Through the looking glass: How western countries are likely to react to the migrant crisis through International Relations Theory

By Reza Majd, on 23 March 2018

Written by: Aashna Chatterjee

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

Syrian family receiving clothes and other items at their arrival in Canada (CTV News, 2016)

Over the past few years, the refugee crisis in Syria has reached an unavoidable level, greatly impacting its neighbouring countries as well as the Western World, especially in Europe. The reactions of these countries is still being debated about and discussed throughout the international community. Through a broader analysis using the three main International Relations Theories (Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism), it might be possible to understand and clarify the opinions and reactions of western states in the best manner possible.

Refugees and refugee movements are more than just human rights issues. They are and have always been an inherent part of international politics owing to the “way” an individual receives refugee status- conflict and war in the country of origin, which requires them to seek “refuge” in another country (Loescher and Betts; 2011). In the case of the Syrian Refugee crisis, some of the countries that these displaced people have fled to, are those belonging to the European Union. International Relations theories on the other hand, help understand the International arena and provide various “lenses” or perspectives through which one can study it. Thus, an operative theory might help in breaking down the crisis and the debates surrounding it and might help clarify which perspective suits the dynamics a world in crisis, the best.

Realism suggests that the protection of national security is of utmost importance and in this anarchical setting, every country must act out of its own self-interest and thus strive to remain in power. If it is not in the interest of a developed, western country to aid developing nations, then they won’t. For instance, it would be difficult for a realist leader in the western world, like the United States to justify the entry of thousands of Syrians without insinuating terrorist activity or general domestic discord. In this way, a Realist would not allow a nation to risk its security, when it is already at risk by other foreign powers. This however, is not true of the current world dynamics. Countries have taken in a number of refugees and are working towards rehabilitating them. It is taking time and policies are being shaped around recent events, especially in the EU, but this goes against realist thought which would essentially close its gates to all refugees. While this may be the case for a very few countries, it is not a statement that can be generalised. Furthermore, International Organisations have been prevalent in the dialogue surrounding refugees and this would not have been possible in a realist world. Thus again, Realism only explains a part of the situation but is unable to encapsulate it as a whole.

In this case, why not look at the opposite side of the spectrum and see what Liberalism has to offer? Liberalism suggests that the best way to describe state behaviour is through an interdependent drive for peace. In other words, states are more likely to cooperate and establish a peaceful international community. A liberal perspective might look at the crisis and suggest that international cooperation would be the best way to tackle the crisis and that interdependency is what is needed to bring Syria back to life. Furthermore, a refugee coming into a new country would bring in economic advantage over time. A Liberalist would see this as a welcome development, which would help in the process of global, economic cooperation. This again, however is an ideal scenario as the current rhetoric of western states suggests that refugees are seen as people taking away jobs and physical space. Countries are actively rejecting refugees and suggesting a “cap” to the number of people they take in. This is further exacerbated by referring to refugees as “migrants” and thus stripping them of the rights given to them by the 1951 Human Rights Convention, an international treaty, created by an international organisation. This goes against Liberal thought as (a) International Institutions are very important in a liberal world and states comply with regulations set by these IOs and (b) it goes against the “law” of interdependency and cooperation.

Additionally, given the amount of time taken to address the crisis and the fact that it has broken more relationships between countries than it has possibly unified, it can be suggested that Liberalism only addresses one small part of the crisis. It can be used to describe not how the countries are acting currently but how they want to be seen as acting. Countries from the west have indeed banded together to help solve the problem in Syria and have cooperated a great deal to ensure the best possible outcome, however a liberal perspective still cannot be applied to this as each country acts based on their own context and not as a collective team.

This brings us to the last major International Relations theory: Constructivism. Constructivism as a lens is an interesting one: rather than trying to define the world, it seeks to analyse how one thinks about the world (Laffey, 2013 in Oezel, 2015). In constructivism, norms define everything and the world is socially constructed through discourse and practice. This incorporates linguistic practice and rhetoric, institutions and borders (Weldes et al, 1999; 16). It seeks to study how the world forms its assumptions and what the consequences are. Thus when it comes to the refugee crisis and the idea of security, constructivism looks towards a reality constructed through context. A country is likely to think of the “pros and cons” of taking in refugees based on a sense of collective discourse and context (Weldes; 16). In other words, the concept of security and insecurity comes from how individuals, state officials and media outlets describe the world they live in and how that constructs their identities and what they collectively deem as threats to their security. furthermore, the 1951 human rights convention explicitly states that it is a member state’s responsibility to protect refugees and some countries have indeed opened up their borders to welcome those in need. Constructivism would suggest that the convention created a norm for countries to follow. Through this lens, it is possible to gauge and analyse the reactions and policies made by western countries towards refugees. If we were to look at the context and the general discourse of how identity and security are defined in a country, it would help identify the way states are likely to react to the crisis.

