Migration, human trafficking and asylum seekers are high up on the current global agenda. In general, irregular migration flows fundamentally impact on human security and governance frameworks. However, it is important to distinguish between global migration flows and forced displacement, and take a closer look at some responses that the justice and security sectors could offer in dealing with the issue of forced displacement.

ISSAT argues that crises caused by large numbers of forcibly displaced individuals can be prevented through well-designed justice and security reform processes driven by national actors and supported by international partners. The key objective is addressing some of the push factors that make people leave their homes and home countries. Well designed and coordinated SSR processes can also increase human security conditions for migrants and refugees in transit. 

This page describes some of the push factors that cause people to become forcibly displaced, refugees or asylum seekers. It also suggests entry points through which the international community could help address some of these factors through Security Sector Reform. 

Push Factor 1 - The Increase in the Number and Intensity of Armed Conflicts

Following a 50% reduction in the period 2003-10, the number and intensity of armed conflicts has increased, returning to Cold War levels. The wars in Syria and Iraq have had a profound effect on human security, and have resulted in a marked increase in the number of IDPs and refugees seeking asylum (16+million and 4+ million respectively). Somalia and Afghanistan have large refugee communities, while the conflict in South Sudan has forced more than 1.4 million people to leave the country.The international community has failed in effectively preventing the outbreak of armed conflicts, evidenced by the return of conflict numbers to pre-1991 levels. 

  • SSR Entry Point - State Accountability in Safeguarding Human Rights. While conditions for more comprehensive justice and security sector reforms are seldom present during intensive armed conflict, SSR interventions can  nonetheless - by employing a Human Rights-Based Approach - focus on safeguarding human rights and building the accountability of the state and non-state actors. Examples of this include supporting civil society in influencing the human security agenda, and building capacity among police and military actors on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as well as the incorporation of human rights and gender principles into practice. 
  • SSR Entry Point - Preventing Armed Conflict and Safeguarding Peacebuilding. SSR is increasingly seen as a key component in preventing the outbreak of armed conflicts and safeguarding peacebuilding. The latter includes the transition towards peace and the need for renewed defence and security sector conditions in order for the displaced to return. Investment in SSR is a key approach to mitigate the risk of violence due to the state's monopoly on the use of force. It also helps to develop the legitimacy of the democratic state and strengthen its role in safeguarding human security. 

VideoRefugees & Migrants: Interview with Jean Marie Guehenno (International Peace Institute, 2016). 

ResourceNavigating Complexity: Climate, Migration, and Conflict in a Changing World (USAID, 2016). 

Push Factor 2 - Weak or Absent State Protection

In fragile states, the state lacks willingness and/or capacity to adequately provide basic services for its citizens. Where protection for persecuted minorities and groups in positions of vulnerability  is weak, flight follows. this has been seen with LGBT persons in Uganda, Hazaras in Afghanistan, Yezidis in Iraq and Christians in the Middle East. State fragility, as well as threats to human security, is aggravated in the presence of armed conflict. Moreover, those fleeing may leave spouses and children behind, contributing to further vulnerability.

  • SSR Entry Point - National Dialogue on Human Security and SSR. The international community could explore opportunities to support a national dialogue on human security threats and the role of the security sector in the service of both the state and citizens. The dialogue should be representative, in particular focusing on capturing the needs and views of vulnerable populations that might otherwise become international refugees. This can help to generate national policies, based on wide participation and democratic legitimacy. In very fragile contexts, the level of ambition might initially have to be much lower, as well as necessitating a long-term commitment.
  • SSR Entry Point - Strengthen Accountablity, Institutional Integrity and Ethics. State fragility is often linked to a weak civil service and, thereby, a fragmented implementation of state policies, compounded by high levels of corruption. In synergy with governance programming, SSR initiatives can focus not only on the effectiveness  and efficiency  of the justice and security sector, but also on accountability, institutional integrity and ethics. This means strengthening internal control and external oversight of the sector at the same time as its core actors are further professionalised as duty-bearers in the protection of citizens.

ResourceEnsuring Long-Term Protection: Justice-Sensitive Security Sector Reform and Displacement (International Centre for Transitional Justice, 2013). 

ResourceConnecting National Policies to the SDGs in Tackling Internal Displacement (International Peace Institute Global Observatory, 2019). 

Push Factor 3 - Armed Violence in Countries Formally at Peace

In several countries formally at peace, petty and organised violent crime - commonly youth gangs and drug cartels - as well as weak state presence and protection, has adversely affected human security conditions, resulting in outward migration flows. The most obvious example is the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), where many have migrated (or attempted to migrate) to the United States. Between 2014-2016, 110,000 minors migrated from these three countries, with two-thirds primarily motivated by fear and insecurity. Armed violence thus produces similar outcomes to armed conflict, increasing state fragility, generating high death tolls and producing human insecurity conditions sufficient to push people to leave. 

