The EU border-work in Turkey Reuters

Due to their geostrategic location, transit countries, such as Turkey, have been playing a central role in controlling the rise of transnational organised crime (TOC) and migration flows from east/south to west/north. In light of its EU accession negotiations, Turkey has been implementing countermeasures against TOC in accordance with EU requirements, such as the Turkish National Drug Strategy (Toktas et al. 2012, 136, 145). The EU endeavour to suppress the trafficking of humans and goods before their arrival at EU borders has projected its border security into Turkey. This permits the EU to enhance control over its own territory (Toktas et al. 2012, 147). In addition to TOC, the fight against illegal migration is a common interest for the EU and Turkey. However, the recent EU-Turkey deal to control the influx of refugees raises questions over its legality as the EU does not ensure the rights of refugees by sending them back to Turkey- a country seen as unsafe (Adam 2017, 3-4, 13). Syrians are not recognised as refugees and cannot travel freely within Turkey without a travel document (Adam 2017, 10; İşleyen 2017, 29). Nevertheless, the deal is still in use and Syrian refugees in Turkey face “social and legal restrictions and exclusions in their everyday life”, as the Burmese migrants do in Malaysia (Franck 2016, 3219).

Outsourcing border security make us (re)think the border concept and the actors responsible for border security. States and regional organisations externalise their border security to third states, as illustrated by the EU’s attempt to fortify its external borders by outsourcing border security to Turkey (Hollifield 2004, 898; Baird 2012, 849). This example lead us to (re)think the concept of borders because we no longer perceive their existence as a permanent line on maps. Moreover, non-state actors, such as private security companies, also have a role in the border security of states (Parker et al. 2012, 729).

The EU border starts somewhere inside Turkey with a checkpoint. A mobile and temporary infrastructure that now targets not only TOC activities but also migrants who want to enter Europe (İşleyen 2017, 27, 29), creating borders inside borders, but not for everyone. Therefore, Turkey can be seen as a “buffer state”, being the first line of defense of a strong EU border (Baird 2012, 852). The EU strategy of securitisation closes its eyes to Human Rights violations and creates an ‘off-shore’ in Turkey where most of the EU regulations are not applied (Parker et al. 2012, 733). In spite of that, borders still matter and border security is an EU priority. However, it is necessary to revisit the concept and give it a wider perspective. This is attempted by Brambilla with the borderscape concept, which understands borders as a “simultaneous process of doing, undoing and retracing (…) in time and space” (2015, 25). This is definitely applicable to the EU border-work process.

By exploring TOC and migration governance in Turkey, we can conclude that there is a correlation with the EU border-work. The EU-Turkey relations have been facing ups and downs and is far from a stable and fulfilling end (Rumford 2011, 459).  It is a ‘one-way traffic’ relation where the EU imposes the rules and Turkey is the passive participant (Nykänen 2011, 504). Trade still has an important role in EU-Turkey relations. However, the cross-border movements of people still face important barriers (Poot et al. 2010, 1924). The EU-Turkey relations are now based on the prevention of ‘bads’, as if we live in a (global) risk society (Aradau 2007, 92). It can be argued that EU ‘governs through risk’ and uses Turkey to mitigate uncontrollable and unpredictable events, such as terrorism, that could affect EU security. The EU should not forget its focus in promoting human rights and democratic values, in order to ‘humanise’ its borders (Brambilla 2015, 27). Nevertheless, Turkey will remain an important EU partner and, as an EU candidate member, Turkey is committed to agreements based in EU regulations. However, the way that the EU accession negotiations are conducted will dictate the role of Turkey in the fight against TOC (Toktas et al. 2012, 147) and in stopping the migration flow into the EU, which consequently will have effects in the EU border-work.



Adam, Laura Batalla. 2017. “The EU-Turkey Deal One Year On: A Delicate Balancing Act”. The International Spectator.

Aradau, C. and R. van Munster. 2007. “Governing terrorism through risk. Taking precautions, (un-)knowing the future”. European Journal of International Relations 38(1): 89-115.

Baird, Theodore. 2015. “Functional Actorness? Border Security in the EU and Turkey”. International Journal of Public Administration. 38: 849-859.

Bales, K. 2000. “Expendable people: Slavery in the age of globalization”. Journal of International Affairs. 53(2), 461.

Berndtsson, Joakim, and Maria Stern. 2011. “Private Security and the Public-Private Divide: Contested Lines of Distinction and Modes of Governance in the Stockholm-Arlanda Security Assemblage: Private Security and the Public-Private Divide”. International Political Sociology. 5 (4): 408–25.

Brambilla, C. 2015. “Exploring the Critical Potential of the Borderscapes Concept”. Geopolitics. 20(1), 14-34.

Franck, A. K. 2016. “Another geography of fear: Burmese labour migrants in George Town, Malaysia”. Urban Studies. 53(15), 3206 - 3222.

Hollifield, James F. 2004. “The Emerging Migration State”. International Migration Review. 38 (3): 885–912.

İşleyen, Beste. 2017. “Transit mobility governance in Turkey”. Political Geography. Elsevier.

Nykänen, Johanna. 2011. “A Bakhtinian Approach to EU–Turkey Relations”. Journal of Contemporary European Studies. 19:4, 501-509.

Parker, N. and Vaughan-Williams, N. 2012. “Critical Border Studies: Broadening and Deepening the ‘Lines in the Sand’ Agenda”. Geopolitics. 17(4), 727-733.

Poot, Jacques and A. Strutt. 2010. “International Trade Agreements and International Migration”. The World Economy. 33 (12): 1923–54.

Rumford, Chris. 2011. “Editorial: New Perspectives on Turkey-EU Relations”. Journal of Contemporary European Studies. Vol. 19, No. 4, 459-462.

Sheller, Mimi and John Urry. 2006. “The New Mobilities Paradigm”. Environment and Planning A 38 (2): 207–26.

Toktas, Sule and Hande Selimoglu. 2012. “Smuggling and Trafficking in Turkey: An Analysis of EU-Turkey Cooperation in Combating Transnational Organized Crime”. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 135-150.