The Securitization of Migration

I took a break from blogging while I was writing final essays, but I’m back! Here is a paper I wrote earlier this year on the securitization of migration and its impacts on the European Union.


Migration into the European Union has become an evermore heated topic in recent years. External border countries have argued the concept of burden-sharing (or the lack thereof) to challenge the EU’s responsibility towards asylum-seekers. The United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the EU was seemingly driven by the fear of immigration. And the world watches as the EU deals with these questions. More securitization and ensuing migration measures risk the solidarity and identity of the EU as a whole.

According to Benam (2011), the start of the securitization process in the EU came from greater Europeanization in the aftermath of the Cold War. Ironically, contemporary securitization risks the security and identity of the EU itself. In this paper, I will discuss what ‘securitization’ means when it comes to discourse and migration controls in the EU, and why various countries and groups are pushing for greater securitization at this point in time. These concerns fall into two main categories: national security and economics. I will analyze each of these arguments and demonstrate how greater securitization has a negative impact on EU solidarity and identity.

Securitization, although leading to different security practices, is firstly about the discursive nature of deciding which issues require attention for reasons of security. This makes securitization a speech act, as leaders can shift the attention wherever needed (Waever, 1995). In this paper, I will be using securitization both as the discourse that determines the risks that migration brings with it as well as the practices that emerge from such discourse. I will specifically be focusing on refugees and asylum seekers, as they are the migrants around whom much of the discourse is taking place.


History of Migration Regime in the EU

In order to contextualize the current position of securitization of migration in the EU, it is important to track the history of the migration regime. The Geneva Convention set a standard for UN countries on how to treat refugees and asylum-seekers, so it is also an integral part of the EU’s view towards migration. The two main factors at play in the current EU-specific regime are the Schengen Area and the Dublin principles.

The initiation of the Schengen Area in 1985 marked a new time for the European Union, as border controls were gradually dropped between participating states and inhabitants were allowed to move freely. It must be noted here that the Schengen Area does not equate to all of the EU, as six member-states decided not to be part of the agreement. A corollary to the free movement of inhabitants meant that if third-country migrants made their way into the Schengen area, they would be able to move freely to other countries within Europe without experiencing border checks.

This Schengen area works in concert with the Dublin Regulation, which focuses on how asylum applications are processed. The Regulation was initially passed in 1990 and was revised multiple times, most recently in 2013. An important piece of the Regulation is this:

‘Where it is established … that an applicant has irregularly crossed the border into a Member State by land, sea or air having come from a third country, the Member State thus entered shall be responsible for examining the application for international protection’ (Dublin Regulation 2013).

One of the issues with the Dublin Regulation is that it has restricted burden-sharing, as the majority of asylum request processing has been the responsibility of border states. As I will discuss later, it also pushed those countries who felt overwhelmed by migrants to go around the system and simply let migrants through their territory.

At the time of initial creation, the reason why the combined migration regime of Schengen and Dublin worked was several assumptions that the initial member states’ held about migration into and through Europe. The first was that the citizens of the original northern European Schengen countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Germany) had basically stopped migrating. The second was that the additional southern European countries would want to prevent irregular migration and help take the brunt of third-country migration. The third assumption was that third-country migration would not actually be that great, as the non-European countries which abutted European borders were supported and stabilized by pro-Western governments (Pastore, 2016). These assumptions have been challenged by the immigration crises in recent years.


Higher Securitization in the Current Time

The push for higher restrictions of external borders has come as a larger flow of irregular migrants has been moving towards the EU. Public opinion shows that large groups of people view refugees both as a threat of increasing the likelihood of terrorism in their country as well as a threat of taking jobs and social benefits (Wike 2017).

Countries that fall on the geographical outskirts of the Union have had difficulty because of a dearth of burden-sharing by internal countries. The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 gave more responsibility to the EU as a whole when it comes to migration and external border controls. Yet it still maintained the idea that member states on the border should have responsibility for maintaining and processing asylum claims on those external borders (European Union: Council of the European Union, 1997). Because of this, countries like Italy and Greece have been shouldering much of the burden of migrants. Understandably, they are not happy with the situation, which has caused division within the EU.

