Tag Archives migration

All Bark, No Bite? The Case for Human Security in European Migration & Asylum Governance

All Bark, No Bite? The Case for Human Security in European Migration & Asylum Governance

In order to prioritise the needs of humans over those of the state, migration and asylum governance needs to shift towards utilising a human security framework. A case in point ...

COVID-19: the disease of inequality, not of globalization

COVID-19: the disease of inequality, not of globalization

Binyam Afewerk Demena is one of the authors of several chapters of the recently published book ‘COVID-19 and International Development’. In this blog, he and his colleagues elaborate on their ...

Human Trafficking | How anti-trafficking governance is getting it wrong: consequences of the differential treatment of migrant worker groups in the Netherlands

In many countries, including the Netherlands, being an immigrant – or being perceived as one – is a key mechanism used to normalise job precarity and poorly paid work. From this perspective, in theory, the rising attention to exploitative conditions that has paralleled anti-trafficking interventions is promising for migrant workers. Yet, using the case of the Netherlands as an example, this post highlights that, in practice, the exploitation of some workers seems to worry policy-makers more than others. The selective concern for migrant workers’ exploitation has paradoxical consequences, writes Karin Astrid Siegmann.

Holland Fintech

In a recent case of human trafficking of Slovak workers on a Dutch strawberry farm, the Netherlands Supreme Court identified “systematic substantial underpayment and provision of poor, far too expensive housing” as indicators of exploitation. While hardly used in the International Labour Organisation’s labour rights framework, the term ‘exploitation’ is central to the 2000 UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol – shorthand for the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Protocol does not define exploitation, but outlines forms that it can take, such as the “exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”. By 2021, with 178 ratifications, most countries of the world are party to the Protocol.

Having worked with migrant workers in the Netherlands for a couple of years now, I can’t get my head around how Dutch policy discourses on exploitation differentiate between occupational groups. Take migrant workers employed in the Dutch agricultural sector, like the Slovak migrants mentioned above. Agriculture employs the biggest share of the approximately 370,000 migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) working in the Netherlands. Significantly contributing to the country’s Euro 49 billion value added produced in the agri-food industry, they make this small country the largest agricultural producer in EU and the second largest agricultural exporter globally.

These successes are lauded publicly, yet the migrant workers contributing to these successes are commonly invisibilised. While court cases countering the exploitation of farm workers are exceptional, their insecurity, poverty, and dependency are the rule. Even the Dutch Labour Inspectorate speaks of a large grey area of unfair labour practices affecting agricultural workers that are de jure legal. Mostly being workers deployed through employment agencies, they have little say about the number of hours they will work or the resulting earnings – and they can easily lose their job from one day to the next. Given that the employment agency often provides them with housing, too, dismissal simultaneously means losing accommodation.

Then there are migrant sex workers. Other than in many other countries, sex work is a legal profession in the Netherlands. A closer look reveals that this might not be much more than a ‘legal façade’: instead of being treated as work like any other, sex work is handled as a security risk, reflected in the fact that the sector is regulated by the Ministry of Justice and Security instead of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare. A small sector anyway, in which an estimated 4,000 to 4,500 sex workers provide direct forms of sex work on a daily basis, the number of licenses for legal workspaces for sex work have halved since 2000. Based on a split image in which the Dutch sex workers are cast as modern, emancipated on the one hand, and migrant sex workers depicted as exploited and trafficked on the other, the sex industry is the only sector in the Netherlands that does not allow non-EU foreigners to work legally in the sector.

Yet despite their small number, migrant sex workers figure prominently in discourses around anti-trafficking governance in the Netherlands. This becomes evident in the proposed law on the regulation of sex work (WRS), which lists the fight against human trafficking as one of the drivers of the law amendment and argues that the sex industry is more prone to trafficking than other sectors. It is ironic here that for many years, the incidence of forced labour in other sectors, such as horticulture, was actually not included in official reports on human trafficking.

