International Migrations as a Threat to the Internal Security and Democracy

International Migrations as a Threat to the Internal Security and Democracy
International Migrations as a Threat to the Internal Security and Democracy

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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “4th ACADEMOS Conference 2017”

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Raczyński Rafał[1]

[1] Pomeranian University in Słupsk, Emigration Museum in Gdynia (POLAND)

Email: rafal.raczynski@apsl.edu.pl, r.raczynski@muzeumemigracji.pl



The article presents in a synthetic form selected issues on the impact of migration on the internal security of the state. It indicates that in the contemporary world terrorism, political extremism and other crises that may lead to the rupture or weakening of social ties, as well as endanger political stability and democratic regime, pose significant threats to the internal security of state bodies. It is emphasized that the security of the state is substantially undermined by populist and far-right parties that are trying to build their political capital to a large extent on anti-immigrant slogans.



In recent years, migrations gained a reputation of one of the most important issues of the so-called new security agenda [1, pp. 61]. They are currently considered as one of the most significant challenges to national security. This is attributed largely to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States and then terrorist attacks in March 2004 in Madrid and in July 2005 in London.

These attacks demonstrated the scale and the potential of threats associated with the movement of people and heavily influenced the nature of the public and political debate on migration issues. It is worth noting in this regard, however, that one of the pioneers of research on the correlation between migration and security, Myron Weiner, as early as at the beginning of the 1990s noticed that “Migration and refugee issues, no longer the sole concern of ministries of labor of or immigration, are now matters of high international politics, engaging the attention of heads of states, cabinets, and key ministries involved in defense, internal security and external relations”. [2, pp. 91] Therefore, over the last several years the so-called migration-security nexus has been recognized as an important research issue.

Characterization of the impact of migration on security for many reasons is an extraordinarily difficult task. It was noted among others by Nazli Choucri who observed that, firstly, both the concepts of migration and security, as well as correlations between them are largely subjective in nature [3, pp. 97]. Both concepts are ambiguous and multifaceted and, therefore, difficult to define in an unambiguous and precise way. Secondly, correlations between migration and security are also complex in nature. Hence, considering the interrelationship between these two categories we can discuss the impact of migration on the security of individuals (migrants), local communities, societies, states and organizations (the European Union), as well as the impact of migration on international security. Analyzing the influence of migration on security of the state various dimensions of the security can be considered: internal, external, economic, political, cultural, social or demographic to name just a few.

Taking into account the complexity of the correlations between migration and security, this article seeks only to outline the major, selected threats arising from international migration (understood as a movement of people from one country to another) for the internal security of the state, which is defined as “functioning of the state which ensures prevention, elimination or reduction of threats to the constitutional system, internal order and peace, and enables protection of the public interests of particular communities and every citizen”. In the contemporary world terrorism, political extremism and other crises that may lead to the rupture or weakening of social ties, as well as endanger political stability pose significant threats to the internal security of the state [4, pp. 14].

The article has been based on the analysis of literature on the subject and specialized reports.


The terrorist attacks of September 11 made the threats related to migration associated in the public discourse mainly with the phenomenon of terrorism. This is attributed to the fact that these attacks reminded that terrorism, as a method to spread mass fear, is used not only by authoritarian and dictatorship states, but also by non-state actors. The correlations between migration and terrorism should be considered in at least two dimensions, which was pointed out by Robert Leiken who distinguished two strategies of terrorists’ activity. The first one involves the so-called hit squads, which enter the territory of the state with the express intention to carry out a terrorist attack there.

