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the united nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than one million people crossed into Europe by sea in 2015. At least 3,700 of those attempting to enter drowned. The vast majority of these travellers were from the world's top 10 refugee-producing countries, including Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Like the apocryphal story about the Haitian slave revolutionaries who greeted the repressive French army by singing "La Marseillaise," so some people walking along the motorways of Hungary and Austria were carrying the European flag, as if to say "We share your respect for justice, freedom, and human rights, and here we are! We belong!"

This situation was labelled a "crisis," and the responses were schizophrenic. Widespread "Refugees Are Welcome" demonstrations were met with nationalist counterdemonstrations and fire-bombings. As autumn arrived amidst mutual recriminations of xenophobia and hypocrisy, Europe rebordered: checkpoints were instituted between Austria and Germany, Italy and France, Sweden and Denmark, Croatia and Austria, Macedonia and Greece. Thus the crisis brought into question not only the principles of asylum and free movement within the European Union, but also Europe's very idea of itself as a space of liberal values, freedom, moral equality, and human rights. As well as a migration crisis confronting Europe, what started to unfold was a European crisis confronting migrants: a multidimensional crisis of solidarity between member states, many of which are struggling with [End Page 7] austerity and rapidly diminishing state capacity. This crisis was effectively called out by migration (Kriss 2015).

The media coverage of these events and their consequences reflected these tensions. Hostility toward mobile people, concerns about security, and demands on resources collided with the unavoidably human face of catastrophe, and for a time negative responses were mitigated by the photograph of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi. This contradiction was encapsulated in an editorial in The Times of January 21, 2016: "compassion is the right response but unconditional welcome is the wrong way to express it."

The relation between media coverage, policy, and public opinion is highly complicated, particularly in cases that are depicted as some kind of "crisis." Press coverage is not a neutral mirror of public opinion, nor does it simply shape public attitudes—news organizations are businesses, concerned with building relationships with their readers rather than challenging their views. The relation between media, public attitudes, and policymaking is complex and mutually constitutive, and there is a growing interest in this triangular relation in the case of how migration and asylum are covered (Matthews and Brown 2012). This question has received more attention post-2015, and there continues to be considerable debate about the role of the media in the representation of migrants/refugees, and its relation to public opinion. Several studies were commissioned. The Ethical Journalism Network found that press coverage was fueling sensationalism, anxiety, and intolerance (White 2015), while research commissioned by the UNHCR found that representations of migrants as cultural or welfare threats were prevalent in several EU states.

The use of imagery and metaphor of natural disasters permeates the coverage of migration. The particular ways in which migrants are portrayed offer insights into the nature of popular anxieties about the foreigner as invasive other and clues as to the political responses that can help to counter these anxieties. One metaphoric trope that has emerged as particularly powerful in the coverage of the 2015 events is the migrant as invasive insect, a metaphor that has been deployed by politicians as well as press commentators and reporters. [End Page 8]


For over 20 years, the outsourcing of migration controls, agreements with source and transit countries, re-admission agreements, the creation of migration management policies and facilities in countries of origin, and so on have kept the consequences of war and global inequalities largely out of sight. European publics have been protected to a great extent from the practical reality of forced displacement and economic desperation that is now showing up on holiday beaches. In 2015 tourists began to complain about sharing beaches and pavements with homeless refugees: "It's really dirty and messy here now. And it's awkward. I'm not going to sit in a restaurant with people watching you" (Daily Mail 2015).

The long tail of the movement to Europe is easy to trace. Even before the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa region was being singled out as a potential source of migrants, and "unresolved conflicts" and political unrest were suggested as potentially motivating emigration to Europe. By the mid-2000s there were warnings that the Middle East's states of reception were under considerable pressure from the challenges of coping with displacement, and it was suggested that people should start moving on. Notably, this was even before the war in Syria and the collapse of Libya, which had functioned as an effective migration buffer zone. Colonel Ghaddafi was well aware of the importance of this to Europe. When his regime was challenged by Western powers, he told the France 24 television station, "there are millions of blacks who could come to the Mediterranean to cross to France and Italy, and Libya plays a role in security in the Mediterranean" ("Libya: Pro-Gaddafi Forces" 2011). His son also warned, "Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean. You will see the pirates in Sicily, in Crete, in Lampedusa. You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door" (Siemaszko 2011).

