ArticlesEstudios Fronterizos, vol. 20, 2019, e028

Typological scheme of migration and forced displacements

Esquema tipológico de las migraciones y desplazamientos forzados

Emilio Alberto López Reyesa*
Luis G. Juárez Hernándezb
María Guadalupe Veytia Buchelic

a Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Mexico, e-mail:

b Centro Universitario CIFE, Mexico, e-mail:

c Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, Mexico, e-mail:

* Author for correspondence: Emilio Alberto López Reyes, e-mail:

Received on January 27, 2019.
Accepted on June 7, 2019.
Published on June 28, 2019.

CITATION: López, E. A., Juárez, L. G. & Veytia, M. G.(2019). Esquema tipológico de las migraciones y desplazamientos forzados [Typological scheme of migrations and forced displacements]. Estudios Fronterizos, 20, e028. doi:

The purpose of this article is to outline migrations and forced displacement based on social and spatial dimensions, with the objective of providing a typological approach that contributes to theoretical debates and perspectives to study and address these phenomena. The methodological strategy consists of the creation of a conceptual map, which made it possible, based on its core concepts, to offer clarification of the notions, characterization and dimensions involved in displacements within the migration process. Based on the analysis and discussion, the article concludes with a typological proposal, and the scope and limits are described for the conceptual treatment and social construction of migration profiles based on contexts of expulsion.
Keywords: forced migrations, expulsions, internally displaced peoples, refugees and asylum, deportation.

Este artículo tiene como propósito esquematizar las migraciones y desplazamientos forzados desde la dimensión social y espacial, con el objetivo de aportar una propuesta tipológica que contribuya a los debates y perspectivas teóricas para su estudio y abordaje. La estrategia metodológica se compone de la construcción de una cartografía conceptual, lo cual permitió, mediante sus ejes, brindar una clarificación de la noción, caracterización y dimensiones que integran los desplazamientos dentro del proceso migratorio. A partir del análisis y discusión, se concluye con una propuesta tipológica, se describen alcances y límites para el tratamiento conceptual y construcción social de perfiles migratorios de acuerdo a contextos de expulsión.
Palabras clave: migraciones forzadas, expulsiones, personas desplazadas internas, refugiados y asilo, deportación.


Prior to the 2000s, gaps can be identified in the typological/conceptual context regarding the conceptualization of forced migrations, such as dispersion and lack of connection among academic productions. Moreover, as Herrera suggests, it has been considered “uncertain terrain for typological and theoretical contribution” (Herrera, 2006, p. 62) to base migration decisions on willingness scales. However, given the impact of the migration crisis in recent decades, it has become necessary to expand on its causes and dimensions.

From the 1990s to the present, different expressions of forced displacement have been developed within what Weiner (1995), seconded by Castles (2003), alarmingly called the global migration crisis, characterized by contexts of human mobility caused by violence observed in different nodes of the Americas, the Middle East and North Africa, Central Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Within these contexts, the Global Trends Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) demonstrates that, as of December of 2015, approximately 65.3 million people had been forced to migrate, among whom at least 38 million of the displacements had occurred within national borders. Proportionately, one out of every 113 people in the world had either requested asylum, been a refugee, been an internally displaced person or repatriated. Despite the level of unpredictability of expressions of the phenomenon, in recent years, the international trend in human mobility indicates an alarming increase at the global level (Edwards, 2016; Norwegian Refugee Council-Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2017).

The complexity for national institutions (Mayorga, 2015), subjects and international actors of developing conceptual frameworks, typologies and approaches in the face of impelled or forced migrations is such that, although these mobilities that have existed since ancient times, the conceptual construction of such movements has been discussed and debated regarding both their treatment and construction, as well as the development of the migration profile (Herrera, 2006, p. 62), the forced nature of migrating, together with factors such as the subjectivity of measuring will with regard to deterritorialization, the political and ideological weight, as well as state responsibility and representation with regard to indirect legal personality (citizenship and nationality). These approaches have generated migration spectra immersed in cartesian classifications; variables and constructs of economic indicators; sociological, political and legal categories of cross-border flows; and codifications arising from international instruments.

Given the impact of the phenomenon in scenarios framed by the global migration crisis, the dimensions, classifications, constructs and codifications of some of these categories appear to be exceeded, and they are occasionally used arbitrarily in the media and on social networks. The channels of expulsion include social expressions of political, economic and cultural violence projected in phases of generalized violence; acts of organized crime; structural, intermittent and/or systematic human rights violations; criminalizing migration structures and policies (deportability) (De Genova & Peutz, 2010); activities related to development projects; extractive projects; environmental disasters and earthquakes (Red sobre Migraciones Forzadas en las Américas, 2014).

