Out now: Externalizing Migration Management in Europe and North America

A bit of self promotion here: Schengenizer has just published an edited volume on borders (what else?).  It’s about Europe of course, but North America as well (the two regions share a lot in terms of border policies). It focuses on a topic that I have often covered in this blog, namely the practice of ‘externalizing’ migration management  beyond a country’s borders. Surely to become a bedside reading fave… More details below.

Zaiotti externalizing book

EXTERNALIZING MIGRATION MANAGEMENT:EUROPE, NORTH AMERICA AND THE SPREAD OF ‘REMOTE CONTROL’ PRACTICES

(Routledge, 2016)

The extension of border controls beyond a country’s territory to regulate the flows of migrants before they arrive has become a popular and highly controversial policy practice. Today, remote control policies are more visible, complex and widespread than ever before, raising various ethical, political and legal issues for the governments promoting them.

The book examines the externalization of migration control from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, focusing on ‘remote control’ initiatives in Europe and North America, with contributions from the fields of politics, sociology, law, geography, anthropology, and history. This book uses empirically rich analyses and compelling theoretical insights to trace the evolution of ‘remote control’ initiatives and assesses their impact and policy implications. It also explores competing theoretical models that might explain their emergence and diffusion. Individual chapters tackle some of the most puzzling questions underlying remote control policies, such as the reasons why governments adopt these policies and what might be their impact on migrants and other actors involved.

The elephant in Europe’s living room: or how (not to) tackle the current migration crisis

EU

It has become a well-established European ritual. What to do when facing a major crisis? Call a special summit! Then talk, and talk again, well into the night. Disagree on pretty much everything, until you get a ‘breakthrough’ — i.e., a list of generic commitments dressed up in the language of the mythical “European common spirit”. Wait a few months, and, if the plan does not work — because it surely won’t work — call another summit!

The latest instalment of this ongoing European political saga is centered on the issue of migration.  Hot topic of late, and for good (or, I should say, bad) reasons. Europe has become the backdrop for harrowing, and often tragic, stories of thousands of individuals who are fleeing conflict and misery and trying to reach the Old Continent. Some of these stories, such as that of Alan Kurdi, the Europe-bound three old Syrian who drowned just before reaching the Turkish coast, are so shocking as to shake, at least temporarily, the conscience of an otherwise anesthetized European public. At the same time, a collective anti-immigrant hysteria has spread throughout the Old Continent like wildfire, pushing migration at the top of the political agenda. What to do in these circumstances? European leaders have an answer. Yes, you guessed it: a special summit.

I am not holding my breath that something revolutionary will come out of the latest gathering of European grandees. Most likely, the summit will result in a declaration acknowledging the plight of European-bound migrants and a call for action. My sense is that, in practice, the planned response will be filled with a new batch of security-oriented measures aimed at strengthening the continent’s external borders and at expanding controls on movement within Europe. And the plight of would be migrants, who will still do whatever it takes to look for a better future? Well, we’ll figure that out later. Remember Lampedusa? The infamous October 2013 migrant shipwreck led to alarmed calls for action similar the ones we hear today.  Cecilia Malmström, then European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: “Let’s make sure that what happened in Lampedusa will be a wakeup call to increase solidarity and mutual support and to prevent similar tragedies in the future”. We all know how things turned out…

It is, of course, easy to target elected officials. They are the ones who must make the difficult decisions, and feel the wrath of an angry and disillusioned electorate. And the internally-focused policy responses European leaders will likely propose to address the current crisis – a greater burden sharing of refugees among European countries and a more flexible approach to the refugee determination process are indeed necessary. They are, however, also a patchwork of short term solutions that will do little to prevent other crises from popping up again in the near future.

The alternative? I have one. Go to the source of the problem! In other words, try to make sure migrants either do not leave their country of origin, or, if they do leave, they do so in a regulated manner. Easier said than done, you might say. You can add naïve. And haven’t Europeans already tried this route before? These are valid points. Solving the complex economic, social and political problems that encourage emigration in faraway places, not to mention ending protracted conflicts such as the one in Syria, is not something Europeans (or anybody else for that matter) can — and should — do by themselves, nor something that can happen in the short term.

