Globalisation and Irregular Migration: Does Deterrence Work?

  • Matilde RosinaEmail author
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


While the changes and pressures brought about by globalisation greatly incentivise out-migration, including in its irregular forms, policy responses to unauthorised entries have often focused on measures based on deterrence. Indeed, deterrence has a notable appeal for policymakers, due to its ease of applicability in both explaining irregular migration and providing a solution to it. But can it be effective in curbing migratory flows? In this chapter, I propose a research framework to address this question and provide insight into whether, in the cases characterised by luck of success, the reasons for such results lie in the inadequate application of deterrence principles or in other, more structural, problems. To do so, I link the international political economy discussion of migration governance with the criminological understanding of deterrence. In particular, I analyse the key elements on which deterrence strategies rest, emphasising the role of legal and social costs and perceptions, and then identify four pitfalls that are likely to backfire on the effectiveness of measures. These include communication and unconscious biases, the political dimension, the lack of positive incentives, and the availability of alternatives.


  1. Akers, R. L. (1990). Rational Choice, Deterrence, and Social Learning Theory in Criminology: The Path Not Taken. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 81(3), 653–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amnesty International. (2017). Libya’s Dark Web of Collusion: Abuses Against Europe-Bound Refugees and Migrants. London: Amnesty International Ltd.Google Scholar
  3. Andenaes, J. (1968). Does Punishment Deter Crime? Criminal Law Quarterly, 11, 76–93.Google Scholar
  4. Angeli, D., Dimitriadi, A., & Triandafyllidou, A. (2014). Assessing the Cost-Effectiveness of Irregular Migration Control Policies in Greece. Midas Report October 2014.Google Scholar
  5. Beccaria, C. (1973 [1764]). Dei Delitti e delle Pene. Milan: Einaudi.Google Scholar
  6. Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bhagwati, J. (2003). Borders Beyond Control. Foreign Affairs, 82(1), 98–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bohmer, C., & Lebow, N. (2015, April 21). Why Deterrence Won’t Solve the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis. Telegraph. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from
  9. Böhning, W. R. (1994). Helping Migrants to Stay at Home. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 534(1), 165–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borjas, G. J. (1989). Economic Theory and International Migration. International Migration Review, 23(3), 457–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boswell, C. (2003). European Migration Policies in Flux: Changing Patterns of Inclusion and Exclusion. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boswell, C. (2011). Migration Control and Narratives of Steering. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13(1), 12–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Briskman, L. (2008). Detention as Deterrence. In A. Babacan & L. Briskman (Eds.), Asylum Seekers: International Perspectives on Interdiction and Deterrence (pp. 128–142). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  14. Carling, J., & Hernández-Carretero, M. (2008). Kamikaze Migrants? Understanding and Tackling High-Risk Migration from Africa. Paper Presented at the Narratives of Migration Management and Cooperation with Countries of Origin and Transit, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex.Google Scholar
  15. Carling, J., & Hernández-Carretero, M. (2011). Protecting Europe and Protecting Migrants? Strategies for Managing Unauthorised Migration from Africa. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 12(1), 42–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Castles, S. (2004a). Why Migration Policies Fail. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 27(2), 205–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Castles, S. (2004b). The Factors That Make and Unmake Migration Policies. International Migration Review, 38(3), 852–884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Castles, S., Crawley, H., & Loughna, S. (2003). States of Conflict: Causes and Patterns of Forced Migration to the EU and Policy Responses. London: Institute for Public Policy.Google Scholar
  19. Cornelius, W. A., & Salehyan, I. (2007). Does Border Enforcement Deter Unauthorised Immigration? The Case of Mexican Migration to the United States of America. Regulation & Governance, 1, 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cornelius, W. A., & Tsuda, T. (2004). Controlling Immigration: The Limits of Government Intervention. In W. Cornelius, T. Tsuda, P. Martin, & J. Hollifield (Eds.), Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective (2nd ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Czaika, M., & de Haas, H. (2013). The Effectiveness of Immigration Policies. Population and Development Review, 39(3), 487–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. de Haas, H. (2006). Turning the Tide? Why ‘Development Instead of Migration’ Policies Are Bound to Fail. IMI Working Paper. Oxford: International Migration Institute.Google Scholar
  23. de Haas, H. (2011). The Determinants of International Migration: Conceptualising Policy, Origin and Destination Effects. International Migration Institute Working Paper 32. Oxford: IMI.Google Scholar
  24. de Haas, H. (2015, January 7). Borders Beyond Control? Hein de Haas Blog. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from
  25. Di Nicola, A., & Musumeci, G. (2014). Confessioni di Un Trafficante di Uomini [Confessions of a People-Smuggler]. Milan: Chiarelettere.Google Scholar
  26. Dicken, P. (2011). Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Contours of the World Economy (6th ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  27. Fargues, P., & Bonfanti, S. (2014). When the Best Option Is a Leaky Boat: Why Migrants Risk Their Lives Crossing the Mediterranean and What Europe Is Doing About It. Florence: Migration Policy Centre, EUI.Google Scholar
