Humanitarian discourse legitimating migration control: FRONTEX public communication

Karina Horsti

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


This chapter examines discursive strategies on irregular migration of the European border control agency FRONTEX. The agency that was launched in 2004 has since become an important reference and source across European media. For instance, in the recent case of migrants arriving from Tunisia, FRONTEX's involvement was called for immediately as the case broke in the news. It took only a week from the announcement of "humanitarian emergency" for FRONTEX to start its operation Hermes 2011 in Italy. Both the public debate that immediately referred to FRONTEX and the fast operation with Italy reflect Europeanization of irregular migration as a public issue (see Horsti 2008b). Migration is no longer only a national issue, but it is also a socially constructed European problem.

FRONTEX is treated here as a "frame sponsor" (Gamson et al 2002, 385), a source for the mainstream media that discursively participates in the definition and understanding of irregular migration in Europe today. To examine the discursive strategies FRONTEX uses in its public communication on irregular migration, I apply critical discourse analysis to the press releases FRONTEX has published in its website between 2006 and February 21, 2011 ( Although the topic of migration has become increasingly Europeanized and the public visibility of FRONTEX has increased there is very little studies on the agency's public role.

The chapter concludes that FRONTEX uses three discursive strategies in its communication: security, technocracy, and humanitarianism. FRONTEX uses humanitarian discourse to legitimate surveillance, detention and deportation of irregular migrants. Although irregular migration is defined as a problem, the definition of the problematic agents is divided. Facilitators and smugglers are presented as a main threat or risk to the migrants. They are also a problem to European societies, because they find cracks in the system and the border and facilitate "unwanted" migration. FRONTEX directs public attention to smuggling and dangers of travel, particularly of unaccompanied minors. Therefore their surveillance, detention and deportation of migrants are represented as humanitarian actions. Technocratic discursive strategy dilutes political decisions and makes control policies seem natural and neutral. FRONTEX talks about irregular migrants in a less political and controversial vocabulary of "risk analysis" and "migration management".
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMigrations : Interdisciplinary Perspectives
EditorsRuth Wodak, Renee Schroeder , Michi Messer
Number of pages12
Place of PublicationWien
Publication date2012
ISBN (Print)978-3-7091-0949-6
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-7091-0950-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
MoE publication typeA3 Book chapter

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology

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