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The Migration-Security Nexus: The Negative Reciprocal effects of International Migration and Human Security

The Migration-Security Nexus: The Negative Reciprocal effects of International Migration and Human Security

By Obiorah Ifenna 


Migration and security are two highly contested concepts.  Concepts are essentially contested if their rival uses express competing moral and political perspectives. In this manner, it is noticed that international migration has become one of the main factors having a direct impact on human security. Undeniably, lack of security in our world today accounts for one of the major reasons of international migration – legal, illegal and irregular. Thus, owing to the many incidents of human insecurity in our world caused by; lack of migration monitoring system, loss of highly qualified immigration personnel, growth of illegal migration, uneven resettlement of immigrants across the country and growing disparities in the level of prosperity and human security experienced by different societies, the need to analyze the reciprocal impacts of international migration and human security is necessary.  It is believed that the state has the moral and political obligation of ensuring the security of both citizens and migrants.

Key words: International Migration, Human Security, migrants, citizens, illegal migrants, etc. 


Human migration and Security are concepts proper for social science disciplines. The two realities have occupied a major place in sociology, anthropology, Economics, Political Science and International Relations.  Humans have been on the move since the beginning of time. Quite interesting to us is the fact that our recent history has proved to be a period when more people have migrated than at any time before in human history. In recent times, there has been a substantial movement of people across countries. We are in the midst of a new migration era. Given the large-scale movement of people in the 20th Century and into the 21st Century around the world, the questions: To what extent can migration be conceived of as security issue? What kind of insecurities does migration raise, how and for whom? How should governments of various countries maintain a national security unity out of such diversity? become both essential and existential.

Thus, this paper seeks to evaluate the impact of increased international migration on human security and possibly vice versa. Herein, the concept of migration will be exposed from the historical perspective, the idea of human security will be enunciated and the reciprocal impacts of international migration and human security will be exposed.

The methodology will be more expository and analytical. References will be made of some relevant scholars whose thoughts form part of this work. Taking into consideration the fact that these concepts “migration” and “security” are quite broad, this writing is focused on international migration - the human security of the migrants in their host countries, coupled with the various human security threats which these migrants poses to their host countries as well.

 2.0.Understanding Human Migration from a Historical Perspectiv

Different scholars have tried to define the concept of migration distinctly because of their different approaches. While geographers have emphasized on the time and space significance of mobility, sociologists have laid stress on social consequences of mobility whereas importance to economic aspect of migration has been given by the economists. Literal meaning of “Migration” is “shifting of people or an individual or group of individual’s from one cultural area to another, which may be permanent or temporary”. In Webster’s dictionary, the term has been defined as “the act or an instance of moving from one country, region to settle in another”.

For the historical-structuralists, migration is not a discrete dimension of social reality that could be subjected to separate investigation. The study of population movement, human migration in particular, requires a historical analysis of the broader structural transformation underway in a particular social formation (Wood, 1982). It is in light that understanding of human migration from a historical perspective is necessary. Under this heading, the historical movement of people will be discussed from the pre-historic period to the contemporary times.

2.1.The Pre-historic Period

At the Pre-historic period, large scale human migration was caused by physical factor, in particular climatic changes, and other topographical factors. Ancient writings reveal the relationship between climatic fluctuations and primitive migrations. Nomads of central Asia had migrated from one place to another because of increasing or decreasing rainfall resulting into either abundance or shortage of pastures.

2.2.The Ancient and Medieval  Era

In same vein, in search of fresh and suitable agricultural land and good pastures, a remarkable human migration was been experienced during the ancient and medieval era. People were motivated to explore areas of trade importance and during this process, large number of explorers emerged. Due to their adventure, long distance migrations occurred.

2.3.The Modern Period

In the modern period, human migration has experienced changes in its trends and motivating factors. Influenced by government policies, mass movement has been replaced by individual movements, moving out for economic settlement or temporary work. Despite this control, International and Intercontinental migrations have been increased between 15th and 17th  centuries.

