The Coloniality of Migration and the "Refugee Crisis": On the Asylum-Migration Nexus, the Transatlantic White European Settler Colonialism-Migration and Racial Capitalism.

Author:Rodriguez, Encarnacion Gutierrez


This article departs from the discussion by Stephen Castles on the migration-asylum nexus by focusing on the political and cultural effects of the summer of immigration in 2015. It argues for a conceptualization of the asylum-migration nexus within the framework of Anibal Quijano's "coloniality of power" by developing the analytical framework of the "coloniality of migration." Through the analytical framework of the "coloniality of migration" the connection between racial capitalism and the asylum-migration nexus is explored. It does so by first focusing on the economic and political links between asylum and migration, and how both constitute each other. On these grounds, it discusses how asylum and migration policies produce hierarchical categories of migrants and refugees, producing a nomenclature drawing on an imaginary reminiscent of the orientalist and racialized practices of European colonialism and imperialism. In a second step, it focuses on migration and asylum policies as inherent to a logic of racialization of the workforce. It does so by first exploring the racial coding of immigration policies within the context of settler colonialism and transatlantic White European migration to the Americas and Oceania in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and second, by discussing migration policies in post-1945 Western Europe.


Cet article se demarque de la discussion de Stephen Castles sur le lien entre l'asile et la migration en ciblant les effets politiques et culturels de lete migratoire vecu en 2015. Il plaide pour une conceptualisation du lien entre l'asile et la migration dans le cadre de la > d'Anibal Quijano, et ce en elaborant le cadre d'analyse de la >. C'est dans ce dernier qu'il explore la connexion entre le capitalisme racial et le lien asile-migration. Pour cela, l'article cible d'abord les liens politiques et economiques entre asile et migration, et la maniere dont l'un et Vautre se constituent l'un par Vautre. Sur ces bases, en etablissant une nomenclature qui s'appuie sur une reminiscence fictive des pratiques orientalistes et racialisms du colonialisme et de Vimperialisme europeens, il discute la manure dont les politiques d'asile et de migration produisent des categories hierarchiques de migrants et de refugies. Dans la deuxieme partie, l'article cible les politiques d'asile et de migration en tant que politiques indissociables dune logique de racialisation de la main d'oeuvre. Pour cela, il explore tout d'abord le codage des donnees raciales des politiques d'immigration dans le contexte du colonialisme de peuplement et de la migration transatlantique des blancs d'origine Europeenne vers les Ameriques et l'Oceanie aux XIXE et XXE siecles; il discute ensuite des politiques de migration dans l'Europe de l'Ouest de l'apres-1945.


During August and September 2015 the media constantly replayed images of refugees traversing the Balkan route to Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. This migration was initially met with hospitality through Willkommenskultur (welcome culture). However, this had changed by autumn 2015 when right-wing populists and nationalists blamed Merkel's government for allowing European societies to be "over-run" by Muslim refugees from "archaic" societies. This is exemplified in reports of New Year's Eve in Cologne 2015/16, when North African and Muslim men were accused of sexual assaults and attacks, portrayed in the media as mainly targeting white German women in the main train station. (2) This reactivated the dichotomy of civilization and barbarity, constructing black and brown racialized masculinities as "premodern," lacking control over their sexuality and having a patriarchal, misogynist mindset. In political talk shows, experts reiterated that the problem was the poor adjustment of these men to the ruling "normative gender order." Their presence was interpreted by right-wing populists as a threat to Occidental civility. Politicians reacted quickly to these accusations. On July 7, 2016, the law governing sexual offences was amended to state that a sexual offence takes place when a woman's non-consent ("no means no") is not respected and when sexual attacks and harassment are committed by a group of men. This law could be understood as a slight achievement in the struggle against sexual violence. But the underlying racism, in particular anti-Muslim racism, which accelerated its passing, deserves some attention.

