A man and woman are seen in silhouette after breaching a border fence

Shifting our approach on migration from security to development

By Xavier Savard-Fournier, International migration specialist & Reporter and analyst of international affairs

It is right under our eyes, yet it is still hard to see for some. Not everyone experiences the same warm, welcoming attitude when crossing borders to seek refuge. As scores of people flee the war in Ukraine, many people of colour experienced discrimination, violence and racism or were blocked at borders.  Based on the same security-led migration narratives, similar cases have occurred since the European migration crisis of 2015-2016.

Border controls and migration policies operate under the preconceived idea that some [forced] migrants are a potential threat, resulting in the belief that it would be easier to integrate a Ukrainian than a Syrian or Congolese. The power relations behind this decision is central to understanding what some have called the double standards in hosting forced migrants, notably in Europe.

Here, the securitisation of migration – the inclusion of migration in the realm of security affairs – can be understood as the will to control who belongs ‘in’ and whom to keep ‘out’. Security-led migration narratives and policies against migrants are predicated on seeing “others”, often non-white [forced] migrants, as a threat to the cultural, economic, and security aspects of society. These biases do not take into account what such migrants can bring to the development of host societies and sending countries, including through remittances.

Similar to the debate on gender equality, when a host country prevents [forced] migrants from participating in its society and economy by discriminating them, it misses out. As most Western societies grow older, jobs remain unfilled and the free flow of goods becomes increasingly common in most regions of the world; it makes little sense, either at a human or an economic level, to systematically block people at borders.

In this way, we should learn from the EU’s response to the situation in Ukraine. Rapid activation of the EU’s “Temporary Protection Directive” – offering Ukrainians easy access to its territory and to health, education and income – demonstrates that a more humane approach is possible when responding to forced migration, as well as migration more generally. In addition to the positive effects for Europe through the additional labour force Ukrainian migrants represent, it will be also valuable for the future of Ukraine.

By easing some of the side effects of war on the population, Ukrainian migrants might be better equipped to rebuild their homes and their country when the time comes. The regularisation of almost 2 million Venezuelans by Colombia is another good example of that development approach, helping Venezuelan migrants to participate in the formal economy the quickest possible, instead of policing them. In other cases, it can even be a better investment than building camps, and a lesser burden on the economy.

Sharing the same language does help for integration. However, recognition of diplomas, language learning capabilities and easier access to a work permit are other examples of how help could be provided to migrants, as we have seen with Ukrainians worldwide.

Nevertheless, de-securitising migration policy does not mean foregoing security and the due process of asylum claims. Instead, it means offering an equal chance and vision to those fleeing war-torn regions. If it is possible with Ukrainians, why should it be different with anyone else?

More walls, border surveillance and security-led migrant control policies will not prevent migrants from fleeing war-torn regions. However, they will prevent them from easily integrating into a country because they will be associated with crime and terrorism, instead of being seen as human beings with capabilities and contributions to make to society. It is a burden that weighs on them when they are asked where they are from, when they look for housing, apply for a job, and even when their kids go to school.