Within manifestations of generalized violence, it is worth noting new wars or atypical conflicts, which are those that occur in the context of state disintegration and are waged by networks of state and non-state actors, in which battles are rare, most of the violence is directed against the civilian population and crimes are accentuated. The distinction between combatants and ex-combatants or between legitimate and criminal violence is blurred. These atypical conflicts exacerbate state disintegration and strengthen new sectarian identities that undermine the sense of a shared political community (Kaldor, 2006; Kurtenbach, 2004).

Faced with such scenarios, people are forced to leave their places of habitual residence and seek protection and shelter. Given the transformations of global multipolarity and changes in the factors of expulsion and attraction of migratory flows subsequent to 2001 and 2008 (the crisis of institutions, fight against terrorism, deterritorialization of states in the face of foreign investment, evictions and the situation of high finance), it is critical to emphasize that border areas have become such complex and permeable settings that they are not consistently attended to by states and institutions, which has led to the development of precarious conditions that affect populations susceptible to international protection, as well as populations rooted in border spaces (Red sobre Migraciones Forzadas en las Américas, 2014).

Traditionally, studies of migrations have been constructed based on the observation of the phenomenon of deterritorialization, or leaving the space of habitual residence for another, in search of essential resources or conditions for subsistence. This economic-style approach has been studied from different perspectives, epistemological positions and methodological strategies for its explanation. Here, we propose considering theoretical proposals regarding the global migration crisis, as well as recent contributions regarding forced displacement. The resulting proposals frame types of expulsions within the social process. To achieve our objective, we encourage a review and rethinking of the dimensions and analytical categories constructed. The spaces and contexts put forth are understood as scenarios with high levels of vulnerability for the integrity of persons and the exercise of basic natural rights.

With the intention of addressing the phenomenon regarding the debate surrounding will in making the decision to leave one’s place of residence, the proposed typology that we will develop focuses on the following: 1) analyzing the typological development of migrations, focusing the analytical framework on impelled or forced expressions of the phenomenon, forced displacements and contexts of expulsion (Sassen, 1998; 1999; 2014a); and 2) based on recent theoretical contributions and the most commonly used typological schemes (Herrera, 2006, pp. 62-72), using conceptual mapping to identify the core concepts for differentiating forced displacements and intersection within the migration process (Castles & Miller, 2004), as well as elasticity and permeability among the categories.

The justification for the study is found in adherence to theoretical debates regarding the conceptualization of forced displacement and its dimensions, as has been alluded to, upon considering the proposals of Weiner (1995) and Castles (2003) regarding “the global migration crisis,” and global trends (Edwards, 2016), highlighting that, in the five-year period from 2010 to 2015, the phenomenon reached alarming levels globally and was placed on the international agenda under Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequalities (item 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda is to “Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”) (Organización de las Naciones Unidas México [ONU-México], 2016, p. 28), as well as United Nations Resolution (07/1) and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (Resolución (07/1) Declaración de Nueva York para los Refugiados y los Migrantes, 2016), a declarative instrument previous to the Global Compact for Migration (Global Compact for Migration, 2018).

We propose to socially evaluate the different expressions of forced displacements, extending the framework of observation from the economic sphere to the political, cultural and environmental spheres. Based on the construction of a conceptual map, the migration process is conceived of from the perspective of its complexity and multidimensionality, in which the displaced are open subjects (Morín, 1996) who construct migration profiles with a high level of flexibility according to logics or channels of expulsion, factors of attraction in destination sites, territoriality and dispossession (Sassen, 2014a).

Considerations for a Typological Framework for Migration and Forced Displacement

Forced Displacement with International Border Crossings, Applying for International Protection: Asylum and Refuge

Despite the existence of historic figures of exile, exodus and diaspora, the process of classification/codification from a sociological and juridical perspective to understand the situation of forced migration originates from the observation of displaced persons crossing an international border, arising from postwar contexts, thus structuring the figure of the asylee and refugee status.

According to the Dictionaire de la Terminologie du Droit International Préface (Basdevant, cited in Gómez-Robledo, 2003, p. 616), asylum is generally understood as follows:

The protection granted to a person subject to persecution by the authorities of a state, in the hypothesis that said persecutions confront the prohibition of their persecution within certain competent spaces of the authority of another state, without this other state having an obligation to facilitate the continued persecution by delivering the refugee to the authorities of the state attempting to exercise that persecution (Gómez-Robledo, 2003, p. 616).

In contrast, the universal condition of refugees is found in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted on July 28 of 1951 (Convención sobre el Estatuto de los Refugiados, 1951), and its Protocol of January 31, 1967. According to the Convention, the status of refugee applies to a person who:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it (Convención sobre el Estatuto de los Refugiados, 1951, Art. 1).