The reactions of countries in the western world have varied from being welcoming towards refugees to closing their borders outright. International Relations scholars seek to generalise the phenomenon in order to best study this major crisis and one of the best ways to do this for them is use International Relations theories. This article hoped to shed some light on how the major theories in IR would define the reactions of western states towards the refugee crisis in Syria. Based on the discussion above, it can be suggested that Liberalism and Realism would only be able to explain certain parts of the crisis as opposed to being able to view the crisis as a whole. The crisis is far to complex to fit into a didactic framework set up by these two theories, especially realism. On the other hand, Constructivism, owing to its nature of studying discourse and context, might be the best out of the three to understand the situation and that is far more important than merely explaining it. Understanding the norms and discourse would enable one to understand the situation as a whole and thus be able to work towards a solution to this very large and important crisis.




Betts, A. and Loescher, G. eds., 2011. Refugees in international relations. Oxford University Press.


Oezel, Y.,2015. Providing Security? Border Control and the Politics of Migration in the EU.


Weldes, J., Laffey, M., Gusterson, H. and Duvall, R., 1999. Introduction: constructing insecurity. Cultures of insecurity: States, communities, and the production of danger, pp.1-33.

Check out the New IPPR Podcast!

By Reza Majd, on 19 March 2018

Check out the 1st Episode of A Cup of Poli-Tea

Episode 1: UCU Strike by A Cup of Poli-tea on #SoundCloud

Link to Episode 1!



Luke Harding- How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House

By Reza Majd, on 19 March 2018

Written by: Liza Kinnear

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors

Luke Harding, author of “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win,” lived and worked in Moscow, Russia as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian from 2007-2011.


Luke Harding, a foreign correspondent working for The Guardian, gave a talk at UCL on February 8th. Since working in Moscow between 2007 and 2011, Harding has become well-known for his reporting on Russian affairs- perhaps driven recently by his unceremonious expulsion from Russia in 2011. That year, Harding released “Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia,” shedding light on his experiences living in Russia and his eventual eviction from the country. The talk, however, covered a more recent scandal, and was premised on Harding’s latest book- “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.”

The talk detailed Harding’s life in Moscow, which illuminated his stance on the alleged Russia-Trump collusion before the 2016 US election. Harding spent much of the talk focusing on Russian KGB (now FSB) scare tactics, which he argued played a major role in Trump’s rise to power. To explain the plausibility of this collusion, Harding insisted that we must go back many years- to Trump’s first visit to Russia in 1987. At this time, the Soviet government invited Trump to visit Moscow on an all-expenses-paid trip. “The people who arranged this were Intourist [the Soviet Union’s official state travel agency],” however according to Harding, it was considered common knowledge that the agency was essentially run by the KGB. Harding went on to suggest that this demonstrates long-term Russian interest in Trump, with leaked papers revealing why Trump might originally have become a person of interest- there was a need at the time to recruit Americans. A KGB personality questionnaire that was circulated around the agency highlighted the need to find people who matched certain characteristics. The KGB were looking for someone “vain, ambitious, narcissistic, adulterous… and Trump ticked every box”.

6 weeks after Trump’s trip to Moscow, Harding notes that Trump “took out a series of front page adverts in various newspapers, criticising Raegan and announcing that he is running for president.” To Harding, this demonstrates the subliminal power of KGB tactics. The journalist argued that the KGB identified Trump as a target decades ago, before embarking on a “journey of courtship” that would eventually help him into the White House. Harding thus suggests that a long backstory of courtship is an important factor in the alleged collusion.

In 2013, Donald Trump attended the Miss Universe contest held in Moscow, a moment which Luke Harding believes is significant to his eventual assent to presidency. He insisted that typical KGB monitoring techniques were used on Trump during his stay, which may have given Russia significant leverage over Trump. “Why is Trump always nice about Putin?” Harding questioned the audience. “Why will he never criticise him? Does Russia have compromising material on Trump?”

To demonstrate the influence of KGB tactics, Harding paused to tell an anecdote from his own life in Moscow. Working as a foreign journalist, Harding became a prime target for surveillance, particularly due to his critical stances on major Russian political issues. After a break-in at his Moscow flat, Harding became aware that secret cameras had been installed and the FSB were carefully monitoring his private life. Harding noted several instances when his phone connection was disrupted during conversations regarding sensitive matters, and recalled a time when he came home to find the previously closed window beside his son’s bed left wide open- a gesture which he understood to be a warning from the FSB. More amusingly, Harding spoke of a time when a small gift was left on his bedside table after a family holiday- a sex manual, with a section about orgasms earmarked. Although Harding appeared to see the humour in these scare tactics, he insisted that his own personal experience of surveillance demonstrates the proficiency of the Russian security services in finding a person’s vulnerability and using it against them.

