Tag Archives migration

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

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 ...

#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

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 immigration and asylum policies and by the challenges they posed for aid providers. We discussed these issues at the  conference of the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) in August 2018 that was held at the ISS in The Hague. In this blog we highlight some of the key issues from our just-published conference special issue and show how the issues raised back then are still of concern today.  The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the violence experienced by people seeking safety in countries such as Italy, Greece, France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, and the UK.

Photo: European Commission DG ECHO. Available at: https://euobserver.com/opinion/136333

Back in 2018, the humanitarian consequences of Europe’s migration policies were a key theme at the IHSA conference. We’ve just published some of the conference contributions in a special issue of International Migration entitled ‘Politics, humanitarianism and migration to Europe’. The issue seeks to unpack how European governments and the EU are creating a policy-induced humanitarian crisis, how this works in the micro-practices of migration politics, and what this means for humanitarian and political action. This blog article provides a brief overview of the key themes in the special issue.

Crisis-creating policy developments

In the issue, we observe many policy developments that are of humanitarian concern. European governments view migration as economically driven or as a threat to their national security. As such, migration has been criminalised for years. Policies such as strengthening border controls, the externalisation of borders, and a focus on smuggling and trafficking rather than on the causes of forced migration all result in humanitarian crisis. In addition, the EU or its member states (and the UK) have made agreements with Libya, Turkey, and Sudan to contain those seeking protection, which risks violating the human rights of those who flee. Support for Libyan coastguards or for Sudanese paramilitary border forces leaves migrants stuck in conflict- and crisis-ridden countries and/or in appalling conditions in migrant detention centres. The UK’s externalised border in France leaves those seeking asylum in the UK stuck in France without basic assistance and vulnerable to police violence. Border restrictions on the Italy-France border have a similar effect. And the closure of legal routes means migrants have to take more dangerous routes and use smugglers or traffickers. Preventing people from leaving or from coming to Europe amounts to a policy of letting die.

Micro-practices and the politics of exhaustion

Border restrictions, mass detention, and forced returns are complemented by a number of less visible deterrence tactics and strategies. The humanitarian crisis in Europe is characterised by these regimes of micro-practices, which include 1) migrants sleeping rough or in makeshift camps with little or no shelter, food and health care, 2) regular police violence, confiscation of possessions, and evictions, and 3) slow, confusing, and inconsistent asylum procedures. The latter make it difficult or undesirable to claim asylum. Migrants who are ‘illegalised’ in this way can be exposed to more violence and can be deported.

Combined with constant uncertainty, these regimes of micro-practices lead to a politics of exhaustion aimed at influencing people’s resolve to claim asylum or to make them leave. Camps and migrants stuck on borders in desperate conditions itself also acts as a deterrent and at the same time highlights action to defend national security for domestic audiences.  Another advantage is that regimes of less visible forms of violence make it difficult to identify intent or overtly illegal practices.

The restriction of humanitarian response and a shift to political action

In terms of humanitarian response, we identify a number of issues, including the criminalisation of assistance provision and the constraints faced by traditional organisations in Europe, as well as the rise in resistance and activism by newly created volunteer groups.

Here’s what been happening in the European countries covered in the special issue: In Italy, accusations by far-right organisations that NGOs are assisting in trafficking made it possible to develop legislation against the docking of ships carrying migrants and to restrict their protection once they have reached land. In Calais, France, local authorities have repeatedly tried to restrict assistance to refugees. In both the Italy and the France cases, providing assistance is deemed illegal and showing solidarity with refugees has become a crime. Examples can be found in many other European countries. As a result, new volunteer groups quickly became politically engaged – not only through assistance as a political act, but also by providing legal assistance, preventing police raids (for example in Belgium), gathering information, and lobbying politicians.

The politicisation of humanitarian action has complicated the role of more established organisations, who are bound by principles of neutrality and impartiality. In Germany, for example, room for manoeuvre for traditional state and non-state actors was legally restricted, but different political narratives enabled some flexibility. In Norway, some volunteer groups shifted to political action and others found ways of working with more established organisations. The greatest frictions between established agencies and volunteer activist groups are often found in humanitarian advocacy. An examination of the activities of these groups in Greece, Turkey and Libya, however, shows that complementarity between negotiating and confrontational strategies is required.

