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Migration Series | “Us Aymara have no borders”: Differentiated mobilities in the Chilean borderlands

In Chile, recent initiatives to manage migration have been based on nation-state and sedentary imaginaries. These approaches to migration are challenged by the traditionally mobile and trans-national lives of the Aymara indigenous population residing in Colchane and Pisiga Carpa. Focusing on the Aymara residents of these so-called transit communities and initial reception points for migrants and refugees upsets pre-supposed differences between ‘migrants’ and ‘non-migrants’ and invites us to reconsider approaches to mobility. 

Although ‘migration’ in all its guises is part and parcel of our human condition and world, there has been increasing surveillance of human mobility and normalization of difference between ‘citizens’ and (undocumented) ‘migrant others’ since the inception of nation-states.[1] The focus on difference not only justifies securitization and deterrence approaches to the governance of migration, but it also fails to acknowledge how ‘migrants’ and ‘non-migrants’ co-exist in societies characterized by everyday forms of violence, marginalization, and displacement. Following a de-migranticization approach,[2] my research that took place in 2022 and focused on the traditionally mobile lives of Aymara border residents of Colchane and Pisiga Carpa (villages located close to the Colchane-Pisiga border crossing between Bolivia and Chile) is particularly useful because Aymara narratives and cross-border practices challenge sedentary and nation-state assumptions that underpin mainstream approaches to migration. By juxtaposing a traditionally mobile indigenous population with discourses on the governance of migrants and refugees, this article invites us to reconsider approaches to mobility and the structures that render movement normal for some but ‘abnormal’ for others.


Trans-national mobilities in the borderlands

The Aymara are an indigenous community that has historically engaged in mobility practices that seek to take advantage of the variety of ecological floors present in the Andean space, which transcends rigid national borders and includes territories from northern Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. As Aymara communities were arbitrarily separated following the establishment of nation-state borders after the War of the Pacific (1879–1884), the Aymara in Chile have historical or familial ties with their neighbouring countries Bolivia and Peru.  Moreover, due to a history of cultural and social exclusion of Aymara indigenous identity and practices, their territorial marginalization from the centres of the Chilean State, and their neglect in terms of infrastructure and public services, Aymara border residents have traditionally been  dependent on their relationships across the border.

Thus, for them, instead of representing concrete and non-negotiable physical demarcations, borderlands are places of interaction and connection: “Us Aymara have no borders,” an Aymara woman working at the health centre of Colchane stated. An example of this dynamic is the bi-national market, which an Aymara woman from Pisiga Carpa described as follows:

“Every other week, here in the border with Bolivia, between Pisiga Bolívar (Bolivia) and Colchane, we have an ancestral market where we barter and exchange things. We also bring things from the Iquique Free Trade Zone, and things also arrive from Ururo that we buy, like pasta, rice, and things, to not have to go down to Iquique.”

Since the 1990s, Chilean central governments have acknowledged the historical and cultural practices of indigenous peoples (with varied ethnicities) and their right to self-determination and maintenance of cross-border practices. The approval of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 in 2008 demonstrates the acceptance of Aymara mobility, as the international system and its actors including the Chilean State recognize their responsibility to facilitate the economic, social, spiritual, and environmental contacts of indigenous groups across borders.[3] However, the lives and traditional practices of highly mobile Aymara residents of Colchane and Pisiga Carpa increasingly co-exist with different migrant populations from outside the Andean region and related Chilean securitization dynamics that create disruptions to indigenous livelihoods.


The arrival of increased migration and securitization dynamics

Ongoing displacement (particularly from Venezuela since the late 1990s) and amendments to Chilean legislation on visa policies in 2018 already gradually led to an increase in ‘irregular’ migrant entry, but with the closing of borders due to Covid-19 this reached a new height in 2020. The majority of the unauthorized paths of entry to northern Chile are concentrated near the villages Colchane and Pisiga Carpa, making these towns places of (interrupted) ‘transit’ for people crossing the Colchane-Pisiga border. In a context of local incapacity for reception and limited to no assistance from the central government, the increasing numbers of border crossers initially sparked empathy and acts of solidarity by border residents. However, they soon began to feel disappointment about the role that they felt forced to assume due to limited legal, logistical, and infrastructural preparation by the Chilean government, whom they considered ultimately responsible for border crossers’ fate.

