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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Wikileaks, the US Embassy Cables and Migration Issues

Seal of the United States Department of State....Image via Wikipedia   
Source: Franck Duvell: Diary on Human Migration Research

When ‘Cable gate’ – Wikileak’s publication of the US embassies’ reports to the US State Department Washington - hit the headlines in November and December 2010 I was wondering whether there is anything in it for migration and migration policy researchers. So far, I am not aware whether anybody else has already gone through the documents, so I had a quick look. Unfortunately, only a fraction of all cables – 2000 out of 251,000 - are already published on Wikileaks’ website (

In short, migration and refugee issues only play a very minor role in the set of documents I have sifted through. And where these are mentioned this is mostly in the context of terrorism, general threats to regional stability and security or with respect to Muslim minority communities. The first impression from these cables is that from the US American consular perspective migration as such is not considered a major issue and is not causing great anxiety whilst Muslim migration and minorities and to some extent border security are issues of concern.
Worldwide: Some reference to migration can be found in the already notorious ‘reporting and collecting needs’ issued by the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. For instance, the request for West Africa lines out to collect information on ‘population and Refugee Issues’, including ‘population movements in the region, and governments' involvement and response, indications of actual or potential refugee movements within or into the region, locations and conditions of refugee camps and informal refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) gathering sites and transit routes’ government capability and willingness to assist refugees and IDPs, health and demographic statistics of refugees and IDPs, dynamics and impact of migration and demographic shifts’ (2009, And also in Hungary information is requested on ‘demography, including ...migration’ and ‘plans and efforts to respond to declining birth rates, including through promotion of immigration’ (2009, Similar requests were sent to many other countries.
Spain: Some cables from Madrid are particular interesting. They reveal that Barcelona is considered a major hub for Muslim immigration and alleged to be a recruitment ground for terrorists.
Heavy immigration - both legal and illegal – from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and Southeast Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh) has made this region a magnet for terrorist recruiters. may be upwards of 60,000 Pakistanis living in Barcelona and the surrounding area; the vast majority are male, unmarried or unaccompanied, and without legal documentation’. There are even more such immigrants from North Africa. Once here, they share a similar fate: they live on the edges of Spanish society, they do not speak the language, they are often unemployed, and they have very few places to practice their religion with dignity. Individually, these circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment; taken together, the threat is clear. In light of recent suspected activity, there is little doubt that the autonomous region of Catalonia has become a prime base of operations for terrorist activity’. ‘The threat in Catalonia is clear. Barcelona has become a crossroads of worrisome activities, a natural meeting place and transit point of people and goods moving to and through the region from all countries bordering the western Mediterranean. The US needs an on-site ability to quickly see who and what is passing through the area from places such as Algiers, Tunis, Rabat, and the south of France’ and suggests the US embassy in Barcelona as a hub for setting up an intelligence centre (
From this, several discursive frames can be identified, [Muslims immigrants are potential terrorists], [immigration from Muslim countries to the West creates a recruitment ground for terrorists], [male, unmarried or unaccompanied and undocumented Muslim migrants are a source of terrorist threats] and [marginalised Muslim immigrants are a source of terrorist threats]. This requires a more in-depths analysis.
Thematically related to this are cables from Morocco, the UK and Sweden.
Morocco: The Spanish ambassador in Rabat emphasised good Spanish-Moroccan cooperation over migration issues but implied that enhanced controls were responded by more sophisticated smuggling practices, involving ‘networks’ and complete ‘packages’ (2006,
UK: The US embassy in London also reported on ‘Muslim demographics’ and ‘a jump’ from 1.6 to 2 million predicting a further rise to 2.2 million (see Why this is of interest to the US is open to speculation but in light of the above statements by other rapporteurs could it not be assumed that ‘Muslims’ are considered a potential threat population and a rise in the Muslim population a rise of the threat? This is confirmed by a later cable on the US ‘counter-radicalization strategy’ of Muslims in the UK (2010, A similar cable reports on the Muslim population in Sweden (2009,
Italy: The US ambassador understood that
