Immobility as the ultimate “migration disrupter” An initial analysis of COVID-19 impacts through the prism of securitization

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International migration is intrinsically linked to social, economic and political global transformations, and can be seen as an important aspect of globalization processes (Castles, 2010; de Haas et al., 2020; Held et al., 1999). Along with other international phenomena, migration has historically been affected by seismic geopolitical events, such as the two World Wars, the Cold War, and large terrorist attacks such as 9/11, which can mark turning points in migration governance, as well as in broader discourse and sentiment (Faist, 2004; Kaya, 2009; Newland et al., 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest seismic geopolitical event, stemming from a global health emergency; and while by no means over, it has already had profound impacts on aspects of migration governance. The widespread imposition of unprecedented movement restrictions by governments (national and subnational) are underpinned by emergency powers (Ponta, 2020) as part of a suite of extraordinary measures designed to limit coronavirus transmission and infection during this global public health emergency (WHO, 2020).

In this paper, extraordinary COVID-19 measures related to movement are examined, with particular reference to the ongoing securitization of migration as one important element of a broader “authoritarian turn” of key democracies in recent years (Diamond et al., 2016). In the current context of growing (and often cultivated) misinformation, increasing unilateral “strongman” politics and massive technological change, this paper offers an initial reflection on the key questions: are extraordinary measures likely to become ordinary? What are the implications for human rights and mobility? In doing so, this paper briefly summarizes key developments in the securitization of migration before outlining the current movement restrictions. A short discussion on the need to rethink and delink “migration” and “mobility” follows, with reference to the opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19.