EU border security, cooperation with Asia, and military industry profiting

[Presentation at a meeting of the Asia Europe's People Forum, 18 April 2017] According to the International Organisation for Migration over 5,000 refugees have died last year on Mediterranean migration routes to Europe. This is not a coincidence or bad luck, but a foreseeable consequence of EU border policies. These policies are characterized by an one-sided emphasis on boosting and militarising border security, both at the EU external borders and in neighbouring countries.
This includes:
 
- the deployment of armies at the borders, for example in Hungary, Bulgaria and Macedonia;
- building fences and walls at borders, equipped with detection and surveillance technology;
- Frontex-missions in the Mediterranean and the military mission Operation Sophia (or EUNAVFOR Med) to stop refugees trying to get to Europe from Libya;
- pressure on third countries to strengthen and militarise border security.
 
The upgrading of Frontex to an European Border and Coast Guard Agency is also part of this trend. It will have control over member states border security efforts and a more active role as a border guard itself. And it gets the possibility to buy its own equipment.
 
Along with strengthening its own borders, the EU is also looking to export its borders to ‘third’ countries. This is one of the pillars of EU border security policies, and of growing importance. It includes for example controversial plans to use some 100 million euros development aid money to fund foreign armies outside the EU, to strengthen their role in border security.
 
The consequences of this so-called externalisation of borders can be illustrated by the migration deal with Turkey, which was followed by (lethal) violence against and deportations of Syrian refugees. And by the purchase of new military equipment and technology to strengthen border security.
 
Most of the border externalisation now focuses on Africa and Eastern Europe. However, there are also international fora and agreements with countries in Asia. Not all of these are only about stopping so called 'illegal immigration', because there are other, maybe more real, border security concerns as well. However, 'illegal immigration' is always framed as at least part of the problem. Some examples:
- the EU funded Border Management Programme in Central Asia, one of the EU’s largest regional programmes in Central Asia, focused on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan;
- EU support for the Central Asia Border Security Initiative and the Almaty Process, which has Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan as members;
- the EU-ASEAN Migration and Border Management Programme II, funded by the EU and implemented by INTERPOL, aimed at capacity building an training;
- international consultation and cooperation fora, including the Prague Process, the Eastern Partnership Panel and the Budapest Process. The latter focuses on Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. There is for example a very controversial return agreement between the EU and Afghanistan, which is the basis for a lot of deportations to this unstable, unsafe country;
- bilateral agreements with China, India, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Jordan.
 
There is a much criticism of the way the EU handles migration. NGO's, activists and experts condemn the violation of refugees' rights, for example through pushbacks. They condemn the way the EU pressures third countries, through a combination of blackmail and bribery, into functioning as outward border posts. And many people have pointed out that it is exactly the boosting and militarisation of border security that endangers refugees, by forcing them to look for other, more dangerous migration routes.
 
Yet, the EU stubbornly stays on the same course. Since the start of this century, the EU has provided billions of euros for border security and control measures in both member states and third countries.
 
One recurrent phenomenon of all these aspects of EU border policies is the purchase of military and security equipment. This has created huge profits for large European arms and security companies, notably Airbus, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Thales, Safran and Indra.
 
As cynical as it is, some of the same companies are also major arms sellers to the Middle East and North Africa. The majority of people arriving in the EU come from the war-torn countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, where European and broader western interventions and policies, including the arms trade, have added to violence and chaos. EU arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa, worth over 80 billion euros in the last decade, are fuelling war (Yemen, Syria), armed conflicts (Iraq, Turkey, Libya) and human rights violations (Egypt, Saudi Arabia).
 
The Middle East is also an important part of the international border security market. One of the largest global projects in this field, the building of a security fence at the borders of Saudi-Arabia, is worth over 2 billion euros. Airbus is the main contractor for this project, with Thales as one of the prominent subcontractors.
 
So, the same industry profits on both sides of the refugee tragedy. But it goes even further: the military and security industry is not only a beneficiary, it increasingly tries to shape European border policies with persistent lobbying on border security and control policies, and calls for more funding for research and purchases in this field.
 
With success: especially for the last two years strengthening border security is one of the main agenda points for the EU. An agenda it increasingly exports to other parts of the world. An agenda that needs to be stopped and reversed in favor of policies that work toward ending the EU part in fuelling the drivers of migration and welcoming refugees trying to find safety and a liveable future to the EU.
 
Mark Akkerman