‘Italy’s policy of developing an expanded relationship with Libya, largely [is] in order to stem the tide of irregular migration from Libyan shores, but also to gain advantageous access to Libya’s oil reserves for Italian firms, mainly ENI’ (
Two aspects are remarkable, (a) the use of the term ‘irregular’ instead of illegal migration, which implies a less biased perspective on this type of migration and (b) that this is in no way commented or criticised which could imply some kind of comprehension.
Mexico: A cable on a conference on illegal arms trade mostly focuses on irregular border crossings of people from Central America to Mexico:
‘The conference participants witnessed almost as many individuals crossing the border [between Guatemala and Mexico illegally as legally. ... only 125 Mexican immigration officials monitor the 577 mile border with Guatemala. Mexican immigration officials repeatedly confirmed that they do not have the manpower or resources to direct efforts effectively along the southern border, of the most memorable images of the day was the steady flow of rafts transporting people and goods across the river illegally within sight of [another] legal border crossing. ... This conference highlighted weak controls on Mexico's southern border that are contributing to problems with illegal migration and guns/drugs smuggling.’ (
Whilst the impression given is that irregular migration and the trafficking of arms and drugs are interlinked it is not made explicit what the link actually is. Instead, from the observations illustrated in the cable it occurs that irregular migration and illicit trade are results of imperfect border controls but are rather separate than linked in any way. Nevertheless, the cable seemed to implicitly suggest that by containing the movement of people the trafficking of arms and drugs would be addressed too.
Ecuador/Costa Rica: It was reported that Ecuador dropped its tourist visa requirements for all nationalities [thus basically introducing an open borders policy]. According to the Costa Rican authorities this is considered a problem to the entire region including the US as it opens up a new transit route for ‘irregular migration of Eastern Europeans, Arabs, South Americans and Africans’ via Ecuador to the US and other countries, notably Chinese migration and ‘African migration to the region’ was emphasised (
The impression is that the Costa Rican representative is more concerned with irregular migration to Costa Rica and uses the argument of potential on-migration to the US as a tool to implicitly suggest some US engagement in this matter.
Russia: An interesting cable from Moscow which is addressing the issue of resettling North Koreans from Russia also gives some insight into Russia’s migration policy and institutional structure.
The Russian representative explained that
‘that the collapse of the Soviet Union had created a burden for Russia, which had to absorb forced migrants from within the former Soviet space, care for internally displaced persons from Chechnya, and deal with refugees from third countries such as Afghanistan’. The US-represented nevertheless ‘expressed U.S. hopes that it would enhance protection for asylum seekers’ (2006,
Syria: With Syrian authorities border security issues were discussed though not with respect to migration in general but cross-border activities of potential terrorists (2010,
Other: Reference to refugees can be found in cables from Egypt (2009, where further potential inflows from Sudan are considered a threat; Djibouti (2008, which is concerned about inflows from Eritrea and Somalia; Libya which is qualified once more as a ‘key transit country’ for ‘illegal migration’ (29/8/2008,; Azerbaijan, from where it is reported that a war on Iran would ‘result in a flood of refugees entering the country’ (; Austria which is alleged to only engage in foreign affairs if refugees are concerned (2009,; Morocco with respect to Sahauri refugees in Algeria (2009,, Russia/Chechnya (2006,; Turkey and an American national smuggled out of Iran (nice illustration of human smuggling which in this case is considered legitimate) (2009,; Turkey on visa-free travel of 1 million people from Iran considered as a ‘safety-valve’ (2009,; France which explores possible links between urban unrest and Islam, though the concern is by and large subsequently rejected (2005,; and Pakistan on refugee camps and refusal of US embassy staff to provide information for potentially military purposes (2008,
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1 comment:

  1. Immigration on a whole is very beneficial to Canada and its residents. History tells repeatedly that it is human kind that loses its previleges. Immigration is good for Canada and its people in any way you consider but the undeue advantage taken by a few people in the name of refugee act bestowed by Canadian government is being highly misused. We have to wait and see how far Canada can allow people in the name of refugees. Of course, humanitarian concerns are to be given the highest priority for human kind’s development and survival but misuse of a syustm is highly deplorable. Let us all pray that the gates of immigration be not closed for all those good people and eligible aspirants just because of the refugees who infiltrate this country and can be a bigger and unsolvable problem. As of now Canada is large in heart and resources.


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