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date: 21 September 2021

Migration Crises: Definitions, Critiques, and Global Contexts

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces the two interrelated aspects of migration crises that animate this volume. It summarizes the range of historical, economic, social, political, and environmental conditions that generate migration crises around the globe which the contributions in the book address. The chapter challenges the term “crisis” as overused and normalized today, offers conceptual explanations of migration perceived as crisis, and questions the influence of nation-state ideologies as well as the reasons why some migrant groups are framed as crises and others are not, mainly based on ethnicity and economic arguments. Finally, the chapter introduces the wide variety of case studies from historical contexts, conflicts, climate change, transit countries, policy responses, the media, gender issues, as well as integration and multiculturalism to account for the global construction of migration crises.

Keywords: Migration crises, history, construction, context, environment, gender, transit, criminalization, media, integration

Over time, demographic, economic, religious or political developments, as well as wars and conflicts, have resulted in massive human displacements and have triggered major diasporic movements which have disrupted and reconstituted the social fabric of the sending countries. In such contexts, an upsurge in migration often is both a result of and initiator of crises. The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises focuses on this dual nature of migration crises and proposes to clarify the conceptual links between migration and crisis. The volume examines migratory flows in contexts of crisis in general, but also migrations initiating crises or situations that are constructed as crises. It interrogates why and how some migratory flows are constructed as creating crises (e.g., Central American women or children or both migrating to the United States in recent years) but others are not (e.g., Cubans, migrating in the same numbers as Central Americans). The media and public officials play a major role in framing migratory flows as crises; hence our objective is to deconstruct and question such representations, which offers the opportunity to revisit and redefine, through a critical lens, what is commonly understood as a “migration crisis.” From this vantage point, this volume critically examines what is a migration crisis and how this definition is used in the field of migration research and in policy responses. Contributors to this volume also debunk expectations about where crises originate and whom they affect. For instance, in the case of deportation crises, it is the receiving states that create crises, not the migrants seeking to enter nor the sending states.

An emphasis on the contexts, and not individual actors, that generate crises aligns with critical perspectives in research on migration flows. As such, this volume brings together an examination of the contexts of crises within which migratory flows arise, but also how some flows are framed as crises and others are not. Importantly, the Handbook seeks to go beyond the common conceptual association between migratory crises and (p. 2) refugee flows, since there are many complex migration situations around the world that are not formally defined as refugee flows, but that take place in the context of crises or give rise to crises. Including refugee flows but also going beyond the commonly understood link between crises and refugee flows, the Handbook’s goal is to unveil the significance of migration crises in the context of social change and thus to amplify the analytic lens to examine human migrations in today’s rapidly changing political economic, social, and environmental terrain. In this, we follow FitzGerald and Arar’s (2018) recent call to question taken-for-granted assumptions about the separation of refugee flows from regular migratory flows. As these authors correctly note, theorizing in the sociology of migration, particularly in the key areas of assimilation and citizenship, can benefit significantly from closer engagement with studies of refugee flows.

Recent research has tended to construe migration crises as reflecting permanent aspects of modernity. This handbook revisits the notion of crisis through the prism of the context in which permanent and nonpermanent migration flows occur. We posit that the term “crisis,” is overused in today’s society, and its meaning is somehow diffused: are today’s crises becoming the “new norm”? How are crises defined, especially at the receiving end? Hence, today’s “new norm” may render almost inadequate the use of the term “crisis” to describe migratory flows that new—more permanent—conditions are generating. Therefore, both notions of crisis and transformation are combined in order to take a critical look at what constitutes migration crises and who and what defines them, beyond those that are formally recognized as refugee flows. If crises around the world today appear to be the “new norm,” then they need to be examined as a whole to identify what makes them a crisis—and what makes them not a crisis. On this basis, the Handbook reexamines the idea of migration crisis based on a wide range of case studies. The purpose of this volume therefore is to identify the contexts in which crises and migratory flows are generated, and how they are dealt with and defined at the receiving end, thus revisiting the definition of crisis from a contextual perspective.

The contributors to this volume were charged with conceptualizing and situating contemporary migrations in relation to crises, and critically examining the notion of crisis in the context of long-term, short-term, as well as temporary migration phenomena. The case studies therefore provide answers and definitions to major worldwide, long-standing migration situations, not only the sudden migratory flows that tend to be defined as crises. The Handbook endeavors to examine migration crises conceptually and critically and to reveal the epistemological relationship between migration crises and global social transformations. Taken together, the chapters in this volume offer a fundamental understanding of individuals in sending and receiving societies, socioeconomic structures and unequal power relations, and group processes through the prism of migration and crisis.

