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Who Do We Think We Are?

S3 E5 Migration, diaspora, diplomacy

14 Sep 2023

Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to season three of Who do we think we are? The podcast debunking taken for granted understandings of migration and citizenship in Britain today. In this season, we'll be considering the role of migration in the making of Global Britain, as the UK redefines its borders and seeks to reposition itself on the world stage following Brexit. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship and migration and your host. For this season, I'll also be joined by co-host Nando Sigona, whose research expertise includes international migration and forced displacement. Join us as we challenge public and political narratives of migration to and from Britain today, and encourage you to think differently about some of the most pressing issues of all times, charting a new understanding of Britain's migration story after Brexit.

Fiona Adamson [FA]: We think of the UK Rwanda deal as being about controlling migration. But there are a number of other factors that are important for understanding the dynamics of the deal. So, for example, the UK has an interest of strengthening its position in Central Africa, and gaining access to minerals and other resources in the Great Lakes region. So, the deal is also connected with other foreign policy interests. So, I think taking a broader perspective on migration governance and seeing its connection with state interests and with international relations, and geopolitics helps us to see how some of the migration policy responses or decisions that are made are not just about migration but can also be about other factors and other state interests.

Nando Sigona [NS]: The 2015 EU-Turkey deal and the recent joint statement between Tunisia and the EU are examples of how migration features highly in bilateral and multilateral relations between states but also how it’s also often connected to broader agendas. They also show how the so-called tap on tap off approach to migration control can be used effectively as a tool for diplomatic leverage.

MB: You just heard from our guests, Fiona Adamson, and my co-host Nando Sigona talking about how migration policy is shaped not only by the state's domestic concerns relating to immigration, but also by international relations and foreign affairs. Fiona is Professor of International Relations at SOAS, a specialist in the international politics of migration, mobility and diaspora. She'll be sharing more with us about how migration policy features in diplomatic negotiations between states later in the episode. We recorded this episode over the summer of 2023. In the UK, we're in the midst of the British government's self-branded stop the boats week. This was a summer where the headlines were full of the news about the failure of the governance project to rehouse asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm, a repurposed barge, but also their continued efforts in the face of legal opposition to demonstrate that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was a workable and desirable solution for decreasing the number of migrant crossings of the channel. In the EU, news about deaths in the Mediterranean, notably of Pylos in Greece, and the EU-Tunisia deal attracted similar parts. In this episode, we consider what foreign policy trade agreements and international relations have to do with these headlines and more. And why this matters for how we think about migration in the context of the UK shifting position on the world stage since Brexit. We'll be hearing from Catherine Craven as she breaks down what we mean by the concept 'migration diplomacy'. She'll be explaining the role of geopolitics and migration policy, as well as considering what's in it for states. We'll be hearing more from Fiona about the relationship between migration and foreign policy. What thinking about a state's approach to migration governance from an international relations perspective makes visible about state interests. And she'll be offering some examples that bring all of this to life. Just a quick note, we recorded Fiona's contribution in the early summer. And there has been some progress with the bilateral agreements that she mentions that we weren't able to cover in the episode. And Nando and I will draw on the perspective of migration diplomacy to consider the UK's new humanitarian visas - that's the Hong Kong BNO and Ukraine visa schemes, and the Brexit negotiations about citizens' rights. As we discuss, this approach allows us to see how Britain is seeking to reposition itself globally after Brexit and the significance of migration policy within that. We also hear from several of those taking part in our research on the MIGZEN project about their views on the UK as approach to migration after Brexit, and we reveal a keen awareness among them about the geopolitical dimensions of migration governance. But now it's over to Catherine to hear more about what we mean when we talk about migration diplomacy.

