Migration Managerialism

Nabil Iosif Morad visits the house where 3 women travelling alone with their children are temporarily staying while waiting for their family re-unification claim to be approved. Coming from the cities of Homs and Damascus the women left Syria with their children and risked the dangerous journey in a bit to join their husbands who are now in Germany. All of the residents in the LM Village are families or single parent families and more than half of the population are babies and young children. ; Located on the northwest of the Peloponnese near the village of Myrsini the LM village is now temporary home to more than 300 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, more than half of whom are babies and young children. All of the families at the LM village have applied for the EU’s relocation scheme but none of them know how long they will have to wait before they are able to start their new life’s. The driving force behind the idea of offering a disused tourist resort to house Syrian refugees was Nabil Iosif Morad, a 54 year old doctor of Syrian descent who has lived in the area of Ilia, Greece for the past 25 years and is the first non-ethnically Greek mayor to be ever elected in the country. He offered the LM Village (which is owned by the municipalities of Andravidia-Kyllini and Fyli) to the Ministry of Migration with the condition that it would be used to house families and women traveling alone with their children. The local community provides food, medicine and clothes for the new arrivals and volunteer doctors and lawyers visit the site regularly to offer advice. The local volunteers who visit the site daily say that by now the refugees living there have become family and that they will continue offering their time and help for as long as it is necessary.

Welcome to this week’s discussion, which is also our last discussion. I want to thank each of you for continuing to participate fully in your projects and in discussions online. Please answer as many or as few of the questions below on the readings/podcast for today:

This week we read Chapter 6 of Itamar Mann’s Humanity at Sea, “Imagination and the Human Rights Encounter.” Mann argues that western hosting states have constructed migration managerialism over the last fifty years since South East Asians seeking refuge fled Vietnam by boat. He gives several important characteristics defining migration managerialism:

  • “Migration managerialism appears as a politically safe middle ground between two perceived impossibilities: open or closed borders. But it is a particular way of capturing this middle ground while rendering the question whether incoming migrants are “refugees” or not secondary (pg. 192).”
  • Managerialism is an attempt to detach law from the existential questions associated with what I have called the human rights encounter (pg. 193).”
  • Managerialism is a mode of governance that transforms rights and their corresponding duties into questions of pragmatic problem-solving… [and] occludes and displaces a notion of duty, at the basis of what I have called human rights law (p. 204).”
  • Migration management has constantly sought to conceal [possibility that obligations under the social contract to fellow citizens can end up being death sentences for non-members of the social contract] (p. 209).
  1. For Mann, the most significant thing about migration managerialism is the way that the state wields it to render the human rights encounter invisible to “us”–citizens of a functioning polity. Why is the invisibility of the human rights encounter a problem. Many of your projects have aspects of migration managerialism obscuring the plight of refuge-seekers from public view. Based on your own research and reading of Mann, what do you think is the solution to this invisibility?
  2. Towards the end of the chapter, Mann critiques the liberal portrayal of refugees as skills-bearing contributors to the domestic economy. We touched on this critique in our reading of Nayeri last week. What is Mann’s view on this question?
  3. Mann views refuge hosting as, not only a moral and voluntary act of charity, but rather as a duty. What is the source of this obligation in his view?
  4. In “Last Resort,” Act 3 of This American Life “Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee,” how did you react to the views expressed by Greek citizens towards Syrian refugees and the mayor who arranged for them to be hosted in the abandoned resort, which he calls a refugee hospitality centre?
  5. What do you think of the way that Iosif Nabil-Morad, mayor of Andravida-Kyllini, responded to refugee complaints? How does this response align with Mann’s last chapter?

Published by Dr. Terretta

I'm a professor of history at the University of Ottawa.

5 thoughts on “Migration Managerialism

  1. Hi everyone! I’ll be responding to questions 2 and 4.

    2. From what I understood, Mann believes this argument doesn’t reflect the reality that people have “a dual obligation” towards both the positive law of their own communities and human rights. Mann does mention that this argument is useful as a way to combat the idea that refuge-seekers and hosts necessarily have competing needs and interests. However, it does not allow for the real possibility that refugees might be create burdens for hosting countries, meaning that hosting refugees could go against one’s responsibility to the state and other citizens as laid out the social contract. There is always going to be some risk involved with any human’s, not just non-citizen’s, interaction with a state and, Mann argues, these obligations to positive law cannot end up being “death sentences” to non-citizens regardless of what they “bring” to a potential host country.

