5.3.2014 | Von:
Mechthild Baumann

Is Migration a Risk?

Migranten aus Subsahara-Afrika auf einem Boot der italienischen Küstenwache. A group of Sub-Saharan African migrants are brought into the harbour of the Italian island of Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

In the introductory description of Frontex’s tasks and duties, the term "risk analysis" appears several times. It may appear to some that it is completely normal for a border protection agency to analyze risks. Others, on the other hand, may find this confusing. So what risks does Frontex try to analyze exactly?

The EU border management agency Frontex views irregular immigration as as great of a risk as transnational crime, both being risks with which the EU has to deal. The majority of its work is therefore focused on the analysis of immigration risks and the development of appropriate strategies for the prevention of irregular immigration. In its 2012 work program, Frontex put it in these words:

"Joint Operations and Pilot Projects at Sea Borders will be, as in earlier years, the recipient of the biggest share of Frontex’ budget allocations. An amount of 25.0 M € has been allocated to Sea Borders sector in order to tackle irregular migration flows on routes identified by risk analysis."

The Ministers of the Interior of EU Member States portray migration as less of a risk than Frontex, but rather emphasize the dangers of entering irregularly. In the summer of 2013, after the refugee catastrophe near Lampedusa, the then German Minister of the Interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich, stated:

"We must take strong measures to reduce the risk for migrants on their sea voyage to Europe. Frontex is there for this reason, to monitor the sea borders, having rescued almost 40,000 people in distress at sea in the last decade." [1]

The reasoning of the then Minister of the Interior, who represents the opinion of the majority of the EU Member States in this regard, is that Frontex primarily serves to rescue refugees who come into danger on the high seas. Frontex was in fact created and given its assignment by the same Ministers of the Interior or their predecessors.

Alternative Points of View

To the same extent that there is a call for ever more control and surveillance technology, alternative views of immigration as a risk are neglected. The conceptual anticipation of possible illegal immigrants is enough for the justification of millions of euro in investments into the exploration of a hermetically surveilled "area of freedom, security and justice" whose growth in alleged security inevitably involves a loss of freedom in the sense of informational self-determination. This is an observation also made in other areas by risk analyst Ulrich Beck:

"It is unimportant whether we live in a world that is ‘objectively’ more secure than all those previous — the staged anticipation of destruction and catastrophes obligates us to preventive action." [2]

Is this now a plea for the immediate opening of all borders? Debates on border management usually result in this question. A research group for UNESCO investigated the question and came to some surprising results.[3]They determined, for one, that border security seeks to solve problems that there would not be without borders, namely illegal entry and smuggling. They estimate the actual "success" of border security to be limited:

"Border controls are policies that generate visibility but few results and enable governments to develop a pro-control (or even anti-immigration) rhetoric while maintaining access to a foreign labour force." [4]

When looking at whether half the population would immigrate in a scenario where no border existed, the researchers came to the conclusion that there would probably be an increased number of people underway. They emphasize at the same time, however, that restrictive border policies will not dissuade anyone from illegally crossing borders if they do not see another way out. In comparison to this "deterministic" group of people, those who would make use of borderless immigration would be of little significance.[5]

A historical view on immigration and emigration (e.g. Sassen 2000) is also able to relativize the widespread risk of immigration because there has been migration for as long as there have been people. Migration crucially contributed to the development of mankind in evolutionary, social, cultural and cognitive respects. But as Beck phrased it, it is mostly not about the risks themselves, but about their perception.

"Risk is like a whip that drives society to do something that it would probably not otherwise have done. Risk does not issue regulations or perspectives. (…) Risk is a negative term. It only says what should not be done, but not what should be done." [6]

The maxims of border policies are likewise negative. It is a matter of preventing the entry of a certain group of people. What European policies that deal with immigration lack is a consistent and coordinated approach with formative interests and not defensive ones. The first attempt at this was already undertaken by the EU in 2005 with its Global Approach to Migration.[7] Efforts to coordinate border security with foreign policy, labor market policies, development cooperation and demography have so far failed to separate positions of interest, to take outside perspectives into consideration and to draft a long-term strategic plan for the EU, its members and its international partners. As long as it is not possible to agree upon an international concerted approach, regions and departments will continue to act against each other and the EU could run the danger of losing its own values and convictions.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Frontex and the EU Border Regime".


"Wir werden uns von unseren Vorstellungen einer verantwortungsvollen Flüchtlingspolitik leiten lassen." Interview with Interior Minister Dr. Hans-Peter Friedrich on 19 Oktober 2013, www.bmi.bund.de/SharedDocs/Interviews/DE/2013/10/bm_pasauer_neue_presse.html
Beck (2008, p. 32).
Pécoud/de Guchteneinre (2007).
Pécoud/de Guchteneire (2007, p. 6).
Pécoud/de Guchteneire (2007, p. 16).
Beck (n.d., p. 60).
Rat der EU [Council of the EU] (2006).
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