Catherine Craven [CC]: Migration diplomacy refers to how or the practices through which migration features in diplomatic interactions between states. This may range from bilateral agreements that encourage or limit migration flows to guest worker programmes or agreements for preferential treatment of certain labour migrants. We here define diplomacy as the ways in which states conduct their relationships with each other, or with international organisations like the European Union, or the United Nations. Diplomats are the formal representatives of states within these interactions. Within these diplomatic practices or agreements, migration might feature explicitly as the primary object of negotiation, or more indirectly, in diplomatic bargaining over other issues, for example, in trade negotiations. Here, we might think of the recently signed free trade agreement between the UK and Australia, which contains commitments on youth mobility between the two countries. In all cases, migration functions as a resource for states to claim power and legitimacy on the world stage. But how exactly does this work and to what ends? For nation states, controlling mobility across their own borders is fundamental to their sovereignty. As such, this control can be mobilised within the power play between states. Migration power, in short, is the power to control migration flows by restricting or managing the inflow and outflow of people to or from a territory. But what are the stakes within these games of migration diplomacy? Who are the winners and losers, as states deploy migration diplomacy to achieve their geopolitical ambitions? Scholars have shown that states are unequally positioned in respect to migration power, holding different stakes in international power games. It is therefore important to consider how a state's migration power is shaped by its location within global migration systems, in turn, determining what levers it is able to pull in practices of migration diplomacy. For example, states that receive migrants or that are popular migrant destinations derive their power from being able to control how many migrants they let in and on what terms. On the flip side, states that send more migrants than they receive, might derive power from being able to regulate who leaves their territory, the boundaries between what is considered a sending, receiving, or indeed a transit state are not clear cut and may shift over time. Indeed, where a country sits within their migration system, whether its contemporary power derives primarily from sending or receiving migrants, is always deeply entangled with its history, and global histories of migration writ large. So, migration diplomacy has implications for states as they navigate their relations with each other. But what about those that are caught up in these interstate relations, these power games between states? Because migration diplomacy is fundamentally about the interactions between states via diplomatic relations, migrants themselves tend to disappear from the equation. They rarely get a seat at the table in diplomatic negotiations, especially when we are talking about more vulnerable groups such as refugees. This can have dire consequences for people on the move, seeking to build better lives for themselves and their families. We therefore might want to ask ourselves, how migration diplomacy is unfolding in the making of Global Britain as the UK, renegotiate its position on the world stage after Brexit.

MB: Nando and I will return to that closing question from Catherine later in the episode. But first, let's hear more about the role of international affairs and foreign policy interests in the making of migration policy from Fiona.

FA: We often think of migration policy as being purely a domestic issue. We think of it as a country making policies about who can enter or who can leave, who can become a member of the country, who can become a citizen, or how a country controls its borders. But actually, this is only part of the story. There are many elements of migration policy that also happen at the international level or that are closely related to a state's foreign policy interests. So, migration governance is also something that can happen at the international level. And something that happens, it can be a significant factor in the relationship between states. So, I think taking a broader perspective on migration governance and seeing its connection with state interests, and with international relations, and geopolitics helps us to see how some of the migration policy responses or decisions that are made are not just about migration, but can also be about other factors and other state interests. So, I think a well-known example is the agreements between the European Union and Turkey in 2015, and 2016, the so called EU-Turkey deal. In that case, the European Union provided 6 billion euros in aid to Turkey in exchange for Turkey controlling its borders and preventing out-migration. But there were a lot of other factors involved in that deal. So the EU's interests may have been about controlling migration, but Turkey is also a member of the NATO alliance. Turkey is a candidate for being a member of the European Union. So, Turkey has its own interests that it was pursuing in the deal, including visa liberalisation. But also, the deal provided Turkey with a certain degree of leverage or bargaining power vis-a-vis the European Union. And I think you can see that in the extent to which, you know, maybe European states were less likely to criticise Turkey for some human rights issues, or for some of its actions in northern Syria. We've also seen recently at the recent NATO Summit, where Turkey eventually approved or agreed to a pathway to NATO membership for Sweden. And that is going to be interesting to see in terms of how it relates to migration issues. Because there is a migrant and diaspora population connected to Turkey in Sweden, and the treatment of some segments of that population have become an issue in Turkey's blocking of NATO membership for Sweden. So this is a very clear example where we see how there's a linkage between, you know, migration from Turkey, the EU migration deal and the leverage that Turkey has vis-a-vis European states, but also how that spills over into kind of hard security issues and Turkey's ability to leverage its position as a NATO member and how that also can affect Swedish policy towards its own migrant population on the ground. I think there are a couple things to note with the rise of migration deals and you know, the use of migration diplomacy by states and by other actors such as the European Union. One is the fact that as states put more emphasis on using foreign policy mechanisms, using practices of migration diplomacy as part of their migration control strategy, whether that be through externalisation or by linking migration control to aid packages, that this also may shape their foreign policy in other ways. So the European Union is considering a 1 billion euro migration deal with Tunisia, which has come under criticism because it would mean the EU turning a blind eye to domestic human rights abuses too the breakdown of democracy in the country, to some of its very poor treatment of its own migrant population, including what I think is agreed is a quite racist treatment of migrants from Sub-Saharan African states. So, these are cases where a decade or two ago, you saw the emphasis, you saw a tying of foreign aid to democracy promotion, and states institutionalising democratic reforms, and you've really seen a turnaround in the past decades, where states, increasingly development aid is linked to factors like migration control, rather than factors such as democratic reform or democracy promotion. And this is quite a big shift. I mean, just that, you know, migration governance has always had a strong geopolitical dimension. So, if you think for example of the UNHCR that, you know, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or the international organisation for migration, I mean, these are organisations that are funded by states, powerful states and so they are constrained and how they address issues of migration governance, since they need the financial support of powerful states. So, certainly, the relationship between migration governance and geopolitics is not at all new. But I think is gaining more attention and is also probably becoming more significant is the rise of bilateral migration deals between states and also the role that the European Union and other organisations are playing in using, linking aid to migration control. So I think one important factor to keep in mind is when you're looking at interstate relations and migration governance as it relates to state foreign policy interests is that there are different forms of migration diplomacy. Some forms of migration diplomacy are more conflictual, and zero-sum, where one state tries to weaponize issues of migration vis-a-vis another state, perhaps instrumentalizing migration to pursue other foreign policy aims. But there are also plenty of examples of everyday forms of interstate cooperation around migration, such as labour agreements, or guest worker agreements, where you can argue that both the sending and receiving states gain from forms of migration diplomacy. The question then emerges, how does migration diplomacy affect people on the ground, including potential migrants, and there are cases I think, where you have positive forms of migration diplomacy that can boost the rights of migrants or that can facilitate movement. We've seen that for example with the Philippines that has been able to strike deals with states in the Gulf to enhance the rights of their migrant worker population and, and elsewhere in the Gulf and elsewhere. But many of the deals that we're seeing that may be seen as a win for both the so-called sending and receiving state may not be a win for migrants and potential migrants and those most vulnerable on the ground. So, one always has to balance an international relations perspective that looks at the geopolitical dimension with the effects it's having on populations on the ground and on potential migrants.

