Arms giants with factories in Scotland have been accused of profiteering from new border security systems to prevent vulnerable people escaping oppressive regimes and reaching Europe legally.
A new report by Transnational Institute (TNI) says the European Union (EU) has developed a policy of making nations outside of Europe responsible for its border security, which has involved deals with oppressive states to stop refugees from reaching Europe for safety.
The rapid growth in border security spending outwith Europe has benefited a wide range of companies, particularly arms manufacturers and biometric security companies.
Arms multinationals which operate factories in Scotland – Thales and Leonardo – are both named in the report as prominent players after doing deals with countries with poor human rights records such as Egypt and Algeria.
TNI said that the “plight of the world’s 66 million forcibly displaced persons” seems to only “trouble the European Union’s conscience” when the media spotlight turns on a tragedy at Europe’s borders.
“These tragedies aren’t just unfortunate results of war or conflict elsewhere, they are also the direct result of Europe’s policies on migration since the Schengen agreement in 1985,” TNI added.
“This approach has focused on fortifying borders, developing ever more sophisticated surveillance and tracking of people, and increasing deportations while providing ever fewer legal options for residency despite ever greater need,” the report continued.
The EU’s approach to migration is called border externalisation and has resulted in other nations effectively becoming border guards for Europe. This means collaboration with third countries accepting deported persons, training of police and border officials, and the development of extensive biometric systems.
It also involves donations of military equipment including helicopters, patrol ships and surveillance equipment.
But what makes these collaborations problematic, the report says, is that many governments receiving support are “deeply authoritarian”. The support they get often goes to state security organs responsible for human rights abuses.
French arms giant Thales – which has a factory in Glasgow – is highlighted in the report as a major arms exporter, providing military and security equipment for border security and biometric systems and equipment.
“It (Thales) serves as a good example too of the way the military and security industry makes money out of the refugee tragedy,” the report says.
It continued: “It played a significant role in lobbying for security-based EU border and migration policies. It has also won significant border security contracts, for example deploying a complete, integrated system for border security at the Eastern Latvian border, with command and control software, optronics, sensors and a communication network.”
The report goes on to say that when it comes to EU border externalisation, the focus of Thales lies on “capitalising on the growth in security markets” in Africa.
Thales has provided nine African countries with control systems for identification documents, the report says.
“For example since 2005, Morocco has been switching to biometric identity cards, based on digital fingerprints, in part to ‘control migration flows’. Thales has helped implement the project – delivering ID document production equipment and software. The relationship with Egypt is especially close,” the report adds.
“In recent years, Thales has helped supply Egypt with Rafale combat aircraft and radar for frigate and corvette warships. Egypt’s cooperation with stopping migration for the EU plays a role in this, as it facilitates a permissive application of arms export regulations.”
Thales has a factory in Glasgow employing 720 people, a site visited earlier this month by Princess Anne who opened the premises 25 years ago.
The factory has been targeted in the past by pro-Palestinian protestors who said it made components for drones used against Palestinians in Gaza.
An Italian multinational called Leonardo with a factory in Edinburgh is also mentioned in the report.
It makes laser systems for F16 fighter jets and was recently linked to the bombing of Kurds in Afrin, Syria, an attack described as “ethnic cleansing” by Kurdish groups.
Last year, The Ferret revealed that Leonardo has received around £6m of taxpayers’ money via Scottish Enterprise grants since 2003.
The report says: “Leonardo is also involved in other border security deals in countries neighbouring Europe. It supplied 15 helicopters for border monitoring to Algeria in 2010 and 2011. And in 2013 AgustaWestland [a Leonardo subsidiary] signed a contract with the Mauritanian Air Force for the delivery of two AW109 helicopters, to be used for border patrol and reconnaissance missions.
“In February 2017, Leonardo announced it was selected by Austrian company Schiebel to supply its PicoSAR radar surveillance system for Camcopter S-100 unmanned air systems (UAS) to a North African country, reportedly Tunisia, for tasks including border monitoring.”
Both Thales and Leonardo have helped shape European border security through lobbying, the report adds, as both firms belong to the European Organisation for Security (EOS), which has promoted increased border security.
But TNI claims this has led to a higher death toll for forcibly displaced persons, because measures to block one migration route often result in people taking more dangerous journeys.
“The boosting and militarization of border security has led to a higher death toll for forcibly displaced persons,” the report says.
“In 2017, 1 out of every 57 migrants crossing the Mediterranean died, compared to 1 out of every 267 migrants in 2015. This reflects the fact that in 2017 the longer, more dangerous Central Mediterranean route was the main route for (a significantly lower number of) forcibly displaced people, mostly from West African and Sub-Saharan countries, compared to the 2015 main route from Turkey to Greece, used predominantly by Syrians.”
TNI’s report prompted several organisations to voice concern that genuine refugees were being denied the chance of sanctuary.
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Whether the issue is arming human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships, fueling and facilitating war and conflict or enabling the appalling treatment of refugees: companies like Leonardo and Thales are happy to profit every step of the way.”
Green MSP Ross Greer said: “We need to work with partners in other countries to push back against dictatorial regimes, not support them and the Scottish and UK governments need to urgently explain why they support so many of these companies with taxpayers’ money when there is no shortage of other industries we could be helping to grow.”
Pauline Diamond Salim, of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The right to seek asylum in another country is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention – an international UN treaty to which the UK, along with more than 140 other countries, is a signatory.”
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s Arms Control Director, said: “The EU has robust prohibitions in place against selling arms and security equipment to states where they risk being used for serious human rights abuses. Those very rules explicitly say that other factors, such as the need for security, can’t over-rule the prohibition on supply in these circumstances.”
However, a spokesperson for ADS – an umbrella organisation for the UK’s arms sector – defended Thales and Leonardo, and said: “The UK’s export control regime is one of the most robust and transparent in the world, in which our defence and security industries work within an international framework of treaties.
“Every UK export licence application, whether for civil or military use, is scrupulously assessed on a case-by-case basis against a set of eight criteria consolidated from national and European legislation.
“A licence will not be issued for export of controlled goods to any country if doing so would be inconsistent with any provision of the framework of legislation and international treaties governing these exports.”
Neither Thales or Leonardo responded to our requests for a comment.