More than a Burden: 1990s to the 2000s

The end of the Cold War saw the end of any ideological and strategic motivations behind refuge and resettlement programmes (Hathaway 1996). In light of these transformations, political and economic migrants began to see their routes into Europe curtailed, forcing them into the route of asylum seeking (Koser 2001). Simultaneously, a process of crimi- nalisation of migration began to aggressively converge with the process of securing Europe’s borders, as messages about those trying to reach Europe became fused with labels about criminals, asylum shoppers and bogus refugees. Furthermore, geopolitical changes following the end of the Cold War solidified the alignment of security and migration issues (Gibney 2002). By the early 1990s migration had been declared a problem requiring immediate political action (Hollifield 2000), and was mobilised as such in the media and by political elites (Weaver 1995). Asylum was no longer a humanitarian problem but emerged as a domestic political issue.

As the patterns and numbers of migration shifted internationally, major changes in asylum politics and policies of European states were being implemented. The early focus on securitisation, which began to grow in the 1990s, was given impetus through the construction of the internal market, and the need to control its outer borders. As the single market was becoming a reality the Soviet Union was also falling apart and fears began to grow of criminality and other spillover effects from its collapse. As migration into Europe began to rise in the early 1990s, and internal border checks in the Schengen area were largely removed (see Carr 2012), new fears began to emerge. The securitisation debate incorporated regular migration and asylum into its remit, and EU policy became characterised by its contradictory approaches to providing humanitarian protection alongside controlling migration into the Soviet Union.[1] This already had been grounded through the diminished and weakened concept of asylum and refuge that emerged throughout the 1980s, and these tensions continued to become more pronounced up to the present day.

While free movement within the Schengen zone was seen as one of the key achievements of the EU during this period, this is contradicted by the approach to migratory flows from third countries increasingly seen as security concerns (Weiner 1992; Lohrmann 2000). This has had significant impacts in relation to the EU’s asylum policy (see Huysmans 2000; 2006) and laid the foundations for building more barriers and introducing more stringent immigration laws across Europe[2] (Lazaridis 2015). The moral panics about ‘bogus’ refugees of the 1990s developed alongside the growing image of an immigration crisis at the EU’s borders. Rising numbers of applicants were compounded by civil wars in Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Germany, upon reunification, also extended the ‘right of return’ to those from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which further contributed to the image of masses of people hurtling towards the EU. Within Western security approaches, migrant populations were elevated to an existential threat not just to the host society, but also to the state itself (Huysmans 1995, 60-61). The image of waves of migrants clambering to reach Europe served as the excuse to label migrants as ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’, regardless of their legal status or otherwise.

Within the EU, for example, concerns about ‘asylum shopping’ had resulted in the first attempts under the Maastricht Treaty to harmonise asylum policies, and ensure that no single state was more attractive than another for claiming asylum. Different perspectives exist as to whether these were attempts to raise standards of asylum processing Europe-wide (Teitgen-Colly 2006; Thielemann and El-Enany 2009), or constituted a race to the bottom (Hatton 2005; Noll 2000). Either way, what is clear is that as sovereign states maintain their right to decide who is deserving of asylum the folk devil image of the ‘bogus refugee’ has become further politicised, and constituted as a drain on society (Koser 2001, 89).

Still, the major problem remained the lack of an inclusive definition of contemporary refugees and asylum seekers, accounting for the ‘contemporary dynamic relationship between geopolitical and geo-economic changes and processes of migration’ (Koser and Lutz 1998:8). The outcome of this failure was the retrenchments in the standards of protection offered by western countries (Wallace 1996). This in combination with increasing internal controls lead ‘to multiple forms and degrees of exclusion, and to the abjectification of migrants, who, constructed as a threat, are the subjects of securitisation’ (Lazaridis 2015, 108).

  • [1] Core documents of the EU project, such as the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Lisbon Treaty and theCharter of Fundamental Rights (art. 19) all reiterate the EU’s commitment to the Convention andthe right to claim asylum (Pirjola 2009; Teitgen-Colly 2006). On the other hand, the EU hasincreasingly made accessing and arriving at the EU a more arduous and difficult task through theexternalisation of its hard borders. Beyond that through the sharing of information about passengermovements, asylum applications, threats and criminal databases for those moving, and an increasing network of deputies performing various control functions, the EU’s commitment to humanrights issues is one based more on principle than practice.
  • [2] The extension of third country networks and new procedures, such as fast-track procedures anddetention emerge in this period and become normalised in the processing of asylum application(Webber 1996).
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