MB: You're listening to Who do we think we are? presents Global Britain, a podcast all about migration and citizenship in the UK after Brexit, hosted by me, Michaela Benson and my co-host Nando Sigona. If you like what you've heard, follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. This means that you'll be the first to hear when our episodes drop, and it also helps more people to discover the podcast.

MB: Mine and Nando's conversation is going to start by picking up from Catherine's points about the significance of migration diplomacy to Global Britain and Fiona's closing comments about why you need to look at these structures, but also how people experience this. And with that in mind, we're going to start by introducing some of the research that we've done on the project. So Nando, do you want to tell us a little bit about that research.

NS: Yeah, when we started to work on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit project (MIGZEN), our idea was mostly to focus on the experience of all the new Europeans, so looking at the impact of Brexit on the Europeans that came before and after the referendum and the conclusion of the negotiation. But we soon realised that there was another story that also was extremely important to capture. And it was the extent to which, as a result of Brexit and the exit of Britain from the European Union, also the politics of migration overall was changing, and the direction of where people were coming from, or what kind of arrangement were put in place was changing as part of this process of transition of the country. So, we decided then to focus on two of the main groups that seem to come through in the post Brexit migration regime. One is the Hongkongers, the BNO Hongkongers, and the other one is the refugees from Ukraine. And what we did was to do in-depth qualitative interviews with Hongkongers who came to Britain through the BNO schemes, and then with Ukrainian nationals who reached Britain through the three schemes that were put in place by the government. Overall, we interviewed 22 people from Hong Kong and 20 people from Ukraine. To start our conversation and to see really this connection between the experience and the understanding of new migrants, of what Britain is and its position in the world and the relationship with the big politics in a sense, let's start with a quote from Fang, a Hongkonger in thhere 50s who settled in the UK, and explains how she saw the position of the UK, both in respect of Ukraine and Hong Kong. And what this communicated to her about Britain's position on the events that had unfolded in both of these locations.

Voiceover – Hongkonger in UK 1: During the Ukraine war of Putin, British play a very good role. And they, they help Ukrainian arrive in the UK and offer some subsidies to every family to help Ukrainian. I think it's quite good reputation for British government. I when I go to the English class, I'm come across many Ukrainian, almost 70%. Yeah. So, I think globally, British will not make friends with China anymore. And also Russia. So, it's very important for Hongkongers.