Talks about creating a more ‘progressive’ migration policy that includes not only sticks but also carrots —  fostering economic development, opening up of legal migration channels — have been going since the late 1990s, when Europe was facing another major refugee crisis originating from the conflict in the Balkans. These themes, for instance, are a central component of the EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, since the mid-2000s the main policy framework of EU external migration and asylum policy. The problem is, European policy-makers have not seriously tried to put into practice the progressive vision that this approach entails. When it comes to its implementation, the emphasis has systematically turned to the negative aspects of the plan — how to prevent migrants from arriving –, not the more positive ones — how to create incentives to either stay or move through official channels. This is apparent if we look at European attempts to ‘externalize’ migration management to the continent’s neighbors or further afield.  These ‘remote control’ policies include the ‘offshoring’ of border checks beyond Europe, the imposition of stricter visa requirements, the processing of asylum claims in neighboring countries, the interdictions of migrants on the high seas, and migrant detention in transit countries outside the region. The externalization of border management is not a new phenomenon.  Some of these practices (e.g. the imposition of visas) date back to the origins of immigration policy at the turn of the 20th century. Other initiatives (e.g. the interdictions on the high seas and migrant detention) were introduced in the post cold war era. Since the millennium, however, these practices, and the context in which they unfold, have experienced significant transformations. As a result, remote control policies have become more complex, widespread and prominent in migration strategies around the world than ever before. These practices, for example, are at the core of current migration policies in the United States and Australia.

For governments, externalizing migration policies represents a politically expedient way to circumvent domestic legal obligations that liberal democracies claim to uphold. As the adage goes, out of sight, out of mind… The upcoming European summit on migration will probably include a discussion on how to strengthen these ‘externalizing’ practices. This approach, however, is, to put it mildly, contentious. Besides the lack of accountability for governmental actions that occur beyond national borders, externalizing migration controls often have negative repercussions on migrants’ lives and their rights, as in the case for those kept in limbo in offshore detention centres. It is also questionable whether they are really effective. Yet, despite the mounting critiques and number of challenges governments are facing, these policies remain a popular approach to manage international migration in Europe.

Which leads me to the point about the elephant in Europe’s living room – namely, the root causes of migration. Certainly, some of the situations that lead to population movements (e.g. instability and conflict in the Middle East, authoritarianism and lawlessness in the Horn of Africa) are so intractable that even talking about ‘solutions’ seems out of the question at the present time. This state of affairs, however, should not be an excuse not to talk about what Europe can and should do to render less likely the re-occurrence of the current crisis, or at least mitigate its size and impact. The upcoming European summit should put the root causes of migration at the core of its plan of action. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Some of these ideas are already present in Europe’s existing policy frameworks. This is especially the case for plans targeting countries where migrants move primarily for economic reasons. Europe should be more actively foster local economic development, render its common market more accessible and offer more meaningful channels for legal migration. In the case of individuals fleeing conflict and political repression, Europe should offer greater economic support for transit countries, and expand its now limited commitment to resettle displaced people living in refugee camps. European leaders should also seek greater coordination and support to implement these policies not only within Europe, but also with other international partners, especially in North America.

Putting these ideas into practice requires not just time and money, but also a great dose of political will and courage, qualities that are currently in short supply around European capitals. Without them, however, I’m afraid the images of desperation and anger that we are witnessing today across Europe are likely to haunt us for a long time to come.

 

What’s on the menu? Schengen as geo-culinary topos

A truly European flavour...

A truly European flavour…

Since last May, Russia has its own ‘Schengen’. It’s a place where you can go for pleasure or business. It’s a restaurant in Saint Petersburg. The restaurant is located not far from the Finnish Consulate, where the owner goes to get “the cherished Schengen visa.” Hence the name. But there is more to it than pure happenstance. The reference to ‘Schengen’ is meant to evoke the cosmopolitan aura that Europe’s area of free movement is supposed to project, together with other related ‘progressive’ notions such as open-mindedness, sophistication, and freedom. This spin is not that surprising. After all, the purpose of any act of ‘branding’ is to sell a product to a customer, and thus the product should be associated with something positive. In the eyes of the management, ‘Schengen’ is supposed to do the trick.

And the trick seems to work. According to one reviewer, Schengen is “a new location for smart people.”. In terms of menu, another reviewer notices how “at first (it) seemed concise to the point of being a bit parsimonious” (these stingy Europeans!), although the overall experience is one of “visa-free satisfaction”. Schengen’s design as well is quintessential European. It has in fact a “slightly Germanic feel” but it “bring(s) together influences from different parts of Europe into an effortlessly harmonious whole”. (Well, “slightly Germanic feel” might be a bit of understatement when we look at Europe today; in turn, the Old Continent is all but “effortless” and “harmonious” these days, but you get the picture…)

From its clientele to its look, Schengen (the restaurant) thus seems to uncannily represent a microcosm of Europe’s border free area, or at least what European policy-makers would like to present outside the region. In this sense, Schengen (the restaurant) is not unique. There are other examples of businesses with topographical names reminiscent of a location that is different from the one where that business actually lies. It is arguably one of the most common practices in the hospitality industry. After all, almost all respectable cities around the world have a ‘London’ or ‘Paris’ restaurant, even if these establishments are located neither in England nor in France. The Schengen restaurant is also not the only bearing a name of topographical entity that does not actually exist. (We should keep in mind that formally ‘Schengenland’ is not a political entity that we can find on a map; in EU legal documents, the reference is still to the territory of member states). Cities are replete with hotels bearing the names of fictional locations, including mythical ones (for example, ‘Paradise’, ‘El Dorado’).