The New Years Eve Event 2015/16 initiated a turning point in "the conjuncture of racism" (3) in Europe. The 2015 summer of migration transformed into a "refugee crisis." The arrival of people seeking shelter in Europe started to be publicly debated in media and politics as a "crisis," a destabilization of the social norms, and a rupture in the social order. The wealthy European countries--Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Austria--that took the biggest share of the 1.5 million people fleeing the war zones in the Middle East and Africa are not experiencing economic crisis. However, the arrival of those fleeing wars and political conflicts in the Middle East and Africa produced a "crisis" in the normative white national population. As Suvi Keskinen (4) discusses, in Finland this is rather a "crisis" of "white hegemony" played out by the reshuffling of "white neonationalist femininities" and the underlying hegemonic reconstitution of their masculine counterparts. (5) Thus, the rhetoric of crisis is constructed on an ideological level.

Hall et al. (6) discuss the significant role played by the media in establishing the hegemony of Thatchers authoritarian populism in late-1970s Britain. Hall et al. identified the media construction of Black Caribbean men as "muggers" as a strategy to establish a national consensus for the Conservative government through the incessant fabrication of news on black men attacking white people on the street. This consensus was achieved by mobilizing racism. This media spectacle reiterated the British Empire's colonial vocabulary of racialization within the metropole and diverted attention from Thatcher's dismantling of the welfare state, as well as the transformation causing mass unemployment and decreasing household incomes among the working and middle classes. Instead, the media spectacle contributed to the fabrication of an outsider to the nation to whom social and economic deprivation as well as feelings of individual insecurity were attributed. Thus, the media were key actors in the formation of a hegemonic bloc supporting Thatcher's authoritarian populism. On the basis of his analysis of the political status quo, Hall (7) developed his analysis of the specific conjuncture and contingency of racism. The spectacle of the black man as mugger produced an affective connection between the population and the government by creating "moral panic." At the same time, the moral panic fuelled the government responses to this "crisis" with the introduction of police "stop and search" and racial profiling. This connection between media representation, affective connections, and ideological negotiations represented a contingent moment of the specific conjuncture of racism, orchestrated by a variety of actors representing a range of convergent and divergent financial, economic, and political interests.

In the case of the production of the "refugee crisis" through media images, we have a similar convergence of media, affect, and politics. As I will develop here, the rhetoric involved in the production of the "refugee crisis" resurfaces within a specific conjuncture of racism in Europe. As I will argue, within this conjuncture colonial legacies of the construction of the racialized Other are reactivated and wrapped in a racist vocabulary, drawing on a racist imaginary combined with new forms of governing the racialized Other through migration control. The analysis of the media and political spectacle of the "refugee crisis" requires that we consider it as an articulation of a contingency of a specific conjuncture of racism in Europe, particularly in Germany.

I argue here that contemporary racism in Europe, particularly in Germany, is articulated by the trope of the "refugee" and the media's conjuring up of the "refugee crisis" in public and political debates. The "refugee crisis" is symptomatic of what Stephen Castles (8) has coined the "asylum-migration nexus" and operates within the logic of what I will call the coloniality of migration following Anibal Quijano's (9) "coloniality of power." In the discussion that follows, I situate the asylum-migration nexus at the juncture of the coloniality of power and racial capitalism. (10) I then extend the analytical framework of the coloniality of migration by exploring settler colonialism, transatlantic white European migration, and the racial coding of immigration policies in former colonies in the Americas and Oceania in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as migration policies in post-1945 Western Europe. The article concludes by looking at the value of the coloniality of migration as an analytical framework for the analysis of the present conjuncture of racism.

Contingency: The "Refugee Crisis" and the Migration-Asylum Nexus

By autumn 2015 there were incessant complaints about the "waves of refugees invading" Europe, and in particular Germany, in populist and social media. The "refugee crisis" was constructed as the result of lack of management by a government with no regard for the burden caused by uncontrolled migration on state welfare and social housing provision, whilst "refugees" were constructed as a threat to social cohesion. Structural inequalities were presented as resulting from the arrival of refugees and conflated with racist fantasies of Uberfremdung (foreignization), a fantasy of loss of national identity and culture based on one people, race, ethnicity, religion, and language. Thus in German elections in September 2017...

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