Ms Abeytia explores the impact of colonial antecedents on migration and asylum policy, the implications of limitations in policy formulation, and the next steps in advancing toward human-security based migration frameworks.
Anisa Abeytia is the Think Tank Coordinator of the Global Research Network and a migration researcher and policy professional specializing in digital bordering, active social inclusion, and colonial antecedents in integration policy. A leader in the field, she has worked with the United States Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and the US State Department to shape US–Syria policy, with a focus on immigration and humanitarian advocacy. Her research has been published internationally, including with the University of Cambridge, UNESCO, and The Hill, among others.
European border management practices have undergone an astonishing transformation in the last few decades, and this process is both co-constitutive of and constituted by technological advancement. New dynamics and effects are unfolding every day.
The objective of this article is to point out some of the complexities and controversies of the relationship between technological development and the securitisation of migration. This objective is achieved by analysing the functioning of one of the more important European border management instruments: the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR).
Eurosur can be viewed as a “system of systems” a digital infrastructure with several nodes dislocated around Europe. Each Member State, in fact, has a National Coordination Centre (NCC) that exchanges information with all authorities responsible for external border monitoring, as well as with other NCCs and Frontex.
The NCCs maintain national situational pictures, which aggregate in the European situational picture, that provides a nearly real time mapping of the relevant events occurring at the EU external border, and determines the type and amount of assets that need to be deployed, according to the impact and risk level associated to a border section (green means low, yellow means medium and red means high - as the reader can see in the picture below). A higher impact level means that a given border section is more likely to be subjected to strong migratory pressures, and therefore, more resources should be preventively deployed to that area in order to improve border stress capacities. This calculation occurs through the collection of historical data and the detection of patterns of events in order to evaluate possible future risk scenarios. EUROSUR hence both serves an archiving and anticipatory function.
By: Federica Montanaro, Maria Makurat, Giovanni Tricco
EUROSUR: Challenges and controversies
As stated by the dedicated regulation, EUROSUR is being used to achieve three major goals: increasing situational awareness; improving border authorities' reaction capability; and finally, saving the lives of immigrants at sea, particularly in cases of overloaded vessels, as Dirk Vande Ryse, Frontex's Director of Monitoring, Analysis, and Vulnerability, pointed out.
Human rights implications with EUROSUR
In general, political elites usually focus on saving lives at sea, the core priority of EUROSUR. For example, in the aftermath of the 2013 infamous shipwreck near Lampedusa, the EU commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom presented the incoming deployment of Eurosur as a strategic move aimed at improving the EU efficacy in search and rescue (SAR) operations. However, already during its launch, concerns were expressed whether refugees would truly benefit from this type of surveillance. Opinions were split on whether Frontex and EUROSUR actually had the goal to save refugees or if deterrence was the main concern. A harsh debate is still ongoing, but its openness and democratic nature is heavily contested; scholars and experts are struggling to find reliable information which allows the monitoring and evaluation of the functioning of such said system. This is mainly due to the classified or reserved nature attached to the work it performs. One improvement shows that the system is being scrutinized more closely and undergoing new regulations such as the Regulation (EU) 2021/581 introduced in April 2021 with the following goals: more secure information exchange, more effective reporting, better efficient rescue operations, better cooperation with third countries involved and setting up an independent Security Accreditation Board. This should bring about improvements to tackling the issues of transparency and secrecy, however questions remain such as whether the willingness to share data will take place and which criteria are in the end important to deem such a system effective in the long term run?
However, looking at the bigger picture, the virtually nonexistent impact of the Eurosur on the SAR capability of the EU and its member states can be easily demonstrated by considering 2013 (the year of the deployment of the apparatus) as a benchmark, and by considering the death rate in the Mediterranean Sea before and after this critical date. An International Organisation for Migration report shows that before and after 2013 there has been no significant change in the fluctuation of the death rate. On the contrary, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) denounced that in some instances the death toll was rising even in periods in which the number of arrivals was declining. This is even more astonishing if we consider the 2011 Frontex statement about the incredibly high number of boats (98%) that they were able to detect at sea even before their arrival to the European shores.
In conclusion, while technological progress is central to the management and surveillance of the Mediterranean, it is not clear whether it is also as important for the safety of migrants at sea. The numbers seem to prove that with or without EUROSUR people on the move continue to die at European shores, testifying that higher visibility does not automatically lead to a lower death rate. The objective of this article was to shed some light on the issue, while calling for further and in depth research.
The Venezuelan exodus qualifies as the largest forced displacement of people in the history of Latin America and the second one after the Syrian crisis at the global level. Since 2014, important fluxes of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from Venezuela to other Central and Latin American countries have destabilized the region. This critical situation - aggravated by the pandemic crisis- persists despite the attempts made by various national governments to legalize migrants’ status. Indeed, the inability of receiving countries to adopt adequate and effective measures is leading to social unrest throughout the region and threatening the social cohesion of the region.