On 18 October 2021, the government provided a response by merging migration and Covid-19 as one ‘crisis’ to be managed to protect the nation-state. The government’s health department moved groups of people camping in Colchane and Pisiga Carpa to a refuge located at the border. People who entered Chile through unauthorized paths were redirected by police officers to the refuge to self-report their ‘irregular’ entry to the Police of Investigations (PDI).[4] This meant that people could only access healthcare, shelter, food, and transportation services by self-reporting themselves as ‘irregular,’ a process that facilitates immediate expulsions that disregard the right to asylum established in international treaties (such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol) and Chilean Law (No. 20.430 of 2010). Moreover, expulsions were made legal by the government when it approved the new Migration Law No. 21.325, backed by a state of emergency in 2022 and increased militarization at the Colchane-Pisiga border. The government also financed the construction of a zanja (ditch) at the border to increase barriers for crossing.

This response coincides with the securitization of migration, which considers mobility as threatening.[5] The mobility (of some) becomes synonymous to criminality, and thus the migrant is criminalized due to difference – for being a ‘dangerous other’ in opposition to national citizens. This practice creates perverse consequences, which an NGO worker in migrant reception at Iquique described as follows:

“The focus is set on expulsions, delinquency, security, and at the end we know that [this response] does not deter mobility nor the root of migration. […] There is no commitment to the lives of people who are dying at the desert […]. The government needs to admit that we are allowing the death of women, children, newborns, elderly… Están dejando morir.”


Differentiated mobilities, interrupted livelihoods

While migrants are the group most visibly vulnerable to securitization measures, increased militarization and border control directly affect the dynamics and previous agreements of the Aymara living at the border. Several Aymara explained that especially initially, officials policing the border did not understand the traditional practices and exchanges that happen at events like the bi-national markets:

“We couldn’t do our markets, they didn’t let us cross to buy a kilo of rice, vegetables, meat… and nothing po, we have to tell complete stories to the officials and show our identification cards. And we began to think, how is it that Venezuelans are crossing with no documents, and we have Chilean nationality, but they start implementing rules for us?”

Coupled with poverty and exclusion, these controls on mobility exacerbated resentment and hostility particularly towards Venezuelan migrants. Border residents stopped previous acts of solidarity and often reproduced state concerns by portraying migrants as ‘others’ to protect their own belonging to the nation-state and sustain traditional border crossings. Moreover, with time, officials policing the border have become acquainted with Aymara culture and features that distinguish them from supposedly ‘dangerous migrant others,’ effectively creating a border that is marked by differentiated mobilities. While mobility is an essential aspect of human life, government actors define categories, infrastructures, and hierarchies that organize the practices and experiences of (im)mobilities at the borderlands.

Ultimately, while traditional Aymara mobility in the borderlands has been challenged by nation-state and sedentary approaches, enhanced border securitization leads residents to disassociate from other people on the move and subscribe to state and media narratives that criminalize mobility. These narratives reinforce the securitization logics that, paradoxically, disrupt the trans-national practices of Aymara border residents, making their lives, livelihoods, and mobilities less secure.

[1] Malkki, L. (1992) ‘National geographic: The rooting of peoples and the territorialization of national identity among scholars and refugees,’ Cultural Anthropology, 7(1), pp. 24–44. doi: 10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00030; Thanh-Dạm, T. and Gasper, D. (2011) ‘Transnational migration, development and human security,’ in Thanh-Dam, T. and Dasper, D. (eds.) Transnational migration and human security: The migration-development-security nexus. Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 3–22.  doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-12757-1.

[2] Dahinden, J. (2016) ‘A Plea for the ‘de-migranticization’ of Research on Migration and Integration,’ Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(13), pp. 2207-2225. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1124129.

[3] Gundermann Kröll, H. (2018) ‘Los Pueblos Originarios Del Norte De Chile Y El Estado,’ Diálogo andino, 55(55), pp. 93–109.

[4] Leal, R. (2021) COVID-19, the migration crisis and Chile’s new immigration legislation: Chile’s powerful get richer and its poor more outraged. Penrith, N.S.W.: Western Sydney University. doi: 10.26183/0j4y-jy05.

[5] Glick Schiller, N. and Salazar, N.B. (2013) ‘Regimes of mobility across the globe,’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(2), pp. 183–200. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2013.723253.

Read the other topics on the migration series:

How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering.

From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys.

