Columbia University, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Massive Loss of Habitat
New Drivers for Migration
ABSTRACT The paper examines three emergent migration flows, each with specific features that can be de-
scribedas extreme. The effort organizing the paper is to understand conditionsat places of origin that lead peo-
ple to risk their lives in dangeroustrips to escape those places of origin. As is bynow known, these migrants are
not the poorest of the poor in their places of origins. The rapid surge in these flows combined with the condi-
tions they leave behind raise a question that organizes much of the analysis: Are the categories we use to un-
derstand and describe migrations—that is, the notion of people in search of a better life, who leave behind a
family and home that they want to support from afar and possibly return to–enough to capture the specificity
of these emergent flows. My answer is: not quite. One big difference from the past is that part of the story is a
massive loss of habitat due to a variety of extreme patterns, from massive land-grabs to poisoning of land and
water due to mining. The paper examines how the development models implemented over the last 30 and
more years have enabled some of these negative conditions. Further, another major factor reducing the habitat
of these migrants is a proliferation of asymmetric wars. Both sets of factors reduce the habitat for more
people. One outcome of this combination of elements is these new migrations. KEYWORDS migration,
A key assumption organizing this paper is that the larger context within which migration
flows emerge matters. Most major migrations of the last two centuries, and often even ear-
lier, can be shown to start at some point—they have beginnings, they are not simply there
from the start. My focus here is on a particular set of new migrations that have emerged over
the last one or two years; such new migrations are often far smaller than ongoing older
migrations. New migrations have long been of interest to me in that they help us understand
why a given flow starts and hence tell us something about a larger context. This is the
migrant as indicator of a change in the area where they come from. Once a flow is marked
by chain migration, it takes far less to explain that flow. Most of my work on migration has
long focused on that larger context within which a new flow takes off, rather than on rou-
tinized flows that have become chain migrations (e.g., Sassen ,,).
Here I examine three flows that have emerged very recently. One of these is the sharp in-
crease in the migration of unaccompanied minors from Central America—specifically, Hon-
duras, Salvador, and Guatemala. The second is the surge in Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar.
The third is the migration toward Europe originating mostly in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and
several African countries, notably Eritrea and Somalia. These are three very different types of
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flows, and the third one contains enormously diverse flows. Yet each points to a larger context
marked by mostly extreme conditions that can be outlined, or at least made visible, because it
is not simply part of a chain migration where households may play the crucial role in produc-
ing an economic calculus that allocates particular members to the migration option.
One can argue that the three flows I focus on here emerge, even though only partially,
from situations larger than the internal logics of households and the vagaries of national or
local economies. These sharply delineated conditions are operating, at the city level, at the
regional level, and at a global geopolitical level. Let me add promptly that the city and
regional levels are frequently embedded in a larger set of dynamics, but in the cases focused
on here there is also an immediate direct effect at these subnational levels.
Extreme violence is one key factor explaining these migrations. But it is not the only one. I
add a second key factor: thirty years of international development policies have left much land
dead (because of mining, land grabs, plantation agriculture) and have expelled whole commu-
nities from their habitats. Moving to the slums of large cities, or, for those who can afford it,
migration, has increasingly become the last option. This multidecade history of destructions
and expulsions has reached extreme levels made visible in vast stretches of land and water bod-
ies that are now dead. At least some of the localized wars and conflicts arise from these de-
structions, in a sort of fight for habitat. And climate change further reduces livable ground.
On the basis of these destructions and on the characteristicsof the three emergent migra-
tion flows, I argue that this mix of conditions—wars, dead land, expulsions—has produced a
vast loss of habitat for a growing number of people. These, then, are not the migrants in
search of a better life who hope to send money and perhaps return to the family left behind.
These are people in search of bare life, with no home to return to.
In the first section I discuss some of the key international development policies deployed
as of the s. My aim here is not a full review of the good and the bad development
programs—I have done that elsewhere. It is rather a somewhat relentless tracing of how a
rapidly growing share of the less developed areas of the world wound up with destroyed
habitats. Out-migrations are partly a response to those destroyed habitats and the wars that
may also have arisen.
In the second section I examine the three extreme migration flows mentioned above.
These are not representative of the larger world of migrations. They serve as indicators about
how bad it can get. War and violence are dominant factors in shaping these migrations. But
they are not the only factors; to some extent violence and wars are also consequences of the
condition that is becoming acute in more and more places: the loss of habitat. War eas-
ily dominates explanation, given its immediacy and visibility. I want to emphasize the
slow-moving destructions and expulsions that have resulted partly from deeply
misguided development policies. These destructions should not be overshadowed by the
destructions generated by wars.
FEEDING THE LOSS OF HABITAT: A NEW PHASE OF ADVANCED CAPITALISM
The geographic expansion and systemic deepening of capitalist relations of production in
the global South is, in many ways, an old history (Frank ;IMF; Oxfam
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 205
International ;Quijano; Robinson ). Here I will focus especially on the last
years, which are marked by a whole new phase in the loss of habitat due to land and wa-
ter grabs, massive expansion of mining, large-scale occupation of land to build modern high-
rise environments for the upper middle classes, and more. In some sense, none of this is new.
Since its origins and across its diverse phases, capitalism has been marked by violence,
destruction, and appropriation.
But it has also been partly shaped by the making of the
regulatory state, a victory for the struggling working classes and the expanding middle
classes. That more benevolent phase is today in decline and marked by losses.
When it comes to the global South, much attention has gone to the destruction of
precapitalist economies via their incorporation into capitalist relations of production. But
the post-s period makes visible yet another variant of this capacity to appropriate—the
appropriation or destruction of traditional capitalisms to further the deepening of a type of
advanced capitalism dominated by a financial logic.
And this is critical because high finance
is radically different from traditional banking.
The traditional bank sells something it has: money, for an interest. Finance sells some-
thing it does not have, so it needs to develop complex instruments that enable it to invade
other sectors in order to financialize whatever value can be extracted and then insert it into
financial circuits. It is this feature that leads me to posit that finance is an extractive sector
and that once it has extracted what is there to be extracted, it moves on, leaving behind
destruction (Sassen a: chs. and ;a; :ch.).
In comparison, the post–
World War II Western economy, though far from perfect, thrived on the expansion of con-
sumer power; this meant that the actual income of households mattered to the corporate
economy much more than it does today.
These diverse types of capitalism signal the possibility that in today’s global phase the
extension of capitalist relations has its own distinct mechanisms and that these need to be
distinguished from the mechanisms of older national and imperial phases.
One key mech-
anism is the capacity of today’s financial system to financialize more and more components
of economies, including what is mined, what is cultivated, and what is built.
