A Greek Coast Guard vessel arrives carrying migrants at the port of Mytilene, Greece, after a rescue operation in June 2015. Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Border militarisation: an inefficient and harmful strategy

11 February, 2016

Militarisation of border control, such as the deployment of NATO ships to the Aegean sea, is the worst idea possible, considering that migrants are perfectly innocent and innocuous persons in their vast majority, and that “fighting the smugglers” is a red herring: as long as persons in need of mobility will not be provided with official mobility solutions, unofficial mobility solutions will be provided by opportunistic smuggling rings. The only way to actually eliminate smuggling is to take over their market by offering legal, safe and cheap mobility solutions, with all the identity and security checks that efficient visa procedures can provide.

The operationalization of such a military operation remains to be outlined. What will NATO do that Frontex didn’t do? When intercepting a migrant boat, what will the procedure be? Will they embark migrants on their navy ships as the Italians did in Mare Nostrum? If not, What? If they do, where will they disembark them? Turkey? Greece? To what authority will they transfer them? How will simple pushbacks be prevented? How will they treat the migrants on board? How will they identify protection needs?

And how much will all this cost? One can’t imagine that it will be cheaper than Frontex or Italian operations. Such amounts could be applied to so much more productive policies, such as integration projects in countries of destination and transit, which would benefit all concerned, included local populations.

And how will we know what NATO forces are doing? What civilian oversight mechanisms will be in place to ensure the protection of the rights of the migrants during the operation? Or is asking NATO to conduct such operations precisely a way to avoid the human rights oversight that EU and national legal frameworks have come to impose, and which would by definition not apply to NATO?

Syrians being refugee civilians fleeing a non-international armed conflict and several NATO countries being allied to various parties at war, will some parts of  international humanitarian law apply to this NATO operation?

This useless escalation doesn’t bode well for migrants. It will push them further in the underground, into the hands of unscrupulous lenders, recruiters, smugglers, employers and landlords. Moreover, it will very probably be inefficient in the long run, as smugglers will find other ways, costlier in money, human rights violations and deaths. Unfortunately, making the life of migrants more miserable is probably part of the European deterrence strategy.

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