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LSE Research Documents Powerful Industry Emerging From Europe’s Failed Fight Against Migration

FLI Migrants_in_Hungary_2015_Aug_018

Migrants crossing illegally into Hungary underneath the unfinished Hungary–Serbia border fence, 25 August 2015, Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed

New research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) shows how a powerful and lucrative industry has grown off the back of the European migration crisis and argues for a fundamental change of course towards international cooperation and shared asylum systems.

Over the past 8 years Dr Ruben Andersson has investigated the borders at the frontier of Europe’s migrant crisis, documenting the emerging industry of border controls, comprising private defence and security contractors, border agencies and neighbouring states’ forces. Dr Andersson uses interviews with relevant personnel working on the Spanish-African borders to describe how the border control industry is capitalising on the crisis to become both powerful and self-sustaining.

Despite Europe’s mass investments in advanced border controls, migrants have continued to arrive along the continent’s shores in increasing numbers. Dr Andersson argues that European attempts to secure or protect the borders have failed and have merely intensified the refugee crisis (1).

Against this backdrop of policy failure, his research examines the close relations that have developed among border practitioners. This includes: European policing exchanges with African states; EU-subsidised satellite networks managed from Spain and African countries including Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco; and advanced control centres built as part of a common European ‘border surveillance system’ (Eurosur).

His research also looks at the fence-building trend at Europe’s borders, which he argues has compounded the crisis by triggering more chaotic entry methods and tougher policing. Finding that the attempts to cut off the routes of migration have led to greater risks and caused a displacement effect, this has diverted migrants and refugees onto riskier – and for human smugglers, more lucrative – migration paths.

Individual border guards interviewed as part of the study are aware of the failings of the current system: “Migration is something that will never stop” one Civil Guard Comandante said. Another mid-ranking civil guard added that new EU-funded fencing erected in 2005 was “useless…For someone who has travelled thousands of kilometres and suffered in Morocco, it doesn’t dissuade.”

The research argues that policies of European countries have culminated in increasingly advanced security solutions, which have generated more turmoil and led to greater investment in border security in what has become a vicious cycle.

Dr Andersson said: “Politicians keep calling for more border security and controls in the Mediterranean, without taking into account that precisely such measures have been tried for many years already – and they have failed. What is needed are a number of solutions at EU level, including genuine responsibility-sharing on asylum and a different kind of cooperation with Europe’s neighbouring states.

“Currently, the system to control irregular migration is an expensive mess – rather than fixing the problem, it is feeding on its own failings. As the crisis has intensified, we have seen resources sucked into a security black hole, which has made the situation more urgent and caused incalculable misery for thousands of desperate people.

“Rather than tougher security and more surveillance, which have done little to alleviate the situation, a new international strategy is required to allow countries to both share and meet their responsibilities.”


1. According to UNHCR figures, about 1m people have arrived across the Mediterranean in 2015, among whom more than 80 per cent came from the world’s top 10 refugee-producing countries.

Europe’s failed ‘fight’ against irregular migration: ethnographic notes on a counterproductive industry by Dr Ruben Andersson appears in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, ISSN 1369-183X (In Press). The article can be read and downloaded here (open access):

For more information

Dr Ruben Andersson of the Department of International Development at LSE is available for interviews and expert comment about the border security response to the refugee crisis on

Source: London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

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