Post by Müge Dalkıran, Doctoral Candidate in Area Studies at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. Since 2016, she has been conducting doctoral research on refugee rights and the asylum system in Greece and Turkey. Müge is on Twitter @mugedalkiran.

Review of Refugees, Civil Society, and the State: European Experiences and Global Changes by Ludger Pries (Edward Elgar Publishing 2018)

I was a researcher working in Turkey and conducting pilot research in Greece during the “long summer of migration” or what is now known as the European “refugee crisis”. I witnessed first-hand how civil society played an important role in protecting refugees. The refugee solidarity movement grew rapidly on the Eastern Aegean islands and in Athens in the summer of 2015. Since state infrastructure was insufficient to accommodate the large number of arrivals, the provision of services and public goods such as food, shelter and sanitation to meet the basic needs of the refugees was left to volunteers and NGOs. In parallel with my experiences, Ludger Pries, in his book Refugees, Civil Society and the State, argues that the European refugee regime ultimately failed to manage the situation, and to compensate for this failure, civil society stepped in

As the book comprises broad topics spanning from the root causes of forced migration to the refugee protection and integration efforts, Pries uses a variety of sources to support his arguments. Primary sources consist of materials Pries collected during his tenure as deputy president of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, and his empirical fieldwork data on networks of refugee-oriented organisations in five Mediterranean EU countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain). In addition to these primary sources, the author analyses a range of institutional reports at the national and European levels, as well as NGO and media reports. 

Following the introduction, in chapters two and three, Pries gives detailed information about the refugees who come to Europe, and the networks of refugee and asylum-oriented organizations. He approaches the refugee movement as a “new transnational social question” caused by the vicious cycle of developmental problems, armed conflicts, ­­organized violence, and forced migration (p.6). In chapter three, Pries argues that the refugee movement emerged as a new type of social movement different from classical social movements by highlighting the transnationalisation of activism, spaces, activities and networks that collaborate across nation-state borders, intertwining the local and global levels (p.59-63). Additionally, he considers the refugees involved in this movement as “active contributors invoking global human rights and international law” (p.60). Such an argument refutes widely held theoretical portrayals of refugees that describe them merely as the contemporary “Homo Sacer – a person stripped of all rights, living outside of the protection of law, reduced to “bare life,” and held by the state in a situation of absolute vulnerability to violence. 

The fourth chapter titled “The end of national autonomy and organized non-responsibility” moves on to discuss the EU’s response to the “refugee crisis” of 2015. Pries primarily criticises the inability of the European refugee regime to respond to the “crisis” by using neo-institutional theory. After explaining the institutionalization process of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) in detail, he argues that the extent of institutionalization of the system itself had not been sufficient at this point to adequately deal with the crisis in terms of its rights-granting protective capabilities. Instead, civil society played the dominant role in refugee protection. Alongside the structural insufficiency, he also highlights that the externalisation and/or extraterritorialisation of EU refugee protection policy paved the way for the “organized non-responsibility” of EU member states, while it increased the responsibility of governments in the refugees’ countries of origin. To explain the extraterritorialisation of refugee protection, he examines how agreements between the EU and third countries to prevent refugees from seeking asylum within the EU territory became highly important (p. 90-91). For Pries, this extraterritorialization of refugee policy, along with the technologization of borders and border control systems introduced to control refugee movements, has threatened EU norms and procedures on maximizing rights, freedom and security.

In the fifth chapter, the author focuses on the root causes of forced migration that transcend national borders – armed conflicts, violence, and developmental problems. After reminding us that these problems do not only pertain to poor regions of the Global South, but also to the wealthiest regions of the Global North which increasingly must manage their consequences, he criticises the EU for poor management decisions like making agreements with countries that cannot actually safeguard refugee well-being. For instance, despite the EU-Turkey statement wherein the EU recognizes Turkey as a safe “third” country, Turkey is not fully aligned with the Geneva Convention of 1951 and it only grants refugee status to asylum seekers originating from European countries. 

In the last two chapters (six and seven), Pries provides an optimistic scenario regarding the arrival of refugees in Europe that contextualises “the arrival” as an open-ended process, as well as an interactive social practice (p. 151). Drawing largely from examples in Germany, he proposes an approach based on “social integration” that differs from the state ideologies of assimilation, liberal multiculturalism, and the post-migrant society for which he provides a critique. From Pries’ interactionist and participation-oriented integration point of view, he sees the refugee movement as presenting an opportunity for Germany and other European countries to face its own immigration history and to develop a more adequate sense of itself which integrates migrants and refugees. 

Overall, the book is a good resource for anyone academically interested in refugee mobility, the EU’s response to the migration events of 2015 and to civil society’s reaction. The author has an eloquent writing style that makes the book easy to read including the sections providing legal and institutional background information. Therefore, the book soundly addresses a wide audience composed of students and academics from different disciplines in the social sciences. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Dalkiran, M (2020). Book Review: Refugees, Civil Society, and the State: European Experiences and Global Changes . Available at: [date]