In 2014 there had already been large numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean. Displacement—from conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Iran; Pakistan; poverty and environmental degradation in [End Page 9] Niger, Senegal, and Gambia—was pressing ever more urgently at the borders of Europe. By the early spring of 2015, the main route from Africa to Europe shifted from Libya/Italy to Turkey/Greece. Those on the move included a significant proportion of Syrians, often with young children, reluctant to remain in Turkey with its limited health care and education and the prospect of only precarious status. Faced with tens of thousands of people heading toward Germany, on August 10, 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the suspension of the Dublin Regulation for Syrian nationals. The Dublin Regulation requires asylum cases to be heard in the first EU state that the applicants arrive in. If they move on and claim asylum in another EU member state, that second state can return them to their point of arrival for the cases to be heard there. This places considerable pressures on countries at the borders of Europe, to the benefit of northern European states (if one assumes that having fewer asylum seekers is a benefit). It is worth noting in the light of subsequent events that in January 2011 the European Court of Human Rights halted removals from other EU member states to Greece on the grounds that detention conditions in Greece were so inhumane that they constituted an abuse of human rights.

In September 2015, EU member states committed to resettling 160,000 refugees in order to relieve some of the pressure on member states at the edges of Europe. Even this extremely modest target proved too much: by July 2016 they had resettled only 3,056. However, the EU had trebled spending on border defense and, in December 2015, the establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard to defend Europe's borders was announced. Alarmed by numbers and the refusal to "burden share," the European Commission struck a deal that provided the framework for the mass return of migrants from Greece to Turkey. This was agreed despite multiple concerns, including claims from Amnesty International that Turkey was conducting illegal mass returns of Syrians to Syria on a daily basis.

Even before 2015, anxiety about asylum, migration, and terrorism had been increasing across the European Union. How this was [End Page 10] expressed, and in particular the tone of the media coverage, varied significantly, both between outlets and across states (Berry, Garcia-Blanko, and Moore 2015). There was even uncertainty about the words used to describe what was happening: was this a "refugee crisis" or a "migrant crisis"—or indeed, was it a "crisis" at all? The debate about "refugee" versus "migrant" was not about accurately conveying the legal status of those who are moving (which depends on their nationalities, personal histories, and claims), but rather on the moral value of the entrants: "refugees" = "helpless victims of war"; while "migrants" = "potential terrorists, the undeserving those in search of a good life."

Despite nearly two decades of negative publicity, "refugee" (unlike "asylum seeker") still retains connotations of deservingness and human rights. When applied to groups moving in 2015, it often facilitated comparisons with the Europe of the Second World War, both the movement of Jewish people during the war and the situation of displaced people after it. This was used to emphasize not only the scale of the "crisis" but also the ethics of the political response. For example, the United Kingdom's then prime minister, David Cameron, described the offer of admitting 4,000 Syrian people a year for five years with particular focus on vulnerable children as "the modern equivalent of the Kindertransport" (Friedman 2015). Critics compared Denmark's policy, introduced in January 2016, which demanded the handing over of money and assets to pay for the cost of their accommodation and maintenance, with Nazi treatment of Jews. Swedish Member of the European Parliament Cecilia Wikström, campaigning for safe passage of migrants to Europe from conflict zones, compared the contemporary response to refugees to the policy of appeasement in the Second World War, warning that Europe would be judged negatively by future generations: "Swedes will compare this to the Holocaust" (Savage 2015). Indeed, Germany's opening its borders was welcomed by liberal commentators as a kind of reparation for its Nazi past, and only months after the hostility invoked by the Eurozone crisis, with Greece calling for Nazi war reparations, Angela Merkel was in the frame for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. [End Page 11]

The flip side of the invoking of sympathy for the "refugee" was that "migrant" became overtly pejorative. The negativity of this ostensibly neutral term had been apparent for some time. "Migrant" and its equivalents are increasingly associated with the low skilled, the low waged, and the global poor. The term is rarely used to describe professionals or those leaving Northern Europe and North America, who are more likely to be known as "expats." In August 2015, the broadcaster Al Jazeera announced that it was no longer going to use the term "migrant." It is worth quoting their reasons in full:

The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.