    4. I thought much of what was expressed in “Last Resort” was a reflection of Mann’s idea of dual obligation. Greek citizens’ fear for their own future and their expectation that the state would respond to their needs competed with their sense of obligation to “be generous and do good.” Nabil-Morad felt an obligation towards the refugees, and some of the citizens of his municipality felt like their own wellbeing and rights would be threatened by them and the increased demand upon the municipality’s resources they represented. Importantly, when trying to convince people that they should allow the refugees to live at the resort, he highlighted both that they would be “like him” and that the state would pay for everything. “Like him” I think highlights the importance of contact when it comes to responding to the needs of others – both in terms of a demonstration that accepting people into the social contract is not necessarily a threat, and also in terms of humanizing the unknown refugee. It is hard to feel a human rights obligation towards someone you don’t understand as a human being. I think Nabil-Morad’s emphasis on the state paying for everything speaks directly to the fear of citizens that refuge-seekers will take away their own opportunities and benefits. This was expressed later by Greek citizens experiencing extreme poverty and uncertainty themselves.


  2. Hello everyone! Here are some thoughts I had based on the reading of Mann and the podcast.

    1. In his explanation of “migrant managerialism,” Mann explains that “Different organs of the EU and of its member states will carry out varying tasks” and that the “tasks are distributed among various actors” (193). These actors include local and regional governments, Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office, among others. The fact that so many actors are involved in migrant managerialism reminds me of what Mann writes in Chapter 5 when he explains the elimination of encounter as a “collective action problem” (178). When so many different actors are involved, Mann explains that any actor may believe that another actor would act upon the obligations that come from the human rights encounter (178). This, in turn, eliminates the encounter in which a single actor is faced with the decision, “you, and no one else, will decide if I have a life worth living” (48). This situation, in which multiple actors are involved in managing migrants, thus prevents a human rights encounter from occurring.
    The invisibility of the human rights encounter is problematic, as it creates what Mann calls a “human rights deficit” (193). When dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers simply becomes about implementing policy, Mann explains that it becomes possible for the hosting party to avoid the embarrassment characteristic of human rights encounters. When the human rights encounter is invisible, that moral feeling that someone’s else’s survival and freedom is in your hands disappears.
    I think Mann summarized well one of the only ways to return to this encounter, and that is through imagination. As he explains, “Even if a migrant boat is absent from my view because I’m not at sea, or the boat has drowned, or its passengers have somehow remained among the shadows of extra-legality, I can still render them present before me by the use of imagination” (194).
    It is not necessarily possible for every decision-maker to experience the human rights encounter in person at sea, so there must be a way for this encounter to happen in other ways that still trigger a sense of obligation. Whether it be an EU official in Brussels, a politician in Berlin, or an aid worker in a refugee camp in Greece, all are capable of picturing this human rights encounter, whether or not they are present face-to-face with a refugee. Refugees sharing their stories and having their stories told is one way that more and more people can learn about the precarity they face, thus making it easier to imagine the human rights encounter. That is why I liked the “This American Life” podcasts as hearing the refugees’ stories first-hand makes it easier to picture the human rights encounter that emerges when they arrive in Europe.

    2. Mann’s view on the portrayal of refugees as skill-bearing contributors to the domestic economy is that their contributions to the domestic economy are irrelevant to the human rights encounter. As he explains, “Human rights obligations and positive legal obligations each rest on wholly different sets of commitments” (209).

    3. In Mann’s view, the source of this obligation is the conscience, as he describes human rights law as “non-positive law emanating from the command of the conscience” (205). Unlike voluntarism, which gives the impression that the decision to help refugees could have not been taken, this duty is something that is experienced as universally binding. This view differs from Juncker’s view, which sees the decision to welcome refugees as an act of benevolence and charity, and thus an act of voluntarism.

