Accountability for externalization of migration control

On 26 May 2023, Utrecht University’s Focus Area on Migration and Societal Change will organize a workshop on the growing phenomenon of externalization of migration control.

This can be defined as ‘the range of processes whereby ' States complement policies to control migration across their territorial boundaries with initiatives that realize such control extra-territorially and through other countries and organs rather than their own’ (Moreno-Lax and Lemberg-Pedersen, 2019). The organization welcomes papers that engage with this issue, especially from an accountability perspective. Early-career researchers (at the doctoral or post-doctoral stage) are especially encouraged to apply.



International migrants seek protection or better opportunities in foreign states. Once they have reached the territory of these states, all manner of protections apply, such as the prohibition of refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsion, and the enjoyment of (at least some) human rights. To prevent such safeguards from applying, however, over the years, states have “externalized” migration control through a number of mechanisms. They started by imposing sanctions on carriers transporting illegal migrants (Feller, 1989, 48). Later, they engaged in maritime interdiction operations (Moreno-Lax, 2017), pushbacks to unsafe countries (Breed, 2016, 21), and the establishment of offshore migrant processing centers (Blay et al., 2007, 7). States use these mechanisms with a view to preventing migrants from reaching their shores, applying for territorial asylum, or invoking fundamental rights guarantees. States have been reluctant to recognize that rights violations committed in the context of these extraterritorial practices give rise to accountability, on the view that fundamental rights only apply territorially. The normative question thus arises whether, and to what extent, states and organizations, like the European Union, have “extraterritorial” obligations towards migrants who have not yet reached their territory, e.g., migrants at sea, migrants in detention centers abroad, or migrants applying for visa outside the territory.

Format and Process

The format of the workshop encourages researchers to get acquainted and discuss new concepts, approaches or practices, based on their ongoing research work. The workshop will not only be an opportunity to receive new insights or knowledge, but also an excellent chance to meet professional and academic peers and expand your own network.

  •  Submit an abstract of max. 300 words, including a title and explaining the topic and approach, by 15 January 2023 to
  • Successful applicants will be informed no later than 31 January 2023.
  • The deadline for submission of the draft paper (min. 3000 words) is 1 May 2023.
  • We aim to have the final papers subsequently published in an international peer-reviewed journal.
  • The organization has some limited funds to cover travel expenses.

Preliminary references

S. Blay, J. Burn and P. Keyzer ‘Interception and Offshore Processing of Asylum Seekers: The International Law Dimensions’ (2007) UTS Law Review 7 D. Breed, ‘Abuses at Europe’s borders’ (2016) Forced migration review 21

E. Feller, ‘Carrier Sanctions and International Law’ (1989) International Journal of Refugee Law 48

V. Moreno-Lax and M. Lemberg-Pedersen, ‘Border-induced displacement: The ethical and legal implications of distance-creation through externalization’ (2019) Questions of International Law QIL, Zoom-in 5

V. Moreno-Lax, ‘The Interdiction of Asylum Seekers at Sea: Law and (mal)practice in Europe and Australia’ (2017) Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law Policy Brief No 4 at…malpractice-europe-and-australi