Resisting the Extreme 2022

The following essay was originally compiled for the Mixed Migration Review 2022 and has been reproduced here for wider access through this website’s readership.

The essay’s author Chris Horwood is a migration specialist and co-director of Ravenstone Consult.

This section offers a countervailing antidote, of sorts, to the Normalising the extreme report. While the Normalising the extreme is regrettably relatively easy to compile and increasing in size every year, completing this sister feature has proven to be more complicated. There are many policies and actions around the world that support and protect refugees and migrants, and which are embedded into laws and civic behaviour, and which cannot all be featured here because they are numerous and evident in most countries. Millions of migrants and refugees find refuge, hope, and success in their host countries and many find pathways to citizenship, but this section highlights more publicised events or policies that appear to directly counterbalance more negative approaches.

However, as will be seen, in some cases examples of resisting the extreme in 2022 have an ambiguity or fragility because they are associated or embedded in negative contexts which qualifies their positive nature.

This report cannot aim to be exhaustive but is indicative of the fact that not all approaches towards mixed migration are extreme or harmful. It is clear that asylum seekers, refugees and migrants still have many advocates across the world pushing for their protection, inclusion, integration, and well-being.

Public support for refugees increasing but mixed

Some 78 percent of respondents to an annual online survey of more than 20,500 people in 28 countries published ahead of this year’s World Refugee Day (20 June) said those fleeing conflict or persecution should be able to take refuge in another country. The increase from the 2021 survey’s 70 percent is likely to have been a result of the galvanising international response and solidarity for Ukraine in 2022. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed this year were positive about more refugees coming into their country if they were fleeing war or violent conflict, but support was lower for those fleeing persecution related to gender, sexuality, or political opinion, while 55 percent considered the impact of climate change and/or natural disasters as a valid reason to be given asylum. Views were divided on whether governments should be providing more support to refugees and asylum seekers. However, illustrating some of the ambiguity mentioned above, at the same time 54 percent agreed with the statement that “most foreigners who want to get into my country as a refugee really aren’t refugees. They just want to come here for economic reasons, or to take advantage of our welfare services”. Additionally, 36 percent felt borders of their countries should be closed and at the present time no more refugees should be accepted.

Global local action accelerates

Emblematic of the fact that across the world continuous positive action is being implemented to support refugees and migrants is the work of local leaders—sometimes acting in opposition to national policies and practices. Local leaders including municipalities, and often led by mayors, are increasingly being acknowledged as partners and global migration governance actors in their own right. In 2022, during the first International Migration Review Forum—convened to assess progress on the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM)—the Mayors Mechanism launched an inaugural report, Localization of the Global Compacts, that detailed activities carried out by 47 local and regional governments in 33 countries in support of refugees and migrants in line with the GCM and the Global Compact on Refugees. Documented actions directly benefiting refugees and migrants include those that expand access to services; serve children and youth; expand employment and entrepreneurship opportunities; address the impact of the climate crisis on migration and displacement; offer humanitarian or financial assistance in times of crisis; and improve city governance, accountability, and responsiveness to migrant and refugee communities.

Regularisation of Venezuelans in South America

Despite evidence of the souring of previously welcoming attitudes and rise of anti-migrant/refugee rhetoric in parts of South America (such as in Brazil and Chile), increased regularisation of Venezuelans has been trending through 2021 and 2022. In his report to the United Nations in May 2022, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales (interviewed in this Review page 99) cited the growing momentum of regularisation of Venezuelans following temporary measures adopted during the pandemic. His report mentions that following the examples of Colombia and the Dominican Republic in 2021, the president of Ecuador had announced plans to begin the regularisation process for Venezuelans, “which could provide a stable legal status for over 450,000 migrants residing in the country”. These policy developments offer benefits to millions of people and represent a clear and welcome example of resisting the more extreme approach of limiting access and even detaining or deporting refugees and migrants.

