Human security and migration in Europe: a realistic approach by Ali Bilgiç

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.


 

Today, many individuals, whether European citizens or migrants in(to) Europe, live under fear and anxiety. These two types of insecurity are different, but inherently connected. Both are lives under fear, because Europe’s migration (mis)management dichotomise these two lives—these two insecurities. However, European migration (mis)management policies dichotomise the security of European citizens and migrants from the global South. This dichotomy leads to the three dialectics of European migration (mis)management:

  1. Limited Legal Migration Channels and ‘Criminalisation’ of Mobility: The reduction of legal migration routes, combined with continuing high demand for many types of labour from abroad, has led to higher irregular migration and to the flourishing of the smuggling business.
  2. Mutual Distrust: The European border management system operates based on distrust towards migrants. Such distrust by Europe towards migrants feeds into distrust from migrants to Europe.
  3. Mutual human insecurity: The condition of ‘illegality’ is a source of human insecurity for both migrants and European citizens. Each group’s attempts to secure itself cause insecurity for the other.

Human Securitising Migration in Europe

There have been several renditions and implications of human security. In my understanding, which matches that adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012, human security broadly refers to each individual’s freedom from fear (threats such as physical and direct violence), from want (meaning unemployment, poverty, sickness), and from indignity (exclusion, exploitation, and discrimination). It imagines communities in which political, economic and social systems do not inflict physical and structural violence on individuals.

Human security is explicitly about problematising power relations that inflict violence on individuals and communities. Being conscious of power relations, human security reveals that the security of those who are disadvantaged and marginalised and the security of those who are more privileged in different power relations are, in fact, inherently connected. A human security perspective asks the following questions:

How does the interaction between economic and political structures in Europe produce violence, fear and anxiety for individuals?

The three dialectics of migration mismanagement result from Europe’s political and economic choices in the last five decades. A human security researcher begins her analysis by questioning political, economic, legal, and sociological consequences of these choices which constructed migration from the global South as a security problem in the first place. A migration management policy starts with turning the mirror to Europe and asks how European policies contribute to the criminalisation of migration.

How do European external relations produce or obscure human security?

Europe’s external relations regarding migration have fundamentally two dimensions. The first one targets the countries of origin to tackle ‘the root causes’ of migration. In theory, addressing root causes of migration can be praised from a human security perspective because they are supposed to address structural problems that inflict violence on individuals. However, first, ‘the root causes’ do not affect all individuals in the same way so addressing ‘the root causes’ does not provide us with a quick solution that is applicable to all. Second, the root causes approach must be a long term policy, which should be accompanied by opening legal and circular migration channels to Europe. A smart root causes approach aims to manage migration, not stop it. Otherwise, it is self-defeating.

Another area that human security researchers can question is EU relations with its North African and Middle Eastern neighbours in particular, the field I have been studying in the last ten years. In the last 30 years, Europe has developed the policy of containing migrants in the EU’s neighbourhood by transforming the neighbouring states into ‘Europe’s border guards’. We call this process ‘externalisation’ of migration management. Highly problematic deals with the neighbouring countries to keep migrants on their territories do not consider rising ethnic and racial tensions and exploitation of migrants’ cheap labour, which encourage migrants to continue their migration.

How can the human security of migrants, EU citizens and citizens of neighbouring regions be addressed together, and not opposed to each other?

Human security of one social group cannot—sustainably and successfully—be pursued at the expense of another group. This idea is known as the principle of common human security. It can be traced back at least to the foundation of the United Nations. The current migration management regime of Europe divides groups. This is not to argue that European authorities are not responsible for the security of EU citizens. On the contrary, it encourages and calls European sovereign authorities to take the human insecurities of EU citizens seriously by acknowledging that their security depends on the human security of non-EU citizens.

Against the backdrop of these three questions, several policy research areas regarding migration to Europe from a human security perspective can be thought. For example, one research area concerns developing a new language that surpasses the dichotomies of ‘good migrant’ and ‘bad migrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘economic migrant’. Reflecting the common human security perspective and deriving from the EU Commission’s calls for developing ‘a migrant-centred approach’ in migration management, human security research explores a new language that reflects realities of contemporary human mobility.

Another research area can be how European political community can regain the trust of migrants so they do not feel the need to be ‘invisible’. A question can be asked what institutional mechanisms can be designed at the EU level, and possibly beyond European borders, to re-establish a relationship based on trust, not fear, between migrant and Europe. In my book Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration, I developed the concept of ‘protection-seeker’ and proposed an EU-level regularisation mechanism, examples of which we can observe in several South American states including Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.


This article is based on the lecture of Dr. Ali Bilgiç, presented on 12 April 2018 for his inauguration as holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity 2017-19 in the area of ‘Migration and Human Security’ at the ISS. An interview with him (in Dutch) can be found here.


ali_bilgic_op_prins_claus_leerstoel_migratie_en_menselijkeAli Bilgiç is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Loughborough University. He has a Ph.D. from Aberystwyth University and a MA in European Politics from Lund University. He is the author of Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration: Trust and Emancipation in Europe (Routledge, 2013) and Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy (I.B. Tauris, 2016).

 

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