Rights that trump. Surveillance-based migration governance and a substantial right to mobility

AuthorElin Palm
Publication Date25 Nov 2013
Rights that trump
Surveillance-based migration governance
and a substantial right to mobility
Elin Palm
Centre for Applied Ethics, Linko
¨ping University, Linko
¨ping, Sweden
Purpose – This paper aims to deal with an increasing securitization and criminalisation of migration
in Europe highlighting ethical implications of the current surveillance-based EU migration
governance. It is shown that EU member states employ surveillance regimes to control movements
across borders and to restrict migrants’ access to their territories. The ethical acceptability of such
practices is questioned with a particular focus on the “freedom of movement”.
Design/methodology/approach In order to establish the extent to which the current EU migration
governance can be considered ethically justifiable, the article starts out from the right to mobility as
coded in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is shown that the current migration governance
obstructs the rights specified in Articles 13 and 14. At the same time, shortcomings of the UN declaration
are discussed and the need for a better protection of the freedom of movement is suggested.
Findings – It is established that human rights are such that promote normative agency and a type of
rights that trump, for example, states interests in restricting access to their territories do not outweigh
individuals rights to seek asylum. In order to make this relation more clear however, the right
to mobility should be made symmetric, including both a right to leave and to enter (but not a right to
immigrate and settle). An extensive right to freedom of movement is advocated based on the
significance of mobility for normative agency. A substantial right to mobility supports the right to
seek asylum.
Originality/value As of yet, ethical implications of surveillance-based border control are
Keywords Ethics, Immigrants,Human rights
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
All individuals are entitled to leave their home countries in order to seek protection
(asylum) in other countries (United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR),
1948). During the past decade however, the European Union has reinforced external
border protection and initiated an externalization of migration governance,
strengthening the border control between Africa and Europe in particular (Wihtol De
Wenden, 2012). Third countries asylum processes pressured to stifle irregular migration
and sign readmission agreements in exchange for aid, financial support an d work
permits (De Haas, 2008). Pre-clearance systems are initiated within which third countries
are expected to participate in the processing of asylum applications (Noll, 2003).
Increasingly, migration – in particular irregular such – is treated as a security issue
(Huysmans, 2006, 2000, p. 751; Benam, 2011) and a criminal offense (Bigo, 2003; Franko
Aas, 2005; Pinyol-Jime
´nez, 2012). Sophisticated surveillance systems are employed to
continuously monitor the borders (Broeders, 2009; Dijstelbloem, 2009; Palm, 2011;
Dijstelbloem and Meijer, 2011). Networking of vast databases, profiling of third-country
travellers and filtering techniques are employed to preemtively sort desirable from
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 26 June 2013
Revised 20 September 2013
Accepted 20 September 2013
Journal of Information,
Communication and Ethics in Society
Vol. 11 No. 4, 2013
pp. 196-209
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JICES-06-2013-0016

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