Summit of the Americas –the regional (formal) commitment to protection and migration

At the ninth Summit of the Americas, held in June 2022, 20 attending countries endorsed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, thereby pledging to strengthen national, regional, and hemispheric efforts to create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation. In short, the US and Latin American countries committed to receiving more migrants. It also resulted in some new humanitarian and security assistance from the US Department of State to address “the immediate drivers and root causes of irregular migration, as well as assist those forced to flee”. As the essays, Thematic Snapshots, and the Normalising the extreme feature in this Review illustrate, countries of the Americas have a long way to go in their protection of migrants and asylum seekers. As the summit was taking place, activities and policies continued to be implemented in contradiction with the values and aspirations expressed in the adopted declaration. Nevertheless, the document was regarded as a significant landmark and was welcomed by the UNHCR and others, despite the fact that the leaders of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—key countries of origin and transit for migrants and asylum- seekers—stayed away from the summit, raising questions about the significance of the joint declaration.

Qualified good news from Australia

In April 2022, there was a qualified and bitter victory for 26 asylum seekers held in detention in Australia’s mainland after being medevaced from indefinite detention off-shore. They were finally released but told to return to Nauru, seek resettlement in New Zealand or the United States, or return to their home country, but would not be allowed to settle in Australia. Although these 26 were the latest of groups of medevaced asylum seekers released since 2021, there is little flexibility from a government that punishes irregular maritime migration to Australia by preventing any short- or long-term path to residency. Others remain detained in centres in Australia having been medevaced from offshore detention—an approach which has itself attracted protracted and widespread condemnation. Nevertheless, detention of migrants and asylum-seekers is on a downward trend. The current figure of almost 1,400 is a significant decrease from the peak of 10,201 in July 2013. However, it is high when compared to 375 in January 2009.

Also in Australia, the national cap on permanent migration was raised for the first time in a decade to help fill massive workforce shortages as a result of the pandemic and Australia’s tough border policies which have exacerbated staffing gaps in many sectors. The changes were implemented immediately in September and therefore Australia will take up to 195,000 people this financial year—an increase of 35,000 from the 2021 financial year. However, selection will be carefully administered through an already strictly applied points-based system and a strict no-boats policy remains in place so the changes offer no relief for would-be irregular asylum seekers or migrants.

Rescues at sea despite hostile policy

Despite states’ generally hostile approach to irregular maritime migration, coast guards and privately commissioned vessels have successfully rescued sea-borne migrants and asylum seekers all over the world. Even if such rescues are not motivated by solidarity, and even if the migrant journeys are then thwarted by detention and long-term processes (sometimes leading to deportation), those picked up at sea are taken to ports in safety and variously supported by government bodies, municipalities, and/or NGOs.

For example, in September 2022 the Italian coast guard brought 459 asylum seekers and migrants to harbour working in coordination with the private NGO vessel Ocean Viking. Most of the 33,000 migrants and asylum seekers who crossed the English Channel in 2022 (up to mid-October) were rescued, shepherded, or otherwise chaperoned by the UK’s Royal Navy or the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity staffed by volunteers. The US Coast Guard mobilised to save refugees and migrants on several occasions in 2022, including, in February, ten Cubans aboard a sinking vessel off the Florida coast; in August, 19 migrants in a disabled boat floating off Los Angeles; and, in October, almost 100 Haitian asylum seekers who had spent five days crammed on a boat off the Florida coast without provisions. However, during the year the US Coast Guard was also involved in multiple repatriations of people at sea in heavily loaded passenger or fishing vessels from Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere.

On several occasions in 2022, the Tunisian coast guard said it had “rescued” migrants at sea, including more than 450 people (mainly from sub-Saharan states) in numerous operations related to 37 separate attempts to reach Europe by boat on a single night in July. However, asylum seekers and migrants rarely welcome “rescues”— perhaps more accurately termed “interceptions”—that return them to their point of departure and in many cases lead to detention and prosecution. From the travellers’ perspective, having paid smugglers to organise their journey, such “rescues” feel more like being “caught”. As Tunisia has a long-standing migration cooperation agreement with the EU, the staggering 23,500 people picked up by the coast guard between January and September casts “rescue” in a different light and illustrates the ambiguity at the heart of intercepting migrants at sea in so-called rescue activities.

