Perceived threats linked to migration in destination countries

Understanding perceptions is crucial in order to identify the rationale behind decisions, actions as well as policy-design. The Perceptions Project has reviewed 138 documents that shed light on the perceived threats relating to migration affecting host countries, and/or migrants.

The link between migration and security is a highly contested issue that began to take a particular importance in migration debates starting in the 1990s, as part of a larger trend, known as securitization, that linked societal issues to security. This trend, though large in scope, has not gone without criticism. One of the most notorious of its critics, Jef Huysmans, believed that it worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy where “once turned into a security problem, the migrant appears as the other who has entered (or who desires to enter) a harmonious world and just by having entered it, has disturbed the harmony” (Huysmans, 1995, p. 59). Yet, in what particular ways is migration considered to be a security threat disturbing the host countries’ harmony? 

Throughout these past three decades several scholars have presented numerous reasons defending the existence of a connection between immigration and security in different ways, particularly, claiming that it threatens political stability, national sovereignty, the economy (more specifically, the economic prospects of nationals), and social cohesion through variations in identity and cultural practices (Weiner 1993; Collison 2000). After the 9/11 attacks in the United States a new paradigm was introduced leading to an increasing tendency to link immigration with terrorism in host countries. 

The EU-funded Horizon 2020 PERCEPTIONS project builds upon this current research and debates undertaking an extensive, comprehensive analysis of documents and reports published since 2015 by security practitioners, policy-makers, and non-governmental and civil society organizations (PERCEPTIONS D2.4). A number of different threats related to migration were identified in the previous PERCEPTIONS D2.2 (systematic literature review), with some being classified as threats to migrants, others to host countries, and others as threats to both migrants and host countries. The classification included 5 problems affecting host countries’ security, namely: “violent radicalization and terrorism”; “minor, serious and organized crime”; “economic issues”; “civil unrest”; and “diseases”.  This classification was the basis for the analysis regarding the importance of the different threats in the reports issued by security practitioners, policymakers and civil society organisation.  

In the non-academic reports analyzed, a total of 149 threats were identified throughout the 138 documents, as more than one threat could be mentioned in the same document. The threats were then classified based on the referent object.  The results showed that, violent radicalization and terrorism was mentioned the most as a threat to host countries (19.5%), followed by human smuggling and trafficking as a threat to both migrants and host countries (18.1%), and detention and deportation was reported as the main threat faced by migrants (11.4%). If we focus solely on the perceived threats for host countries, we find a similar pattern to that revealed in the academic analysis with violent radicalization and terrorism mentioned the most (19.5%) followed by minor and serious organized crime (15.5%), economic threats (4.7%), disease (2%) and civil unrest (1.3%). 

We can thus conclude that in the light of these results, the prominence of violent radicalization and terrorism deserves closer attention. Its link to migration in the security policy arena has been assumed in two ways: applying its logic in border crossing policies, where it is believed that migration flows provide conduits for the spread of international terrorism (Bermejo 2009, 219) and increasing the connection of previously separate agendas of integration and migration control in Europe (Carrera 2006; Joppke 2007, 8). The latter being applied after studies of the Madrid 2004 and London 2005 bombings, which found that the attacks were perpetrated by long-term resident immigrants whose failed integration processes had led to their radicalization into violence.  

However, in general terms, it can be said that the initial classifications of risks and referent objects in this area have proven to be problematic, as they more often than not, apply vague and broad concepts, failing to provide a precise definition of the threat and a clear link between threats and referent objects (Bermejo 2005, 271), i.e the mechanims that link migration and security. Furthermore, at times there is a failure to differentiate clearly between regular and irregular migration, smuggling and trafficking or even in some cases they confound the two, thus perturbing any clarity in the debate. To avoid this type of inexactness, the focus should be on the activities and not the groups of populations, steering away from the common reference to migrantion as flows which “reinforces the threat images of immigration, and has contributed to a tendency of politicization of immigration” with the use of metaphors like ‘flood’, ‘invasion’, or ‘hungry hordes’ that play on people’s fears and insecurity (Brochmann 1999, 331) and more recently, ideas of crisis such as the “refugee crisis”. 


Author: Rut Bermejo


Bermejo, R. (2005). “Estado, dimensiones de seguridad y movimientos migratorios transfronterizos” in C. Cueto Nogueras (coord). Seguridad y Diversidad en las Sociedades Contemporáneas, Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, pp. 265-279. 

Bermejo, R. (2009) “Migration and security in the EU: back to fortress Europe?”, Journal of contemporary European research, 5:2, pp. 227–224.

Brochmann, G. (1999). “Controlling immigration in Europe”, in G. Brochman and T. Hammar (eds) Mechanisms of Immigration Control. A Comparative Analysis of European Regulation Policies, Oxford: Berg, pp.297-334. 

Carrera, S. (2006). “A Comparison of Integration Programmes in the EU”. Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Challenge Papers No. 1, March. 

Collinson, S. (2000). “Migration and Security in the Mediterranean: a Complex Relationship” in Russel King et al. (ed). Eldorado or fortress? Migration in Southern Europe, Londres: Macmillan Press, pp.301-320. 

Huysmans, J. (1995). “Migrants as a security problem’ in R. Miles and D. Thrätnhardt (eds.), Migration and European Integration (London: Pinter). 

Joppke, C. (2007) “Beyond national models: Civic integration policies for immigrants in Western Europe” , West European Politics, 30:1, pp. 1-22. 

Weiner, M. (1993). “Security, Stability, and International Migration,” International Security 17 (3), winter 1992/93), pp. 91-126. 



Perceptions, migration, threat, host countries, Europe, narratives

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