GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

7.5. Security and Migration


Migration in all forms brings with it opportunities, but it also brings with it potential institutional challenges that are often unique to the areas where the migration is occurring, as well as by the type of migration. One set of challenges are potential security challenges posed by migration in both the international and internal contexts. These security challenges can manifest themselves where the migrants continue to experience human and resource-related security issues, but also where a fraction of migrants may cause physical security issues. This is not to say that all migrants represent some level of security issue or challenge, but the point is merely to highlight potential security challenges that may arise through and as a result of the migration process. These challenges may also arise from the intersection of different situations (Tsardanidis & Guerra, 2000). While literature regarding internal migration and security is not as plentiful as that regarding international migration and security, it too provides valuable insights into the similarities and differences in the experiences of these migrants.

Internal Migrants and Security

Research on potential security issues revolving around internal migration are not as abundant as those discussing international migration and security. This is likely due in part to a general lack of data availability on internal migration trends in various parts of the world (Bell et al., 2020; Petrova, 2021; Charles-Edwards et al., 2016). Despite the general dearth of literature available, there are many potential security issues surrounding, whether it deals with physical security, or other types of security such as health, food, and other forms of security.

Most research deals with security challenges that could arise from internal migration from a theoretical, qualitative perspective, describing the identity struggle internal migrants face when moving from their origins where they have a social network to a destination where they likely do not have that network (Awasthi, 2021). This is often discussed in the context of rural-urban migration, which dominates much of the literature on internal migration globally (Awasthi, 2021; Charles-Edwards et al., 2016). Rural-urban migrants are often seeking employment opportunities; however, they have no definitive employment prospects upon arrival, leaving their economic security uncertain. Awasthi (2021) identifies that rural-urban migrants in Delhi often settle on the urban periphery and potentially in slums, where access to resources is often scarce and can potentially influence individuals to become involved in criminal enterprises leading to physical security concerns within the city. This concern has been highlighted even in smaller countries in Asia that also experience rural-urban migration, such as Bhutan (Gosai & Sulewski, 2020).

There have been some quantitative approaches as well. Petrova (2021) while trying to identify any potential linkages between natural disaster-based internal migration and protest found that higher numbers of internal migration is related to a greater number of protests in Bangladesh; however, found little evidence of natural-disaster based internal migrants being related to an increase in protests in receiving districts.

There are also pockets of literature tackling internal migration due conflict, specifically addressing internally displaced persons (IDPs).  According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), IDPs are:

"people who are forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict, generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters, but who remain within their own country."

Their location in their own country differentiates them from refugees, who seek refuge in another country and will be examined in greater depth in the next lesson. The consideration of IDPs as internal migrants encourages a look at the security threats to internal migrants, not necessarily as proponents or sources of security threats. Though, IDPs may be susceptible to non-state actors encouraging them to become involved in internal conflicts, which is a similar plight that refugees face (Adamson, 2006). However, many IDPs face greater human security threats including lack of access to resources, including housing, food, and water, in addition to difficulty finding accommodations (Adewale, 2016).

International Migrants and Security

While some of the same concerns arise with international migration as with internal migration (such as potential conflicts caused by strain on resources of the receiving area), there are some unique security concerns brought about through international migration. Some of these concerns have to do with the physical security of a nation, others deal with resource security, economic security, and human security of the immigrants among a few examples.

Many have made the connection between migration and terrorism, especially in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 and the European bombings that were in the years following (Adamson, 2006). This often brings to light a nation’s ability to control their borders and the entry and exit of individuals through them, as porous borders can enable terrorists and others to enter unabated. After the events of September 11th, many technological and institutional changes, such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), increased funding to various border security entities, and the increased adoption of biometrics at border control sites across the globe (Popescu, 2012; Adamson, 2006). Even with all of these increased security measures, people who migrate illegally may still find gaps in the security measures to enter a nation and potentially pose security threats. Adamson (2006) maintains that terrorists view immigration policy from a “strategic” perspective either to use it with the aim of committing a terrorist attack or of creating sleeper cells. Additionally, migrants may also become involved in criminal enterprises that are not necessarily terrorism related. Tsardanidis and Guerra (2000) identify the use of immigrants to conduct criminal acts by Italian criminal organizations.