Ukrainian refugee crisis response

The immediate and almost worldwide positive response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis following Russian invasion in February 2022 was remarkable. Countries immediately opened their doors, non-government groups and communities offered all manner of facilities and provisions and even those countries averse to receiving any refugees, such as Poland, suddenly welcomed huge numbers of Ukrainians. The US pledged to fast-track and take in up to 100,000. Within days of Russia’s aggression, the European Union for the first time triggered its Temporary Protection Directive to allow people fleeing Ukraine to live and work within the EU with multiple social protection and welfare provisions normally not offered to refugees. By October 2022, not counting the 2.9 million who crossed into Russia, 4.75 million Ukrainian refugees were hosted outside the country, mostly in neighbouring states.

Some commentators, including the UNHCR, were quick to celebrate this as proof of concept that the international community can manage sudden large-scale arrivals of refugees and their needs in a generous and responsibility-sharing manner. They suggested it was hopeful evidence of resisting the extreme of refugee neglect and showed that where political will and public support coalesced great outcomes were possible. However, others were equally quick to point out that the welcome offered to Ukrainian refugees only more deeply illustrated the discriminatory treatment of non-Caucasian, non-European refugees by comparison. The response in the Americas and elsewhere to Haitian asylum seekers this year and historically offers a stark example. UNHCR joined others in calling out what they described as racist discrimination, noting that while states were opening their doors to Ukrainians seeking refuge they were pushing back, detaining, deporting, and negotiating external border controls for those from sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. After less than 10 months of hosting very large numbers of Ukrainian refugees and noting how attitudes can sour over time (see Normalising the extreme on page 206 for examples from South Africa, Chile and Lebanon), it may be judicious to refrain from early glowing assessments. Nevertheless, the initial response to Ukrainian refugees clearly resisted and bucked the negative trend of treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in 2022.

Court challenges in Cyprus, the Netherlands, and UK

In a case that “could set an important precedent for Cyprus’ migration policy and have repercussions for Europe’s border policies more generally” two Syrian cousins are suing the government of Cyprus before the European Court of Human Rights for denying them their right to lodge an asylum claim. Cypriot coast guards reportedly intercepted with force the cousins’ boat in September 2020 as they journeyed from Lebanon, causing their boat to sink in waters around Cyprus. They were allegedly verbally threatened and then forced onto another vessel returning to Lebanon without allowing them to claim asylum in Cyprus, in violation of international law. EuroMed Rights and its Cypriot and Lebanese members are directly involved in presenting the case with the two men and hope a ruling in their favour will end the continuing practice of pushbacks by Cypriot authorities on the high seas. Despite this, however, according to EuroMed Rights, on 6th of July, 49 people were in urgent distress close to Cyprus. The authorities first performed a rescue operation but then illegally pushed back the people to Lebanon.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch Refugee Council won a case against the Dutch government over its treatment of asylum seekers. In August 2022, hundreds of refugees were forced to sleep outside with little or no access to drinking water, sanitary facilities, or healthcare because there was no more room in government-run asylum centres. The court ruling requires the state to provide higher standard treatment in asylum centres, including an indoor sleeping space, food, water, and access to hygienic sanitation facilities. A by-product of the overcrowding that led to the case was that Amsterdam stated it would house at least 1,000 asylum seekers on a cruise liner to be moored in the city’s industrial area.

In the UK, the much-publicised and controversial plan (backed by new legislation) to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda was thwarted by a last-minute ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in mid-June 2022. The Kigali-bound flight was initially scheduled to fly with 130 asylum seekers although as the flight date and time approached, more and more individuals were removed as human rights lawyers repeatedly sought stays by submitting lawsuits against the government. The measure was originally part of a somewhat desperate plan to deter and discourage channel crossings, which between January and late October 2022 numbered a record 38,000. Since June, no flights with asylum seekers have flown, airlines are withdrawing their services, and it is not clear if the policy will ever be implemented, even if the UK’s new home secretary has described the scheme as her “dream and obsession.”