From branding to bottom-up ‘sheltering’: How CSOs are helping to address migration governance gaps in the shelter city of Granada

Precarity along the Colombia–Panama border: How providing healthcare services to transit migrants can foster new logics of inclusion and exclusion

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Mariela Miranda van Iersel is a social scientist, economist, and researcher dedicated to ethically responsible mixed-methods research and currently working as an Intern at the Division for Gender Affairs of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile. She graduated in December 2022 from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), specializing in Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies: Social Justice Perspectives, where she received the Best Research Paper Award of the academic year 2021/2022.

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Border communities in Nigeria continue to remain unsafe: Are border security forces to blame?

Imeko border town remains a significant border area in Nigeria, due to the sizeable economic activity that is carried out there, which contributes to the country’s revenue base. However, despite the economic benefit that the border area provides Nigerian states, it remains marginalised and in a state of heightened insecurity. This article argues that the large presence of various Nigerian security forces, has in no way, ameliorated the security situation in the border area. However, this anomaly can be addressed if proper monitoring of the border area is carried out by relevant authorities. 

Marginalisation of border communities in Nigeria: the case of Imeko

Globally, border communities have a long history of marginalisation. These are communities situated on the edge of formal states. Inhabitants of these communities continue to remain the victims of various forms of criminality that occur at the borders, mostly because of a lack of police presence or failure of the security personnel posted to such locations to perform their duties. In Nigeria, border communities have faced various forms of marginalisation, which results mainly from the lack of basic infrastructure like schools, hospitals, health care facilities, potable water and, importantly, protection. Border regions in Nigeria are notoriously dangerous due to cross-border criminalities ranging from smuggling and trafficking activities to the presence of terrorist organisation i.e. the Boko Haram mainly found in the North-Eastern region of the country.

A case in point is the border town of Imeko in Nigeria. Imeko is a traditionally recognisable Yoruba town densely populated  in southwest Nigeria, close to the country’s border with Benin. Most of its inhabitants are farmers, hunters, and traders who take part in predominantly informal cross-border trade (ICBT) activities, otherwise viewed by the government as smuggling, which hence serves as a justification for the deployment, by the government, of a Special Force, known as the Joint Border Patrol, at the border town to curtail such activities.

When I visited Imeko in April 2021 and interviewed inhabitants for my study on the perpetual marginalisation of Imeko border town, it became evident that this border area has been challenged in many ways, ranging from a lack of basic infrastructure to failure to protect the citizens of the border communities. Aside from the fact that they are neglected by the government, there are instances where projects are being approved in the community’s name at the national level, without the community leadership even being informed. As revealed by a local, who was also my guide, the majority of the few schools in the town were built by the community itself before the government took over their management. Yet, these schools are not in good shape, and are short-staffed. An example is the Nazareth High School, where the current Oba[1] of Imeko taught before he became a traditional ruler.

The double burden of marginalisation and violence in Imeko

However, what is perhaps most concerning is how insecure the border area is. Given that Imeko is foremost an agrarian community, the presence of nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani[2] herdsmen, who roam the region with their cattle, has been a curse according to farmers I interviewed, who claimed that the cattle had destroyed their farmland. Complaints from the people to the security forces stationed in the community about this, and other issues, have fallen on deaf ears, even after the traditional ruler’s interventions. In fact, there have been accounts of complainants being arrested by police officers instead, on the grounds that they are not being accommodating of the Fulani herdsmen, and have also been made to pay for their release from police custody.

While the traditional ruler plays an important role in ensuring that the community mobilises its local resources and strategies to address issues facing the community, the constant state of insecurity puts a strain on the limited resources, given the failure of the police and other security forces, deployed in the border town,  to ensure the security of life and property, and  the prevention of various forms of cross-border criminalities. For example, Figure 1 and 2 below, show burnt vehicles and motorcycles, often used by the local guards when on a search mission for kidnapped persons in the forest.

Figure 1: Motorcycles burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021(Imeko Town)

Figure 2: Cars burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021 (Imeko Town)

Without sufficient protection from the police and other security forces in the area, these acts of violence are likely to continue. It is also worth noting that such violence continues even though this border area is heavily securitised by the government due to cross-border activities that are carried out along the borders such as importation, smuggling, and human trafficking. In fact, at the time of my visit, there were more than fifty checkpoints manned by heavily armed security officers along the stretch of road between Kara (an area known for cattle market in Abeokuta), some 90 kilometres away from Imeko border town. This further confirms the assertion by various researchers of the entrenchment of the border guards and security personnel in the potent mix of poverty and corruption that plagues the border areas.

