Mark Saey | Civiclab

2.2. Irregular migration

A second part of the Analysis would be made for History and was to clarify the history of “illegal migration”. It was good fortune that that year the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies of Antwerp University was to hold its international congress on Borderless Solidarity. Seeing how the students really got involved and were performing pretty well we took them along. In small teams they would attend the several workshops on the different dimensions of the subject, of which they would later transmit the content to their classmates in lectures for English and Dutch.

At the congress they also met with several civil society organizations and saw how much their subject was also scientifically studied. For most of them this was their first encounter with university life and as such a major gain for their education. Central to this excursion was attending the lecture of the international expert on the subject Frank Düvell.

Mark Saey | Grenzeloze Solidariteit | Civiclab

‘Around 10 o’clock Frank Düvell, professor at Oxford and expert in migration policy, was to give his lecture on irregular migration to the more than hundred participants. At the counter some people gazed at the youngsters who one by one pinned their name card to their shirt or jacket. The film crew set up the camera in one of the corners of the auditorium. Looking at all the papers they got the students took their seats. It took but a short while before they understood that what Düvell was explaining fitted very well with what they learned from Sam Mampaey only a couple of weeks ago:

“The existing immigration laws in many parts of the world create a shadow zone with its own rules and conditions. For most of us it remains hidden but to who has to live in it, it can be quite disastrous (…) The law clearly is intended to discourage irregular migration (…) but given the large numbers of people without legal residence it is equally clear that this effect is not achieved and that denying these people social services and legal protection rather looks like punishment.”

Referring to his book Illegal Migration in Europe (2006, London: Palgrave McMillan) Düvell went on explaining the history of the concept:

“Illegal migration was first used in the 30s of the last century when unwanted Jewish migration to Palestine was named illegal by the British authorities. It was again used in the 1960 an 1970s although only here and there. In fact, the concept became popular only in the 1980s and especially during the 90s. Before that migration wasn’t regulated (…) unexpected immigrants were called spontaneous and often could legalize their stay without much problems. Only around the 1970s when the post war boom came to an end, liberal rules and guest workers’ programs were abandoned. In its place came laws who would exclude self chosen migration and would limit previous laws and liberties.”

What Düvell was explaining was that illegal migration is not a natural given, not a phenomenon that has always just been there. On the contrary, so he continued, it is a social construct of a specific political and judicial practice that is badly adapted to the reality of globalisation. Next to factors accompanying deindustrialisation (especially the demand for cheap labour and the tensions between flexibility and rigid government rules) illegal migration is co-caused by the paradox of growing global integration, mobility of capital, information, goods and international transport on the one hand, and the ever more stringent limitations of migration and the free movement of people on the other hand. With the growing illegal underclass within their borders, liberal states face a serious dilemma. To understand this, Düvell continued, one doesn’t need to do more than ask a few simple questions:

“Is it possible, politically, practically and ethically, to deport the 4 to 8 million illegal immigrants in Europe? Is it possible to control companies, households and ethnic minorities so as to make it impossible for them to hire and house illegal migrants? Is it possible to exclude people without legal residence from markets and public services so that their stay becomes utterly impossible?”

In authoritarian regimes this might just work, Düvell answered, and he explained:

“At the Turkish borders illegal migrants are shot, in Libya masses of people are deported and in the Ukraine non-whites are controlled daily and neighbourhood police is constantly busy looking for hidden illegals. But in a liberal democracy, human rights, the freedom of enterprise, the rule of law and a critical civil society, won’t simply stand for this. Moreover, research shows the stricter border controls the more sophisticated illegal migration becomes, it also simply goes more underground into the shadow zone. So, contrary to extremists’ beliefs, it looks like repressive measures are counterproductive.”

