Migration and human security

International migration is defined by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as “the movement of persons who leave their country of origin or the country of habitual residence, to establish themselves either permanently or temporarily in another country” (International Organization for Migration 2005). Many factors influence the decision of people to relocate, but experience so far has singled out two dominant reasons: the need for economic security and/or a threat to safety. In this way, human security is involved in both reasons through freedom from fear (conflicts and state sponsored violence) and freedom from want (poverty, development concerns and economic issues), the basic elements of security. Environmental factors, such as natural disasters, are considered to be the third factor impacting migration patterns and new migration typology classifies these people as environmental refugees (Jacobson, 1998; Myers, 2002; Bates, 2002)

mod4-les5-quote1It should, however, be taken into account that most people who are on the move did not make the decision to relocate freely, and were forced to do so. This group includes those who were forcibly displaced due to war, violent conflict, banishment or discrimination. The United Nations (UNHCR), in one of its recent reports, cites that there are 60 million people worldwide who are internally displaced[1] – which is the largest number since the UN started keeping records, the largest number since World War II.

mod4-les5-quote2In the course of their migration, refugees may face violation of many of their human rights; they can be afflicted by infectious disease, poor nutrition, inaccessibility of healthcare; and fight personal security threats including violence, incarceration in transit countries and admission countries, restriction of freedom of movement and restriction of the right to work. All of these rights are not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Human Rights, but also by the UN Charter, as the UN was the first to recognize the importance of protecting refugees. This multi-dimensional approach to the issue of security which is not exclusively national or state-centric, involves: the respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, …higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development, …solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems, …universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. (Charter of the United Nations)

The Migrant Crisis 2010 – (…)

The latest major movement of people began in 2010. Events, such as the Arab Spring in northern Africa and (global) civil wars in Africa and the Middle East, drove a river of people to go in search of a more stable living (economic reasons) and a more secure life (social and security reasons). As the situation become more complicated in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, however, wars, extremism and polarization escalated, and many civilians perished in conflicts. This caused many people to leave their homes in these countries and start moving towards safer destinations.

From 2010 until today, the number of asylum seekers in Europe has kept growing. The number of refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 exceeded one million. Some countries reacted inadequately to the multitude of refugees who arrived and did not act in compliance with international documents regulating this issue. Thus, under the guise of citizen safety, borders were closed and refugees were treated in a way which violated their rights. There is a danger that a potential threat can become politicized and more complicated and this is what happened with the migrant crisis. The irresponsible behaviour of leaders in some countries resulted in xenophobia becoming the most dominant discourse in some communities, and this led to a breach of social cohesion and a delay in finding a solution.

Closing of borders and the so-called push-back policy resulted in the growth of a shadow economy and a market for smugglers who try to take people across borders illegally, risking their safety and breaking many national and international laws. This is a comprehensive risk to human security, as uncertainty that refugees will reach their destination increases, and they are faced with unexpected costs. Based on large ethnographical research, Ruben Andersson, described how the security of clandestine migrants is threatened by the growing

Lampedusa, Italy. March 2011. The tragedy happened at the time of the Libyan uprising. An increasingly desperate Colonel Gaddafi had promised to unleash an “unprecedented wave of illegal immigration” on southern Europe as a riposte against impending NATO attacks. Soon African refugees set out, boatload after boatload, their blank faces filmed by the BBC, Al Jazeera, and CNN as their rusting, creaking, or leaking vessels approached the Italian island of Lampedusa with its waiting crowds of aid workers, journalists, and police. The spectacle of boat migration was routine by now, European audiences hardened and blasé—and so, it turned out, were the coastguards and soldiers. The tragedy—one among many—began when a dinghy set sail from Tripoli with seventy-two passengers onboard. Its distress calls went unheeded. A military helicopter air-dropped water and food and then disappeared, never to return; the boat drifted for two weeks through NATO’s maritime military zone before washing up on Libyan shores. By then all but nine of those onboard had died of thirst or starvation. The tragedy was a “dark day for Europe,” concluded an official investigation. Yet migrants keep waking up to new dark days at Europe’s southernmost fringes—whether outside Lampedusa, where hundreds drowned as their boats capsized in autumn 2013; in the treacherous riverbed of the Greek-Turkish border; outside Ceuta and Melilla; or in the straits of Gibraltar and Sicily. Barely a decade after the debacle at the Spanish fences, the border now promises constant chaos. 

Gruesome tales of migrant deaths abound at the gates of the West, whether at the southern frontiers of Europe, at the U.S.-Mexican border, or along Australia’s Pacific shores. The scenes of this story are familiar: “illegal immigrants” crammed into unseaworthy boats, squeezed into rusty trucks trundling across the Sahara, walking through the distant deserts of Arizona, or clinging onto Mexican cargo trains. Thousands have perished on these grueling treks, with one incomplete tally listing almost twenty thousand deaths at the gates of “Fortress Europe” since 1988. Yet the misery does not end there for today’s migrant outcasts. The media, populist politicians, and zealous bureaucrats have seized upon the illegal immigrant as a bogeyman, a perennial outsider who in waves and floods invades Western countries. In their accounts, a global pariah is emerging: alternately an object of deep fascination and utter indifference, of horror and pity, he stalks the borders of the rich world, sowing panic, wrecking election campaigns, and generating headlines as he goes.

Running the gauntlet of border controls that now stretch across deserts and high seas, North African cities and dusty Sahelian dumps, these travelers are subject to what the director of a Spanish migrant reception center called a Darwinian selection. It is a selection of the most brutal kind, in which shriveled bodies disappear in Saharan dunes and bloated corpses float ashore at the Strait of Gibraltar. Luckier travelers get stuck in newly cosmopolitan border towns and fringe neighborhoods of Tangier and Oujda, Tripoli and Tamanrasset. Others get deported, time and again. Yet whether they succeed or fall short of their goals, these travelers increasingly end up collaborating in their own making as illegal immigrants on the infernal production line of the illegality industry.’

Excerpt from the introduction of Ruben Andersson’s Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe (University of California Press) – winner of the 2015 British Sociological Association prize

[1] http://www.unhcr.org/558193896.html