Refugees as weapons

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Refugees as weapons", or "Weapon of Mass Migration" is a term used to describe a hostile government organizing, or threatening to organize, a sudden influx of refugees into another country with the intent of overwhelming its borders or causing political discomfort.[1] It often exploits the targeted country's humanitarian obligations to take in refugees and hear their asylum claims. The responsible country (or sometimes a non-state actor) usually seeks to extract concessions from the targeted country and achieve some political, military, and/or economic objective.[2]


The instrumental manipulation of population movements as political and military weapons of war, is the "refugee as weapon," has entered the world's arsenals.[3]

Human migration is becoming a viable weapon in the arsenal of many state and non-state actors pursuing non-conventional means to increase regional influence and to achieve objectives.[4]

Weaponized Migration Categories[5]
Infiltration Coercive Dispossessive Exportive Fifth Column Economic
is operations among unsuspected refugees, innocent and unaware. is the utilization, or threatens to utilize, migration as an instrument to induce behavioral changes, or to gain concessions from the receiving target. is a means to appropriate territory or resources from the target group which poses ethnic, political, or economic threat. is a means to solidify power or politically destabilize an adversary. a challenger dispatches migrants to a target's territory to undermine a target government as a long-term strategy. is when a state creates [takes actions (enacts laws, manipulates bordering state politics) to facilitate] the inflow/outflow/dislocated civilians for an economic purpose.

Migration Infiltration[edit]

Trump examines border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, California

Migration infiltration is operations among unsuspected refugees, innocent and unaware. It is used on a limited sense by recent efforts of Violent Extremist Organizations (or Violent Criminal Organizations) to infiltrate refugee flows (exploiting vulnerable populations) and to facilitate terrorist operations in states offering asylum.[clarification needed]

President Donald Trump has emphasized U.S. border security and illegal immigration to the United States as a campaign issue.[6] During his announcement speech he stated in part, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems. ... They're bringing drugs (war on drugs). They're bringing crime (Mexican Mafia). They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."[7] Since, Trump wall with Executive Order 13767 summarized in 2017 Mexico–United States diplomatic crisis to reinforce the Mexico–United States barrier.

Case:Illegal immigration to the United States[edit]

The issue of crimes committed by illegal immigrants to the United States is a topic that is often asserted and debated in politics and the media when discussing Immigration policy in the United States.

There is scholarly consensus that illegal immigrants commit less crime than natives.[8] Sanctuary cities—which adopt policies designed to avoid prosecuting people solely for being in the country illegally—have no statistically meaningful impact on crime, and may reduce the crime rate.[9][10] Research suggests that immigration enforcement has no impact on crime rates.[11][12][9]

Case:Islamist Refugee[edit]

Immigration has been a cover for ISIL militants disguised as refugees or migrants.[13]

Case studies suggest that the threat of an Islamist refugee Trojan House is highly exaggerated.[14] Of the 800,000 refugees vetted through the resettlement program in the United States between 2001 and 2016, only five were subsequently arrested on terrorism charges; and 17 of the 600,000 Iraqis and Syrians who arrived in Germany in 2015 were investigated for terrorism.[15] One study found that European jihadists tend to be 'homegrown': over 90% were residents of a European country and 60% had European citizenship.[16]

Case:CBRN threat to Refugees[edit]

The use of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and enhanced conventional weapons by a state on refugees under the protection of the opposing force. There are two intertwined positions. Refugees are special civilian target under the "protection" of contracting state or the UNHCR camp (such as de-escalation/safe zone established during Syrian peace process by the Syrian Civil War ceasefires). The psychological, health, and logistical implications of refugees running away from a real or perceived CBRN environment toward a contracting state or the UNHCR camp.

Responding to such a crisis associated with the purposeful introduction would require military forces with the skills necessary in consequence management, and operate in what promises to be a very complex and chaotic environment.[17] CBRN defense; CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package is an initiative of the United States National Guard designed to integrate existing national guard units into the broader federal and local civilian emergency response personnel. The United States military U.S. Army Center for Army Lessons Learned released a handbook entitled "Commander's Guide to Support Operations Among Weaponized Displaced Persons, Refugees, and Evacuees". The handbook, provides a basic overview of considerations and methods of reaction should CBRN warfare be executed using dislocated civilians.[17]

Migration Coercion[edit]

