The Governance of Migration and Border Controls: European–North African Context

Written by | Friday, November 2nd, 2018

With the substantive growth of migration from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to Europe after the series of Arab uprisings, the issues of refugees, migration and border controls have moved to the top of the agenda of European policy-makers (and publics), as well as of the international community at large.

A number of studies have highlighted the leverage, or the potential leverage, that MENA states have been acquiring vis-à-vis European states on the issue of migration over the last decade. Considering the high degree of interdependence between the two sides, the leverage held by MENA countries mainly results from Europe’s attempts to co-opt MENA governments in the management of migration flows to Europe and thus to “socialize” MENA states.

Significantly, this leverage is also expressed in the acquiescence of the EU and the international community at large towards the practice of MENA governments to localize European and international norms on migration management and to “use” them for their own interests. Most prominently, this includes the increasing non-differentiation between “regular” citizens and migrants and the expansion of state control over both.

After the Arab uprisings, Europe’s incapacity or inability to manage the influx of refugees and migrants internally, together with the threat and urgency ascribed to the “migration crisis” in Europe, only added to the power of MENA states to impose conditions on Europe. Against this backdrop, we can identify a number of trends in the responses of MENA states to the issues of migration and border controls, particularly vis-à-vis Europe, by focusing on two interrelated aspects.

First is the rather usual approach of states to “localize” international norms and practices in the realm of migration management, that is, to adapt and modify these norms according to domestic preferences and conditions. Western Mediterranean, especially North African countries, can serve as good examples in this regard. Second is the ever-growing tendency to criminalize migration and the ever-diminishing attention paid to human rights that have characterized the international governance of migration in recent years.

But moving the debate beyond the criminalization of international migration begins with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effects on foreigners and citizens alike. Such cumulative effects may explain why the drive for criminalization has gained so much momentum in all countries of migration, be they rich or poor, democratically organized or authoritarian, conflict-ridden or in peace.

In short, criminalization is not simply a name for the obvious securitization of migration policies, or for how the latter have restricted the movement of people across borders. It is a name for a premise that gradually has come to regulate the complex relationships between states and their own citizens (be they mobile or not) as well as the organization of states’ interactions.

Hand in hand with this dynamics goes the growing embeddedness of MENA in the international governance of migration, but with a twist: MENA governments are “embedded” in the broader trend of criminalizing migration and reinforcing state control, to the general detriment of human rights standards.

‚The Governance of Migration and Border Controls in the European–North African Context‘ – Working Paper by Jean-Pierre Cassarino and Raffaella A. Del Sarto – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs / CIDOB.

(The Working Paper can be downloaded here)


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