The Criminalisation of Pro-Migrant Civil Society in Europe

Laura Schack

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the criminalisation of pro-migrant civil society in Europe within the context of the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’. While individuals and civil society groups helping migrants and refugees were initially widely praised, state attitudes towards pro-migrant civil society actors (CSAs) soon shifted, resulting in the phenomenon referred to as the ‘criminalisation’ of pro-migrant civil society, in which CSAs are prosecuted and targeted in different ways for their work with migrants. This thesis answers three broad research questions: how does criminalisation operate? Why does criminalisation occur? And what are the consequences of criminalisation? Between 2018 and 2019, I conducted 90 semi-structured research interviews, primarily in France, Greece and Italy, and conducted six weeks of participant observation research as a volunteer in Calais and on Lesvos. Based on this research and responding to gaps in the literature regarding the conceptualisation of criminalisation, I first create a new typological framework structured around six methods of criminalisation and repression: legislative change, judicial harassment, police harassment, administrative sanctions and techniques of bureaucracy, labels and stigmas, and co-optation. Second, I argue that criminalisation can be explained by the politicisation of migration, in which CSAs are criminalised for political and electoral gain, and by their positions as witnesses to state and EU security practices which systematically violate human rights and international law. Third, I argue that more repressive tactics utilised in Greece result in a more subdued and silenced civil society whereas more direct forms of criminalisation, as experienced by CSAs in Calais and SAR NGOs in the Central Mediterranean, create a more resistant civil society space. Finally, throughout this thesis I problematise the use of the word ‘criminalisation’ and associated emphases on notions and frameworks of legality, which risk obscuring the increasingly authoritarian nature of state actions around migration in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Jones, William, Supervisor
  • Coles-Kemp, Lizzie, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Refugee crisis
  • Europe
  • Migrants
  • Refugees
  • Civil society
  • Criminalisation
  • security
  • Crimmigration
  • Repression
  • Civil society repression
  • civil society organisations
  • Greece
  • Search and rescue
  • Mediterranean sea
  • NGOs
  • Calais
  • Lesvos
  • EU
  • Politicisation
  • Securitisation
  • Solidarity
  • security architecture
  • Criminalisation of solidarity
  • Legislative change
  • Judicial harassment
  • police harassment
  • co-optation
  • judicialisation
  • labelling
  • critical security
  • migrant solidarity

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