The influx of migration across the world has become a global focus in recent decades, with governments struggling to innovate ways to manage migration flows to their countries. Pressure at home combined with changing political sentiment has resulted in some governments resulting in controversial tactics to stem the flow of refugees and asylum seekers to their doorsteps. This venturesome enterprise by nations is resulting in damaging public opinion and damaged international relations.
One clear example is the tension at the US – Mexico border which climaxed in 2019, the relationship between the two countries becoming it’s most fraught in a decade. During this time the Trump administration threatened trade tariffs and revoked foreign aid to pressure Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to take more active roles in supporting the US to manage flows of migrants and asylum seekers to its doors.
The US-Mexico relationship was in the spotlight following the inauguration of Trump and for a brief moment, it seemed that there would be an improvement in their relationship with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as president of Mexico. The pair appeared to be aligned over the idea of a development aid plan amounting to $5.8 billion dollars aiming to respond to migration challenges in the region. However as more caravans of migrants arrived at the US border, Trump responded with a 5% tariff on trade. In response, Mexico’s government was forced to deploy over 27,000 national guards to block transiting migrants and impose the Remain in Mexico protocols and also led to the controversial opinion that Mexico had become Trump’s desired border wall.
A second clear example of these contentious practices is seen more recently earlier this year. With the announcement of Britain’s new plan to manage migration, many scholars, NGOs, activists and governments highlighted their opposition to Britain’s plan to criminalise irregular entry to the country. France, feeling pressure from the UK to stem ‘illegal’ boat crossings, hit back at Britain for the lack of promised funding to help tackle the numbers heading for the dangerous crossing. In a tweet, interior minister Gerald Darmanin stated that the plans to turn back migrants crossing the Channel as ‘financial blackmail’. In a letter he continued that ‘safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migration policy’. The push back tactics proposed by the UK would see the responsibility for potential rescues put on the French coastguard.
An ongoing debate about the use of aid to deter migration has also been going on for the last decade, with Europe at the core. In 2015, European nations met to discuss the solution to increased migration and the result was an Emergency Trust Fund for Africa that promised to ‘address the root causes of irregular [or undocumented] migration” through the “flexible, speedy and efficient delivery of support to foster stability and contribute to better migration management. Foreign Aid in Europe cannot be used to limit migration, but spending on migration related areas is possible if it contributes to the economic development and welfare of the recipient country, according to an article by Devex. This approach is embedded in the European Consensus on Development which guides EU development policy. However, critics of the approach say that the ‘focus on migration deprioritizes the needs of the recipient country in favour of the domestic objectives of the donor — and that it risks blurring the line between aid and security.’
This practice of securitisation of aid has seen changes in what types of projects are funded, and the indicators of showing successful programmes. While it is not quite as blatant as building a wall, there is a sense that this strategy could be counterproductive and lead to even more risk taking by refugees and asylum seekers.