Providing Security? Border Control and the Politics of Migration in the EU

Just recently, Horst Seehofer, Minister-President of Bavaria and chairman of the CSU party which is a coalition member of the German government, expressed his wish to reintroduce border controls between Germany and Austria in order to reduce the number of refugees entering Germany (Dick, 2014). Seehofer accused Italy of not fulfilling its obligations of registering refugees. This, he argued, is necessary “to guarantee that refugees can be identified in Germany and sent back to Italy” (ibid). Similarly, diplomatic tension between France and the United Kingdom has been increased since state actors in the United Kingdom have called for better control to stem illegal immigration in France while France has urged the UK to aid in their efforts. Calais’ deputy mayor argued that “Britain is a promised land” for immigrants and thus Britain should also take responsibility. As a response, Britain offered “to send 20 km of steel barriers, 3.3 meters high” (Vinocur, 2014) but emphasized that:

[t]he general principle which every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that people fleeing persecution should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach. (…)[w]e had an agreement with France under which if people came to the United Kingdom from France and claimed asylum we would return them to France, and France dealt with their claim, and that’s what really ought to happen (Lord Howard in Anon, 2014).

These are just a few of the many examples which have formed political debate in the European Union between member states since migration has come to be understood as one of the most crucial security issues connected to globalization in contemporary times. Contrary to the globalization of trade, finance, and production, immigrants have been met with restrictive border controls and admission policies (Mirilovic, 2009: p. 1). Especially after the attacks of September 11th migration, in particular irregular migration, has been framed as a significant security problem (Humphrey, 2013: p. 178). A framework was established in which immigration was constructed as a security risk that must be prevented to protect national identity. Not only ‘illegal’ migration, criminal networks and terrorism were emphasized as serious internal security threats to states but immigrants were increasingly portrayed as an ‘Other’ who threatens national identity and culture. Due to this socially produced distinction between ‘self’ and ‘other’, primarily migration flows from developing countries to industrialized countries are portrayed as security risks. Thus, citizens of industrialized countries are framed as educated, wealthy, and developed whereas immigrants are increasingly portrayed as uneducated, uncivilized, and a threat to culture and identity.

This essay explores how the link between international migration and security is constructed. It is argued that this link is mainly a discursive phenomenon. Furthermore, it is emphasized that this security threat discourse is upheld by the constructed distinctions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ and that this discourse has legitimized restrictive nation-state policies in times of globalization. Thus, the following research questions will be addressed:

  • Is the link between migration and security mainly a discursive phenomenon?
  • How has the security threat discourse of migration been developed and how has it legitimized policies?

In first providing an account of the underlying theoretical framework, namely constructivism, the concept of security will be introduced and migration will be defined. Subsequently, the research questions will be addressed theoretically by re-conceptualizing ‘the state’ and examining statecraft and border control in the age of globalization. Finally, the findings will be applied to the nation-state case of Germany and the transnational case of the European Union to unveil the discourse which constructs immigration as security threat and to highlight the political consequences of this discourse.

As for the methodology, the research of this essay is primarily based on international academic journals. Moreover, academic books, political speeches, and news articles were taken into account. Nevertheless, only few examples could be focused on due to the limited word count of this essay. However, these examples are representative and characteristic of contemporary discourse and thus provide an understanding of the constructed, discursive link of migration as security threat

Theoretical Notions

The Constructivist Approach: Re-thinking the Concept of Security


Constructivism is a theory of international relations which emerged after the end of the Cold War. Despite of being compatible with a number of substantive theories of international relations, constructivism is rather a broad ontology and epistemology of ‘the social’ and serves as orientation to social analysis and to how we think about the world (Laffey, 2013a). Although there are many different approaches to constructivism, the key idea can be summarized as follows: the world as we know it is socially constructed. Hence, contrary to other international relations theories, such as liberalism or realism, constructivist scholars claim that the social world is not a given factor but is constituted through discourse (ibid). Discourse, here, not only consists of linguistic practices, such as language, political speeches, and media, but also of non-linguistic practices and routines, such as organizations, institutions, and borders, which in combination lead to the construction of social facts (Weldes et al., 1999: p. 16f). Hence, some constructivist scholars are interested in the meaning and representation of the social world and start with the premise that “mind and language (…) determine meaning, but [that] meaning is also regulated by a mind-independent, extra-linguistic world” (Wendt in Kissolewki, 2005: p. 13). Moreover, it is important to note that these scholars are concerned with these collective and organized social meanings, such as the framing of common sense (Laffey, 2013a, Laffey, 2013b: p.4).

Additionally, constructivism does not merely mirror the world as most theories claim to do, but it questions how these assumptions came into being and the consequences that result from these (Laffey, 2013b: p. 5f). They emphasize that these constructions are reflective of power relations since – according to critical social constructivists – “certain agents or groups of agents play a privileged role in the production and reproduction of these realities” (Weldes et al., 1999: p. 13). Contrary to realist theory, for instance, a unitary self-interested rationality of state actors is not taken for granted but seen as a constructed set of social practices and arrangements which need to be analyzed according to the meaning and interpretation underlying them (Adib-Moghaddam, 2013, Laffey, 2013b: p. 2). Moreover, the international realm is not perceived as anarchical and asocial, but as evolving according to norms and meanings which constitute the entities and relations within them (Laffey, 2013b: p. 3). Thus, it still might be anarchical, but an anarchical society constituted by “interests of all states in social coexistence” (Bull in Vincent, 1988: p. 199).

By questioning the representations of particular issues and implicated – often unconscious – meanings, constructivists aim to reveal that the identity and interests of the nation-state, for instance, is shaped by global and domestic norms and forms of identity which have also been framed and filled with meaning by certain actors.[1] These notions are furthermore responsible for policy-making and relations with other state actors. Thus, in “disturbing comfortable understandings of the world”, constructivism aims to give insight into underlying social productions behind policies or state action (Weldes et al., 1999: p. 21). As Guzzini notes, “constructivism (…) is epistemologically about the social construction of knowledge, and ontologically about the construction of social reality” (Guzzini in Kissolewki, 2005: p. 16).