MB: What I really like about this quotation from Fang is how this really does set the stage for quite a lot of the things that we want to talk about today, in terms of the relationship between migration diplomacy, and these visas, which we'll be referring to as a the 'new humanitarian visas', which are a significant part of that post-Brexit migration regime. And I'm gonna start by introducing a little bit about that Hong Kong BNO visa for people who don't know what that is. So, this is a bespoke visa route that was opened up for Hongkongers to migrate to the UK. And the reason that the government gave for introducing this in January 2021, was that the previous year, they judged that the imposition of national security law in Hong Kong by the Hong Kong government was a clear breach of the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration. So, it was an imposition, they thought, on the basic freedoms that had been agreed in that declaration. Now, I don't have time to go into what was happening on the ground in Hong Kong in any more detail, but we'll signpost resources, both on what was happening there, and what the BNO visa is in the show notes. But what's important to note, I think, from the perspective of thinking about migration diplomacy, is that this policy around immigration and immigration route for Hongkongers, was included as part of a set of foreign policy measures relating to China that were also introduced by the UK at the time. In terms of thinking more generally around Foreign Policy and International Relations, it's important to note that the UK went alone in this. Now before the UK left the European Union, some of the agreements that they might come to would have been with the EU but what's significant about this type of scheme is that it's the others in the Five Eyes alliance that offered similar schemes. So, there was some interstate cooperation here over migration diplomacy. But of course, bearing in mind that point that Fiona made, it isn't just about that kind of broader macro situation. There's also something about the extent to which people on the ground understand these. And I wondered, Nando, if our interviews had anything to open up in respect to that.

NS: I mean, we can listen to one of our interviewees, Haley, a woman in her 30s, a BNO, that explains how PRC was retailing in respect to the exodus of young Congress. The point I guess that is important here is to see the extent to which not just the big geopolitical shift affect the experience of the migrant but to also try to see the other way around, the extent to which the migrants once they are in the country, this may also have an impact of the way the position of the states' vis-a-vis geopolitical, conflict, tensions, alliances, etc.

Voiceover – Hongkonger in UK 2: When UK Government opens that BNO route for the BNO Hongkongers is good for the Hongkongers, but for the government it is a brain drain, basically getting out all the talent, all the people, all of the money out from the city. So, they don't want to do that. So, they tried to do different things to restrict the people on doing that.

MB: What really strikes me about this quotation from Haley is about this sense of China retaliating. So, we get that sense of what Fiona was talking about this kind of weaponization of migration occurring. And what they start to do, and what they've started to do is, for example, there have been accounts of them not, them refusing to recognise Hong Kong BNO visas, but also withholding pensions to be paid to those who are overseas. So really directly intervening to try and reduce this exodus and to reduce the possibilities for living outside of Hong Kong for some of those who've already left. But how does this compare Nando, do you think, with the Ukraine visa? It's framed slightly differently, isn't it?

NS: What is different is the geopolitical situation. We have a live conflict ongoing, whose outcome is still very unclear. At the beginning, the UK was slower than other European states in providing refuge for the Ukrainian who were escaping the beginning of the conflict with Russia. One of the reasons was that the Ukrainian and the European Union, in particular Poland have a visa free arrangement by which people could be basically crossing the border into Poland as soon as the conflict started. And then after that, the European Union started to develop its own tools to manage this mass displacement, a tool that already existed in a sense within the European legal framework, which is the Temporary Protections. What happened in the UK was that they had to invent a new system to deal with the arrival of Ukrainians. So initially, the priority was given to people who had already family members that were residing in UK. But many pointed out how the system was extremely laborious and slow in dealing with what was actually a live conflict. And successively, the emphasis went in trying to create a system where the private actors, where the business, where the families in Britain could provide accommodation in particular, but also a broader sense of support for the settlement of the Ukrainians who were seeking refuge. And so, this very important scheme, Homes for Ukraine was launched. In many ways this was built on the experience of, in the past of what Canada did with the arrival of the Syrian refugees, and other countries that were basically looking for forms of various forms of private sponsorship to resettle refugees. But what is also important here is how relevant and important was from a political point of view being generous vis-a-vis the Ukrainians with the position that Britain wanted to project within the conflict as the leading force within Europe in support of the Ukrainian in the fight against Russia, through military support and logistical support, but also political support. Everyone will remember the visits of Boris Johnson to Kiev, often when he was going through major political problems in the country, so he was like in this safe place in a sense. This relationship continued also after obviously the end of Boris Johnson's premiership. So at the moment what we see and what our interviewees also enable us to see is how this sort of parallel story about the generosity of the British public and the generosity of the British state and the involvement of the British state in the conflict, talk to each other or intersect each other in the experience of the Ukrainian refugees in Britain.

