‘Victims of Trafficking’ and ‘Foreign Criminals’ – Constructing the state as our (masculine) saviour

By: Luke de Noronha, DPhil Candidate in Anthropology (COMPAS), University of Oxford

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts of this series will be published in both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

Photo by Pawel O'Brien, COMPAS Photo Competition 2010

Photo by Pawel O’Brien, COMPAS Photo Competition 2010

Some people who live outside of their country of origin don’t really count as migrants. They might be expats; they might not be named at all. But Australian backpackers, French nannies, and international bankers are not really what we mean when we talk about migrants. If, however, you are the kind of person we mean when we talk about the migrant – i.e. you are racialised and/or poor – then you are generally portrayed as either a victim or a villain. Migrants are constructed as victims and villains by a range of actors (i.e. institutions of the state, journalists, politicians, judges, migrant advocates, and academics).

Gender and race are central to determining who goes where within this framework. In my work on ‘foreign criminals’, I examine the mechanics of gender and race in producing villains. ‘Foreign criminals’ have attracted much media and political interest in recent years; they are discursively constructed as racialised men who commit acts of hypermasculinist violence, often sexual, thus imperilling ‘our’ streets and, importantly, ‘our’ women. This construction of the ‘foreign criminal’ as a monstrous villain works to justify, on moral grounds, policies of imprisonment, indefinite detention, and deportation.

Thinking about victims and villains, and gender and race, in the context of migration, has directed me towards a critical literature on trafficking (see e.g. here, here, and here) that seeks to re-centre the state and examine the relationship between gender, race and immigration restrictions. In weaving analytical threads between this literature and my work on ‘foreign criminals’, I hope to show why thinking critically about gender and race is both productive and necessary.

Control and enforcement: creating the victim category

The Victim of Trafficking (VoT for short) is not a human type, but an administrative category, produced by immigration controls. This is not to deny that some migrant sex workers (women, men and trans people) find themselves in truly awful situations. Rather, it is to suggest that state categories are generated for administrative purposes and that these categories do not necessarily map onto meaningful distinctions from the perspective of the individuals concerned.

The anti-trafficking narrative rests on a conception of the world in which nasty individuals force vulnerable people into servitude, and border controls have nothing to do with it whatsoever. It relies on crude images of suffering victims, images which marginalise those who don’t fit the mould. Not every migrant sex worker fits the image of the ideal victim (see e.g. Mai on non-heteronormative migrant sex workers), but most would still benefit greatly from substantive human and labour rights.

The image of the VoT simplifies and distorts a much messier reality. And so too with the discourse on ‘foreign criminals’. VoTs and ‘foreign criminals’ are entangled in the same twisted fairy-tale, both caricatured, cast as either weak and helpless or as barbaric and evil. Casting noncitizens in these roles helps to rationalise immigration controls.

The anti-trafficking discourse oils the wheels of immigration enforcement, enforcement that targets both ‘traffickers’ and undeserving, ‘illegal’ migrant sex workers (i.e. most migrant sex workers). Similarly, dominant discourse on ‘foreign criminals’ works to justify and celebrate the detention and deportation of any noncitizen with a criminal conviction, and, increasingly, any noncitizen who is even associated with or accused of criminal conduct.

Gender symbolImportantly, the VoT and the ‘foreign criminal’ only become intelligible in relation to problematic ideas about race and gender.  The anti-trafficking narrative relies on images of “wounded and inanimate female bodies” (Andrijasevic, 2007); the women that need saving are usually racialised in problematic ways (Kempadoo, 2015). Similarly, the figure of the ‘foreign criminal’ rouses deeply entrenched fears about the dangerous sexuality of racialised men. Both of these sets of racialised and gendered stereotypes justify draconian forms of immigration control and construct the state as a (masculine) saviour.

State categories and identities

In thinking against state categories, I have become wary of the economy of suffering that undergirds most debates on migration. As Julia O’Connell Davidson notes, “because suffering is not raw datum, it can be selectively recognized…unfortunately, it is perfectly possible for states simultaneously to recognize some kinds of suffering as a qualification for community inclusion, but continue to operate the lethal immigration regimes and border controls that both deny and generate other kinds of suffering.”

