Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance

Program Name/Specialization

Global Justice and Human Rights


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Alison Mountz

Advisor Role

Alison Mountz

Second Advisor

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Third Advisor

Kim Rygiel


In this dissertation I argue that, since the 1980s, French airports have been designed to exclude people from legal, human and refugee rights. The particular space where this happens has been successively called “international zone”, “transit zone” and “waiting zone” and its scope has been significantly extended overtime. I contend that French authorities have used the concept of extra-territoriality in concert with the material design of the airport to sustain exclusion. While this research focuses on France, findings bear relevance to the global governance of migrants and refugees. The French case epitomizes how states creatively use the law (or absence thereof) and geography to keep undesirable non-citizens, including asylum claimants, away from their territories.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the government established Paris airports’ international zones as non-French, extra-territorial spaces to circumvent domestic and international laws. I use the term “extra-territoriality” with a hyphen to refer to this deliberate excision of territory. When the Law on the Waiting Zone came into existence in 1992, exclusion was reinvented through another form of extra-territoriality, premised on the non-citizen’s legal status at the border. Since then, the term “waiting zone” has assigned both legal and geographical dimensions to this place.

This research topic matters as this law established a parallel, less protective legal framework for foreign nationals arriving at the border compared to the one applicable to their counterparts already deemed on French soil - who are either applying for asylum or are to be removed after being caught for staying illegally in the country -. Yet France is a liberal democracy bound by obligations under human rights and refugee conventions at the regional and international levels. Is a less protective system of rights based on the distinction between physical and legal entry necessary?

I was drawn to the waiting zone for my research because it is an understudied area; the waiting zone is physically difficult to access, yet important to understand. I chose to focus on Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport’s waiting zone, which detains the greatest number of individuals in France. I sought to answer several research questions. First, how did the Law on the Waiting Zone come to existence? Second, does the Law on the Waiting Zone constitute a break from the initial phase of extra-territoriality? In other words, is the term “extra-territoriality” inappropriate to describe the current situation of non-citizens placed under the waiting zone regime? Third, how do actors working in and on the waiting zone perceive this legal regime and their role therein? Finally, how are foreign nationals being treated in CDG airport’s waiting zone? Do they have access to rights, or do they face barriers?

Different research methods were used to answer these questions. I engaged in discourse analysis of a variety of sources and carried out 35 semi-structured expert interviews. Participants were asked to answer questions regarding their perception of the legal framework applying to the border zone, their role and actions therein. Finally, I used the participant observation method at CDG airport.

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