One of the key areas of constructivist research is in relation to security (Laffey, 2013a). Particularly with regard to security, it becomes clear that social reality is constructed through discourse. Constructivists highlight that despite a variety of dangers in the world, only some are focused on via discourse. Whereas the threat of nuclear weapons is neither denied nor perceived as construction, constructivists are interested in the notion that nuclear weapons in the hands of the United States are perceived differently than nuclear weapons in Iran. The danger amounting from nuclear weapons in this example, therefore, is symbolic for many heterogeneous dangers in current world affairs which are prescribed with meaning. Thus, some dangers are represented as more worrying than others which is further constituted as common sense through collective discourse (Weldes et al., 1999: p. 12).

As mentioned above, rather than taking insecurity as given or natural, constructivists claim that insecurities as well as identities are shaped by processes of representations through “which individuals – whether state officials, (…) journal editors, or users of the Internet, for example – describe to themselves and others the world in which they live” (ibid: p. 14):

Any identity, whether of an individual, a state, or some other social group, is always ‘established in relation to a series of differences that have become socially recognized. These differences are essential to its being. If they did not coexist as differences, it would not exist in its distinctness and solidity’ (William Connolly in Weldes et al., 1999: p. 11).

Thus, insecurities are not only linked to the construction of identities but also an effect of the process of identity-formation by means of ‘politics-of-othering’ as it not only distinguishes itself from an ‘Other’ but further does so in hierarchical fashion, consequently creating insecurity (Laffey, 2013a, Weldes et al., 1999: p. 11). Since formulating and pursuing national interest, providing security and identifying security threats is, in principle, a task of a state, it can be argued through constructivism that state officials are responsible for the construction of insecurities (Weldes et al., 1999: p. 18f). The discourse they choose to frame the identity and interest of the state, and to legitimize state action is the powerful tool to generate a picture of the world (Laffey, 2013a).

In general, security can be defined as the absence of threats (Tallmeister, 2013). According to Rudolph, there are different dimensions of security which are of equal importance. He argues that the national interest is defined in consideration with geopolitical security, economic security, and social stability, also called ‘societal security’ (Waever in Rudolph, 2003: p. 605). Thus, according to Rudolph, security has both external and internal dimensions. Nevertheless, Rudolph does not take into account that there is no clear distinction between inside and outside dimensions since these are interconnected. Moreover, constructivist scholars would furthermore emphasize that these are socially produced. However, for the purposes of this essay, Rudolph’s generalization provides a broad framework to understand the underlying concepts of security threat discourses.

Rudolph defines the external dimension as geopolitical security. This is a more traditional approach to security which he further defines as military security and the maximization of material power. Another dimension Rudolph illustrates is the concept of societal security, which he situates within the interior of the state. According to Waever societal security is “the sustainability, within acceptable conditions for evolution, of traditional patterns of language, culture, association, and religious and national identity” (ibid). In a globalized, interconnected world, this dimension of security seems most problematic. While state actors from industrialized countries commonly open their borders for trade, finance and labor, they tend to believe that societal security is most threatened by opening borders for human beings since these are conceptualized as increasing the possibility of losing a collective identity (ibid). The idea of a collective identity, however, is in itself controversial as these are fragile constructions which evolve, struggle and transform according to discourse. Nevertheless, this dimension of security arguably proves most useful for state actors to construct insecurity by choosing a specific collective identity which is incompatible with a specific type of international migration and thus leads to collective support and legitimation of specific immigration policies. Nevertheless, it is important to note that it is not argued that immigration can never pose threats to nation-states. However, this essay aims to reveal the socially produced constructions in which some threats resulting from immigration are made more central or significant in common thought depending on the present discourse for policy-making purposes.

All in all, it has become evident that the constructivist approach is highly useful to gain insight to how the link between migration and security and the resulting immigration policies have come to be since it goes beyond the notion that state interest is merely maximizing material power, but offers a framework which attempts to highlight that social reality is constructed and highly influenced by power-relations (Kissolewki, 2005: p. 8-10).


Defining ‘Migration’

Today, there are approximately 232 million international migrants in the world (Anon., 2013). Although migration is not a new phenomenon, the global migration stock has grown twice as fast during the period of 2000-2010 as in previous decades (Anon., 2013: p. 1). This, however, is not entirely surprising since contemporary migration occurs in the context of globalization and as a consequence marks an ease of travel and increased mobility (Adamson, 2006: p. 167). Although many state actors celebrate globalization, it also causes many anxieties to sovereignty, autonomy, and territoriality of states (Doty, 2003: p. 4). More importantly, migration has come to be one of the most crucial security issues connected to globalization in contemporary times.

When attempting to define migration, it becomes evident once more that social reality is constructed since “in itself, migration is a neutral event whose nature is determined subjectively by the needs and vulnerabilities of the affected referent objects” (O’Neill, 2006: p. 326). Whereas statistics are only interested in broad, general definitions of migration, policy-making actors seem rather interested in categorized definitions of migration, which distinguish between the different causes and means used to migrate. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), migrants are defined “as individuals, who have resided in a foreign country for more than one year irrespective of the causes, voluntary or involuntary, and the means, regular or irregular (illegal), used to migrate” (Anon., 2011). Even in only mentioning but excluding causes and means used to migrate, the definition raises awareness of the different approaches that fill categorizations of migration with meaning. Apart from that, further definitions of a migrant differentiate between these statuses and reasons for residing within a foreign country, examples include: asylum seekers, irregular migrants, refugees, and temporary migrant workers (ibid).[2] This is particularly important since these categories are exclusionary in nature resulting in the construction of insecurities. Doty emphasizes that the distinction of regular and irregular migrants and asylum seekers creates a sort of hierarchical understanding of different categories of migrants, which are inextricably intertwined in reality (Doty, 2003: p. 40). Although the purposes or either category of migrants used to migrate are the same, irregular, or so-called illegal, migrants are identified by “their status as persons to be one of exclusion from the political sphere of rights” (ibid). Contrary to citizens who are labeled as illegal according to their action, irregular immigrants are labeled as such as a person. There is, however, an attempt by the IOM to overcome this notion by re-naming that category as irregular (Anon., 2011). Nevertheless, in distinguishing between citizen and migrant, regular and irregular migrants, and so on, the notion of a so-called ‘Other’ is created on many levels, leading to insecurities. Specifically irregular immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are represented as high risk and key concern for governments. This is caused by the fact that they are framed as either mediums that carry a certain conflict with them or they automatically “become associated with a host of social dangers and disorders such as crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism” (Doty, 2003: p. 40f). These notions will further be analyzed in the following section, but it should be noted that there is a construction of social reality at present since, for instance, in 2013 ‘only’ seven percent (16.2 million) of all international immigrants were refugees (Anon., 2013: p. 2), which is disproportionate to the discourse framed around it.

