Emergence of a "Big Brother" in Europe: Border Control and Securitization of Migration

By Benam, Cigdem H. | Insight Turkey, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Emergence of a "Big Brother" in Europe: Border Control and Securitization of Migration


Benam, Cigdem H., Insight Turkey


Recently, a boat carrying 72 passengers sent out a distress call, which was ignored by European military vessels, allegedly even including a NATO vessel. As a result, only nine people managed to survive thirst and hunger as their vessel drifted in open waters for 16 days. Images of the dead bodies of African migrants, who were left to die by European military, were broadcasted on European television in May 2011. For sure this was not the first incident, which caused a loss of life; however, it did once again reveal the tragedies taking place in the Mediterranean, the severity of the situation, and the illiberal practices of European security agents in dealing with irregular migration.

It is no secret that European nation-states have been adopting restrictive migration policies particularly since the mid-1970s. Furthermore, a link between borders, migration, and security has been established as a result of European policies for the last three or more decades. This period also overlaps with the increased efforts for regional integration, which culminated in establishing an internal border-free Europe. Since the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Union (EU) shares the sovereignty of its nation-states on issues of border control, asylum, and illegal migration policies. In doing so, it faces a major dilemma: "how may the ambition of nation-states to control the entry and movement of people be reconciled with liberal standards promoting free markets, open borders and, humanitarian values?" (1) On the one hand, it strives to facilitate freedom of movement inside the Union as well as easing the rules and reducing the red-tape for entering the Union from neighboring countries, as it claims to want to obviate erecting new "walls" in Europe. (2) Yet, on the other hand, it aims to provide security through filtering out unwanted goods and aliens, to be free from the security risks they might pose. To put it bluntly, the EU wants to liberalize but also strictly regulate its borders. While doing this it evokes the welfare of European citizens and keeps referring to "meeting their expectations" (3). Indeed, the regulation of its borders has lately become very militarized, especially in the Mediterranean through FRONTEX, the specialized European agency for border control and its operations.

The situation is far more complicated than a simple threat definition of migrants. The concept "risk" is involved in the EU's security calculations. Risk calculation inherently is a preemptive act to prevent threats before emerging mainly by relying on past experiences and collecting as much data as possible. Although this method became very popular among security agents, it does bear potential threats to the liberties of ordinary citizens and more so to irregular migrants and asylum seekers, among the most vulnerable groups.

Increased population movements, as a result of the "Arab spring" and the struggle taking place in the Middle East, makes it is even more pressing to rethink European policies on border control, migration, and asylum. In this context, this paper critically inquires about the link being established between security, borders, and migration or more commonly known as, the securitization of migration and the EU's methods of tackling the issue. The EU's two crucial methods of dealing with migrants and borders are: externalization of border control and increased surveillance. These mainly aim at eradicating the risk with the help of surveillance tools such as databases and profiling people travelling from third countries, preventing illegal migrants from reaching the territories of Europe through pre-emptive measures, and dealing with them outside of the Union as much as possible. The article will first dwell on securitization discussions and problematize the notion of risk. Then it will critically discuss the EU's externalization and surveillance methods to "manage" the borders and risks of irregular migration. Finally it will highlight the insecurities these create while claiming to attain a more secure Europe. …

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Emergence of a "Big Brother" in Europe: Border Control and Securitization of Migration
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