    4. I appreciated much of the mayor’s response as his words emphasize the humanity of refuge-seekers. By providing shelter in an elegant way, Mayor Nabil Morad argues that he is showing the rest of Europe that refugees are people too and need to be treated with respect and care. However, based on the podcast, I have the impression that the mayor and his village viewed welcoming the refugees more as a voluntary act rather than an act of duty. Mayor Nabil had to walk along a fine line by stressing that the village would not have to bear the costs and by only accepting Syrian families. While I have reservations about the way he framed accepting refugees, I understand where he is coming from given the context, as without the support of his village’s population, it would have been difficult for him to continue welcoming refugees. I think the reasoning behind this is largely to avoid creating anger among the local Greek population. We discussed in previous classes how refugees can sometimes be seen by host populations as receiving preferential treatment. I think Mayor Nabil is working to avoid that given the economic crisis Greece has had to face.

    5. Looking at the way Mayor Nabil Morad responded to refugee complaints, I feel as though there is a disconnect between Nabil-Morad’s response and Mann’s views. By selectively choosing who to accept (Syrian families instead of Afghan refugees, Pakistanis, or single men) makes it appear as though this is a voluntary decision rather than a duty.
    Secondly, it also appears as though the question of taking in migrants has been made into an economic one in the podcast, as the mayor emphasizes to his citizens that the municipality would not have to bear the cost of hosting the refugees, with the exception of trash collection. Mann, however, writes “we must allow for at least the theoretical possibility that incoming populations may also present burdens on host societies” (298). Thus, I believe that if Mann were writing about the Greek case, he would argue that even if the village was required to pay more to support the refugees, that it wouldn’t impact the decision about accepting them.
    Despite these two differences between Mann and Nabil Morad, one quote from Nabil Morad stood out to me as representing the human rights encounter. When the mayor held a baby who was a refugee, Nabil Morad said that he was very moved. This part of the podcast reminded me of the human rights encounter described by Mann as something that is experienced and comes from the conscience.

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  3. Hello Professor Terretta and classmates! I can’t believe it’s already time for our final discussion.

    Please see below for my responses to questions 1, 2, 4, and 5:

    1. The invisibility of the human rights encounter helps public discourse around refuge-seekers to be easily misconstrued. If the citizens of the polity are unable to see refugees’ human rights struggle, they are left with no option but to take the state’s word as to how the interaction between the refuge-seekers and state personnel took place. Given this scenario, the state has free reign to play up national security concerns, as was the case with the Tamil refugees who arrived on the MV Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea. I recognize that it is impossible for all of the members of the polity to bear witness to the human rights encounter and that it would be even more naïve to assume that all members of the polity would desire being part of such an interaction. One solution that comes to mind is for citizens to directly challenge the state when it deems refuge-seekers as threats – by this, I mean citizens confronting state officials for evidence regarding the “threats” posed by refuge-seekers. This solution is essentially a reversal of the burden of proof that currently rests on refugees by shifting it on to the state where permissible. Access to Information laws come into play here. These laws specifically exist to augment government transparency and accountability. As a former ATIP analyst, I can attest that a wealth of information can be obtained by asking the government for copies of official documents. If more citizens took advantage of these simple political instruments, the state would no longer be able to conceal its rationales behind denying entry to certain groups of refuge-seekers.

    2. Mann touches upon the possibility that while refugees are economically beneficial, there may be instances in which refugee populations are burdens on host societies in terms of consuming resources and accessing opportunities otherwise destined for citizens. The tension Mann highlights is based on how committed the state is to the social contract that it has established with its citizens and its commitment to fulfilling its obligations to non-members.

    4. Xenophobia exists nearly everywhere. When one factors in a local population that is itself experiencing significant economic strife, it is not surprising that some members of that population would respond with resentment to what they perceive as “preferential” treatment of newcomers. The majority of the population, however, backed by 25/26 of the city councillors who voted in favour of LM Village’s transformation into a refugee centre lived up to the Greek principle of “be generous and do good” by extending the utmost hospitality towards the Syrian refugees. The mayor definitely had a well-suited background to accommodate the refugees as a Syrian having resided in Greece for over two decades. His actions proved that existing resources such as the abandoned resort could be used to shelter refugees without adversely affecting the local population (i.e. the town did not need to construct a new shelter). What struck me more than the refugees’ reception was the sole councillor who voted against LM Village and referred to the mayor as a “guest” and argued that he betrayed the Greeks who had supported him by allowing refugees into the area.