The Glossary on Migration by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines asylum as follows:

Protection granted by a state to an alien on its own territory against the exercise of jurisdiction by the state of origin, based on the principle of nonrefoulement, leading to the enjoyment of certain internationally recognized rights (OIM, 2006, p. 8).

[] nonrefoulement A fundamental principle of international law and, in some cases, a peremptory norm or jus cogens, laid down in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, according to which 1) No contracting state shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where their life or liberty would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. 2) The benefit of the present provision cannot, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country (OIM, 2006, p. 47).

According to a basic definition, asylum can be understood as the quality or status granted by states to those individuals who are already physically outside their country of habitual residence and can request asylum, as long as they meet the definition of refugees and the law does not prevent them from being granted refuge. Asylum is accepted as a fundamental right under Article 14 of Resolution 217 A (III), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Resolución 217 A (III) Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos, 1948), as well as in Article XXVII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948 (Declaración Americana de los Derechos y Deberes del Hombre, 1948) and Article 22 of the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969 (Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos, 1969) (Pact of San José). Asylum is also guaranteed in Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 2007 (Carta de los Derechos Fundamentales de la Unión Europea, 2007), and under Article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981 (Carta Africana sobre los Derechos Humanos y de los Pueblos, 1981) (Banjul Charter), the right to asylum is even complemented by other rights of transit and residence.

Meanwhile, the figure of the refugee is recognized as a person who is prevented from or is not willing to return to his or her country of origin due to well-founded fear of persecution or because his or her life would be in danger. For asylum status, the applicant must fit the criteria for refugees and, in some cases, be physically located outside the country in which he/she will be granted protection.

Intersection Displacement/Refoulement/Forced Return: Deportation and Repatriation

Forced return migration has had significant precedent, particularly in the construction and maintenance of the structure of migratory policies and deportation regimes (De Genova & Peutz, 2010), and it is once again acquiring analytical relevance in the contemporary era.

Forced return has been understood based on refoulement, defined as such:

The return by a state, in any manner whatsoever, of an individual to the territory of another state in which his/her life or liberty would be threatened, or s/he may be persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or would run the risk of torture. Refoulement includes any action having the effect of returning the individual to a state, including expulsion, deportation, extradition, rejection at the frontier (border), extraterritorial interception and physical return (OIM, 2006, p. 60).

Deportation or removal is understood as “the act of a state, in the exercise of its sovereignty in removing an alien from its territory to a certain place after refusal of admission or termination of permission to remain in that state” (OIM, 2006, p. 16).

In the conceptualization of return migration, the term voluntary or involuntary is not used for its explanation, from which it follows that the notion of migration and forced return is given a broader connotation and is linked to and strengthened by the examples cited for understanding, which include displacements due to war or the situation of being a refugee. According to Gandini, Lozano-Ascencio and Gaspar (2015, p. 35), forced migration, although not generalizable, characterizes a substantial amount of contemporary migratory dynamics, which is why some authors have suggested expanding it, supported by the concept of migrant security and the perspective of human rights (Gzesh, 2008).

The term forced return refers to inequality and its associated mechanisms that generate mass migrations of marginalized, dispossessed and excluded populations. Forced return relates to people who have been expelled from their territories and are seeking to access means of subsistence and opportunities for social mobility, or who cannot find employment conditions suited to their abilities and level of training (Delgado, Márquez & Puente, cited in Gandini et al., 2015, p. 35). According to Durand (2004), destination countries are increasingly impeding the establishment of emigrants and refugees, immigration laws are becoming stricter, and summary deportations without the right to appeal are multiplying. Many migrants, among those refugees who arrived as children, are being forced to return to their countries of origin due to changes in political situations or bilateral conventions. Such is the case of deportees, who number several million per year worldwide. Many deportees attempt to reinitiate the process, particularly if this involves migration between neighboring or nearby countries, but for others, deportation means the end of their migratory career.

Forced Internal Displacement/Internally Displaced Peoples

Since the 1980s, a series of soft law instruments have been developed to observe the situation of displacement in which the description of endogenous factors precipitating expulsion as well as the legal recognition of internally displaced persons have been expanded.

The first of these soft law instruments mentioned is the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, declarative in nature, which, with the objective of differentiating refugees from other categories of migrants, expanded the definition of the condition of refugee contained in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 (Convención sobre el Estatuto de los Refugiados, 1951). The objective was to differentiate refugees from other categories of migrants, including individuals who fled their country of origin because their life, safety or liberty was threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, mass violations of human rights or other circumstances posing a serious threat to the public order. Likewise, at the close of the declaration, concern is expressed regarding the situation suffered by displaced persons within their own countries. In this regard, competent national authorities and international organizations are called on to offer protection and assistance and to contribute to alleviating the distressing situation in which many displaced persons find themselves (Declaración de Cartagena sobre los Refugiados, 1984).