When considering the global population, it becomes evident that only 3.2% (Anon., 2013: p. 1f) are international migrants – a figure which seems insignificant. Although the reactions of governments towards migration flows do not seem representative of these statistics, they seem to become slightly more comprehensible when looking at the distributional patterns of migration. As revealed by the joint report of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately “half of all international migrants reside in ten countries” (ibid: p. 2). Twenty percent (45.8 million) of all international migrants alone live in the United States and thirty-one percent (72.4 million) reside in Europe[3] (ibid). In other words, even though international migration seems proportionally small, the amount of people migrating from so-called “Third World” countries to industrialized countries leads to the perception that international migration might pose a security threat to the Western realm. However, when looking at statistics, it becomes clear that this notion is not based on statistics since “‘South-North migration’ almost equal[s] the number of migrants born in the South who resided in the South, or ‘South-South migration’” (ibid: p. 1).

For the purposes of this essay, it should be borne in mind that there is a significant migration from so-called “Third World” countries to industrialized ones. “The reality is [, however,] that many people leave their home countries for a combination of political, economic and other reasons, and do not fit neatly into categories.” (Kissolewki, 2005: p. 33). Therefore, migration should rather be understood as “the movement of human beings across geographic space” (Doty, 2003: p. 3).

The Link Migration and Security: Globalization and Statecraft

“To paraphrase Alexander Wendt, ‘security is what the professionals of unease management make of it’” (Bigo, 2002: p. 85).

Many scholars have attempted to analyze how the link between migration and security was established and why it is commonly perceived as a given fact. In order to understand this link and to be able to unveil that the security threat of migration is socially produced, constructivism is useful as it – as mentioned above – depicts how certain assumptions are constructed. Moreover, the essay uses a state-centric approach and thus does not analyze the security of international immigrants.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been a growing fear of certain immigrants. This has been accompanied by the dualistic approach to conceptualizing security:

On one side is a set of liberal states, including leading members of the international community such as the (…) states of the European Union, comprising a pacific order built upon the principles of liberal democracy, market economics and the rule of law. On the other side are a large number of non-liberal states, many of them subject to instability, conflict and humanitarian crisis (Laffey and Nadarajah, 2012: p. 403).

Thus, a link between migration and security was constructed in which immigrants of poorer economies that migrate to richer ones, namely liberal democracies, are increasingly associated as negative impact and high security risk (Doty, 2003: p. ix). This link is a subjective one, “since what constitutes a threat is a matter of perception” (Weiner, 1993: p. 135). Here, social reality is constructed and endorsed through discourse, e.g. by immigration policies and their execution in Europe and Northern America and by the rhetoric used by political actors, transnational organizations and media (Doty, 2003: p. ix). Moreover, this security threat discourse is influenced by and has an impact on both national and foreign policies. Weiner notes that whereas migration was once “solely the concern of ministries of labor or immigration, [it has] become recognized as affecting a country’s security and stability” (1993: p. 131). Consequently, it has become a concern for “heads of states, cabinets, and key ministries in defense, internal security, and external relations” (1993: p. 131). This idea will further be analyzed in this section by separating between so-called ‘internal security’ and ‘external determination’. Nonetheless, it is important to notice that these are interconnected and also socially produced through discourse.

Constructing Security: National Identity, Interest, and Order

In re-conceptualizing the ‘state’ and introducing the concept of ‘desire’, Roxanne Doty’s explanation seems most fruitful to explain the perception of international migration as so-called ‘internal’ security threat, namely a threat to the national identity, unity, and the national economy. According to Doty, ‘desire’ is a “force that haunts modern societies producing constructions of order, identity, and determinacy” (2003: p. 1). She emphasizes that ‘anti-immigrantism’ – the common belief that migration poses a threat to national security – is a direct result of statecraft and the tension between a state actor’s desire to keep order within an internal realm which is part of international system that is believed to be dominated by disorder (ibid: p. ix). This, however, implicates that there is an internal realm which can be controlled by government practices and is clearly separated from the external world. As mentioned above, the presumption of a clearly defined interior and exterior is problematic, particularly in the context of globalization (ibid: p. 6). This becomes more evident when looking at migration since it reveals a “convergence between the meanings of international and internal security” and accordingly raises questions of “who belongs and who does not belong” to this socially produced interior (Bigo, 2002: p. 63; Doty, 2003: p. 6).

Hence, Doty illustrates that “this is where desire does its productive work” with the aim to create an order which gives an identity to a clearly distinguished ‘interior’ entity and, as a result, limits anxieties and insecurities connected to the ‘exterior’. Accordingly, “[s]tatecraft is desire” (Doty, 2003: p. 6).

Moreover, she emphasizes that this “essentially necessary task of creating order and the ultimate impossibility of doing so is manifested in a variety of tensions [which are characteristic of] the modern nation-state and the economic, social, and political processes that traverse it” (ibid: p. 7). Furthermore, she illustrates that the socially produced concept of the nation-state is only upheld through the notion of ‘desire’:

There is no such thing as ‘the state,’ only a powerful desire for “the state” that pervades the social realm. Of course, there are governmental bureaucracies and institutions, and human subjects engaging in practices. But these, neither individually nor collectively are “the state.” “The state” is nothing but a desire that is manifested in practices of statecraft, practices that can originate in government bureaucracies and institutions, churches, schools, corporations, theaters, novels, art museums, our backyards, our front yards, our kitchens, and living rooms and bedrooms (ibid: p. 12).