The use of international migration policy to commit terrorist and other criminal acts- is certainly the exception, and not the aim of all migrants; however, this rhetoric could potentially cause anti-immigrant views in the country of origin. Anti-immigrant sentimentality, racism, and other forms of discrimination could lead to conflicts between individuals in the destination countries and immigrants, potentially leading to violence against immigrants (Tsardanidis & Guerra, 2000). Other areas for conflicts between immigrants and local populations at the destination country include strains on resources (such as food, water, and other commodities) and perceived reduction of employment opportunities that sometimes come with increased migrant flows (whether international or internal) (Tsardanidis & Guerra, 2000). Conflicts of this nature are often location dependent and depend on the policies and rhetoric that are promulgated at the national, regional, and local levels.

Policy Implications for Migration-Security Nexus

Our consideration of the security issues surrounding internal and international migrants certainly presented some interesting challenges and opportunities for policy internationally. There’s an interesting balancing act in recognizing that migrants on the whole are opportunity seekers, who do not seek to be security threats or conduct acts of terrorism, and that only a very small percentage of migrants have nefarious goals. How do countries balance the protection of their citizens with participating in this increasingly globalized world?

This is certainly not an easy question to answer, and different countries and supranational organizations take different approaches, as evidenced by Givens’ (2010) comparison between the United States and Europe’s immigration policies. Should countries increasingly “police” mobility to ensure their security? Are permissive or restrictive immigration policies more advantageous? Should countries encourage multiculturalism vice assimilation? With technological advances making it both easier to travel and easier to communicate globally, it is much easier than in the past for migrants to remain connected with their native cultures and languages (Adamson, 2006). Would advocating multiculturalism nationally, regionally, and locally help reduce the security threat by reducing the “us” versus “them” sentimentalities? Are the practices of the past still applicable in today’s globalized community? 

In addition to the obvious policy implications for the migration-security nexus, there are some additional less obvious connections between migration and security. One example of such a connection is that migrants can influence policy decisions of their destination countries with regards to their country of origin and/or send money or other resources back to their home countries that may increase instability (Tsardanidis & Guerra, 2000). An example of this influence includes the Kurdish population in Germany’s influence over relations with Turkey, specifically with Germany criticizing Turkey’s movement into Kurdish parts of northern Syria (Heine, 2020).


Adamson, F. B. (2006). Crossing borders: International migration and national security. International Security, 31(1), 165-199.

Adewale, S. (2016). Internally displaced persons and the challenges of survival in Abuja. African Security Review, 25(2), 176-192.

Awasthi, S. (2021). ‘Hyper’-urbanisation and migration: A security threat. Cities, 108, 1-5.

Bell, M., Bernard, A., Charles-Ewards, E, and Ke, W. (2020). Comparative measures of internal migration. In M. Bell, A. Bernard, E. Charles-Edwards, and Y. Zhu (Eds.), International migration in the countries of Asia (pp. 229-247). Springer.

Charles-Edwards, E., Muhidin, S., Bell, M., and Zhu, Y. (2016). Migration in Asia. In M. J. White (Ed.), International handbook of migration and population distribution (pp. 269-284). Springer.

Givens, T. E. (2010). Immigration and national security: Comparing the US and Europe. The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, 11(1), 79-88.

Gosai, M. and Sulewski, L. (2020). Internal migration in Bhutan. In M. Bell, A. Bernard, E. Charles-Edwards, and Y. Zhu (Eds.), International Migration in the Countries of Asia (pp. 229-247). Springer.

Heine, H. (2010). German government criticises Turkey’s Syria invasion. Euractiv.

Petrova, K. (2021). Natural hazards, internal migration and protests in Bangladesh. Journal of Peace Research, 58(1), 33-49.

Popescu, G. (2012). Bordering and ordering the twenty-first century. Rowman & Littlefield.

Tsardanidis, C. and Guerra, S. (2000). The EU Mediterranean states, the migration issue and the ‘threat’ from the south. In R. King, G. Lazaridis, and C. Tsardanidis (Eds.), Eldorado or fortress? Migration in Southern Europe (pp. 321-344). St. Martin’s Press.