This handbook adds a key dimension to an examination of migration crises today: the context that generates certain migratory flows and the context where they arrive, making conceptualizations of the context of exit and reception (see Portes and Rumbaut 2006) central throughout the volume. Thus, in this volume, migration crises are examined in the context of structural and social transformations, hence offering a comprehensive (p. 3) analysis of major migration situations. Studying migrants’ departures and arrivals, the Handbook brings the topics of crisis and migrations to the fore, to grasp the conceptual rationales of mass human displacements, which have left a heavy imprint on societies worldwide, as phenomena with historical and social roots. Taken together, the chapters advance our understandings of migration crises, providing a sociologically grounded conceptualization of migration and crisis. As migration takes center stage in political and economic debates, this handbook examines how the concept of “crisis” bears on these larger questions.

Migration in Modern Historical Context

Far from unprecedented, human mobility has marked world history. An understanding that intensified periods of migration have existed well before the contemporary era can shift the lens and avoid the framing of contemporary migration as crisis. Undeniably, migration has existed since the dawn of time, yet migration flows intensified during specific intervals—for example, the expansion of European colonialism from 1500 to 1900, the emergence and extension of industrial capitalism from 1750 to the present, world wars, decolonization and regional wars, and the neoliberal era of capital mobility and decline of the state, with paradoxically unprecedented restrictions on human mobility through strict border controls. As such, these specific periods have triggered more stringent control on migration when expanded transnational mobility challenged plans to consolidate emerging nation-states, stability, and perceived security privileged populations. In this context, migrants often become easy targets to weakening states and ruthless politicians; identified as “outsiders,” as threats, or simply as problematic. Indeed, as McAdam (2014) notes, some states in receiving countries have shifted strategies away from a focus on the vulnerability of certain migrants to narratives that construct these migrants as threats. Migration “crises” are thus born.

How does the natural phenomenon of human migration become an anomaly and a source of concern in the twenty-first century? Many may argue that the increase in migration flows justifies the definition of migration as problematic today (i.e., “crises”). The chapters in this volume examine the conceptual links between migratory flows and crises, as migration often results from, can create, and often is constructed as, a crisis. Contributors interrogate why and how some migratory patterns are defined as crises while others are not. These are the main questions animating this volume. In addressing them, the contributors go beyond common associations between migration and crises as well as between refugee flows and crises, with a critical emphasis on the language used. As McAdam (2014, 43) observes, “ . . . we need to be cautious and precise about how we use the concept of ‘migration crisis’ . . . there is a risk that the language of ‘crisis’ (p. 4) may serve to pathologize all movement.” She goes on, “This sort of characterization is counterproductive, especially in a climate of general hostility toward ‘outsiders’.”

In addressing the first set of links, between migration crises and the conditions that produce them, this volume focuses on the social and structural transformations, protracted conflicts and sudden events that may precipitate population mobility, some of them long-standing and structural and some human-made and more immediate. Moreover, contributors do not aim at determining whether the migratory flows examined are “forced” or “voluntary,” as arguably there is a measure of individual volition and of coercive force in all migratory movements and therefore it is a difficult issue to settle (see Martin, Weerasinghe, and Taylor 2014; McAdam 2014; Van Hear 2009). Along these lines, the aim in this volume is not to demarcate precise lines between structural versus human-made factors that can generate a particular population movement. In taking a critical approach, the authors in this volume start out from the premise that structural conditions, policy decisions, and immediate stressors are interrelated. Thus extreme poverty and various forms of inequality are often at the root of political conflicts, health epidemics, and the amplified effects that natural disasters can have. Following this approach, and in line with McAdam’s (2014) call for amplifying the lens used to examine migration crises to unsettle traditional notions of what constitutes a “crisis,” the focus in this volume is on shedding light on situations that sometimes reach a “tipping point” and become a “crisis.” As Martin, Weerasinghe, and Taylor (2014, 5) observe, “While events and processes may be the trigger or immediate cause of a humanitarian crisis, in most cases, underlying structural factors or contemporaneous stressors provide the context in which they occur. Lack of or poor national and local governance and emergency preparedness, high levels of poverty and inequality, human rights violations, insufficient access to basic services, and weakness in local and national capacity combine to precipitate (and at times perpetuate) humanitarian crises.” To this we must add the role of military intervention by hegemonic foreign states, often with the support of local and regional proxies.

In addressing the second set of links, between migration crises and their definition as such in receiving countries, this volume makes use of a constructionist approach. The chapters elucidate the symbolic and political power of words and images in transforming migration flows into crises—in particular the popular and political representations of racial and cultural differences are tools in the social construction of migration as crisis.

