To address ‘Human Security, Border (In)Security and Mobility in Security’, our special issue takes a journey through the European ‘borderscape' (Brambilla et al. 2015). It starts with a conceptual framing that shows how the theoretical and conceptual developments in border studies relate to wider questions of European (in)security and (im)mobility, and which productively links the geographically and thematically diverse contributions that follow (Tallis) and which provides a new lens through which to view the issues at hand. This contribution synthesises and develops recent work on borderscapes to provide a way of making sense of proliferating insecurities and immobilities (Brambilla et al. 2015; Dell’Agnese and Amilhat Szary 2015) and understanding their implications for and in identities and orders. It also urges us to turn critical border studies scholarship to practical, political purpose and provides a framework through which to do so. This contribution conceptually frames the special issue and sensitises us to view the other contributions in both their academic and political contexts.
Thus prepared, we move to the Mediterranean with an examination of humanitarian practices—aimed at reducing the human insecurity of migrants—and their entanglements with Italian practices of border control, primarily driven by the logics of border security (Panebianco). Adopting as case-study the SeaWatch blockade decided in 2019 by the former Italian Minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, Panebianco explores humanitarian, migrant-centred discourse in the EU periphery and detects via empirical analysis decoupling stances, when and if the issue at stake is to be free from inhuman treatment (Aradau 2004). As well as illuminating core-periphery (geo)politics in the EU, this piece shows the power of humanitarian stigma—in discourse and practice—to put human security at the centre of the conversation on borders.
We then proceed to analyse the discursive and practice-based normalisation of the politics of exception in the Italian migrant reception system (Bello). Focusing on derogatory legal instruments used to normalise the state of exception with indefinite detention and extraordinary measures in the reception system, Bello denounces that ‘insecurity is left to persist across the entire Italian territory’ putting at risk migrants and refugees’ human security. She questions whether Italy can be regarded as a safe country for those in need of a shelter, since migrants in Italy are ‘not in prison but neither free’. This condition of human insecurity is fostered by prejudice (Bello 2017) and calls into question European claims to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms—as well as the EU’s self-declared European values—which in turn questions what kind of order the EU represents.
These cases are then further set in the context of the difficulties and threats that migrants face when trying to cross the Mediterranean and find themselves caught between human smugglers and the ‘walls’ of Fortress Europe. The next contribution looks at how these two poles of action are conditioned by various discourses and practices on (in)security and (im)mobility (Fontana). Exploring smuggling, counter-smuggling, re-smuggling and border-surveillance, Fontana introduces the concept of ‘human insecurity trap’ to grasp the insecurities and vulnerabilities of people on the move. Smuggled to and across Europe, migrants are often entrapped in a spiral of human insecurity at sea, at the state borders and/or across the EU, thus ‘migrants are caught between various ‘rocks’ and ‘hard places’. This leaves them stuck in a series of ‘human insecurity traps’ unfolding at different levels and in different places. Not only does Fontana’s analysis show the fragility of the EU border regime, reflecting ineffective domestic politics at the EU borders (Fontana 2020), it again questions the identity of the EU and its member states as bordering actors and the nature of European order itself.
Moving to the waters off the Libyan coast, the volume then explores the discursive justifications and promotions of anti-migration activism, the parallels it has with those of border control, and its function as a ‘negative image’ of humanitarian and pro-migrant discourses (Cusumano). This contribution on anti-migration activism, driven by ‘identitarian’ groups such as ‘Defend Europe’, provides a clear link between practices in the Mediterranean and discourses of identity politics in EUMS. Drawing on the analysis of the maritime rescue missions conducted by the identitarian youth organisation ‘Defend Europe’, Cusumano demonstrates the existence of institutional isomorphism (Di Maggio and Powell 1983) and discursive frame appropriation that eventually support agendas restricting human mobility. The increasing delegitimisation of sea rescue NGOs has provided an ideal environment for the inception of a new form of right-wing activism that has strategically hijacked some of the discourses and practices developed by humanitarian NGOs.