This has led to an appropriation of (by now traditional) advanced capitalist economic
sectors into yet another, even more “advanced”form of capitalism. In my analysis one
feature of this phase is the presence of new forms of primitive accumulation inside advanced
capitalism itself, a thesis I develop at length elsewhere (Sassen a, ).
land, grabbing water, burning down native vegetation to plant palm, expelling smallholder
growers to develop mines and build offices—these actions can all be seen as akin to primitive
accumulation, even though they use some of the most complex legal, financial, and insur-
ance instruments to that end. Further, and insufficiently recognized, in standard measures
of economic growth these grabs register as growth in the Gross Domestic Product, com-
pared to the smallholder economies they replaced.
In short, today’s phase is marked by the expulsion of growing numbers of people and the
destruction of key components of the “advanced”capitalisms of the mid-twentieth century
in order to feed an advanced capitalism shaped by extraction and financialization.
The structural adjustment projects implemented by global regulatory institutions,
notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank starting in the
206 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
s, joined by the World Trade Organization in the s, illustrate this trend.
Beyond the much-noted extraction of billions of dollars from global South countries
in the form of debt servicing, the key logic at work is the systemic conditioning that
took place and shaped the evolution of much of the global South in the past two or
three decades. Debt servicing was the instrument for this disciplining: it weakened the
governments of those countries by forcing them to pay growing shares of national
revenue for interest on their debts rather than for economic development (IMF
a, a, ). Further, it made them susceptible to signing unfavorable deals
with global firms in extractive industries rather than furthering mass manufacturing
by national firms and drawing foreign investment to this sector—one that can gener-
ate a modest but effective middle class.
Central to my analysis is that inside capitalism itself we can characterize the relation of
advanced to traditional capitalism as one marked by predatory dynamics rather than merely
evolution, development, or progress.
At its most extreme this can mean immiseration and
expulsion of growing numbers of people who cease to be of value as workers and consumers.
But it also means that traditional petty bourgeoisies and traditional national bourgeoisies
cease to be of value. I see these destructions as part of the current systemic deepening of
capitalist relations (Sassen ,b). One brutal way of putting it is to say that the nat-
ural resources of much of Africa and good parts of Latin America and Asia count morethan
the people on those lands count as consumers and as workers. This is part of the systemic
deepening of advanced capitalist relations of production—not a regression or something
that went wrong. We have left behind the varieties of Keynesianism that thrived on the
accelerated expansion of prosperous working and middle classes—albeit with a high input
of racisms of all sorts. Keynesianism’s“valuing”of people as workers and consumers was crit-
ical for the deepening of capitalism, including, for example, China’s factories.
In what follows, the emphasis is on the making of capitalist relations of production,
whether those of early or of advanced capitalism. In this paper, and in the larger projects on
which these cases are based, I focus on two instances that could be easily described as familiar
resource extraction. But while extraction is indeed a major feature, which I describe, it is crit-
ical to go deeper and investigate a systemic transformation in which older forms of
“advanced”capitalist economies are being destroyed or incorporated into the operational
space of a new type of advanced capitalism. In brief, besides extraction, the two cases
I describe are system-changing practices and projects.
DEBT AS A LOGIC OF EXTRACTION
The extraction of value from the global South and the implementation of restructuringpro-
grams at the hands of the IMF and the World Bank have had the effect of “reconditioning”
the terrain represented by these countries for an expansion of new forms of advanced capi-
talism. This includes its explicitly criminal forms.
Many of the poor countries subjected to this regime now have richer and larger elites
than they used to have, along with larger shares of their populations in desperate poverty
and less likely to enter the capitalist circuit via consumption than they did even years ago
(see, generally, IDA and IMF ;IMFc; for detailed country-level data, see UN
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 207
Statistics Division ;IMFb; Jubilee Debt Campaign ;Robinson). Many
of the sub-Saharan countries used to have functioning health and education systems and
economies and less destitution than today. Systemically governments have been weakened
and corrupted; even resource-rich countries have had expanded shares of their people be-
come destitute, with Nigeria the most noted case. The role of rich donor countries has also
shifted: overall they give less in foreign aid for development than years ago. As a result,
the remittances sent by low-income immigrants are larger than foreign aid. Philanthropies
now enter the realm once almost exclusive to governments.
These systemic shifts contribute to explain a complex difference that can be captured in a
set of simple numbers. For much of the s and onwards indebted poor countries were
asked to pay a share of their export earnings toward debt service. This share tended to hover
around percent, which is far higher than that asked in other instances of country indebt-
edness. For instance, in , the Allies cancelled percent of Germany’s war debt and in-
sisted on only to percent of export earnings for debt service. And they asked only
percent from Central European countries in the s. But the debt service burdens on to-
day’s poor countries have wound up being extreme, as I discuss below. It does suggest that
the aim regarding Germany was reincorporation into the capitalist world economy of the
time, and regarding Central Europe was incorporation into today’s advanced capitalism.
In contrast, the aim vis-à-vis the global South countries in the sandswasmore
akin to a disciplining regime, starting with forced acceptance of restructuring programs and of
loans from the international system—measures that helped large extractive firms enter these
economies on favorable terms. After years of this regime, it became clear that it did not de-
liver on the basic components for healthy development. The discipline of debt service pay-
ments was given strong priority over infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and other people-
oriented development goals. The primacy of this extractive logic became a mechanism for sys-
temic transformation that went well beyond debt service payment—the devastation of large
sectors of traditional economies, including small-scale manufacturing, the destruction of a
good part of the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, the sharp impoverishment of the
population, and, in many cases, the impoverishment and thereby corruptibility of the state.
Debt and debt servicing problems have long been a systemic feature of the developing
But what concerns me hereare the particular features of IMF-negotiated debt rather
than the fact of debt per se. The second feature that concerns me is how this gradual
destruction of traditional economies prepared the ground, literally, for some of the new
needs of advanced capitalism, among which are the acquisitions of vast stretches of land—
for agriculture, for underground water tables, and for mining (Sassen :chs.and ).
Precisely at a time of extreme financialization and systemic crisis, we see the growing de-
mand for those material resources. The third feature that concerns me is the new survival
economies of the poor and the impoverished middle classes. While each one of these three
components is familiar and has been present before, my argument is that they are now part
of a new organizing logic that changes their valence and their interaction.
Even before the economic crises of the mid-s, the debt of poor countries in the South
had grown from US$ billion in to US$.trillion in .Debtservicepayments
alone had increased to $.trillion, more than the actual debt. According to some estimates,
208 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
from to , indebted countries paid four times their original debts, and at the same
time, their debt stocks went up by four times (Toussaint ). These countries had to use
a significant share of their total revenues to service these debts. Of the highly indebted
poor countries (HIPCs), paid $in debt servicepayments to the North for every $in de-
velopment assistance (Amen and Gills ). For years, many of these countries paid to
percent of their export earnings for interest on their debt (Ambrogi ).