Subsequently, in 1998, the United Nations system through UNHCR presented the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, an addendum to the report by Secretary Francis Deng; despite being nonbinding, these guiding principles are proposed as an international standard in the foreword to the document as well as in the Glossary on Migration (OIM, 2006, p. 20) to guide governments and humanitarian organizations, development cooperation and human rights defenders in providing aid and protection to internally displaced persons (guiding principles). In other words, this document serves as the United Nations guide for international actors and states faced with the phenomenon of internal forced displacement, with the intention of serving as a basis for the development of internal resources, migration management and public policies to address this social problem. This guide defines internally displaced persons as follows:

Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border (Kälin, 1998).

Those who have faced situations of displacement are thought to be those persons or groups of persons who have been impelled (forced or obligated) to migrate, escape or flee from their place of residence and habitual economic activities because their life, physical integrity, safety or personal liberties have been violated or are directly threatened as a result of or to avoid the effects of an armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, mass human rights violations, infractions of international humanitarian law or natural or human-made catastrophes (López-Reyes, 2015).

The context of the guiding principles is a recognition of internally displaced persons and, based on the declaration recognizing this figure, seeks to address their situation, focusing on full reparations. The guiding principles were followed by soft law instruments such as those found in the Mexico Action Plan of 2004, a declarative document focused on strengthening defense mechanisms and bringing the inter-American refugee protection system closer together, as well as the recent Bogotá Declaration of 2014, a product of the sharing of experiences and a proposal on procedures for responding to the increased incidence of the internal displacement phenomenon and support for progress on the issue.

Nonetheless, the formal sources of international law regarding internal forced displacement are still in the early stages. Progress includes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the United Nations Human Rights Council (ONU, Consejo de Derechos Humanos, 2014). A single binding regional instrument was achieved; the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Convención de la Unión Africana para la Protección y la Asistencia de los Desplazados Internos en África, 2009), the context of which is the observation and treatment of the situation of displacement within countries, as well as the condition of refugee and variants of asylum.

Methodological Strategy

To create the typological proposal, the first step was to carry out a review of the state of the issue and selection of sources, followed by a documentary analysis. This type of study is complex as it poses linguistic, psychological/cognitive, documentary, social and informational challenges involving components of the document/subject/processes triad, which have joint implications and generate a maze of relationships in which the characteristics and particularities of each one intervene (Peña & Pirela, 2007). Such study forms a plural process that involves a series of aspects and elements belonging to other disciplines and sciences but that nevertheless irreducibly explains part of the activities and subprocesses activated each time the roles of analyst and user of information contained in any document are exercised (Morín, 1996).

Analysis Techniques

The documentary analysis and typological proposal were based on the creation of a conceptual map (Tobón, 2015, p. 7), an analytical resource founded on complex thought comprising the central concepts presented in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Core concepts for analysis in the conceptual map
Core concept Central question
Notion What are the etymologies, general definitions and debates surrounding the classification of migration and forced displacement?
Categorization Asylum, refuge, internal forced displacement (internally displaced persons [IDP]), repatriation and deportation.
Dimensions Social, political, economic, cultural and environmental.
Differentiation Migration and forced displacement.
Division Internal, international and intersection. Internal forced displacement, external displacement, forced migration with international border crossing and repatriation.
Connection Migratory systems and forced migration.
Methodology Documentary analysis, creation of conceptual map.
Exemplification Typological scheme of migrations and forced displacement.
Source: Created by the authors based on an adaptation of Tobón (2015, p. 7).

Document Selection Criteria

To address the discussion and debate surrounding the theoretical/conceptual construction regarding migration and forced displacement, and with the intention of providing analytical resources, the document selection strategy was carried out in two time periods: from January of 2013 to December of 2014 and from August of 2017 to December of 2018. For the selection of the sources, the tools of the knowledge society were used with the following criteria: 1) articles, reports and books were sought in Spanish, English and French in the following databases: Recursos Conricyt, Scopus, Web of Science (WoS) and Google Scholar; 2) in the search, the following keywords in Spanish, English and French were used: “migración forzada,” “migraciones forzadas,” “migraciones forzosas,” “forced migration” and “migration force,” along with one or several of the following complementary words: “personas desplazadas,” “personas desplazadas internas,” “desplazamiento forzado,” “internally displaced person (IDP),” “forced displacement,” “déplacement forcé,” “asilo,” “asylum,” “asile,” “refugiados,” “refugees,” “réfugiés,” “migración de retorno,” “return migration,” “repatriación,” “deportación,” “expulsión” and “expulsion”; and 3) the documents must address some element of the categories and dimensions mentioned.