Conceptual Explanations to Migration as Crisis

A significant body of research has examined the framing of particular situations as crises or disasters (Altheide 2002; Best 2004; Glassner 2010), and the consequences that such framing has for those deemed to be the problem and for the rest of society as well. (p. 5) Nowhere is perhaps the Thomas theorem more apt than in this scholarship, as definitions of an issue as a problem or as a crisis have real consequences.1 From this body of work, we know that the media play a critical role in framing certain migratory flows as a crisis or a problem to be addressed (Haynes, Merolla, and Ramakrishnan 2016), with real, even fatal consequences for those affected (Holmes and Castañeda 2016). A prime example is the US president defining the “caravan” of four hundred Central American women and three hundred children traveling through Mexico to seek protection in the United States as dangerous, inciting hysteria and fear in the American public. Detrimental consequences, especially when the framing comes from government officials, also reach the wider society. Beyond media and political figures and policymakers, there are other actors, such as NGOs and nonprofit organizations, that are involved in constructing crisis narratives as well (Schuetze 2015). As Calhoun (2010) observes more generally in reference to crises, they are constructed by a range of actors, including policymakers, the media, and some interest groups. Thus, recurrent anti-immigration popular narratives have led to many recent works on the linguistic construction of migration crises in the press. Esther Greussing and Hajo G. Boomgaarden (2017) demonstrate that media narratives of the refugees generally fall into three categories: passive victims, national threats, or dehumanized anonymous. Representing refugees as victims can have deleterious consequences. Consequently, migrants are viewed in desperate economic need and are often blamed for taking advantage of the receiving country’s benefits.

When migratory movements are conceptualized as crises they also acquire a specific temporal dimension, as immediate and largely disconnected from previous events and history, which directly shapes policies to address these crises. Palliative solutions to address an immediate manifestation, and not a root cause, become policy. As Jane McAdam (2014, 30) notes, “ ‘crises’ are posited as exceptions, requiring special solutions. From a policy perspective, this risk sidelining every day systemic issues such as poverty, vulnerability, and environmental fragility, which are central to how people experience hazards, and overlooking relevant legal frameworks, such as human rights law” (see also Charlesworth 2002). Such framing of a migratory flow as crisis, as an exceptional event, is bound to deprioritize more thorough (and perhaps more complex) and longer-lasting solutions.

Key to this conceptualization of certain migration flows as crises, McAdam (2014, 31) observes, is that the “potency of this idea helps both to constitute the emergency and drive responses to it.” This is not to say that catastrophic events around the world, such as the effects of climate change and other natural disasters, are not grave or real. The point we make here is that when a migratory flow is understood as a crisis, as a one point in time event, certain responses that focus on the immediacy of the event are activated, which can have counterproductive consequences. These responses may disregard deeper and entrenched inequalities based on class, race, gender, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation, among other social cleavages, and may in fact further cement inequitable power relations between those affected, and seen as weak and vulnerable, and those with the “solutions” to their problems (see Farbotko and Lazarus 2012). Such solutions are often based on an “emergency” frame that by definition seeks to alleviate immediate (p. 6) suffering but cannot attend to deeper structural changes that could prevent some of these urgent situations in the first place (see Charlesworth 2002; McAdam 2014).

As the chapters in this volume demonstrate, the framing of a migration flow will elicit certain responses, and a focus on crisis can produce policy initiatives that do more harm than good, disregarding long-standing social conditions in favor of expediency as well as placing too much emphasis on the individuals who move. A framing of crisis, therefore, must be questioned, as it can easily lead to mischaracterizations of the individuals who move as a problem and in these times of anti-immigrant hostility, as “threats” (see also McAdam 2014). This is the case of the US president defining Central American immigrants seeking protection as threats to the nation and as invasions that need to be contained, requiring even military solutions. In the same vein, “transit” countries such as Mexico, those in Southeast Europe and North Africa, which often collaborate closely with the larger receiving countries where migrants are headed, adopt the same narratives and strategies and construct mobile populations who pass through as dangers or threats to be contained. The Brexit referendum gained popular support on the basis of defending British nationalism, and especially British identity and sovereignty, which was under threat by foreign workers employed in low-waged jobs in agriculture and personal services. The supposed national security threat of refugees from South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific arriving in boats to the shores of Australia has buttressed a deportation policy that detains refugees in foreign countries in the region. To legitimate the attack against newcomers therefore, “threats” are constructed in particular temporal and geographic contexts.

Noteworthily, not all migrants are seen as problematic to destination regions; so, who are the migrants targeted by anti-migration discourses and more likely to be framed as problematic or as a crisis? To address this question, we need to examine how race, ethnicity, and regional origin are used to construct national identity, as an integral aspect of constructing a migratory flow as a crisis is the othering and boundary drawing of the particular group.