MB: Yeah, I think that's really, really noticeable. But in addition to that, it's not just the generosity and providing a kind of a safe haven. It's also the arms provision. And I think when we're thinking about migration diplomacy, or the role of migration, and following foreign policy, we can see how those two things are deeply connected, in some respects. Now, to date, 178,000 Ukrainian visa holders have arrived in the UK. And we were able to talk to a small number of those, as we've already indicated, that we can hear now from Kalina, who was in her 20s and living in the UK, particularly about this relationship between Boris Johnson and Zelenskyy. I think for me, when we've been looking at the transcripts of those interviews, it's always a little bit of a rub to see praise kind of, onto Boris Johnson, because it's not matched in any of the other interviews that we have done. And I think that actually, what's happened is that he's become the kind of mascot I suppose, of the support that the UK have provided to Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion. So here's Kalina talking about that.

Voiceover – Ukrainian national in UK 1: I know your Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, he's been great. Absolutely. He's been supporting Ukraine like crazy on the same level with Poland. So our countries became like bros in that regard. And we were all really grateful. And we loved, we all love UK now. I mean, come on! With all this support that you gave us. And it means arms, weapons, just the humanitarian support, we can, we cannot just ignore that, you know, everybody notices the support and help that the UK provides.

NS: Another element which I think is really interesting to observe, in relation to the approach that Britain and Europe took to the dealing with the mass displacement of Ukrainians it's that summer, we went back to a situation which is very close to what happened during the Cold War. This 'generosity', in inverted commas, is very much constructed as an element in building our moral high ground within the conflict. Now that we are very generous with Ukraine, and it's a way of demonstrating the extent to which we are 'better', in inverted commas again, of the Russian or previously of the Soviet Union. People have pointed out how generous were the response to Ukrainians vis-a-vis the other refugees, have pointed out how we should be more generous with other groups, which is obviously very important that we should apply the same level of protection of rights that are granted to the Ukrainians also to the other asylum seekers and refugees in the country. But what I found really interesting and important here is how close is the parallel between the origin of the refugee, the origin in the 1950s, and 60s at the beginning of the Cold War, where there's tension on the Geneva Convention were introduced where the protocol was signed, where the focus was very clearly in dealing with the so-called threats of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, and where the West wants to present itself as holding this moral high value of human rights and protection of human beings.

MB: I think that's a really important point. And we are in a future episode going to talk about how these schemes sit alongside other changes ongoing in respect to refugee provision and asylum provision in the UK and elsewhere. But it's also important for me to highlight that we're seeing similar narrative, vis-a-vis the Hong Kong BNO visa, because, of course, this has also been upheld by the British government as evidence of their world-leading record on human rights, for example, and it very much, you know, I mean, if you think about Ukraine as an indicator of where the UK wants to position itself vis-a-vis Russia, similarly, the Hong Kong BNO visa is part of that foreign policy agenda in respect to how it's positioning itself vis-a-vis China. So it does in both cases, this does fit into that narrative that some people are calling the new Cold War. So thinking about the role of migration diplomacy, as the world reorders itself at this point in history is really, really important. So yeah, but I think now we're going to move a little bit, I was gonna say closer to home, but I don't think that that's quite the right phrase. But we're gonna go back to familiar territory for both you and I and we're gonna go back to Brexit.

NS: Well, as a EU national myself is closer to home to an extent and yeah, you're right. When we, as I said before at the beginning, the focus on the Europeans was in, understand the experience of EU nationals in Britain before and after Brexit was a central concern of our project when we started and it still is in many ways, but I think what is more interesting now is, it's out that that focus has been meeting with other concerns. So, we get a bigger picture out of the MIGZEN research. And in terms of our data collection, so, what we did with the Europeans was to build on our previous research projects, the one we did with EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in Europe, and also developed in particular two research instruments that we worked with. The first one was a large survey. Later on in the project, we decided to develop a, what we call 'People panels', which is basically a very short survey with a smaller number of people, which varied between 200 and 400 people, and which we repeatedly interact with over a period of eight to nine months, on almost a monthly basis. So this became our cohort of participants. And the interesting thing from these forms of engagement was that we could observe how this group of people was responding to evolving events, the Ukrainian war, the introduction of the Rwanda plan, the Commonwealth Games. What emerged from this research, in particular related to the show on the migration diplomacy, was to see and to understand how European nationals and British nationals saw, for example, the introduction of schemes such as the Ukrainian scheme and the response to the crisis in Hong Kong, but also how they responded to the Rwanda plan or to the 'stop the boat' campaign launched by the current government.