Internally, EU members have had to make decisions regarding their borders with other Schengen members. If migrants were able to enter freely, the fear is that they might get across the whole of Europe easily. In September of 2015, Germany decided to reinstate borders with Austria, which inspired other countries to do the same. Currently France, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have all reinstated at least parts of their borders, while some (such as France), have reinstated border checks until October 30th of this year. The other border closures will continue until November 11, 2018 (Migration and Home Affairs, 2018).

The year 2015 was also when a breakdown of the Dublin Regulation started occurring, with various European countries choosing to operate outside the system. Hungary, claiming to be overwhelmed by the numbers of asylum-seekers, suspended the Dublin Regulation and refused to take back refugees who had moved into neighboring countries. Quoted in the Guardian, Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said “We all wish for a European solution, but we need to protect Hungarian interests and our population” (Agence-France Presse, 2015). Germany suspended their Dublin rules to accept Syrian refugees and not return them to the border countries through which they entered the EU. Croatia, instead of accepting migrants or refusing them entry, allowed many to pass through the country on their way to other EU locations, blatantly against Dublin practice.

The reinstatement of internal EU borders, as seen in 2015, is a direct move towards securitization of the migration regime because the discourse around these changes is about protection of individual nations. The ad hoc changes in specific countries’ Dublin rules are trickier to understand, because of the range of choices made. Hungary and Croatia’s choices could be seen both as a move towards greater security for the country’s own borders, but less security for the EU if immigrants are not detained in their country of origin. They could also be seen, in the case of Germany’s acceptance of refugees outside of protocol, as an undermining of the EU community as a whole, simply by choosing to flout an EU standard.

In all three cases, the Dublin Regulation was set aside for national interests. If we look at security as relating to a risk to identity, the ad hoc decisions of countries regarding immigration create a threat to EU solidarity. This idea of EU solidarity as being under threat is what I would like to examine in the rest of this paper, looking at the two main categories of impact of securitization: security and economics.

Arguments for (and Impacts of) Greater Securitization

This is the greatest argument for the push for securitization: With greater border control comes greater safety for those within the EU. This idea of securitization leading towards greater safety relies on several assumptions. One (the most common argument globally for greater border external controls) is that mixed flows of migrants from third countries contain terrorism threats. The second is that greater border controls will actually keep migrants from entering ‘Fortress Europe’.

The greatest concern of European citizens and governments is the fear that the influx of migrants will bring a hidden terrorist stream. However, studies have shown that greater securitization may actually make the risk of migrant radicalization much worse. Milton et al (2013) argue that risk analyses have shown that refugees are more likely to become radicalized in refugee camps as well as when they are not integrated into host societies. Various extremist groups recruit within refugee camps, when inhabitants are feeling helpless and abandoned by the international community. When migration discourse turns into a discussion of threat, migrants already within the community may feel isolated and discriminated against, which could turn them towards radicalization as well. Securitization becomes the cause of extremism rather than the antidote.

The discussion of this paper so far has been what securitization does for those who are resident citizens of the EU. The corollary question to the security of the residents of Europe is the question of security for those asylum-seekers who are stopped from entering the borders of the EU. When countries implement greater border controls, migrants simply find another way to get across borders. Usually, this is through more dangerous routes (such as rickety boats across the Mediterranean), or through invoking the use of smugglers, who can end up trafficking migrants in their care. When greater security measures are put into place, refugees and migrants do not stop moving. They simply are hurt more while doing so in an unregulated way.

Within the higher security on external borders, there have also been pushes to extend them further afield, as can be seen in the instatement of Lampedusa as the southernmost border of the EU. Third countries have been brought into the EU’s goal to secure borders. This occasionally included aid packages that went along with third countries helping restrict migration on their side of the border. According to Uçarer (2016), the extension of border controls signals that ‘while the EU attempts to liberalize the freedom of movement within its territory, it does so by applying potentially illiberal policies in its relations with third countries.’

European countries are trying to keep migrants from even leaving their origin country so that Dublin and Geneva restrictions on sending them back cannot apply. Italy has worked with the Libyan coastguard, who has forced migrants back to Libya and inhumane conditions against their will. The concept of allowing third countries to hold migrants back from setting off for Europe (as has happened in Libya) could be considered refoulement by outsourcing, which is a loophole that cannot be abided (UN High Commissioner for Refugees 2011).