Thus, the state can be defined as “territorialized and coded geographic, cultural, and political space,” which is a direct result from practices of statecraft and constant reproductions of these (ibid: p. 14). This fragile construction has been challenged by globalization which has introduced an interconnected world with blurred distinctions of exterior and interior realm.

It has been argued that globalization has undermined the sovereignty of states and increased the desire for order, since today, state actors are not fully in control of the “movement of goods, capital, people, and culture” (ibid: p. 5). Moreover, this sovereign territorial space seems most challenged by the movement of human beings since central questions concerning the identity of a state and belonging are raised (ibid: p. 2). Thus, migration flows are not perceived as an enhancement but as a security threat. The common belief here is that “people (…) are very different from money, bananas, cigarettes, and automobiles” since people are believed to have a profound effect on the identity of the state (ibid). Even attempts to de-humanize migrants to labour-entities for cheap labour with guest worker or temporary migrant working schemes have increased the conceptual link of migration and security. According to Kearney, immigration policy should disembody labor from humans and realize the idea that “foreign labor is desired, but the persons in whom it is embodied are not desired” (ibid: p. 32). This is not only highly contradictory to the constructed identity of Western nation-states since it disregards values of human rights, but human labor cannot be disembodied in human beings. One of the main examples here is Germany since the major challenge to Germany’s identity is the fact that it only recently realized that its call for temporary workers in the seventies has resulted in the migration of human beings (Max Frisch quoted in Doty, 2003: p. 16).[4] Since both, the principle of economic liberalism as well as the principle of social protection and identity protection are promoted by state actors, a tension is created which state actors wish to be overcome by increased state authority legitimized by the discourse of insecurity (ibid: p. 7).

According to Doty, the desire for order in context to international migration leads to so-called anti-immigrantism, which is as much a global phenomenon as immigration itself is (ibid: p. 14). Official government practices, such as citizenship laws, as well as border control policies, are examples of anti-immigrantism. More significantly, Doty argues that a crucial part of anti-immigrantism is so-called ‘new racism’ (or ‘neo-racism’), which illustrates that there has been a shift in racism today as it is based on culture rather than ideas of a biological race (ibid: p. 19). This new racism is concerned with cultural differences and further seeks to highlight incompatible traditions and life styles in order to preserve a certain group’s identity (ibid). It is particularly difficult to overcome as it operates subtly by claiming to be promoting respect towards other cultures, whereas it is rather creating the notion that any ‘Other’, any false cultural element, is incompatible with the true identity of a nation (ibid). Nevertheless, as noted in the previous chapter, the creation of an ‘Other’ is also a means to construct the identity of a nation-state since identification processes are processes of distinguishing from ‘Others’ (ibid: p. 25). Thus, apart from the attempt to establish the ‘illusion’ of order and ‘belonging’ in a complex international system (McLaren, 2012: p. 203), the construction of a nation-state identity is in itself a construction of insecurity. These insecurities, however, are exploited by neo-racists and their idea that cultural differences naturally lead to conflict and aggression and therefore more restrictive policies must be applied to immigrants of the so-called “Third World” or non-Western world since they are framed as having different and incompatible cultures (Doty, 2003: p. 20). Consequently, it is no surprise that for legitimizing exclusionary practices most successfully, the construction of an ‘Other’ is most convincing due to its connection to identity formation processes. Presumably one of the most famous examples of neo-racism is Samuel Huntington’s article “Clash of Civilizations,” in which he claims that there is a “sharp line between Western culture and Western ideas of individualism, liberty, equality, rule of law, democracy, and non-Western ideas that are incompatible with these and pose the potential for conflict” (Doty, 2003: p. 23). Even more recently, he suggested that migration poses a significant threat to “the cultural integrity” of European countries (ibid). He fails to elaborate, however, his understanding of Europe’s cultural integrity since there are many different cultures situated within Europe and, as mentioned above, a culture itself is not static but dynamically transforming and socially constructed. In other words, the idea of race is socially constructed. It is an open-ended process in which ‘racists’ exploit their social power to define race according to the “specific historical, economic, and political situations” current at that time (ibid: p. 25). Thus, exclusionary practices and conventional racism are deeply intertwined:

When put into a larger context of the increasingly blurred nature of national borders, the movement of people across these borders, the evermore restrictive immigration and refugee policies enacted by the Western world, and the linkages between culture and “race,” these discourses can certainly be understood as, at the very least, part of the myriad of enabling conditions for neo-racism. They participate in the naturalization and justification of exclusionary practices based on presumed and essentialized cultural identities (ibid: p. 24).

Hence, issues of belonging were always at present for and challenged by immigrants. As mentioned above, the notion of a common identity is understood as a basis of nationhood and citizenship which distinguishes between those who belong and those who do not. This, in itself, may have the effect of fostering fear of an ‘Other’ (McLaren, 2012: p. 203), but these fears have been exploited further by discourse after the terrorist attacks in the United States, Madrid and London. Instead of attempting to find a variety of causes for these irrational attacks, critically or historically, the predominant approach was based on discourses of ‘self’ and ‘other’. Thus, a discourse was put into focus in which these attacks were portrayed as solely and preliminary for purposes of destroying “the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights, and a pluralist society” (Kettell, 2013: p. 268). The counter-measure launched by the United States and supported by other Western countries, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, namely the ‘War on Terror’ introduced several different discourses. One example is the idea of a failed state which is constructed as the breeding ground for terrorists and therefore its sovereignty needs to be undermined to promote development. It is rather interesting that development in contemporary times has transformed from being a national issue to a globally networked issue (Sabaratnam, 2013: p. 25). Moreover, development is associated with the creation of liberal democracies. Consequently, a dualistic approach of security was increased and a sharp divide between liberal, free developed countries and insecure developing countries was constructed. As a result, military intervention in developing countries has been commonly perceived as a necessity and responsibility (to protect) that go along with humanitarian intervention. This will further be explored in the following. Nonetheless, it is significant that the ‘responsibility to protect’ did not account for own territories since migration flows of these failed states came to be strongly perceived as a threat to peace and security for nation-states and therefore were blocked with border control (Abell, 1996: p. 108). The desire for order and the aim to de-link an interior from an unstable exterior was prevalent.