It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person—like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes—who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance.

It already feels like we are putting a value on the word. Migrant deaths are not worth as much to the media as the deaths of others—which means that their lives are not. Drowning disasters drop further and further down news bulletins. We rarely talk about the dead as individuals anymore. They are numbers.


The United Kingdom's press coverage has been found to be the most polarized, aggressive, and negative toward those seeking asylum across the European Union (Berry, Garcia-Blanko, and Moore 2015). In contrast with Germany, where the mobility of 2015 was routinely labelled refugee (flüchtling(e)/flykting) or asylum seeker (asylsuchende(r)/ [End Page 12] asylsokande), in the UK the dominant term was "migrant." The UK press has a "pathologically present anti-Nazi past" (Gilroy 2012), but is nonetheless infamous in its hostility to asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. A 2003 study on asylum coverage found that media reporting was characterized by inaccurate and provocative language and an overwhelming focus on numbers that were often unsourced and exaggerated (Buchanan, Grillo, and Threadgold 2003). A study of the use of the term "migration" in the 2005 general election campaign described how it became a central issue for political communication with an emphasis on highly emotive disaster and container metaphors (Charteris-Black 2006). A comparative study in 2016 found that anti-immigrant hate speech flourished "inside the newsroom" and that there was a long-term obsession with migration as "invasion" (Suffee 2015).

The pejorative nature of "migrant" was strongly signified and expressed through imagery and metaphor. Katie Hopkins, a columnist for the UK's largest tabloid newspaper, The Sun, in her piece in April 2015 described "aggressive young men at Calais, spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship." She claimed that "some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money. Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches." The shift from simile to metaphor was apparent when, three months later, Prime Minister Cameron described "a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs" (

Unsurprisingly, this graphic imagery gets taken up by cartoons. One infamous example was published on November 17, 2015 by The Daily Mail, a newspaper whose UK circulation of approximately 1.6 million is second only to The Sun. It is a newspaper that is notoriously hostile to immigration and to welfare claimants. The cartoon by Mac depicted people marching firmly across a line marked "Welcome to Europe." These were Muslim-looking characters, carrying prayer mats and guns, the men bearded, a woman wearing niqab. At their feet, [End Page 13] also scurrying across the border and seemingly passing unnoticed, were rats. It is particularly concerning because these kinds of cartoons are stand-alone items that have an entertainment rather than an informative purpose:

the sort of material which may be re-told in conversation or passed around a group of friends, family, co-workers simply because of its "amusement value." In this way the anti-asylum message is shared through gossip and normal social interaction which allows it to seep much more easily into the collective consciousness. It also legitimises what would normally be considered to be socially unacceptable behaviour—to ridicule and demean a vulnerable group.

None of these representations went unremarked. Hopkins was questioned by the police for inciting racial hatred and was the subject of an online petition, calling for The Sun to sack her, that received over 200,000 signatures in a matter of days. She was not sacked. The Huffington Post described The Daily Mail cartoon as "straight out of Nazi Germany," but the cartoon was defended on the basis that it was the terrorists, not the migrants, who were cast as rats. David Cameron's comments were called "irresponsible" and "dehumanizing" by refugee groups, but he defended them on the basis that he was simply trying to convey that "a lot" of people were coming.

However, metaphors are at their most effective when they are surreptitious and uncontested—not when they are applauded or called out, but when they pass unremarked into our language, when they shift from simile to metaphor suggesting the horror lurking beneath reason. In the press, migrants routinely scurry, scuttle, sneak, and they often swarm, too. Migrants are invaders, but invasion usually suggests a state or at least an authority that controls the invasion. In the case of migrants this invasion is a force of nature, of war without sovereignty and of agency without individuality. [End Page 14]


Metaphors matter. "They are figures of thought as much as they are figures of speech" (Steuter and Wills 2008, 7), or to paraphrase Otto Santa Ana (1999), they do not simply color the poetic but shape the prosaic. They are a crucial element in the structuring of our conceptual systems, providing cognitive frames that make issues understandable. They bridge the gap between logic and emotion, exposing and shaping our feelings and responses and acting as both expression and legitimation (Mio 1997).

