Despite the increasing attention attached to it, the notion of migration is hardly a new phenomenon. Twentieth century history holds a significant number of samples where people moved across borders to better themselves or for a new life. Such movements were usually in modest size, regulated by the laws of the receiving countries, and were principally from Europe to the New World or to European colonial outposts. In the last 30-40 years or so something of a radical nature has happened to transform perceptions on migration so that images of people trying to move across borders are now often viewed with discontent and/or as a security threat.
The first radical change has taken place in the volume, direction, and nature of cross-border movements. In contrast to the earlier periods, the pattern of migration since the 1960s has been overwhelmingly one of large-scale movement, primarily driven by economic, political and security factors, often in violation of the laws of the receiving countries, and typically from developing countries to the West.
Although that new-found pattern has had considerable impact on the sender and transit countries, states at the receiving end of migration were left to bear the heavy burden. For migration significantly affected and at times re-casted their domestic order, challenged their traditional institutional structures, modified existing social arrangements, transformed the forces of integration and fragmentation, and accelerated the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. In a more succinct sense migration has become a serious challenge to the long-standing paradigms of certainty and order.
The second change emerged in the academic field when the abrupt ending of the Cold War dramatically altered scholarly perceptions of how to define national security. Scholars and policymakers are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore assertions that a relationship exists between ’the mobility of people across national borders” and “security” in an increasingly interconnected world.
Previously, security was essentially understood as a state-centric concept which meant that the present and future well-being of state actors mattered the most compared to non-state actors such as individuals or groups. Threats to security were primarily driven from across the borders and were militaristic in nature.
Those who favoured a broader definition, meanwhile, argued that “one’s security was threatened by the consequences of events that quickly degrade the quality of life of state and non-state actors alike, thus narrowing significantly the future range of political choices”. According to this new definition security threats could have an effect not only on states but also groups and individuals, as well as other non-state actors. Threats to security may also originate both from across the borders and within, and they could be militaristic as well as political, economic, social, and environmental in nature.
Both changes have resulted in a flurry of attempts and studies to establish a reasonable linkage between international security and migration. A review of such studies points to three areas of potential marriage between the two concepts;
1) “Migration may challenge an actor’s national security by overwhelming state capacity and autonomy to maintain sovereignty across a number of areas.”
At first sight, perceiving migrants who most often appear before border crossings without even the basic human possessions as a security treat may appear as fuzzy reasoning. However, visualize them in numbers reaching up to thousands or millions, desperately seeking help at their point of arrival, and with a potential to upset the existing stability or authority of the host country, the reasoning begins to make sense. It makes even more sense for those countries who already suffer from a long-standing political or economical fragility in their process of development. There are a number of patterns a brief reflection of which holds the key to bring the reasoning to an increased transparency.
To start with, an increased volume of uncontrolled migration may lead to competition between the citizens and newly migrated populations over already scarce resources such as jobs, housing, public services, and social security. Such a development would not only upset the existing system, it would also play into the hands of those who would be ready to blame everything on the arriving migrants. Dissatisfied groups of people thus provide a suitable ground for playing over ethnic, sectarian, religious, and cultural differences, a plausible set of circumstances which make it difficult to maintain internal security and order.
Migration may also call into question the conventional notion of a territorial state as a bounded entity with a clearly demarcated territory and population. Traditionally state authority has been closely linked with controlling borders so much so that ever since the state system arose in its modern form the right to regulate entry has been viewed a fundamental concomitant of sovereignty. Therefore, states may view a large influx of migrants showing up at their borders as a serious challenge that needed to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. To do otherwise would pose an authority risk and at least call into question their obligations derived from previously agreed upon international legal commitments. The demise of East Germany presents a striking example of how loosing border control may lead to downfall. When several thousands of East German citizens crossed over to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland in 1989, the government acquiesced to the loss of authority then independence and sovereignty.
Another point regarding authority is the emergence of organized criminal networks around illegal migration. Such networks are usually spurred by the vast amounts of money involved in human-smuggling and trafficking. When people leave their homes they often place a higher value in getting to a safe country which turns monetary considerations into a lesser priority. Therefore, organized crime groups often find these people ready to pay their asking price however high that may be in return for assistance. For whichever purpose illegal immigration is used, such operations may erode normal governance and present real challenges and threats to national sovereignty.
Moreover, states with weak institutions and porous borders would be more exposed to state and non-state actors’ attempts to access previously migrated population groups for political mobilization, thus creating “refugee warrior communities.” Helpless to exercise sufficient authority on its own territories, such states would not be able to control or circumvent the activities of those communities. Therefore, actors with sufficient cross border-influence over the politically mobilized migrant groups may influence the sphere of domestic and foreign politics of the host country regardless of the latter’s interests. One example of that is the mobilization of the Palestine Liberation Organization of refugees in Lebanese camps.