Moreover, it is significant that not only immigration policies became more restrictive for ‘Third World’ immigrants, but discourses of integration and assimilation within a society started to find a growing interest. Hence, not only future immigrants but also migrants who were already situated within the society became an issue and exclusionary practices were also at work within. The ‘cultural differences’ of Muslim as well as Arab immigrants were framed as destabilizing factor and a threat to national identity of Western countries as well as a threat to European values (Togral in Lazaridis, 2011: p. 9). Accordingly, a framework was introduced that connected certain immigrants to a threat which could be ‘decontaminated’ through means of integration. More precisely, this led to the common conceptualization that “these migrants and their ‘inferior’ culture can be brought in line with the ‘superior’ culture and values of member states” (ibid). Thus, it becomes evident that although integration and assimilation are practices of inclusion, the presumptions that underlie these notions are as neo-racist as exclusionary practices are (Doty, 2003: p. 30). As Silverman notes, both practices suggest a kind of proper, universal culture and try to “fix the other just as much as racial determinism” which is represented as “a necessary precondition for social harmony” (ibid). While some states have become accustomed to the idea of multiculturalism and diversity, other state-actors persist on assimilation practices since they perceive immigration as high “societal security threat as it challenges (…) traditional national identity and core values” (Tallmeister, 2013).

Due to the fact that ‘Third World’ immigrants are predominantly non-white immigrants, they become further prescribed with the label of less desirable and threatening, merging new racism with traditional, biological notions of racism and legitimizing racist attitudes (Doty, 2003: p. 25, 30). This is rather surprising since these exclusionary and racist inclusionary practices “collide with the impulses of a liberal, democratic state and the necessities of a globalized, capitalist world” (ibid: p. 33). Hence, not only the challenge of migration from different cultures, but also restrictive and neo-racist policies by Western state-actors towards immigrants from developing countries pose a threat to the socially produced, liberal and democratic state identity.

This section has illustrated the discursive link between security and migration. It revealed that state actors pursue a desire to construct order and identity within an internal realm to separate from a disorderly external realm. This statecraft leads to anti-immigrantism since immigration reveals that these realms cannot be separated and thus challenges state identity. Moreover, it is highlighted that neo-racism is implicated in practices of statecraft as it offers a way to distinguish from an ‘Other’ and fulfill the desire for order.

Border Control and Security: Conceptualizing Migration as Invading Army

During the Cold War, security was mainly a concern of the state and furthermore preliminary concerned with the concept of geopolitical security. Thus, it comes as no surprise that state actors today are still central to dealing with security threats. However, as illustrated above, state actors in contemporary times are not only responsible for the “protection of a state or society against [a] foreign military attack but also [for] the protection of [the] independent identity of that state or society [against] forces of change that challenge this identity” (Buzan in Abell, 1996: p. 83f). Hence, the common understanding of security has evolved and incorporated different dimensions of security, such as economic and social security, but, as Khalid Koser emphasizes, the means of protection are still in militaristic terms (in Gillick, 2012: p. 1833). Consequently, migration flows, today, are commonly perceived as and represented as comparable to invading armies (Abell, 1996: p. 83). According to Khalid Koser, the association of migration with invading armies is crucial to understanding how the link between migration and security was established. He emphasizes that the construction of discourse in such way gives rise to xenophobia since it awakens a cultural memory which can be traced back to ancient times where an invasion of territory was connected to “murder, rape and pillage” (in Gillick, 2012: p. 1833). Thus, he argues that it is natural for human beings to be suspicious of and against the migration of foreign cultures and people since a discourse is framed which connects migration to the ‘invasion of space’ (in Gillick, 2012: p. 1833). Although, this idea is interesting and reveals the existence of a vicious cycle in which securitization of migration further leads to social disintegration through xenophobia and racism, it is problematic since Khalid does not take into account that the perceptions of which ethnic or cultural backgrounds belong and which ones pose a societal threat does change over time and shifts according to discourse (Weiner in Tallmeister, 2013). Nonetheless, he raises awareness that although the discourse of security has changed and evolved into different dimensions, the counter-measures of insecurity or the measures and instruments applied to provide security are still very military-based approaches (Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p.54).

Thus, the task of immigration services today is not merely granting permission to enter a country but to “provide ‘border protection’ by assessing the risk of passengers as potential criminals, terrorists or visa over-stayers based on their documents, security profiling, biometrics and matrix of databanks” (Humphrey, 2013: p. 179; Tallmeister, 2013). Hence, border control is represented as crucial to providing security from immigration, since it attempts to control territorial boundaries (Bigo, 2002: p. 65). Nonetheless, it is significant that identity politics and ‘self’ and ‘other’ relations are at present. Measures to enhance state security that are applied in order to prevent from ‘insecurities’ caused by immigration include technologies that “sort out who needs to be under surveillance and who is free of surveillance” according to profile, unveiling neo-racism (Bigo, 2002: p. 2002). Especially, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, these traditional approaches to state security were re-introduced in “strengthening border defenses [by slowing down the] global mobility of goods and people to gain greater security” (Bach, 2003: p. 243). Moreover, civil rights and liberties were constricted in order to enhance security ‘for all’ (Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p. 38).

