Maritime Migration Flows and Challenges for Refugee Protection

In her current research project, Katia Bianchini focuses on Italy as a case study to examine responses to sea migration in the Mediterranean region and how they challenge the rule of law. Among the thorny questions addressed are those of jurisdiction, duties, rights, and accountability of state and non-state actors involved in the interception of boat people, search and rescue operations to provide assistance to boats in distress, protocols for disembarking the rescued migrants, and the criminalization of NGOs involved in rescuing sea migrants.

Most of the scholarship addressing sea migration adopts a human rights or international law perspective, leaving a great deal of room for more sophisticated analyses. Given that sea migration is a complex phenomenon involving numerous actors with different agendas, multiple legal frameworks at the international, regional, and national levels (law of the sea, refugee law, criminal law, human rights), and informal practices, this project addresses the responses to sea migration using a rule-of-law lens. The rule-of-law appraoach allows one to consider not only legislation, but also policies, practices, case law and institutional dynamics. The research will lead to a better understanding of the dysfunctions involved, accountability issues, and important laws and policies that should be reformed. Above all, by identifying the rule-of law principles that are involved, the project aims to show how inadequate responses affect not only sea migrants, but also the institutions and state powers that are the pillars of modern democracies. The methodology is grounded in interdiscplinary legal research (combining legal and empirical data collection through interviews), which allows Bianchini to examine how the law works on the ground. Through this approach, legal analysis is enriched by data on how state and non-state actors navigate different systems to help sea migrants in distress or to circumvent legal obligations.

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