Amid Major Focus on Dangerous Maritime Migration Channels and Inadequate Policy Responses, New Book Examines Global Hotspots, Offers Solutions
WASHINGTON – As the world’s displaced populations swell to the highest levels ever recorded, the most dramatic images of migration have been of those traveling by sea: a drowned child’s body lying face down in the sand, people overcrowded on barely seaworthy vessels and rows of coffins of shipwrecked migrants. Though only a small portion of the world’s migrants travel by sea, this population has captured much of the media attention, policy debate and resources devoted to the refugee crisis over the past few years. Maritime migration is exceptionally dangerous: More than 3,800 people have died in the Mediterranean alone so far this year, seeking to reach Europe.
A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) book, authored by Kathleen Newland with contributors Elizabeth Collett, Kate Hooper and Sarah Flamm, analyzes global policy responses to irregular maritime arrivals at regional, national and international levels, and provides suggestions for tackling the “wicked problem” of unauthorized maritime migration moving forward.
The book, All at Sea: The Policy Challenges of Rescue, Interception, and Long-Term Response to Maritime Migration, offers five case studies of global hotspots for irregular maritime migration: the Mediterranean, the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Aden/Red Sea, the Caribbean and Australia. These flows have presented daunting challenges to states seeking to reconcile the sovereign control of their borders with international obligations to protect refugees and to treat all people humanely and with dignity.
While policy discussions about maritime migration once typically focused on rescue, those today are more likely to be framed in terms of interception. The current, central dilemma is how to reconcile concerns over border protection, national security and organized crime with international legal obligations and regional or global burden-sharing.
“Unauthorized maritime migration is everywhere characterized by complexity,” writes Newland, an MPI senior fellow. “The multiplicity of state- and non-state actors, the mixed flows of refugees and non-refugees, the overlapping and sometimes contradictory legal rulings, the fluctuating state policies, the secondary movements of people from countries of first asylum and the constantly shifting parameters of sources, routes and destinations—all these factors and more make maritime migration an extremely difficult issue to resolve.”
She and her co-authors suggest that better collection and sharing of data, better evidence and analysis of the causes of maritime migration and monitoring of the impact of policies are necessary for policymakers to inform their decisions and understand whether their actions are having the intended results.
One-dimensional responses are unlikely to be effective in addressing the whole phenomenon of maritime migration and have been seen to produce unintended, and often unwelcome, consequences. Governments may choose to live with these. Alternatively, they may adopt responses that are tactically flexible and capable of adapting to changing circumstances while remaining strategically anchored in rule of law, the imperative of safety and respect for human dignity.
For more MPI research on the global humanitarian protection crisis and on innovative solutions, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/topics/refugee-asylum-policy