Thus, according to Harding, a combination of the 2016 hacking, economic ties between Trump and Putin, and possible surveillance by the Russian security agency all assisted Trump in winning the presidency. However, Harding insists that “Putin didn’t think Trump would win”- rather, he was used to discredit Hillary Clinton and weaken her power, leaving Russia to do what they wanted in the global arena. Millions voted for Trump and “we can’t say Trump won thanks to Putin, but Putin did push him over the finish line.”

While some suggestions may seem slightly far-fetched (what information could Russia have on Trump that would damage his international reputation even further?), Harding’s talk gave an interesting insight into his own experiences living in Russia and provided ample material for a lively debate about the likelihood and effect of any collusion.

International Public Policy Journal Weekly Briefing

By Reza Majd, on 19 March 2018

Compiled by Nicole Watson and Tommaso Bernabo’

Calls for Papers

Interested in writing an article for the IPPR Journal published in September? We are currently accepting articles on the topic “Truth and Principles”. Articles are anywhere from 1000-5000 words in the form of opinion pieces, policy reviews, or longform, and we do accept papers previously submitted for classes (provided you confirm with your professor). More information can be found on our website.


If you are interested in writing about social media, AI, the internet or any other forms of technology for our “Internet and Tech month”, Nicole and Yasi would love to hear from you ( ; If you would like to get involved with our Internet and Tech podcast, please contact Taylor Matthews ( ).


If you are interested in writing something, but unsure whether it would work or how to go about it, please contact our Journal Editor, Alejandro Briones Sosa (


Week in review

Leopoldo López Speaks Out, and Venezuela’s Government Cracks Down

The opposition leader’s interview with The New York Times Magazine coincides with a renewed offensive against dissent (NY Times)


Duterte to withdraw Philippines from ICC after ‘outrageous attacks’

The Philippines said on Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to what President Rodrigo Duterte called “outrageous” attacks by U.N. officials and violations of due process by the ICC (Reuters).


Egypt’s 2018 presidential ‘election’: What you need to know

Egyptians abroad prepare to vote beginning on March 16 in Egypt’s fourth contested presidential polls (AlJazeera).


Former South African president Jacob Zuma faces corruption charges

Indictment is tied to a $2.5 billion arms deal from the 1990s (Washington Post).


Mass protests in Slovakia after PM Fico quits

About 65,000 people attended anti-government protests in Bratislava, organisers say (BBC).


Aung San Suu Kyi asks Australia and Asean for help with Rohingya crisis

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says Myanmar leader seeks humanitarian and ‘capacity building’ assistance (The Guardian).


Turkey claims to have encircled Afrin, besieging up to 200,000

Inhabitants of majority Kurdish Syrian city fear a blockade and bombardment are imminent (The Guardian).


Russia stockpiling nerve agent – Johnson

The UK foreign secretary also dismisses claims the substance may have come from a UK laboratory (BBC).


Putin basks in election he could not lose

Vladimir Putin won a landslide victory by sidelining opponent and stoking nationalist sentiment, Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says (BBC).




Events this week:

‘Producing Global Governance in the Global Factory – Prof. Virginia Haufler’ (link)

When: 20th March, 6.15pm

Where: E28 Harrie Massey LT, 25 Gordon Street, London, WC1H 0AY





Refugees from “The Northern Triangle”

By Reza Majd, on 16 March 2018

Written by: Johnathan King

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.


 The current crisis in the “Northern Triangle” region of Central America has resulted in millions of refugees leaving their countries of origin. The Northern Triangle is made up of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. All three nations face conflicts inflicted by gang violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and insecurity. This latter has developed a system where gangs dictate their will on society. Throughout the mid 2000’s, the United States granted temporary status to thousands of refugees from these troubled nations due to the rising violence, influx of criminal incidents, and rise of death per capita. The US government granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for asylum seekers due to natural disasters or domestic conflicts. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 3.4 million Central American migrants who have migrated to the United States. From 2011 to 2016, the number of refugees fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” region to the U.S. increased by 2,249 percent. The majority are women and children. Additionally, the refugees have fled using migratory patterns through the southern border of Mexico, which are operated by narco-traffickers. The routes to the United States are very dangerous and it is an expensive journey for a single person, let alone for a whole family to take. Yet, refugees have continuously borne the costs and risks to flee for the promise of a better life since 2010.

