Infrastructure Space and the Future of Migration Management: The EU Hotspots in the Mediterranean Borderscape

What can the EU’s Hotspot approach to migration tell us about the impact of infrastructure on migration management?

Project Summary

Not all European countries face migration issues to the same extent. In virtue of their geography, the countries located at the EUs external border simply face more migratory pressures. This is why some European agencies started working on the ground with the frontline EU member states, these practices evolving into the “Hotspot approach”. The project investigates the new infrastructure created under this approach and how it compares to the previous infrastructure. The goal is to to develop a new framework for the analysis of infrastructure in migration management.

The research questions defined for getting a comprehensive outlook on this issue are as follows:

  • How does the hotspot facility, as infrastructure space, enable migration management and transform the Mediterranean borderscape?
  • How does this infrastructure space (re)shape relations between states, citizens and noncitizens?  

The method chosen for this investigation is three-pronged: ethnographic research in the countries under examination, document analysis referring to the Hotspot approach, and mapping and visual analysis of the objects of study. 

Academic Output

Executive Summary

This project explored the role of infrastructure in migration management with a study on the implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach in Greece, Italy, Tunisia and to a limited degree Libya and Turkey. The Hotspot Approach was introduced in 2015 by the EU as an infrastructural assistance to member states with high arrivals of undocumented persons. The guiding research questions were a) how does the hotspot facility, as infrastructure space, enable migration management and transform the Mediterranean borderscape and b) how does this infrastructure space (re)shape relations between states, citizens, and noncitizens? The project adopted a comparative and interdisciplinary research design that combined ethnographic fieldwork, document survey and mapping and visual analysis. 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.

Working Paper

The Implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach in Greece and Italy: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Analysis

The Hotspot Approach was presented by the EU Commission in 2015 in response to the deepening conflict over high numbers of refugee arrivals at the EU southern frontiers in the wake of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. In 2002, the EU officially declared the combat of undocumented migration as its key aim in migration management, resulting in a constantly militarizing EU border regime that rested on the cooperation with the very dictators in North Africa and the Middle East, who were toppled in the popular uprisings of 2010/11. The subsequent increase of asylum seekers’ arrivals by boat from Turkish and North African shores to Greece and Italy was met with strong actions by several EU member states from 2011 onwards, leading to temporary suspensions of the Schengen System (Ayata, 2017). It also revived the discussions on irregular migration and the relocation of asylum seekers. With migration and asylum once again becoming a central conflict among EU member states threatening even the continuation of the Schengen System, the EU Commission proposed a new Agenda for Migration in 2015 (European Commission, 2015a). Apart from the intensification of existing measures such as increasing the powers of the EU agency FRONTEX1, its most novel measure is the Hotspot Approach.

Research Team

Bilgin Ayata
University of Basel

Kenny Cupers
University of Basel

Chiara Pagano
Principal Member
University of Pavia

Artemis-Maria Fyssa

Principal Member

Alaa Dia
Principal Member
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zurich





Policy domains



Greece, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey

Host Institution