Another pattern emerges if and when migrants begin to form diaspora organizations in the host country and for various reasons such organizations start to clash among them. Diaspora groups are often formed with an amicable idea of preserving the identity, culture, and religion of the migrants. However, their establishment and migrants’ participation into them could lead to dual, divided, or ambiguous identities and loyalties all of which may challenge the ones that already exist in the host country. The recent past has seen violent conflicts between Croatian nationalists and supporters of the Yugoslavian government. Sometimes it may even the case that an ongoing conflict between different states may be carried over to the host country through the channels created by Diasporas.
Finally, the cost of regulating international migration has been increasing steadily in recent years. The number of asylum applications filed in developed countries has reached 6 million during the 1990s. Hosting those applicants, processing their applications, and returning them when their applications are failed all involve a cost which is estimated to have reached $10 billion per year for each advanced industrial state.
2) “Migration by changing the demographics of the receiving country may challenge national identity thus societal security.”
The question of how international migration may influence the identity and societal security of a receiving country is still in flux, largely due to the fact that every case must be considered separately in view of the different circumstances of each receiving country and varying identities and characteristics of the migrants arriving.
On the point of receiving countries’ circumstances, it is safe to say that those that particularly derive their identity and legitimacy from an ethnic version of nationalism may perceive increased levels of international migration as a problem. Conversely, states who predominantly adopt civic nationalism may view migration as contributing to their national welfare, especially when it comes to admitting highly educated and skilled labour.
On the point of migrant identities and characteristics, the number of migrants, their ethnic, religious, and cultural distinctiveness, and economic and social standings matter the most. For a relatively small percentage of migrants from a homogenous background may be tolerable while a larger number may be perceived as a threat to the identity and societal security of a receiving country. Take the Kosovo crises for example: at one time the Macedonian government feared that the increased number of refugees from Kosovo would have a destabilizing effect on the fragile demographic balance in its country.
3) “Migration may influence and serve the goals of national foreign policies.”
If and when used as a tool to influence and serve the goals of foreign policies, migration may become another important factor threatening national security.
A typical pattern is one in which the receiving country grants refuge status to persons fleeing an adversarial neighbouring regime, in part as a means of maintaining a reservoir of opposition. At the least, the receiving country may provide such people with means to publicize their plight in a dramatic fashion so that the sender country is discredited. Though at times when the receiving country is perceived to protect and help the opposition groups with weapons acquisition, economic means, intelligence, and a base to direct their armed assaults, their actions may become a national security concern.
Another pattern may emerge when the activities of influential Diaspora groups begin to complicate relations between the host and home countries. Believing that their home country should follow a course of domestic and/or external policy different from the one adopted by the government in power, Diaspora groups may try to change it by using their influence over the host country’s political system, thus foreign policy. In case the suggested change is resisted by the government of the home country as it may be running against its own stated interests, a clash of foreign policies between the two countries then may not appear such a distant possibility with repercussions to national securities of both.
A third pattern could form if and when a sending country seeks to mobilize its expatriate population in support of its own foreign policy positions in dealings with the receiving country. To do so, however, carries the risk of the host government responding in an unexpectedly hostile manner to establish the point that trying to drag them into a forced or an undesirable behaviour would be the wrong policy choice.
Governments may also use the process of emigration as a way of forcing host states, although they usually deny such intent. The refugee receiving country often understands a halt to unwanted migration is not likely to take place unless it yields to a demand made by the country from which the refugees come. In 1981 the USA believed that the government of Haiti was encouraging its citizens to flee by boat to Florida to press the USA to substantially increase its aid.
Trying to use the process of emigration may work the other way around too. That is particularly so at times when the sending countries might be encouraging emigration as a way to improve or stabilize economic or political conditions at home. In such circumstances, by adopting new measures to regulate migration stemming from a certain country, host countries could take away the advantages of home countries using the process as a ‘safety valve’. That would in turn present them with the prospect of using migration as a way of influencing the sender country and, thus, to have greater say in how their future relationship should be managed.
Finally, the treatment or mistreatment shown to an immigrant group by a host country, whether that be real or manufactured, could be used as a valid reason for state action. While some countries are prepared to take armed action in defence of their citizens, others might prefer not to antagonize a country that has provided its citizens with employment and that has become a source of much-needed remittances.
In conclusion, the recent trend of people moving in great numbers has focused unprecedented domestic and international attention upon migration and how the concept relates to security and foreign policy. As this paper has tried to show, the issue could be used to establish or enforce fears over a potential chaos, disorder and clash of civilizations. It could also be used as a conduit to breach countries by using migrants to propagate and promote shared values and interests, rather then using it to hurt others. Let’s not forget the interaction of people is fundamentally ‘healthy’ as it allows mutual understanding, tolerance, interdependence, and potential for cultural interaction.