More unwelcome than ever

In the Europe we are living in today, security and political concerns continue to override obligations to respect human rights and to address humanitarian concerns. Crises among migrants and asylum seekers in Europe continue to unfold as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the new EU Migration and Asylum pact. Covid-19 is by now known to have a disproportionate impact on displaced people. Even in Europe, many migrants live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, in informal camps, on the streets, or in detention and asylum centres where the health risks are acute and conditions abysmal.  But besides the exacerbation of the appalling living conditions a number of other pandemic-related measures make the current asylum procedure more alienating than ever. These include:

Can the trend be reversed? We hope so. As Europe’s humanitarian crisis continues and worsens, the political nature of humanitarian action is becoming ever more apparent. It will require a concerted effort by all concerned actors to monitor, research, advocate, and resist crisis-inducing policies, and to demand that states uphold international human rights and humanitarian laws.

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

About the authors:

Dr Susanne Jaspars is an independent researcher and a Research Associate at SOAS, University of London.  She has researched the social and political dynamics of famine, conflict and humanitarian crises for over thirty years, focussing particularly on issues of food security, livelihoods, and forced migration.

Dorothea HilhorstDorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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.

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

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 ...

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

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 increased. A faulty asylum procedure creates false hope to those who are then met by an untimely death or horrific conditions upon reaching Europe instead of ‘making it’ as a handful of refugees before them did. This hope-generating machine divides instead of unites, diminishing the collective power of refugees to challenge the EU’s migration policy.

Eu refugee policy migrant
Activists have taken to the streets in Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands to protest conditions in refugee camps, particularly Moria, and the EUs migration policy. Pictured here are protesters at Neude Utrecht. Photo: Dorothea Hilhorst.

Some days ago I reread Power, Community and the State[1], a book by former colleague at Wageningen University Monique Nuijten, to contribute to a publication celebrating the author’s work on the occasion of her retirement. Back in 2003, Nuijten described how the Mexican state acted as hope-generating machine that disciplined and divided poor peasant communities. While rereading the book 17 years after it first appeared, I was reminded how much the world has changed in the last two decades. I also realized how appropriately the idea of a hope-generating machine describes the asylum system in Europe.

Power, Community and the State is written in a time when arguments that we had entered a deterritorialized and transnationalized world seemed compelling. The book quotes Hardt and Negri’s view[2] that ‘sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule’.

How dreamily naïve such a quotation sounds today. In contrast to what was then hoped would be a move toward greater global unity, today’s world manifests itself as reterritorialized and renationalized, especially when seen through the eyes of migrants. Most passports in the world do not travel far. Borders that seemed to have disappeared have been reinstated as real physical borders, paper borders, iron borders, or even—when we read about the plans for barriers miles away from coastlines or hear of surveillant ships shooting at migrant boats at open sea—borders of death[3]. As Linda Polman accurately remarked, ‘[t]he Human Rights Commission of the United Nations stated in 2018 that Europe has developed a refugee policy that implicitly and explicitly accepts death as an effective anti-migration instrument.’[4]

Yet the core idea of Nuijten’s book about the state as a hope-generating machine is more relevant than ever —certainly for the millions of migrants seeking entry into inaccessible states. Oliver Bakewell noted how prospective migrants in East Africa are completely devoted to collecting papers and building a portfolio for an envisioned migration. During his presentation at the Forced Migration Studies Association Conference in Thessaloniki in 2018, Bakewell echoed Monique Nuijten, who said that ‘[t]he culture of the state is central to the operation of the bureaucracy as a hope-generating machine. The hope-generating bureaucratic machine gives the message that everything is possible, that cases are never closed […]’ (p. 196). With reference to the migration policy in East Africa, Bakewell seemed to expand on her argument that ‘[s]tate intervention in Mexico tends to have a divisive effect on the population, and to frustrate independent collective organising efforts “from below”’ (p. 198).