2.4.The Contemporary Period

Just as in the modern period, human migration was majorly individual movement and heavily influenced by government policies. The difference lies on the fact that at this period, (international) migration was seen, by many, as one of the inescapable realities of life.  People, especially citizens of developing countries, whether authorized or unauthorized, legal or illegal, try to leave to other countries where they perceive are comfortable for  them. People migrate in search of economic well-being as they seek for greener pastures. Also, conflicts, wars and unrests have displaced a lot of people from their places of origin and abode to different parts of Africa, where they try to settle down to a new life. Included here are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced person (IDPs), returnees, etc, (Olugbenga, 2010).

International migration is defined by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as “the movement of persons who leave their country of origin or the country of habitual residence, to establish themselves either permanently or temporarily in another country”.  This might also be due to some reasons which are voluntary or involuntary.

The idea of international migration is clearly experienced in the contemporary times. Migrants at this period are voluntary or involuntary, legal or illegal. The traditional distinction between “voluntary” migrants or “free population movements” and “forced” or “involuntary” highlights the complexity of the challenge. Forced (involuntary) migrants are driven from their home countries by war, violent conflicts, human rights violations and abuses or discrimination (Fisher, Martin and Straubhaar 1997, 50). Voluntary migrants, on the other hand, are assumed to have migrated through free choice rather than force. Migrants are either having legal or illegal status. Migrants are legal in the host country when they have fulfilled all the immigration requirements. Apart from this, they have illegal status.

Since at least the emergence of the Westphalian state, migration from one country to another has been primarily regulated by the decisions of the sovereign (the host country) regarding who is allowed into and out of their national boundaries. The Global Commission on International Migration highlighted the fact that “controlling who enters and remains on their territory is an integral part of the sovereignty of states”. Borders define territories and the notion of territoriality has been central in the formation of nation-state. Consequently, one of the primary ways that sovereign nation states have contended with irregular migration is through border enforcement mechanisms. 

3.0.The Concept of Human Security and Global Security

Schafer (2013) opined that national (otherwise, global) security and human security are interlinked. Security as a concept has been with man since the earliest of time. Therefore, it is a natural instinct of mankind. In simple terms, security has to do with self and group preservation, first from physical danger, and then from other forms of danger which may be economic, psychological, political, etc in nature. By the same token, security involves the prevention of damage or threat of damage to those things which one holds dear and which are seen as constitutive of the values and freedoms of man (Olugbenga, 2013).

However, there is no generally accepted definition of security.  Ojo (1991, cited in Ajayi 2007) defines security as “the preservation of the safety, freedom, values and welfare of the people as individuals and as groups”.  Sen (1999) sees security as freedom that is instrumental to the attainment of development in its various ramifications.  The central point here lies on the fact that security covers many aspects of the life of man, including human security, global security, environmental security and various other forms of security (Nnoli, 2006). Similar to this view, Buzan (1991) and Buzan, Waever and Wilde (1998) identified five forms of security, namely military, political, economic, environmental and societal security.

Though human security could easily be viewed as mainly internal, but in today’s global community, a state cannot consider its security solely a function of the areas directly surrounding it; rather, the security of one is tightly linked to the security of all. National defense is not ensured only through maintaining the sanctity of one’s borders, but is also highly depen­dent upon the ability to navigate safely through the global commons (Murphy, 2010). Here lies the link between human security, national security and global security.

From the above expositions, it is evident that security could be viewed from two perspectives – internal and external security.   Internal security, on the other hand, implies protecting a state from threats to its peace, stability and progress of its people mainly from within. It includes protection against theft, aggression, and violence from members of one’s own society (Almond, Powell, Strom and Dalton (2004). Accoring to Nnoli (2006) external security implies protection against attacks that might come from other political systems.

