This article addresses the management of unauthorised migration from Africa to Europe. We review eight policy measures and explore how they relate to prominent policy narratives, centred on security, co-operation and protection of migrants. We also examine the specific mechanisms through which the policy measures function: direct control, deterrence and dissuasion. Analysis of policy narratives helps explain the ascendance of externalised migration control, such as pre-border patrolling. Furthermore, our analysis shows how the narrative of protection can be aligned with direct control measures and constitute a double-edged sword for migrants. The text focuses on maritime migration from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands. We draw in part on ethnographic data from fieldwork in Senegal in order to assess the impact of specific measures on the target population of prospective migrants.