What distinguishes the case of the Schengen restaurant is that it refers to both a real and a fictional entity. The restaurant’s name in fact refers to something that simultaneously does and does not exist. In this context ‘Schengen’ is something real because, according to those who chose this name, its referent object is an existing political entity with defined ‘commonsensical’ features; however, it is also  fictional, because this political entity does not formally exist, or at least it does not necessarily exist in the way the management of the restaurant thinks it does. Ready to go to Schengen? Check its menu first, there might be surprises…

The Iron Lady’s Schengen legacy: of commonsense, border fixations and Jacobin hubris

And the Schengen flag too?

And the Schengen flag too?

It is a bit of understatement to say that Margaret Thatcher was no Schengen fan. In her vitriolic  attacks on ‘Europe’ as a political project, she did not spare what she believed was an unnerving and ultimately quixotic quest to dilute, and ultimately dissolve, British sovereignty, a quest concocted by naive continentals, or worse still, by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.  As she put it in the notorious ‘Bruges Speech’, the political manifesto of British Euro-scepticism, “it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants.” Commonsensical are also the reasons why national borders should  persist: “I did not join Europe to have free movement of terrorists, criminals, drugs, plant and animal diseases and rabies, and illegal migrants”. (Certainly not the Europe of peace and goodwill that Jean Monnet envisioned…) In Thatcher’s ‘commonsensical world’,  the triad borders/security/state is so ingrained in our collective understanding of what border control means as to not require further explanation. Borders and security are indissolubly linked, and national governments (as opposed to supra-national institutions) should be in charge of this issue. From this perspective, Schengen can only be an aberration.

And yet, despite her visceral opposition to continental Europe’s experimentation with territoriality, Margaret Thatcher has played a fundamental role in the making of Schengen as we know it today. The Iron Lady’s trenchant critiques have set the terms – and the tone – of the debate about this eminently political project. Schengen supporters (be it in Brussels or in European capitals) have had to come to terms, adapt and respond to the ‘nationalist backlash’ that she so powerfully and persuasively unleashed. The former British prime minister also embodied one of the major obstacles (yet to be fully overcome) hindering the full realization of a post-national vision of territoriality in Europe, namely the persistence among European policy-makers and the population at large of what I call ‘border fixation’. Despite claims that traditional territorial boundaries are ‘passé’, borders have not lost their appeal. For some commentators, this fixation is baseless. First of all, advocates of hard borders tend to exaggerate the demand for them. Uncontrollable mass movements of population across frontiers are, after all, rare events. Moreover, borders cannot (and arguably never did) effectively achieve one of the main goals they were established for, namely, preventing unwanted entries into a territory. These arguments are well founded, but they do not take into consideration that the appeal of borders does not stem (or at least not solely) from their ‘material’ functions; instead, it is based on the powerful psychological need for order and stability in a community. The leap required to go beyond this border fixation would therefore entail the embracing of a new type of post-territorial governance where this need is addressed in a different fashion. Europe is not new to far-reaching and ‘unimaginable’ transformations. The Old Continent is a constant work in progress, an open-ended experiment that has been re-adjusted in light of new events or circumstances in the past. Yet, given the current gloomy and inward looking political climate, the conditions to overcome the long-lasting fascination with borders do not seem ripe. And even if they were, we should nonetheless heed to Margaret Thatcher’s admonition about the Jacobin tendencies (viz. radical and hyper-rationalist) that she so strongly despised in the European project:

“…look at the architecture of the last fifty years — look, in particular, at the architecture that went beyond the modern to the futuristic. It was certainly a very dramatic architecture but the one thing it no longer expresses is the Future. What it expresses is yesterday’s vision of the future. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la politique.”[1]

Schengen’s ‘architects’ seem to have listened to Thatcher’s warning about Europe’s institutional hubris. One of the policy regime’s signature traits is in fact its flexible and pragmatic design, which has allowed it to withstand turbulent times, wobbly political will and recurrent bouts of skepticism during its three decade long history. The Iron Lady would probably balk at the idea, but helping Schengen thrive might well be part of her vast political legacy…


[1] Margaret Thatcher, “Europe’s Political Architecture”, Speech in the Hague, May 15, 1992, Thatcher Archive

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