Border Wars: EU's Security Industry Booms Around "Illegal Migrants" Bogey, Corporations Register Big Profit

The Citizen (India), 30 June 2016, by Yash Sharma - The ongoing refugee crisis has been a real test of the European Union. Member states have squabbled over border controls, refugee quotas and resettlement procedures, exposing the undercurrents of discord through the continent. Invariably the millions of refugees, risking their lives to reach the “promised land” have faced the brunt of the mismanagement. Nonetheless, there is one sector that has continued to benefit from the crisis and that is the military and security companies that are responsible for proving the basic security infrastructure to the European nations, as a recent report researched by the Dutch NGO Stop Wapenhandel and published by Transnational Institute outlines.

Major European arms dealers involved in selling arms to the Middle East are some of the same corporations now profiting from militarizing the EU’s borders, reveals a new report researched by the Dutch NGO Stop Wapenhandel and published by Transnational Institute.

The report, Border Wars, examines the booming border security market that has emerged to take advantage of the EU’s announced goal of 'fighting illegal immigration'; and which has gathered pace in the wake of the arrival of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria. Estimated at some €15 billion in 2015, the market is predicted to rise to over €29 billion annually in 2022.

The big players in Europe’s border security complex include arms companies Airbus, Finmeccanica*, Thales and Safran, as well as technology giant Indra. Three of these firms - Airbus, Finmeccanica and Thales - are also among the top four European arms traders, all active selling to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, fueling the conflict that is the cause of many of the refugees. Between 2005 and 2014, EU member states granted these firms (and others) arms exports licenses to the Middle East and North Africa worth over €82 billion.

“It is perverse and immoral” says Mark Akkerman of Stop Wapenhandel. “The companies that have helped create the crisis are now profiting from ‘securing’ Europe’s borders. This might provide security for the arms firms’ CEOs and shareholders, but it’s only fueling worsening insecurity and suffering for refugees.”

Primarily, looking at the crisis and the official response, it is clear that the attempts have only served to play on a security concern rhetoric that has exacerbated the crisis. According to the report, the crisis has seen a boom for the security market that predicts it will rise from an estimated 15 billion Euros in 2015, to over 29 billion Euros annually by 2022.

There has also been a 3,688% rise in the budget of Frontex, EU’s main border control agency between 2005 and 2016 from 6.3 million Euros to 238.7 million Euros. “The military and security industry is not only a beneficiary, it increasingly shapes European border policy by constantly lobbying on border security and control policies, and for more funding for research and purchases in this field.”

While Europe has rung alarm bells of a supposed “crisis” at its shore, it is interesting to note that it is the developing countries that’ve seen an increase from 70% to 86% of refugees housed. The visceral imagery of boats stretched beyond capacity and thousands of refugees waiting at borders have not led to structural reforms that might ease their access. Rather, the consequence has been of “rapidly increasing border security and increasing use of military personnel and means [to deal with the crisis].”

“The EU is closing the door to desperate people fleeing war, yet seems only too happy to open the door to the arms dealers who trade in death and now police our borders,” said Nick Buxton of Transnational Institute and co-editor of the report. “To really address the refugee crisis, we need to stop fueling the conflicts in the first place, and invest money spent on arms firms into providing a safe passage and a fair treatment of refugees.”

The most glaring irony of the entire situation is that the actors that are directly or indirectly responsible for a chunk of the refugees fleeing to Europe continue to benefit from arms deals. Despite UN and/or EU embargoes against many countries with dubious human rights records and involvement in ongoing conflicts like Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Yemen they continue to receive significant EU arms exports.

Egypt received 2.8 billion Euros worth of arms export licenses, while the share for Iraq was 1.3 billion Euros; for Libya 1.1 billion Euros; for Saudi Arabia 25.8 billion Euros and Turkey over 6.3 billion Euros according to statistics in the report for the period from 2005-2014. This reflects a wider trend that has seen “arms exports to the Middle East rise by 61% between 2006-10 and 2011-15.”

Back home, the increased spending on the security infrastructure has so far yielded dubious benefits. The escalating use of military means has been responsible for a number of migrant deaths while also being criticized by human rights organizations as “violation of their [refugees] rights, including the right to seek asylum.” Hein de Haas, professor of migration studies at the University of Amsterdam and former director of the International Migration Institute at Oxford University argues that the expenditure on border controls “does not address the causes of migration.” He adds, “Instead, it helps two groups, the smugglers and the migration control industry, while the suffering and border deaths among migrants and refugees increase.”

The report highlights instances of militarization and use of armed force at borders, “In May 2015, Bulgaria sent soldiers to its border with Macedonia, fearing internal turmoil in that country could lead to a wave of refugees. In October an Afghan refugee was killed by Bulgarian border officers. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of other cases of police and military violence against migrants.”

“Hungary displayed a similar hard line by adopting a new law allowing the army to use rubber bullets, tear gas and net guns against migrants at its borders. Meanwhile, Serbia announced it could use its army to stop refugees being sent back from Hungary. In Slovenia, the government also called in the military and hired private security guards to join the border police in patrolling its border with Croatia. Austria, Croatia, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic also deployed military personnel to assist with border security.”

Another measure adopted by the EU has been to “externalize” its borders which is basically the policy aimed at “stopping refugees before they reach Europe’s borders.” This “outsourcing” process involves “funding of border security programmes and purchases of equipment.” The process included a deal sanctioned by the Dutch government involving the export of radar systems to Egypt despite admitting that grave human rights exploitation takes place in Egypt.

Human rights organizations have been particularly critical of the procedure. Red Cross said, “from a humanitarian perspective the effects of externalisation are worrying. On the ground level, the journey to the EU has become increasingly dangerous adding even further to migrants’ vulnerabilities. At policy level, the scarcity of legal ways to access the EU makes it more difficult for vulnerable migrants to reach the EU safely and exercise their legal rights.”

The recent deal with Turkey has also come under heavy scrutiny due to wide-ranging reports of abuse and detentions by refugees. “Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty documented cases of violence against Syrian refugees, including shooting at them to keep them from entering Turkey. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 16 refugees from Syria, including three children, were shot between December 2015 and March 2016 when they tried to cross the border into Turkey.”

Finally, a major thrust of the report has been on the duplicity of the security companies. At the European level it involves lobbying by private security companies. The most active in this front has been the European Organisation for Security (EOS). According to Lemberg-Pedersen it is a “comprehensive tool with which PSCs seek to influence the common European border politics so as to create a demand for their products.” The major arms players have spent considerable sums on lobbying. According to the report, “Airbus has spent at least 7.5 million Euros on lobbying, Finmeccanica and Thales each have spent over 1 million Euros, Indra almost 1.5 million Euros and Safran over 2 million Euros. Lobby organisation ASD has spent about 3.5 million Euros, while EOS has spent at least 1.2 million Euros.”

The nexus emerges when we analyze the companies that benefit most from the increased spending by nations on border security. “Research shows that those European companies most active in lobbying on EU border security policies are also some of the biggest beneficiaries of spending connected to those policies. The key companies profiting from border security includes Airbus, Finmeccanica and Thales.” What is interesting to note is that these same companies are also responsible for a majority of the arms export licenses granted to the Middle Eastern and North African nations involved in conflicts as highlighted above, consequently leading to large-scale refugee flows to Europe.

The report highlights the irony succintly, “The European military and security industry profits on both sides of the refugee tragedy. It delivers arms and other equipment that fuel conflicts, human rights violations and repression in parts of the world most refugees originate from. And it sells border security and control equipment to keep them out of the EU.”