The paper presents the results of ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Mediterranean border region in 2006 and 2007, in Libya, Malta and Southern Italy. Combining the empirical study of border regions with a legal anthropological perspective, new parameters for refugee protection, developing at the European Union's external borders, are shown and discussed. The ever-changing regime of migration policy and practices across the Mediterranean Sea is approached with the notion of a "multi-sited arena of negotiation". This arena includes various actors such as migrants, border security guards, politicians from different levels of government and refugee lobbying groups. The consequences of this negotiation process for the life of migrants in Libya, their access to refugee protection,... practices of the European border agency Frontex and accompanying legal aspects are presented in an "Ethnography of the Mediterranean Border Region" that emerges from this empirical data. The paper argues that the policy practices of the co-operation between Italy and Libya, as well as the informal operational methods carried out in the Mediterranean Sea, function as a trailblazer for overall EU refugee policy. In the long term, some of these practices will affect and change the legal basis and the formal regulations of the European refugee regime. In this perspective, the inter-connections of local, national and supranational actors are studied, acknowledging the complex character of plural legal orders, which do not follow a linear chain of command or a dualistic scheme. On the contrary, in the case of the harmonisation of refugee protection in the EU, unintended inter-connections between border regions and the EU-institutions in Brussels can be observed. To conclude, the paper will present ideas on the functioning of the European Union's processes of integration, decision-making and legal changes.