Another way these discursive politics are expressed is through the categorisation of refugees in European ‘admission programmes’, which again explicitly link the EU interior with externalised border practices and which implicate differing conceptions of security, in facilitating or frustrating practices of mobility. The special issue, the journey, proceeds to look at this aspect of the borderscape with specific regard to German policy and practice in light of attempts to create EU-wide arrangements (Welfens) and their intersections with national policies and debates. Welfens compares the German admissions programme from Lebanon between 2013 and 15 with its arrangements for arrivals from Turkey in 2016. As well as identifying how a more humanitarian approach came to be ‘balanced’ by state security concerns, Welfens suggest that these categorisations of identities and subjectivities, via ‘orders of worth’ end up acting back on the identity of EUMS and of the wider European order.
Staying with Germany, we then explore how countries North of the Alps were forced to ‘become Mediterranean’ in the face of the crisis—at least once it came to their doorsteps in the form of irregular flows of migrants (Herborth). This contribution shows how such instrumental attitudes are rather ‘unbecoming’ for EUMS supposedly committed to ‘European’ solutions on principle and as a result of Schengen obligations and how such an attitude may undermine rather than reinforce Europeanisation and European integration in the long run (Morsut and Kruke 2017; Murray and Longo 2018; Wolf and Ossewaarde 2018). Herborth shows the link between futile attempts to keep migration as a localised problem—and thus to be dealt with by those member states that are geographically Mediterranean—and the futility of ‘European’ solutions to these problems when the polities of EUMS remain locally (nationally) oriented.
Moving to other EUMS that played prominent roles in creating the refugee crisis, the special issue then explores the narrative portrayal of migration in Hungary and Slovakia (Futak-Campbell). The discursive politics in these Visegrad states is shown to be differently configured and has different emphasis than discourse in (e.g.) Germany, but nonetheless to find echoes in and draw from discourses that resound throughout the EU, even if they run contrary to EU policy and (supposedly) desired practice. It shows how different registers of discursive securitisation of migration were employed, ranging from dramatising threats to livelihoods and economic wellbeing, community cohesion and even physical wellbeing of citizens. That this frustrated the formulation and implementation of common and effective EU policy on migration, which could enhance migrants’ human security, as well as the EU and EUMS’ border security, caused some to question how ‘European’ these member states are. It also saw reversion to labelling the Visegrad Four (V4) countries as ‘Eastern European’, even though their discourses and policies were also echoed to greater or lesser degrees elsewhere in the EU. This internal, discursive bordering problematised the EU-European belonging of citizens of these member states and led to calls for them to be excluded from Schengen or even expelled from the Union (see also Tallis, forthcoming). Thus, migration also illuminates other aspects of EU (dis)order and identity.
The special issue ends its journey in Brussels, analysing whether the migration crisis has been or will be used as a window of opportunity for normative and policy change at the EU level, which necessarily implicates national capitals as well (Kaunert and Leonard). This contribution examines the changes, if any, that were triggered by the crisis in the normative frameworks and discourses that underpinned EU policy development on asylum. It maps and assesses the (new) asylum and migration norms and policies that have emerged from or through the crisis and situates this in relation to practices of EU policymaking and in the context of European integration more widely. Kaunert and Leonard look not only at practices and discourses of securitisation—and how they work through ‘association’, in this case of terrorism with migration—but also make a contribution to advancing securitisation theory itself.
Taking this route, from Italy, back and forth across the Mediterranean to Libya and into the EU interior in Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and on to the EU capital, shows the interconnected, ‘cross-border’ nature of European (in)securities relating to migration. It also shows the contingencies and consequences of this borderscape, comprised of related arrays of features, discourses and practices, with regard to questions of European identities and subjectivities, order and governance. We thus collectively shed new light on the significance of the migration crisis for European integration, for people who dwell in Europe and those who wish to.