Kristin Surak argues that intolerance toward immigrants shifts depending on the receiving nation’s perception of which migrants are desirable and which are not. In turn, new groups are identified as non-welcome. For instance, migrant workers may be conveniently welcome in times of economic growth when a nation’s production requires additional labor that is also expected to show rapid adaptation to the nation to blend in and erase signs of otherness (Surak 2013).

Urban Migration

Another type of migration “crisis” concerns rural to urban migration, but in this case, the crisis is especially material, tangible, and real for those on the move. The dominant movement of the twentieth century is urbanization, triggered by the application of Newtonian physics to the production of agriculture as commodities and the forced (p. 7) relocation from rural to urban regions as rural regions which supported peasants for thousands of years are commodified. New urban dwellers are integral to urban industrial economies in industrializing countries and this low-cost reserve army of labor is the major factor in foreign direct investments (FDI) to the Global South. The very real economic crisis in the countryside has expanded since the end of the Second World War and the rise of nation-states in the former imperial economies in Asia and Africa (Ness 2015). In Latin America, neoliberal commodification and regional integration has accelerated internal migration among populations unable to survive in poor regions, pushing labor migration to urban centers where the only employment is precarious and highly dependent on foreign markets (Delgado Wise 2013). Moreover, the demands that urban dwellers have placed on basic human needs as food, water, housing, healthcare, education, and beyond have given rise to a material crisis in major urban areas which have expanded from the 1970s to the present. This has resulted in the growth of what Mike Davis calls a “Planet of Slums” as the vast majority of inhabitants in South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America have moved to rundown squatter settlements with makeshift shelters and unsanitary conditions which ring cities of tens of million dwellers: Karachi, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Jakarta in Asia; Cairo and Lagos in Africa; and Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo in Latin America (Davis 2004, 26).

The new urban poor form part of a global labor force within contemporary capitalism and are responsible for producing consumer products in the Global North, forming profound imbalances and discrepancies in life chances between developing and advanced capitalist regions, where nation-states unable to provide for the basic needs of their populations are required to establish robust and repressive and violent border control agents to prevent migration to the North (Sørensen 2012). Thus, a real humanitarian and ecological crisis is taking root in the Global South which is produced in the South by the beneficiaries in Europe and North America where state and public antagonism is most strident.

Nation State, Migration, and Poverty

The construction of xenophobic narratives about immigrants goes hand in hand with questions of assimilation and cultural and ethnic identity, as well as challenges to national unity and national identity. The nation-state ideologies, grounded on ethnic and cultural homogeneity, contradict the historical and contemporary record of migration as a natural human phenomenon and instead posit migration as unnatural and disruptive—a danger to national homogeneity. Indeed, the latter perspective is often a direct result of interventions and foreign meddling by the US and NATO military alliances, which disrupt the lives of residents in North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. In the 2010s, public support for nationalistic far-right political parties has grown substantially in destination and transit states of (p. 8) Europe, North America, and Oceania. Ironically, sentiment in favor of immigrant exclusion has occurred in countries that have higher levels of racial and ethnic homogeneity and are far less diverse. In former European Union countries of Eastern and central Europe—Poland, Hungary, and beyond—liberal, center, and right political parties articulating the most extreme xenophobic positions have gained electoral support through framing of migrants as a threat to a fictitious national identity and unity. This pattern has expanded in the core of Western Europe: Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Holland. What Leo Lucassen calls “the exclusionary power of the nation-state” is a sense of rooted populations and stable economies, demographics, and culture (Lucassen 2005). This leads to defining migration as crisis. Indeed, official discourses on stability are based on the fear of disruption of ideal national models; “crises” then become catch-all frames to define such disruptions and are often attributed to migrants, who are then seen as threats to idealized national uniformity. Therefore, discourses on migration “crises” often target the migrants themselves as agents of disruption of national ideals and national projects of ethnic and cultural homogenization.

Nation-state ideologies have paved the way for the development of extreme right-wing parties’ popularity and xenophobic and anti-immigration political forces worldwide. These political actors officially frame migration as crises by resorting to populist discourses grounded on nations’ fears of invasion and disruption of identities. They are echoed in the press and official discourses that resort to the use of cherry-picked statistics to increase global popular fear of otherness, and ultimately of migration itself.

Migration and Crisis, Part Outlines

I. Historical Contexts

Part I examines migratory patterns in different historical periods from antiquity to the present and demonstrates how the conceptual link between migrations and crises is deployed in research, as often migration crises are researched without questioning what constitutes a crisis, whether a particular migratory flow is indeed connected to a crisis, or what the consequences of taking migration crises at face value may be (see for instance, Weiner 1995). The chapters in Part I examine the policy consequences in receiving countries when migratory flows are characterized as crises. A major difference between migration trends in the early twentieth century and today concerns growing global inequality and wage gaps between Northern and Southern countries. From the late nineteenth century to the present, migration restrictions have been set up to limit migration from poorest to richest countries. Stricter restrictions were enforced in Europe between 1880 and 1914; Canada limited Chinese migration in 1901; and Australia raised landing taxes for blacks, Chinese, and southern Europeans. The United (p. 9) States restricted the immigration of the Chinese in 1882. From the 1970s to 2006, a total of 41 anti-immigration laws were enacted in sending and destination countries to restrict population movement (Gozzini 2006). Thus, while migration is a natural trend resulting from human and natural factors, over the past 150 years states have consistently sought to restrict passage and settlement.