The IMF, the World Bank, and other such institutions established the criteria and proc-
essed these debts, thereby functioning as a global disciplining regime. Global South countries
had to use a significant share of their total revenues to service these debts (Amen and Gills
;Bello;IMFb, ). For instance, Africa’s payments reached $billion in
: for every $in aid, African countries paid $. in debt service in .DebttoGross
National Product ratios were especially high in Africa in the late s: percent, com-
pared with percent in Latin America and percent in Asia. By , debt service as
a share of exports (not overall government revenue) ranged from extremely high levels for
Zambia (.percent) and Mauritania (.percent) to significantly lowered levels
compared to the s for Uganda (down from .percent in to .percent in
) and Mozambique (down from .percent in to .percent in ). As of
, the poorest countries (i.e., “low-income countries”with less than $ per capita
annual income) had debts of $ billion. If to these we add the “developing countries,”
together these countries had a debt surpassing $.trillion, and $ billion paid for
debt servicing (Jubilee Debt Campaign a, b).
The Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, set up in by the World
Bank and IMF, is a recognition that those restructuring programs did not work. It assists
countries with debts equivalent to more than one and a half times their annual export earn-
As far back as July ,, countries had completed the HIPC process, and had
passed the decision point (IMF b). Finally, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative
(MDRI) went into full force in July . It was intended to address many of the critiques
of the HIPC initiative. MDRI promised cancellation of debts to the World Bank (incurred
before ), to the IMF (incurred before ), and to the African Development Fund (in-
curred before ) for the countriesthat completed the HIPC initiative.According to one
estimate, the major cancellation schemes (including HIPC and MDRI initiatives and the
Paris Club) have written off $ billion so far (Jubilee Debt Campaign ,a, b).
From a social development angle, the IMF and World Bank restructuring programs have
been highly problematic. The debt burden that built up in the s and especially the
s has had substantial repercussions on state spending composition. Zambia, Ghana, and
Uganda, three countries that global regulators (e.g., World Bank and the IMF) saw as coop-
erative, responsible, and successful at implementing Structural Adjustment Programs
(SAPs), illustrate some of the issues even for countries held in high esteem by global
regulators. Thus, at the height of these programs in the early to mid-s, Zambia’sgovern-
ment paid $.billion in debt but only $ million for primary education; Ghana’s social
expenses, at $ million, represented percent of its debt service; and Uganda paid $per
capita on its debt and only $for health care. In alone, these three countries remitted
$.billion to bankers in the North. When the new programs became an option, these three
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 209
countries benefited from HIPC and MDRI programs and accepted Poverty Reduction
Strategy Paper requirements.
Generally, IMF debt management policies from the s onwards can be shown to have
worsened the situation for the unemployed and poor (UNDP ,). Much research
on poor countries documents the link between hyperindebted governments and cuts in
social programs. These tend to affect particularly women and children through cuts in edu-
cation and health care (for data overviews, see UNDP ,,;WorldBank,
,a, b). There is by now a large literature in many languages on this subject,
including a vast number of limited-circulation items produced by various activist and sup-
port organizations. An older literature on women and debt broke new ground by docu-
menting the disproportionate burden these programs put on women during the first
generation of SAPs in the s in several developing countries (Acosta-Belen and Bose
; Beneria and Feldman ; Bradshaw et al. ;Tinker). Unemployment of
women but also of the men in their households added to the pressure on women to find
ways to ensure household survival (Buechler ; Koslowski and Kyle ; Lucas
; Rahman ; Safa ). Subsistence food production, informal work, emigration,
and prostitution have all become survival options for women and, by extension, for their
households (Jubilee Debt Campaign ;UNDP).
The above is part of a larger history in the making. In my reading it includes as one key
element a repositioning of much of Africa and major parts of Latin America and Asia in a
new massively restructured global economy. Weakened governments and the destruction of
traditional economies have launched a new phase of extraction by powerful states and firms
and a new phase of survival economies by the impoverished middle classes and the long-
term poor. (For a more detailed analysis, see Sassen a, b, ).
THE RISE OF FOREIGN LAND ACQUISITIONS: EXPANDING THE OPERATIONAL
SPACE OF ADVANCED CAPITALISM
The weakening and corrupting of global South governments described above has
enabled the rapid and sharp increase in foreign land acquisitions that took off in .
While this can be seen merely as a continuation of an old practice, the available evidence
shows expansion of overall acquisitions.
From to over million hectares of
land in Africa, Latin America, and particular regions of Asia were acquired by foreign
governments and foreign firms; this figure includes only acquisitions of a minimum
hectares. What concerns me here is this sharp rise in acquisitions: it signals a new phase
rather than the continuation of a centuries-old practice going back to diverse imperial
phases. One difference today is the fact that most territory in the world is part of
formally sovereign countries. Today’s massive land acquisitions might indicate a structural
transformation of an old practice.
It is a well-known and generally accepted fact that the key reason for these land acquis-
itions is rapid development in some parts of the world generating a demand for industrial
crops, food crops, wood, water, metals, and more (see, e.g., Barney et al. ; Borras et al.
a, b; Land Matrix a, b; Putzel et al. ; von Braun and Meinzen-Dick
). Such a demand is also coming from already developed countries. The larger context
210 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
includes changes in the global economy and in financial markets, and changes in the inter-
state system, still the basic frame for cross-border transactions. Further, the financializing of
commodities has brought new potentials for profit making to the primary sector, from food
to minerals and metals, thus stimulating speculative investments in land.
The issue is not one of nationalism versus globalism but one of complexity: where once
there was a prospect of democratic decision making, now we see an expansion of opaque
transnational networks that control the land and a global governance system geared to
enabling corporations. With this expansion of acquired land, what was once “national sov-
ereign territory”becomes merely a commodity on sale in the global market. In other words,
we see a weakening of a complex category that at its best can uphold the state’s authority and
inhabitants’rights to make the state accountable (Sassen a).
While the much-reported explosion in global food demand and in its prices has certainly
been a key factor in this new phase of land acquisitions, it is biofuels that account for most
of the acquisitions.
Cross-referenced data from the Land Matrix show that biofuel produc-
tion accounts for percent of land acquired. In comparison, food crops account for
percent of cross-referenced deals, followed by percent for livestock production and
percent for other nonfood crops. Farming broadly understood accounts for percent of
cross-referenced acquisitions. The remaining percent of land acquired is for forestry and
carbon sequestration, mineral extraction, industry, and tourism (see figure ).
A second major pattern is the massive concentration of foreign acquisitions in Africa.
Of the publicly reported deals, land acquisitions totaling million hectares are
located in Africa; million of these hectares have been cross-referenced. This compares
with million hectares reported for Asia (of which million hectares have been
cross-referenced) and million hectares in Latin America (of which million hectares
FIGURE 1. Investment by Sector and Continent, (minimum size hectares).
Source: Anseeuw et al. ().
