How corporations benefit from Europe’s refugee crisis
All over Europe, politicians are promising tougher measures on migration. By doing this, they are misleading their own populations, as migration is a natural human phenomenon, which will never disappear, especially not in a world full of inequalities. In the past few years, we have seen how determined people are to reach Europe. In spite of all the deaths and miseries on the world’s deadliest border — the Mediterranean — record numbers are still entering Europe. Even a military-style operation, funded and run by some of the world’s richest governments is not deterring some of the world’s most desperate people from risking their lives.
Another reason why politicians are being insincere, is that even though the EU is increasingly tough on migration, it is not managing the migration flow, while causing a tremendous amount of suffering. This short article will attempt to show how.
Security companies are at the heart of Europe’s migration policy
One of the least understood aspects of Europe’s refugee crisis, is the extent to which it is the result of EU policies. If the EU had not committed itself so much to its market-driven agenda, one might have imagined a common migrant policy, balancing between humanitarian considerations and workability. This policy could be swift, decisive and humane, concentrating on managing migration flows by facilitating safe passage for migrants who would otherwise risk their lives in cramped, unreliable rubber dinghies, while at the same time ensuring procedures are in place which assess asylum claims in a speedy and fair manner.
But there are powerful interests getting in the way of this. These interests have managed to manoeuvre themselves into the heart of the EU decision-making process, making it very hard, if not impossible, to honestly and objectively assess any public issue, especially not one which has turned out to be so very profitable.
Since the year 2000, migrants have paid smugglers over a billion euros a year to reach Europe. Interestingly, a similar amount is spent by the EU to keep out migrants, a sum which is often contracted out to private companies, who consequently have a huge interest in negatively influencing the public perception of migration. In a neoliberal world, where political and social issues are commoditized and outsourced to market forces, this development in itself sustains and deepens our current refugee crisis.
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 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.
As part of the EU’s working groups, these big players have only met twice, suggesting some form of consensus about the structure, objective or ideology of the common agenda. (A cynic might argue that there does indeed seem to be some credence to the neoliberal claim that the market is an ‘efficient’ arbiter for social issues.) 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.
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. On a human, moral and even political level, this makes no sense whatsoever. In a neoliberal world however, these are the laws of the jungle.
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.
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. The refugee crisis is indeed a corporate dream…
This article is an extract from the author’s upcoming book on the subject: Years of Shame. A History of Europe’s Refugee Crisis