Anti-trafficking interventions heighten rather than reduce risk of exploitation

The selective concern for migrant workers’ exploitation has paradoxical consequences. The skewed framing of migrant sex workers’ realities justifies repressive policies that heighten the risk of sex workers’ exploitation. The conflation of sex work with human trafficking that has been exacerbated since the ratification of the Anti-Trafficking Protocol affects all sex workers. It has been used to justify increasingly repressive regulation of this legal profession, for example through the progressive closure of streetwalker zones across the Netherlands and the criminalisation of the clients of unlicensed workers. Undermining the stated objective of such regulation, the focus on human trafficking pushes migrant sex workers further into informality with greater vulnerability as a consequence.

The underpayment, insecurity, and dependence of a much larger group of migrant workers in the agricultural sector, in contrast, commonly remains out of view in media and policy discourses. This supports the normalisation of their ‘regulated precarity’: they pay for economic success of Dutch agriculture. In this way, both the misrepresentation of migrant sex workers and the invisibilisation of migrant farmworkers’ realities heighten the risk of exploitation that they face.

These examples demonstrate that anti-trafficking governance has not been an effective tool to address migrant workers’ exploitation. Both groups are losing instead of gaining what’s sorely needed – job security, better working conditions, and fair treatment. A more promising road towards fair labour practices for migrant workers involves a shift from a criminal law to a labour approach to human trafficking, including migrant sex work, as María Inés Cubides Kovacsics argued in her recent post in this series. This implies a regulatory environment that considers both migrant workers in agriculture and the sex industry citizens rather than passive production factors or victims – and effectively guarantees living wages and inclusive social protection based on that recognition.

This post is based on the author’s presentation on ‘Paradoxes of Migrants’ Exploitation in the Netherlands’ during an ISS expert meeting with representatives of the Dutch Ministries of Justice and Security and Foreign Affairs on 9 January 2020.

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

About the author:

Karin Astrid Siegmann is Associate Professor in Labour and Gender Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

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

#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 ...

How Europe’s (anti-)migration policies are fuelling a humanitarian crisis

How Europe’s (anti-)migration policies are fuelling a humanitarian crisis

When some one million people crossed the Mediterranean in the course of 2015 to seek refuge, European countries called it a crisis. Yet the real crisis was created by European ...

Positioning Academia | Who is a migrant? Choosing a human security approach to rehumanise migration

Contemporary policies and discourses on migration largely overlook human dynamics of migration and focus on migrants as a policy problem to be ‘dealt with’. A human security scope is a sustained call for a major overhaul of how we think about human mobility towards rehumanising migration, writes Ali Bilgic.

Through this series we are celebrating the legacy of Linda Johnson, former Executive Secretary of the ISS who retired in December last year. Having served the ISS in various capacities, Linda was also one of the founding editors of Bliss. She spearheaded many institutional partnerships, promoted collaboration, and organised numerous events, always unified in the theme of bringing people in conversation with each other across divides. This blog series about academics in the big world of politics, policy, and practice recognises and appreciates Linda’s contribution to the vitality of the ISS.

What is a migrant? No, you have not misread it. I mean migrant as a ‘thing’. Migrants, including refugees, are painted as undesirable, opportunistic, criminal. They are framed by politicians as washing over the European continent’s shores like a tsunami. They’re seen as a faceless mass coming to take away jobs and threatening a Western way of life. They are seen as ‘things’, not humans. They are treated as problems, not as humans.

What is a migrant?

A ‘migrant’ is needing a diploma to prove your worth.

A ‘migrant’ is needing a bank account to qualify for a visa.

A ‘migrant’ is needing a language test score that ensures integration into the job market.

A ‘migrant’ is needing a statement, along with a return flight ticket, to give to the border police, who needs to be convinced of intent.

A ‘migrant’ is needing to submit evidence to the asylum case officer who relentlessly seeks gaps and lies in the evidence.

A ‘migrant’ is a threat lurking in the woods, close to the beach, waiting for the next boat.

A ‘migrant’ is the 2,000 euros that moves that boat towards the waters.

A ‘migrant’ is a good transferred in containers.

A ‘migrant’ is a charity remembered occasionally.

A ‘migrant’ is an economic burden to the welfare services.

A ‘migrant’ is a generous contributor to the welfare services.

A ‘migrant’ is the difference that allows nations to claim to be multiracial, diverse societies.

A ‘migrant’ is the difference that ensures the doom of the nation.

A ‘migrant’ is the colour of one’s skin.

A ‘migrant’ is the accent you have.

