The word “externalization” is used by a range of migration scholars, policymakers and the media to describe the extension of border and migration controls beyond the so-called ‘migrant-receiving nations’ in the Global North and into neighboring countries or sending states in the Global South. It refers to a wide range of practices from controls of borders, rescue operations, to measures addressing the drivers of migration (Stock et al., 2019). According to Jeff Crisp (2020), the interception of asylum seekers traveling by boat, before detaining and processing them in offshore locations, is perhaps the most common form of this strategy. But it has also been manifested in a variety of other ways, such as information campaigns in countries of origin and transit, designed to dissuade citizens of developing countries from attempting the journey to a destination country in the Global North. Visa controls, sanctions on transport companies and the out posting of immigration officers at foreign ports have been used to prevent the embarkation of unwanted passengers. Wealthy states have also made deals with less prosperous countries, offering financial aid and other incentives in return for their cooperation in blocking the movement of asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, wars, conflict, persecution and natural disasters have forced more people to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, especially in Africa. As displaced people and other migrants increasingly move out of the conflict-ridden and less developed regions (Africa) of their displacement and into relatively rich and stable regions of the world (Europe), the countries of destination are gradually working to contain and even stop the migration flow before it reaches their coasts. This strategy from the western countries especially the European countries is unfavorable to the refugees from the Global South countries.
Moreover, externalization’s use as a mere policy tool to reduce the economic, political and social costs of ‘unwanted immigration’ for receiving states, it is possible to use externalization as a heuristic device to investigate the effects and processes of increasingly globalized migration policies (Stock et al., 2019). However, the EU’s 2016 deal with Turkey, whereby Ankara agreed to block the onward movement of Syrian and other refugees, in exchange for financial support and other rewards from Brussels. The same way, the EU has provided vessels, equipment, training and intelligence to the Libyan coastguard, providing it with the capacity to intercept, return and detain anyone trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat (Jeff Crisp, 2020). This externalization of the European Union borders to Africa through Libya and some of northern African countries such as Morocco is a huge threat to forced migrants from Africa.
EXTERNALIZATION OF EUROPEAN UNION BORDERS TO AFRICA
The unprecedented arrival of refugees and undocumented migrants in the EU, which peaked in 2015, exposed a series of deficiencies and gaps in EU policies on asylum, external borders and migration (Atanassov and Radjenovic 2018). Meanwhile, the notion of externalization is a recent one, this strategy is not particularly new. In the 1930s, maritime interceptions were undertaken by a number of states to prevent the arrival of Jews escaping from the Nazi regime. In the 1980s, the US introduced interdiction and offshore processing arrangements for asylum seekers from Cuba and Haiti, processing their claims to refugee status on board coastguard vessels or at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay. In the 1990s, the Australian government introduced the ‘Pacific Solution’, whereby asylum seekers on their way to Australia were banished to detention centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
However, over the past two decades, the EU has become increasingly eager to adapt the Australian approach to the European context. In the mid-2000s, Germany suggested that holding and processing centers for asylum seekers might be established in North Africa, while the UK toyed with the idea of leasing a Croatian island for the same purpose. Such proposals were eventually abandoned for a variety of legal, ethical and operational reasons. But the idea lived on and formed the basis of the EU’s 2016 deal with Turkey, whereby Ankara agreed to block the onward movement of Syrian and other refugees, in exchange for financial support and other rewards from Brussels.
Moreover, the EU States have justified the use of this strategy by suggesting that their primary motivation is to save lives and to prevent people from undertaking difficult and dangerous journeys from one continent to another. They have also argued that it is more efficient to support refugees as close to their home as possible, in neighboring and nearby countries where the costs of assistance are lower and where it is easier to organize their eventual repatriation (Atanassov and Radjenovic 2018).
In reality, externalization is the result of a determination by states to avoid the obligations they have freely accepted as parties to the 1951 UN Geneva Convention on Refugees. Put simply, if an asylum seeker arrives in a country that is party to the Convention, the authorities have a duty to consider their application for refugee status and grant them permission to stay if they are found to be a refugee. To avoid such obligations, the EU States have concluded that it is preferable to prevent the arrival of such people to begin with. Meanwhile, this might suit the immediate interests of potential destination countries in Europe, such outcomes do serious damage to the international refugee regime. As we have seen with respect to the refugee policies pursued by the EU in Libya, externalization prevents forcibly displaced persons from exercising their right to seek asylum, puts them at risk of other human rights violations and inflicts serious physical and psychological harm on them.
This practice of externalization of the EU borders lead us to ask whether such strategies will affect forced migrants in reaching Europe. The answer from the above discussion shows that the forced migrants will reach the EU countries by using other means. But this will not stop them landing in EU countries. For instance, the wealthy asylum seekers will definitely use their wealth to reach the EU countries but those who are not rich will not be able to reach EU territory. This is a kind of violation of the Geneva refugee’s convention of 1951. Overall, this strategy of externalization will not definitely stop forced migrants from reaching Europe but it will significantly reduce the number of asylum seekers from Africa to EU countries.
The European Union strategy of externalization of its borders is an impactful strategy to significantly reduce the refugees and asylum seeker population in EU countries especially from Africa. This is to preserve their territory and promote more nationalism per say. In reality, this strategy will only prevent the moderate migrants or refugees from reaching the EU countries. However, the wealthy refugees or asylum seekers will definitely find their way out. Otherwise, that strategy will reduce the forced migrants from Africa reaching the EU countries but could nor definitely stop them reaching Europe.
Research Intern, Act for Displaced
He holds a Master’s in Forced Migration Kenya. He worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration at Washington University in St Louis. He is currently Climate Change and Migration Focal Point at UN-MGCY.