The comparison of foreigners and outsiders with animals has a long history. Noncitizens and those regarded as outsiders or subhuman have been called animal names, treated like animals, and forced to behave like animals. This has contemporary twists—in 2013, the Tripoli Zoo was turned into an immigration detention center—but it is not new. In Ancient Greece, Herodotus compares slaves to cattle, while more recently in the American South, slaves were commonly equated with domestic animals—oxen, hogs, calves, and colts (Jacoby 1994). Santa Ana analyzed the coverage in the Los Angeles Times of the referendum on Proposition 187 and found the key metaphor discerned to be "immigrants are animals" (1999), while O'Brien (2003) describes the metaphors deployed during the immigration debate in the United States of the early twentieth century, showing that the immigrant as invader and as animal were even then common tropes. O'Brien's analysis finds that in contrast to the depiction of slaves—who were imagined as beasts of burden to be whipped, branded, and controlled—migrants, whose entry must be controlled, are compared to "parasites or 'low animals' capable of infection and contamination" (243). Similarly, those seeking to enter Europe are not depicted as beasts or brutes but as vermin, forms of nonvital life, low down on the animal phyla.

Rats, cockroaches, and insects are urban—they are not considered wild animals. Unlike beasts of burden, these are not perceived as productive animals. They are alive but not perceived as truly sentient. Considered more closely, there are three interrelated connotations [End Page 15] of invasive vermin that are of relevance to anxieties about asylum: waste, numbers, and threats to the home.

Cockroaches, ants, and rats do not come from nowhere. They are strongly associated with human waste, and they flourish near humans because they live in the dirt that we produce. They thrive in the places we try to forget: sewers, empty lots, derelict buildings, mountainous landfills. They are ambassadors of entropy, appearing in huge numbers during floods, wars, economic decline, or other periods of disorder—associated with disaster but also bringing the risk of "natural disaster" with them. They are nature's revenge. In her piece for The Sun, Hopkins wrote of asylum seekers that "they might look a bit 'Bob Geldof's Ethiopia circa 1984' but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors" (2015). After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a science fiction short story by Edward Grendon depicted millions of cockroaches "swarming" out of the cities and killing hundreds of people. It has passed into the public imagination that cockroaches will inherit the earth after a nuclear explosion and insects will survive the apocalypse.

The comparison with vermin recalls the waste of the current social, political, and economic global system. In the same way that vermin serve as a reminder of ecosystems of dirt and waste that are thrown up by and live on the by-products of production, so the people at the borders of Europe and those whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches are part of the ecosystems of global economic, social, and political relations, and the living histories of colonialism and patriarchy. Europe is not an uneasy bystander having to deal with the consequences of actions that it had no control over, but rather it is dealing with the human consequences of a situation that it played a crucial role in creating. There is an obvious connection of mobility with recent foreign policy decisions in European capitals, but there are also deeper connections with the economic and environmental "zones of sacrifice" demanded by our current systems, those areas despoiled for the purpose of resource extraction: "and you can't have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual [End Page 16] theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians" (Klein 2016, 13).Thus migrants belong to ecosystems that we would rather forget.

The problem with insects is a problem of numbers. One insect is trivial, of no consequence, but they travel in swarms, so one is likely to presage millions. In a video that went viral in July 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted in an awkward televised encounter with Reem, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl. Reem described in fluent German how she and her family, who arrived in Rostock four years ago from a Lebanese refugee camp, face deportation. Merkel responded by saying she understood, but that "politics is sometimes hard. You're right in front of me now and you're an extremely nice person. But you also know in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands and if we were to say you can all come … we just can't manage it (Jackson 2016, 132)." The chancellor was forced to stop midsentence on seeing that Reem was crying. She walked up to the girl and started stroking her shoulder and attempting to comfort her. She was widely mocked on twitter hashtag #Merkelstrokes, but all things considered, Merkel did well. For here we have the bottom line: there are too many of you. If it was just you then of course you would be welcome to come, but if we allow the principle, there will be millions of refugees and migrants.

