The postcolonial migration state

Kamal Sadiq, Gerasimos Tsourapas

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The evolution of migration policymaking across the Global South is of growing interest to International Relations. Yet, the impact of colonial and imperial legacies on states’ migration management regimes outside Europe and North America remains under-theorised. How does postcolonial state formation shape policies of cross-border mobility management in the Global South? By bringing James F. Hollifield’s framework of the contemporary ‘migration state’ in conversation with critical scholarship on postcolonialism, we identify the existence of a ‘postcolonial paradox,’ namely two sets of tensions faced by newly independent states of the Global South: first, the need to construct a modern sovereign nation-state with a well-defined national identity contrasts with weak institutional capacity to do so; second, territorial realities of sovereignty conflict with the imperatives of nation-building seeking to establish exclusive citizenship norms towards populations residing both inside and outside the boundaries of the postcolonial state. We argue that the use of cross-border mobility control policies to reconcile such tensions transforms the ‘postcolonial state’ into the ‘postcolonial migration state,’ which shows distinct continuities with pre-independence practices. In fact, postcolonial migration states reproduce colonial-era tropes via the surveillance and control of segmented migration streams that redistribute labour for the global economy. We demonstrate this via a comparative study of post-independence migration management in India and Egypt, which also aims to merge a problematic regional divide between scholarship on the Middle East and South Asia. We urge further critical interventions on the international politics of migration that prioritise interregional perspectives from the broader Global South.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)884-912
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number3
Early online date10 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Apr 2021


  • Global South
  • Middle East
  • Post-colonialism
  • South Asia
  • decolonisation
  • third world


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