  28. Freedman, L. (2004). Deterrence. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  29. Freeman, G. P. (1995). Modes of Immigration Politics in Liberal Democratic States. International Migration Review, 29(4), 881–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Freeman, G. P. (1998). The Decline of Sovereignty? Politics and Immigration Restriction in Liberal States. In C. Joppke (Ed.), Challenge to the Nation-State: Immigration in Western Europe and the United States (pp. 86–108). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Freeman, G. P., & Kessler, A. E. (2008). Political Economy and Migration Policy. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34(4), 655–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Frontex. (2016). Annual Risk Analysis 2016 (ARA 2016). Warsaw: Frontex. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from
  33. Frontex. (2017a). Western African Route. Frontex. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from
  34. Frontex. (2017b). Detections of Illegal Border-Crossings Statistics. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from
  35. Geddes, A. (2003). The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe. London: SAGE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Geddes, A., & Korneev, O. (2015). The State and the Regulation of Migration. In L. S. Talani & S. McMahon (Eds.), Handbook of the International Political Economy of Migration (pp. 54–73). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Godenau, D., & López-Sala, A. (2016). Multi-Layered Migration Deterrence and Technology in Spanish Maritime Border Management. Journal of Borderlands Studies, 31, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hassan, L. (2000). Deterrence Measures and the Preservation of Asylum in the United Kingdom and United States. Journal of Refugee Studies, 13(2), 184–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hollifield, J. F. (1998). Migration, Trade, and the Nation-State: The Myth of Globalisation. UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, 3, 595–636.Google Scholar
  40. Hollifield, J. F. (2004). The Emerging Migration State. International Migration Review, 38(3), 885–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Holzer, T., Schneider, G., & Widmer, T. (2000). The Impact of Legislative Deterrence Measures on the Number of Asylum Applications in Switzerland (1986–1995). The International Migration Review, 34(4), 1182–1216.Google Scholar
  42. IOM. (2017). Missing Migrants Project. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from
  43. IOM Italy. (2017). La Tratta di Esseri Umani attraverso la Rotta del Mediterraneo Centrale: Dati, Storie e Informazioni Raccolte dall’Organizzazione Internazionale per le Migrazioni. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from
  44. Italian Parliament, Law 92/2008. (2008, May). Misure urgenti in materia di sicurezza pubblica. Gazzetta Ufficiale, 122, 26.Google Scholar
  45. Jacobs, B. A. (2010). Deterrence and Deterrability. Criminology, 48(2), 417–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kingsley, P. (2015a, April 25). Libya’s People Smugglers: Inside the Trade That Sells Refugees Hopes of a Better Life. Guardian. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from
  47. Kingsley, P. (2015b, May 8). People Smugglers Using Facebook to Lure Migrants into “Italy Trips”. Guardian. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from
  48. Kox, M. (2011). Leaving Detention? A Study on the Influence of Immigration Detention on Migrants’ Decision-Making Processes Regarding Return. The Hague: IOM.Google Scholar
  49. Lebow, R. N. (2007). Cognitive Closure and Crisis Politics. In R. N. Lebow (Ed.), Coercion, Cooperation, and Ethics in International Relations. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Léon, A. I., & Overbeek, H. (2015). Neoliberal Globalisation, Transnational Migration and Global Governance. In L. S. Talani & S. McMahon (Eds.), Handbook of the International Political Economy of Migration (pp. 37–53). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Levitt, S. D. (1998). Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error? Economic Inquiry, 36, 353–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. López-Sala, A. (2015). Exploring Dissuasion as a (Geo)Political Instrument in Irregular Migration Control at the Southern Spanish Maritime Border. Geopolitics, 20(3), 513–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Loughran, T. A., Paternoster, R., Chalfin, A., & Wilson, T. (2016). Can Rational Choice Be Considered a General Theory of Crime? Evidence from Individual-Level Panel Data. Criminology, 51(1), 86–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Malmberg, M. (2004). Control and Deterrence: Discourses of Detention of Asylum-Seekers. Sussex Migration Working Paper No. 20. Brighton, UK: Sussex Centre for Migration Research.Google Scholar
  55. Martin, P. L., & Taylor, J. E. (2001). Managing Migration: The Role of Economic Policies. In A. R. Zolberg & P. M. Benda (Eds.), Global Migrants Global Refugees: Problems and Solutions (pp. 95–120). Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  56. Massey, D. S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., & Edward Taylor, J. (1998). Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  57. McLaughlin, E., & Muncie, J. (Eds.). (2001). The SAGE Dictionary of Criminology. London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  58. McLaughlin, E., & Muncie, J. (Eds.). (2013). Criminological Perspective: Essential Readings (3rd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  59. Meyers, E. (2000). Theories of International Immigration Policy: A Comparative Analysis. The International Migration Review, 34(4), 1245–1282.Google Scholar