What the example of East Africa shows is that, rather than seeking out their brothers in fate and rising to protest, migrants are driven by the hope of becoming one of the lucky chosen few, doing everything in their power to mould their individual behaviour and attitudes to the requirements imposed or favoured by the migration machines. The annual lottery that hands out 55,000 Green Cards to hopefuls wishing to enter the United States—with a 1.33% chance of people in the most eligible countries getting one—is indeed the ultimate hope-generating machine, steering millions of people away from engaging in protests and activism in their own countries against conditions they are fleeing from, and instead motivating them to be left at the hands of ‘fate’ in the form of a lottery, as in the US Green Card Lottery, and to maintain immaculate track records and build their individual case files to be considered ‘good citizens’.

Stories of refugees ‘slipping through the cracks’ of Europe’s asylum system and starting afresh continue to fire the continent’s hope-generating machine.

It is widely acknowledged that Europe’s policies towards migration can be summarized by the word ‘deterrence’. The European Union as well as its individual member states, perhaps with the exception of Germany, seem united in their determined aggression in seeking to expose and render as visible as possible the cases of failed migration that result in tragic and horrifying death by drowning when crossing the Mediterranean Sea or being stuck in a horrific limbo in refugee camps such as Moria. In these camps, refugees seem to have the same function as the shrivelled human heads on stakes that used to decorate the walls of medieval European cities to deter vagabonds from passing through the gates. The purpose of these efforts is similarly to deter would-be migrants from trying to reach Europe. Nonetheless, there are always a number of people who manage to slip through the cracks of the system and are granted asylum, and so the hope-generating machine continues to churn out hope, fed by ‘success stories’.

For a long time, I thought maintaining the appearance of a just system of asylum was a concession to the many Europeans who are supportive of refugees. In the Netherlands, for example, the government insists that there is no social support base for migrants. This, however, is far from the truth. Recent research[5] from the University of Groningen found that, although the support base for migration is shrinking in the Netherlands, 45% of the population still supports government assistance to refugees. Another 25% of the population is willing to support such assistance to refugees provided that strict measures are taken to protect society from asylum seekers who ‘misbehave’. Thirty Dutch municipalities have declared their willingness to receive refugees from Moria.

The bold statement of the right-wing Dutch government that there is no support base for refugees is no more than a malicious manipulation of the truth by a government that plays to the populist far right, where it fears it is losing votes. I always assumed that the small numbers of successful asylum cases in Europe were a triumph of the countless refugee-friendly lawyers, volunteers, and left-wing politicians making noise on behalf of refugees. I assumed that they occasionally managed to beat the system.

Upon closer inspection, and after rereading Power, Community and the State, I realize more clearly that those asylum seekers who successfully slip through the system are not a mistake or a failure of the deterrence machine. It is much more likely that the machine is built in such a way that, once in a while, a lucky individual comes out with a residence permit. Thus, refugees that slip through the cracks, and are granted a residence permit to continue their life in Europe—are also the symbols of hope that keep inspiring migrants to bet on obtaining a residence permit. .

It may very well be that the machine is designed in this way to discipline the migrants in Moria and other places where they are living a non-life.

When stuck in these camps, they continue to hope that they can eventually ‘move on’ and start the asylum procedure, and so they continue to wait, and to hope. And those that reach a country where their asylum procedures are started are told by their friendly lawyers to keep their heads down, behave well, and do whatever they can to enhance their chances of being granted a residence permit. Knowing one or two people who succeeded before you further feeds that hope. And as long as migrants have this hope, they are prevented from being united to fight the cruel reception they get in Europe.


[1] Nuijten, M. C. M. (2003). Power, Community and the State: The Political Anthropology of Organisation in Mexico. London, UK and Sterling, VA: Pluto Press.

[2] Hardt, M., and Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Henk van Houtum & Rodrigo Bueno Lacy (2020) The Autoimmunity of the EU’s Deadly B/ordering Regime; Overcoming its Paradoxical Paper, Iron and Camp Borders, Geopolitics, 25:3, 706-733, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2020.1728743

[4] Linda Polman Tegen Elke Prijs. Essay Vluchtelingen en Europa. Groene Amsterdammer, 01-10-2020.

[5] Toon Kuppens et al. (2019). Ongenoegen, migratie, gastvrijheid en maatschappelijke onrust. Onderzoek Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, in opdracht van het Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum. https://www.wodc.nl/binaries/2742%20Volledige%20Tekst_tcm28-425017.pdf

About the author:

 

Thea Hilhorst

Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

This article is based on a contribution of the author to the Liber Amicorum for Monique Nuijten of Wageningen University.

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