Today, migration constitutes one of the most prominent objects of securitization, as a result of the security centered narrative and the institutional approach to the matter of migration and migrants. Migration policy is deeply entrenched in extensive ‘societal, political and professional processes’ (Huysmans, 2000), and has consequently been the victim of carefully thought out narrative depicting it as a threat to national identity (Ceyan and Tsoukala, 2002), economic security (Burgess and Gutwirth, 2012), and the homogeneity of the state (Bigo, 2002). This narrative laid the foundations for the securitization process, hence why today’s political climate features tense and complex connotations around migration, borders, and security. Securitization theory has significantly influenced the way academics and practitioners study and conceptualize security (Buzan and Weaver, 1997), and greatly impacted our analysis and understanding of migration. Much of the literature on migration pays great attention to the ‘significance of such borders in the context of national security, control and more recently, securitization’ (Bigo 2002, as cited in Menjivar, 2014), for instance, the construction of ‘immigrant illegality’ through institutional frameworks in the West  (De Genova 2002, Menj´ıvar & Kanstroom 2014), and the impermeable ‘wall around the West’ as identified by Andreas and Synder (2000, as cited in Menjivar, 2014). This chronology of migration had collided with states’ need for security, creating a confluence of control and securitization resulting in a global ‘concern’, specifically, in the UK, migration of all kinds is noted as a top concern (Statista Research Department, 2019). This highlights the urgent need to understand the processes migration and borders have undergone in recent years to become a global security issue. It is essential to pay due attention to the process of securitization and how this acts as a powerful tool in the outcomes of migratory processes. 

            There is a wealth of literature discussing the relationship between migration, borders, and security theory. Many scholars propose the argument that migrants pose a security threat to the homogeneity and sovereignty of the host state, more specifically Western states. This is frequently recognized within academic spheres, as  ‘the security risk is commonly understood to […] jeopardize a relatively prosperous Western way of life’ (Pugh, 2000: 19). In this sense, it becomes clear why migration is understood to be one of the biggest ‘threats’ present in the Western world. Supporting this, this migration fearing narrative has been emphasized within the European Union ((Huysmans 2000; Karyotis, 2007), and many academics in this area noted that securitization of migration is a ‘phenomenon of western societies’ (Ceyhan and Tsoukala, 2002). This might suggest that in the West’s attempt to secure sovereignty, they create a space of ‘other’. In this case, the quest for ultimate power creates a harmful narrative that locates migrants as a threat. On an individual basis, this could leave migrants increasingly vulnerable, which brings in another aspect of security; human security. This will be further discussed.

Given a great deal of academic and political attention, there is a wealth of research on the securitization of migration and borders from the Western perspective. Throughout much of the reading, the same themes occur; fear and anxiety associated with an identity threat, politicization as a powerful tool to appease political agendas, and the duality of migrants as a cause of insecurity as well as a victim. Migration is presented as a catalyst supposedly able to summarise the majority of the current social problems experienced by western societies, and much of the discourse is produced based on fear and proliferation of dangers associated with migration; chaos, disorder, and clash of civilizations (Ceyhan and Tsoukala, 2002). Despite the lack of recognition, this fear does exist in the global south too (Fouratt, 2014; Ilgit and Klotz, 2014).

Traditionally, academics focus their research on the northern hemisphere. This is as a result of a combination of things; migration research is typically overwhelmingly Eurocentric, therefore it can only provide a Eurocentric insight, another factor being that the global north is the most popular destination for migrants. This is clearly illustrated in recent statistics; the top three end destination countries are the USA, Germany, and Russia (UN DESA, 2015). This is a partial cause of the production of harmful narratives surrounding migration, as the sphere of debate only represents one voice. Furthermore, key authors such as Hall (2010), Huysmans (2000), and Menjivar (2014) all focus their works on the perspective of the west, specifically Europe and the USA. They acknowledge the development of migration policy and practice, introducing it to the political arena. In line with the creation of a particular narrative, the policies they explore ‘facilitate the creation of migration as a major destabilizing or dangerous challenge to Western societies’ (Huysmans, 2000). The implications of this are the production of politics based on fear and anxiety (Isin, 2004; Massumi, 2005), which prompts political institutions to command a stricter migration policy (Buzan, 1991: 447). A stricter migration policy often includes ‘othering tactics’, which ties in with the narrative of migration as a threat. These tactics force racialized stereotypes onto bodies of the ‘other’ (Hall, 2010) and reinforce the notion that migration, specifically the people who appear different to the homogeneous destination, are nothing but a security threat to Western societies and way of life. However, this is hugely harmful to migrants and makes them increasingly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. 

These consequences continue to inhibit the security of states and humans, particularly given the increase in border control that immigrants face. Anguiana-Tellez (2008) illustrates this further concerning Mexico and Mexican migration and the portrayal of migration by the United States. Given the harsh laws and migration practices put in place by the United States, many migrants from Latin America are becoming trapped in Mexico, the transit country, for long and uncertain amounts of time. In many cases, the migration journey ends there with settlement (Rivas Castillo, 2012). This highlights the changing dynamic of migration and security and provides a small insight into the variations of security and the ways that they intersect. 

The literature on the securitization of migration and borders demonstrates the complex relationship within the nexus. It illustrates security as a western priority and identifies migration and border control as the most prominent threat. However, it is possible to recognize the varying degrees of security and the impacts this has on migration. 