A ‘migrant’ is hidden under shiny thermal blankets.

A ‘migrant’ floats in water or sinks to the depths.

The ways in which migrants have been ‘handled’ revolve around the same mentality: a migrant as a thing. Policies, statistics, working papers, or endless conferences bringing together law enforcement agencies, charity appeals, and so on, make us see migrants as things—objects which are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for ‘us’ depending on which ‘things’ we are talking about, and, in fact, who we think we are.

There is another question that the existing frames of mind conceal, push away, and encourage us to forget on a daily basis: who is a migrant?

A ‘migrant’ loves those left behind.

A ‘migrant’ misses those left behind.

A ‘migrant’ gets sick.

A ‘migrant’ gets angry.

A ‘migrant’ helps.

A ‘migrant’ thinks.
A ‘migrant’ worries about the future.

A ‘migrant’ strategises about the next move.

A ‘migrant’ forgets about being a migrant.

A ‘migrant’ is reminded of being a migrant.

A ‘migrant’ wants to live.

A ‘migrant’ struggles to be a part of the new country.

A ‘migrant’ finds it too easy to blend in.

A ‘migrant’ wants to be invisible and unrecognisable.

A ‘migrant’ wants to shout, ‘I am here, see me!’

A ‘migrant’ suffers, fears, cries.

A ‘migrant’ creates, trusts, laughs.

After all, a migrant is no different from so-called natives, locals, citizens, the nation—all those ‘non-migrants’. However, policies, discourses, cultural codes, social processes, the economy, a piece of paper (or lack thereof) quickly turn a migrant into a thing. Once migrants are converted into a thing, they are easier to deal with, to lock up, to deport, to silence, to give a food voucher, to pester, to patronise, to dominate. All the complexities stemming from ‘whoness’ of a migrant can be discarded.

When I decided to study migration, it made me uncomfortable to take the perspective of ‘whatness’, which still enormously shapes the International Relations’ (IR) take on migration by ignoring the ‘whoness’ of migrants. That’s why I have adopted a human security scope, which, in my opinion, is the closest framework in IR through which the ‘whoness’ of migrants can be brought about. It has never been a straightforward task to understand the whoness of migrants, as it brings up complexities and ever-changing human social, cultural, and psychological dynamics and forces us to shed light on them. An analytical nightmare is due because the whoness of migrants defies neat statistical models, insightful forecast analyses, carefully thought-out policy strategies. All the stuff we are expected to produce if we would like to be heard by the ministries… and who wants to be ‘irrelevant’?

However, this is an endeavour that is worth pursuing. It requires talking to migrants, listening to them, hearing about their worlds, reading their stories, watching their experiences with the sliver of hope that maybe I as an analyst, and as a migrant, can understand a small portion of who a migrant is and aspires to be.

This is not only an analytical, but also a political choice. Although human society has moved across the world since, well, they evolved to stand on their two legs, the global modern nation-state system has reconceptualised humans on the move as migrants and converted them into things. As human mobility could not be stopped as a social inevitability, cultural, economic, and psychological tensions have emerged between the realities of whoness of migrants and political forces that repeatedly reduce migrants to a whatness. Human security understands these tensions and challenges them in favour of the former.

Human security encourages us to look at human mobility not as a policy problem, statistic, diploma, language test score, bank account, or charity project, but a process that brings together and separates global human society. Human security is not a solution—it is a prism through which it dissolves into a rainbow of endless colours of being human. It is a call to perform a major overhaul of the way we understand human mobility by focusing on humans as humans. It encourages us to listen to them and see which of those problems allegedly created by migration would remain intact, unhurt, uncracked once the words of migrants hit them.

About the author:

Ali Bilgic served as Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity on the topic of ‘Human Security and Migration’ between 2017 and 2019 and is currently Emeritus Professor at the ISS. He is Reader of International Relations and Security at Loughborough University, UK. Read a post he wrote for Bliss here.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

The EU’s new pact on migration: what’s next after all the shock, sadness, and solidarity talk?

The EU’s new pact on migration: what’s next after all the shock, sadness, and solidarity talk?

Several shocking events that transpired in Greece last year have not been met by truly humane solutions, showing that the performative moments of ‘refugee crises’ are not enough to move ...

