A Foucauldian Studying of the International Compact for Migration


That is an advance excerpt from Dignity in Motion: Borders, Our bodies and Rights, edited by Jasmin Lilian Diab (E-Worldwide Relations, forthcoming 2021).

This paper first emerged within the midst of what was pervasively declared to be a ‘migration disaster’. Exodus, drowning ships, determined mass escapes, folks storming the partitions – from Venezuela to america to Algeria, passing by way of Myanmar and Bangladesh, folks appeared to be overwhelmed by what they deemed to be quite a lot of asylum functions they thought was too excessive. Within the media, in political discourses, and in coverage interventions, one may see this generalized concern in regards to the burden of an extra inflow of migration, which triggered pervading talks about fingerprinting, Frontex missions, wall-building, and exhausting migrant relocation. By all these performances and enactments of emergency, migration arose once more as a matter of danger, as a safety concern. Responding to this problematique, or certainly problematization, the United Nations (UN) Basic Meeting handed in September 2016 the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’ as a declaration of political dedication to strengthening the worldwide refugee and migrant safety system.

This chapter explores one of many paperwork that emerged from this declaration, specifically the International Compact for Migration (GCM). Understood along with the International Compact on Refugees (GCR), this piece appears to be like at what the GCM does, how it’s framed, and the way it fails, if it fails in any respect. As a strategy to strategy the evaluation, and drawing from literature that has revisited Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality, it asks how migration is ruled by way of the GCM. Extra precisely, it asks how ‘the migrant’ is represented and rendered governable. The duty right here is to unpack the methods whereby, by way of an unproblematized migration-development nexus, the GCM reproduces, or moderately reinforces, two completely different classes – i.e., migrant and refugee– informing two methods of governing. This differentiation works to breed a hierarchy of lives between the refugee and the migrant, in addition to between the common and irregular migrant, normalizing such inflexible distinctions.

After laying out the conceptual framework upon which this evaluation relies, this chapter strikes to disseminate how, in and thru the GCM, ‘irregularity’ and ‘the migrant’ are (re)produced. Second, the chapter appears to be like at what these processes of naming and labelling do, how illustration works to order human mobilities by way of a myriad of methods of presidency, and what types of information manufacturing these foster. Lastly, it discusses the state-centrism laying on the foundation of this doc to underline the seeming incapacity to conceptualize mobility past safety and borders.

The intention of this chapter will not be solely to level to the truth that such inflexible distinctions, informing two completely different compacts, usually are not correct to seize human mobilities and displacement. The objective can also be to not criticize the efforts behind the GCM or to say that cooperation will not be wanted. Fairly, it makes an attempt to render seen the facility dynamics enabling this doc, in addition to the varieties and methods of presidency it fosters – a set of processes knowledgeable by a framework, which fails to conceptualize mobility past migration and borders, and politics past citizenship. In doing so, this inquiry hopes to trace a means by which public discourse may transfer past the narrative of danger that monopolizes the political area of contestation, in flip precluding discussions of solidarity, equality, or mobility, which aren’t mediated by way of citizenship, safety, and (il)legality.

This evaluation is related even after the European Fee declared this ‘migration disaster’ to be over (Rankin 2019). Past lockdown and mobility restrictions, the nonetheless present Covid-19 pandemic has left us with some dreadful photographs of pushbacks and elevated ranges of violence on the borders of nations reminiscent of Greece and Turkey. Therefore, this international pandemic has introduced the subject of human mobility/ies again to the forefront of the dialog. For that, the evaluation of the paperwork, conferences, and declarations that govern the everydayness of human mobilities has not misplaced its relevance.

What’s the International Compact for Migration?

The International Compact for Protected, Orderly and Common Migration is an intergovernmental settlement that was formally adopted in a convention held in Morocco in December 2018. It was endorsed by way of a vote by which 152 international locations voted in favor, 5 international locations – america, Israel, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – voted in opposition to and 12 international locations – Austria, Australia, and Libya amongst them –abstained. 

Reaffirming the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’, the GCM describes itself as addressing worldwide migration ‘in all its dimensions’ (GCM 2018, 2) and as a ‘roadmap to stop struggling and chaos’ (UN Information 2018). Clearly set out within the Preamble, the GCM rests on the rules of the United Nations Constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights to determine a non-legally binding cooperative framework whereas upholding states’ sovereignty over border management. That’s, though the objective was to strengthen the necessity for cooperation, dialogue, and consensus, there’s a commanding state-centrism informing this doc. Migration and borders stay a matter of the sovereign state.