The second strategy is based on the use of the so-called sleeper cells, namely groups already present on the territory of the targeted state, which in due time are activated to carry out the attack [5, pp. 195]. In the latter case, usually we have to do with the so-called home grown terrorism. The term should be understood as politically, ideologically or religiously motivated violence, directed in most cases at targets located on the territory of Western countries, carried out by persons born or brought up there [6, pp. 61] (mainly descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves). An example of the realization of the former strategy were the terrorist attacks of September 11, when a group of nineteen bombers (foreigners) in 2000 and 2001 lawfully crossed the border of the United States (seventeen terrorists did so on the basis of tourist visas, one a business visa, and one a student visa), only to carry out coordinated terrorist attacks after a few/several months of the stay and preparations. The terrorists attack of 7 July 2005 which took place in London, in turn, is an instance of the latter strategy, where a group of four suicide bombers (three of whom were descendants of immigrants, born and raised in the UK) detonated three bombs in the London subway and one on a public communication bus, killing fifty-two people.

In addition to direct interactions between migration and terrorism, international population flows affect the terrorist activities also in an indirect way. The influx of immigrants not infrequently leads to intensification of radical, racist and xenophobic moods and to the development of various forms of political extremism. The most spectacular and at the same time tragic manifestation thereof were the attacks in Oslo carried out by a Norwegian extremist, far-right sympathizer Andreas Behring Breivik, who on 22 July 2011 conducted two coordinated attacks, killing a total of 77 people. Breivik presented motivations for his behavior in the manifesto entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. Its hate-filled content is directed both at Muslim immigrants as well as at democracy, multicultural society and politicians promoting religious and ethnic tolerance. The manifesto proclaims the need for a racial war and suggests the ways how Europe can extricate itself from immigrants (killing all Muslims or deporting them from Europe). It should be emphasized in this respect that the case of Norway might not be isolated. An uncontrolled outbreak of violence against immigrants or a terrorist attack similar to the one in Norway may occur, for instance, also in France. Therefore, as the case of Breivik indicates, the terrorist threat in the context of migration should not be linked purely and simply with the influx of immigrant terrorists and their presence in a given country, but also with the activities of domestic extremists who disapprove of the policy of multiculturalism and perceive immigrants as a threat to the broadly defined national identity.

Social divisions

The presence of large numbers of immigrants, especially these coming from other cultural and civilization circles, poorly integrated with the host society, may generate strong social tensions, often given vent to in the form of protests and riots, which are serious violations of public order. Such situations have occurred frequently in countries of diverse ethnic, religious and national composition.

An example can be events in France, where riots transformed into long-lasting fights with the police. They broke out in October and November 2005 in districts dominated by immigrants after two teenagers fleeing a police patrol had been inadvertently killed. Demonstrations which took place in the protest against police brutality quickly escalated into riots and spread to other French agglomerations. The scale of the riots, clashes with the police and cases of property arson was so large that on 8 November 2005 the French President decided to declare the state of emergency. The death toll of the three-week events stood at two, one hundred and twenty-six police officers and firefighters were injured, almost three thousand people were arrested, and nearly nine thousand cars and several hundred buildings burned. The riots spread in two hundred seventy-four cities and the incurred losses were valued at two hundred and fifty million euro [7, pp. 29].

Both terrorist actions and riots are a manifestation of strong antagonisms occurring in multicultural societies, where on the one hand there are situated immigrant communities (often poorly integrated and assimilated into the society of the host country), and on the other one there are proponents of the broadly defined far-right, seeking to preserve the national, cultural, religious, and sometimes even racial homogeneity. Today, this dichotomy manifests itself most vividly in particular with regard to the immigrant Muslim communities, functioning in the countries of Western Europe. Overall, however, it is noted that many today’s immigrant communities are characterized by maintenance of individuality, often accompanied by an attempt to recreate their indigenous social and cultural conditions in the countries of residence [8, pp. 195]. With respect to Muslim communities it may be observed in their formation of own, separate and isolated enclaves, which function on the basis of their own norms and values, alternative to the ones present in the culture of the country of residence. This, in turn, leads to the emergence of the so-called parallel societies that exist almost independently of each other. The most immigrant-reluctant stand is taken by supporters of the far right, including neo-Nazis. According to the data of Europol, most of the activities of right-wing extremists in the European Union was motivated by xenophobia, with the opposition to immigration

and multicultural policy remaining one of the most important assumptions of the far-right doctrine.

