Governance of Migration

Policy Field Research

Along with topics such as climate change, terrorism, cybercrime and others, migration has become a priority concern in many national and international debates. From a policy perspective, migration is a cross-cutting issue with numerous economic, political, demographic, gender, humanitarian, environmental and security aspects. For the first time, migration was included in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda adopted at the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit. Migration is mentioned throughout the 2030 Agenda, and essentially all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) touch upon aspects of migration.

Due to the encompassing, multifaceted and pervasive nature of the phenomenon, the debate on causes and consequences, advantages and disadvantages of global migration is not confined to experts and policy makers, but captures the attention and passions of the general public. More than in any other policy fields, rational arguments are mixed with or influenced by emotionally charged narratives of hope and fear. This situation, in turn, calls for the involvement of a broad range of scholars from the social sciences and the humanities at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

In the first phase of funding (2012–2018), research at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research already touched upon a few aspects of international migration and its consequences. In particular, we examined diaspora communities from Iran, North Africa, South Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and explored how they construct identity and a sense of belonging in their respective host states (Carment/Sadjed 2017). Other contributions focused on how interactions between host states and migrants are shaped through practices of hospitality and gift-exchange as defined by Marcel Mauss (Heins/Unrau 2018) or on complex intersocietal south-south relations (e.g., Kaag 2016). In addition, we started a line of research on anti-immigration movements as factors eroding the domestic preconditions for benevolent global cooperation (Heins/Unrau, forthcoming).

In the second phase of funding (2018–2024), research in the policy field of migration significantly expands its focus. The research agenda of the first three years (2018-2020) generates a range of topics at the intersection between the policy field of migration and the thematic areas of ‘pathways and mechanism of global cooperation’ and ‘global cooperation and polycentric governance’. Examples of questions to be addressed are the following:

  • Pathways and Mechanisms: In which areas of migration is global cooperation necessary or urgent, and why? What is the role of international organizations in the field of migration? How do politically fabricated emotions shape agendas in this field? Do people or states learn and, if yes, how?
  • Polycentric Governance: How do neo-authoritarian policy measures such as the militarization of state borders affect global-local interaction with regard to migration? Are states really in charge? What’s the role of new players such as, for example, sanctuary cities in the US? What are the conceptual boundaries of the migration industry and other migration facilitators, and what have we learned about them in recent times?

From the particular viewpoint of the Centre, it is worth emphasizing that this policy field raises fundamental questions about the reality as well as the very desirability of global cooperation (e.g., Micallef/ Reitano 2017). Cooperation is not a neutral term. It entirely depends on our normative conception of world order whether states should cooperate more closely with each other or with non-state actors in order to control or contain the international flow of migrants; whether the migration industry or other, non-commercial immigration-supporting networks are seen as part of the problem or part of the solution; or whether different types of migration are framed as a political problem at all.

At a time of proliferation European-driven ‘migration partnerships’ with origin countries, we suggest taking a closer look at the dynamics of migration-related problems that seem to require specific kinds of cooperation among different sets of actors. Here are some examples:

  • The demise of the Refugee Convention: The single most urgent problem is the lack of protection for rising numbers of refugees and the failure of the 1951 Refugee Convention, epitomized by mass detention, deportations, refugees kept languishing in protracted exile, the enslavement of refugees in countries such as Libya and the growth of the UNHCR to become the number one adjudicator of refugee status in the world.
  • Westphalia and global inequality: Given that migration is not always, but often an effective way of reducing global income inequalities, the discretionary control over state borders is a problem that needs to be solved by more open border regimes and the easing of immigration requirements where immigration is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.
  • Post-Westphalia and stratified mobility: Increasingly restrictive approaches to ordinary immigration and naturalization applicants are a problem, but so is the opposite phenomenon of states joining the global race for talent and wealth and establishing new regimes of “stratified mobility” (Shachar 2016). A drastic example are passports issued through ‘golden visa’ schemes to lure super-rich foreigners who now can simply buy citizenship.
  • Migration and crime: We should also pay attention to growing linkages between migration control and the control of crime including the criminalization of ethical and legal assistance to migrants. This interlinking is also referred to as ‘crimmigration’ and is visible in public and political discourse, in policies and laws, and in certain immigration and law enforcement practices.

In addition, we are interested in advancing in-depth studies in migrants’ and refugees’ perceptions of Europe, the complex decision-making that determines routes and destinations to and within Europe or the USA, and the question whether migration can be managed or governed at all.

The Centre’s fellows and researchers working on the global governance of migration collaborate closely with the INZentIM’s research cluster 'Transnational and Global Processes'.

Selected references

Carment, David, and Sadjed, Ariane (2017). Diaspora as Cultures of Cooperation: Global and Local Perspectives, London/ New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Heins, Volker M., and Unrau, Christine (2018). 'Refugees Welcome: Arrival Gifts, Reciprocity, and the Integration of Forced Migrants', Journal of International Political Theory, 14 (2).

Heins, Volker M., and Unrau, Christine (forthcoming). 'Anti-Immigrant Movements and the Self-poisoning of the Civil Sphere: the Case of Germany', in Jeffrey C. Alexander et al. (eds.), Breaching the Civil Order: Radicalism and the Civil Sphere, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaag, Mayke (2016). 'Islamic Charities from the Arab World: Intercultural Encounters of Humanitarianism and Morals', in Volker M. Heins, Kai Koddenbrock, and Christine Unrau (eds.), Humanitarianism and Challenges of Cooperation, London/New York: Routledge, 155–167.

Micallef, Mark and Reitano, Tuesday (2017). 'The Anti-Human Smuggling Business and Libya’s Political End Game', ISS North Africa Report 2, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Shachar, Ayelet (2016) 'Selecting by Merit: The Brave New World of Stratified Mobility', in Sarah Fine and Lea Ypi (eds.), Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 175–201.