  60. Mittelman, J. (2000). The Globalisation Syndrome: Transformation and Resistance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nagin, D. S. (1998). Criminal Deterrence Research at the Outset of the Twenty-First Century. Crime and Justice, 23(1), 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nagin, D. S. (2013). Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century: A Review of the Evidence. Carnegie Mellon University Research Showcase @ CMU, Working Paper. Pittsburgh, PA: Heinz College Research.Google Scholar
  63. Neumayer, E. (2004). Asylum Destination Choice: What Makes Some West European Countries More Attractive Than Others? European Union Politics, 5(2), 155–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Onwudiwe, I. D., Odo, J., & Onyeozili, E. C. (2005). Deterrence Theory. In M. Bosworth (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Prisons & Correctional Facilities, Volume 2 (pp. 234–237). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  65. Oxford English Dictionary. (2016). Deter. OED. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from
  66. Pogarsky, G., Piquero, A. R., & Paternoster, R. (2004). Modeling Change in Perceptions About Sanction Threats: The Neglected Linkage in Deterrence Theory. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 20(4), 343–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pratt, T. C., Cullen, F. T., Blevins, K. R., Daigle, L. E., & Madensen, T. D. (2008). The Empirical Status of Deterrence Theory: A Meta-Analysis. In F. Cullen, J. Wright, & K. Blevins (Eds.), Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory (pp. 367–395). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  68. Reyneri, E. (2003). Immigration and the Underground Economy in New Receiving South European Countries: Manifold Negative Effects, Manifold Deep-Rooted Causes. International Review of Sociology, 13(1), 117–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Richardson, R. (2010). Sending a Message? Refugees and Australia’s Deterrence Campaign. Media International Australia, 135, 7–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Robinson, P. H., & Darley, J. M. (2004). Does Criminal Law Deter? A Behavioural Science Investigation. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 24(2), 173–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Ryo, E. (2013). Deciding to Cross: Norms and Economics of Unauthorized Migration. American Sociological Review, 78(4), 574–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Ryo, E. (2015). Less Enforcement, More Compliance: Rethinking Unauthorized Migration. UCLA Law Review, 62, 622–670.Google Scholar
  73. Samers, M. (2015). Migration Policies, Migration and Regional Integration in North America. In L. S. Talani & S. McMahon (Eds.), Handbook of the International Political Economy of Migration (pp. 373–398). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sassen, S. (1996). Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalisation. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Stafford, M. C., & Warr, M. (1993). A Reconceptualisation of General and Specific Deterrence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30(2), 123–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stein, J. G. (2009). Rational Deterrence Against Irrational Adversaries? No Common Knowledge. In P. M. Morgan (Ed.), Complex Deterrence (pp. 58–84). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  77. Stumpf, J. (2006). The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants Crime and Sovereign Power. American University Law Review, 56(2), 367–419.Google Scholar
  78. Talani, L. S. (2010). From Egypt to Europe: Globalisation and Migration Across the Mediterranean. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers.Google Scholar
  79. Talani, L. S. (2015). International Migration: IPE Perspectives and the Impact of Globalisation. In L. S. Talani & S. McMahon (Eds.), Handbook of the International Political Economy of Migration (pp. 17–36). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Talani, L. S. (2018). The Political Economy of Italy in the EMU: What Went Wrong? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  81. Tapinos, G. (2000). Migration, Trade and Development: The European Union and the Maghreb Countries. In R. King, G. Lazaridis, & C. Tsardanidis (Eds.), Eldorado or Fortress? Migration in Southern Europe. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  82. Teitelbaum, M. S. (2002). The Role of the State in International Migration. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 8(2), 157–167.Google Scholar
  83. Thielemann, E. (2003). Does Policy Matter? On Governments’ Attempts to Control Unwanted Migration. IIIS Discussion Paper No. 09. London: School of Public Policy, University of London.Google Scholar
  84. Thielemann, E. (2011). How Effective Are Migration and Non Migration Policies That Affect Forced Migration? LSE Migration Study Unit Working Paper No. 2011/14.Google Scholar
  85. UNHCR. (2016, December). Italy: UNHCR Update #10. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from
  86. UNHCR. (2017). Mixed Migration Trends in Libya: Changing Dynamics and Protection Challenges. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from
  87. von Hirsch, A., Bottoms, A., Burney, E., & Wikström, P.-O. (1999). Criminal Deterrence and Sentence Severity: An Analysis of Recent Research (University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology). Oxford: Hart Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  88. Weiner, M. (1985). On International Migration and International Relations. Population and Development Review, 11(3), 441–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Weiner, M. (1995). The Global Migration Crisis: Challenge to States and to Human Rights. New York: Harper Collins College Publishers.Google Scholar
  90. Weiner, M. (1996). Ethics, National Sovereignty and the Control of Immigration. The International Migration Review, 30(1), 171–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wellford, C. (1975). Labelling Theory and Criminology: An Assessment. Social Problems, 22(3), 332–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Zimring, F., & Hawkins, G. (1973). Deterrence: The Legal Threat in Crime Control. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations