How the rise of racism, violence and death are an ‘acceptable’ price to pay in the Europe’s delusional fight against migration.
This article contains extracts from the author’s book DISPLACED. EUROPE AND THE GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS.
It has become commonplace to criticize Donald Trump and his delusional border wall. Indeed, what Trump is offering is not a solution to people’s fears about immigration, but a theatrical gesture — symbolic, sending a message of rejection, whilst hammering home the classic “us versus them” line.
The EU’s response to mass displacement on its periphery is similar, if not worse. This is the continent which has grown rich off the plunder and pillage of most of the rest of the world for centuries. It is also the continent which prides itself on respecting human rights, the rule of law and a commitment to global cooperation. As I write this, children are drowning in the Aegean Sea, whilst border guards along the Turkey-Bulgarian and Turkey-Greece border are shooting rubber bullets at traumatized families, most of whom have fled violence in Syria and Iraq. The United Nations has estimated that 80% of Syrian refugees are now women and children.
A Brave New World — Profiting From Misery
There is a good reason for all this. We live in a world in which the overriding dynamic causing or exacerbating conflict is the making of profits. Displaced Syrians have proved to be very profitable for Europe. Instead of seeing them as desperate, traumatized, scared human beings, Syrians are collateral damage of an ethic addicted to ‘economic opportunities’. After all, have European arms sales to the Middle East and Africa not soared since 2011?
In fact, ‘we’ are making money twice over. First, our arms fuel conflict in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. They are used by repressive regimes to put down pro-democracy protesters or wage war. Predictably, people flee, preferably to safety, perhaps even to Europe, where a small chance exists to rebuild something that resembles life. This is where ‘we’ can profit again. By selling advice, security equipment and contracts to build fences, walls etc. Everybody wins.
Oh yeah, except ordinary people.
Squeezing money out of misery
The detrimental effect on the displaced is quite obvious. They die or get trapped in some crowded hellhole, exposed to violence and filth, clinging to hope, which looms large, in direct opposition to their fates.
People trying to make their way into Europe face an enormous, militarized security apparatus which is physical, financial and electronic. As part of its efforts to stem migration, the EU has funded research into improving security, concentrated in a working group established in 2003.
Astonishingly, UN organisations or others who have developed considerable expertise on migration or asylum questions are not part of this group. Instead, Europe’s biggest arms manufacturers and technology companies are partners, presenting us with a prime example of how the neoliberal (market and profit-driven) ethos merges corporate and political interests. Airbus (formerly EADS), Thales, Finmeccanica and BAE Systems, as well as Saab, Indra, Siemens and Diehl and others have all played a major role in shaping Europe’s response to its border policies.
It is hard to see how these companies could in any way provide unbiased or uncompromised expertise on what is clearly not simply a variable in a business equation, but a humanitarian catastrophe.
This collection of corporate giants has certainly hammered out a massive security initiative, which has been studied in detail by a team of researchers, assembled in the Migrants’ Files.
From 2002 to 2013, thirty-nine research and development projects were subsidized by the EU, for a total of 225 million euro. Three major companies benefited from these projects mostly; of the 39 publicly funded projects, Airbus participated in ten, via 14 subsidiaries; Finmeccanica worked on 16 projects via 13 subsidiaries; and Thales tallied 18 projects, also through 13 subsidiaries.
As part of the EU’s working groups, these big players have only met a few times, suggesting some form of consensus about the structure, objective or ideology of the common agenda. The overriding priority is to keep people out. Of course, to do this, the EU needs its services and this comes at a price.
The money thrown at these initiatives is spent on border surveillance, software, coordination centres, hardware, policing, drones, boats, walls, deportations and bureaucracy. All of the costs involved in these operations are naturally shouldered by the EU taxpayers, but the profits disappear straight into the pockets of major multinational companies, securing the contracts. It is one of the many ways in which public money, raised by taxes, is transferred into private pockets.