The GCM additionally outlines the necessity to strengthen information of migration as a strategy to advance policymaking. It argues for enhancing information assortment and evaluation programs, in addition to registration and statistical assortment processes, with a view to obtain higher evidence-based options. Therefore, by way of this doc, migration emerges as an object of information, information, and graphs, and as an area to control, a sphere inside which one can intervene, reinforcing the nexus between authorities and information, or certainly authorities by way of information. 

Conceptual Framework

The work of Michel Foucault has impressed an unlimited physique of scholarship, giving rise to new analysis, units of questions, and factors of inquiry, amongst which we are able to spotlight the emergence of so-called ‘governmentality research’. As a method of study, governmentality attracts our consideration to the methods and information that underpin makes an attempt to form the conduct of selves and others in various settings (Walters 2012, 30). Put otherwise, to control is ‘to construction the potential fields of motion’ by way of a posh ensemble of establishments, procedures, analyses and reflections, calculations, and techniques (Foucault 1982, 790). It designates ‘the way in which by which the conduct of people or of teams could be directed’ (Foucault 1982, 790). As such, it’s inherently linked to the train of energy – energy as governmentality, or governmentality because the train of energy. Nevertheless, this isn’t an all-pervasive, one-way, only-destructive energy. Understanding governmentality as a conduct of conduct, because the exercise of (self)conducting a person’s conduct and relationality, sheds gentle on the immanent risk of resistance or counter-conduct (Foucault 2009, 195), complicating the query of management.

Extra concretely, within the Beginning of Biopolitics, Foucault describes the methods by which the phrase ‘liberal’ will be understood as a governing apply, as a set of methods of presidency. To him, this liberal means of governing will not be the respect or crucial for freedom. In another way, the liberal organizes and produces freedom, managing the circumstances below which one will be free (Foucault 2010, 63–4). But, this administration of freedom ‘entails the institution of limitations, controls, types of coercion, and obligations counting on threats’ (Foucault 2010, 63–4), specifically, safety. Therefore, for Foucault, safety will not be merely a compensatory to freedom, not is it a worth or a actuality, however moderately the way in which by way of which society is ordered and managed, and freedom is produced.

Utilized to the sphere of migration, governmentality helps us perceive the methods by which mobility has been managed and carried out, and the refined and complicated video games concerned within the ‘biopolitics of otherness’ (Fassin 2011, 214). Because the anthropologist Dider Fassin has claimed, migration, situated on the coronary heart of the three pillars of governmentality – i.e., financial system, police, and humanitarianism – is deeply implicated within the building of borders and bounds of sovereignty and id/ies (Fassin 2011, 221). Equally, the sociologist Didier Bigo has tried to light up the explanations behind the ever-present framing of migration as a safety subject, associated to crime, (un)employment, and integration. The state-centric metaphor of the ‘physique politic’, embedded within the delusion of nationwide sovereignty, creates the picture of ‘immigration related to an outsider coming inside’ along with the presupposition that it’s potential to manage the move of people on the state borders (Bigo 2002, 67).

The GCM (2018, 2) conceptualizes migration each as an issue that ‘undeniably impacts our international locations and communities’ in unpredictable methods and as a ‘supply of prosperity, innovation, and sustainable growth’ that may be optimized and subsequently ruled. Therefore, Foucault’s liberal artwork of governing, along with a few of its modern mobilizations, gives a robust device to inquire into the methods by which migration turns into an object of presidency, rising directly as an issue and a supply of prosperity.

Governing by way of Illustration: ‘Migrants’ and ‘Refugees’

To be ruled, one have to be represented as governable. As a place to begin, this compact for migrants, not refugees, normalizes the already inflexible distinction utilized by administrations and border controls to manage, disseminate, and differentiate between the fascinating and undesirable, between the refugee, carrying a ‘forced-to’ sense of helplessness and inevitability, and the migrant, carrying a way of voluntarism. Moreover, this doc reproduces the binary between the common and irregular migrant, a binary loaded with ethical assumptions of price and even criminality and lawlessness.

