n May 2015, the European Commission issued its “Agenda on Migration” in response to what was already an urgent humanitarian situation in the Mediterranean. The Agenda was primarily concerned with the full implementation of the Dublin III Agreement in Italy and Greece, who were accused of letting migrants move on to central Europe without fingerprinting or receiving asylum claims. Italy and Greece, suffering from austerity budgets enforced by the EU, asked for “burden sharing” between southern Europe and its fellow members to the north. The solution was a relocation program prioritising relocation of Syrian, Eritrean and Somali asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, but providing relocation places has been voluntary and meeting the target has been painfully slow. To shore up Italy and Greece’s enforcement of Dublin, the Agenda on Migration proposed a “hotspot approach” to registering people, processing asylum claims, and performing deportations. The hotspot approach was eerily reminiscient to past practices of detention, forced fingerprinting, and slow asylum processing times. While the idea of streamlined, expedited asylum processing has haunted European Union migration policy documents for some time, ‘hotspots’ were ill-defined FRONTEX-coordinated processing centres for arriving asylum-seekers until 2015. Approaching one year into hotspots’ implementation, researchers and journalists have provided important insights into what, where, and why the EU hotspot experiment seeks to manage migration.
Based on our previous experience with border enforcement, migration management, and immigration politics, our motivation for inviting this series of essays arose from some fundamental questions: Are hotspots built and institutionalised or mobile and temporary? Are they de facto detention centres or open accommodation facilities? Do hotspots serve as transit zones, channelling migrants to other facilities and repatriation? Are they long term residential or short term processing facilities? Are they closed or open? Who manages hotspot facilities and with what authority? Who provides care, infrastructure, and legal aid? Do hotspots institutionalise new governmental and socio-technical arrangements, or do they rebrand existing practices? How do their location on islands create additional layers of confinement and limitations to movement? What aspirations, visions, and rationalities do various state and non-state actors invest in hotspots, as places and as concepts?
Generally speaking, hotspots are processing centres, specifically aimed at enforcing Dublin Agreement and ‘streamlining’ asylum processing. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), EU Judicial Cooperation Agency (Eurojust), and EU Border Agency (FRONTEX) work with national immigration agencies to screen asylum applicants, take their fingerprints, verify identity, and render asylum decisions in cooperation with national asylum law. As the essays show, they have sometimes worked like closed detention centres, and asylum officers routinely render asylum decisions on the basis of nationality, rather than individual circumstances. The hotspot approach is also an EU response to perceived refusal/inability to comply with the Dublin agreement, and so hotspots also enforce intergovernmental surveillance (Garelli and Tazzioli 2016). That is, the hotspot is also a model of intergovernmental cooperation and compliance, eliciting and requiring legibility between national and intergovernmental agencies. For Italian and Greek governments, hotspots both oversee and harmonise.
The essays collected here gather current, ongoing research on EU hotspot processing centres’ implementation and each provides rich ethnographic detail to analyse hotspots from different angles. This diversity reveals not only the sophistication of research on political geographies of migration, but also the ways in which hotspot centres are reorganising the infrastructure, legal geographies, and politics of asylum and migration in Europe. In this sense, these essays engage with the politics of asylum and migration globally, particularly debates around the reconfiguration of the spatialities of sovereignty, state power, biopolitics, law, and subjectivity. Last year, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space published a collection of this research as a virtual theme issue on “International Migration.” Those articles are still free and open to all, and this essay series extends that conversation, showing the continued importance of critique, ethnographic detail, and timely, and open source research on the politics of human mobility.