Viewed from any angle, the provision of security is one of the main duties of the state (Almond, Powell, Strom and Dalton, 2004; Bressler, Friedrich, Karlesky, Stephenson (Jr), and Turner, 2002). Of the various theories of state, Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory advocate most strongly that governments as representatives of the state is best placed to provide security for the citizenry. Hence, government is imbued with power to ensure security as the sole authority that has legal monopoly of the instrumentality of coercion within a state. By this token, government controls not just the use of the instruments and every apparatus of state security, but also the institutions that are established to guarantee state protection and defense against both external aggression and internal insurrection. These institutions include the armed forces which comprise of the army, the navy and air force (Olugbenga, 2013).  Insecurity reflects a combination of threats and vulnerabilities, and the two cannot meaningfully be separated. […] national security policy can either focus inward, seeking to reduce the vulnerabilities of the state itself, or outward, seeking to reduce external threat by addressing its sources (Buzan, 1991). 

4.0.The Effect of International Migration on Human Security

Population movement, as a phenomenon, cannot be discussed in isolation from the socio-economic and political changes of which it is a part (Adetula, 2009). Drawn from this idea, one could notice the possible link between migration and security in general. From our discussion so far, one could see that security and migration are both values recommended by man.    For Baldwin (1997), security is valued by individuals, families, states, and other actors. Security, however, is not the only thing they value; and the pursuit of security necessitates the sacrifice of other values.

Security of migrants is determined by cultural norms. These norms specify who can be admitted to a community, what rights and privileges the migrant individual or community can enjoy and whether the migrants should be regarded as potential citizens (that is, “one of us”) in the ethnic sense or as security threats (Olugbenga, 2013).

It has been argued that the more a migrant community seeks to integrate itself into the society of the host … and the more it attempts to adapt to the ways of life of that society, the less threatening this migrant community is perceived to be. Conversely, the less a migrant community seeks to integrate itself into the host society and the less respect it displays for the values and norms of that society, the more threatening this migrant community is perceived to be security of the host community (Stivatchis, 2008).

5.0.Illegal migration as a threat to human and state security

One of the basic ways through which an immigrant identifies with the host community (country) is by having a legal status. Though it might be possible that a good man could have entered a country illegally, but it is rather quite necessary if the goodness is accompanied by legality. This does not negate the fact that most illegal migrants do so for illegal purposes.  Illegal migration poses very real dilemmas for states, as well as exposing migrants themselves to insecurity and vulnerability. Most states have, nevertheless, failed to manage or control illegal migration effectively or efficiently.

It is not just the process of moving in an irregular fashion that can jeopardise migrants, but also their irregular status. Irregular migrants often work in precarious and dangerous jobs; they are excluded from health, education and other social welfare provisions, and they can be subject to exploitation in the housing market (le Voy et al. 2004). Their status often makes them unwilling to engage with authorities, and this is a particular concern where they may have a valid asylum claim.

Another aspect that is often lost in current debates about irregular migration is that it also has adverse consequences for migrants themselves. Though illegal migrants can threaten state sovereignty or security, but they are more often associated with other challenges and threats. The adverse consequences for illegal migration on illegal migrants themselves also need to be emphasised.

6.0.The Effect of Human Security on International Migration

Though migration affects human security, the possible effects of security of migration are most times neglected. The experience of people leaving their homes to see asylum at new settlement due to wars, violence and bloodshed is quite evident in our world today. It is natural that people tend to leave their zone to another when they feel insecure. This insecurity presents in self in various forms and it is in fact one of the necessary causes of international migration in our world today.


Ours is a migrating age. International migration will continue. This is because the forces that determine the scale of international migration are powerful. These reasons include growing disparities in the level of prosperity and human security experienced by different societies.  The extent to which migration is conceived of as security issue is quite enormous. Yet just as migration impacts on human security, perception of insecurity accounts as one of the major reasons why people migrate. Migration, especially the illegal and irregular, posses much security threats not just to the state but to the migrants themselves. As individual, group and ethnic diversity rises due to increased international migration, it is advised that governments should provide policies to manage the security threats that usually arise. It is recommended that the state should ensure the human security of both the citizens and migrants.


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……………………..     Concept and Theories of Migration: An Indepth Understanding.   



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