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When "others" are an emergency

Research investigates the consequences of securitization processes of minorities and migrants. And looks for alternatives.

Antonio Parrinello
© Reuters/Contrasto | Antonio Parrinello
by Giovanni Blandino

Governing diversity in increasingly diverse societies creates challenges for many countries. Some states struggle to recognize and implement minority rights, and, in other cases, highly protected minorities can cause social tensions. At times, segments of the population are even considered a security threat and exceptional measures are applied as a result. A Summer School in Eurac Research investigates the so-called “securitization” of migrants and ethnic/national minorities whilst analyzing the negative effects of these processes and devising alternatives.

For more than a decade now, the concept of security has been part of political discourse with repercussions for a wide variety of sectors. The most obvious consequences are visible in the management of immigration where securitization has influenced not only policies regulating migratory flows, but also procedures concerning migrants residing in a country and their inclusion in society. Over time, increased migration flows and global events such as terrorist threats, economic downturns, and intensifying sociodemographic pressure on the welfare system in many states have strengthened the migration-security nexus. So, what are the consequences?

“The fact that the nexus between migration and security has become increasingly entrenched has meant that the phenomenon of immigration and the inclusion of migrants in society has been approached from the perspective of a security problem and a threat. This has prevented people from looking for alternative perspectives be they humanitarian, social or economic,” explains Andrea Carlà, a Minority Protection Expert at Eurac Research. “As a result, restrictive border control policies have been supported, and often adopted, and migrants’ rights and their access to social services have often been restricted and in some cases, highly discriminatory practices have also been seen.”

The concept of security does not influence only how migration management is addressed. Other areas of tension and conflict - such as those related to ethnic/national minorities - are also present.

Security, emergencies and minorities

The concept of security, inside and outside Europe, is also often connected to the management of ethnic/national minorities. In this regard, we speak of the so-called “securitization” of minorities to refer to the process whereby certain minorities as well as migrant populations in their entirety are perceived as existential threats that require the implementation of emergency measures as a result of their presence.

“The consolidation of the nexus between migration and security has prevented the phenomenon from being addressed from humanitarian, social or economic perspectives.”

Andrea Carlà, researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights

Researcher Andrea Carlà provides a few examples. In Turkey, the Kurdish population’s claims to autonomy are perceived in the Ankara government’s speeches and its military actions as a threat to the country’s sovereignty and unity. In several European countries, Roma and Sinti are often the subject of emergency measures, in part because they are linked to acts of petty crime, such as theft and welfare fraud, and to health problems. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, in terms of political and legislative discourse and measures, are perceived as antagonistic and a threat to Jewish identity and presence in Israel. In some Baltic states, the issue of Russian minorities has sometimes been addressed in terms of security. Even in the past, several conflicts and tensions have been framed from the perspective of security: in Northern Ireland, for example, and in the former Yugoslavia where securitization processes still take place in Kosovo.

Consequences of securitization: fear and exclusion

“Today, security is a core value of modern society and has become a key concept which influences the political agenda. At the same time, the concept of security is often linked to feelings of fear and processes of exclusion, as Mauro Cereghini and Michele Nardelli point out in their book ‘Sicurezza’," Andrea Carlà explains.

Processes of identity construction, discrimination and nationalism are linked to the process of securitization. “Securitization needs to define a group to be treated as an emergency as well as distinguish those not considered a threat from those who need to be protected. You divide who is in from who is out.” This is why lately there has been a growing need to better understand the securitization processes of migration and minorities.

Researchers have brought attention to how much and under what circumstances minorities and culturally different “others” are viewed as a threat. Studies have put together the dynamics, narratives, practices, modalities and actors involved in the processes of securitization of minorities and migrants, as well as their causes and consequences. At the same time, the focus has also been on how to challenge, counteract and reverse these processes. And it is in this context that the “Diversity Governance and Securitization in the EU and Beyond” Summer School is taking place at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, from July 2-8, 2023.

2021 protests staged by the Serbian minority in northern Kosovo as part of the “license plate war.” The protests were triggered by the requirement for ethnic Serbs to change their license plates by replacing them with Kosovo ones.© albaniandailynews.com

The Summer School on securitization, South Tyrol

The week-long Summer School program combines theoretical expertise and empirical research on relevant case studies in and outside the European Union. It includes lectures, panel discussions, role-plays and study visits to relevant institutions in the region. Indeed, South Tyrol is generally considered a successful case study of ethnic conflict resolution through its autonomy and power-sharing mechanisms. “One of the great successes of South Tyrol and its autonomy lies in the fact that a positive image of multilingualism and cultural diversity prevails today and is seen as an advantage,” comments Andrea Carlà.

“Securitization, in itself, is not an inescapable phenomenon: some countries appear more welcoming and less concerned about the negative consequences attributed to migration; and there are certainly cases of peaceful coexistence between majorities and minorities.”

Andrea Carlà, researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights

According to surveys, the percentage of people who believe that the presence of multiple language groups (German, Italian and Ladin) in South Tyrol is enriching or can be enriching under certain conditions rose from 58.6% in 1991 to 77.9% in 2014. “However, even the province of South Tyrol is not completely exempt from securitization processes. For example, in some political discourses there remains a defensive attitude toward ‘others’ especially if they have foreign origins, which is often presented as a social and cultural problem.”

Breaking the link between minorities and security

Space at the Summer School will also be devoted to challenging, countering and reversing the processes of securitization. There are several approaches to de-securitization. The central idea of the securitization concept is that a phenomenon is treated in terms of being a threat or jeopardizing safety “not because there is a real existential threat, but because the issue is presented as such.” In this sense, normal politics, characterized by discussion, debate and deliberation, is replaced by the politics of emergency, characterized by silence, secrecy and suppression. Undoing this, de-securitization, can be understood as the restoration of genuine public spaces for discussion. Other studies focus on the actual possibility or usefulness of de-securitization and how it should be achieved and with whose contributions. “In any case, securitization, in itself, is not an inescapable phenomenon,” Andrea Carlà concludes. “In fact, some countries and governments appear more welcoming and less concerned about the negative consequences attributed to migration; and there are certainly cases of peaceful coexistence between majorities and minorities.”

A Summer School on securitization and diversity governance


From July 2-8, 2023, the “Diversity Governance and Securitization in the EU and Beyond” Summer School will be held at Eurac Research with the participation of 25 postgraduate students, NGO representatives and other practitioners. Giving lectures and workshops are experts from Eurac Research and other European universities and research institutions. The Summer School is part of the Jean Monnet Network SECUREU, which deals with the topic of the securitization of migrants and ethnic minorities and the rise of xenophobia in the European Union. The event is organized by Eurac Research’s Institute for Minority Rights in collaboration with Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals and the University of Glasgow.

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