As we are able to learn from the title, and repeated over 20 instances all through 34 pages, this can be a compact for secure, orderly, and common migration. Utilizing the framework offered by literature on governmentality, this part unpacks the logics of illustration framing the GCM that reproduce migration as a world, or certainly transnational, drawback to be managed. It tries to disseminate how ‘the migrant’ is re-produced vis-à-vis ‘the refugee’ and the way ‘irregularity’ re-emerges with a powerful ethical connotation, as one thing dangerous that must be prevented. Altogether, what ‘migrants’ are, or certainly how they’re represented, informs the way in which one ought to reply to them and their claims for cover, bringing to the foreground the politics that include the naming.

From the outset, one finds on this doc a dedication to handle the issue posed by refugees and migrants by way of two separate processes. In different phrases, whereas recognizing that ‘migrants and refugees might face many widespread challenges and related vulnerabilities’ and ‘are entitled to the identical common human rights’, they ‘are distinct teams ruled by separate authorized frameworks’, and ‘solely refugees are entitled to the particular worldwide safety’ (GCM 2018, 2). The train of this labelling energy creates a necessity for the to-be-migrant/refugee to adapt to those two framed-elsewhere classes of being as in the event that they have been actual, already-there types of subjectivity. In flip, this classification of kinds of mobility is employed as a type of intervention for both humanitarian or safety functions, or certainly each directly, and so have to be understood inside ‘the proliferation of dematerialized spatial and ethical borders’ (Mai 2014, 175).

Such a inflexible distinction forecloses the ambivalence and ambiguity, and extra typically the epistemic disaster, across the very labels by which numerous types of mobility are presumed to be knowable as governmental contrivances (De Genova 2017a, 8). Consequently, such nuances because the ‘migrant-ization of refugees’ (Garelli and Tazzioli 2017, 170), the structural violence that may represent the basis trigger for displacement for ‘mere financial migrants’ (De Genova 2017a, 9), and extra typically the methods by which these classes are lived-in, claimed and/or resisted are left unframable. 

In another way, and as if the UN have been a fully-fledged humanitarian actor, certain by the rules of humanity, neutrality and independence, the GCR (2018, 1–2) defines itself as ‘totally non-political in nature’. This declare displays a seeming obliviousness of the politics of labelling, of what this naming does, or permits. Past that, this can be a declare that doesn’t seem within the GCM, as should you might be political with migrants. What’s extra, the GCR employs extra strongly and broadly the vocabulary of vulnerability and safety, accompanied with claims for additional and distinct help (GCR 2018, 15). Altogether, these compacts reinforce ‘the migrant’ vis-à-vis ‘the refugee’ as topics and objects of presidency by way of a prompt number of coverage plans permitting for fixed monitoring of mobility routes and diaspora communities. In doing that, they work to kind and rank mobilities and claims of safety, which translate into who will get to make what claims and the way legitimate they’re (De Genova 2017a, 8).

Furthermore, within the employment of the lexicon of (ir)regularity, the GCM participates within the replica of the authorized/unlawful binary, which in turns constructs ‘irregularity’ as one thing that, due to its adverse influence, must be prevented (De Genova 2017a, 3). Even when it purposely avoids the time period ‘unlawful’ and repeatedly states the significance of eliminating discrimination, by reinforcing the common/irregular binary and referring it to the receiving nation − which can juridically decide this (ir)regularity − the illegality of the irregular migrant unavoidably emerges (GCM 2018, 4). Preoccupied with ‘id fraud and doc forgery’ (GCM 2018, 11), the GCM perpetuates such discrimination and forecloses a studying of the methods by which (ir)regularity is produced by way of already current and institutionalized racial and colonial dynamics (see Andersson 2014; De Genova 2004, 2017a, 2017b; or Mc Cluskey 2018). This manufacturing is clear in sections that learn sure areas in want of particular consideration as ‘geographic areas from the place irregular migration systematically originates’ (GCM 2018, 17). Therefore, the irregular migrant arises, within the base of its dangerous/in danger situation (see Aradau 2013), as a non-desired topic.

Governing by way of Illustration: A Human Rights Strategy

The employment of governmentality as a place of inquiry illuminates the methods by which motion and displacement, efficiently framed as danger, are ruled. It additionally underlines what safety does, and the way the imaginary promise of a knowable future is ‘subtended by practices within the current that characterize issues’, or migration as an issue, ‘with a view to intervene and handle them, act upon topics, and try and conduct their actions in view of the projected future’ (Aradau 2008, 6). Following Foucault (2009, 20), the particular sphere of safety then refers to a sequence of potentialities, ‘to the temporal and the unsure, which should be inserted inside a given area’. On this gentle, safety emerges because the artwork of governing and ordering the unsure.