In the past two or three years, people attempting to enter Europe have indeed been using sheer numbers to overwhelm border posts. Whether running at the fences of Melilla, pulling down the barricades in Macedonia, jumping onto the trains and ferries at Calais, or hiding in the ranks of hundreds of no-borders activists walking across frontiers, the weight of numbers is being transformed into a means of resistance. Crowds are breaking down fences, and mass coordinated crossings are proving difficult to halt. As a border guard interviewed at Melilla put it, "we can stop them when they come two at a time, but if there are 2,000 at each point we cannot" (Gall 2014). This is the very antithesis of "managed migration," the careful [End Page 17] identification, points systems, and processing of migrants that lie at the heart of migration and refugee policy. Indeed, for decades the principle measure of the success of an immigration or refugee policy has been numerical, and more particularly, keeping numbers down. No amount of money, it seems, is too much if it contributes to dampening the flow of migrants. Those who advocate for migrants' rights often argue that concerns about numbers are exaggerated, but not challenged, while limiting numbers of entrants is often the sole measure of policy success.

Vermin are ubiquitous, and cockroaches, rats, and "swarms" are everywhere indigenous. The horror is not simply that the "sneaky little creatures" do not respect borders or boundaries. They are not invasive of a territorial space.1 What vermin are invasive of is the civilized space of the home. Thus comparing migrants to insects and vermin invokes what Walters (2010) has called "domopolitics," the aspiration to govern the state like a home. Indeed, Merkel's policy has been dubbed her "open door" policy and is in contrast to Cameron's stance that we need to stop migrants "breaking into Britain," both metaphors associated with the home. The home is our place, the space where "we" are native. In recent years in Europe there has been a striking resurgence of language of nativity and indigeneity. While in the colonial past "natives" were the tribal and uncivilized, now native and indigenous British/French/European, etc., is used to denote autochthony and assert a natural belonging to a territory. Walters discusses the tension between "domos" and "oikos," the state imagined as home and the state imagined as household. Oikos and its desire for economy, utility, and efficiency are receding in the face of domos and the search for order, domesticity, and security. "Domopolitics implies a reconfiguring of the relations between citizenship, state, and territory that requires securitization or 'homeland security' to protect it" (Walters 2010, 241).

When they are in the home, insects must be dealt with, and while "exterminate all the brutes" is not acceptable, "exterminate all the bugs" is. Indeed, this is the solution to an infestation of pests. [End Page 18] The lives of insects do not matter—they are not "grievable" (Butler 2009). Indeed, the relation between the development of pesticides for agricultural and domestic use and chemical technologies for the mass killing of humans has been well documented. During the Second World War, for example, the German chemical company IG Farben bought the patent for Zyklon B, which was used in the extermination camps of the Holocaust. Its original use was as an insecticide, and it had previously been licensed for delousing Mexican migrants to the United States in the 1930s.

There is no proposal to exterminate people at the borders of Europe (though Katie Hopkins' piece titled "Rescue Boats? I'd Use Gunships to Stop Migrants" came perilously close). However, "letting die" is a different matter. The Italian-led search and rescue missions under the Mare Nostrum program were claimed to constitute a pull factor by European policymakers. In October 2014 Mare Nostrum was replaced by Triton, which did not have rescue as an operational priority. Death by Rescue, a report produced by Forensic Oceanography at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that "institutionalised neglect" "created the conditions that led to massive loss of life" (Forensic Oceanography 2016). Furthermore, the policy of returning people to Turkey requires forced removals to situations that are acknowledged as inhumane. The vulnerable condition of those in refugee camps in Turkey was illustrated by the recent case of a cleaner in one of the camps being convicted of sexual assault against at least 30 children aged 8 to 12 years old (Reuters 2016).

The etymological origin of "exterminate" is to put beyond the boundary or the frontier. The question is: where shall they be removed to? What to do with Bauman's "human waste," the "collateral casualties of progress"(Bauman 2003, 15)? In the past, penal transportation to colonial territories was the means by which "civilized England shall be disburdened of its worst people" (1603 Order of the Privy Council, cited in Beier 1985, 150). Transportation turned the poor into the "building blocks of Empire" (Ocobock 2008). There was a hierarchy of spaces that people could be removed to. For example, between [End Page 19] 1832 and 1843, some 1200 "Liberated Africans" kidnapped from many different areas of Africa were sent to McCarthy Island, a small island in the River Gambia. It had been proposed originally as a British penal settlement, but it was deemed to be too unhealthy and that being transported there would be tantamount to a death sentence so would therefore be unlawful (Webb 1993). For those rescued from the slave trade, however, McCarthy Island was apparently acceptable. In 1936, the prime minister of France, Leon Blum, permitted a Polish delegation to Madagascar to explore the possibility of "resettling" Polish Jews there, an idea that at one stage was announced to the German cabinet by Göring as a plan by Hitler to solve the "Jewish problem."