Arguing that rights should not be fastened onto suffering is not to deny that certain migrants have specific vulnerabilities. It is not to suggest that all migrant sex workers have it easy. Nor is it to ignore or underplay the pervasiveness of male sexual violence (sometimes noncitizens are guilty of hypermasculinist acts of sexual violence). But it is to remain fiercely critical of any conception of the state as protector.

Migrant sex workers often don’t look like Victims of Trafficking, and policies instituted under the anti-trafficking rubric tend to bolster the forms of control directed at noncitizens who sell sex. Non-citizen ex-offenders usually don’t look like the caricatured ‘foreign criminal’. Instead, their complex biographies might include experiences of racism, poverty, irregularity and exclusion. Finding room to speak about these migrants requires that we resist investing too much energy in the politics of victimhood and,instead, think critically about race and gender, and against state categories.


Thanks to Julia O’Connell Davidson and Georgia Rigg for thoughts on an earlier draft.

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Posted in Flows and Dynamics, human rights, immigration, migration, research, trafficking | Leave a comment

What do we know about the reasons for migration and the social and economic characteristics of migrants in the UK?

By: Ben Gidley, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher

The March COMPAS Breakfast Briefing was presented by Jon Simmons, who leads the migration research at the UK Home Office. He presented three important recent Home Office Science reports on migrants into the UK.

Skills and employment

Photo by Marek Olszewski, COMPAS Photo Competition 2014

Photo by Marek Olszewski, COMPAS Photo Competition 2014

The first report, Employment and occupational skill levels among UK and foreign nationals (published last February), provides valuable insights into migrants and non-migrants in the jobs market. Based on Labour Force Survey (LFS) data – analysed by nationality, rather than country of birth, because the former affects right to work – the report shows trends in the labour market in the recent period.

For example, the analysis shows that after a long period of rising employment in the late 1990s and early 2000s that mainly benefited UK nationals, after EU8 accession the rise in employment continued to rise but with three quarters of this now accounted for by foreign nationals. Before EU8 accession, there had been a big gap between the employment rate of UK nationals and foreign nationals; this gap shrunk after accession. When the recession hit, employment dropped steeply among UK nationals rather than foreign workers – but during the recovery UK nationals have accounted for a new rise in employment rates.

Reasons to come and reasons to stay

The second report, The reason for migration and labour market characteristics of UK residents born abroad (published in September), uses a new question (coded WHYUK) that the Home Office have commissioned from the Labour Force Survey to look at the population born abroad by immigration route. This shows that family migrants now represent a very significant percentage of the UK’s resident migrant population (41% either came as a dependent of another migrant or to join someone resident here – compared to 26% who came to work). Placing this data on migrant “stocks” next to the International Passenger Survey data on migrant “flows” is striking: far more people come here every year to work or study than to join family members, but it is the latter who stay.

Source: ONS Long-term International Migration (LTIM) and HO research report ‘The Reason for migration and labour market characteristics of UK residents born abroad’ (2014)

Source: ONS Long-term International Migration (LTIM) and HO research report ‘The Reason for migration and labour market characteristics of UK residents born abroad’ (2014)

Jon also showed how these patterns vary by country of origin. In general, for non-European migrants, family is even more prominent compared to work as the reason for migrating. Bangladeshi-, German-, Pakistani- and to a lesser extent Indian- and Irish-born residents are especially likely to have come for family reasons. Student migration was most prominent among the Nigerian-born and, to a lesser extent, US- and Indian-born, while work was most prominent among Latvian-, Lithuanian- and Polish-born residents.

The data also shows how the immigration route makes a difference to labour market outcomes: not surprisingly, work migrants have extremely high employment rates, while family migrants and refugees have low employment rates. The employment rates, however, can mask the types of jobs people are doing. Non-European migrants who work, including those who come as dependents, are generally in higher skill, higher paid jobs – while European migrants, including those who came as dependants, end up in low skill, low paid jobs.

Convergence over time

The third report, conducted with the Office for National Statistics, Social and Economic Characteristics by Length of Residence of Migrant Populations in England and Wales (published in September and based on detailed analysis of the 2011 Census), reveals some key features of newer and longer term migrants, and degree to which people coming from abroad retain their difference, whether through cultural effects or long-term disadvantage, and the degree to which they become more like the population of which they have come to be a part.