Notions of Forced Migration within Studies of Migration

Among the theoretical perspectives for the study of migration, diversity and efforts at cross-sectionality are seen to predominate, thus integrating into contemporary debates the implications of the migration phenomenon for the socioeconomic sphere and the resulting cultural dynamics and expressions. These explanatory frameworks include neoclassical theory, the new economics of migration, migration systems theory (formal and informal), world system, functionalist theories, networks or social capital theory, cumulative causation theory, the transnational paradigm and studies of the migration process (Castles & Delgado, 2007, pp. 75-86; Herrera, 2006, pp. 184-212; Martínez & Arellano, 2010, pp. 23-28; Massey et al., 1994; Rodríguez & Busso, 2009; Sobrino 2010, pp. 19-28).

In the follow-up to the mapping, notions and bases were identified that serve as the point of departure for the study of forced displacement within studies of the migration process, a focus that reshapes human mobility as a binding syntagmatic element and constructs migration as a dynamic social process. This approach is an axiom of the proposal by Castles and Miller (2004), who encourage a rethinking of migrations, arguing that in the international context, we are in an era of mobilities resulting from macro/micro structures in interaction that are connected at all social levels and separately do not account for the existing realities but together can be examined as facets of a broad migration process that unites them.

Migrations have the symbolic characteristic of the erosion of the sovereignty of the nation state in the era of globalization. It is increasingly difficult for states to control their borders, since flows of investment, trade and intellectual property are inextricably linked to the movement of people. In general, it is elites who benefit from cross-border flows. However, these groups feel their security threatened by economic restructuring, as the visible presence of migrants in the cities of the North symbolizes broad shifts in the economy, culture and society (Castles, 2003).

Within this process, the globalization-migration relationship generates a series of social disruptions that are intrinsically contradictory (Herrera, 2006, p. 206), which drives population mobility, providing factors and contexts of attraction between different regions connected by global and nodal cities within a global system between the Global South and the Global North, with internal recurrence drawn from modernity and the Keynesian state inflows from backward and/or rural places toward industrial centers and large cities (Braudel, 1992; Portes & Walton, 1981; Sassen, 1998; Wallerstein, 1979).

Forced Migration within the Typological Debate

The definition of forced migration accepted by the United Nations system refers to the general term that has been utilized to describe the movement of people involving coercion, including threats to life and subsistence, whether for natural or human-made causes; movements of refugees and displaced persons; or persons displaced by natural or environmental disasters, nuclear or chemical disasters, famine or development projects (OIM, 2006, p. 39).

In academic circles, the use of the term “forced” has been the subject of theoretical debate, as it involves an alarming and tendentious term that has been related specifically in English and French to the figure of the refugee (refugees/réfugiés) and those requesting asylum. In Spanish, the term is conceived of as an antonym of “voluntary,” where its connotation is broader than the reference to will, limiting in-depth treatment regarding the emergence and circumstances of the causes of expulsion and circumscribing it to megacatastrophes and macrosocial accidents. Also noted is the qualifying use of the compound form “impelled migration” from the Latin term impellere, which is considered adequate to support in-depth exploration and theoretical discussion because, according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE, for its initials in Spanish), this term refers to pushing or making something move.

The IOM (2006) generally defines migration as “moving, either across an international border, or within a state. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people and economic migrants” (p. 38). From the perspective of Herrera (2006, p. 72, based on Petersen), within the general typology for the study of migrations that is most widely accepted in the existing literature (Table 2), the characteristics and differences of forced or impelled migration are put forth, which include a series of legal and political categories, all involving people who have been forced to move or escape from their homes in search of protection or refuge someplace else within their country or abroad.

Table 2: General typology for the study of migration
Type of interaction Migratory force Category of migration Types of migration
Conservative Innovative
Nature and people Ecological push Primitive Errant Fleeing land
State (or equivalent) and people Political/migratory Impelled Flight Forced or slave labor
Forced Displacement
People and their norms Greater aspirations Free Group Pioneer
Collective behavior Social moment Mass Settlement Urban growth
From the point of view of its causes:
Forced Political Wars
Economic Crisis
Acute unemployment
Voluntary Economic  
Source: Petersen, adaptation of Herrera (2006, p. 72).