In a extra modern studying of this liberal artwork of presidency, and below the time period ‘liberal cosmopolitanism of presidency’, Vivienne Jabri (2013, 3) captured the latter’s claims to a crucial and emancipatory agenda by which ‘principle and apply meet in advocacies round worldwide legislation and its transnational reformulations of human rights’. This mode of governance operates by way of a liberal understanding of solidarity and, within the identify of peace and human safety, permeates the social by way of pedagogic and developmental practices of policing. By this cosmopolitan crucial to carry legislation ‘into pressure with each occasion of intervention to uphold rights within the identify of humanity’ (Jabri 2013, 117), this ‘humanity’ arises as a location of authorized and political construction, a sphere of intervention. That is the case with the GCM, which undertakes humanity inside its purview of operations, reworking mobility into a worldwide procedural drawback in want of administration and backbone. But, this a priori benevolent definition of solidarity relies on a twofold understanding of humanity, reinforcing a hierarchy of lives separating those that have the legitimacy and the means to avoid wasting from these in must be saved.

The GCM brings ahead this hierarchy between the brokers of change and those that have to be modified, managed, or ruled. Within the identify of human rights and cosmopolitan legislation, the previous (self-)proclaims its authority to intervene over the latter. As beforehand acknowledged, even when the GCM is worried with combating discrimination and racism, there are some situations that reproduce spatial hierarchies by labelling some zones as problematic or ‘deteriorating’ (GCM 2018, 8). Moreover, by unproblematically referring migration to growth, and the GCM to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth, it fills up the misleading generality and vacancy of ‘the receiving international locations’ – ‘making us all international locations of origin, transit and vacation spot’ (GCM 2018, 2) – with these showing as recipients of growth and risk-reduction packages within the 2030 Agenda.

In Jabri’s work, one additionally finds claims of liberal cosmopolitanism’s complicit participation within the replica of already institutionalized types of domination, reminiscent of neoliberal markets. These claims assist us acknowledge the depoliticizing studying of migration discovered within the GCM as one thing, which, following the neoliberal logic of demand and provide, serves the market wants. That’s, it claims that migration must be ruled in methods ‘reflecting demographic and labor market realities’ (GCM 2018, 11), ‘in accordance with nationwide priorities, nationwide labor market calls for, and expertise provide’ (GCM 2018, 23) to ‘guarantee market responsive contractual labor mobility by way of common pathways’ (GCM 2018, 12).

Moreover, studying the GCM by way of these conceptual remarks reveals that the doc’s objective is to not cease mobility, fairly the alternative. According to Foucault’s (2010, 28) declare of liberalism being ‘the artwork of the least potential authorities’, the compact goals to facilitate migration by ‘providing accelerated and facilitated visa and allow processing’ (GCM 2018, 12) and ‘versatile modalities to journey, work, and make investments with minimal administrative burdens’ (GCM 2018, 27). Knowledgeable by a language of resilience, autonomy, and emancipation, the GCM will not be about direct, bodily intervention, however self-regulation. Merely put, the intention is to not block mobility, however to handle, speed up, and flexibilize it. But, for this acceleration to occur, some types of motion must be deemed undesirable, irregular, and subsequently to be stopped. That’s to say, the GCM encourages velocity and derogation of bureaucratic procedures for some, whereas preserving others in place by way of growth packages and insurance policies, alternatively named ‘deterrence’ (see Andersson 2014 and Brown 2010).

Lastly, studying the GCM by way of governmentality brings to the foreground the types of information manufacturing it pretends to foster. The GCM (2018, 4–5, 9–10, 14–15) goals to advertise a pervasive information financial system, which reifies not solely the migrant but in addition the route, or certainly ‘all phases of the migration cycle’ as information variables. Parallelly, this information manufacturing includes everybody, from consulates, diaspora communities, and academia, to the non-public sector, commerce unions, and the media (GCM 2018, 5). The info gaps, the unregistered and extra broadly the unknown, and so the long run, grow to be an issue. Therefore, by way of superior methods of information manufacturing, the long run have to be rendered predictable or governable (Ansems de Vries 2013; Bigo 2014) with a view to ‘monitor and anticipate the event of dangers and threats that may set off or have an effect on migration actions’ and develop evidence-based insurance policies (GCM 2018, 8).