Migration coercion is the utilization, or threatens to utilize, migration as an instrument to induce behavioral changes, or to gain concessions from the receiving target. In 1966, Teitelbaum and Weiner stated that in foreign policy governments create mass migrations as a tool to achieve non migrant goals.[18]

An example during Afghanistan conflict (1978–present) is Soviet attempt to influence Pakistani decision-making by driving Afghans to seek asylum across the Durand Line.[19]

Case:Operation Peter Pan & Rafter crisis[edit]

Cuban exiles are fled from or left the island of Cuba after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Between November 1960 and October 1962, over 14,000 children were sent to the U.S. by their parents with Operation Peter Pan in response to the CIA and Cuban dissidents spreading rumors of a project by the castrist government to remove the parents' custody of their children to indoctrinate them. Authors John Scanlan and Gilburt Loescher note how the United States acceptance of Cuban emigrants after the 1959 Cuban Revolution was done in hopes they could help the United States forcibly remove the Fidel Castro government from Cuba. The acceptance of Cuban emigrants during the Freedom Flights was done in hopes of weakening the Cuban economy by draining it of workers. The United States also was generally able to paint a negative picture of Cuba by participating in the mass emigration of many who disliked Cuba and wished to flee the island. The Department of State painted Cuban emigrants in the 1960s as freedom-seeking refugees. The United States had lost its total aggressive foreign policy towards Cuba and instead viewed the island as a nuisance rather than a security threat after the Mariel boatlift. The Mariel boatlift was soon canceled after it was initiated and received little public American support. The 1994 Cuban rafter crisis was the emigration of more than 35,000 Cubans to the United States via makeshift rafts. In response to the crisis Bill Clinton would enact the Wet feet, dry feet policy where only Cuban rafters that make it to U.S. soil will be allowed to remain. The U.S. will also only approve 20,000 immigration visas a year for Cubans.[20]

Fidel Castro benefited from the exile because he was able to remove disloyalty by directly removing disloyal citizens from Cuba, which is #Migration Exportive.[21] Fidel Castro after sending more than 100,000 Cuban migrants (including criminals and the mentally disabled) to Florida, coerced the United States into foreign policy concessions.[22]

Migration Disposition[edit]

Migration disposition is a means to appropriate territory or resources from the target group which poses an ethnic, political, or economic threat.

Islamic State expelled as many as 830,000 from the territory it appropriated. Expelled surrendered most of their property in the process.[23]

Case: South Ossetia[edit]

The Russo-Georgian War was between Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The war took place in August 2008 following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. The fighting took place in the strategically important Transcaucasia region. Humanitarian impact of the Russo-Georgian War was devastating on the civilians. In the aftermath, ethnic Georgians were expelled from South Ossetia and most of the Georgian villages were razed. Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia was a mass expulsion of ethnic Georgians conducted in South Ossetia and other territories occupied by Russian and South Ossetian forces. According to the 2016 census conducted by the South Ossetian authorities, 3,966 ethnic Georgians remained in the breakaway territory, constituting 7% of the region's total population of 53,532.[24]

Russia is pushing for the international recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (will be satellite states). Abkhazia and South Ossetia are disputed territories in the Caucasus. The central government of Georgia considers the republics under military occupation by Russia. They are partially recognized as independent states by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria. Russia's initial recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia occurred in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.

Migration Exportive[edit]

Migration exportive is a means to solidify power or politically destabilize an adversary.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expelled a number of displaced Afghans seeking refuge in Iran since 1979 to back to Afghanistan to stop United States operations (CIA).[25]

Case: Great Lakes refugee crisis[edit]

Migration exportive generally executed after a revolution, because the state or other governing entity wants to reshape the demography within the territory.[26]

The Great Lakes refugee crisis the exodus of over two million Rwandans to neighboring countries of the Great Lakes region of Africa. Many of the refugees were Hutu ethnics fleeing the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which had gained control of the country at the end of the Rwandan genocide.[27]

Reversal of this process is the repatriation of the refugees, which is the process of returning to their place of origin or citizenship. That happened after the First Congo War, when RPF-supported rebels invaded Zaire.

Migration Fifth Column[edit]

Migration as a Fifth Column in which a challenger dispatches migrants to a target's territory to undermine a target government as a long-term strategy.

