FOUCAULT, M. (2006). Seguridad, territorio, población. Curso de Collège de France (1977-1978). Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Grafinor S.A.

GADEM, (2018). Côutes et blessures.

GADEM, (2018b). Expulsions Gratuites. EM_Note_Expulsion_gratuite_VF.pdf

GÓMEZ ISA, F., CHURRUCA MUGURUZA, C., WOUTERS, J., (Eds.). (2018). EU human rights and democratization policies: achievements and challenges (1st ed.). London: Routledge.

GRANGE, M., and FLYNN, M. (2014). Immigration Detention in Egypt Global Detention Project. Geneva, Switzerland.

HARDT, M. and NEGRI, A. (2009). Imperio. Barcelona: Paidós.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, (2014). Abuse and expelled Ill-Treatment of Sub-Saharan African Migrants in Morocco.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, (2016). Spain Migrants held in poor conditions: automatic detention, obstacles to seeking asylum.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, (2019). No Scape from hell: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya.

INTERNATIONAL PEACE INSTITUTE, (2016). Learning from the canaries: lessons from the 'cayucos' crises. Desperate migration series no. 1, May 2016.

KINGSLEY, P. (2014). 'Desperate Syrian refugees risk all in bid to reach Europe' The Guardian. 18 September 2014. 2014/sep/18/desperate-syrian-refugees-europe-mediterranean

LAVENEX, S. (2006). 'Shifting up and out: The foreign policy of European immigration control' West European Politics, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 329-350.

LAVENEX, S. & WICHMANN, N. (2009). 'The External Governance of EU Internal Security' Journal of European Integration, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 83-102.

LAVENEX, S. (2015). 'Multilevelling EU external governance: the role of international organizations in the diffusion of EU migration policies' Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 1-17.

LEMERG-PEDERSEN, M. (2012). Externalization and Border-induced Displacement: A critical assessment of the European Borderscapes, PhD Dissertation. University of Copenhagen.

LEMBERG-PEDERSEN, M. (2015). 'Losing the Right to have rights: EU externalization of borders control' in André, E., Andersen and Lassen, E.M., (Eds). Europe and the Americas: Transatlantic approaches to human rights. Leiden: Brill. pp. 422.

MBEMBE, A. (2011). Necropolítica. España: Melusina.

MEDICINS SANS FRONTIERS, (2005). Violence et immigration Rapport sur l'immigration d'origine subsaharienne en situation irrégulière au Maroc. MSF Espagne. Enquête réalisée par la section espagnole de Médecins Sans Frontières, rendue publique le 29 septembre 2005.

MEISSNER, V. (2017). The European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex beyond Borders - the Effect of the Agency's External Dimension (December 10, 2017). TARN Working Paper Series 16/2017, December 2017, Available at SSRN: or

MEZZADRA, S. (2005). Derecho de fuga. Migraciones, ciudadanía y globalización Madrid: Traficantes de sueños.

MEZZADRA, S. and NEILSON, B. (2017). La frontera como método. Madrid: Traficantes de sueños.

MORENO-LAX, V. and LEMBERG-PEDERSEN, M. (2019) Border-induced displacement: The ethical and legal implications of distance-creation through externalization. QIL Questions of International Law, Zoom-in 56 (2019) 5-33

MORENO-LAX, V. (2020). EU external dimension policy and the protection of Human Rights. European Parliament.

NARVAEZ, J.C., (1988). 'Un marroquí muerto y 18 desaparecidos al volear una lancha en el estrecho' El País, 2 Noviembre 1988

ORGAZ ALONSO, C. (2018). Emergencia del dispositivo deportador en Europa y su generalización en el caso español: representaciones y prácticas en torno a los Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros (CIE). PhD Dissertation. Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

PALLISTER-WILKINS, P. (2015). 'The Humanitarian Politics of European Border Policing: Frontex and Border Police in Evros' International Political Sociology, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 53-69.

PAPADOPOULOS, D., STEPHENSON, N. and TSIANOS, V., (2008). Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century. London: Pluto.

PARKER and VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS, (2012). 'Critical Border Studies: Broadening and Deepening the 'Lines in the Sand' Agenda' Geopolitics, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 727-733.

RODRIGUEZ, P. (2013). 'Una protesta por la última muerte en el CIE de Barcelona sirve para denunciar la deportación de testigos clave', 9 december 2013.

RTVE 2020 'España, Italia, Grecia y Malta piden a la UE más solidaridad y que se repartan los migrantes entre los países miembros', 25 November 2020

THE GUARDIAN, (2015). 'UN says 800 migrants dead in boat disaster as Italy launches rescue of two more vessels', The Guardian, 20 April 2015.

TICKTIN, M. (2011). Casualties of care: immigration and politics of humanitarianism in France. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA.

UNHCR, (2002). Agenda for Protection.

UNHCR, (2005).' Italy:UNHCRdeeplyconcernedaboutLampedusadeportationsofLibyans' UNHCR, 18 March 2005.

VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS, N. (2017a). Border politics: the limits of sovereign power. Edinburgh: University Press.

VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS, N. (2017b). Europe's Border Crisis: Biopolitical Security and Beyond. Oxford University Press DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198747024.001.0001

WALTERS, W. (2011). 'Foucault and Frontiers: Notes on the Birth of the Humanitarian Border' in Governmentality: Current Issues and Future Challenges, BRÖCKLING, U., KRASMANN, S., and LEMKE, T. (2011). New York: Routledge, pp. 138- 164.

WEYZMAN, E. 2017, The least of all possible evils. A short history of humanitarian violence, Verso, London New York.

ZETTER, R. (2014). Forced Migrants: A State of the Art Report of Concepts, Challenges and Ways Forward. Refugees Studies Center. Oxford University. https://www. concepts-challenges-and-ways-forward



How to Cite

Lo Coco, D. (2021). EU migration policy and migrant human rights: the protection and negation of life at EU borders. The Age of Human Rights Journal, (16), 54–80.