The economic impact is another factor that should be looked at when thinking about securitization of migration. As a large part of the EU structure the single market, it stands to reason that the economic impact of migration would become another argument for further discussion of threat. This also becomes an intergovernmental discussion, as states with less interaction or threat from unregulated third-country migration might be less willing to spend resources that go towards other member states.

One impact that could be negative or positive depending on the side on which one falls is the impact on the labor market. Along with the threat of terrorism, a lot of discourse in the public sphere is discourse that focusing on migrants ‘stealing jobs.’ If this is the discourse one adheres to, perhaps higher securitization is a good thing. Stricter border controls would prevent migrants from entering and working. However, as seen in prior examples, heightened controls do not always prevent migrants from entering the EU, they simply force them to find other means. If migrants manage to enter through back channels, they are likely to end up working in the informal sector, which usually means lower wages and fewer jobs for those who are working under formal sector rules. If they are allowed to enter in a regulated fashion, they are more likely to end up in the formal sector alongside host country citizens.

Another positive aspect of securitization is that the need for workers in the security field is also heightened. The securitization discourse and ensuing policies adds a need for jobs in border regions, for institutions such as Frontex. In the Mediterranean, border patrols utilize massive surveillance systems consisting of drones, helicopters, radars, and intelligence workers in North Africa. In the process of pushing the boundary further into the Mediterranean, producers of these tools have gained business. This is also true internally to the EU, as border walls and fences are planned to prevent unregulated movement. For the public, this may be seen as a good thing, as contractors and laborers gain work from the security field. Yet it again comes back to the question of burden-sharing and popularity at a government level, as certain countries may end up spending more on infrastructure.

However, looking from a larger economic standpoint, higher securitization often restricts a stream of low-wage labor coming from third countries to the EU. Dover (2008) makes this point when he talks about Sub-Saharan African migrants and how helpful the migration is to the economic landscape of the EU. Migrant workers can add to the economy overall and fill jobs that would not be filled otherwise. Even if they do reach the EU, as mentioned before, they can go into the informal sector of the market which is difficult for officials to regulate.



The creation of the European Union was meant to be a process that would create a city on a hill community, an example to the rest of the world. This is shown in the preamble to the Treaty of Rome which states that the nations involve are ‘resolved by thus pooling their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts’ (European Union 1957). The history of the immigration regime was further meant to continue the process of forming an ever-closer union of the European member states (European Union 1957).

What has happened in the EU instead is a loss of solidarity amongst member states and a loss of a moral high ground as heightened security causes harm to migrants. With the misguided focus on the border security of the EU to the detriment of the security of other aspects of the Union, the EU is missing the mark.


Works Cited

Agence-France Presse (2015) “‘The Boat Is Full’: Hungary Suspends EU Asylum Rule,

Blaming Influx of Migrants.” The Guardian, Agence-France Presse. Available from:

Benam, C. (2011). ‘Emergence of a “Big Brother” in Europe: Border Control and Securitization of Migration’. Insight Turkey, 13(3), pp.191–207.

Dover, R. (2008). ‘Towards a Common EU Immigration Policy: a Securitization Too Far’. Journal of European Integration, 30(1), pp.113–130.

European Union: Council of the European Union (1997) Treaty of Amsterdam Amending the Treaty on European Union, The Treaties Establishing the European Communities and

Related Acts. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

European Union (1957) Treaty Establishing the European Community (Consolidated Version), Rome Treaty. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Migration and Home Affairs (2018) “Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control.” Migration and Home Affairs. European Commission. Available from:[14/10/18].

Milton, Daniel, et al (2013) “Radicalism of the Hopeless: Refugee Flows and Transnational Terrorism.” International Interactions, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 621–645.

Pastore, Ferruccio and Giulia Henry (2016) ‘Explaining the Crisis of the European Migration and Asylum Regime’, The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs 51(1): 44-57.

Uçarer, E. (2016) The Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice. In: Cini, M. &Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N. (Eds.) European Union Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 281-294.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2011), The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol,  Geneva: UNHCR.

Wæver, O. (1995), Securitization and Desecuritization. in RD Lipschutz (ed.), On Security. Columbia University Press, pp. 46-87.

Wike, Richard, et al. (2017) “Europeans Fear Wave of Refugees Will Mean More Terrorism, Fewer Jobs | Pew Research Center.” Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project,

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Available from:[15/10/18].


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