Timothy Snyder (2015) has examined how Nazi politics were presented as restoring the balance of nature in the face of dwindling resources. "Races" needed more Lebensraum—living room—to feed themselves and to reproduce. But Lebensraum also invokes the space of the home, conflating home with nation.

Since 1945, one of the two senses of Lebensraum has spread across most of the world: a living room, the dream of household comfort in consumer society. The other sense of Lebensraum is habitat, the realm that must be controlled for physical survival.… In uniting these two passions in one word, Hitler conflated lifestyle with life.… Once standard of living is confused with living, a rich society can make war upon those who are poorer in the name of survival. Tens of millions of people died in Hitler's war, not so that Germans could live, but so that Germans could pursue the American dream in a globalized world.

While Snyder asks whether tolerance of climate change invokes Lebensraum, one might argue that this is much more directly invoked in the language of migration—full up, overcrowded, no room, Europeans only; it is sad to see all these people in such suffering and misery, but we have to put ourselves first. Northern League leader [End Page 20] Matteo Salvini suggested taking "rescued" migrants to disused oil platforms off the Libyan coast that were abandoned by the Italian energy firm ENI in order not to "disturb" Italians: "help them, rescue them, and take care of them, but don't let them land here" (MacKinnon 2015). As the tourist quoted above complained that she could not eat while there were hungry refugees looking at her, so the refugees must be moved on—otherwise how can we continue to feel comfortable on holiday?


Controlling unruly mobilities unleashed by inequality, conflict, and hope—channelling, enforcing, and preventing them—has been a challenge for the wealthy and the powerful for over a millennium. Mobility is not controlled and restricted simply out of cruelty or indifference. It is constrained because it has the potential to be profoundly disruptive. Disgust at waste, fear of numbers, protection of the home—what do these three anxieties about migrants and migration suggest about the possibilities for a more progressive political discussion? What is it that needs to be tackled? Clearly the guilty ecosystems of migration are important. The boats in the Mediterranean, the fence chargers at Melilla, the lorry and train jumpers at Calais are symptoms of far deeper problems, rooted in global inequality and injustice, the escalation of wars at Europe's edges, and the creaking of the nation-state form and ideas of citizenship and human rights. As then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement on Calais to the BBC:

The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.… So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security.

Here we have an explicit reference to global inequality very gently signified by "gap in standards of living." This is a feature of [End Page 21] much of the current coverage, and of course is not a natural state of affairs. In fact, "marauding" might be a more accurate description of the European massacres, betrayals, land grabbing, and of course slavery that caused so much devastation in Africa. In wealthy Europe, life for a proportion of the population might look relatively good compared with 500 years ago, but we are living at a time of the highest level of global inequality in human history, when the poorest 50 percent of the world's human population has only 6.6 percent of total global income. The World Bank has estimated that three quarters of inequality can be attributed to between-country differences (Milanovic 2011). We can quibble about the methodology, but we cannot deny that the world has changed from the nineteenth century, when what was critical to your life experience was whether you were a master or a servant. Nowadays, it is not your position in life, but the state in which you were born and where you live that shapes your life chances and options for survival. Why some states are poor and others are rich is not because their inhabitants are any more intelligent or plucky, or have more resources than anywhere else. It has everything to do with the living (hi)stories of colonialism and exploitation.

Second, the fear of numbers must be confronted. Numbers are often the principle, if not the sole, measurement of an immigration policy's success. The reason that there are too many migrants is that they are a strain on resources, whether they are employed, in which case they are "taking jobs," or unemployed, in which case they are "taking benefits." They may place demands on infrastructure, social security, and health systems. The assumption is that, were it not for migration/asylum, societies and labor markets would remain the same, or be subject to only very slow demographic shifts; that is, migration impacts otherwise stable systems. However, economies and societies are always changing, and the obsession with immigration has overshadowed the structural reasons for inequality and lack of social protection.