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 211
have been cross-referenced). The remainder (.million hectares reported and .million
hectares cross-referenced) is in other regions, particularly Eastern Europe and Oceania (see
In an analysis of large land acquisitions in Africa, Friis and Reenberg ()catego-
rize major investors into four main groups: () oil-rich Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, United
Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Jordan; () populous and capital-rich
Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, and India; () Europe and the United
States; () private companies from around the world. Investors are mostly energy companies,
agricultural investment companies, utility companies, finance and investment firms, and tech-
nology companies. Just considering investment capital, the three major buyers come from the
United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia; together they account for percent
of all investments in these six countries, and each has investments in four countries.
These investments in land have crowded out investments in mass manufacturing and
other sectors that can generate good jobs and feed the growth of a middle class. The rise in
such investments happened at a time when several countries of the global South were begin-
ning to experience significant growth in mass manufacturing, and much foreign direct
investment (FDI) was in this sector (Sassen :ch.). Manufacturing can contribute to
the growth of a middle class and a strong working class. If we just consider Africa, for
instance, the data show a sharp decline in foreign direct investment in manufacturing. South
Africa and Nigeria, Africa’s top two FDI recipients, accounting for percent of FDI stock
in Africa by , have both had a sharp rise in FDIin the primary sector and a sharp fall in
the manufacturing sector.
This is also the case in Nigeria, where foreign investment in oil
has long been a major factor: the share of the primary sector in inward FDI stock stood at
percent in , up from percent in . Other African countries have seen similar
shifts. Even in Madagascar, one of the few (mostly small) countries where manufacturing
FIGURE 2. Land Acquired by Firms and Foreign Governments, (minimum size hectares).
Firms include both national and foreign.
Source: Anseeuw et al. ().
212 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
FDI inflows began to increase as recently as the s, this increase was below that of the
Overall, the current phase of land acquisitions dwarfs investments in
MIGRANTS IN SEARCH OF BARE LIFE: THREE EXTREME CASES
In what follows I focus on key features of a variety of emergent flows, each marked by
extreme conditions. These are brief sketches of flows that have only recently started or, if
older, have only recently taken on their present sharp features. They point to larger histories
and geographies in the making. Further, they tell us about the gravity of conditions in their
places of origin. Finally, while emergent, they could eventually become overwhelming—to
existing immigration and refugee policy systems, to receiving areas, and to the men, women,
and children who constitute these flows.
Central America: Unaccompanied Minors
Central America is one of the key regions for the flight of unaccompanied minors that took
off over the last two years. Other major emigration flows, notably from Southeast Asia and
from Africa and Asia via the Mediterranean region, consist largely of men, albeit with grow-
ing shares of women and children. Central America has long been an emigration region—
for both political and economic reasons. What is new is this flow of unaccompanied
children driven out from their homelands mostly by the extreme urban violence that has
erupted over the last few years. The sharp rise in urban violence is partly generated by the
expulsions of rural workers from their land due to the expansion of plantations growing
food for the United States market, and the dying of the land itself, due to excess pesticides
and fertilizers (see generally Sassen :ch.). Cities increasingly are the only places where
these displaced men and women can go.
The available data show that an estimated , unaccompanied minors, most from
Central America, crossed the United States’southern border between October , and
July ,, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (b).Thisisnearly
twice the number of child migrants who came during the same period the previous year.
The estimate is that by the end of ,upto, unaccompanied children had crossed
the border with the United States. What we do not know is how many died or were kid-
napped in the process. Gang and police violence are the main factors pushing youth out,
according to statements by the children themselves, by researchers, social workers and other
professionals in this field, and by government experts (see, e.g., Ackerman et al. ;
Hiskey, Malone, and Orces ;Sladkova;WienerBravo; Yearwood ). In
,“Ninety-eight percent of unaccompanied minors arriving at the United States border
were from Honduras ( percent), Mexico ( percent), Guatemala ( percent), and
El Salvador ( percent). This breakdown represents a significant shift: prior to , more
than percent of UACs were from Mexico”(Chishti and Hipsman ). In ,
percent of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border were from Guatemala,
percent from Mexico, percent from El Salvador, and percent from Honduras
(based on the numbers given in the table “Unaccompanied Alien Children Encountered by
Fiscal Year,”U.S. Customs and Border Protection a) (see figure ).
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 213
Salvadoran and Honduran children come from some of the most violent places in
theworld.Theyfearthatviolencemorethan the well-known risks of moving across
Mexico and the U.S. border deserts, and doing so alone. According to data collected by
the Pew Research Center, San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the world’s murder capital,
with a homicide rate of homicides per , inhabitants in ,drivenbya
surge in gang and drug trafficking violence (UNODC ). For the entire coun-
try Honduras’s murder rate was per , in , the highest in the world
(World Bank c). In , El Salvador was not far behind, at , ranking second in
terms of homicides in Latin America (World Bank c). Even with a significant drop
in the murder rate from per , inhabitants in to in ,ElSalvador
is surpassed only by Honduras, Venezuela, and Belize in the entire world. Further,
Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America,
respectively, with percent, percent, and percent of their people living on less
than $a day, according to the World Bank (d).
This combination of elements contributes to explain high emigration among both chil-
dren and adults. Most extreme is El Salvador, with up to percent of the population
leaving, a percentage twice as high as in Honduras and Guatemala. Except for very small
countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, so-called “emigration countries”rarely reach these
levels. Central American migrations are rather well documented by researchers and the
press, partly because south of the U.S. border migrations have existed for a very long time.
“Leaving”is a major decision because crossing Mexico is dangerous—losing limbs and even
death is often the price. The number of undocumented children—mostly teens, but some as
young as five—apprehended crossing the border without parents or guardians has more
than doubled in the past two years (though overall, the number of Mexican nationals caught
FIGURE 3. Apprehensions of Unaccompanied Minors by U.S. Customs and Border Protection,
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (a).
214 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
at the border has decreased, declining by percent from to (U.S. Department of
Homeland Security). Further, U.S. Customs and Border Protection finds that the num-
ber of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border doubled in the first four
months of FY (compared to the same time frame in ) (U.S. House Committee
on Appropriations ).
Niurka Pineiro from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) describes a
case that captures the horrors of this crossing even if one comes out alive. It concerns the
infamous freight train (Huffpost Miami ), La Bestia, as Central American migrants call
it. This train leaves the southern Mexican city of Arriaga and travels north to Reynosa, just
across the border from McAllen, Texas. Many migrants ride it despite the risks: falling off
while sleeping; thieveswho go car to car with machetes or guns stealing from passengers; the
night raids from Mexican law enforcement, and more. “José Luis Hernandez was just
years old when he lost a leg, an arm and four fingers of the other hand after falling off
the city of El Progreso, Honduras. ‘Idon’twanttobeabeggar;Idon’t want handouts,’sighs
José Luis. ‘I started learning English, but had to drop out because I didn’t have money to pay
for the lessons. If I had a computer I could do some work with my finger.’” Yes, he has only
one finger left.