83,000 Chinese with fake identities migrated to Hong Kong during transition from British to Chinese control, they served as Beijing's “invisible hand”.[28]

Migration Economic[edit]

Economic migration is someone who emigrates from one region to another, seeking an improved standard of living. Migration economic is when a state creates [takes actions (enacts laws, manipulates bordering state politics)] the inflow/outflow/dislocated civilians for an economic purpose.

Method: Labor Manipulation[edit]

Tens of millions of people around the world live their lives as foreign workers. Migration Economic is a special case, when a state forces border rules for importing foreign labor to completely change the labor market's equilibrium and significantly decrease costs. The system blocks domestic competition for originating countries workers, effectively depressing the economy in these states.

The methods: menial work is often allocated only to foreign workers and offered substandard wages, living conditions and are compelled to work overtime without extra payment. Human Rights Watch and international labor organizations estimate that 95% of the UAE's workforce consists of migrant workers.[29] According to The Economist, "The migrant workers' lot is unlikely to improve until the reform of the Kafala system, whereby workers are beholden to the employers who sponsored their visas. The system blocks domestic competition for overseas workers in the Gulf countries."[30] The Economist has also noted the positive economic impacts the Gulf system has had upon foreign workers and their families and home communities.[31]

Kafala system exists in Lebanon. Kafala system in Qatar (part of migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council region), mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Philippines, make up 94 percent of the labor force. A reversal of the situation is proposed by ‘Workforce nationalization in the Gulf Cooperation Council States.’ It is not a working solution and/or applied effectively, while much has been written and said on the reasons why these states are looking to nationalize their workforce, “only a limited body of knowledge exists to guide and shape the success of such schemes.”

A basic sign of "Labor manipulation" is the providing migrant domestic worker with different labor protection than other workers. The UAE brought the country's labor law to every worker into consistency with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention in 2017.[32]

Method: Forced labor flow[edit]

North Korea send abroad laborers (controlled by the state) to work, which the United Nations estimate the income generated is between $1.2 and $2.3 billion annually to the state.[33]

Method: Diaspora Tax[edit]

The Eritrean regime levies a 2% tax on citizens abroad (Eritrean diaspora) which failure results in the inability to obtain or maintain critical documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, or passports.[34]

In December 2011, The UN Security Council expanded the previous sanctions of 2009 through "United Nations Security Council Resolution 2023", mainly demanding for two things: Eritrea should cease to apply the coercive element on collecting diaspora tax, and it should stop using the collected revenue to destabilized the whole region of the Horn.[35]

Used by[edit]

European migrant crisis basis for EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan[36] and Valletta Summit on Migration which ended with an Emergency Trust Fund (€1.8 billion in aid and development assistance of €20 billion every year) to help development of African countries and to take back their migrants.[37]

Second Libyan Civil War[edit]

The Second Libyan Civil War was an ongoing conflict among rival factions seeking control of the territory and oil of Libya. Refugees of the Libyan Civil War are the people, predominantly Libyans, who fled or were expelled from their homes during the Libyan Civil War, from within the borders of Libya to the neighbouring states of Tunisia, Egypt and Chad, as well as to European countries across the Mediterranean. Libya's is a transit point for North Africans seeking entry to Europe.

During the 2011 Libyan civil war, Muammar Gaddafi warned the European Union of consequences should it continue supporting the protesters.

Stop supporting the protesters, or I'll suspend cooperation on migration and Europe will be facing a human flood of from North Africa.[1]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

The Syrian Civil War is a multi-sided civil war in Syria fought between the Ba'athist Syrian Arab Republic led by President Bashar al-Assad, along with domestic and foreign allies, and various domestic and foreign forces opposing both the Syrian government and each other in varying combinations. NATO's four-star General in the United States Air Force commander in Europe stated on the issue of indiscriminate weapons used by Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces - are the reason which cause refugees to be on the move.[38]

Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.[38]


Indonesia is also known to use this method against Australia. In 2006 the Indonesian Army manipulated the voyage to Australia of 43 West Papuan asylum seekers in a secret psychological warfare operation.[39] between 2009 and 2013, more than 50,000 asylum seeker made their way to Australia by boat, with the help of Indonesian transporters and in 2017 it was discovered that Indonesian security forces provided security for immigrant smuggling operations.[40] In 2015 Indonesia minister warned Australia, Indonesia could release a “human tsunami” of 10,000 asylum seekers to Australia if Canberra continues to agitate for clemency for the death row pair on bali Nine[41]


