Differing Approaches to Understanding the Securitisation of MENA Migration in Europe

15:00 – 17:00
Chair: Richard McNeil-Willson, University of Exeter

The Jihadi Migrant: Charting the Impact of European Responses to the ‘Foreign Fighter Phenomenon’ on the Secularisation of Migration Routes

Richard McNeil-Willson, University of Exeter

This paper will seek to explore how migration to Europe has been actively securitised as a direct consequence of responses to the ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon.  Concerns about individuals who have travelled to Syria and Iraq – and their potential for participating violence upon return – has enabled the expansion of counterterror powers and the creation of new policies. This paper will explore two specific policy case studies: 1) the counter-terror strategy of CONTEST(II) in the UK; and 2) the so-called ‘Aarhus model’ in Denmark. These case studies offer competing responses to foreign fighters: the UK overtly militarises travel and immigration, criminalising fighters; the ‘Aarhus model’ is championed as progressive, holistic and multiagency, reintegrating fighters though education, training and additional healthcare.  Through an analysis of both the language of specific counterterror policies, as well as an exploration their implementation – drawn from interviews with former fighters, policy makers and counter-terror practitioners in the UK and Denmark – this paper will show that both have contributed to a securitisation of migration, as follows: 1. Concerns about migration have been actively exacerbated to support and enact such policies;  2. Both approaches propound ‘oppressive liberalism’ (Jobbke 2007), which problematises Islamic identity; and 3. Both approaches have been actively used to further militarise and securitise the EU response to the ‘refugee crisis’. As such, this paper will build a research approach which tracks and accounts for how these approaches – whilst seemingly markedly different – have supported the securitisation of migration routes within the EU, exacerbating the ‘migration crisis’.

Good Camp, Bad Camp: The Securitisation of Migration within EU ‘Human-Centred’ Responses to the MENA ‘Refugee Crisis’

Silvia Truini, University of Exeter and University of Southhampton

This paper contends that ‘human-centred’ responses to the ‘refugee crisis’ – as demonstrated in Konitsa camp – actively and deliberately support wider patterns of securitisation of migration. Exemplified and exceptionalised by international media, national authorities and local institutions, the camp has been held up as ‘a light in the dark days’ (Mitopulu, 2016) and ‘as good as it gets for any refugee’ (Lee 2016); it is framed as both an outstanding example of European support, whilst often placed outside the discursive designations of ‘camp’.  Using primary data garnered from Konitsa through ethnographic field-research in summer 2016, we investigate whether the much vaunted approach of the camp mitigates at least some of the effects identified in literature of the refugee condition: non-belonging, purposelessness, and lack of daily routine – broadly understood as the status of ‘bare-life’ (Agamben in Kirtsoglou 2015). Compiling refugees’ viewpoints regarding protracted misplacement/displacement, we established that the deployment of a discourse of depoliticised ‘compassion’ and ‘hospitality’ – rather than re-humanising – coalesces to deepen isolation and foster unequal interactions with townsfolk and authorities. Consequently, refugees remain subject to surveillance and control typical of larger-scale camps and detention centres. The analysis suggests the EU is coopting ‘human-centred’, localised approaches to the ‘refugee crisis’ to justify other, ‘harder’, power formations: border fences; enclosures; militarised detention centres. We contend that the design of the camp does not denote any improvement on the status of the refugee, but is rather an embedded, and integral, component of neoliberal power projection.

The Impact of Islamophobic Discourse on European Perspectives of Crises

Priya Sara Mathews, Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna

The 2001 New York attacks and subsequent convergence of US and European foreign policies brought about a gradual securitisation of Muslim communities in Europe. Whilst this was manifested in the 2011 Brevik terrorist attacks in Norway – taking as its self-professed motivation growing multiculturalism and ‘Islamisation’ – such radicalisation occurs in a context of structural and normalised Islamophobia, with an increasingly visible and widespread discourse that promotes fear of Islam in Europe. The last decade has seen such discourse seep through mainstream political and media discourse.  With the growing popularity of the political right, Islamophobic discourse has ballooned into an increasingly anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. The words ‘refugee’ and ‘immigrant’ have been used synonymously, mutilating their significance. Both Le Pen of the Front National and Salvini, of the Lega Nord have repeatedly linked immigration, refugees and terrorism in Europe, in spite of research debunking such assertions. This discourse is used to justify deplorable treatment of refugees and create an environment of fear and intolerance towards migration which ignores wider structural problems.  This paper will explore the development Islamophobic and anti-immigrant/anti-refugee discourse in Western Europe since 2011, and the impact this has on how the EU has managed the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, tracking discussions over political and moral issues that challenge so-called core ‘European values’. It will further look at how this discourse acts as distraction, deflecting attention within European political systems away from economic and social problems within their countries towards a visible ‘other’.

