The inefficient border industry

Recently, there has been a resurgence in the building of borders between countries. Carlos Arturo Aguilar questions the efficiency and effectiveness of this new industry.

According to the BBC, more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people. However, the European countries not only seek to resettle migrants, they also want to stop the arriving of people.

According to Ruben Anderson, countries in Europe and other parts of the world are putting enormous amounts of money to increase and improve the border security in order to close the gates. These investments, which come from taxpayers, have turned security into a real business.

BBC World Service / Creative Commons License

BBC World Service / Creative Commons License

Anderson mentions that the border industry has become a very profitable sector for a bunch of corporations related to arms fabrication or security services (e.g. analysis, policing) among others.

But how much has been spent in security? These are some of the investments made by the United States and the European Union, two of the most popular destinies for migrants and refugees.


  • $3.3 million in the border between Greece and Turkey in the Evro (2012)
  • $4.8 million in the border between Bulgaria and Turkey (2013)
  • $10.6 million between the United Kingdom and France in Calais (2015)
  • €10 million – per year – in the border between Spain and Morocco
  • $81 million between Hungary y Serbia (2015)
  • $2.3 billion between USA and Mexico for a fence/wall across 1,078 km (2006 to the date)

Defence and contracts to Security Corporations

  • $238 million from EU taxpayers to hire arms and technology R&D companies (2002 – 2013)
  • $239 million worth drones, speedboats, nightvision googles and jeeps bought to Airbus, Indra, Thales, Finemeccanica and others
  • $900 million will be invested by Texas during the next two years to reinforce the border with Mexico
  • €1.6 billion has been spent at the EU borders
  • $12 billion spent by Europe on deportation (2000-2014)

Frontex was established in 1999 by the European Union in order to manage the cooperation between national border guards securing its external borders. According to Anderson, since 2005 to the date, the EU has spent about €1 billion coordinating border patrols through Frontex since 1999 and the budget of the agency increased from €10 million to € 200 million since 2005 to the date.

Michelle / Creative Commons License

Michelle / Creative Commons License

The real problem here is that despite the amount of money put into the border security, the scenario has not improved but has actually worsened. The results has been chaotic and created externalities, and the migration is far from decreasing. Let’s take a look at the numbers – in the industrialized world everything seems logical through numbers:

  • 1 million arrivals – euphemism for migrants or people – to Europe (2015)
  • 15,000 people arrive illegally to Texas in a monthly basis
  • 3,500 people died on their way to the EU (2015)
  • 23,000 deaths during the last 15 years trying to reach the EU
  • 500 new trafficking and smuggling routes
  • $17.5 billion earned by smugglers and human traffickers
  • 21 million people victim of trafficking of human beings (56% across borders)

According to several studies the model currently used by the countries to protect their borders is clearly not only expensive but also inefficient and is causing death, risks, and unnecessary spending. Then, how is this white elephant justified?

Ruben Anderson (Illegality Inc.) and Susana Hidalgo (El Último Holocausto) mention that this industry has flourished under a discourse that puts migration as a threat to homeland security, or in other words to the wellbeing of the society. Politicians from Europe and other countries are selling this discourse and at the same time, flagging up the need to appeal to private resources to fight the foreign threat.

Just like Donald Trump lately, who affirms that the solution to USA crisis is simply to close the door to Mexican migrants. Or even Donald Tusk, the European Council President, who in November 2015 said that the best way to protect and keep Shengen was to “first and foremost, restore external border control”. These discourses have proved to be vote-winners not only in Europe or USA, but also in Australia, Saudi Arabia or Israel.

This is how politicians foster the security budget and find support from people justifying the high cost of an inefficient security model. Iñigo Moré, author of Borders of Inequality, mentions that facing migration through walls and fences is not the solution. The question of migration should not be seen as a security problem but as a humanitarian problem involving inequality and lack of security in the migrants’ countries of origin.

However, the governments do not seem to think the same. For example, Susana Hidalgo mentions that between 2007 and 2013 the EU spent overall about € 2 billion to protect the frontiers but only € 700 million to establish or develop sound measures to improve the refugees’ situation.

A reassessment of the current security model should be done in order to find an effective and efficient solution. It seems very easy and simpleminded to think that putting a lot of money to build high walls will alleviate anything. The Border Industry (this border industry) has become just a business, considered a solution when it actually provokes externalities such as chaos, misery, and death. An industry aimed to foster security but generating insecurity in many fronts.

According to EU estimates, there will be about 1.5 million arrivals by the end of 2016 and based on the above said all we can expect is not only an increasing in this foolish spending, but also more chaos and people struggling and dying.





The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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