Are border security forces to blame?

Thus, this also raises the question about the role of the security forces towards addressing the issue of kidnappings of innocent civilians in the border area. Can their presence make a difference? Or are they complicit in the kidnappings? On various occasions, community members, traders, and skilled workers have been kidnapped. While some were released after paying huge sums as ransom, others were found dead.

Based on the interviews I conducted, I concluded that despite the presence of security forces, they are not likely to make a difference, as they are only focused on cross-border activities, while completely neglecting the problems that face communities in the border region. One would assume that the presence of the police and other security forces on the long stretch of road, and in the border town, should have brought some level of safety to the people, however, the opposite has been the case, as the border communities see the deployment of the security forces as part of the problem. Instead of protecting them, the security forces are perceived as aiding and engaging in smuggling activities themselves. According to some locals, while the locals who go to buy items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oil for personal consumption across the border are stopped by security operatives and their items are confiscated, smugglers are known to offer and pay bribe to the same security forces, sometimes right in the presence of the locals, and are then allowed to drive off with impunity.

Moreover, most robbery and kidnappings happen on the road which is manned by heavily armed security operatives. According to one kidnapping victim, who had been kidnapped in 2019, he was not only dispossessed of huge sum of money which he went to withdraw in Abeokuta, but he was also a witness to women being sexually assaulted, by those he identified as Fulani herdsmen. Therefore, the people in the border communities feel that if this has been happening over the years, and it has not been addressed, then the presence of the security forces manning various check points on the road is futile.  During my time in Imeko, I also observed that as you move into the border town, immigration officers who check foreigners, mostly Fulani, were willing to take bribes from those who did not have any official identification. Even at the checkpoints for items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oils, officers demanded bribes from the drivers and traders, and if they were unable to pay the bribe, their items were confiscated.

The way forward: what can be done?

The role of security agencies in border communities, therefore, cannot be overstated. As it stands, the communities have lost hope in the ability of the police and security forces deployed in their communities to secure life and property as they are perceived to only come in and engage in activities for personal gains. It is important to note here that this feeling is in no way different from what has also been documented in Nigeria cities. The people do not feel safe as police officers continue to extort money from them. This shows that there is a fundamental structural problem vis-à-vis the salaries/ wages of security personnel, which if paid on time and are a liveable wage, might also motivate them to do their job diligently and objectively. Security experts and concerned citizens have in the past, and continue to this day ,raise and stress this issue for the government to investigate and address.

It is in this light that I would equally add to their voices to say that it is imperative for the federal government to address this concern, as it is the common populace, and often those most vulnerable, who are bearing the brunt. The government, through coordination and leadership of various security organisations, must strictly monitor the activities of officers posted in the border area. In the case where special forces are deployed specifically for curtailing smuggling activities, they must be utilised and enforced to maintain and ensure security and order in the community, rather than waiting for special intervention from the state whenever there is a case of violence and kidnapping. Only when such measures are implemented with urgency, will the border communities, such as Imeko, be safe, and their confidence restored in the ability of the government to protect them.

[1] An Oba is a traditionnal ruler who rules over a Yoruba town or city in southwest Nigeria.

[2] A nomadic tribe found in Northern Nigeria.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Samuel Okunade is a borderlands scholar who researches on borders and migration most especially as it concerns human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa. He is also interested in thinking through ways in which social and ethnic cleavages in border communities could be used for economic integration and social cohesion in Africa. He equally advances the course of border communities that have an age long history of marginalisation and neglect by the government.

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#AbolishFrontex: On World Refugee Day, we call on the EU to end its border regime

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone while attempting to reach Europe. This article shows how EU border agency Frontex has been complicit in the suffering and deaths of many thousands of refugees and why it cannot be allowed to continue doing so. Today, on World Refugee Day, through the international campaign #AbolishFrontex we urge the EU to end its border regime.

Photo: Brussels Frontex Office. Abolish Frontex.

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year while attempting to reach Europe, bringing the total number of refugees and migrants who have died due to the restrictive policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ since 1993 to 44,764. This is an amount equal to the inhabitants of a small town – and the real number is likely to be much higher. These were people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats, were shot at border crossings, or who lost their lives after being deported to unsafe places. They were avoidable deaths, deaths that resulted from choices made by bureaucrats, by politicians – and by members of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex.

