Addressing the developing crisis around irregular migration by sea will require international institutions to work quickly to address the humanitarian, practical, and legal challenges posed by irregular migration. Applying lessons learned from the effective international response to maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia may allow for international institutions to set up systems to address this new maritime issue. This paper examines one particular lesson from the response to Somali piracy in terms of its applicability to maritime migration. The use of international systems structured as multi-sectoral networks, rather than more formal or enduring hierarchies, was one element that allowed the response to Somali piracy to be fairly nimble, coordinated, and effective. This paper reviews the key lessons about network structures and how they were useful in the response to Somali piracy, and makes suggestions about how these lessons apply to irregular maritime migration.
In network structures, low formal and political barriers to entry and immediate and obvious added value for participation facilitate engagement. Participants need to see immediate reasons to join the network, and low barriers to entry and exit encourage institutions to decide to participate because there is less risk of long-term commitment.
Incorporating all relevant stakeholders facilitates problem-solving. Maritime challenges involve stakeholders from states, businesses, and civil society. Bringing them all to the table allows for a more coordinated response across multiple actors.
Formal governance systems should be developed enough for effective coordination but loose enough to avoid hierarchy. Network institutions need bureaucratic structures to allow for effective work, but these can’t cross into formal hierarchy without damaging the utility of the network.
Based on lessons from counterpiracy, new systems for addressing irregular migration should be set up in ways that are non-binding and minimally formal, inclusive of all stakeholders, with relatively frequent meeting and loose organizational structures including a rotating chair and a system of technical working groups.