Jon’s presentation looked at this question in a series of domains: economic activity, housing tenure, language proficiency, national identity and naturalisation. In terms of economic activity, migrant outcomes converge over time with those of the UK-born. Newly arrived EU migrants are much more likely to be employed than UK-born and non-EU migrants are much less likely, but these gaps rapidly start to close after five years and eventually disappear. Similarly, newly arrived migrants are concentrated in the private rented sector and locked out of owner occupation and social housing but eventually overtake the UK-born in the owner-occupied sector. Unsurprisingly, longer term migrants become proficient in English, identify as British and become citizens.

However, Jon also showed that there are big variations to the picture when you look by country of origin. For example, Bangladeshi- and Pakistani-born people are less likely to catch up the labour market and in English language, but more likely to catch up in the housing market and most likely to identify with Britishness. Irish-born migrants are very likely to become owner-occupiers, but very unlikely to identify with Britishness or to naturalise.

The immigration debate

You can look at Jon’s powerpoint slides here and a podcast will soon appear here. In the rest of this blogpost, I want to reflect briefly on what this data tells us, and in particular on how it might affect some key debates in our field.

The perception debate

There is a growing body of evidence that the public think differently about the migration debate when they think about different groups of migrants. For example, Migration Observatory polling data shows that more people want to reduce permanent migration than temporary migration – but more people want to reduce low-skilled migration rather than high-skilled migration. If the public knew that temporary migrants are more likely to be in low- skilled jobs while long-term migrants are more likely to be in high-skilled jobs, would changed perceptions lead to changed views on reducing the numbers?

The family debate

As the Points-Based system, tightening of the asylum system and restrictions on student migration have kicked in, family migration has become a particularly heated area of the immigration debate. Family migrants have borne the brunt of many of the most dramatic recent changes to immigration law. We know that the public’s view of family migration is conflicted: a minority want to reduce the immigration of immediate family members, but a majority want to reduce the immigration of extended family members. Would a clearer picture of family migrants, as provided by Jon’s data, make a difference to this debate? In fact, is it politically toxic to highlight family migration at all?

The skills debate

Labour migration has been an even more heated topic than family migration. This week, UKIP announced new policies to keep low-skilled migrants out, pointing to the detrimental impact on “working class jobs”. The data which Jon presented shows how complex this issue is. Before EU8 Accession, a larger proportion of foreign nationals were in higher-skilled jobs than citizens; after 2005, that trend reversed. A growing proportion of foreign nationals have been in low-skilled jobs, and even before recession UK nationals were being lost in low-skilled occupations. This gives some weight to the UKIP argument about labour migrants competing for these jobs.

But, strikingly, UK nationals’ employment in high-skilled jobs increased in the post-accession period and has dramatically increased in the post-recession recovery. This suggests that migrant labour being directed into low-skilled occupations may have a less straightforward effect than the UKIP narrative suggests. The debate about skills needs to engage more closely with the debate on immigration – but both need to attend more closely to the evidence.




The integration debate

Finally, the data Jon presented contributes to our understanding of the integration debate, one of the most emotive parts of the migration debate. The census analysis shows clearly that integration is not a single process that unfolds in a linear way for everyone. This is true for at least two reasons.

First, the changing situation in the country of settlement makes a difference to the possibility of integration: housing market integration is different for the Windrush generation, who faced explicit racism but benefited from more abundant supply of housing, than for migrants in Generation Rent, who might not experience overt discrimination by are locked out of owner occupation for other reasons. Similarly, the rights and entitlements available legally – for instance to social housing allocation, to benefits, to naturalisation – change over time, changing the context in which migrants struggle to integrate.

Second, as Sarah Spencer and I have argued elsewhere, integration in one domain is related to integration in other domains but never straightforwardly. Integration in the labour market may or may not map on to a sense of national belonging, for example.

A more multi-dimensional picture of integration as it happens is vital for a more healthy integration debate, just as a more evidence-based picture of family migration and of competition in the labour market is vital for a more healthy debate on immigration restriction.

