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MESS GOVERNANCE: Unpacking the transnational governance of migration and asylum through policies and narratives

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Zeynep Sahin Mencutek, Research Affiliate, and Younes Ahouga, Irmak Kurtulmus, Anna Triandafyllidou, CERC Migration

The transnational governance of migration is organized into separate regimes (asylum, irregular migration, labour migration), at different territorial levels (the local, national, regional and international), and labelled either irregular or regular, forced or voluntary, good or bad. However, in reality, migration flows are often mixed (involving both economic migrants and asylum seekers) while governance is both complex and fragmented.

This project focuses specifically on two forced displacements – Syria and Venezuela – to examine the expanding role of transnational actors – notably of international organizations like the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and of transnational non-governmental organisations (such as Oxfam, CARE, the International Crisis Group, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent).

We explore particularly the ways in which transnational interventions are implemented at the local level with the support or toleration of national actors in a complex, fragmented and hybrid governance environment. We investigate whether the effort to make migration (and asylum) safe and orderly at the global level contributes instead to further uncertainty and insecurity at the local level for migrants and asylum seekers.

Our analysis focuses on both the narratives used to promote specific governance solutions (policies, programs, initiatives) and the actual policies implemented on the ground.

  1. How do the engagements among migrant-receiving states, international organizations and local-implementing actors contain or foster discursive and practical complexity around asylum and migration governance?
  2. What are the primary mechanisms of asylum and migration governance (categorization, standardization, datafication) and what are the implications of these mechanisms?
  3. How do the interactions and joint mechanisms between states and international organizations influence ‘ordering’ in migration governance?

A global governance framework for international migration first emerged through flexible and informal consultations in the mid-2000s and gradually became more institutionalized with the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, which led to the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (2018), the Global Compact on Refugees (2018), and the inclusion of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the family of UN agencies. These agreements aimed to better manage regional crises that had spillover effects in a high number of neighbouring countries in the Global South and then other destinations in the Global North.

International policy and civil-society leaders alike agreed that migration, as a global challenge, could not be managed either by a single country or bilaterally. At the discursive level, the transnational attempts of cooperation and burden sharing have favoured a narrative of safe, orderly and regular migration. However, realities on the ground demonstrate that migration flows are far from being “safe and orderly,” while burden sharing is difficult to measure. Moreover, migration and asylum-seeking movement are largely intertwined. Complexity, fragmentation, messiness are inevitably aspects of the governance of asylum and migration and have to be better understood.

In this project, we aim to explore the features of transnational migration governance, particularly its messiness, by focusing on both policies and narratives. More specifically, we aim to examine the interactions of governing actors operating at multiple scales, their interests and the mechanisms that they mobilize.

During the last decade, the emergencies in Syria and Venezuela represent two, ongoing, large-scale forced displacements. More than 5 million people have been displaced in each situation and have sought refuge in their neighbouring countries, principally in South America for Venezuelans and the Middle East for Syrians. In both crises, temporary policy measures stand out at the centre of policies of host states. Such measures are implemented by different international, national and local actors, both state and non-state. These two massive forced displacements have also spilled over further to North America and Europe, where migrants are often following irregular pathways due to the strict controls and lack of ‘durable solutions’.

The project builds on desk research, analysis of policy documents, process tracing in policy development and implementation, expert interviews and analysis of media materials; and develops along three directions:

  • Zeynep Sahin Mencutek and Irmak Kurtulmus: Focus on the Syrian crisis and Syrian migration in the region.
  • Younes Ahouga: Focus on the role of IOM in the transnational governance of migration and asylum
  • Anna Triandafyllidou: Analytical research on a ‘messy governance’ analytical framework

Recent published research includes:

Ahouga, Y. (2022). L’Organisation internationale pour les migrations et la surveillance des populations de déplacés du Sud. (external link, opens in new window)  Revue européenne des migrations internationales38(3 & 4), 139–160. /  The International Organization for Migration and the surveillance of the displaced populations of the Global South (external link)  (A. P. O’Neill & K. Booth, Trans.). Revue européenne des migrations internationales38(3 & 4), 139–160.

Kayaoglu, A. Sahin-Mencutek, Z., & Erdoğan, M. M. (2021) Return Aspirations of Syrian Refugees in Turkey (external link) , Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies.

Sahin-Mencutek, Z., Barthoma, S., Gökalp-Aras, N. E., & Triandafyllidou, A. (2022). A crisis mode in migration governance: comparative and analytical insights. (external link, opens in new window)  Comparative migration studies10(1), 12.

Şahin-Mencütek, Z., & Tsourapas, G. (2023). When Do States Repatriate Refugees? Evidence from the Middle East (external link, opens in new window) Journal of Global Security Studies8(1), ogac031.

Sahin Mencutek, Z. (2022). The Geopolitics of Returns: Geopolitical Reasoning and Space-Making in Turkey’s Repatriation Regime (external link, opens in new window) Geopolitics, 1-27.

Sahin-Mencutek, Z.,  Karal, D. & Altıntop, I. (2021) Governance of Refugee Children Protection in Turkey: Between Vulnerability and Paternalism (external link, opens in new window) Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 19:3, 316-330.

Sahin-Mencutek, Z.,(2021) Governing practices and strategic narratives for the Syrian refugee returns, (external link, opens in new window)  Journal of Refugee Studies, 2021.

Triandafyllidou, A. (2020) De-centering the study of migration governance: A radical view (external link) Geopolitics.



Fall 2024

CERC Migration

transnational migration governance, Syrians, Venezuelans, asylum, messiness, forced displacement