The arms industry’s reach is growing unabated as wealthy nations militarise their borders in the face of the growing refugee crises.
The profits of the military-industrial complex are growing alongside the global refugee crisis. The same industry that has fueled and prolonged war and conflict around the world through weapons sales is also seeing an increase in profits as countries continue to amp up border security against millions of asylum-seekers.
The arms industry, along with its political backing, has reinforced the narrative that the refugee crisis is a security threat, rather than a humanitarian problem, and what is the solution to that? Buy the latest security technology.
Militarised borders today include the deployment of troops, ships, aircraft and drones; the patrolling of land, sea and air as well as digital surveillance and physical walls - against the world’s most vulnerable people.
The hyper-securitisation of borders has been called a new kind of global aparthied, protecting privilege and power, by independent research and campaign groups Centre Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau, Transnational Institute, Stop Wapenhandel and Stop the Wall Campaign in their report, “A Walled World Towards a Global Apartheid”.
According to the report’s findings, there are about 63 physical walls worldwide, with about 60 percent of the world’s population living in a country that has built walls on its borders. Including the deployment of military troops along with their weaponry puts the number of barriers in the hundreds.
“We see security as something that’s a zero-sum game, that we are safe when others aren’t. There needs to be a focus on responsibility, on how we, for instance, in the West are sustaining conflicts and profiting from them,” Parliamentary Coordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade Katie Fallon told TRT World.
The expansion of militarised borders mainly took place after the September 11 attacks. The Walled World report says that the event “provided security discourse on migration and borders with the perfect setting for its expansion.”
Border security became less about protecting national economies and identities and more about the heavy defence against the threat of terrorism. Fostered by the politics of fear, a greater link grew between asylum-seekers and insecurity.
Even as the vast majority of refugees from the Global South are hosted by neighbouring countries, some of the most heavily armed borders are within the European Union.
In September 2018, the European Commission set out to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex. In a proposal it argued that original regulations "had entered into force in record time after the 2015 migration crisis,” leaving “more...to be done to ensure, as part of a comprehensive approach on migration, the effective control of EU external borders.”
Under updated regulations made in December 2019, the agency can give binding advice to member states to strengthen border security measures and start operations in non-EU-countries, expanding the externalisation of European border control.
“Pushing borders out so that refugees are another country's responsibility has been one of the most dangerous policies because it pushes responsibility away and it makes any kind of commitments that countries have already made or legal obligations that they already have, unnecessary to implement,” Fallon explained.
On its website, Frontex describes itself as one of the EU’s fastest growing agencies and says that it will soon grow even bigger.
“We are developing Europe’s first uniformed service – Frontex standing corps. Trained by the best and equipped with the latest that technology has to offer. Frontex border and coast guards are ready for tomorrow’s challenges at the borders, helping to ensure their proper functioning.”
The European Court of Auditors referred to Frontex as a pivotal element in achieving integrated border management of the EU’s external frontiers in its January 2020 audit.
The European Commission’s latest proposal, which covers the next seven-year-budget for the EU (2021-2027), has allocated about $14.1 billion to Europe’s Integrated Border Management Fund of which about $8.5 billion is reserved for Frontex.
About $2.5 billion of Frontex’s budget will be set aside for purchasing or leasing military equipment such as helicopters, patrol vessels and drones.
The $14.1 billion budget is a sharp increase from the EU’s 2007-2013 External Borders Fund, which was about $2 billion, and its 2014-2020 Internal Security Fund - about $3 billion.
Frontex’s subsidy from the Commission has grown significantly over the years from about $267 million in 2016 and $362 million in 2020.
The beneficiaries of intensifying and expanding border security are also some of the biggest arms exporters to the Middle East and North Africa region, fueling the conflicts that add to the crisis.
Frontex has awarded contracts for drone surveillance services in the Mediterranean to Europe's Airbus, Italian arms company Leonardo, French arms and security company Thales, and Israel’s Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries.
In early December 2020, EU lawmakers grilled Frontex's executive director Fabrice Leggeri and called for his resignation over an investigation in October by several international media outlets.
Allegations pointed to publicly available data, including video footage, which suggested Frontex was involved in illegally pushing back migrants trying to enter Greece from Turkey through the Aegean Sea. Pushbacks of asylum-seekers violate several international human rights conventions.
In October of this year MEPs of the European Parliament asked for part of the Frontex 2022 budget to be frozen and only made available once the agency fulfils a number of specific conditions.
The conditions include recruiting 20 missing fundamental rights monitors and three deputy executive directors who must be qualified to fill the positions, setting up a mechanism for reporting serious incidents on the EU’s external borders and a functioning fundamental rights monitoring system.
Nonetheless, the agency’s expansion of power across borders continues and is proving increasingly dangerous for refugees and has forced many to take on more dangerous journeys, often pushing people into the hands of smugglers.
Countries like the US, France, Germany, the UK and Canada, which claim to hold the highest values towards human rights and the sanctity of life, continue to sell arms to countries in clear violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
“States like the UK are selling arms to Saudi, these arms are then being used in violations of international humanitarian law and there's no accountability for the people who are being affected by it. Yet they can't get justice and this really weakens the idea of the rule of law in the first place,” Fallon said.
The financial gains attained by the highly lucrative business of arms sales form an obstacle for the implementation of stricter regulations and policy change.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) will be challenging the UK government’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia in a second judicial review this summer.
In accordance with EU and UK regulation, it is illegal to grant an export licence if there is a clear risk that the items may be used in a serious violation of IHL.
While CAAT’s first judicial review resulted in about a six month pause in the granting of new licences, the government determined in July 2020 that any violations of international law were isolated incidents, as opposed to a pattern, and the granting of licences went ahead as normal.
“This phrase, isolated incidents, is not in the criteria. It's not in any legal materials before they came up with this concept. So it really comes down to a lack of political will. And unfortunately, the UK is an outlier among other European countries...There's been no hesitation at all at any point in the war in Yemen to stop selling arms to Saudi,” Fallon told TRT World.
“In our second judicial review we'll be arguing for more information about how the government took that decision and why they think there are no violations of IHL.”
As arms exports and imports continue practically unregulated and the refugee crisis grows, military and security companies continue lobbying for more interventions, more militarised borders and even more invasive and expensive technologies in the process.
“Unless we really start to acknowledge and address the role that the military industry and global elites are playing in sustaining these conflicts in the first place, I don't think we will see this crisis abate.”