In the framing chapter of Part I, Dirk Hoerder’s sweeping examination of the relationship between natural and human crises through the lens of the longue-durée demonstrates the significance of disruption through historiographic perspectives which reveal hegemonic discourses established by master narrators that denote migrations as either crises or beneficial to receiving societies. Eric Richards then examines migration in Victorian Britain, which, while mostly voluntary, contributed to forced instances of migration, especially under the extreme conditions of the Irish Famine of the 1840s that exposed the rifts in Victorian society. In the next chapter, Laura Jeanne Sims focuses on postcolonial France’s disparate treatment of Harkis compared to to Pied-Noirs descendants of European settlers following the Algerian War of Independence. Shifting to Southeast Asia, Ulbe Bosma explores the disparate treatment of refugees in the wake of the First World War. In contrast to European refugees, those displaced in Southeast Asia were ignored or neglected until the end of the 1990s.

II. Constructions of Crises

In Part II we move from the historical legacy to the contemporary construction of crises by European and North American political actors, demonstrating a shared propensity to manipulate public opinion for political gain, even at the risk of tangibly constructing political-economic crises. In the first chapter, William Outhwaite chronicles the exploitation of migration leading up to Britain’s popular referendum to withdraw from the EU in 2016. In the next chapter, Xavier Casademont Falguera, Òscar Prieto-Flores, and Jordi Feu Gelis assess the differential treatment of refugees and Romani immigrant populations in Barcelona. While welcoming refugees, the government encouraged the deportation of Roma people. Isabelle Rigoni then shows us how French authorities have manipulated public unease following terrorist attacks to identify migrants as the enemy and galvanize support for punitive national security laws that severely erode migrant rights and undermine diversity and the idea of universality. Shifting to North America, Maria Cristina Morales provides a historical overview of the public and political discourse that has shaped violence and insecurity for migrant populations on the United States border with Mexico. Paradoxically, border security policies that intensify migrant deaths in the region are utilized to justify extension of exclusionary immigration policies. As Stephanie J. Nawyn demonstrates in the next chapter, drawing on the case of Central American refugees to the United States in the 2010s, the very identification of migration as crisis by those sympathetic to the plight of refugees more often stimulates negative responses than a willingness to protect and assist asylum seekers. Then Céline Cantat and Prem Kumar Rajaram propose an examination of the representation of refugees escaping wars (p. 10) who are only passing through Hungary as a refugee crisis, and demonstrate how state officials use human misery and the deprivation of migrants to marginalize Roma and other vulnerable populations. Part II concludes with John Lie’s demonstration that migration crises do not affect East Asia as much as Western countries. Drawing on the distinction between the West and East Asia, he unveils the construction of migration crises through the prism of Western ethnocentrism, nation-state ideologies, and the rise of populism. Yet he also shows how populism is on the rise in East Asia, though still far from reaching the levels of Western populist surges. While Lie demonstrates how East Asia seems exempt from migration crisis, he also highlights the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric “in the name of patriotism and the nation.”

III. Contexts of Protracted Conflicts: Producing Crises

Part III shifts to the significance of the adverse conditions in countries of origin, frequently fueled by economic, political, and military policies and engagements of destination countries as factors in producing crises. Migration scholars must be apprised of conditions in countries of origin to understand holistically the circumstances which generate mobility. The unambiguous pattern which emerges is that policies of Global North countries produce the conditions for population displacement and mobility. Part III begins with an exposé by Leisy J. Abrego of how US foreign policy fosters conditions of violence and abject poverty in Central America. She argues that US governments aid and abet policies that drive migrant populations from their homelands in Central America to the US border. In turn, upon arrival, these same refugees are detained and expelled by US government authorities. John R. Campbell then analyzes the duplicity of European Union policies. While labeling migration to Europe as a “crisis” the EU misrepresents and misunderstands the factors responsible for large-scale migration in the Horn of Africa, and thus the highly flawed and impracticable EU proposals for border management policies in northeast Africa. Returning to Central America, Martha Luz Rojas Wiesner and Ailsa Winton examine the systemic and permanent crisis among migrants displaced from their homelands, now struggling through precarious existences in a continuous state of uncertainty. In the next chapter on protracted crises in communities of origin, Smriti Rao and Vamsi Vakulabharanam examine urbanization in India, which, along with China, has the world’s largest population. Under economic liberalization programs initiated in the early 1990s, urban migration has grown in scale and nature, and is often marked by temporary and circular employment migration, largely owing to the crises emerging from a decisive shift from feudal to capitalist accumulation in rural India. Drawing on the Turkish example of treatment of Syrian refugees, the final chapter of Part III by Danièle Bélanger and Cenk Saraçoğlu questions the use of the term “crisis” in migration situations and argues that structural forces are the creators of migration crises. As such, Syrians forced to migrate continue to be reduced to precariousness and vulnerability in the receiving country (i.e., Turkey in this chapter), a development fueled by rising xenophobic sentiment in Turkish cities.

