The Spiralling of the Securitisation of Migration in the EU: From the Management of a ‘Crisis’ to a Governance of Human Mobility?

by Valeria Bello. 2020. In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies: 1–18

Key words: (De)-securitization, migration, nation, cognition
Summary by Margaux Dandrifosse – IBEI


Micro-summary: The securitization of migration is a self-perpetuating, dynamic process which is socially constructed by state and non-state actors’ exclusive and prejudicial conception of the nation. Summary: In this text, Bello aims to examine an empirical puzzle, namely, the simultaneous existence in Europe of forces securitizing migration alongside dynamics going in the opposite direction, de-securitizing migration. To explain this phenomenon, the author develops an innovative socio-constructivist conceptualization of the processes underpinning the securitization of migration. This approach associates security with conceptions of the nation. To do so, it departs from the idea that nations are objectively fixed units. Rather, it is argued that nations are socially constructed perceptions of the world.

The main argument lies in the claim that the securitization of migration is socially constructed by state and non-state actors’ specific conception of the nation. On the one hand, when the nation is understood in exclusive and “prejudicial” terms, migration is socially constructed as a national security threat. On the other hand, when the nation is conceptualized in inclusive terms, migration is de-securitized as a normal occurrence. Accordingly, the securitization of migration is a dynamic process constructed by the interplay of those two opposing conceptions of the nation. The securitization can be accelerated or slowed down, depending on which national conception is dominant in actors’ understanding, practices and discourses. It is argued that the securitization of migration is, therefore, not a linear process but a “spiralling”, self-perpetuating phenomenon. An exclusive conception of the nation socially constructs migration as a security threat and, in turn, securitizing discourses and practices fuel exclusive perceptions of the nation. On the contrary, inclusive conceptions construct migration as a normal part of social life, which promotes further inclusive and normalized views of migration.

Additionally, Bello emphasizes the particular role played by non-state actors in accelerating or undermining the securitization of migration in Europe. Non-state actors with “individualistic” interests such as regional organizations, when holding exclusive perceptions of the nation, tend to encourage the securitization of migration. While non-state actors with “collective interests” such as international organizations, civil society associations, and human rights groups play an important role in de-securitizing migration.


Follow-up: The author has significantly influenced the study of the securitization of migration by highlighting the importance of exclusive national conceptions and the role of non-state actors. She has written a large amount of works on the subject, including the book “International Migration And International Security: Why Prejudice Is A Global Security Threat” (2017), and the articles “Interculturalism as a New Framework to reduce Prejudice in Times of Crisis in European Countries” (2017), “The role of non-state actors’ cognitions in the spiralling of the securitisation of migration: prejudice, narratives and Italian CAS reception centres” (2020), and “Normalizing the exception: prejudice and discriminations in detention and extraordinary reception centres in Italy” (2021).


Relevance for the SECUREU Project: This article can be connected with Wimmer (2018)’s book which argues that pre-existing inclusive institutions and a national identification lead to successful nation-building. Bello, in this text, links conceptions of the nation with the securitization of migration. It, therefore, makes it possible to examine how successful or un-successful nation-building both in European integration and in individual Member States have influenced conceptions of the nation, and how this, in turn, has constructed the securitization of migration in the EU and its Member States.

This article by Bello, in itself, provides a conceptual framework to understand the processes behind the securitization of migration in the EU and the different reactions of Member States to the migration crises. It suggests that the securitization of migration has not only fuelled xenophobia, but pre-existing xenophobia has also played a role in constructing the securitization of migration in Europe. It would be interesting to examine how differences in Member States’ pre-existing conceptions of the nation, and the interplay between various European bodies and organizations with different conceptions of the nation have influenced the securitization of migration in the EU and the spread of xenophobia. Additionally, have conceptions of the nation changed over time in the EU and in individual Member States? What developments may have contributed to increasingly exclusive views of the nation? Has EU integration promoted an exclusive perception of the European nation, or has it encouraged more exclusive national understandings in certain Member States?