The securitisation of migration is a fictitious market, in which the profiteers create the demand and control the supply
In fact, in a damning report, the Transnational Institute shows how, “far from being passive beneficiaries of EU largesse, (…) corporations are actively encouraging a growing securitisation of Europe’s borders, and willing to provide ever more draconian technologies to do this.”
Security and surveillance represent a growing market and are directly correlated to the escalating migration crisis. Border security, while estimated at around fifteen billion euros in 2015, is expected to grow to twenty-nine billion by 2022. The growing opportunities to make profits are reflected in EU budgets, for instance in the funding for border security, totalling four-and-a-half billion euros form 2004 to 2020. Frontex, the EU’s border agency has seen its funding increase with a staggering 3688% between 2005 and 2015.
Some of the companies identified as profiting from the refugee crisis are the same ones who are selling arms to regimes in the Middle-East and Africa in countries which produce so many refugees. Global arms exports to the Middle-East increased by 61 per cent between 2006–10 and 2011–15. Between 2005 and 2014, EU member states granted arms exports licences to the Middle East and North Africa worth over 82 billion euros. Some of these were used to put down the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring, while others solidified regimes, widely recognised for their political repression and human rights abuses. Three of Europe’s biggest arms dealers, Finmeccannica, Thales and Airbus, saw their revenues in 2015 rise to a combined 95 billion euros. Airbus is a major recipient of EU security research funding, while it is also a member of the European Organisation for Security, deciding where this funding should be allocated.
Taken together, both the statistics and the overall picture tell us a story of a vicious cycle, in which very powerful entities have an incentive to keep the world burning. The more misery and displacement there is, the more profits are available. It can partly explain why Europe’s response to the Refugee Crisis has been so militarized and focused on security. But this dynamic has remained hidden from the general public.
Exploiting the fall-out.
Perhaps our corporate friends have an interest in directing the worries of the general public more towards the migrants themselves? Could this explain why billionaire-owned newspapers like the Daily Mail or the Sun keep portraying migrants and refugees as a threat? By creating a climate of fear, corporate Europe can ensure that the gravy train keeps running. In this way, the refugee crisis is a corporate dream come true. But there is another aspect which is now catching up to our leaders and the populations of Europe.
Like a wound unattended to, we are now witnessing the infectious nature of how the EU has focused on pushing the challenge of migration away from EU borders. This is a process I have called ‘outsourcing the crisis’, in previous articles and in my book DISPLACED. Murderous regimes have been empowered by EU money, whilst the EU-Turkey deal was another way to keep refugees at bay.
Erdogan has now torpedoed this agreement and there we go, the crisis we all thought had disappeared, has now resurfaced, confronting us with considerable violence. Local populations are understandably fed up. They have seen conditions deteriorate, with refugees trapped in militarized camps like Moria on Lesbos, their numbers swelling without any real prospects of a quick end to their ordeals. Of course this has caused tensions between refugees and locals, all too keenly encouraged by right-wing politicians and media outlets often owned by the same people cashing in on this crisis.
All over Europe, fears have been revived over a repeat of the events of 2015, when thousands of people found their way into the heart of Europe. The fortress built by the EU was only ever going to hold for short period of time. It has been constructed on quicksand. Erdogan has been a reliable gatekeeper up to now, but for him, refugees are a valuable bargaining chip — expendable, cheap, but representing an enormous force. The Libyan junta is unstable and last year we saw the Sudanese regime rumble. EU chief Ursula von Leyen has praised Greece for its rigorous push-back of refugees (illegal under international law), dubbing Greece ‘the shield of Europe.’
We will no doubt hear more statements like this, as the pressures on Greece will increase over the next few weeks. Make no mistake however, thousands are suffering in silence, either locked up and forgotten in Moria or similar places or dying on horrendous journeys across deserts or oceans. The European Union has partly created and sustained this death trail. Perhaps we can call it murder.