In late February 2020 migrants started to gather at the Greece–Turkey border after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would not longer "block" refugees and migrants' "access to the border", and opened the border with Greece.[42][43] Turkey's government was accused of pushing refugees into Europe for political and monetary gain.[44]


President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has been accused by Germany and the European Union of weaponising the flow of Middle Eastern refugees into Poland, as revenge for European Union sanctions against his government.[45][46]

Mitigating the effects[edit]

Responses to using refugees as weapons are limited. The responses to European migrant crisis and Turkey's migrant crisis are summarized:

European migrant crisis[edit]

The European migrant crisis is a period beginning in 2015 characterised by high numbers of people arriving in the European Union (EU) from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the top three nationalities of entrants of the over one million Mediterranean Sea arrivals between January 2015 and March 2016 were Syrian (46.7 percent), Afghan (20.9 percent) and Iraqi (9.4 percent).[47]

Improve Cooperation: Diplomacy[edit]

Remove the blame which instigate fear and polarization in/between states and calm fears, reduce paranoia and polarization through information sharing, particularly with states which can help better identify and fill in migration-related information gaps.[48] Solve the problem at the source rather than mitigating the results: (1) research on potential issues and proactively implement policy measures, (2) research on potential refugee generating countries and develop financial incentives in solving the challenges (migration coercive works so be proactive).[49][50]

The Valletta Summit on Migration was a summit held on 11–12 November 2015, in which European and African leaders discussed the European migrant crisis. The summit resulted in the EU setting up an Emergency Trust Fund to promote development in Africa, in return for African countries to help out in the crisis.

Improve Cooperation: Military[edit]

Multilateral training exercises and operations provide venues and represent opportunities to mitigate refugee vulnerability.[48]

Military operations for neutralising refugee smuggling routes.

Defensive use of smartphone metadata[edit]

Wired claimed refugees are being faced with a mobile forensics industry which provides information that can turned against the refugees in EU constituent states.[51]

As of 2018, Germany and Denmark expanded laws and Belgium and Austria in the works for expanding laws, while the UK and Norway didn't have limitations on immigration officials to extract data from refugee phones.[51] The Dublin Regulation is a European Union (EU) law that determines which EU Member State is responsible for the examination of an application for asylum, and the EURODAC Regulation, which establishes a Europe-wide fingerprinting database for unauthorised entrants to the EU. All these branches that gather refugee data unite under the Schengen Information System, which is used by 31 European countries to find information about individuals and entities for the purposes of national security, border control and law enforcement.

Move refugees to a "safe country"[edit]

The European Commission proposed a common EU list designating as 'safe' all EU candidate countries (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey), plus potential EU candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.[52]

The 2015 EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan designated Turkey as a "safe country" status.

Turkish-Syrian migrant crisis[edit]

Turkey's migrant crisis or Turkey's refugee crisis is a period during 2010s characterized by high numbers of people arriving in Turkey. As reported by the Turkish government and the UNHCR in 2019, Turkey is hosting 65% of all the Syrian Civil War refugees in the region, that is 3,663,863 registered Syrian refugees in total.[53]

Refugees of the Syrian Civil War in Turkey are the Syrian refugees originated from Syrian Civil War, Turkey is hosting over 3.6 million in 2019.[54] As of 2019, the return of refugees of the Syrian Civil War is uncertain. Turkey has focused on how to manage their presence, more registered refugees than any other country, in Turkish society by addressing their legal status, basic needs, employment, education, and impact on local communities.[54]

Defensive use of border barrier[edit]

Turkey has deployed separation barriers along the insecure regions of its internationally recognized borders, which is a border barrier, such as Iran–Turkey barrier, Syria–Turkey barrier. The Syria–Turkey barrier is a 711 kilometres (442 mi) border wall and fence excluding natural barriers such as river beds along the 828 kilometres (514 mi) Syria–Turkey border, aimed at preventing illegal crossings and smuggling.[55]

The border barrier is built to be mobile. The barrier consists 7 tonnes (15,000 lb) F-Shape barrier concrete blocks with razor wire and stands three metres (9.8 feet) high and two metres (6.6 feet) wide. There are 120 lookout towers along Syria border. A security road runs along the wall.

Move refugees to a "Safe zone"[edit]

One solution is implementing a safe zone in Syria. Turkey is involved in four ceasefire areas established in Syria in order to halt the fighting.

Further reading[edit]

  • Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy, Cornell University Press, 2011.


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