Barbed wire and refugees on Greek border
Project 'Border Security in the EU: Local Perspectives'

Border Security in the EU: Local Perspectives

This project aims to be the first step in building a comparative study on the influence of EU policy on local and national border security policies, border routines and practices, as well as border communities affected by these policies and practices.

- Headlines and future research report (June 2018)
- International research meeting for invited legal and academics in May 2017
- A seminar, organised on September 7, 2017.  Prof. Tony Platt (criminologist and sociologist, from Berkeley) gives a lecture about Borders, mobility and Control and Action Research.
- LDE A0 Poster


Transnational terrorism and mass (refugee) migration are seen as acute and grave threats to the national security and sovereignty of individual EU member states leading amongst others to a growing focus on internal border control and the technological monitoring of cross-border mobility. This increased focus is at odds with the principle of 'open borders' that identifies the European Union and the Schengen Area.

Yet, as long as it is unclear what is happening at Europe’s external borders both in terms of the routes and backgrounds of the migrants who are making their way into the continent and in terms of the effectiveness of the different formal and informal reactions and measures that are applied by state and non-state actors, there’s no solid advice to be given to EU member states on how to govern their internal borders.

Therefore, in this project, we explicitly aim to focus on the mobilities and the potential security threat resulting thereof at external borders of the EU.


Empirical research on how the different countries at the external border of the EU experience on the one hand the humanitarian tragedies that can be represented by mass migration mobilities as the current refugee movements and on the other hand the knowledge that these mass migration mobilities might also be used by criminal and terrorist organizations, is largely lacking. How do various countries – constrained by various legal frameworks respond to this tension in terms of the ways in which they have organized and practically shaped their border security apparatus: What institutions and actors are involved in border security and what are their attitudes towards border security and the practice of border control? How are these attitudes related towards ideas of human security? Are they using technological devices to support the process of monitoring? To what extent are countries sharing information with other countries? How vital is the support from local border communities? To what extent and in what way do border security practices affect local communities? To be more concrete with regard to the last question, what does it means for border regions if, as for instance is the case in the borders between Greece and Turkey, a long wall has been built in order to stem the influx of irregular migrants. And how does the use of barbed-wire fences, landmines, thermal night vision cameras and patrols in these border regions effect local as well as international mobility and perceptions thereof?

Prikkeldraad en EU vlag

Our project aims to be the first step in building a comparative study on the influence of EU policy on local and national border security policies, border routines and practices, as well as border communities affected by these policies and practices. In doing so, we will draw from and tie in with the scholarship on the role of human agency within crime and migration control (see for instance: Bourdieu, 1990; Emirbayer and Mische, 1998; Cheliotis 2009). Implicit in these accounts is the notion that the exercise of power is not a one-way, top–down street, but rather a fundamentally associative process involving a perpetual negotiation between various levels of power, such as the supranational level, the member state level and the street-level. From this vantage point, border control officers on the lower level can be thought of as dynamic agents who do not merely submit to a power structure, but who also participate in the shaping of that structure.

The research will build upon the academic work in criminology and anthropology dealing with local communities reacting to – in either an supportive, adaptational, resistive or other manner - (supra)national efforts of transforming political, economic and social structures within these localities (see for instance Donnan and Wilson 2012, 2010) as well as on the socio-legal scholarship on decision-making, human-agency and multi-level governance.


By combining innovatively a study of both law and policy in the books with a study of law and policy in practice in a variety of countries that have border security as a shared concern, yet differ in the extent to which they’re constrained by national or supranational (EU-level) rules and regulations, this study aims to shed further empirical light on the different takes on external border security in the EU in order to provide valuable input for current debates on migration control, border control and national security.

Within the research countries will be selected between which there is migration mobility and in which there have been reports of criminal and terrorist organizations being involved in – or taking advantage of – these mobility flows and the commotion caused by them. Whereas much attention in the media tends to go to the atrocities in Greece and Italy – also known as the Central and Southern Mediterranean Route – based on the continuously shifting migration flows, this research will also include the Western Mediterranean Route and the Eastern Borders Route.[1] This way, we will also be able to distinguish between the different challenges of governing and managing land borders versus water borders This means that the research will include both EU, non- EU and third countries. This has led to the following tentative selection:

  • Central Mediterranean Route: Libya & Italy
  • Western Mediterranean Route: Morocco & Spain
  • Southern Mediterranean Route: Greece/Bulgaria & Turkey
  • Eastern Borders Route: Hungary & Ukraine

Within the selected clusters, border security will be studied at three levels:

  • The policy level
  • The institutional and street level
  • The level of the non-state actors and the local (border) community

Policy Level

  • What is the applicable legal and policy framework regulating border security and border control?
  • To what extent is this legal and policy framework shaped locally, nationally, supra-nationally?
  • To what extent does the legal and policy framework regulate the work of national border authorities and circumscribe their room for independent action?

​Institutional and street level

(= actors involved in border security and border control)

  • What are the dominant features of border security and border control in the country?
  • How do the actors involved in border security and border control perceive the (limitations of or changes in) the policy framework that regulates their practices and decision-making?
  • What role do crime control databases and technology play in the practices of border security and border control
  • To what extent and in what ways are border control agencies and officers sharing information with other law enforcement agencies or (neighbouring) countries?
  • What is the role of supranational actors such as Frontex?

Level of the non-state actors and the local (border) community

  • How do non-state actors and local border communities perceive and respond to border security and border control related to transnational terrorism and mass (refugee) migration? 
  • What dimensions can be distinguished within the non-state actors and local communities with respect to traditions of cross-border activities?
  • To what extent and in what ways do non-state local border communities adapt or resist border security and border control?
  • To what extent is the policy discourse on border security and border control intertwined with the discourses on mass migration, national security and terrorism?


We are aiming at (1) an international EU research grant around the proposed research question. (2) Creating an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars around the research theme (3) the outcome of the project should contribute to the academic and public discussions on borders and border control as well as result in the improvement of border management through concrete recommendations and a set of best practices on border management.

Project follow-up

(1) organizing one research meeting and one academic seminar discussing and writing the research  proposal, (2) applying for two PhD positions at Law Faculty of Leiden and Rotterdam, (3) creating an advisory board consisting of practitioners and experts in the field, (4) developing a master course ‘Global mobility and border security’.


  • Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Safety and Security seed money
  • We are aiming for funding through a ERC Advanced Grant or Horizon 2020 (under the subthemes (1) Europe in a changing world - inclusive, innovative and reflective societies or (2) Secure societies - protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens), for funding with the National Science Council in the Netherlands or any of the other participating countries, for funding with the Gerda Henkel Stiftung (the research project funding as available in the Special Programme, Security, Society and the State) or any other relevant EU or NWO Call.