How did we get to the current situation?
The political turmoil and the socio-economic instability of Venezuela are among the root causes of the huge population outflow, the largest external displacement crisis in Latin America in recent years, according to the United Nations migration organization. Indeed, since 2014, more than 6 million migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have fled the country looking for a better life, food, and work.
In the last decade, the national economy has been in crisis and the healthcare system lacking funds: it caused an alarming increase in infectious diseases, unemployment, hunger and malnutrition, and maternal and child mortality. Since May 2016, Venezuela has been governed under a state of exception, meaning that wide and discretionary powers are in the hands of the president. As a result, armed forces and police have excessively and extensively used force and arbitrary detention during demonstrations. In May 2018, Nicolas Maduro won a heavily disputed election, followed in January 2019 by the self-proclamation of the leader of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó as president. Internationally, the United States and other fifty governments around the world have recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president; conversely, China, Russia, other countries and the Venezuelan military have stood with Maduro, who has true executive and legislative powers in his hands.
In the last years, hyperinflation, shortages in food and medical care, and violence have led to a deep humanitarian, health and economic crisis, enhanced by the ongoing leadership conflict and the government’s inability to provide adequate social services. These highly unstable conditions continue to represent relevant push factors behind Venezuelan migration.
What are the trends of Venezuelan migration?
Most Venezuelans are fleeing to neighboring countries, thus around 80% of them are hosted by countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They reach their destination through diverse routes, by land, plane, or sea, in many cases crossing the borders illegally and facing the concrete risk of being victims of smuggling and human trafficking. A high number of Venezuelans has reached the coasts of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago: while hosting a smaller number of migrants in total, the island has received the most in relative terms. This results in intense competition for employment and poses an important challenge to national institutions. The island has not offered refugees a special temporary status; however, it has developed a refugee policy with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) and non-governmental organizations’ support. The highest concentration of Venezuelan migrants is in Colombia, where more than 1.8 million of them have relocated; Peru, Chile and Ecuador follow, in order.
The Venezuelan crisis consists mostly of migrants and refugees fleeing threats of violence: hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have received legal asylum in their new host countries, around 2 million people have residency permits or some other document to stay regularly in the country of destination, but over a million and a half are undocumented or at risk of being so.
How have neighboring countries reacted to the exodus?
Countries in the region have generously opened their borders, providing Venezuelans with access to healthcare, education and employment. Legally speaking, the asylum systems of the region were soon overwhelmed making the process for obtaining the refugee status long and slow: as a result, several countries of the region have opted for temporary residence permits and visas to allow Venezuelan migrants access to work and public services. Besides this effort, many Venezuelans remain undocumented.
Colombia represents a highly discussed case considered an example by the European Union and the international community. Indeed, in February 2021, the president Iván Duque presented the draft of a decree for the temporary protection of Venezuelan migrants, a measure to allow legal permanence in Colombia for almost 1 million Venezuelans who were illegally in the country.
Enlarging the focus to the whole region, various hypotheses are under discussion. Firstly, the possibility to recognize Venezuelans as a group as refugees- on the basis of the Cartagena Declaration- is considered. This legal document is non-binding and offers guidance to the states of the region to develop their refugee protection frameworks. This decision would expand protection and expedite the asylum process. Secondly, the creation of a legal document aimed at facilitating the movement of Venezuelans within the region is on the table.
The influx of Venezuelan migrants into host countries has destabilized their internal order, placing considerable strain on the health and education systems, and increasing the competition for employment. Unstable social cohesion leaves room to the concrete risk of an explosion of xenophobic sentiments among locals. Indeed, as the number of Venezuelan people in neighboring countries increased, it inflamed tensions and increased the pressure on governments to adopt restrictive migration measures, which would have a domino effect. Moreover, as the case of Colombia demonstrates, many Venezuelan minors are exposed to job and sexual exploitation and risk being involved in criminal activities by some local criminal groups. It is estimated that around 40% of Venezuelan minors living in the country are out of the formal education system and that the majority of them suffer violence and are forced to work for some local criminal groups.
Latin American and Caribbean countries are facing social and economic challenges due to an important influx of Venezuelan migrants, and their institutions, security and social cohesion are at stake. Hence, hosting countries need international assistance to protect Venezuelans and provide them with emergency relief, as well as a better-coordinated strategy throughout the region to face the challenges of developing and implementing far-sighted and long-term integration and inclusion policies.
By: Arslan Sheikh, Esther Brito Ruiz and Reka Szabo.