This almost automatically leads to the question what alternatives there are. To conclude Düvell gave the audience the following list of possibilities to consider:

“(1) Amnesty or general regularisations, (2) introduction of more legal migration channels (such as circular migration or guest workers’ migration), (3) redirecting budgets for immigration controls to development aid, (4) political integration (as the successive expansions of the EU have also legalised quite some former illegal migration), (5) take the economic literature more seriously and accept that the free movement over the globe delivers sufficient gains to lessen the migration push considerably, and (6) publicly defend those political philosophers who defend the right to migrate on still other grounds.” (JWW, p.200-201)

After reviewing the European legislation, the third part of Analysis would lead the students to the understanding of the global reality. But before going into that we would take the step to have the students take the learning process into their own hands. This happened for Dutch (but also for the other courses) and made us, right after the exams, during the Christmas holidays, summarize and schematise the learned content, and together with the art works, the brochure, posters and photographs we made, present it to the wider public in the local library: “Expo Jongeren Worden Wereldburgers” (hence the later title of the book for teacher trainings). This way the students would acquire a reflexive understanding of their own enterprise. The expo became the main item in the AVS TV news on New Year’s Eve. (Please click on the subtitle button.)

Example of an exam (playmaker course LVB; please note the knowledge/fact – insight – apply/integrate differentiation):


  1. Humanist education differs from two educational extremes. Give an accurate description of both. ‘One: ‘freedom, happiness’ – with the fullest confidence in the spontaneous development of the child. Second: ‘heteronomous discipline’ – conservative education with physical force if need be. The humanist education builds on developing virtues and reason.’ (Jolien)
  2. Give the three pillars of your LVB course: ‘Work on your character (virtus or excellence). Critical thinking. Building a worldview (your relation to yourself, others and the world, to orient yourself in life).’ (Sam)
  3. What is a refugee according to the Geneva Convention? ‘Someone fleeing out of fear for persecution because of nationality, social group, politics or religion.’ (Angelika)
  4. Especially one institution determines whether one receives the status of refugee and residence papers. What is the name of this institution? ‘Commission-General for Refugees and State-less People.’ (Glenn)
  5. Since October 10th 2006 (also) Belgium knows “subsidiary protection”, what does that mean? ‘That is the protection one receives when one flees for the danger of war, execution, inhuman treatment (torture). If after a certain number of years the situation in the home country didn’t improve, the refugee can receive permanent residence.’ (Rube
  6. Give two important rights people without legal residence do not have in Belgium. ‘The right to work, the right to social security.’ (Lieselotte)
  7. Does a teacher legally have to hand over a minor pupil to the police? ‘No, teachers do not have to do that.’ (Jennifer)
  8. Of the six basic rights people without legal residence still have only two are actually enforceable. Which ones are these? ‘The right to go to school for minors and the right to urgent medical aid.’ (Paco)


  1. Someone claiming everyone living here has the same rights, is not ‘a master to himself’. Why not? ‘That definitely is not so for people without legal residence living here. Being master to oneself is something like having power over yourself thanks to understanding.’ (Liza)
  2. There are two kinds of virtues. What’s the difference between them? ‘Little virtues, you don’t think long and hard of but you use   them as self-evident good character traits. Big or cardinal virtues ‘reign’ over the little ones, they give them direction.’ (Lien
  3. Why can’t Belgium make it so that people without legal residence have no rights at all? ‘Because Belgium signed a series of international agreements founded on human rights prohibiting any country to simply erase all their rights.’ (Anton) 


  1. Show how in your Learning trajectory for world citizenship you practice the four cardinal virtues. ‘For this LWZ you really have to engage yourself, which demands courage. You also help others, try not to be selfish but rather just. And you definitely have to use your mind, think before you act (wisdom) not be extremist in considering only your own private thoughts but first discuss with others to ensure you take the right decisions (temperance).’ (Lisa)
  2. Give at least two good arguments for the following proposition: “The presence of people without legal residence can in time become a real threat to society.” ‘These people are being excluded from participating in our society. They have hardly any rights, which also means one cannot simply count on their ‘good citizenship’ or which is why they are pushed to committing illegal or criminal actions.’ (Glenn)