But not only neo-Nazis or supporters of other far-right doctrines resort to acts of violence against foreigners. In addition to the allegations formulated in the public discourse with reference to immigrants, accusing them of undermining social and cultural cohesion, they are also not infrequently blamed for expanding the scale of social problems such as unemployment, decrease in real wages, benefit frauds or deterioration of the accessibility of public services.

A threat to political stability and democracy

Functioning in the public sphere threats and concerns related to migration (justified or not) are reflected in the realm of politics, where they generate new challenges. In recent years, in many European countries the subject of migration has undergone a process of politicization, which is defined as “the process in which a particular social phenomenon gains the status of a political issue, which means that it becomes the object of both state regulations, as well as a broad debate in the political and public sphere” [9, pp. 16]. Introducing migration issues to a broad political discourse resulted in at least two important consequences: 1. since political parties introduced the topic of migration to their election campaigns, it has become one of the most important points raised in the elections, polarizing public opinion, and thus the whole party and political system (it was the case among others in France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands), 2. reference to migration moved the entire party system to the right, both in terms of the election rhetoric and the radicalization of demands as well as plans for changes in migration policies towards more stringent control [9, pp. 16-17]. Next to the conservatives, the greatest beneficiaries of this state of affairs are populist parties and the ones representing the far-right, namely the ones which try to build their political capital on anti-immigrant slogans. As early as in the late 1980s the German political scientist Klaus von Beyme pointed out that the emergence of the “third wave” of “right-wing extremism” in the countries of Western Europe had been a response to mass immigration and the emergence of multicultural societies there [10]. And although the correlations between immigration and political extremism are still vague and complex, mass migration is in Europe the major factor in the development of the radical right and its electoral success.

Even though immigration from the point of view of the radical right is not the only important issue, as emphasized by Cas Muddew in reference to this type of parties “immigration, however, does play a critical role, and is seen as a multifaceted threat on cultural, religious, security, economic, and political fronts” [11, pp. 1]. It is also radical populism that plays an important role in the growth of the political significance of right-wing parties. On the one hand, the contemporary extreme right is a radical wing of the European rightist populism. On the other one, application of the ideological model of populism made it possible for organizations such as Golden Dawn, Jobbik or the German National Democratic Party to succeed to a greater extent in the political sphere [12, pp. 59].

It occurs that the right-wing and populist parties do not create anti-immigrant views in societies, but rather try to exploit existing there negative attitudes towards the phenomenon of immigration. Therefore, promoted by these political forces slogans such as “halt immigration”, “curb the free movement of people”, “criminalise irregular migration”, “expel immigrants”, “abolish family reunification” find fertile ground. The growing importance of populist and far-right parties and the mutual political cooperation between them, hence, constitute today one of the most important challenges faced by democratic legal states, especially in the context of the migration crisis being experienced in this day and age in Europe [13], [14]. The scale of the problem can be proved by the fact that in recent years the radical parties have managed to enter the coalition governments not only in countries that underwent transformation relatively not long time ago, such as Hungary (Jobbik), but also in countries that are commonly described as stable democracies, for instance in Austria (The Freedom Party of Austria), the Netherlands (The Party for Freedom), Italy (National Alliance), Switzerland (Swiss People’s Party) and Denmark (Danish People’s Party-informally).


Nowadays, the main challenges for the internal security of the state include terrorism, political extremism and crises that may lead to the rupture or weakening of social ties. All these threats are linked closely with migration flows. In recent years, it is terrorism that has become a particularly critical threat. Migration processes may be associated with the phenomenon of terrorism twofold: directly (through the use of strategies of so-called “hit squads” or “sleeper cells”), or indirectly (by generating radical, racist and xenophobic moods, which may be exemplified by Andreas Breivik’s attack). Preservation of social cohesion poses yet another essential challenge. The influx of immigrants generally affects both social relations as well as the ones between the authorities and the society. The emergence of immigrant minorities leads to the pluralization of societies, resulting – as shown by the experience of the countries of Western Europe – in questioning the current understanding of the national and political community. Lack of consistency in these areas is a ground for the development of extremist activities, manifesting themselves in turmoil and riots or terrorist acts. This, in turn, provides a fertile ground for activity of populist and far-right parties which build their political capital on anti-immigrant slogans.