(p. 11) IV. Climate and Environment

Part IV examines migration as a corollary to changes in climate and environment that are a consequence of global capitalist market pressures to ensure commodities for large markets in economically advanced regions of the world. The first victims of the abrupt and severe climactic shifts are inhabitants in the Global South, as Celia McMichael, Carol Farbotko, and Karen E. McNamara observe in their chapter on the Pacific region. They examine how inhabitants of Pacific island countries are forced to develop response mechanisms to environmental crisis through “migration as climate change adaptation.” In the next chapter, Ayokunle Olumuyiwa Omobowale, Olayinka Akanle, Olugbenga Samuel Falase, and Mofeyisara Oluwatoyin Omobowale examine environmental crisis as a force in stimulating transnational migration for the privileged few who have the economic resources to escape to prosperous regions in the global North. Christiane Fröhlich and Silja Klepp investigate the effects of climate change on the migration crises in Oceania and the Pacific region, focusing on the barriers established to prevent entry to secure regions. More and more, the authors assert, states in Oceania resort to border securitization to prevent human mobility for populations displaced through climate change. Part IV concludes with an examination of the relationship between climate change and migration in Africa, by Caroline Zickgraf. The chapter enriches linear perspectives on climate change and migration through examining the multidimensional relationship between human mobility and climate change in Africa social, political, economic, and environmental forces interact with climatic change to intensify vulnerability and migration.

V. Migration Corridors and Transit Countries

The focal point of Part V is the significance of migration corridors and the importance of transit country policy choices in aggravating the conditions of vulnerable refugees and displaced populations. Migrants fleeing war and violence, from the Middle East and Central Asia to Central America, must traverse multiple borders to reach places of destination and are made even more vulnerable by the construction of barriers to prevent egress. For political expediency, political authorities in transit countries have emboldened xenophobia through the construction of crisis narratives, in so doing putting migrants at serious risk. In the first chapter, Drago Župarić-Iljić and Marko Valenta write on the Southeast European West-Balkan corridor in 2015–2016. The authors conclude that rather than providing refugees with access to protection and possible integration into local communities, most governments opted to conflate migrants with crisis, leading to the closing of the passageway. Ninna Nyberg Sørensen explores the disappearance of at-risk populations during war as well as post-conflict migration, revealing that migrants and refugees escaping war also go missing as an effect of stricter border enforcement policies and practices. Thus, the chapter unveils the importance of recognizing the consequences of border enforcement policies toward migrants in (p. 12) conjunction with armed conflict, terrorism and natural disasters. Drawing on empirical research and interviews with Afghan communities forced to flee to Pakistan during the protracted conflict, Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase reveals the complex decision-making processes that involuntary migrants undertake. The chapter shows the importance of ethnographic research of migrants’ experiences in producing accurate data that challenges artificially constructed negative discursive stereotypes on asylum seekers and refugees. The next chapter, by Zeynep Kivilcim, examines Turkey’s political responses to the influx of the highest number of refugees in the world today, exhibiting how crisis paradigms influence legislation on asylum. The chapter shows how European Union agencies seek to frame migration policies in a period of uncertainty and how the Turkish state, in turn, shapes legal responses toward the “refugee crisis” that bears on Europe. The final chapter of Part V by Claudio Minca, Danica Šantić, and Dragan Umek ends on a positive note. The authors examine the response of Serbian authorities to the refugee crisis, validating that transit states can fashion humanitarian policies toward refugees, showing convincingly that the “refugee crisis” places Serbia in a positive light compared to “relatively unconditional humanitarian support that guides its policy towards these families and individuals on the move.” As such, Serbian government officials did not manipulate public opinion for political gain but present a new model European geography of humanitarian management for displaced populations.

