Migrant vulnerability or asylum seeker/refugee vulnerability? More than complex categories



Vulnerability, migrants, refugees, legal categories, intersectionality, vulnerabilidad, migrantes, refugiados, categorías jurídicas, interseccionalidad


The current theoretical socio-legal approach to vulnerability and vulnerable individuals, groups and populations is complex and wide-ranging. Unlike other traditional categories of “vulnerable groups”, the specific dimensions of migrant vulnerability raise issues that have not been properly resolved by laws, policies or judicial interpretation. This paper seeks to review and explain the reasons for the black-and-white legal categorical distinction between two types of people who migrate: “voluntary” migrants (economic, undocumented), and forced migrants (asylum seekers, refugees), based on their presumed internal or external “vulnerability”. It also reviews European asylum law to analyse the complex classification of asylum seeker/refugee vulnerability. This can help explain why some “particularly vulnerable categories” in compounded situations of intersectional vulnerability risk falling between the cracks. There is an urgent need to reassess the bivalent categories and the compact dimensions of migrant vulnerability, in order to find balanced internal coherence in the regulations that manage heterogeneous migration processes.

El enfoque teórico socio-jurídico actual de la vulnerabilidad y de los individuos, grupos y poblaciones vulnerables es complejo y amplio. A diferencia de otras categorías tradicionales de “grupos vulnerables”, las dimensiones específicas de la vulnerabilidad migrante plantean cuestiones que no han sido debidamente resueltas por la ley, las políticas o las interpretaciones judiciales. Este documento pretende abordar y explicar las razones subyacentes a la neta distinción categórica en el ámbito jurídico entre quiénes migran: migrantes “voluntarios” (económicos, indocumentados), y migrantes forzados (solicitantes de asilo, refugiados), en función de su presunta “vulnerabilidad” interna o externa. También revisa la legislación europea en materia de asilo para analizar la compleja clasificación de la vulnerabilidad de los solicitantes de asilo/refugiados. Ello puede ayudar a explicar por qué algunas “categorías especialmente vulnerables” en situaciones compuestas de vulnerabilidad interseccional corren el riesgo de quedar desapercibidas. Es urgente reevaluar las categorías bivalentes y las dimensiones compactas de la vulnerabilidad migrante, para encontrar una coherencia interna equilibrada en las leyes que gestionan procesos migratorios heterogéneos.

Available from: https://doi.org/10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-1225

Author Biography

Encarnación La Spina, University of Deusto

Encarnación La Spina is currently Researcher Ramón y Cajal post-doctoral scholarship programme (Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation) at the Faculty of Law and Pedro Arrupe Human Rights Institute of the University of Deusto. She obtained a degree in Law (2004) and her PhD in Law from the University of Valencia in 2010. She also completed a M.A. in Human Rights, Democracy and International Justice (2010) and two postgraduate diploma (2008). Over the last decade, She has conducted academic activities about migrant rights, discrimination and integration policies in the framework of four highly competitive, internationally renowned post-doctoral scholarships: Vali+d GVA at Paris Ouest La Défense University (2011-2013), Fernand Braudel-IFER incoming/Marie Curie COFUND at Aix Marseille University (2014-2015) Juan de la Cierva MINECO at the University of Deusto (2015-2017) and Ramon y Cajal MICINN  at the University of Deusto (2018-2023). 


30-09-2021 — Updated on 22-12-2021

How to Cite

La Spina, E. (2021) “Migrant vulnerability or asylum seeker/refugee vulnerability? More than complex categories”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 11(6(S), pp. S82-S115. Available at: https://opo.iisj.net/index.php/osls/article/view/1307 (Accessed: 23 May 2022).