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Migrant Women’s Health in Spain: A Snapshot of the Consequences of the Royal Decree-Law of Sanitary Regulation 16/2012

By: Ana Ballesteros Pena and Anna Morero Beltrán, COPOLIS Welfare, Community and Social Control Research Group, University of Barcelona. In this post, the authors summarise their new article ‘The consequences of the implementation of the Royal Decree-Law of sanitary regulation RD 16/2012 on migrant women’s health.’

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts of this series will be published in both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

a protest in valencia

A protest in Valencia, Spain, against the implementation of RD 16/2012, with the husband of Soledad Torrico Vallejos, a woman from Bolivia who died because she didn’t receive appropriate health care. (Photo: Eduardo Luzzatti)

In a previous blog post, we provided some examples of the tightening of public policies by the Spanish government targeted towards migrants undertaken in recent years. Here, we would like to summarize the main ideas of our recently published article in which we analyze the consequences of the Royal Law-Decree 16/2012 for Sanitary Regulation (hereinafter, RDL 16/2012) on the health of migrant women. This piece of legislation denies immigrants in irregular administrative conditions access to health care and preventive services, as it only guarantees free emergency health care in cases of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, and to immigrants under 18 years of age. The rest of the irregular immigrant population are excluded from health care, hitherto free and accessible to everyone residing in Spain. This has created what human rights organizations have called ‘medical apartheid,’ resulting in a set of violations, including deaths, of the right to health care in Spain.

With regards to immigrant women and health care, some studies highlight the barriers which these women have to face in order to achieve an adequate access to health care services, irrespective of their administrative situation, such as differing conceptions of illness and health, the persistence of prejudices and racist attitudes, and linguistic obstacles or bureaucratic red tape―hindrances that are deteriorating within the framework of the new regulation.

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Studying Mobility in a Context of Immobility

By: Kareem Rabie, Senior Researcher and Marie Curie Fellow

Hilary 2015 seminar poster-smallThis term, Dace Dzenovska, Nick Van Hear, and Ben Gidley have organized events around the themes of “shifting powers” and shifting mobilities.” Themes that build upon last term’s sited, urban focus to questions of shifting spatial and political dynamics in “arrival cities.” The central questions they ask are about geopolitical shifts in power, and in social and spatial forms of mobility; and the three are working towards a research agenda on migration attentive to wider contexts of geopolitics and geoeconomics.

As the Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at COMPAS, I’ve been thinking with and across migration studies. As an anthropologist and human geographer working in Palestine and Israel, the question becomes less about mobility as a general phenomenon, but what it means to talk about mobility in a context of immobility. How specifically is it enabled and disabled? Where, for whom, for what, and at what geographical scale? In an environment that seems at different times, in different places, and at different scales, to be either highly malleable or completely static and circumscribed (not to mention for different authors), what does movement mean?

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The messiness of research: My experience as a young female researcher at an Italian migrant detention centre

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published in both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

By: Francesca Esposito, Doctoral Candidate in Community Psychology, ISPA-University Institute, Lisbon.

Detainees behind bar fences at Ponte Galeria, Rome’s Center for Identification and Expulsion (Photo: F. Esposito)

Detainees behind bar fences at Ponte Galeria, Rome’s Center for Identification and Expulsion (Photo: F. Esposito)

Incorporating a feminist perspective, many community psychology scholars have stressed the importance of adopting a reflexive practice based on the sharing of how we conduct our work in different contexts with diverse participants/collaborators, and how our own personal histories, values, and social statuses have an impact on the research process and outcomes. As Mulvey and colleagues highlight, these ‘messy accounts’ may help reveal whether and how our work is able to challenge power relations and inequalities, especially when we’re working with marginalized groups.

For me, reflexivity has been a necessary tool to navigate the complexity of my messy research work within Ponte Galeria, Rome’s Center for Identification and Expulsion (CIE), the main migration-related detention center in Italy. The tensions and vulnerabilities I was experiencing began to acquire meaning, revealing of the research process and its intrinsic power imbalances. Messiness, which should not be associated with noise, as articulated recently by Edison Trickett and colleagues, became a guideline.

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