Since the peak of refugee migration in 2014, Mexico has seen an influx of migrants attempting to cross their northern border into the United States. Policies under President Obama’s administration aimed to provide temporary legal status for refugees seeking asylum. However, since President Trump took office, the number of refugees attempting to cross the border into the US has dramatically decreased. According to International Crisis Group, refugees were estimated to be around 500,000 – 600,000 fleeing from the Northern Triangle to the U.S. every year. In 2016, after the implementation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. government instructed to curb the flow of non-legal refugees and deport them. Many of President Obama’s policies expired at the beginning of 2018 and some other temporary status programs are ready to expire in March 2018.

The flow of refugees has created an economic, social, and political effect that directly impacts millions of people and the governments involved. Refugees who have successfully fled El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala send portions of their incomes back to family members and friends who are struggling in their countries of origin. The Northern Triangle nations have large percentages of their countries Global Domestic Income produced directly by remittances sent from former national residents. The resulting dependency on refugee remittances leads to a situation where the government does not have the means to make a significant contribution. Additionally, corruption levels within the political arenas in the “Northern Triangle” are detrimental to overall national growth.

Currently, the “Northern Triangle” countries suffer from severe violence, extortion, and insecurity. Refugees have migrated outwardly from their countries because they seek an alternative lifestyle. They are pushed to make the decision to leave these countries for a myriad of reasons, but mainly because by fleeing they have the ability to create a better life for themselves. The corruption, gang violence, drug trade, and inability to improve social mobility have produced massive migration. According to the Council on Foreign Relations:

Nearly 10 percent of the Northern Triangle countries’ thirty million residents        have left, mostly for the United States. In 2013, as many as 2.7 million             people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were living in the      United States, up from an estimated 1.5 million people in 2000. Nearly one      hundred thousand unaccompanied minors arrived to the United States from El        Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras between October 2013 and July 2015,   drawing attention to the region’s broader emigration trend. At the United    States’ urging, Mexico stepped up enforcement along its southern border,          apprehending 70 percent more Central Americans in 2015 than it did in the            year before (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016).

The criminal elements embedded in the Northern Triangle region have developed into a crisis where refugees have left seeking opportunity elsewhere. Due to the high levels of violence, individual households send members to gain incomes in areas where more opportunities are available. Because crime and corruption is so seismic, refugees have become a mode of production to help support those still living in the countries of origin. The economic struggles in the region have led to a system of remittances being sent home from refugees and migrants back to families and loved ones. Remittances sent back to Honduras from the U.S. account for 18.0 percent of the country’s GDP. In U.S. dollars, remittances are estimated to equate to $3,863,740.00 (IMF, 2017). The number of net migrants for Honduras is -8 and for Guatemala, -6, which both are significantly less than El Salvador. By analysing the data, we can infer that there is more of a concentration of former refugees from El Salvador because more refugees have migrated outward of the country. Compared to Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador has higher net indicators of nationals who have fled mainly north towards the United States. Even though the number of migrants fleeing from Honduras is lower, both El Salvador and Honduras share high levels of remittances. Honduras has a larger population but does not receive as high a number of remittances as El Salvador does. Remittances, in effect, are the economic instruments that evade the harms of insecurity and crime, and act as financial support systems linking families and loved ones.



 The Northern Triangle states have created a vacuum of refugees due to severe violence and gang warfare. Policies have temporarily given refuge to migrants fleeing for their lives, but those policies are coming to an end. With the rise of President Trump’s rhetoric and attack on criminal groups whose origins are from the region, the future conditions for refugees are unknown. Economic remittances have created a state of dependency from refugees to those back home, acting as a monetary lifeline for many individual households. What will happen without that sector of revenue? The refugee crisis coupled with political instability is a product of insecurity where mass populations are going to be returned to the region with no positive improvable prospects for the region. The refugee crisis in the Northern Triangle has direct implications for the Americas in general and future policies regarding refugee status will be very important to monitor going forward.




Council on Foreign Relations. (2016). Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].


Kunz, R. (2013). Political economy of global remittances. London: Routledge.


Lesser,G. and Batalova, J. (2017). Central American Immigrants in the United States [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].


International Crisis Group. (2017). Undocumented Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America [online] Available at[Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2016). Migration Policy Debates. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2017].


World Bank. (2016). Data. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].