VI. Policy Responses: Criminalization, Control, and Detention

It is states and political actions that relegate refugees fleeing harm into the source of crisis by developing securitization measures and criminalizing migrants. Thus, the crisis narrative serves to advance policy responses of criminalization, control, and detention. Indeed, if the EU’s twenty-seven member states received 942,400 refugee claims in 2015, the twelve EU states had received as many as 696,500 refugee claims in 1992. Therefore, the EU proportionally received many more refugee claims twenty years ago. As Liliana Lyra Jubilut asserts, “Refugees are not the creators of the crisis. They are the victims” (Jubilut 2017). Part VI begins with Idil Atak’s examination of how crisis narratives contribute to the criminalization of asylum-seekers in Canada through the outsized role of the Canada Border Services Agency in the refugee system, which erodes the human rights of refugees. Next, María Dolores París Pombo evaluates how political discourse on violence on the US-Mexico border produces social suffering among migrants. Stated as public policies, the declarations of war against drugs, immigration, and terrorism have legitimized violence at the border, carried out by security forces, state institutions, pressure groups, and organized crime. Turning to the Southern Cone, Tanya Basok examines the decree by Argentina’s conservative government to characterize immigrants as “menacing foreigners” and criminals. In a country viewed as welcoming toward migrants, Basok shows how the anti-immigrant decree comports with past measures and attitudes under liberal governments. Next, Caroline (p. 13) Fleay examines Australia’s political consensus which categorizes asylum seekers to its shores as constituting a “crisis” of “illegal” people as the basis for punitive government policies and practices which neglect the human rights of asylum-seekers. Then, Caress Schenk examines the formation of Russian migration management through the political frame of a crisis narrative that is institutionalized into law. Pablo S. Bose focuses on the US government’s management of Syrian refugees in the 2010s in the comparative and historical context of refugee resettlement policies in the past, revealing how antimigrant rhetoric frames contemporary debates on refugee resettlement policies. In the final chapter on criminalization of migrants, Heike Drotbohm and Ines Hasselberg examine how deportation has emerged as the inevitable response to “migration crises.” The authors resort to the political genealogy of the term “crisis”, which they view as used as justification of “emergency” policies and the implementation of new measures of control. Deplorably, government crisis narratives are used to justify criminalization and deportation of migrants and their families. Drotbohm and Hasselberg observe that deportation is “a break of a situation considered normal, stable and healthy” constructed through the rhetorical use of crisis.

VII. Media Constructions and Visual Cultures

Part VII examines recurrent popular discourses in the media and visual culture as principal foundations of the contemporary migration crisis narrative that permeates much the world today. Whether perceived as threats or victims, migrants are regarded as liabilities or dangers to traditional destination states for displaced persons. Alex Sager’s chapter maintains that media, popular discourse, and policy research miscategorizes migration as crisis and deprive migrants to the right of safety and asylum. Moreover, as major contributors to crises through foreign and economic policies, countries in the West customarily viewed as receiving states bear particular responsibility for social dislocation that produces refugees. The second chapter, by Domenico Maddaloni and Grazia Moffa, shows how popular debates shape the uneven and disparate treatment of migrants to southern European countries, including country and region of origin, economic status, and refugee and asylum-seeking status. The authors argue that neoliberal globalization provides the basis for constructing migration policies beneficial for privileged classes and deleterious to those who are at greater risk. Claudia Tazreiter focuses on the narratives of crisis migration and the power of visual culture through an examination of asylum-seeker arrivals in Australia. Tazreiter examines the signal role of visual images and cultural markers used by the states to shape public opinion and sentiment in opposition toward asylum-seekers. Dalia Abdelhady then provides comparative analysis of the mainstream print media’s role in framing Syrian refugees through content analysis of daily newspapers in Sweden, Jordan, and Turkey. The chapter demonstrates that a common theme in each setting is the equation of refugee migration with crisis and with the attendant uncertainty and demands posed on each society.