The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

Over the past few years, the European Union has used deterrence as its main strategy to prevent an influx of refugees, becoming more hard-handed as the number of refugees has ...

The Orphan Industrial Complex comes home to roost in America by Kristen Cheney and Karen Smith Rotabi

The recent removal of migrant children from their parents at the southern US border has caused great public outcry, but Kristen Cheney and Karen Smith Rotabi argue that it could become another incarnation of the Orphan Industrial Complex that glorifies ‘child rescue’ and the charitable commodification of children without parental care—one that actually produces orphans for a hungry adoption market through dubious legal means.

What is happening to migrant children is egregious and yet predictable: children separated from their families and moved hundreds of miles away to foster homes—by an adoption agency with ties to US Secretary of Education Betsy de Vos.

To those who are appalled by this move by the Trump administration, the situation is unconscionable and ‘not who we are’ as Americans (though there are numerous historical cases of intentional family separation by the state).

To those of us in children’s studies, however—and particularly those of us who study orphanhood and adoption—it was only a matter of time before the Trump family separation policy crossed paths with the Orphan Industrial Complex.

The Orphan Industrial Complex

The Orphan Industrial Complex (OIC) is the charitable commodification of children without parental care. It is driven by persistent narratives of “orphan rescue” that not only commodify orphans and orphanhood itself but that frequently spurs the “production” of “orphans”, resulting in child exploitation and trafficking (Cheney and Ucembe forthcoming). The OIC includes such activities as fundraising for orphanages, orphanage volunteering, and international adoption.

The OIC has largely been operating internationally, driven by North American and European desires for children and/or experiences with orphans abroad (Cheney and Rotabi 2017). Now that we are seeing young children at the doorstep of the US, the next chapter in a long story of child abduction into adoption is currently being written—this time domestically.

Adoption scholars and children’s advocates have been speculating on social media that the plan is (and has likely been all along) that they move the young children far from their parents at the border, charge an absurd amount for fostering and/or reunification that the parents can’t pay—either because they just don’t have the money and/or are still in detention—then when they can’t pay, the authorities declare the children abandoned and available for adoption. This has happened before, and make no mistake, it is happening as we type. And it is perfectly “legal”, in that the courts are sanctioning these actions; indeed, they are enabling the stealing of children against the will of their parents.

Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, an adoption agency with ties to billionaire Education Secretary Betsy de Vos and a history of coercive adoptions, has placed approximately 80 children in foster care thousands of miles from the southern US border, where some of the parents are detained while other parents have already been deported to Central America. Bethany and other agencies have government contracts to provide so-called “foster care” while reunification strategies are sorted. We submit, why would a large-scale adoption agency be trusted with such a critical and essential task all those miles removed from the location where the child was separated from their parent(s)?

Tackle the enabling environment first

Because the courts are so often complicit in child stealing, it is difficult to actually talk of “illegal adoptions”. That is why Cheney told the UN HRC Council last year that using the law to battle “illegal adoptions” is not enough; we need to address the enabling environment that is undergirded by “child rescue” and “better life” narratives that justify helping ourselves to the children of the poor and desperate. These discourses are also what undergird the OIC, thus perpetuating such violence against children and families. As we know from previous experience, there are people out there who have no scruples about adopting the children separated from their detained and deported migrant parents—many of whom came to the US with their children to protect them from violence and instability at home—and in fact there are whole social movements dedicated to adoption.

Yet, a number of the families crossing the U.S. border are actually eligible to apply for asylum based on societal violence: asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are over-represented in the recent influx. All three countries suffer notorious gang violence and other problems that rise to the definition of persecution when an individual or family is targeted. Ironically, US government policies have fueled poverty and violence underlying the requests for asylum from the region (Costantino, Rotabi and Rodman 2012). Gang violence is just one symptom that has, in turn, pushed some of the region’s most vulnerable people to immigrate northward for safety (Carlson and Gallagher 2015).

