“The instrumentalization of migration: A geopolitical perspective and toolbox”, Monika Sie Dhian Ho and Myrthe Wijnkoop (Clingendael Institute, The Netherlands)

As armies and weapons cross borders, geopolitics re-enters the western mindset. With his full-scale invasion of Ukraine President Putin attempts to redraw the borders in Europe, and carve out a Russian sphere of influence. Whereas his armies’ achievements on the battlefield fall short of Putin’s initial expectations, they did succeed in making his fears relevant. They more tightly united the West, increased support for further enlargement of NATO, convinced Europeans that massive defence investments make sense and energy dependency is a strategic mistake. This is a geopolitical turn that was deemed impossible only one year ago. After the COVID-19 shock, the Russia-shock has made western countries realize in full that economic globalization and interdependence create vulnerabilities (e.g. dependence from medical masks imported from China, and gas imported from Russia). Adversary states can use these economic vulnerabilities as geopolitical weapons.

The growing awareness and scrutiny of our vulnerabilities extends to the field of migration as well. As Ukraine is fighting back, millions flee to Europe. UNHCR has counted almost 4.8 million refugees from Ukraine that have registered for Temporary Protection or similar national protection schemes in Europe[1] as a direct consequence of Putin’s geopolitical aspirations. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Ukraine reminds one of the Russian strategy in the war in Syria. NATO’s top commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, warned back then that Putin and Assad were trying to create a massive displacement of people. He suggested that refugees are the war, and the target of this destabilisation strategy was Europe. That interpretation of the indiscriminate bombing is deemed farfetched by some, but recent examples of the instrumentalization of migration abound. Libya used it against EU Member States, Morocco against Spain, Turkey against Greece, and Belarus against EU Member States. In this context there is an increased interest in understanding the phenomenon of the instrumentalization of migration.

The aim of this paper is to use a geopolitical perspective to better understand the phenomenon of instrumentalization of migration. Such a perspective is helpful to analyse the points of vulnerability of target countries, and to initiate a discussion about possible strategic responses to prevent, deter and combat its use. These insights could contribute to more resilience of potential target countries and better protection of potential victims.

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