    5. It was clear to me that the mayor was overwhelmed given that he was the only Arabic speaker in the vicinity and the refugees turned to him for help for even the smallest of questions since there was no one else they could ask. Earlier in the podcast segment, the mayor is quoted as saying: “You need to provide shelter in an elegant way, in a good way. You don’t just stick people in tents”. Undertones of the notion of the ungrateful refugee come to the fore when the mayor explains that he is normally blamed when something goes wrong for the refugees – “they thought that because I’m the mayor, I can solve everything”. Some problems obviously had simple fixes like fixing the water tank, while others were more complex and went beyond the scope of what he could do both as a mayor and as a doctor. With regard to Mann, the contrast between voluntarism and duty is especially pertinent to the mayor’s actions. Mann contends that “in order to understand what human rights are, you must begin from the claims of those who demand”. I think that there was a misunderstanding between what the mayor believed were the refugees’ expectations towards him and the reality behind what they were asking. For example, their concern over the worms in the water tank was over a basic necessity. To the mayor, their concern came across as being demanding. The refugees were making a claim for their survival, while the mayor interpreted it as a claim to (maybe even an abuse of) freedom, supported by the fact that he was not thanked. The gap between the two parties (even if the mayor empathized with the refugees) illustrates something that Mann has argued throughout his book, that is, that freedom and survival cannot be decoupled because this is where misconceptions brew.

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  4. Questions 2, 4

    2) Mann has a double view on the issue of portraying refugees as skills-bearing contributors. He does not deny that there is value to the view, but he critiques it saying that it must also be taken into consideration the burden on host societies. He writes that the “immigration debate doesn’t neatly fall in line with divisions between left and right”, demonstrating that he does not see the issue of refugees as black or white. There is a duty to humankind that he has discussed throughout the book, although there is definitely a cost to host societies and a risk that must be factored in to decisions to take on refugees. He also discusses how human rights obligations and positive legal obligations do not necessarily line up, and sometimes to fulfill one you must simultaneously fail to act on another. As he sums up “there is an imperative that some cost is paid and some risk is taken in any interaction with all humans that come into contact with the state”.

    4) We discussed at the very beginning of this course the difficulty with understanding the plight of refugees when we do not actively see their struggle (we watched that first person video, and discussed how it revealed a struggle to us that we did not initially see). Nabil, being of Syrian decent might have had a stronger connection to helping Syrian refugees, that triggered his voluntary action towards this human rights duty. I felt like his actions were a welcomed contribution to aiding people in a difficult position. I was interested how the reporters narrated the shift in behaviour and attitude toward the refugees before they arrived at the hotel, and after they disembarked from the buses and the people saw that there were children and run down women and men. It just served to further demonstrate how it is easy to disregard an issue when you are not directly experiencing it, and then the minute you come in direct contact with it it triggers a physical and an emotional response (actually in another note, although there is no COVID-19 related question this week, this is something I noted happened with the spread of the virus as well, how easy it was to disregard it when it was not in Canada).
    It did strike me and upset me when the one councillor who voted against the acceptance of the refugees insulted Nabil outright calling him an outsider, but it did demonstrate that even in the face of human struggle, xenophobia can still create an internal struggle.


  5. Q2.
    Mann, like Nayeri, sees the construction of refugees as skill bearing contributors as harmful. He describes the ways in which this narrative leads to the management of refugees and the denial that acting on the obligation to take on refugees is risk free. He continues to argue that we must confront the reality that accepting refugees-rather than managing them –entails the risk that “incoming populations may also present a burdens on host society”(208). This objection to the framing of upholding human rights through self interest ties into Q3, where Mann’s understands accepting refugees as obligatory rather than voluntary. For Mann, human rights advocacy is “more than promoting philanthropy … [it] is about demanding that one’s polity remains institutionally exposed to the existential challenges of human rights”(205). Accepting refugees requires taking on risk, and this risk is not taken voluntarily but is an obligation for any political community.


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