MB: But there's also an important point, isn't there, about Brexit itself as a site of potential migration diplomacy, that's probably worth just flagging briefly here. So that's the negotiations particularly and I mean, just a little reminder, through Brexit, the EU citizens in the UK, and British nationals in the EU, kind of had to have their rights renegotiated because there's no longer free movement between the two places. Just going to leave it at that, it's very complicated. But watching those negotiations as part of our previous projects, this very strong sense emerged from the two leading campaign groups from the3million and British in Europe, that these populations, which account for about 5 million people in total, were people, they weren't bargaining chips, even though through the negotiations, this was really how their rights were considered.

NS: Now, definitely, I mean, the ‘we're not bargaining chips’ became one of the slogans for the mobilisation for the rights of EU citizens and British citizen in Europe. And in a way by making itself visible in the social movement, in a sense, they raised an issue in the sense that they brought the immigration diplomacy inside the migration politics in a more explicit way. So, that I find is really a point that's in a sense connect between our differences and the level of analysis. Well, and it's also interesting, because, for those who have followed the development of the social movements, one thing is really noticeable is the number of meetings of high, very high profile meetings that the representative of this relatively small, bottom-up campaign groups managed to have with ambassadors, EU commissioners, the key representatives of the European Union in the negotiations for Brexit.

MB: I think that that's a really important point. And I think it probably relates very centrally to this conversation around migration diplomacy. Because, of course, in a situation like that, as we've seen with some of the examples, particularly the example of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong BNO visa and the kind of the tit for tat with China, about this, I think that this was to do with the type of leverage they could gain through this. And very simply, there were far more EU nationals living in the UK than there are British nationals living across the EU. And I think that their sheer numbers meant that they could kind of - and I think some of the campaign groups did point to this, they could kind of hold those EU nationals to hostage in order to get what they wanted from the Brexit negotiations. So, I should say this is my personal opinion, speculation, but you can see how that could work in respect to thinking about migration diplomacy. I think it was going on a little bit as well on the other side. And the reason I say this is because there were a certain set of rights that were agreed in the first phase of the negotiation, and those were really to do with citizens' rights. They weren't, for example, in the case of British nationals, to do with future mobility rights. So, British citizens who live in the EU through Brexit, lost their rights to free movement within the European Union. Those rights were then considered as part of the TCA, so the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, rather than being agreed in that first phase around citizens' rights, and there were still issues outstanding in respect to this. You know, trade is fundamentally foreign policy. It is about international relations, all of those kinds of things. So, you can see how those rights got caught up in those negotiations. So, this analysis that you get from the campaign groups of them being presented as bargaining chips, I think is pretty accurate in a lot of ways.

NS: You're right, and we mentioned this also in the previous episode on emigration, it seems like that the British government has found a renewed interest in connecting with the British diaspora after Brexit, and particularly this sort of idea of repositioning Britain in the war to reconnect with the Commonwealth partners in a much sort of stronger way. We see suddenly a greater interest also diplomatically to make the British abroad more present.

MB: Yeah, definitely. And, I mean, I suppose they're kind of the contemporaneity of the Brexit negotiations, and then the emergence of new trade agreements, which have mobility arrangements in them, which is another aspect of migration diplomacy, is also worth reflecting on here, before we move into kind of discussing some of the issues around the refugee crisis and how that might be understood through migration diplomacy. Because of course, now that Brexit happened, the UK is in a position where it's renegotiating its trade deals all the way around the world. But what's really, really significant is that within those trade deals, they include bilateral, quite often some form of bilateral mobility provision. So, for example, you can see in the Memorandum of Understanding with India, that there is a specific provision for mobility between India and the UK included, which may, of course, explain the high rise in the number of Indian nationals migrating to the UK since Brexit, as mobility becomes central to those trade negotiations. So, I anticipate that we'll see more and more of those. They are circumscribed, it's not just completely free movement of anyone from those countries to the UK. But I think it's kind of as important to pay attention to those to see you know, how their location there that is reshaping the migration regime and who comes to the UK and on what terms.