Kenya’s progressive new refugee law

The newly minted Kenyan Refugee Act of 2021 came into effect in February 2022 and reinforces protection and management of refugees. Critically, the new law grants over 500,000 refugees access to participation in economic and social development once they have received proper documentation and permits. They will have the right to engage in employment or start businesses or practice or trade in sectors where they hold a qualification. In a win-win situation for government and refugee, this means refugees can now be in gainful employment and shall be expected to pay taxes just like Kenyan citizens. In reality, this is a sharp move by the authorities as hundreds of thousands of refugees were already operating in the shadow economy without paying taxes. Furthermore, refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda have an option to give up their refugee status and seek legal stay arrangements and enjoy benefits under the East African Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol.

Promising practices and legal developments concerning climate-induced displacement/mobility

2022 saw a continuation of earlier “promising practices” aimed at expanding and facilitating pathways for safe and regular migration in the context of climate change. Regular migration pathways for people affected by environmental drivers are explicitly addressed under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The July report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants documents the development of legal provisions and case law from a range of countries where destruction of homes, displacement from areas, or inability to return to areas are increasingly regarded as grounds for admission or rights to remain in third party countries. In a world where an increasing number of people are displaced by natural disasters and slow-onset climate change impacts, these are important precedents and developments.

The Special Rapporteur’s report cites examples from Italy, Vanuatu, Switzerland, and Mexico where legislation already has provisions or includes definitions that could facilitate regular migration where climate change exacerbates people’s vulnerability and leads to a violation of core human rights or puts people at risk. Understandably, states are hesitant to create precedents, but these developments are occurring in a context where:

the sharp increase in the number of climate change litigation cases at the international level suggests that this is a quiet beginning for an already growing phenomenon. This is true both in terms of public climate litigation, which is directed at States, governments and public bodies with the aim of influencing their environmental policies, and in terms of private climate litigation against companies for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In 2018, the German Advisory Council on Global Change proposed to develop a “climate passport” that would offer those who are at risk of global warming the option to gain access to civil rights in safe countries, but this has not been implemented to date. However, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil all already provide humanitarian protection through special (but time-bound) visas to migrant applicants who can demonstrate the existence of exceptional reasons of a humanitarian nature as victims of natural or environmental disasters. In these cases, environmental factors are listed as just one of various reasons to offer these special and temporary visas.

New Zealand dropped an earlier idea to offer a humanitarian visa for victims of climate crisis and was ruled against at a landmark case heard at a UN tribunal when a citizen of Kiribati was denied asylum. Nevertheless, now, under the New Zealand Pacific Access Category Resident Visa programme, there is “a quota for a total of 650 migrants from Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga and Tuvalu to apply for permanent residency in New Zealand every year, while a quota of 1,100 is allocated for Samoan migrants under the Samoan Quota Resident Visa”. The Special Rapporteur’s report also cites Australia’s Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme, launched in July 2018. This is a framework for accepting workers from nine countries including Fiji, Kiribati, and Naurutargeted at citizens of Pacific Island States”, suggesting the scheme is an effort to expand legal pathways in the context of the climate pressures Pacific Islanders are facing.

Investigative reporting as part of the resistance

Recent years have seen an increase in in-depth investigative reporting related to migration and displacement with reporters not just covering topics that also feature in mainstream media because the subject is high on the political agenda, but also exposing under-reported and clandestine aspects. Some of these have been featured in previous Mixed Migration Review reports, such as the various studies by Stop Wapenhandel examining the increasing presence of arms dealers profiting from and fuelling border securitisation and the details of who their clients are. Also the work of Border Violence Monitoring Network—that monitors pushback abuses in systematic detail along Europe’s eastern edges.