Rather than being welcomed at the border as asylum seekers, they are charged with a misdemeanor for illegal entry to the US. To make matters worse, there are credible stories of immigration agents coercing parents with threats of child adoption if they should file for their rights to seek refuge. As the U.S responds to asylum seekers and others with such a heavy and uncaring hand, Federal Judges are now weighing in: a recent court order requires the children affected and in foster care to be quickly reunited with their families. However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fought the court order—and lost. Nonetheless, this mean-spirited delay of the court judgment being realized inevitably will prolong the waiting game which is a potential means of child abduction into adoption through the courts. All too often, when a challenge to separation finally comes to court, judges have ruled that a child has lived with a foster family for long enough that they have emotionally attached to the new family. On the basis of the best interests of the child, legal judgments favoring adoption rather than returning a child to their parents have prevailed. This has already happened in notorious cases of child abduction into US adoption from Guatemala (Rotabi and Bromfield 2017).

In the case of an organization like Bethany, they typically serve the very hungry adoption marketplace rather than facilitate parent-child. While Bethany can and should mobilize to change its case management model from adoption to reunification, the clock ticks on the family lives of vulnerable children.

The dark side of adoption

It may look like some of the children adjust well to their new homes and families, but let us tell you what is going to happen if we do not stop it: the older children will likely not adjust well to being ripped from their parents and told they have new families, so those adoptions are bound to “fail”, with kids running away, ending up cycling through multiple foster homes, or worse. For younger kids, the memories of their families and the harrowing journey they have made with them will likely fade over time as the children get adjusted to their new homes. But imagine how they will feel as they come of age and learn the true circumstances of their adoptions; that they were essentially stolen at the border from a parent(s) who carried them for thousands of treacherous miles seeking safety from the very violence instigated by the US. Older adoptees have been devasted to learn of such questionable reasons for their international adoptions, and it can lead to a dissolution of their relationships with their adoptive parents as well as incredible emotional difficulties that come with such a revelation: adoptees, for example, have high rates of depression and suicide.

Many adoptee advocates note that adult adoptees are often driven to learn more about their origins, as an integral part of their identities. In fact, origin tourism has become another facet of the OIC, marketizing adoptees’ need to search for their birth families (Dorow 2010, 78). Nonetheless, one of the strongest recommendations to come out of the International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy held at the ISS in 2014 was for preservation of records in adoption so that when the time comes for individual adoptees to search for their original families, they will have access to the vital information necessary.

If we cannot stop this from happening now, we need to make sure this injustice is well documented so that sooner or later, it can be righted, and these children can finally be reunited with their families.

Carlson, Elizabeth, and Anna Marie Gallagher. 2015. “Humanitarian Protection for Children Fleeing Gang-Based Violence in the Americas.” Journal on Immigration and Human Security 3(2), 129-158.
Cheney, Kristen E., and Karen Smith Rotabi. 2017. “Addicted to Orphans: How the Global Orphan Industrial Complex Jeopardizes Local Child Protection Systems.” In Conflict, Violence and Peace, edited by Christopher Harker and Kathrin Hörschelmann, 89-107. Singapore: Springer Singapore.
Cheney, Kristen, and Stephen Ucembe. forthcoming. “The Orphan Industrial Complex: the charitable commodification of children and its consequences for child protection.” In Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification, edited by Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sinervo. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Costantino, Rosalin, Karen Smith Rotabi and Debra Rodman. 2012. Violence against women and asylum seeking: Global problems and local practices applied to Guatemalan women immigrating for safety. Advances in Social Work 13(2), 431-50. Available at http://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/advancesinsocialwork/article/viewFile/1974/2465.
Dorow, Sara. 2010. “Producing Kinship through the Marketplace of Transnational Adoption.” In Baby Markets: Money and the New Politics of Creating Families, edited by Michele B. Goodwin, 69-83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rotabi, Karen Smith, and Nicole F. Bromfield. 2017. From Intercountry Adoption to Global Surrogacy:  A Human Rights History and New Fertility Frontiers. Abingdon: Routledge.

About the authors: 

Headshot 02 17.pngKristen Cheney is Associate Professor of Children and Youth Studies at ISS. She is author of Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV and AIDS and co-editor of the forthcoming volume, Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification.

Headshot_Rotabi_CSUMB_Fall2017.jpgKaren Smith Rotabi is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Work at California State University Monterey Bay. She is co-author of From Intercountry Adoption to Global Surrogacy: A Human Rights History and New Fertility Frontiers and co-editor of Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices and Outcomes.

Cheney and Rotabi co-organized the 2014 International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy at ISS.

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

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 ...