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Capacity Building for Border Control: The Tension between Security and Development

Khalid Koser's picture

Over the past decades, following the creation of the Schengen area, the European Union has redefined its border control policies towards third countries with the stated objective of improving security through more efficient external border controls, while facilitating access of those having a legitimate interest to enter the EU territory.

These policies have direct implications for third countries on their economic and human development. A key channel is through capacity-building undertaken under the auspices of European migration management framework.

FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU undertakes training and capacity building programs for European border officials. Beyond the EU’s frontiers, the aim of ‘externalizing’ border control led to the development of training and capacity-building programmes in countries of departure and transit. Those are undertaken at multiple levels and within various frameworks, either as part of bilateral agreements; through one of the EU’s agencies (e.g. the European Asylum Support Office); technical assistance facilities (e.g. the Migration EU eXpertise – MIEUX); or in collaboration with a wide range of Regional Consultative Processes (e.g. the Rabat Process), international organizations and UN agencies.

These assistances can lead to toughened migration regulations in training-receiving countries. The stated aims of the training programs are to equip third countries with the means to stop irregular migrants, catch and prosecute criminals as well as rescue and assist victims and persons deserving of international protection. However, the emphasis is often put on security aspects and translates into encouraging third countries to adopt restrictive migration regulations and intensify border controls.
This provision of capacity, training and institution-building opportunities certainly has important development implications for the receiving countries. Given the extent and number of initiatives developed over the past decades, these can be considered as important sources of financial as well as other forms of capital such as knowledge, expertise, expensive border control technologies as well as concrete means of action (e.g. patrol vehicles). Moreover, beyond increasing the states capacity to regulate the cross-border movements of goods, these can contribute to improving the often nascent regulation of migration in ways that promote the positive links between migration and development.

Finally, acceptance of those programmes may be linked to promise of development assistance or other forms of returns. As such, it is important to consider that border management mechanisms and approaches are not value-neutral and do not necessarily arise solely out of the concerns of third countries or migrants’ wellbeing. Some have actually expressed concerns about the implications of such quid pro quo, particularly for the security and human development of migrants, not least the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. The efficiency of the multiple and of often uncoordinated initiatives may also be questioned, even from a ‘Fortress Europe’ standpoint. The latest figures on arrivals to Europe may indicate that, so far, the training and capacities provided do not have achieved the goal of stemming the incoming flows of irregular migrants.

All this points to the need to map out and evaluate the types of border management training and capacity building projects as well as the actors involved to better assess their impact on the migration-security-development nexus.

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