(p. 14) VIII. Gendered Constructions of Crises

Part VIII hinges on gender and the construction of crises. A significant feature of the contemporary era is the remarkable expansion of the feminization of migration. Though women have migrated from the onset of the colonial era and through different historical periods, the contemporary era has seen a significant increase in flows dominated by women, as well as migrant women’s increased vulnerability, both inside and between national borders. A crucial feature of the contemporary “crisis” is the intensification of women’s responsibility and attendant physical and economic risk in the perilous and unpredictable journey from zones of violence in the South to new zones of violence in the North. These chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises demonstrate the obligations of women in decision-making for family security, engaging in the most onerous and dangerous labor, traversing international boundaries, and negotiating tenuous statuses constituting what Menjívar and Abrego demonstrate as a system of “legal violence” in work, family, and civil society. As the new constitution of crisis expands, immigrant women are increasingly the object of the state’s system of criminal law and violence (Menjívar and Abrego 2012). In a wide-ranging examination of twentieth-century migration, Marlou Schrover examines gender, social exclusion, and the construction of crisis in European migration through a sociohistorical perspective. Schrover reveals the differences between men and women refugees in the eyes of advocates for migrant rights, calling attention to the duality that refugee women are used as victims lacking agency, concluding a recurrent dilemma of saving victims in a way that reinforces the popular narratives around women, migration, and crisis. Next, turning to LGBTQ migration, Rachel A. Lewis examines and evaluates the legal and administrative laws and policies that relegate LGBTQ migrants to discrimination, uncertainty, and peril, leaving them permanently vulnerable to detention and deportation. Richard C. M. Mole documents the experiences of Polish LGBTQ migrants in London following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Viewed as a threat to Polish norms and values, LGBT Poles have moved abroad as homophobic rhetoric, violence, and discrimination have become more palpable. In the next chapter, Jane Freedman examines the experiences of women arriving in Europe during the current dominant narrative of migration as “crisis,” exploring the bearing of national and EU policies on women’s migration experiences. The chapter highlights how the terminology of crisis and securitization inflects the differential treatment of women refugees. Part VIII concludes with Inga K. Thiemann’s chapter on human trafficking and misguided state policies of using border control and anti-immigration as policy. Rather, Thiemann calls for policies that address the root causes of human trafficking and protect vulnerable female workers in private households and in the sex industry where exploitation is intensified by precarious status, insufficient and unsafe migration routes, and lack of labor protection.

(p. 15) IX. Integration, Multiculturalism, and Membership

The closing section of the Handbook examines the significance of integration, multiculturalism, and membership as essential societal objectives that are under acute threat in the contemporary era of extremist national rhetoric against migrants. While migration policies in the past century are hardly humanitarian standards, the migration and refugee crisis rhetoric in the neoliberal era that is proffered by states, politicians, and the media is evocative of fascist narratives in 1930s and 1940s Europe. Jen Bagelman’s chapter addresses the discursive framing of refugee crisis and the crucial importance of providing sanctuary to migrants through historically accurate narratives that challenge the dominant discourses on migration and crisis which dominate today. Next, on a positive momentary note, Laurence Cros examines the Canadian response to Syrian refugees in the 2010s as a possible prototype for refugee-receiving countries in the contemporary era of austerity. Then, Eric Fong, Yingtong Lai, and Aijia Li turn to the characteristics of the mass internal rural-urban migration in China today, depicted by some as crisis. Turning to Europe, Floris Vermeulen focuses on the narrative of the crisis of multiculturalism which takes for granted a false portrayal of a tolerant and welcoming legacy toward immigrants. Vermeulen depicts a historic legacy of European chauvinism, especially toward migrants from the Muslim world. Rather than encouraging participation, Muslims have been stigmatized in Europe. Jock Collins reveals the relationship between global economic, political, and social crises and Australian migration policies, focusing on the construction of political crisis to restrict migration. Pascale Baligand examines how the construction of “crisis” itself contributes to individual and social trauma among migrant populations in France. S. Irudaya Rajan addresses labor migration to Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries at a time of rising nationalism and the institution of policies to reduce migration and regulate undocumented workers to a region that depends so highly on foreigners. The Arab GCC is an outlier that exposes how financialization of the global economy relentlessly undermines conditions of migrants yet is framed as an issue that impinges on the lives of populations in privileged destination regions.


The significance of political and economic events but also of their construction as crises for contemporary and future research on migration and policy practice is reflected in the wide range of contributions in The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises, which has assembled scholars with a deep geographic and temporal knowledge of the field. Taken together, the contributions to this volume present an in-depth, comprehensive, and critical examination of protracted, structural, and immediate conditions that can result in migration (p. 16) crises as well as constructions of crises and their consequences, all of which contribute to understanding the social forces that shape human mobility: economic dislocation and war as well as violence and the poisonous rhetoric which intensifies the suffering of migrants in transit and destination zones. Moreover, we share a common objective that states and media bear a social and political responsibility to protect and defend the rights of the most vulnerable in society including refugees, asylum-seekers, and other migrant populations. However, the framing of these flows within a securitization paradigm that rests on the construction of borders, increased detention, and expanded deportation have transformative consequences on all inhabitants in nation states and the world system. We trust that the works in this volume will resonate with source countries, transit states, and regions of destination so that actors at each stage will advance policies that acknowledge the plight of migrants and vulnerable populations and create policies focused on their humane treatment. The chapters in the Handbook are intended to advance scholarship on this crucial dimension of migration. While the chapters of this collection cover a wide range of themes and concepts across geographic and temporal zones, it is our hope that this volume will encourage empirical and theoretical research on the causes, consequences, and policy responses to migration.


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(1.) The Thomas theorem (William Isaac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas) states that when people define a situation as real, it is real in its consequences. The definition itself then is more important than actual circumstances.