Book Review: Framing irregular migration in security terms

Michela Ceccorulli, Framing irregular migration in security terms: the Libya case (Florence, Italy: Florence University Press, 2014). 114 pp., €12,00 (paperback), ISBN: 9788866556404.

Migration is not a new phenomenon; it is a global issue that has existed for centuries even though migration flows change over time and adapt to contingent complex dynamics. Yet, in the last few decades migration by sea across the Mediterranean has very much attracted scholarly attention, mostly due to the increasing number of migrants dying while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

What had started as an unstructured phenomenon, favoured by geographical proximity, quickly turned into a long and exhausting journey controlled by groups of organized crime trafficking people from sub-Saharan countries across North Africa directed towards Europe. Mediterranean migration has, then, become a global issue, connecting Europe with sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa, involving state and non-state actors, and causing effects well beyond the Mediterranean region.

In her book Framing irregular migration in security terms: the Libya case, Ceccorulli provides a timely analysis of irregular migration through the Mediterranean transit route, and particularly via Libya, which has become ‘a springboard for irregular migration to Europe’ (p. 15). It should be noticed, though, that alongside ‘irregular’ migrants, there are several asylum seekers. Mainly departing from the Libyan coasts, migrants take advantage of the weak Libyan state and of the geographical proximity with Italy to enter Europe after an extenuating and dangerous journey. Italy has, then, become one of the main entry points to Europe for migrants coming from through the Mediterranean routes. Due to its geographical position directly in the middle of the Mediterranean, to its lengthy coasts and its proximity to Northern African countries (Tunisia and Libya in particular), Italy is currently one of the most exposed EU countries – together with Greece, and arrival figures have significantly mounted over the years. However, Italy is primarily a transit country for thousands of migrants wishing to reach other EU member states, Scandinavian countries in particular.

Ceccorulli enters into the theoretical policy debate on migration by providing an instructive and informative analysis. She adopts the traditional security-migration nexus to explain the construction of migration as a security issue and focuses on the Libyan case which provides fruitful insights on migration flows within the Mediterranean. She investigates processes set up to address migration flows from Libya to Italy by focusing particularly on Italian management of irregular migration since ‘Italy has played as a forerunner in cooperation with the country’ (p. 15).

By showing good knowledge of the security literature, this book investigates both securitization and de-securitization dynamics. Chapter one focuses on the non-conventional, non-military, security challenges that have emerged in particular with the end of the Cold War. These include ‘unwanted’ movements of people, according to the ‘Copenhagen School’ that in the 1990s regarded irregular crossing of borders as a new security concern. Chapter two assumes that security governance, which implies coordination among various actors, is a valid strategy (if not the only one) to effectively address cross-border challenges. Chapter three sets the contest for Libyan-Italian-EU relations, with a specific highlight on Euro-Mediterranean relations. Chapter four illustrates the cooperation with Libya to fight against irregular migration in the years 1998-2010, as a result of the country’s progressive reacceptance within the international community that was robustly promoted by Italian foreign policy. Chapters five and six analyse the security framing processes, i.e. ‘a set of processes through which a topic is framed in security terms’, making use of discourse analysis and acknowledging the advancements made by the ‘Paris School’ that insists on security processes. Chapter seven is very critical regarding the governance of migration, denouncing both Italian and EU incapacity to adopt effective measures to face the migration challenge. In 2004 the Italian government was fiercely criticized by international organizations for its supposed collective readmissions (p. 71), while ‘[a]t the European level, the lack of solidarity among Member States was the bluntest example of the security interpretation attached to the phenomenon together with the absence of a truly common European approach to asylum’ (p. 17). The continuous tensions between EU border controls and cooperation on internal issues, on the one hand, and member states’ diverging interests versus common strategies, on the other, permeates the entire book which denounces the critical aspects of the Dublin Convention and EU weaknesses in migration management. Finally, chapter eight investigates migration flows after the ‘Arab Spring’ and chapter nine attempts to outline and understand the proportion of the multifaceted migration crisis, which encompasses security, political, economic, social and demographic aspects.

By addressing one of the most lively debates in Italy in the 2010s, the book investigates ideas and policy initiatives leading to the repatriation agreements as one of the possible ways to save lives, as it was commonly stated: ‘saving the lives of migrants by preventing them from leaving for Italy’ (p. 57). Hosting camps, asylum seeking and readmission provisions are all crucial issues addressed by the author.

Migration features change quickly because migration flows adapt to specific systemic conditions, e.g. the stability/instability of North African political regimes, rigid/light police border control, old/new organized crime networks, etc and migration data change rapidly. Also the figures provided in the book have changed in the last few years (most data and information provided in chapter four refer to the 2010s) and are destined to change again in the near future. However, the main arguments of the book remain solid.

What is less convincing, though, is the structure of the book structure which is made up of nine short chapters, plus introduction and conclusion, that have a sort of quick hint approach and loose in some points a systematic and comprehensive interpretation of the phenomenon.

It is a pity that the research could not cover the most recent events. The research project behind the book was planned before the Arab Spring, and the first draft dates back prior to that. As Ceccorulli correctly acknowledges, further research is still needed to test the validity of the security approach, because migration has acquired the proportions of a humanitarian crisis, downscaling the security terms of migration. In particular ‘[e]vents in north Africa and the Middle East have demonstrated how ineffective a ‘security’ approach to the problem is’ …… ‘tragic events occurred in the Mediterranean are there to invite, again, a re-thinking of the approach towards irregular migration’ (p. 82).

The Italian and European reactions to the 2013 shipwrecks off the Lampedusan coasts and, more recently, to the April 2015 shipwrecks that caused nearly a thousand deaths in just one month indicate that a new approach to deal with migration flows is needed. The proportions of the migration crisis require more concrete strategies to effectively manage (and not just simply to contain or divert) the migratory flows. The focus on illegal migration cannot be too narrowly concentrated on security any longer. A new perspective has maybe been opened by the Search and Rescue operations launched by the Italian initiative Mare Nostrum in 2013 and by the EU operation Triton in 2014, then followed by Eunavfor Med. The current political debate on humanitarianism suggests that the time is ripe to adopt a broader approach to address the various dimensions of the migration crisis. This can only be done if one takes into account the reasons (political and socio-economic) of the migratory flows and their impact on hosting countries. Intolerance and mounting xenophobia, on the one hand, and terrorist attacks, on the other, indicate that the existing assimilation models in European countries are not working and violent radical movements are emerging both in Europe and overseas. New models are needed indeed.

Stefania Panebianco, University of Catania

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