Securing Borders: The danger of blurring global migration governance and health security agendas in Southern Africa

Jo Vearey (2018) Securing Borders: The danger of blurring global migration governance and health security agendas in Southern Africa, South African Institute of International Affairs. [OPEN ACCESS]

This paper explores the potential risks associated with the blurring of global migration governance and health security agendas in Southern Africa, a region associated with high levels of population mobility as well as communicable and, increasingly, non-communicable diseases. The current development of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees – agreements that aim to guide global practice – has a securitisation agenda at its core. This framing responds to the global moral panics associated with the movement of people across national borders. These increasingly nationalistic and racist panics are dangerous for multiple reasons, and the securitisation agendas of the global compacts risk negatively affecting health in Southern Africa in two ways.

Firstly, increased securitisation may undermine much-needed efforts to develop migration-aware and mobility-competent cross-border, regional health system responses. Concerns include the ways in which an increasingly securitised migration management system will likely result in a growing population of irregular migrants who, owing to fear of arrest, detention and deportation, will avoid (and evade) public healthcare services, with negative consequences for all.

Secondly, the development of (im)migration interventions centred around a securitisation approach may provide opportunities for co-opting components of the global health security movement – itself a problematic and contested terrain – by using health status (or perceived health risk) as an additional securitisation measure through which to further restrict movement across national borders and/or to justify deportation of non-nationals. This could be achieved through compulsory health screening, risk assessments and health-related restrictions on movement across borders.

Collectively, these processes risk producing challenges that will further stall progress towards global health goals by undermining attempts to develop coordinated, cross-border, migration-aware and mobility-competent health programmes. In addition, they risk deterring irregular cross-border migrants from accessing prevention and treatment programmes for both communicable and non-communicable diseases. If these concerns are not addressed proactively, the consequences could be devastating for both Southern Africa and the global community

About Jo Vearey

Jo Vearey is a Professor and the Director of the African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand. She holds an Honorary Fellowship with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, and a Senior Fellowship at the Centre for Peace, Development and Democracy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In 2015, Jo was awarded a Humanities and Social Science Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. Jo holds a MSc in the Control of Infectious Diseases (LSHTM, 2003), a PhD in Public Health (Wits, 2010), and has been rated by the National Research Foundation as a Young Researcher. In 2014 and 2015, Jo received a Friedel Sellschop Award from the University of the Witwatersrand for outstanding young researchers. She was a Marie Curie Research Fellow in 2013, at the UNESCO Chair on Social and Spatial Inclusion of Migrants, University of Venice (SSIM-IUAV), Venice, Italy.

With a commitment to social justice and the development of pro-poor policy responses, Jo’s research explores international, regional, national and local responses to migration, health, and urban vulnerabilities. Her research interests focus on urban health, public health, migration and health, the social determinants of health, HIV, informal settlements and sex work. Jo is particularly interested in knowledge production, dissemination and utilisation including the use of visual and arts-based methodologies.

Jo has a range of international collaborations, including an ESRC-NRF funded project with the University of Edinburgh, a WOTRO funded project with the VU University, Amsterdam on migration and sex work, and partnerships with the University of Massachusetts Boston and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine‘s Faculty of Public Health and Policy and Gender, Violence and Health Unit.

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