Smugglers prey on potential migrants, young and old. They are after business, and the
proliferation of smuggling gangs has raised competition for the trade, so they paint a far
rosier picture than Obama’s immigration policy offers. They often tell minors that once
they are there, as minors they will be processed to become citizens or legal immigrants,
which is incorrect. Their misrepresentations have evidently contributed to the surge in emi-
gration of minors—and even adults. This is new. Mostly in the past smugglers (“coyotes”)
doing their trade crossing the U.S. border were not quite so businesslike: they were hired for
a given function at a given price and that was that. We now see in Central America’sunac-
companied child migrants a syndrome similar to what we are seeing in the Mediterranean:
smugglers in the business of expanding their markets by reassuring their potential clients, “It
all will turn out well.”
The arrival of tens of thousands of minors in the United States created distinctive chal-
lenges. Many have been housed in detention centers that have been described as unaccept-
able for the housing of minors. It is becoming a sort of crisis for some local governments
now hosting thousands of them. But interesting initiatives or proposals for how to handle
this inflow have also emerged. Thus Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner wrote to President
Obama to offer Syracuse as a shelter city for border children escaping violence in Central
America. New York City has also discussed this possibility. National politicians have sug-
gested their own solutions: Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) urged the United States to
transfer children back by “plane loads”(Lehrer ) to their countries of origin.
The sudden high numbers, the lack of facilities to accommodate minors in a system
geared to adults, and strong anti-immigration sentiment may have contributed to a major
change in U.S. policy. “Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has begun arresting
and deporting tens of thousands of Central Americans long before they reach the
U.S. border”(Kahn ). This led to a drastic fall of percent in the numbers of
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 215
apprehended unaccompanied minors in September compared to a year earlier. But in
fact the number of departures from Central America may not have fallen much, if at all.
When we just examine departures, as distinct from entries into the United States, the partial
evidence signals that departures may still be high, though they may eventually decline. What
has changed is the treatment they are getting at Mexico’s southern border: even more brutal
Between October and April , Mexico detained , Central American mi-
grants (WOLA ). During the same period, the United States detained , non-
Mexican migrants, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. But it had detained
, non-Mexican migrants in the same period a year earlier, which was more than triple
the number detained by Mexico before the new policy (Pascaud ). Data from Mexico’s
National Immigration Institute (Tuckman ) show that , “migrants”from Guatemala,
Honduras, and El Salvador were deported between January and April from Mexico’s
southern border back home, up from ,, during that period in ; deportation of
Guatemalans rose percent, followed by Salvadorans at percent and Hondurans at
percent (AP a).
Active detention efforts by Mexico’s guards at its southern frontier can be brutal.
According to migrant advocates, this strong persecution by federal authorities has resulted
in accidents where migrants have died and been injured in clashes between human smug-
glers and police. It has also led to imprisonment, deaths, and disappearances of unaccompa-
nied children (see, e.g., Archibold ; Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano ).
Some wind up in reasonable places such as church shelters or are taken in by generous
households; others languish as street kids, and still others disappear without a trace. The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has recently expressed its “concern over
stepped-up actions reportedly being taken against migrant persons”that were put in place
after Mexico initiated its Southern Border Plan in under pressure from the U.S.
The southern border of Mexico has become a terrifying place for these Central American
unaccompanied children (and also adults). They wind up in jail, they get beaten, they lose
limbs, they die. But some, as seems to be the case in all migrations, get through. U.S. data
show that in the first few months of unaccompanied children keep arriving in growing
numbers compared to . It all suggests that the violence back home keeps being a reason
to leave and that not even La Bestia or the Mexican police are a full deterrent.
South East Asia’s Refuge Seekers: The Andaman Sea
We are witnessing the shaping of a new extreme phase in South East Asia, a region that has
long seen slavery and the smuggling of desperate refugees. The massive post–Vietnam War
refugee flows have mostly sorted themselves out—in good and bad ways. This new emergent
crisis arises out of a different mix of conditions; it is not a continuation of the earlier crisis.
Two very recent facts signal alarming developments. One concerns several small Muslim
communities escaping evictions from their land and persecution for being Muslim.
Most visible is the case of the Rohingya. While up to , Rohingya have escaped from
Myanmar using Bangladeshi passports, they are an old Muslim minority that has been part
216 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
of Myanmar for centuries. Unlike the Rohingya, the Bangladeshis living in Myanmar have
economic reasons for being there, and it is the search for employment that brings them to
Myanmar (Albert ; Borwick et al. ), even if they may also be persecuted for being
Here I focus mostly on the Rohingya. There are about .million living in Myanmar;
they are not recognized as citizens. There is scattered evidence of active persecution of the
Rohingya. The U.S. Department of State () finds that at least , have been evac-
uated to neighboring countries since , a year when direct attacks on Rohingya took
place. According to Rohingya activists more than , Rohingyas have disappeared
from voter registration (figure ). This active persecution coincides with Myanmar’sopen-
ing and reincorporation into the community of states.
In some limited sense it is becoming
a more open society, as has been widely reported in the media. But the long-term mistrust of
the Rohingya, an old Muslim minority that has been part of Myanmar for centuries, has
turned brutal. In my reading of the facts, this somewhat sudden open anger at the Rohingya
FIGURE 4. Rohingya and Bangladeshi Migrants, – (estimates).
Source: Albert (), based on data from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 217
is at least in part connected to the massive land grabs for mining and agriculture. The coun-
try’s opening and its enabling of foreign investors coincides with a somewhat sudden vicious
persecution of the Rohingya by particular groups of Buddhist monks. That it is these par-
ticular Buddhist monks who have led this assault and, further, led them to rewrite some
parts of the doctrine so as to justify the expulsion of the Rohingyas from their land, and even
the killing of Muslims, does point to larger vested economic interests that are likely to go
well beyond these monks.
Could this signal a deeper unsettlement? That Buddhists should become brutal persecu-
tors of a small, peaceful Muslim minority may be only one of several other indicators point-
ing to a struggle for land. Could this violence signal something about the loss of habitat?
There is considerable evidence in various areas of Southeast Asia about significant evic-
tions of small farmers from their land to make way for mining, plantations, and office build-
ings (see generally the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center’s website, http://www.
internal-displacement.org, as well as AFP b; Gorra and Ravanera ). Foreign firms
have been among the major investors since Myanmar opened its economy to foreign invest-
ment. Indeed, freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has lost considerable support
among the rural population precisely because she has not contested these land grabs (at least
publicly) or openly supported the local movements against land grabs.