Therefore, there arises a question how contemporary democratic states can mitigate the indicated above threats associated with migration. It should be borne in mind that these dangers can never be completely eliminated. However, what can be done is to limit the possibility of their occurrence through the application of appropriate strategies, methods and tools. Effective protection of the borders, control over the influx of foreigners, police and intelligence actions and adequate integration policy are of strategic importance here.

State bodies as well as mainstream parties must also develop and implement effective strategies to counter the growing importance of radical and populist parties. So far, mainstream parties have sought to response to the rise in support for broadly understood “radical” parties primarily through the introduction of more and more restrictive immigration policies. Such activities, however, were insufficient and entailed at least two serious consequences. Firstly, they often led to a peculiar “race” in proposals for reduction of the influx of immigrants between the mainstream political parties and the radical ones. This, in turn, resulted in the consolidation of a negative image of immigration and immigrants in particular societies. It was the case, for example, in Great Britain in the context of competition for voters between the Conservative Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). According to British researchers, Sunder Katwala and Will Somerville, the British society with respect to the attitude to migration issues can be divided into three categories:

  1. Migration Rejectionists – approximately 25% of the British population, characterized by very negative and even hostile attitude towards immigration,
  2. Migration Liberals – approximately 25% of Britons, characterized by a favorable attitude towards immigration,
  3. The “Anxious Middle” – approximately 50% of the British population. The most important determinant of the approach to immigration are in this group economic issues related to the welfare and public services - and so these foreigners who contribute to the economic growth and overall improvement in the functioning of the social and economic system are accepted and perceived positively; those who do not make such contribution are not treated very favorably [15, pp. 5].

Both UKIP and the conservatives, fighting for their position in the political system, tried to capture as much of the “Anxious Middle” electorate as possible. Therefore, the acrimonious anti-immigrant rhetoric of UKIP was accompanied by increasingly restrictive immigration policy proposed by Cameron. In this way, a large part of the British political elite rather than counteract and neutralize the negative stereotypes about immigration from EU countries, by reference to the facts and the promotion of fair (that is showing the benefits of this phenomenon) image of immigration, chose the strategy of drawing political capital through a largely declarative policy of “control” and “limitation” of the influx of foreigners. Thereby, a significant part of the British society, located in the so-called “Anxious Middle”, was biased rather negatively towards the phenomenon of immigration and the immigrants themselves. This, in turn, influenced to a large extent the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.

Mainstream parties should not, therefore, emulate the rhetoric of the “radical” parties. Instead, they should rather seek to weaken public concerns regarding the influx of immigrants by means of a reliable information policy, which would explain doubts and concerns and indicate the benefits of immigration, the reason being that today in many countries the public discourse (especially in the media) is dominated by negative information, only perpetuating negative stereotypes.

As stressed by Montserrat Guibernau “Mainstream parties should voice the importance of controlling immigration flows, while formulating immigration policies based clearly on respect for human rights and a balance between rights and duties. Social cohesion should be actively fostered through education and media campaigns, particularly in areas where the concentration of immigrants is high” [16, pp. 17].


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2. Weiner, M. (Winter 1992/93). Security, Stability, and International Migration. International Security 17(3), pp. 91-126.

3. Choucri, (2002). Migration and Security: Some Key Linkages. Journal of International Affairs 56(1), pp. 97- 122.

4. Wojtaszczyk, K. A. (2009). Istota i dylematy bezpieczenstwa wewnetrznego. Przeglad Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego 1, pp. 14-15.

5. Adamson, B. (2006). Crossing Borders. International Migration and National Security. International Security 31(1), pp. 165-199.

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