Forced migration today can be understood as a response to the disruptions and dislocations that inevitably occur in postcapitalist development. To explain mobility from this perspective, the regional implications of global markets on land, raw materials and labor have been analyzed (Durand & Massey, 2003). For her part, Saskia Sassen states that migration patterns and systems are strongly conditioned by other social processes and deeply structured in global networks-we are [currently] witnessing a multiplication of channels of expulsion as the result of structural gaps that generate new mobilities and that go far beyond poverty, inequality, deportations and other established analytical categories (Sassen, 2014a). To understand expulsions, it is identified that one of the fundamental changes of modernity is that we have gone from a logic in which political and economic systems sought to include people as consumers or clients to another in which the system seeks not to include but rather to expel; people no longer seem so necessary (Sassen, 2014a, pp. 1-12).

Contemporary channels of expulsion are developed within a supracapitalist context of economic contractions and the growth of inequalities that occur both in poor countries and rich ones, which can be understood based on the abandonment of the Keynesian phase and the shift from bipolarity to multipolarity as the key elements for addressing growing inequalities, both in the Global North and in the Global South. These mechanisms of expulsion are projected in changes in migration factors, primarily by extreme conditions in rich countries, adverse conditions for economic prosperity, acute unemployment and the poor quality of labor markets, rising poverty, mortgage foreclosure, dispossession from land, the explosion of migration and new mobilities and diasporas (Sassen, 2014b, pp. 13-79).

Characterization, Categorization and Dimensions of Forced Displacements

Within the catalog of perspectives, codifications and approaches to migrations, there are contradictions arising from the migrant/state/law interaction regarding the types and categories used by states in migration control and the social construction of migrants. From a postcolonial perspective, Mignolo (2003) warns that the problem of immigration is currently inseparable from the interstate organization of the modern/colonial world and North-South flows in the game of opening economic borders and closing civil borders to migrants.

Migratory controls, particularly cross-border ones, are longstanding and date back to ancient Greece and the use of diploo, folded metal credentials that served as passes or documents for identification and travel (Nicolson, 1939). The history of migration policies in the administration of immigration crises has maintained as its central focus of attention the perspective of international control and transit, leaving aside questions related to regional migrations or internal territorial distribution, or integrating them within public safety agendas. However, the issue came to be of interest to states during the 20th century with the appearance of unwanted migration.

In the case of colonial societies following emancipation from the West, migrants─particularly Europeans─were conceived of as elements comprising the new nationalities. During the era of industrialization, which includes the 1940s through the Cold War (1989), the role of the internal and international migrant was redefined as an agent of labor and change; however, during the era of globalization in the migration process, clandestine flows increased, and the figure of the migrant was stigmatized or criminalized. There are even current cases of recipient countries that have enacted immigration policies whose classifications include pernicious or draconian elements regarding certain nationalities (Grupo de Estudios en Antropología y Discurso, 2002, p. 93) that have resulted in the construction of legal and political resources based on the concept of illegal persons, beyond simply irregular persons, as well as models and frameworks of assisted return migration.

The substantive discontinuities of the current moment require even more complex approaches to structural problems. According to Subirats (2012, who refers to Jellynek), public policies and administrations follow logics of legal guarantees, and administrative procedure is rooted in territorial/population/sovereignty observation. Given the global context of migration, Castles (2003) proposes four related assumptions:

  1. Manipulation as a conservative/nationalist form of antimigration mobilization.
  2. The tendency toward the “secularization” of migration issues following the events of September 11, 2001, a form of neoliberal, antimigrant mobilization linked to the U.S. polemic against “rogue states” and fundamentalism.
  3. Regarding the crisis in the South, there are two main aspects; the first is massive growth in forced migration due to the “new wars” and widespread human rights violations, and the second is the obstruction of free movement to the North, which obliges aspirants to migrate and put themselves in the hands of informal networks of people smugglers in their search for a better life.
  4. The right to free transit already essentially exists for middle-class citizens in the countries of the North. The so-called immigration crisis arises due to vast inequalities between the North and South regarding economic conditions, social wellbeing and human rights. Border restrictions, however draconian, will do nothing to eliminate unwanted migratory flows so long as these fundamental disparities persist (Castles, 2003, p. 26).

In the political sphere in recent decades, there has been a strengthening of monitoring and institutionalized control through legal resources and government agencies. Migration has been typified in this way, and there are institutions for its supranational treatment; primarily, instruments have been codified that triangulate foreignness and international human rights law, among others. However, as noted by Castles (2006, p. 56) and Sassen (2014a), such resources, both theoretical/conceptual and legal, are being overtaken by the migration process and expulsions.

From the point of view of the IOM (2006, p. 39), forced migration has the following key characteristics: 1) coercion to migrate, 2) threat to life and subsistence and 3) migratory causes produced by nature or humans. Within conceptions of the category of forced migration, the segments have been divided according to the trajectory or spatial dimension, being transnational or international when there is border crossing (such as asylum, refuge and forced return) and internal when the displacement occurs within the borders of the country of which the displaced person is a national, as indicated in Table 3:

Table 3: Analysis of the categories employed in the study
Category Dimensions
Forced/impelled migrations
International Asylum and refuge:
Those requesting international protection, asylum and refuge (de facto, documented, climate-environmental).
Intersection Repatriation:
Repatriation (forced return)-deportation.
Internal Internal forced displacement:
Internally displaced peoples (IDP).
Source: Created by the authors based on the core concepts of characterization, categorization, classification and division.

