HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, HSPH; Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law, HLS


Migration policies have direct and dramatic impacts on distress migrants. They also affect the frontline local host communities migrants depend on. While extensive political and scholarly attention has been paid to the often brutal impact of migration systems on migrants, and to the outdated and dysfunctional legal frameworks governing those systems, much less scrutiny has been directed at these systems' impacts on local frontline hosts affected by the spontaneous migration generated by current migration regimes. This shortcoming needs rectifying for two reasons. First, the attitudes and experiences of frontline host communities are a critical element in ensuring or preventing a welcoming and humanizing experience for distress migrants at a crucial, often particularly stressful, inflection point in their journey. Second, frontline communities' actions and attitudes towards distress migrants and their humanitarian needs to have the potential to be a key force driving national and regional politics and sustaining or challenging exclusionary migration frameworks. If effective communities of solidarity can be created and sustained, spontaneous migration can generate win-win outcomes, enriching local settings in unexpected ways. As long as migration management fails to generate the requisite, organized humanitarian support for populations forced to flee their homes but instead incentivizes fractured and uncharted escape routes, "spontaneous" (i.e. uncontrolled) migration arrivals will continue, including arrivals at locations poorly equipped to address the resulting needs. Just and sustainable responses to those arrivals will be politically and socially impactful for years to come.


Bhabha, Jacqueline. "The Imperative of Sustaining (Rather than Destroying) Frontline Empathic Solidarity for Distress Migrants Fortress (North) America." Boston University International Law Journal 40.1 (Spring 2022): 49-78.