Human security is conditioned by a variety of external factors - like war or famine - and personal characteristics - such as gender, ethnic identity, or sexuality. These intersecting realities lead to rapidly evolving patterns of threats to human dignity across the globe. Indeed, humanitarian crises or large scale natural disasters serve to reconfigure the lives of those affected and exacerbate already existing social vulnerabilities. In this line, it becomes important to explore how recent political and social developments have notably worsened the conditions of one particular collective of people: migrants.
Recent estimates suggest that over 281 million people are migrants - amounting to about 3.6 % of the global population. Yet in spite of the significant increases in people flows across national boundaries, migrant groups continue to be politically, socially, and economically targeted and discriminated against. Migrant communities routinely face difficulties in accessing basic services and often see their identities become instrumentalized for political propaganda. As those seeking refuge, fleeing violence, or attempting to find a better future are confronted with rising political polarisation, stricter border control, and worsening social protections. We must reflect on the barriers to movement that affect this collective and the trends that have come to act as drivers of migration flows. Only then can we understand the severity of the conditions migrants face today.
Economic trends are significant drivers of migration today. Economic divergence has been growing between countries, highly impacted by the global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available instruments of developing economies aiming at tackling such challenges are much more limited than the ones of advanced economies, which leads to a bifurcated economic recovery. Another longer lasting global challenge to be faced is climate change. Similarly to the pandemic, it impacts countries unevenly: some are going to be more resilient thanks to their more fortunate economic situation and/or geographical location than others.
Adaptation to climate-related changes are going to have socio-economic consequences for individuals. Unskilled workers, for instance, are going to be vulnerable to industrial transformations — for instance, in carbon-intensive, heavy industries—, and may decide to migrate to countries in which their skills can still be used, in the hope of opportunities of economic advancement.
Climate change and countries’ various responses to it can cause not solely voluntary economic migration in the future, but also large-scale involuntary migration. This falls into the category of societal global risk, influencing numerous countries and industries negatively. Climate action failure is one of the potentially damaging risks that are going to contribute to involuntary migration on a global scale. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, livelihood crises, and social cohesion erosion are also listed by the latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure and extreme weather are the most influential factors.
Climate change contributes to natural disasters, too. Because of such disasters, internal and cross-border displacement is going to occur. Interestingly, it is not necessarily the direct effects of such disasters that are going to affect migration, but the worsening economic conditions they will cause. This means that links between migration and disasters caused by the accelerating climate change are rather indirect, manifesting in migration caused by decreasing incomes, worsening livelihood opportunities, and changes in food security.
Violence, conflict and persecution are still going to play a role in the future when it comes to migration or displacement, however, data on recent trends indicate that disaster related internal displacement is more common, and, at the same time, more volatile than internal displacement related to the previously mentioned factors.
Another factor to take into account when observing voluntary or involuntary migration, is the lack of possibility to migrate, caused by environmental change. People without assets to move can be trapped in certain areas, which can lead to more defenselessness against environmental change. Meanwhile, these trends are further creating many barriers to migration which need to be addressed simultaneously.
Contemporary barriers to Migration
The barriers to migration are very complex, interlinked, and multifold. The recentGlobal Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum has identified several contemporary barriers to migration which include national level barriers, such as the movement restrictions related to the COVID-19, financial pressures in advanced economies, and greater focus on domestic priorities. The report has also identified three potential barriers to the cross-border migration; which include post-pandemic effects on international mobility, future employment trends, and increased national interest postures of several countries.
Movement restrictions because of the COVID-19 have interrupted several migration flows. These restrictions are temporary, but as the post-pandemic economic rebound demands more labour, creating furtheropportunities for migrants, Western policymakers need to be prepared to address a new influx of migrants and be able to explain to their residents why welcoming this labour forcewould not diminish their employment opportunities, as well as why certain post-pandemic employment opportunities would need a migrant labour force to fulfil them. Failure to do so may cause further rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in resident populations.
National interest postures are increasingly becoming a world-wide phenomena where nations are actively reframing their migration policies to exclude migrants from basic financial and healthcare services, asChile and Peru have done recently. Another such example are the restrictive policies of the United Kingdom andUSA, which originally were implemented because of public health concerns, but have sustained and are causing a decline in the issuance of visas to migrants.
Apart from these issues, the nature of public discourse anddisinformation campaigns are making the migration issue worse. Migration has increasingly become a controversial issue in Western countries, generating right-wing and nationalist reactions. The media has played a very important role in this by ‘normalizing discriminatory labels used to describe migrants’, whereas disinformationcampaigns against migrants portray them as a threat to public health, security, and the economy of host countries are fuellinghate speech andviolence against them. These two issues make a crucial impact on the voting behaviours of host countries and the governments they choose to elect, who usually have an anti-migrant stance when framing and implementing the migration policies in their respective countries.