Of course, established media outlets such as The Guardian have repeatedly conducted in-depth research on issues relating to migration—for example revealing 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup organisation was awarded—and there has be an strong uptick in the number of reports published by human right organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on migration issues directly challenging the normalisation of the extreme. Some newer outlets that have published useful research are more obviously media-based like The Conversation and The New Humanitarian while others like Bellingcat, Vice, Politico, and Lighthouse Reports represent the crossover between investigation, reportage, activism and advocacy—often developing their exposés in collaboration with other outlets with simultaneous release strategies. Also, these outlets are increasingly employing new technology to obtain evidence, such as using satellite imagery, open source data, hidden cameras, night vision capacity, and drones. Generally, there is a clear trend of journalists, researchers, and activists combining their skills to produce specialist reporting on migration issues that aim at exposing and resisting the extreme. Illustrating this, in May 2022, Lighthouse released a report showing how Frontex’s internal database suggested it was involved in illegal pushbacks on a massive scale. Earlier, in October 2021, Lighthouse led a joint investigation with others, spending eight months gathering testimony, tracing chains of command, tracking social media and satellite imagery, and following the money trails back to EU funds to offer a detailed picture of a campaign of illegal, violent pushbacks in Croatia, Greece, and Romania by masked men whose uniforms have been stripped of any identifying details. In June 2022, Lighthouse’s migration news desk released a report showing how the Greek police were using foreigners as “slaves” to forcibly return asylum seekers to Türkiye.

The new European Union Agency for Asylum

As part of an ongoing thrust for asylum reform, in early 2022, the European Union Agency for Asylum replaced the European Asylum Support Office, which had been operating since 2011. UNHCR welcomed the change. The new agency will have a Fundamental Rights Office to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers and a complaints mechanism. It aims to help EU member states agree on uniform practices and accelerate the slow progress towards a common European asylum system—current arrangements are considered “unfair” and slow, with too much variation between countries. It is not clear whether the new agency will be able to successfully tackle the current deficiencies in the bloc’s asylum regime and practise.

New EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and increasing regular pathways

In 2022, the EU sought to link efforts to increase legal pathways for migration in the bloc to its 2019-2024 strategy and its New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The new pact includes a commitment to attracting skills and talent. In April 2022, the European Commission published a communication that highlighted the need for expanded avenues for legal labour migration, outlining “a pragmatic and gradual approach towards an ambitious and sustainable EU legal migration policy”. The EU also included this intention as part of its voluntary submission to the Global Compact for Migration progress-tracking mechanism. Among the key initiatives of this otherwise slim list of reforms is establishing an “enhanced legislative framework” for legal pathways to the EU by revising the Single Permit Directive and the Long-Term Residents Directive. This entails establishing a streamlined procedure for the single permit for combined work and residence which is intended to make the process quicker and easier for applicants and employers. Meanwhile, however, there are strong populist and anti-migrant agendas in many countries across the EU that are leading governments towards policies that appear to contradict this proposed policy direction of travel. Still, the EU is also responding to the growing need for migrant workers in Europe so forces that open doors to more regular migration may become inevitable and irresistible.

Responding to its own labour shortages and a rising trend of irregular migration from Morocco, in early 2022 Portugal announced a bilateral agreement to allow for the “recruitment, hiring and immigration of Moroccan workers, ensuring they have the same rights and duties as Portuguese workers.”

Progress documented by the International Migration Review Forum

In December 2021, the Biden administration in the US announced its “endorsement of the vision contained” in the GCM. In May 2022, the inaugural International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) took stock of progress made towards and challenges encountered in meeting the compact’s 23 objectives and to assess the extent to which the guiding principles have been adopted by governments, stakeholders, and the UN family. The forum was presaged by the biennial UN secretary general’s report to the General Assembly, released in December 2021.

The IMRF Progress Declaration, based on the submissions of GCM-signatory states, was adopted by the General Assembly in June 2022. In it, all major themes and issues relating to GCM are raised and, in most cases, clear progress or limited progress is identified in most of the compact’s thematic areas. At the same time, the Declaration recognised that progress had been hampered in many cases and on many fronts due to the global impact of the pandemic.

The Declaration included a recommendation that a set of indicators, drawing on the global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the 2030 Agenda be used by members states when reviewing their progress towards GCM implementation. It also called for the introduction of a “comprehensive strategy for improving disaggregated migration data at the local, national, regional and global levels”.