Refugees

The Invisibility Bargain: Governance Networks and Migrant Human Security

The world is currently struggling with social and political responses to massive refugee and immigration flows that sometimes include discriminatory and xenophobic rhetoric and policies, sanctioned by powerful social institutions and political figures. Much of the existing work on these responses, and the strategies used by migrants to achieve protection, rights, and social integration, focus on industrialized receiving countries in Europe and the United States, even as most migration occurs within the Global South, which also hosts 86% of refugees in the world. In the Global South in general, and Latin America in particular, personal relationships, informal institutions and networks, and non-state actors play an important role as sources of authority, enforcers of social norms, and channels of influence and power.

This book (forthcoming from Oxford University Press in early 2021) seeks to understand how migrants negotiate their place in the receiving society, and adapt innovative strategies to coexist peacefully, establish livelihoods, and participate politically given their status as 'guests'. Their acceptance is often contingent on the perception that they contribute economically to the host country while remaining politically and socially invisible. This unwritten expectation, which I call the 'invisibility bargain', produces a vulnerable status in which migrants' visible differences or overt political demands on the state may be met with a hostile backlash from the host society that labels migrants as ungrateful, dangerous, or threatening. In a democratic state, the government has political incentives to prioritize citizens (who vote), not migrants, so the state is not the ideal provider of human security and peace in many migrant-receiving communities. Instead, governance networks, which link non-state actors, international institutions, and the state, form an institutional web that can provide access to rights, resources, and protection for migrants through informal channels that avoid the negative backlash against visible political activism.

This book explores how Ecuador, the largest recipient of refugees in Latin America and a country with traditionally weak state institutions, has nonetheless been able to provide security and promote peace in migrant-receiving areas, and to explain variation across different localities. The book builds on 15 months of fieldwork spanning ten years in Ecuador, funded in part by a Fulbright grant. It draws on more than 170 interviews and an original survey of more than 650 foreign migrants (95% of whom were Colombians) living in six provinces in the northern border zone of Ecuador. It also traces changing political and societal narratives about refugees and migrants by different types of institutional actors through discourse analysis of a database of more than 400 presidential speeches over eight years and content analysis of an original dataset of more than 800 Ecuadorian news media stories related to migration over eight years.

The key finding is that localities with more dense networks composed of more diverse actors (including the state, non-state actors, and international organizations) tend to produce greater peace and human security for the citizens and migrants who live in them than other localities. The theoretical argument travels beyond Ecuador, with implications for migrant-receiving countries throughout the developing world. The book challenges the conventional understanding of the relationship between migration and peace/security, it and provides a fresh approach to the negotiation of authority between state and society in migrant-receiving countries. Its willingness to trace the production of human security through governance networks at multiple levels dismantles the false dichotomy between international and national politics, and it exposes the micro politics of institutional innovation.