A Gendered Perspective on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and Racial Prejudice in Europe: The Case of ‘Islamic Rape of Europe’

Isobel Kingscott, University of Exeter

This paper provides a gendered perspective on rhetoric surrounding the “Islamic rape of Europe” which has stemmed from European concerns regarding the influx of Syrian refugees. Through discourse and content analysis of UK and European political and media representations of events such as the 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany, this paper explores ways in which such rhetoric serves to intensify existing European racial prejudice and Islamophobic tendencies, whilst simultaneously distracting from entrenched issues of gendered violence already present in Europe. The ultimate aim of this study is to expose the kinds of hysteria that accompany the stereotyping of Muslim males in the European context. I argue that such hysteria works to strengthen orientalist and postcolonial paradigms surrounding Muslim men, whilst simultaneously reducing white European women to helpless non-agents in need of protection. Ultimately, this discourse serves to strengthen and maintain white male superiority by fuelling racial and religious prejudice against Muslims and by creating the image of the benevolent white male protector of women.

Sex with the Other: Anxieties and Representations of Gender in Europe during the Refugee Crisis

Marta Della Libera, SOAS

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks witnessed in Paris in November 2015, a radicalisation of the tensions in the matter of asylum seekers and integration has re-emerged. This same anxiety has risen with renewed force just a few weeks later, when newspapers reported that an unspecified number of men of Middle Eastern and North African appearance sexually assaulted a thousand women during the New Year’s Eve festivity in Cologne, in what has been eventually described as a mass sex attack. This case has unfolded a new aspect of this particular tension. A general mood of hysteria with reference to a homogeneous and unified Islamic culture, considered incapable of respecting women, has suddenly risen again. Just like Muslim women have suffered for centuries from the male domination in their countries, it has been said, now it was the freedom of the European ones to appear at stake. In this context, the female body has been used as a battleground for claims of modernity, civilisation and power over the Middle Eastern menace in a variety of ways. The present essay provides an account of the use of gender stereotypes and dynamics in the context of recent migration to Europe. It shows how women’s bodies are placed in post-colonial political and racial discourses, considering the media as pivotal actors in the construction of a vicious cycle in which the discourse on the female honour gives legitimacy to a growing closure in the dialogue about and with the other.

Download Paper (Della Libera)

Mandaean Identity Challenges: From the Iraq-Iran Border to Diaspora Communities

Marta Marsano, University of Exeter

This paper will analyse with a narrative methodology, the challenges that Mandaean individuals and families have faced and continue to face where they have moved from their homelands, Iraq and the south western region of Khuzestan in Iran, to other countries such as Sweden, Australia, Turkey, US and several others. Mandaean religion is defined by many experts as “the last surviving gnostic religion”, and it has a highly ritualistic connotation. The community counts 40000 people scattered in 15 countries; endogamy, not accepting converts and extreme pacifism are some of the factors that nowadays makes the survival of the Mandaean religion more threatened then ever. Following the catastrophic post war events in Iraq and scarcity of opportunities in Iran, entire families have already left their country or are planning to do so, especially the younger generations.  When Mandaeans in diaspora are posed new challenges by the new environments they found themselves living in, identity concerns and the preservation of a religious identity shapes not only their relationship with the host country and the hosting communities but also family dynamics. By analysing the narratives of an Iraqi Mandaean elderly lady and of an Iranian Mandaean young student, this paper will show how minorities’ individual and collective identity-shaping process is heavily influenced by the presence or absence of a community centre, and (highly necessary in the Mandaean case) a priestly figure; the main aim of this work is however to give a first hand account of identity challenges directly from the people facing them.