Book Review: The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women

Angelo Tramountanis

book review coverIn The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women, Alison Gerard (Routledge, 2014) discusses existing conflicts between the responsibility of a state to protect refugee populations and the securitization of migration. She argues that, in essence, these two notions seem to be mutually exclusive. States and supranational organizations such as the European Union, use the tools provided by the securitization of migration in order to curb the rights that, in other circumstances, they would be obliged to provide to individuals seeking humanitarian protection. As Jef Huysmans argues, through the process of European integration, the securitization of migration is evident in three major themes: internal security, cultural identity, and the crisis of the welfare system. Following this typology, Gerard uncovers the ways in which the securitization of migration affects the choices, lives, and strategies of those who travel to Europe in order to seek protection. She does so by focusing on the specific case of Somali women arriving in Malta.

The securitization of migration, refugee protection, gender, and irregular immigration are the key parameters through which the main research question of this book is formulated: ‘What is the impact of the securitization of migration on women’s experience across the four key stages of migration―exit, transit, arrival and onward migration’ (p. 3). In order to answer this question, Gerard has organized her work in eight chapters. In the first, she describes the current irregular migration trends, discusses the methodology she employed for her research, and gives a brief migration profile of Malta. The second and third chapters provide the conceptual framework and structural analysis of the two regimes in conflict: the securitization of migration and refugee protection. The following four chapters examine the empirical data of the impact of securitization on the experiences of migrants during the four key stages of the migration process. The last chapter returns to the key tensions and research questions, and attempts to identify the pathways necessary in order to transcend these tensions.

Through her analysis, Gerard argues that the paradox between the refugee protection framework and the securitization of migration is evident in five intertwined areas. The first area relates to the restrictions imposed on border crossings by sovereign states, which directly contrast the right of individuals to cross international borders in order to seek protection. The second tension is the contradiction between providing sustainable solutions for refugees, and the increasingly popular practice of containing (or ‘warehousing’) populations for prolonged periods of time. The third tension lies between states’ obligation to provide rights and entitlements to refugees, and the continuing attempt to dilute these rights with the introduction and codification of temporary forms of protection. The fourth tension deals with crimes of entry, since refugee protection principles prescribe non-penalization for those who illegally enter a country to seek asylum, yet the use of administrative detention for those that illegally cross international borders is becoming widespread. Last but not least, the fifth tension arises from states’ obligation to not commit refoulement, when in practice states employ all means possible to deter ‘onward migration’―that is, the mobility of migrants beyond those member states that form the external borders of the European Union.

Gerard’s research took place in the island of Malta, which is strategically situated in the borderline that divides the so-called global north from global south. Furthermore, Malta is in the periphery of the EU and―alongside Greece and Italy―receives a large part of migrants attempting to make their way to Europe. In the book, Gerard focuses specifically on Somali refugee women. She doesn’t use the term ‘refugee’ as strictly defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Rather, she takes a broader definition that includes those women who self-identify as refugees―those in need of some form of humanitarian protection. Gerard carried out her research using a mixed-method qualitative approach, including semi-structured interviews with refugee women, as well as NGO and law enforcement representatives.

The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women exposes its readers to the migration of these women through the above-mentioned four (non-linear) stages that form a migration process. Readers follow this process through participants’ eyes and experience the journey from the country (or countries) of exit to Malta. We observe the particularities and dangers of their journeys, particularly with regards to their gender. Indeed, gender is pivotal in Gerard’s research. Most mainstream literature on the migration experience is based on the narratives of immigrant men, while women’s migration is perceived as associated and dependent on the decisions of their male counterparts. Gerard demonstrates how gender is a key factor in the decision to exit the county of origin, in the choice of the different routes taken and strategies employed during the transit phase, and in the different experiences during arrival. Gender is an important lens through which we can witness the consequences of securitization of migration in the process of seeking protection.

Through the narratives presented in The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women, we also witness how gender-based violence and insecurity influence the decisions of Somali women to exit their country, and how they’re prioritized to leave before their male family members. Women further describe the dangers and forms of violence (both direct and structural) that they experience during the transit stage―the journey from the point of exit, to the point of arrival, Malta. Exposure to violence at this stage can be mediated by money. When women lack adequate access to financial resources, their bodies may serve as a form of currency.

The criminalization of migration begins when women arrive in Malta. For this ‘crime of arrival,’ immigrants are punished both explicitly and implicitly in specific legal and administrative areas of life. Furthermore, the sexual violence experienced by these women during the exit and transit stages shape their experiences of arrival in Malta, since many arrive pregnant or with children. Women themselves regard the Dublin II Regulation as further punishing them upon their arrival (or return) to Malta. We see how they become ‘stuck’ in Malta, in a ‘constant state of arrival,’ without the option of going back, moving to another country, and, most importantly, reuniting with their families.

Gender also shapes eventual onward migration, and the outcome of these journeys. We witness how the strategic decisions by these women regarding onward migration are undermined by the operation of the Dublin II Regulation. Furthermore, Gerard shows how different resettlement programs perceive this population either as ‘resource intensive’―and hence not appealing to be selected for resettlement―or as exactly the opposite, a vulnerable population that should be prioritized above all others.

The thorough analysis provided by Gerard makes this book a highly recommended read for a wide-ranging audience, from NGO personnel to policy-makers and legislators. Overall, this book achieves its main goal and contributes significantly to the debate on the tensions between the securitization of migration and the refugee protection framework.

Author affiliation: Angelo Tramountanis, Researcher at the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) and Phd Candidate at the Panteion University of Athens, Greece.

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June.


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