The Emergence of Securitisation of Migration 

In 2019, the number of migrants around the world reached an estimate of 272 million, which is over 50 million more than in 2010 (UN, 2019). This number is constantly rising, illuminating the continuous nature of migration. Migration as a political issue entered the agenda in the 1980s, as during this time Europe was marked by dramatic changes that had a sizeable impact on the initiation and delivery of migration policy. A notable change highlighted throughout much of the literature is the far-reaching character of globalization and its ‘widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnections in all aspects of contemporary social life’ (Held, et al., 1999: 2). Migration and globalization are inextricably linked; one the one hand, globalization can be considered a driver of migration, and on the other, migration aids the process of globalization. For instance, a central element to globalization is the inflation of flows; these can be of goods, knowledge, people, culture, and capital (Castles and Miller, 2009). This rapid increase in inflows brings attention to the notion of security and the accompanying potential threats.

Therefore, when migration became politicized in the 1980s, it also became securitized. Within the migration conversation, many highlighted migration as a threat against all features of national identity; language, religion, ethnicity, and culture (Buzan, 1991: 447). This highlights the emergence of securitization. Adding to globalization, the fragmentation of borders and major states, such as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, plays a central role in the securitization of migration. The mass violence and displacement associated with the end of the bipolar world order corresponds with the securitization of migration and the transpiration of diasporas. The range of movement over these newly formed political borders is similar to more recent migration case studies, where civilians are fleeing war-ridden regions such as Syria. This, combined with the construction of the European Union and the Schengen Area drastically altered the geopolitical context, therefore altering political understandings of migration, hence the securitization process (Farny, 2016). 

Based on this, the political construction of migration frequently adverts to danger and chaos implicated to public order. This is in line with the critical security studies literature, which achieves governance through the ‘production of threats or unease’ (Huysmans, 1998; Bigo, 2002, as cited in Squire, 2015). Accordingly, significant migration policy materialized in the 1980s in Europe, where many of the debates presented migration as a ‘challenge to the welfare state and the cultural composition of the nation’ (Huysmans, 2002: 6). Given this, the political problematization of migration and borders was consistently associated with the undermining of domestic integration and potential jeopardy of public order (Huysmans, 2000). Before the 1980s in Europe, migration was considered in regards to social and economic rights, with the construction of an integrated labor market paramount. This required workers to be able to move freely between all member states. Despite this, from the mid-1980s onwards, there was a profound change of focus. Immigration was increasingly framed through a political lens and about the question of migration and security, and strictly through the (con)fusion of immigration and asylum (Huysmans, 2000). On this account, it is fair to argue that the securitization of migration principally emerged within the context of the European Union (Farny, 2016). 

While many academics argue that the role of the EU in the process of securitization of migration was dominant (Karyotis, 2007), others emphasized that this was predominantly a western phenomenon altogether (Ceyhan and Tsoukala, 2002). For instance, the United States was formally viewed as a country built by immigration, therefore migration was never constructed as a security threat. However, the events of 9/11 prompted a change in discourse whereby a correlation between migration and security was highlighted in the public domain. Post-9/11, the fear associated with terrorism laid the foundations framing the discourse and practice about migration, with a particular emphasis on Arab and Muslim immigrants. For instance, an overwhelming majority of publicly available news sources reported on the issue using images of black and brown people, creating a racially fuelled narrative that went on to (wrongfully) inform the American public what a terrorist might look like. This seemingly subtle action was a critical element of the construction of the migration and security narrative at the time. The consequences of this are illustrated in America by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2001), whereby an investigation discovered that the portrayal of Muslims in anti-migration policy and security policy resulted in 27.2% of all hate crimes in 2001 being anti-Islamic. This is part of a wider process of ‘threat’ production, where migration corresponds with varying levels of in/security (Squire, 2015).

The Building of the ‘Wall around the West’ (Andreas and Synder, 2000)

            Security is a core value to human life (Tripp, 2013). The meaning of security is based on four assumptions; security of what, from what, for what, and by what means (Jackson, 2000: 91). This renders security as a complex term that attempts to address important challenges within the migration-security nexus. Many definitions of security include notions of freedom from danger and fear (Oxford: Clarendon Press, eighth edition 1990: 1093). This indicates the importance of this aspect of freedom, and as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, without security ‘there is no place for industry… no arts, no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (Hobbes, 1946). In this case, Hobbes is arguing that security is critical to living a safe and happy life, therefore security is a powerful force, and in most cases based on state interests (Stolberg, 2012). 

In the west, security is born from the desire to defend and self-protect, it is a response to the fact or threat of harm (Jackson-Preece, 2011). As seen in contemporary Europe and North America, the desire for security has proliferated, in part due to the changing political landscape. In some ways, the rapid growth of migration and how it is depicted can be identified as a factor in the increased demand for security, however, there are two lenses to this; security of the migrant as well as security of the host country. For instance, the carefully produced narrative of the ‘migrant/refugee crisis’ in Europe. During the spring of 2015, eight hundred and fifty refugees were brutally killed in their journey towards a better life, and their bodies washed ashore on a Spanish beach. The media spectacle this incident induced displayed the treacherous journey people must take to seek freedom and the human catastrophe that accompanied it, however, it also extravagantly displayed the ‘epicenter of lethal border crossings’ (De Genovia, 2-16, p. 1765). The Mediterranian is now known as the deadliest border crossing (McAuliffe and Ruhs, 2018, as cited in Palm, 2020, p. 9). And yet, European media placed focus on the threat this produces against European homogeneity, rather than the relentless threat to life of those wishing for a better life. From this perspective, the securitization of migration was a purposeful process to create a dominant narrative that places European bodies at the top of the priority list. This presents us with the ‘cruel (post)coloniality of the ‘new’ Europe’, whereby the growing global mobility of the Global South ‘has been preemptively illegalized’ to remain powerful and in ultimate control of all borders and movement (Andersson, 2014; De Genova, 2013, 2016; Karakayali and Rigo 2010; Scheel 2017, as cited in De Genova, 2016, p. 1766). This demonstrates how security is produced, with an agenda that serves predominantly western bodies and agendas. 

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