Security and Migration in Germany and the EU

Since the link between migration and security is subjective, it is no surprise that different countries have different approaches to migration. Whereas some countries might welcome immigrants due to the perception of migrants as adding cultural diversity, invigorating the economy and offering cheap labor, others might attempt to seal their borders due to a constructed security threat which leads citizens to believe that they should fear a loss of jobs for companies, an increase in welfare costs and cultural or even ethnic conflict (Weiner, 1993: p. ix). As a matter of fact, most governments of industrialized countries have prioritized the problems of international migration and framed it as security threat rather than emphasizing possible benefits or needs they could serve (ibid). As illustrated in the previous chapter, this construction is caused by the desire to separate an outside from an inside and moreover dependent on the creation of an ‘Other’ and therefore was even more commonly accepted with regards to Muslim immigrants, in particular after the terrorist attacks to the US and Europe. Correspondingly, by analyzing the case of Germany, it will be argued that “racism is significantly implicated in contemporary practices of statecraft [and] that it is an expression of the desire for order.” (Doty, 2003: p. 17) Moreover, Humphrey highlights that “framing migration as a ‘security’ issue gives it political priority and justifies extraordinary legal, policing and policy measures to manage it” (2013: p. 179). This claim was briefly examined in the previous chapter with regards to border control measures and the recent notion that ‘development’ has evolved to be perceived as a global rather than a national issue. In the following chapter, these claims will be analyzed further based on the nation-state case of Germany and the transnational case of the European Union (EU). Moreover, it is important to note that Germany, as part of the European Union, does share its borders with the European Union and practices of border control along the European borders also account for Germany.[5]

In Search for Identity: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Germany

“We asked for workers. We got people instead” (Max Frisch cited in Anon, 2011).

The temporary guest worker program implemented in Germany between 1955 and 1973 is commonly referred to as policy failure. Rather than merely acquiring cheap labor and sustaining post-war recovery and growth, ‘temporary guest workers’ became immigrants and shaped German society. Even in 1982, after programs were launched that grant financial assistance (DM 10.500,-) to those “that were willing to voluntarily return,” the once ‘temporary guest workers’ settled and reunited with their families in Germany (Hogan, 2008: p. 57; Rudolph, 2003: p. 611). Still, many of these immigrants remained socially isolated from the German society. According to Hogan, this can be led back to a general uncertainty of guest workers since they “faced a constant threat to be deported, either through losing their job, their residency, illegal employment or change of employment” (2008: p. 71). This, he argued, is the reason why many guest workers were not motivated enough to learn the language (2008: p. 68). Others claim that the language was not learnt since only uneducated guest workers were recruited to ensure cheap labor. Yet, others are of the opinion that the fact that Germany only recently started to realize and accept its status as immigration country led to this formation of a so-called sub-culture in Germany (Scherer et al., 2009: p. 2). Hence, social reality is constructed subjectively. Nonetheless, most commonly, German discourse is not concerned with causes or solutions but with the constructed and potential societal security threat of immigrants, particularly Turkish immigrants.

In 2010, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the possible construction of a ‘multicultural’ identity in Germany. She emphasized that “the so-called ‘multikulti’ concept – where people would ‘live side-by-side’ happily – did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate” (Evans, 2010). Moreover, she argued that “our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country” (ibid) and added that “[w]e kidded ourselves a while, we said: ‘They won’t stay’ (…) but this isn’t reality” [emphasis added] (ibid). She concluded, “of course, the approach to build a multicultural society and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other…has failed, utterly failed” (ibid). Her choice of words is highly significant in a variety of ways. First, throughout her speech, she clearly distinguishes between ‘us’ and ‘them’ which feeds into the construction of insecurity. Secondly, her choice of words arguably reveals one of the main weaknesses of the attempt by state actors in Germany to pursue their desire for order: Rather than focusing on ‘living together’ as a unit with a positive acceptance of cultural diversity (Weiner, 1993: p. 47), Angela Merkel frames and voices the common, socially-produced thought that ‘living side-by-side’ and separately achieves order in German society. Furthermore, in calling for ‘immigrants (…) to do more to integrate’, Merkel re-constructs the collective belief that integration is solely the responsibility of immigrants. As a result, fears of the German society are fuelled since this creates an image of immigrants that are deliberately threatening societal security due to their ‘refusal’ to integrate (Ehrkamp, 2005: 346). O’Neill argues that this notion leads to a “spiral of insecurity” since the call for integration and assimilation threatens migrant’s societal security which leads to the construction of parallel communities, which subsequently strengthens the initial fears of ‘host’ societies (2006: p. 329). In addition, Merkel establishes the connection to foreign workers in order to create an ‘Other’. Although there have been no temporary guest worker recruitments after 1973, the discourse is still mainly based around these guest workers for the purposes of creating ‘self’ and ‘other’ distinctions more clearly. A notion is created in which it is not a matter of organizing how to live together, but a matter of ‘staying’ or ‘leaving’.

In addition, neo-racism is also implemented to statecraft and the expression of the desire for order by German state actors. This is revealed most clearly when considering the example of linguistic discourse by Thilo Sarrazin. Germany is abolishing itself, a book published in 2009 by Thilo Sarrazin, who at that time was a member of the party of the center-left Social Democrats and was a senior official at Germany’s central bank (Anon, 2010), raised a public debate throughout German society. In his book, Sarrazin attempted to analyze Germany’s situation and reproduced a discourse which linked migration to security and which created the notion that German culture and Turkish culture are incompatible. Not only did he argue that “no immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime,” (Evans, 2010) but he further suggested that so-called ‘hereditary factors’ of the Turkish population in Germany are responsible for the lack of intelligence and failure of ‘Turkish immigrants’ in the German education system (Anon, 2010). Thus, Sarrazin reinforced a common thought that immigration increases welfare and is connected to crime and furthermore connected his subjective social reality construction to traditional forms of racism in claiming that the ‘Turkish population’ in Germany is not only culturally but also biologically inferior. Whereas the prior claims of Sarrazin are still present in current security threat discourse, the latter was rejected by the majority of the population, which also reveals the subjective characteristic of social reality.