The worsening socio-economic conditions and global trends we have explored have served to notably increase the risks migrants face. Whether it be to emergency displacements, worsening social retribution, or economic push and pull factors, migration is not only becoming a more pronounced phenomenon, but one subject to expanding threats to human dignity.
As the world reopens its borders and struggles to manage the after-effects of a global pandemic, policy and assistance efforts need to look towards the plight migrants face and provide the resources, social networks, and institutional support necessary to protect the human security of one of the world's most politicised collectives.
In 2018 I started a University research based on a series of interviews with individuals that had migrated from West African countries. The results showed that the fear of being persecuted based on sexual orientation is one of the many reasons why migrants decide to leave their country. In particular, one of the interviewees from Gambia reported that being considered a homosexual by the community could endanger his physical safety in his country.
This evidence raises significant questions on discrimination against individuals of the LGBTQ+ community, although the International Community rarely discusses it. How much can these discriminations against individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community affect the choice to migrate from their country of origin? Such stigmatization derives from prevailing social and cultural norms, impregnated with intolerance and prejudices, and also, from national laws that reflect this kind of attitudes. Therefore, it is also significant to note how widespread are the provisions that criminalise the individuals from the said community within the African territory.
According to the 2020Report, published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, nowadays there are still many laws of African States that criminalize homosexual or transgender people. According to the laws in Mauritania, Somalia and part of Nigeria, anyone identified as belonging to the LGBTQ+ community can be given the death penalty. In the Central African area, such as in Sierra Leone, Gambia, part of Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, the individuals can be served with a prison sentence of a minimum of eleven years up to life imprisonment. In other eighteen states, most of which are located in the Maghreb area and in West Africa, homosexuality is sanctioned with periods of imprisonment that can vary from 1 month to eight years.
On May 23rd, in Senegal, where currently the sexual act between homosexuals is punished with five years of imprisonment, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Dakar, demanding the legitimacy of homophobia. It has been stated that they "want to promote correct social values". This emphasizes the fact that often it is the communities themselves that perpetuate these discriminations.
However, in some countries of the continent, the State’s law does not provide regulatory provisions or sanctions against homosexuality. However, according to numerous reports from NGOs, such asAmnesty International, it has been revealed the presence of multiple realities in which homosexuality is criminalized de facto; through persecution by government authorities or, even, by members of the communities themselves. This is what happens, for example, in Egypt, where torture and illegal detention of homosexuals are widely practiced. For all other countries of the continent, no verified criminalization is foreseen, but similarly, no protection or defence is envisaged within their laws either.
At the regulatory level, the only country that recognizes protection against LGBTQ+ people is South Africa. However, there are discrepancies between what is sanctioned by law and what happens in everyday life.
Nonetheless, it has to be considered that in some areas of the continent, particularly in rural areas, the collection of data about these persecutions is highly complex. Therefore, there is no truthful information in many countries, or it is the State that does not want to collect and submit them to International Organizations. Consequently, several gray areas remain regarding the presence or absence of legislation that criminalize homosexuality within the African continent. For these reasons, it is difficult to structure a realistic mapping on the percentages of persecuted people for their sexual orientation. This detection appears even harder if we consider the percentage of people who emigrated from their country of origin out of fear of being persecuted. The data collection has been worsened by the general trend of the commissions for asylum-seekers to not publish the reasons for the recognition of international protection.
A note issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specified that sexual orientation must be considered in the definition of “refugee,” along with gender identity. Specifically, it is a motivation that can affect the individual's well-founded fear of being persecuted. The 1951Geneva Refugee Convention did not include these factors in the original essay formulation. Due to this Note to the 1967Protocol of the Convention, people who have experienced discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation may require international protection.
Although it is difficult to define the exact number, UNHCR states that among the ten largest nationalities for asylum requests in 2016, eight have very harsh legislation against homosexuals and transgender people.
Furthermore, it is important to underline the plurality of discriminations that a person belonging to the LGBTQ+ community suffers from and how little is this considered in the collective imaginary, especially in asylum and governmental policies.
It may appear that the governments are reluctant in setting up centers that might help and support the LGBTQ+ community. Even in countries with less stringent laws, it is difficult to do because of the prevailing community norms. Consequently, the person who migrates because of abuses and physical, sexual or verbal discrimination is forced to undergo the same degrading treatments and get low protection throughout the migratory path and, most probably, also in its aftermath.
The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak certainly did not improve the situation and contributed to increasing the vulnerability of this community. Given the status quo that provides ground for discrimination and little protection, there is an imminent need to revisit existing laws and enforce governmental and private programs to expand protection systems on field and defend victims from abuses. Raising awareness within the communities, building and establishing suitable centers on the territory, and volunteers' training are all fundamental factors that may change these human rights violations.