Podcast: Restricted Mobility of Extremely Vulnerable Migrants and the Creation of Safe Spaces

Ploughshares Featured, Forced Displacement and Migration

The Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford hosted a major international conference in March 2017, “Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies,” to reflect on the role that Refugee Studies can play in the world. In the context of profound changes in the nature of forced displacement, the conference assessed what kinds of knowledge, evidence, and concepts are needed to understand and respond to contemporary challenges.

Sonal Marwah, a Program Officer with Project Ploughshares, and Sandy Irvine, of Wilfried Laurier University, participated in a panel session called Restricted Mobility of Extremely Vulnerable Migrants and the Creation of Safe Spaces.

The podcast of this session is available here.

Executive summary

The mixed categories of migrants crossing international borders, between refugees, refugee-like situations, voluntary economic migrants and irregular ones, represents a great deal of concerns for Western States. The traditional states posture to irregular migration, driven by complex causes and changeable journeys, is based on security concerns where the protection needs are left behind (Gibney, 2015). The overall objective of the proposal is to explore how State Members states must handle the influx of migrants, to ensure both the national security of their people, by intercepting transnational criminals, and the compliance to migrants’ human rights such as their life, security and liberty. The panel explores the humanitarian justification provided by States that engage in interdiction and return migrants and would-be refugees to country of origin and transit states. The panel will address the interdiction measures imposed by the States which are primarily motivated by humanitarian objectives of cracking down on human smuggling, while instead these measures aim to prevent and deter the migrants’ mobility with negative impact on genuine refugees. A second issue raised by the panel is the secrecy of interdiction policies and practices of pushing back of boats resulting in a knowledge vacuum about the operationalization of interdiction measures and the effects on interdicted migrants, such as their narratives regarding possible persecution, trafficking or harm upon return. This secrecy serves the States which can easily hide behind while violating their humanitarian obligations and possibly committing refoulement. The panel contemplates the notion of extremely vulnerable people who are forced to flee their country because the conditions are so bad that there is no other alternative for them to survive in order to capture the complex nature of mixed migration (Betts, 2010; Janik, 2016). Finally, the panel contemplates the possibility for CSO/NGOs to establish and participate in unhindered humanitarian access. The idea is to look at transit zones as possible buffer zones where fundamental needs are provided to migrants, both on a medical and legal levels.


Aurélie Ponthieu, Médecins Sans Frontières: Humanitarian assistance in the context of the fight against irregular migration: challenges in meeting the needs of vulnerable migrants at borders
Kinga Janik, Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Research Member, McGill University: The notion of extremely vulnerable migrants enshrined in the contemporary mixed migration phenomenon: do fundamental rights have a nationality?
Sandy Irvine, Wilfried Laurier University, and Sonal Marwah, Project Ploughshares: Acknowledging the impacts of interdiction: producing interdiction knowledge and policy change (video presentation and conference call)
Chair: Aurélie Ponthieu, Médecins Sans Frontières

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