While internal forced migration refers to displacement within national borders, international forced migration includes displaced persons who cross international borders. There are various contributions of this type that reflect the fact that its dimensions are asylum and refuge, as well as repatriation, which also intersects with these dimensions because it is a process involving the crossing of an international border back to the country of origin.

Typological Proposal

Although typologies are not theories (Portes, cited in Gandini et al., 2015), their construction can be a first step in theorization. One type acquires meaning when it is compared to another, and a typology is hence an explicitly comparative resource. The typological modality that can be recognized in studies of return is that of types constructed to the extent that the comparison of cases is based on a devised and intentional selection of empirical references (McKinney, 1954). However, their production ranges from use for ad hoc classificatory purposes, which focus more on taxonomies than on typologies in the strict sense, to the construction of systematic analytical typologies.

Based on the review and analysis, guided by a conceptual map, a typological scheme for migrations and forced displacements is presented below, an expanded analytical framework of Herrera’s (Herrera, 2006, p. 72) adaptation of the General Typology of Migrations grounded on the social and political/spatial dimensions. The core concepts addressed by the mapping made it possible to carry out the typological schematization, in which the typological structure has the advantage of capturing fundamental and relevant conceptual elements of notion, categorization, dimensions, differentiation, division, connection and exemplification.

In creating this typological proposal (Table 4), we considered the typological resource by McKinney (1969), who uses social reality to form two basic orders of types: the existential type, developed by participants in social systems, and the constructed type, formulated by social scientists for the purpose of explaining social systems based on forced migrants/displaced persons due to existential-type causes. However, according to their size and trajectory, systems have been granted socially constructed typologies, mostly from the governmental and ideological apparatus of the state and the Weberian vision of ideal typology. The category of analysis within the social process considered is of the existential type, and for more in-depth examination, we consider the socially constructed typologies of asylum, refuge, internally displaced persons (IDP), repatriation and deportation.

Table 4: Typology of migration and forced displacement
Type: Sociospatial dimension based on trajectory Social dimension Causes and contexts of expulsion Causes and contexts of attraction (destinations)
Displaced with international border crossing. Those requesting international protection: Refuge and asylum Political Crisis of institutions and of the nation state, “new wars,” atypical internal conflicts, dictatorships, policies of militarization and security, riots, legal frameworks of criminalization of migrants (illegal persons) and structures of deportability, systematic human rights violations and humanitarian crises. Humanitarian visas for those requesting international protection
facto/undocumented refugees, documented refugees and those requesting asylum Economic Contracting economies, disparity, postdevelopment, prolonged crises, acute unemployment, eviction and mortgage foreclosure, bribery, extorsion, dispossession of land, servitude, trafficking and forced labor. Labor markets for qualified migrants and temporary workers
Intersection displacement, refoulement/forced return: Cultural Social control by irregular groups (tribal groups, organized crime, coyotes, assassins, terrorists, etc.), territorial struggle, religious conflicts (messianic), ideological differences and gender violence. Migration networks and systems
Deportation and repatriation
Internally displaced persons (IDP): Environmental Anthropocentrism, climate change, sea level rise, natural phenomena and cycles (El Niño, La Niña, tsunamis, tectonic activity, etc.), natural and/or human-made environmental disasters (development projects, extractive activity, excessive agriculture and ranching, hydraulic fracking and chemical/toxic/nuclear disasters). Access to natural resources
Source: Created by the authors.

Discussion and Final Considerations

No unified concepts exist regarding the notion of forced migration, and different positions and interpretations have been generated; for example, Castles (2003) warns that although forced migration is growing in volume and importance as a result of endemic violence and human rights violations, those who design policies seek to impose different policies for diverse categories of migrants. There is global competition to attract highly qualified migrants; however, refugees and unqualified migrants and their families are not welcome (with policies and structures of deportability being strengthened).

According to Naranjo (2015, p. 283), flows of people across borders are considered a problem and the object of policies, and the real problem for states and the interstate system is to control “abnormality,” which means that persons, not nationals, do not remain in their countries of origin as they should, alluding to Malkki (1995). Contrary to this perspective, far from seeing displacement as obvious and necessarily constituted as a problem, the migration/border nexus is a lens through which to examine the supposedly normal condition of belonging to a territory and an identifiable population, and hence, it can be useful to explicitly contextualize the study of the migration/displacement/asylum nexus in the sense of borders and not continue to take this order as a given fact and thereby contribute to the invisibility of the global border regime.