The GCM as a Query of Nationwide Sovereignty

As a ultimate comment, this paper underlines the state-centrism informing this compact and the methods by which it’s alleged to be applied. Within the ‘Implementation’ and ‘Comply with-up and Evaluate’ sections, one finds quite a lot of ‘we invite’, ‘we enable’, and ‘we encourage’ formulations. The phrase ‘voluntary’ can also be considerable. That’s, it states that the monetary and human assets in control of making use of the factors of this compact are a mere invitation or encouragement to voluntarily elaborate a ‘nationwide implementation plan’ (GCM 2018, 34).

But what, to this evaluation, appears to be like like a state-centric doc can also be thought to be derogating the sovereignty of a rustic over its borders. Particularly on the political proper, some acquired this compact with outrage, believing that it could ‘encourage extra unlawful migration’ and work to erode nationwide sovereignty over the states’ territory (Goodman 2018). Consequently, 5 international locations – america, Israel, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland − didn’t ratify it. Hungary’s Minister for International Affairs and Commerce, Péter Szijjártó, declared that the Basic Meeting was committing a severe mistake by endorsing ‘this unbalanced, biased and pro-migration doc’ (United Nations, Conferences Protection and Press Releases, 19 December 2018).  Migration is ‘a harmful phenomenon’, he careworn, and endorsing this doc may ‘immediate new migratory actions, which in flip would put transit and vacation spot international locations in danger’ (United Nations, Conferences Protection and Press Releases, 19 December 2018). In a not too completely different line, america’ consultant mentioned that his authorities couldn’t endorse the compact as a result of ‘choices about the best way to safe its borders and whom to confess for authorized residency or to grant citizenship are among the many most vital sovereign choices a State could make and usually are not topic to negotiation or overview’ (United Nations, Conferences Protection and Press Releases, 19 December 2018).

Having mentioned that, the truth that the GCM will not be legally binding raised opposing issues amongst non-governmental organizations and human rights advocates who feared that international locations would by no means absolutely implement the measures detailed within the doc. Nevertheless, the difficulty with state-centrism, which this chapter raises, goes past the impossibility to totally implement a compact that may solely be inspired. In another way, this paper brings to the foreground the incapacity to conceptualize mobility past migration and borders, and politics past the classes of ‘citizenship’, ‘refugee’, and ‘(ir)common migrant’, the impossibility to consider mobility past the framework of the sovereign state. The GCM stays a query of nationwide sovereignty.


General, this chapter doesn’t fake to be an exhaustive evaluation of the GCM, however an try to make use of governmentality to underline the facility dynamics disguised by the human rights discourse of safety. It desires to problematize the assumed neutrality of the method of naming and convey to the foreground the political agenda behind labelling and the usage of classes reminiscent of ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’, which the compact assumes to be state-dependent. In different phrases, by way of the GCM, the state emerges as reliable to make claims about who will get to be named what and the way. 

Utilizing each Foucault and modern scholarship that finds in his work a productive level of inquiry, this chapter unpacks the methods by which, within the GCM, migration re-emerges as an issue to be managed. By understanding liberal governance as an effort to make actuality knowable, or to make actuality seen as information (Ansems de Vries 2013), it sheds some gentle on the practices of presidency the GCM legitimizes and the hierarchies of life it perpetuates. It’s price clarifying that, by having two sections – one targeted on methods of illustration and one other on practices of governing – this chapter doesn’t recommend that one can perceive them individually. Contrarily, and because it  tries to indicate, logics of illustration inform methods of presidency and vice versa.

Lastly, this chapter additionally acknowledges that its concern with state-centrism is on no account accepted by all. As talked about above, some, particularly on the suitable, acquired the compact with outrage or just refused to ratify it, stating that it could ‘encourage extra unlawful migration’ and erode nationwide sovereignty over states’ territory and borders (see Goodman 2018 and Rieffel 2018). But, this analysis is pushed by a private conviction that using governmentality can present productive insights into the circumstances of risk of this doc and the state-centric energy dynamics behind it. In different phrases, it tries to argue that understanding safety in its bigger operate of ordering the social illuminates the exceptionality surrounding human mobilities. Extra typically, doing so may also help problem the pervasiveness of ideas and terminology reminiscent of ‘border’, ‘citizenship’, or ‘irregularity’ that also clog and exhaust the controversy on human mobilities.


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