One key first public reckoning came through press reports in the summer of that
about an estimated , people in dozens of overloaded vessels had been floating aimlessly
for up to two months in the vast Andaman Sea (figures and ). This sea is bordered on the
east by Myanmar and Thailand and on the south by Malaysia and Indonesia. These, and
perhaps other, regional governments were aware of this surge in fleeing people but had made
it clear they were going to push them back to sea if they dared to land. It was the press that
sounded the alert about some of these ships, where people were piled up over each other
with no water or food left. When the facts went public, Indonesia, mostly, took in about
half of that estimated population, forced by the global uproar as the horrifying details went
viral. The struggle to get countries to accept them was not easy. Their rescue added even
more information about the horrific conditions. And that rescue still left an estimated
, floating in that vast ocean in precarious vessels.
These , are but one component of a larger desperate search for bare life on the part
of a rapidly growing number of men, women, and children. Even as those ships were
brought to land, other ships crammed with Rohingya and Bangladeshis were found off
Malaysia’s coast and turned away, including one in May of that was loaded with
people, and thousands of migrants were still believed to be stranded at sea (Tribune
Wire Reports ).
Under pressure from international bodies, Southeast Asian nations agreed on May ,
, at a meeting in Bangkok, to set up an antitrafficking task force and to intensify
search-and-rescue efforts to help vulnerable “boat people”stranded in the region’sseas.
This was a first. In the meantime, according to another news report, “More than ,
migrants have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh
since Thailand launched a crackdown on people-smuggling gangs this month”(Kanupriya
and Sawitta Lefevre ). The director general of the IOM was quoted as saying, “That the
218 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
summit took place at all with this wide participation is itself a good result,”given the
conflictive position of Myanmar.
We are witnessing the beginnings of flows of people that might escalate, rather than
diminish (see, e.g., “Adrift at Sea”;FooandScarr). How far it will all go is
not clear. Nor is it clear how long it will all last, including the willingness of govern-
ments to take in desperate people. These governments have already turned back over-
loaded boats that are ready to sink. The current reversal of position is, to some
extent, a willingness enforced by the glare ofthemedia.Andtheflowsarenotabout
to end anytime soon.
The second alarming development concerns theenslavement of poor Thaimen from the
isolated mountain areas. It has long been known that the huge Thai and Malaysian fishing
industries use Thai workers; it has also been known that they have often been de facto slaves.
And rumors have circulated about slave camps and mass graves. But the findings of up to a
hundred mass graves in the summer of on the border zone between Thailand and Ma-
laysia went beyond much that had been suspected or rumored. So did the finding of over
secret “migrant camps”run by armed smugglers like detention centers, furnished with
FIGURE 5. Leaving Myanmar: Escape Routes ().
Source: Gecker ().
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 219
watchtowers, guns, and cages for holding the migrants. These extreme conditions are indic-
ative of a larger and disturbing dynamic. There is considerable evidence confirming that the
Malay military control that region: it is one of their operational spaces. It is difficult to
FIGURE 6. Southeast Asia Migrant Crisis, .
Source: AFP (b).
220 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
believe that none of this was known to at least some of the local authorities. Local residents
have told journalists that sometimes a skeletal escapee from one of those camps would
appear in one or another village, often also wounded, seeking to escape death. It seems that
those migrants who had become too weak to work in local plantations or in fishing boats
were simply killed and buried in mass graves.
The trafficking of workers is a major practice in the region. We do not know at this
point, but it is possible that some of the traffickers taking the Rohingya out of Myanmar
have passed some of the Rohingya to other trafficking circuits. And sometimes they
have abandoned the loaded ships in the Andaman Sea, leaving the refugees to their own
A key trafficking sector of Thai women and children is the sex industry. This is a whole
world unto itself, with its own specific business capabilities and a global operational space.
While much of the effectiveness of the traffickers in luring their victims is linked to the
larger question of loss of habitat, the sex sector cannot simply be summarized here. It
deserves its own specific treatment.
Mediterranean Migrations toward Europe
The Destination of a Vast Range of Expulsions Europe has emerged as the destination
of a broad range of new refugee flows. The Mediterranean has long been and continues
to be a key route for long-established migrant and refugee flows. Here I focus only on a
setofnewflowsthatbeganin and need to be distinguished from the ongoing older
flows of mostly migrants. The Mediterranean, especially on its eastern side, is now the
site where refugees, smugglers, and the European Union each deploy their own specific
logics and together have produced a massive multifaceted crisis. Late saw a sudden
surge in the numbers of refugees, a possibilitynotforeseenbythepertinentEUauthor-
ities given that the wars they were escaping had been going on for several years. This cri-
sis became a business opportunity for smugglers that would expand over the ensuing
year to bring in an estimated $billion in income; since the smugglers benefited from
keeping the flows going, they persuaded their potential clients/victims that everything
would be fine once they reached Europe. To compound the problem, receiving these
refugees was a major crisis in Italy and, especially, Greece, two countries already bur-
dened by their struggling economies; by early Greece was the destination for
over a million refuge seekers who had to be sheltered, fed, and processed.
Yet the facts on the ground in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, and other coun-
tries were all familiar. If anything, the surprise should have been that the surge in refugees
did not happen sooner. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR
a), among others, had been recording the escalating numbers of the internally displaced
and of refugees. The conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria were not going to end anytime
soon. Nor would those in Somalia or in South Sudan. The brutality of these conflicts, with
their full disregard for international humanitarian law, indicated that sooner or later people
would start fleeing the violence (see, generally the Internal Displacement Monitoring
Center’s website, http://www.internal-displacement.org, as well as, e.g., Hampshire ;
Sirkeci, Utku, and Yazgan ; see generally Alund, Likic-Brboric, and Schierup and
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 221
Amin ). As Cockburn () has summed up, “It is an era of violence in the Middle
East and North Africa, with nine civil wars now going on in Islamic countries between
Pakistan and Nigeria. This is why there are so many refugees fleeing for their lives. Half of
the million population of Syria have been forced from their homes, with four million
becoming refugees in other countries.”
Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan: Major Sites for the Making of Desperate Refugees For three decades
Afghanistan has produced the greatest number of refugees, according to the UNHCR
(a): it has .million refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate.
This changed in
, when one new refugee in four worldwide was a Syrian. Syria is an extreme case.
According to the UNHCR, .million Syrians had left the country by September ,but
those numbers keep growing.
Iraq has .million recognized refugees (see, e.g., Kingsley
b). Its situation deteriorated further when quite a bit of its territory, including its
second city, Mosul, was conquered by ISIS, adding to the disastrous effects and religious
divisionsthathadbecomeextremewiththeWest’s invasion of the country in
(Cockburn ). More than .million Pakistanis have been displaced by insurgencies
in northwest Pakistan, according to the UN (UNHCR b); further, Pakistan has
seen acute terrorist violence for many years and it is continuing (see South Asia Terrorism
Portal ). Somalia remains the third-largest refugee-producing country at .million
refugees (UNHCR a).