A Trumpian Take on Migration

By Reza Majd, on 14 March 2018

Written by:Isobel-Blakeway Phillips

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

 In honour of President Trump’s unique communication style, IPPR presents a satirical piece on the Donald’s particular approach to decision making and logic. Translation services can be purchased for $99.99 from the White House gift shop.

If you enjoy this or want to write one for your own favourite politician, let us know!


I’ve been hearing, about this “migrant crisis”, have you heard of this? It’s a big thing, very big. People have been talking. And they say to me, “Donald, you’re a great guy, and you’ve stuck with this mess. Obama has made such a mess. And people are laughing at us” And they’re right. People are laughing at us. These migrants are coming into our country, crossing our borders and laughing at us. They are taking our jobs, which are great by the way, really excellent, the best in the world, and they’re taking them like candy. We’re being taking advantage of by these migrants, who are great I’m sure. Some of them are really great guys. There’s a guy in our office, Juan I think he’s called or John? Or maybe Pedro. Something ethnic. He’s from Mexico but he’s a great guy. He’s a dreamer. But we are all dreamers, all Americans are dreamers, and the migrants and the people crossing our borders, they’re making us look weak and they are stealing our dreams. You know I had a dream last night, it was a great dream, really fantastic. But when I woke up, I couldn’t remember it. It was gone. Just gone. So Sad. And you know what, the migrants have been taking dreams. That’s just what I’ve heard. Because they don’t respect us.

Many many people, so many people, and from all over, not just from the swamp (which we’re going to drain by the way) have been coming up to me and telling me “Donald”, I think you’re great, but we need to fix this migration problem. The Republicans in Congress and the Senate, they’re weak, and the Democrats are obsolete, they’re not relevant, they don’t do anything. But you are great and we want you to fix this”.

Everyone is now saying America is pathetic. Obamacare is a joke, the Democrats are all losers, and Fake News Media is telling lies. Lies and fake news. Big lies. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led. And we were the big bully who was the big stupid bully. So I am here to announce the best policy ever, it’s going to be fantastic, really fantastic. It will make America great again. Which we already are, great, we are fantastic, but it will make America even greater. We have come up with this really great plan, a really sophisticated system, I don’t think you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Have you heard of these things called “Visas”? They’re massive. HUGE. But they don’t work. Many people don’t even get them, and then they join gangs, it’s ridiculous. They enter this country and they join gangs and that’s where gangs come from. Have you been to LA? It’s a mess. There are gangs everywhere. And did you know about the prohibition? That was just the migrants making gangs it was bad. Really bad. Like there was just terror everywhere from these gangs of New York in the prohibition. I watched this movie recently. It’s got Leo in it, Leo DiCaprio, he’s a great guy, but frankly a lightweight on climate change, but he was in this movie about this couple caught up in the gangs that the migrants are making.

But we’re going to fix that. We’ve been working on this tremendous plan. We. Are. Going. To. Get. Rid. Of. Visas. And replace them with tattoos on all migrants’ foreheads. Everyone who enters the country will have to get a permanent tattoo on their forehead that’s a bar code, it’s gonna be massive. Everybody’s talking about it. I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of witnessed it—in fact, in two cases I have actually witnessed it. They had these massive tattoos on their faces, and they were respected. Everyone around them said, “These are two really great guys, they went out, and they got tattoos on their face, and we know they’re not going to do anything bad because we will know who they are.” It’s amazing. They love it. And it’s the Cyber. We’re going to use the Cyber to make sure these people don’t join gangs and die like Leo. It will be great. This Bigly policy is going to use the Cyber and we’re going to solve the migrant crisis. There will be. No. More. Migrants. Gone. No more. They’ll just be these Americans with bar codes on their heads. We’ve used this in my hotels to keep up with our staff and it’s been great. We always know who is staff and who isn’t. They wear uniforms, but now we can make sure we still know on Halloween when everyone’s in costumes. Did you know I throw a Halloween party every year? It’s great, really great. You should look at the pictures. The Times did an article on it last year even though I didn’t invite them. I said, “You guys aren’t invited to my party” and they cried. Ask Ivanka, she saw.

I’ve talked to people about this, I have many many friends, the likes of which you have never seen, they are so smart, and I have talked to Ivanka and Jerrod, who are both beautiful, so sexy, and they all say, “Donald, Don-Don, you are a genius. This is the best plan we’ve ever seen.” And you know what, I agree with them.

So in conclusion, I agree with you, Nancy, I think the wall is a great plan, and I think we can fix this dreamers problem, and I will sign anything that comes onto my desk because I can’t read and because I like holding up the papers to the photographers, but I want it to be a clean bill. It’s going to include the bar codes and the Cyber, and we’re going to build that wall and I think that will Make America Great Again.