  • SSR Entry Point - Support Community Policing and Criminal Investigative Capacities. Where the state has lost its monopoly on the use of force and/or has lost territorial control, SSR initiatives should focus on re-establishing state presence, credibility and effectiveness, especially by supporting community policing and criminal investigating capacities. A holistic SSR approach would further ensure that interrelated issues and services, such as penitentiary and correction services, are able to keep up with advances elsewhere in the system. 
  • SSR Entry Point - Strengthen the Capacity of the Attorney General's Offices, Investigative Police and Anti-Corruption Agencies. SSR emphasises the need to address all forms of organised crime, including trafficking, money laundering and state corruption. It is essential to help strengthen the capacity of Attorney General's offices and investigative police, as well as assist in applying external oversight, internal control, and anti-corruption measures to the sector. 

ResourceThe Northern Triangle of Central America: Violence, Security, and Migration Webinar (Wilson Center, 2017). 

ResourceJustice for stability: Addressing the impact of mass displacement on Lebanon's justice system (International Alert, 2017). 

Push Factor 4 - Bad Governance and Authoritarian Regimes

Another factor which pushes people to leave their countries is state repression of political opponents and/or minorities. According to Freedom House, 2017 marked the 11th consecutive year in which freedom, or liberal democracy, declined. At present, 25% of the world's countries are categorised as 'not free'. while a further 30% are 'partly free'. The worst-rated countries are found in North Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia, the three regions which border Europe. The increasingly authoritarian regime in Eritrea is one example; in addition to longstanding persecution of the opposition, harsh and long compulsory military service has long been a push factor driving many young men to leave the country, with many heading to Europe. 

  • SSR Entry Point - Support Mediated Dialogue on SSR to Prevent Violent Conflict. As with armed conflicts, options for sincere security and justice reforms may be limited in cases of severely authoritarian regimes. In such contexts, the security sector - representing the state's monopoly on the use of force - is often a tool employed by authoritarian regimes to quell opposition. International actors can support mediated dialogue between the key stakeholders on the role of the security sector. Ideally, this will bring together the government and opposition, as well as facilitating the participation of women and ensuring that wider views and needs are fed into the dialogue. In addition to preventing violent conflict, this can also strenghthen democratisation processes. Experience has shown that, despite highly polarised contexts, mediated SSR dialogue can have a positive effect on institutional behaviour. 
  • SSR Entry Point - Support Defence Reform and Promote IHL. Compulsory military service frequently generates migration flows, as evidenced by the cases of Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, among others. Working on defence reform, or providing impartial defence observers/advisers and helping to develop ombudspersons  for the armed forces, can help to create better conditions for those in military service. It can also provide an opportunity to promote International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and to prevent the deterioration of practices in war. Notwithstanding, such interventions need to be highly selective. They must be prepared through a political analysis that is conflict-sensitive, and which can inform political dialogue and integrate active risk mitigation.  

ResourceThe WPS Agenda and the 'Refugee Crisis': Missing Connections and Missed Opportunities in Europe  (London School of Economics, 2017). 

Case StudySupporting dialogue on SSR in Ghana (ISSAT/OECD, 2016). 

Push Factor 5 - Threats to Human Security: Refugees and Migrants in Transit

Migrants and refugees in transit are extremely vulnerable. They have lost their local networks and are subject to a new, and many times more fragile, context with few possibilities to generate income or measures for their own protection. Recent reports from Libya paint a gloomy picture of the human rights situation, with militia-controlled detention centres and unscrupulous traffickers abusing refugees and migrants. Women are especially vulnerable due to unequal power relations, and are frequently subject to abuse and sexual assault. A UNICEF report outlines the horrific conditions endured by children in transit, including sexual abuse and exploitation. The international community is all too aware of the consequences of attempted migration across the sea. As many as 4500 people drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy in 2016. 

  • SSR Entry Point - Enhance Protection of Migrants and Refugees Through the Development of More Effective and Accountable Security Sector. Protection of migrants and refugees is a key component in international human rights law. For many, the security sector is the first point of interaction for migrants and refugees crossing international boundaries. Some security officers, especially those at sea, have  fundamental role in basic protection of the right to life. The vulnerability of people in transit is, however, often given only secondary consideration when compared to the rights afforded to the transit country's own population. Addressing forced displacement requires a whole-of-government approach.

Increasing the capacity and integrity of migration agencies, border control services, coast guards and police services is essential, therefore, in order to avoid what has become a growing tendency to build parallel systems and responses which respond differently to refugees and migrants in transit compared to local populations. Experience from countries such as Libya demonstrates that capacity building in fragile states is extremely difficult. However, among EU candidate countries such as Turkey, and in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt and Mexico, there should be opportunities for increasing the capacity and integrity of the security sector in protecting migrants and refugees. 

ResourceA Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migration Route (UNICEF Report, 2017). 

ResourceHow Does the Media on Both sides of the Mediterranean Report on Migration (ICMPD, 2017).