Germany’s desire for order and national identity is challenged by so-called ‘second’ or ‘third’ generation immigrants, children of immigrants who were born and raised in Germany. Even this frequently used terminology unveils the attempt of state actors to create order and identity by attempting to distinguish from an interior state and an exterior international realm. Although, the official definition of an immigrant requires a movement across borders, children of immigrants, in Germany, are framed as immigrants and non-citizens. Therefore, the immigration debate has been connected to a reference to guest workers of the 60s and 70s since the creation of a distinction in this case is more commonly accepted. Subsequently, a construction of the second or third generation immigrant can be accomplished. Thus, the attempt to define national identity and pursue the desire for order is challenged by questions of belonging as it is framed to exclude a large part of a population that has shaped German history and lived in Germany for many generations but is excluded from society merely because the grandparents were of foreign origin.

The terrorist attacks of September 11th further exacerbated the security threat discourse of migration since the attacks were executed by foreigners. According to Karyotis, European state actors dramatized a publicly convenient link which connected terrorism to migration and migration to insecurity (2007: p. 1). Rather than distinguishing between terrorism, crime and rights of asylum and clandestine immigration, both were unified into one discourse (Bigo cited in 2007: p. 5). For example, Germany suspended its plan to adopt an immigration law which would allow additional immigration for employment purposes (Karyotis, 2007: p. 7). Moreover, in 2005, an immigration act was put into place, which called for tougher migration controls, concerning both suspected terrorists within the country and those trying to enter (Butterwegge, 2005; Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p. 41). Thus, collective discourse in Germany was not merely concerned with so-called second or third generation Turkish ‘migrants’ as an ‘Other’ with an ‘inferior’ cultural anymore. Instead, as in many industrialized countries, an ‘Other’ was constructed who represents a suspect, an internal ‘threat’, a potential terrorist who, according to another discourse created by the United States, is at war with Western values (Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p. 41). This discourse caused two main political consequences in Germany. First, the ‘War against Terror’ launched by George W. Bush was joined with the invasion Afghanistan, for instance, due to two socially-produced reasons which were also mentioned in the previous chapter, namely to promote development as global responsibility for ‘preventative purposes’ and due to the discourse which created the ‘responsibility to protect’ which can be translated into the idea of the protection of an ‘inferior’ culture by the ‘superior’ Western culture. Secondly, in terms of migration, the reinforced discursive link between terrorism, migration and security led to the legitimation of enhanced and stricter border control as well as more restrictive admission policies (Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p. 41). This will become more evident when looking at European border control in the following. 

Border Control Immigration Policy in the European Union

“The Strait of Gibraltar today constitutes the largest mass grave in Europe” (Yerga cited in Doty, 2003: p. 76).

According to Doty, fears that immigrants dilute national identity or culture have always been present. These, however, have been exacerbated after the terrorist attacks of September 11th (2003: p.73). Thus, the discourse of insecurity connected to migration, especially irregular migration, has intensified the desire for order. Potential dangers of irregular immigration from developing countries are prioritized by state actors and reproduced by discourse which emphasizes the “renewed efforts to keep ‘them’ out, or the failed attempts to keep ‘them’ out, or the ‘successful’ border policies that have in fact kept ‘them’ out only to result in many, many deaths as ‘they’ continually try to get in” (ibid). In the European Union, the question of “whose security and security in whose name becomes more opaque [since] the exercise of authority moves [farther] from [a] traditional territorial home” (Guild, 2009: p. 190f). FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, was founded to ‘strengthen’ security at the external borders of the EU through implementing member state’s requests by tougher border control and stricter admission policies accompanied by surveillance technologies “such as infra-red detection devices, and the use of biometric and fingerprinting equipment” (ibid: p. 44f; Den Boer, 2008: p. 4). Feldman emphasizes that these surveillance technologies have led to a system in which everyone is a suspect until a database declares a person’s innocence. Thus, he illustrates that the question has been reframed to ‘where isn’t the security’ threat rather than questioning ‘where is’ (2012: p. 118). Moreover, the tensions caused by the desire for order which cannot be guaranteed due to the distance from the ‘traditional’ territory, caused a lack of confidence in the control of member states which are in control of EU common borders. Furthermore, those member states situated at the ‘frontiers’ of the EU emphasized that there was a lack of taking responsibility by other member states not situated at the border. This increased suspiciousness between member states and tested relations within the Union to the extent that some members voiced the wish to leave the EU (ibid: p. 53).

The resulting imbalance of the security threat discourse of migration is most evident when looking at examples of border control in the EU. For example, members of the European Union have aided Greece financially to handle immigration flows and to intensify its border controls since it accounts as ‘frontier’ of the Union (Popp, 2014). According to Popp, Greece has received 12 million Euros to provide for irregular immigrants, namely refugees, in the past three years. However, 228 million Euros were provided to secure the border further, which can be translated into preventing immigrants from entering the EU territory (2014). Moreover, a lack of regular immigration channels causes a growing influx of undocumented immigrants (Hogan, 2008: p. 52), which then intensifies the security threat discourse and legitimizes more restrictive policies. For instance, in order to be able to apply for asylum in the EU, it is necessary to migrate first. Thus, the only way of applying for asylum is by migrating irregularly (Popp, 2014). However, since 2005, EU spending to prevent irregular migration and asylum seekers has increased from 6 to 90 million Euros per year (Popp, 2014). Even though FRONTEX emphasizes its goal to control migration rather than prevent it, its success is measured by how many irregular immigrants were stopped from entering the EU (Popp, 2014). Although it provides information on how many people have entered the EU irregularly, it does not collect and offer information regarding the amount of people that have been injured or died at Europe’s frontiers (Popp, 2014).