NS: I think it's particularly striking. I mean, if you could see that the fact that the freedom of movement was considered the enemy during the Brexit campaign and successive time and now suddenly become, is put back on the agenda, or at least as a potential within the negotiation. But this is not surprising. I mean, we've seen also, if we move geographically to the continent, at the European Union, we have seen how within the negotiations around dealing with the refugee crisis or the irregular crossing the Mediterranean, the countries that have been asked to do some of the border work for Europe - Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, to some extent, they all put on the table, together with all other sort of forms of investment, development aid, etc., some forms of visa liberalisation for their own citizens. In the case of Turkey is even bigger picture. I mean, Fiona, refer to it when she talks about obviously, of the negotiation for accession to the European Union because of Turkey. But in the case for Morocco, the visa liberalisation in particular with Spain was very much part of Morocco playing a role in controlling the western border of, the southern border of Europe. During the 2015-16 Mediterranean crisis is noticeable how while you have this huge number of people crossing from the eastern side, from Turkey into Greece, but also from Libya into Italy, at the time, strangely enough, the western route into into Spain was basically closed. One of the reason was this negotiation that take place, this sort of lateral agreement, which also involved other forms of mobility, not just directly dealing with the movement of refugees and asylum seekers.

MB: So does that kind of give us a sense in which migration diplomacy is also responsible for the shifts in the flows of refugees through the kind of the standard refugee routes and how those shift and change over time?

NS: In the news, just in the last few weeks, we have had the case of Tunisia, where the current president has managed to negotiate a deal with the European Union in Italy. So a mix of bilateral and multilateral deal involved Tunisia taking some of the responsibility for border control for the European Union, but in exchange for very significant financial support from the European Union in terms of, that had nothing to do with migration, you're dealing with, for example, the European Union act as a guarantor against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund for money for Tunisia, that is experiencing a very significant financial economic crisis at the moment. And similarly, we saw a negotiation with Turkey and in the context of the 2015-16 refugee crisis, where Turkey suddenly was brought to the table, and as part of the negotiation, the flows of refugees crossing into Greece went down to almost nothing within weeks from when the deal was signed. So, you really see how the, what they call the tap on tap off approach to mobility is, to migration, migration become actually a tool for diplomatic negotiation, which have to do with other sphere of the economy, of the national interest of countries in the region at the moment.

MB: And I think that's kind of quite important in the context of thinking about the UK government's 'stop the boats' campaign, which has been, you know, ongoing for a couple of years now, really, if we're really honest.

NS: I think we have written about this in in a series of blogs about in, to many extent, the increase in the irregular crossing in the Channel is the result of Brexit, both in terms of a shift in the policy legal framework - the exit from the Dublin Regulation, etc., but also in a more geopolitical sense. The exit from the mechanism of solidarity within European Union, in a sense, make the country more isolated and vulnerable to, and this is something that gets exploited by those that support the irregular crossing or the smugglers or etc. So, what is becoming evident is not just, for example, the challenges that the Britain face in implementing its immigration control and enforcement, you know, we know from the data that forced removal is very low, currently, in Britain, despite all this rhetoric of the tough touch. And one of the reasons why it is weak is because in order to do removal, you need to have bilateral agreements. And in order to have this bilateral agreement, you have to go to negotiate with other countries all over the, around the world, you are going to have leverage and try to get something in exchange of something else. And what we're seeing now that it's become more difficult for Britain to sign these agreements. And this means that partly as a result, or as what we could call a weakened position, geopolitical, in the world. So, despite all this bravado, and that we hear some time from the government.

MB: So, really a fiction of sovereignty, essentially over control over the borders in a globally connected world, where bilateral agreements are fundamental to the management of the movement of people. But I suppose before we close, it would be interesting, I think, to hear what some of those taking part in that People's Panel had to say about the UK approach to migration after Brexit. I think that there's a tendency to kind of think that people themselves kind of internalise those hierarchies around who should be allowed to move and who shouldn't be allowed to move. But that's not really the story that we got from talking to EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU. And I think that this couple of quotations and really helped illustrate that. So Andrean was in her 70s, she was a French citizen born in Algeria, and living in the UK. And she really didn't hold back in her response on the UK government's approach to migration post Brexit.

Voiceover – EU citizen in the UK 1: If this country had a real immigration policy and strategy, it would have identified working in close collaboration with other countries in Europe to understand the root of the issues and agree a joint way of implementing whatever is needed to address the core reasons for increased immigration.

