Who wins when we keep migrants out?

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Who wins when we keep migrants out? Ruben Andersson writes about the border control industry.


By Hazel Healy

On the road to Mexico through Arizona, there are watchtowers and cameras and the road is blocked by a big Border Patrol checkpoint. At the border there is a tall steel fence between the two Nogales, the interlinked US and Mexican towns. There are drones buzzing over the ground and sensors on the ground.

‘You have to watch where you step,’ says one middle-aged Central American man at a shelter in Nogales, Mexico. The other migrants around us agree. Some of them are new to the route, some know it well, and others were deported and want to return home to the US.

Around the world, we talk about migration and the numbers of people arriving, the big problems at the borders, the crowded camps, how many are saved, drowned, and deported. How many people can we accept? How can we make them stay away? Republican presidential candidates such as Donald Trump say the answer is border controls. In Australia and Israel, there are more and more borders with soldiers. The same is true in Europe, where politicians only agree on one thing – better control of the borders. Donald Tusk is the European Council president. In November 2015 he said that the way to save the Schengen system of travel without passports in the European Union (EU) is border control.

But the politicians like Trump and Tusk do not say that in fact there has been more border control for many years already with a large public-private industry. The US spends about $12 billion a year on customs and border control with a lot more Border Patrol agents and new technology. Europe has done the same.

I wrote about the sad and sometimes crazy results of the EU’s answer to unwanted migration in my book Illegality, Inc. At the six-metre-tall fences around Spain’s small North African towns of Ceuta and Melilla, border guards showed me the advanced machinery there to stop undocumented migrants. But they said the barriers were really ‘useless’. Undocumented Africans still climbed across the barriers or went to more dangerous sea routes.

In West Africa, I followed the police who work for Europe around the borders and heard about how they try to control thousands of kilometres of desert sands and coastlines. But the new technology they have doesn’t really help. In these places I saw that the way Europe is trying to stop migration is not working at all. It does not stop the refugees’ and migrants’ need for safety and for work in the countries they want to go to. It has brought suffering but it has not stopped migration.

Migrants change their routes as there are new border controls and new fences. This means they are moving around and away from their homes more and more on a global scale. It seems that West Africans have moved from Spain to Italy and Syrians have moved from Italy to Greece. It seems that Australia’s policy of not accepting boats has made greater problems on the Andaman Sea. It seems that Eritreans have turned away from Israel and Afghans have turned away from Australia to go to Europe.

Each change of route forces migrants to take bigger risks on more dangerous routes. This means more need for help from smugglers but also more need for border controls. As refugees change direction, Balkan states build new barriers to keep them out. And when more people drown in the Mediterranean, politicians start a military operation against smugglers’ boats, or push Turkey to make more patrols. In this way, the fact that controls do not work means there is a need for more and more controls.

A Spanish Civil Guard told me that migration will never stop as he showed me the latest technology for his coastlines. He is right, In Europe in 2015 a lot of money was spent on border controls but there were more than one million migrants and about 500 people died.

The winners

The fight against illegal migration is not working but it is a great success for some groups of people. I call these groups an illegal industry. They include the companies who make the technology, private security companies that look after deportation and detention, border guards and military, and neighbouring ‘partner’ countries.

Western governments can also look good politically by appearing to do something about the big problem of migration without damaging their economies, which then depend on it. They do this partly by controlling the people arriving by land and sea, and not on the air routes by which most irregular migrants arrive - those who stay longer than their visas.

If these are the winners, the losers include almost everyone else. They are the tax payers who pay the bill, the policymakers who find their ideas are not listened to, the people who live on the borders, and the people who rescue migrants from the sea. And, of course, the people who are forced to move and who suffer or die in larger numbers from the Mediterranean to Arizona.

The illegal industry does well because of the very great need for border controls. It also creates its own demand. For the politicians who want votes, the border is an easy way to make people afraid of migrants, terrorists, diseases, and foreign dangers.

Demand is global

In Arizona controls increase all the time although net Mexican migration numbers are now negative. Demand is now also global, as states such as Saudi Arabia follow new Western ideas on border controls.

We need now to find an answer to migration which does not include border control. We must listen to the migrants and refugees, volunteers, and border workers.

With these long-term ideas, we also need more information about the money from the taxpayer for border controls. ‘Border security’ brings more insecurity, not greater safety. And it does this at a great human and financial cost that politicians have not looked at.

Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist and author of Illegality Inc.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://www.newint.org/features/2016/01/01/the-border-industry/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).