The desire for order in the European Union to prevent refugees from entering has led to institutionalized violence since refugee flows cannot be prevented. Even the non-governmental humanitarian-aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has stopped their humanitarian aid at Morocco’s borders out of protest after providing aid to more than 10,000 refugees in two years. Doty calls this ‘the bitter taste of statecraft’ (2003: p. 76), and argues that the desire for order becomes evident after watching human beings, who “pin their hopes and dreams and lives on the crossing of dangerous borders,” “being dropped back at the border” (ibid). Discourse, however, is not concerned with human beings but a threatening ‘Other’ with an ‘inferior’ and ‘incompatible’ culture, who has to be kept out of the Union to provide security. O’Neill argues that this discourse and the resulting statecraft constitute the biggest threat to European identity. He argues that ‘external’ security needs to be provided by reducing unrest and tension along the borders of the EU, rather than increasing it by stricter border control measures (2006: p. 344). Moreover, he illustrates, that this unbalanced approach which fails to respect the human rights of immigrants and consequently poses a threat to EU identity as advocator of human rights (ibid). As mentioned before, this identity threat is also evident when taking into account the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan by member states of the EU due to the ‘responsibility to protect’, since this responsibility, is not pursued closer to own territory. Thus, this unbalanced approach to migration control is more harmful to the constructed identity of the EU than the societal security problem that the EU seeks to resolve (O’Neill, 2006: p. 345). Moreover, the impact of the applied security threat discourse in relation to migration, be it pursued by rhetoric or border controls, has rarely ensured better human security, neither for natives nor for immigrants (Campani cited in Lazaridis, 2001: p. 7).

Discussion and Conclusion

‘England is my goal,’ [he] said outside his makeshift tent near the French port city of Calais. ‘The question is not if I succeed but when,’ he said in English, adding he had tried ‘at least 40 times’ since May (Ghabrai in Vinocur, 2014).

Although international migration has increased due to globalization and increased mobility, it is not a new phenomenon. Thus, particularly in today’s interconnected world, migration should be recognized as a fact rather than conceptualized as a disease which can be fought. In the past years, it has become evident that the desire for order and societal security pursued by tougher border controls and stricter admission policies did not stop immigration flows. Instead, the attempt to secure European identity and order resulted in insecurity at European borders. Thus, fundamental questions of human rights in a European Union, which identifies itself as an advocator of human rights, were raised. In failing to respect the human rights of immigrants, the EU ultimately is in danger of undermining its own identity (O’Neill, 2006: p. 345). Therefore, new ways to pursue the desire for order should be adopted and a more balanced approach should be promoted in implementing a plural conception of security. Hence, cooperation and dialogue should be increased in order to formulate a more coherent migration management system which goes beyond restrictive border control (Pinyol-Jiménez, 2012: p. 55). Den Boer argues that promoting regular migration and integration to European societies would also overcome marginalization as well as radicalization of immigrants within their ‘internal’ realm (2008: p. 5). Hence, the security threat of terrorism within society could also be limited. Moreover, Den Boer illustrates that although the threat of Islamist terrorist attacks in some European countries has increased, the majority (88%) of terrorist attacks were of separatist nature rather than ‘islamist extremist’ nature (ibid). Thus, the distinction of ‘citizens and immigrants’, ‘regular immigrants and irregular immigrants’, ‘irregular immigrants and terrorists’ in discourse has rather increased insecurity within society than it has provided security.

This essay has highlighted that the security threat of migration is mainly a discursive phenomenon which is supported by a distinctive framing of the ‘self’ and ‘other’. It has revealed that globalization has led to an increased desire of state actors to establish an internal realm characterized by order and distinguished by an external realm which is perceived to be disorderly. However, this desire is challenged by international migration as it reveals that a distinction cannot be achieved. These tensions lead to an intensified statecraft which further implements neo-racism and anti-immigrantism to pursue its desire for order. Here, the link between migration and security is constructed. Furthermore, security provision is still conceptualized in militaristic terms which lead to the notion that security can be achieved by restricting border control and preventing immigrants from entering. Consequently framing immigrants as invading army.

The power of discourse and the discursive link between migration and security were further illustrated in the case of Germany, which has just recently acknowledged that it is an immigration country but has declared that a multicultural national identity is not an option to achieve national order. In analyzing linguistic discourse by Angela Merkel and Thilo Sarrazin, it has become evident that the desire for order to create a clearer ‘illusion’ of an interior is pursued by means of neo-racism. Thus, in contemporary times, statecraft and neo-racism are interconnected and lead to anti-immigrantism. Subsequently, the case of the European Union was discussed in relation to its ‘struggle’ to ‘prevent’ migration. Here, it becomes evident that the cost of pursuing a desire for order is higher than the constructed security threat that is attempted to be resolved. Europe’s identity, as an international advocator of human rights and defender of democracy, is ultimately challenged by the violation of human rights at its own borders. Moreover, the financial cost and struggle to ‘prevent’ migration from happening at European borders threaten the globalized concept of the European Union and create tensions within member countries. Thus, it has become evident that the constructed security threat discourse of migration and the resulting border control measures have failed to provide security, neither for immigrants nor for ‘natives’.

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[1] This is an example concerning the identity and interest of nation-states in particular. Nevertheless, it should be noted that constructivists also raise questions on the definitions and distinctions of the global and the domestic.

[2] The ones of relevance for this paper are defined by the IOM as follows:

  • Asylum Seeker: A person who seeks safety from persecution or serious harm in a country other than his or her own and awaits a decision on the application for refugee status under relevant international and national instruments.
  • Irregular Migrant: A person who, owing to unauthorized entry, breach of a condition of entry, or the expiry of his or her visa, lacks legal status in a transit or host country. (…) The term “irregular” is preferable to “illegal” because the latter carries a criminal connotation and is seen as denying migrants’ humanity.
  • Refugee: A person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
  • Temporary Migrant Worker (or contract migrant workers): Skilled, semi-skilled or untrained workers who remain in the destination country for definite periods as determined in a work contract with an individual worker or a service contract concluded with an enterprise (Anon., 2011).

[3] Other countries of importance in this paper among the ten countries include Germany, with 9.8 million migrants.

[4] The case of Germany will further be analyzed in the next section.

[5] Due to the limited word count of this essay, only a few examples can be taken into account.


Written by: Yasemin Oezel
Written at: SOAS, University of London
Written for: Dr Mark Laffey
Date written: September 2014

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