The humanitarian crisis is escalating and spreading. According to Human Rights
Watch, over the last two years about million people were driven from their homes,
including almost million Syrians, .million Iraqis, .million Afghans, .million
Somalis, and almost half a million Eritreans.
Further, the UNHCR has found that
there are also far more unaccompanied children in the recent flows into Europe than
were expected. To these flows we need to add the half million waiting in northern Libya,
at any given time in the last two years, for ships to take them across the Mediterranean.
According to the UNHCR (d), the number of global refugees in was over
million, and the fact of ongoing departures from conflict zones signals that this num-
ber will be higher for (see, e.g., Sisci ). The current number is the largest ever
since the humanitarian system was put into place. Left out of the count are many of the
internally displaced and the growing number of undeclared or not yet counted refugees,
such as some of those crossing the Mediterranean.
To the diverse cases described above we can add the following. Somalia (excluding Punt
Somalia), with its state collapsing in and never rebuilt, is now home to warlords,
extreme jihadis, rival parties, and foreign soldiers controlling different parts of the country.
Much of this started after , and a whole new phase set in after . Then there is the
civil war in Yemen that started in , the resumption of the Turkish-Kurdish civil war in
July (a war that has killed , people since ), and the rise of Boko Haram, the
Islamist extremist group fighting a brutal war in northern Nigeria and Chad (AFP a;
Mark ). Significant is also the collapse of the political and economic order in Libya,
which has produced a massive security vacuum. In addition there are a variety of other new
militarized aggressions across Africa. Land grabbing in sub-Saharan Africa is generating a
222 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
whole new politics of food (see, e.g., Hall ; Sassen :ch.), with the numbers of the
disadvantaged growing rapidly.
In my reading there is a history that weaves itself across these diverse countries, even if
each country has its own specific sources and conditions. When all of them are seen
together, a distinct logic emerges: these people are expelled and there is often no home to
return to. These trends are enormous challenges to the international system, with Europe
the destination of most of these flows. One of the few somewhat reasonable proposals, given
the vast numbers of refuge seekers, is tradable refugee admission quotas (Moraga and Rapo-
port ). But given the scale of these displacements, it is doubtful such quotas can help
much, though I wish they could.
An effect of this expanded geography of instability and economic destruction is a
massive loss of habitat. Further, I would argue that besides war, the failed development
policies I examine in the first half of this paper contribute to the incapacity of the gov-
ernments involved to prevent the current collapse of whole segments of their society
and economy. The current fragility did not start in the last few years. It started in the
The histories and geographies shaping these three sets of flows are varied and complex.
There are no easy solutions. These refugees are not usually the poorest in their countries,
even if departing from their home countries leaves them without any resources; many have
advanced educations and started out with resources. These are not emigrants; they are refuge
seekers. “Sending them back from where they came”is often not an option. What was once
home is now a war zone, a new private gated community, a corporate complex, a plantation,
a mining development, a desert, a flooded plain, a space of oppression and abuse.
The flows I described are to be distinguished from the million-plus regular immi-
grants in the world today, who are mostly modest middle class, increasingly joined by pro-
fessionals functioning in the global economy. Immigrants enter through formal channels or
become formalized eventually in their new home countries. Today’s immigrants are not the
poorest in their countries of origin. Nor are they generated by the extreme push factors feed-
ing the three sets of flows described in this article.
The particular flows I have focused on are emergent and extreme. They are subsets of
larger flows of displaced people whose numbers are approaching million. But they
stand out by their sudden surging numbers and by the extreme conditions in the areas
where they originate. In being extreme and in telling us something about the areas they
are escaping, they bring to the fore larger histories and geographies than whatever might
be the immediate and most visible causes for flight; thus war is not always the main
cause. They often point to longer histories of oppression and exploitation of a country’s
population and the destruction of local economies. Much of it is indirectly or directly
enabled by predatory local elites and often severely misguided “development programs.”
In short, many of the longer-term dynamics in place are themselves destructive. These
dynamics do not indicate a lack of order. They are the new order. And this suggests that
the departures will continue.
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 223
Also East Asia is seeing a surge of refuge seekers that is not connected to wars. The
renewed persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya people is happening in a context of sharp
increases in land grabs for plantations and mining. This development mode is affecting
more and more communities, including other minorities. The situation suggests that the
Rohingya have been singled out because they are Muslims, a fact that has led a radical wing
of Buddhist monks to justify even their killing. The larger dynamic at work indicates that
land grabs and mining are the key disruptive factors for a growing number of localities. This
in turn signals the possibility of further refugee flows. Similarly, it is not war that is pushing
Thailand’s desperate poor out of their communities but extreme poverty, the loss of their
land, and the aggressive capture of men to work in Thai fisheries and in Malaysia’splanta-
tions. These enslavements and persecutions are part of a larger set of expulsions from land
and livelihood in East Asia that are not connected to war.
The three extreme flows of refuge seekers I examined here are a sort of first indication of
a process that is likely to escalate. They may be the most visible and extreme case of a much
larger history in the making.
As I concluded in the first half of this article, the devastation and the impoverishment of
many of the sending areas often started decades ago. This includes the often extreme appro-
priation of funds meant for social and economic development by corrupt local elites in
regions as diverse as Africa and Central America. And it includes war zones in Iraq and
Afghanistan where much of the funding by foreign governments never made it to the
intended projects—the building of schools and hospitals, the redevelopment of water and
electricity sources and supply chains, and other critical work. As one prominent case that
made the news shows, some of the funds left Kabul for one of the emirates in a large plane
loaded with U.S. dollars in cash. The current extreme situation for many average people
cannot simply be explained in terms of the Taliban or ISIS. It goes far deeper into the past
and into insiders’dealings.
Today’s refuge seekers do not have many options. The proliferation of war zones across
much of the world is not going to have a clear ending soon. Unlike World Wars I and II
these are wars with no ending, with no possibility of an armistice led by major powers. And
first steps in remaking one’slife—access to a plot of land for farming or a cheap house in a
city—are becoming difficult. Both rural and urban land are increasingly in demand by inter-
national corporations from across the world. The result is that a rapidly growing share of
land in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia is now owned by corporations of one sort
or another or controlled by foreign governments. Finally, climate change has escalated partly
because of what might be described as development malpractice—notably some of the poli-
cies developed by the IMF and World Bank in the sands that had disastrous con-
sequences for so many of the local economies and societies in the global South.
In this type of context even a somewhat minor crisis can make life unsustainable and
flight the only way to survive. This is the search for bare life.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to SASKIA SASSEN, Department of Sociology and Commit-
tee on Global Thought, Columbia University, Knox Hall, 606 W. 122nd St., New York, NY 10027, or to her e-mail:
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. There is a vast and very diverse critical scholarship on this (e.g., Frank ,;Galeano;
Harvey ; Maldonado-Torres ;Mignolo;Robinson; van der Pijl, ).