NS: So what Andrean pointed out it's not just how immigration policies, in a sense, are connected to our relationship with our European neighbours. So, the close collaboration with France would for example provide a better answer to the irregular crossings, then talking about sending people to Rwanda or Ascension.

MB: I think that the other thing that we heard from people was how they positioned themselves vis-a-vis the UK government's own moral statements about migration and this quotation from Kate who was in her 50s, British, and living in France, on the UK is Rwanda Plan showed that kind of strong moral opposition to the plan.

Voiceover – British citizen in EU 1:The people crossing the Channel are so desperate they put their lives at risk. If the UK had a legal route for them to take, instead, the channel crossings would drop. Punishment is not the answer. Setting up something to allow them to apply from France would be the humane thing to do. Sending people to Rwanda is morally repugnant and should be stopped.

MB: I think that this helps us to bring the episode to a close in a way because we're recording just a week after the UK government's 'stop the boats' week, where they pushed out through social media, through news media, almost minute by minute some of the things that they were doing to stop the boats. It was also the week that saw asylum seekers housed on the Bibby Stockholm removed from the Bibby Stockholm down in Portland. But Nando, how do you think that migration diplomacy might help us to think differently about, well, stop the boats?

NS: How the British government is handling the current migration situation, I mean, they call it a crisis, but in a sense the crisis itself is self-inflicted, to many extent. And some of the reason of the current situation is, in a sense, we can use them almost as a evidence of a larger issue, or tensions or difficulties that the country is facing in repositioning itself, you know, on the one hand, you have the ideological project of creating a new role for Britain in the world, for Global Britain. And on the other one is the reality of how a much-downsized economy, a much smaller sort of gives you a much smaller leverage in the world, which also means how it has become much more difficult and expensive to negotiate a bilateral agreement. And also on the other end, we're seeing how within this new position, migration and the governance of migration become more and more subjected to other agendas, like the trade deals. So, it becomes much more difficult, I think, for the government to retain some forms of coherence in their messaging because they're forced to negotiate and change their position much more often as a result of this weakened position in the world.

MB: That's really helpful, Nando, and I think that my closing thoughts are what are the ends of migration diplomacy for states, and what are they really after? Who do we think we are? presents global Britain is a podcast produced and presented by me, Michaela Benson and Nando Sigona as part of the research project 'Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit'. And that's funded by the Economic and Social Research Council via their Governance after Brexit initiative. You can find out more about the [email protected]. That's A big thank you to our guests on this episode, Fiona Adamson and to our voiceover artists, Eva Li, Anastasia Lytvyniuk, Maud Perrier, Ala Sirriyeh and Vanessa Tsoi. A special thanks to Emma Holton at Brilliant Audio for her production and post-production support. And to Catherine Craven, for her additional research for this episode. Also, a quick shout out of congratulations to Catherine, who has now left the project to start a fantastic new one at the University of Sheffield. Also, thanks, of course to George Kalivis for the cover art and the social media assets. If you head over to who do we think we You'll find transcripts and enhanced show notes that include active listening questions, our podcast picks, and where you can go to find out more about the topics we discussed. And just a last call. If you like what you've heard, please do take a moment to follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. Reach out to us via our socials or even just recommend us to our friend. That's all for now, but we'll be back with another episode very soon.

End of Transcript

What role do diplomacy and the power play between states play in the development of migration policy? And how can turning our attention to the significance of foreign policy within migration governance help us in understanding the post-Brexit migration regime in the UK?  

In this jam-packed episode, we consider how foreign policy and geopolitics shapes migration and mobility regimes. Catherine Craven explains what we mean when we talk about migration diplomacy. Fiona Adamson, Professor of International Relations at SOAS, invites us to think about how migration and diaspora feature in inter-state relations, with a particular focus on the EU. Through the discussion of the UK’s new humanitarian visas and the citizens’ negotiations, Nando and Michaela reflect on the relationship between migration diplomacy and the UK’s shifting position on the world stage after Brexit.  

In this episode we cover …   

  1. Migration diplomacy and the geopolitics of migration 
  2. Hong Kong BN(O) and Ukraine Visa schemes 
  3. Brexit and the citizens’ rights negotiations 

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Active listening questions

  • What does ‘migration diplomacy’ mean? 
  • What actors do and can engage in migration diplomacy? 
  • What diplomatic instruments can states use to govern international migration? 
  • Which new visa routes and trade and mobility agreements has Britain negotiated and/or implemented since Brexit?  

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