Matter often changes its state under the effect of force, before regaining its original state at a later moment. Such a state may be elasticity, but in our case, is not limited to physics. “Borders are increasingly prone to shift all over the world. They extend and retreat and adapt to a given situation. Those movements lead to stress and tension amongst people involved” – a condition that the project manager likens to a physical state. The aim of the research project is to investigate the transition process while using the EU borders from 2015 to 2025 as an example for establishing an new empirically-led border theory.
Dr. Ayata, who holds a professorship at the Center for Southeastern Studies knows very well that the subject is a highly political one and also emotionally charged; it therefore requires a sound empirical approach. Hence, seven researchers from various disciplines – from law to sociology and digitalization – will share their findings until the end of 2026 under the title of “Elastic Borders: Rethinking the Borders of the 21st Century”.
Of course Professor Ayata very much appreciates the sponsorship of the social-economic project by the renowned Nomis Foundation, that usually tends to fund Life Sciences.
Locking EU borders
“On the one hand, we are all living in a globalized world, in which borders have become almost invisible; on the other hand”, according to Ms Ayata, “those without privileged passports get bloody noses when trying to cross these borders”. Whereas we in the Schengen area may travel without hindrance, people outside lost this freedom when the doors of the European fortress were locked by exacerbated visa regulations and entry criteria. “For asylum seekers it has become nearly impossible to seek asylum on European territories by legal means, despite the fact that EU Member states ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum in another country”, Professor Ayata reminds us. “Today, even attempts are criminalized” – a contradiction and a dilemma, according to her, because so-called irregular migrants and asylum-seekers are hard to distinguish.
Reception Centres outside a country
An alleged solution that is currently being discussed: any entry decision should best be taken ahead of the border. An agreement signed recently is aimed at just that: Italy plans to finance and build gigantic reception centres in Albania. This confirms what the political scientist observed, i.e. how dynamic and elastic the 50,000-km-long border has meanwhile become. As in the US or in India, the EU’s border practices have been encroaching beyond its territories for several years now, as evidenced by migration agreements, training programmes or the deployment of European Frontex border guards.
Islands as buffer zones
Many borders have also shifted inwards. In this context, the status of islands has become key, explains Professor Ayata, as they increasingly serve as buffer zones between the EU mainland and neighbouring third countries. A paradox. Samos in Greece and Tenerife in Spain are for instance two of the three main research focuses of the programme. Furthermore, Medenine in Tunisia is a case that may be taken to investigate the impacts of elastic EU borders far beyond the EU. On the Greek island, researchers want to find out how refugee management in hotspot camps has changed the region since 2015. Tenerife may well be facing such challenges in the near future because the number of refugees coming from Africa via the Atlantic route and heading for the Canary Islands is currently rising sharply.
Outsourced border protection
Border protection measures increase elasticity insofar as authorities tend to outsource many of them of them to private and public service providers. Professor Ayata sees such initiatives with a critical eye: “The question of responsibility and transparency then remains opaque.” As a consequence the research project is dealing with legal and technological aspects that make borders increasingly elastic, as well as with the social and political outgrowth of such elasticity.