.Marx() posits that precapitalist modes of production were incorporated into capitalist relations,
a process marked by violence, destruction, and appropriation. Here I posit another specific type of shift:
the destruction of traditional capitalisms in the process of extracting what can be extracted for the
further deepening of advanced capitalism (Sassen a: chs. and ;:ch.). This is a phase
dominated by a financial logic, a condition that recurs and historically signals a decaying phase (Arrighi
; Robinson ). Built into this proposition is the fact of diverse phases of capitalist development
and, hence, the possibility that in today’s global phase the extension of capitalist relations has its own
distinct mechanisms and that these need to be distinguished from earlier phases of capitalism.
. This is one ofthe major differences between high finance and traditional banking.Because finance
sells something it does not have, it needs to invade other sectors, and for this it needs to develop mostly
very complex instruments. This leaves us with a view of finance as extremely complex and as a sector
belonging to the stratosphere of human knowledge. I prefer to see it in terms of its core logic:
extraction (Sassen :ch.).
. The Marxist category “primitive accumulation”points not only to a logic of extraction that can
expropriate and impoverish but also, and perhaps more importantly, to a mode of incorporating
noncapitalist economies into capitalist relations of production. In this regard “primitive
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 231
accumulation”is part of the historic expansion of capitalist relations. This would suggest prima facie
that the category is not applicable today, since most of the world has basically been incorporated into
capitalist relations of production. Yet I find that today we see a new phase of primitive
accumulation: global capital destroys much of current capitalism modes, and in this regard it can be
seen as yet another phase of primitive accumulation.
. In Territory, Authority, Rights (Sassen a: chs. ,,) I develop a theory of change that has
as one core dynamic the fact that condition x or capability y can shift organizing logics and thereby
actually change valence even if it may look the same: thus, for instance, the massive expulsion of
people due to the current phase of land grabs that I will describe briefly in this chapter is not
necessarily simply more of the same—more poor, more displaced, more downward mobility. It may
be part of a new organizing logic that alters the valence and systemic character of poverty and
. Elsewhere (Sassen b; Sassen-Koob ) I examine to what extent Marx’sanalysisofprimitive
accumulation to explain the relationship between capitalism and precapitalist economies might
illuminate this relationship between traditional and diverse new types of advanced capitalism (see also
. The research literature on this subject is vast. For understanding how the international
community addressed the matter, which is just one approach, see, e.g., IMF (a, b, c,
). For a critical approach, see the multiple reports produced by the Jubilee Debt Campaign
(e.g., a, b). I argue (Sassen :ch.)thattoday’s“austerity programs”for the global North
are a kind of equivalent of these older restructuring programs.
. See, e.g., for detailed country data in that earlier phase, IDA and IMF ().
. To be eligible, countries have to have been compliant with the IMF for at least three years. The
HIPC process begins with a “decision point”document. This sets out eligibility requirements. Among
these is the development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) that replaces the earlier
Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). PRSPs describe “the macroeconomic, structural, and social
policies and programs”that a country is required to pursue in order to be eligible for debt relief
(IMF a, b, a, b, c, d).
.Zambia’sdebtservicein was .percent of income on exports but .percent by
(IAEG ). For Ghana these figures were .percent and .percent respectively, and for Uganda
.percent and .percent (IAEG ).
. See especially Anseeuw et al. (); Borras et al. (a, b); Byerlee et al. (); Cotula
(); De Schutter (:); Land Matrix (,a, b); UNCTAD (). See also
chapter in my Expulsions (Sassen ) for fuller theorizing of this new phase.
. From a substantive historical perspective, this long history matters from many different angles, an
issue I address at length elsewhere (Sassen a: chs. and ).
. In Expulsions (Sassen :ch.) I focus on the assemblage of practices, norms, technologies, and
shifting jurisdictions within which both the financial crisis and the rise in land acquisitions take place. It
points to a deep disjuncture: the simultaneous privatizing and globalizing of market economies tears
massive structural holes in the tissue of national sovereign territory (see also Brautigam and Xiaoyang
; Colchester ;Sassenb).
. Food commodification and the further financializing of these commodities is a major growth
sector. “Between the start of and the middle of the Economist index of food prices rose
%; soya beans and rice both soared more than %. Meanwhile, food reserves slumped. In the five
largest grain exporters, the ratio of stocks to consumption-plus-exports fell to %in, below its
ten-year average of over %”(“Buying Farmland Abroad”). Beyond price, trade bans and crises pose
a risk even to rich countries that rely on food imports.
.The share of the primary sector (prominently mining and plantation agriculture) in inward FDI
stock increased to percent in ,upfrompercent in . In contrast, the share of the
manufacturing sector fell to percent from percent over that period (UNCTAD ).
232 SOCIOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2016
. For comprehensive data, see UNCTAD (,).
.Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority live in apartheid-like conditions in the country’s Rakhine
state. The government does not consider the Rohingya citizens, so they are de facto stateless, but it
denies discrimination and persecution. It does not call them Rohingya but refers to them as Bengalis,
indicating they are from Bangladesh (see, e.g., Vanderklippe ).
. Called the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, it brought together
countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and elsewhere in Asia, along
with the United States, Switzerland, and international bodies such as the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees and the IOM.
. I have examined how these three vectors came together to produce an almost unmanageable
situation in “Anatomy of a Disaster: Europe and Its Persistent Underestimates of the Refugee Crisis”
. According to the Afghan government, percent of the country is not safe. That is because
extremist groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State’s local affiliate are waging insurgencies in
. According to a report by the Washington Post (Alhamad, Mironova, and Whitt ), among
those who left, percent of ordinary civilians say they did so because it was simply too dangerous to
stay. Others gave more elaborate versions of the same reason. Some left because the Assad
government occupied their towns ( percent) or had destroyed their homes ( percent) or because
they were threatened with violence if they did not leave ( percent). Many left at the urging of
family ( percent) and friends ( percent) or following the lead from their neighbors ( percent).
Others pointed to the increasingly high costs of finding even basic access to food and other
necessities ( percent) and left once they finally ran out of money ( percent).
. Eritrea issomewhat different (e.g., AP b; Kingsley a; Longhi ). The – war
with Ethiopia remains an issue even though the war ended with the Algiers Accord in .Ethiopia
does not recognize the border demarcated under the agreement, and Eritrea considers some territory
that remains under Ethiopian control as illegally occupied. The state has used this disagreement with
Ethiopia to justify the mass conscription of its citizens, often lasting a lifetime. This has pushed
almost a million Eritreans to leave the country (see, e.g., Laub and more generally UNHCR c).
Sassen | A Massive Loss of Habitat 233