Refugee Protection Meets Migration Management: UNHCR as a Global Police of Populations

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This article investigates the complex relationship between the practices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the field of refugee protection and the more recent political rationality of 'migration management' by drawing from governmentality studies. It is argued that the dissemination of UNHCR's own refugee protection discourse creates certain 'figures of migration' allowing for justifying the build-up and perfection of border controls, which in turn enable any attempt to 'manage' migration in the first place. Conversely, the problematisation of population movements as 'mixed migration flows' allows UNHCR to enlarge its field of activitiy despite its narrow mandate by actively participating in the promotion, planning and implementation of migration management systems. Based on ethnographic research in Turkey and Morocco, this article demonstrates, furthermore, that UNHCR's refugee protection discourse and the emerging migration management paradigm are both based on a methodological nationalism, share an authoritarian potential and yield de-politicising effects. What UNHCR's recent embracing of the migration management paradigm together with its active involvement in respective practices then brings to the fore is that UNHCR is part of a global police of populations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)924-941
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 03.06.2014
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Migration Policy, Morocco, Refugees and Asylum, Turkey, UNHCR
  • Sociology