In the collective imaginary, migration─both economic and forced─is understood as an integral part of processes of global and regional economic integration. It has been demonstrated that immigrants do not simply assimilate into receiving societies but rather tend to form communities and preserve their own languages, religions and cultures. It has also been demonstrated that migration has become highly politicized, with political gains being derived from the migration crisis, which is currently a key topic in national and international policy.

By way of conclusion, and based on the conceptual map, this article conceives of forced migrations as departures resulting from emerging mobility; displacement driven by latent threats to integrity, violation and/or vulnerability of fundamental rights; as a result of or to avoid and seek safety and refuge from natural or human-made catastrophes or macrosocial accidents.

Although debates regarding conceptualization are ongoing, with regard to characterization, consistencies have been found between certain dimensions and elements; for example, it was identified that contexts of expulsion exist in which there are conditions of vulnerability for the integrity of the person and the basic exercise of rights, closer to the connotation of “impelled,” beyond the debate surrounding the will to migrate, identifying as elements for use in Spanish (according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) as synonyms forzada-forzosa-impelida (forced/forceful/impelled).

In light of skeptics such as Herrera (2006) regarding the risk of theorizing about forced migration (Castles, 2003) or the global migration crisis (Weiner, 1995), and considering the implications of the phenomenon, particularly in the last decade, it is considered socially pertinent to take up this debate again and contribute to its theoretical/conceptual construction, as it possesses particularities beyond macrosocial accidents; the quality of “forced” not only is an antonym of the will of the migrant but also includes categories of structural problems such as expulsion, violence and differentiated factors of attraction, elements that not only define the will of the migrant subject to abandon their habitual place of residence but are also based on the vulnerability of their person in the face of emerging causes of expulsion with high levels of unpredictability.

The article concludes with the “Typology of migration and forced displacement” as a typological/conceptual tool that can serve as a reference for future studies in this area in light of the relevance of the topic on the international agenda and as a proposal for agreements, given recent international instruments such as UN Resolution (07/1), the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (Resolución (07/1) Declaración de Nueva York para Migrantes y Refugiados, 2016) and the Global Compact for Migration (2018) and their limits. It is hoped that the conceptual tool will promote processes of social intervention on this issue, strengthening its application in context and in decision-making regarding approaches to the issue by government agencies, professionals and organizations, and in public action, such as the case of amortization of international instruments in national legal frameworks (see the typology in Mexico’s Parliamentary Gazette, statement of motives of the draft legislation for a General Law on Internal Forced Displacement [Iniciativa que expide Ley General sobre Desplazamiento Forzado Interno], 2019; Cámara de Diputados, 2019).

Finally, the typology seeks to classify the different types of migration and forced displacement and to counteract the arbitrary, indiscriminate and politically advantageous use of these terms that are currently used in the media and on social networks (particularly in the face of fake news). The typological proposal seeks to prevent conceptual and idiomatic errors such as the generalization of terms or their generic use under the concept of refugees, among other theoretical/methodological hazards.


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Emilio Alberto López Reyes
Mexican. Master´s in Social Sciences. Associate professor, coordinator of research projects, collaborator at the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. Research areas: migration, forced displacement, policy and public affairs. Recent publications include (2014) Causas y consecuencias del desplazamiento de personas de Ciudad Juárez hacia Estados Unidos y México. Posibles alternativas, in E. Téllez & R. C. Oliveira (Coords.), Derecho Internacional en la Práctica Latinoamericana (pp. 343-373), Mexico: Tirant lo Blanch Mexico.

Luis G. Juárez Hernández
Mexican. Doctorate in Biological and Health Sciences. Full-time professor/researcher at the Centro Universitario CIFE, coordinator of the Doctorate in Social Formation and Knowledge Society. Research areas: the ecology of communities, sustainable development and statistics. Recent publications include the following: in collaboration with Vázquez, J. M., Hernández, J. S., Vázquez-Antonio, J. & Guzmán, C. E. (2017), El trabajo colaborativo y la socioformación: Un camino hacia el conocimiento complejo, Revista Educación y Humanismo, 19(33).

María Guadalupe Veytia Bucheli
Mexican. Doctorate in Educational Management. Full-time professor/researcher at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, member of the National System of Researchers of Conacyt, Level 1. Research areas: research skills, technological mediation, education and the use of information and communication technologies. Recent publications include the following: in collaboration with García, O. (2017), “Comparative Analysis of Research Skills and ICT: A Case Study in Higher Education,” International Journal of Educational Excellence, 4(1), 15-27.

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