The problem of numbers is a problem of resources, and the flip side of there not being enough to go around is that there are too [End Page 22] many of the "wrong" kinds of people. The resurgence of domopolitics suggests we need to interrogate more closely the relation between state and nation; and the relation between nationalism, xenophobia, and racism; and find ways of introducing this more sophisticated discussion into public debate. To claim that the experiences at the borders of Europe are consequences of "racism" is to risk underestimating their persuasive power if by "racism" we mean an individual's belief in biological difference and hierarchy on the basis of skin color. After all, black people with US passports will generally find it easier to enter Europe than those with paler skin who are from Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. Citizens of these states are subject to the most stringent visa restrictions in the world, while those with US passports can travel relatively freely. Black US citizens, however, are disproportionately likely to be checked in comparison to white people with US passports (Anderson 2013).

Race, nationality, and poverty are interrelated in complex ways, and immigration controls and their consequences can seem rational to many of those who take a strongly antiracist position in nonimmigration politics. For while race is always reducible to skin pigmentation, it is far more complex, and racism is highly adaptable. Race in the context of migration to Europe is bound up with nation, and more particularly with nationality, ethnicity, culture, and poverty. Immigration controls work to, quite literally, turn people into "aliens," and also often make them subordinate, dependent on citizens as employers, spouses, sponsors. While policymakers disavow race as an ordering tool of immigration controls, nationality is fundamental to them.


On July 30, 2016, the upmarket burger chain Byron had to temporarily close two outlets. The firm had colluded with immigration officials and tricked staff members into attending health and safety meetings that turned out to be immigration traps. Some 35 people were deported. A Boycott Byron campaign was organized, but London Black [End Page 23] Revs and Malcolm X Movement went further. They released some 8,000 locusts, 2,000 crickets, and 4,000 cockroaches into two central London branches, forcing them to close for cleaning. One protester said: "Katie Hopkins called them cockroaches in an article just a few months ago. We want to show these people what cockroaches really look like, and we'll unleash them on places like this if they don't change their ways" (Slawson 2016). There is empathy and solidarity if we dare. After all, the inaugural public-opinion research on the refugee crisis found that 73 percent of people in 11 countries in the global North acknowledged some level of responsibility to accept refugees. This is a start. It suggests that politicians can afford to be bolder in search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean and to expand safe and legal channels into the EU. Countries—and not only within the EU—must ensure more equitable responsibility sharing for asylum seekers. These are demands to make of policymakers and governments, and they can be made now—but much more must be done.

It is not enough to make demands on policymakers, and it is up to all of us to build connections between the low-waged, homeless, and unemployed EU citizens; those struggling to get by; and the struggles of migrants, without turning them into competitors for the privileges of membership. How do we jump the scales and the borders of the local, national, and global, and make connections between them? There are new possibilities here that resist the lure of domopolitics and make important connections between migrants and citizens, but the analysis can't be abstracted from political and social practice. It can offer clues that must be followed and developed through campaigning and organizing and people's daily experiences of building relationships with one another. In recent months, people across Europe have been supporting and welcoming migrants, but we are in for the long haul of building an economy, culture, and society where better lives for Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans, and Pakistanis mean better lives for all of us. [End Page 24]

Perhaps we can look to metaphor for political inspiration, for ways of reframing the relationship between embedded citizens and mobile populations. Teiko Tomita was a Japanese woman who came to the United States in 1921. Throughout her life she wrote beautiful tanka, a particular form of Japanese short poetry, expressing her struggles and hopes. When her poetry was published as part of a collection of Issei poetry, she entitled her section "Tsugiki," meaning "graft" or "grafted tree," a depiction of her and her children's relation to their lives in the United States (Nomura 2005).

Carefully graftingYoung cherry treesI believe in the certaintyThey will budIn the coming spring       (Teiko Tomita)

Bridget Anderson

bridget anderson is professor of migration and citizenship at the University of Oxford, and research director of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). She has worked closely with migrants' organizations, trades unions, and legal practitioners at the local, national, and international levels.


1. The Israeli army has opened small tunnels in the separation wall to allow migration, in part because of the separation of animal families caused by the wall ( This of course is not deemed necessary for vermin like rats who live on both sides of the wall.


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