The European Agency of Shame

What started as a small agency in Poland has ever since become one of the EU’s biggest. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is now a key actor in enforcing the EU’s border regime. It does so by running border control operations throughout the Mediterranean region and Balkan countries, coordinating and enabling deportations, and cooperating with member states as well as third countries to increase border controls. Frontex’s border guards and other employees have reportedly and repeatedly been directly and indirectly involved in illegal pushbacks, effectively preventing refugees from making use of their right to claim asylum, and are complicit in the commitment of violence against migrants at borders and during deportations. Frontex also cooperates with and delivers trainings to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, responsible for multiple pullbacks into Libya, where migrants are held in “concentration camp-like conditions”.

And its influence and power are increasing. The budget of Frontex has grown by over 7,560% since 2005, with €5.6 billion being reserved for the agency from 2021-2027 by the European Commission. Thanks to this, it has been able to recruit an army of border guards who can own and use handguns and aims to have 10,000 guards by 2027.

In response to these developments and their potential ramifications, on 9 June this year, an international coalition consisting of more than 80 groups and organisations launched the campaign #AbolishFrontex to end the EU border regime, with direct actions across eight countries in Europe and North Africa. They presented the following list of demands:

  • Abolish Frontex
  • Regularise migrants
  • Stop all deportations
  • End detention
  • Stop the militarisation of borders (and the military-industrial complex)
  • Stop the surveillance of people on the move
  • Empower solidarity
  • Stop the EU’s role in forcing people to move
  • Freedom of movement for all – end the EU border regime

Locating the root cause of inhumane border regimes

Crucially, to stop Frontex, the EU needs to stop funding it. Why? Because the cycle of violence is perpetuated as long as support for Frontex continues. But that also means changing the EU’s approach toward migration. The ever-expanding budget of Frontex symbolises the EU’s reliance on deterrence, repression, and externalisation to deal with populations it has marked as unwanted. The EU member states are fortifying Europe’s land, sea, and virtual borders instead of developing a much-needed politics that would create safe migration channels. Furthermore, by framing migration as a security issue that needs a securitised response, they avoid addressing their own involvement in the root causes of why people have to move in the first place.

One of these causes is found in the spending on arms, which totalled USD 378 billion in Europe and almost USD 2 trillion (USD 2,000,000,000,000 – an amount so big it can hardly be read) globally in 2020. Arms trade fuels wars around the planet, benefiting and lobbied for by the same companies that are also profiting from the increased militarisation of borders. The investigative research ‘Frontex Files’ has shown that the EU agency is among the institutions targeted heavily by lobbyists from the border industrial complex. This cycle – arms companies in rich countries producing weapons that displace people in poorer countries and subsequently producing security equipment that keeps the displaced people out of these very same rich countries – perpetuates violence.

Other root causes, of course, include the climate crisis, also largely caused by rich countries, unequal trade policies that increase poverty worldwide, and repercussions of (neo-)colonialism. To put it simply, Europe is rich because it exploits other parts of the world, and other parts of the world are unsafe because Europe makes them so. Abolishing Frontex would not be a gesture of benevolence, it would mean taking responsibility for the destruction of people’s homes and lives the EU is causing elsewhere. The least the EU can do is to provide shelter to those displaced.

Beyond Frontex and national security

Abolishing Frontex also means to challenge the idea that fortifying borders and blocking migration leads to increased security. This idea rests on a deliberate misunderstanding of the concept of safety and perpetuates racist and colonialist structures of power. As Arun Kundnani writes in his recent TNI publication ‘Abolish National Security’,

An abolitionist framework entails understanding that genuine security does not result from the elimination of threats but from the presence of collective well-being. It advocates building institutions that foster the social and ecological relationships needed to live dignified lives, rather than reactively identifying groups of people who are seen as threatening.

Turning Europe into a fortress cannot be the answer to the challenges of our time. Instead of enlarging Frontex, we need to tackle the root causes of the displacement of people and establish safe migration routes to Europe for those who need and those who want to move.

Let’s abolish Frontex and make death at sea history. Join the campaign: abolishfrontex.org.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Josephine Valeske

Josephine Valeske holds a MA degree in Development Studies from the ISS and a BA degree in Philosophy and Economics. She currently works for the research and advocacy organisation Transnational Institute in Amsterdam that supports the #AbolishFrontex campaign. She can be found on Twitter @jo_andolanjeevi.

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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.

Picture credit: European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta

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).