Arms firms in Scotland profit from walls to keep out asylum seekers

Arms firms in Scotland given taxpayers’ money are profiting from border security contracts in Europe designed to keep out asylum seekers who are entitled to seek refugee status.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new report reveals that arms multinationals funded by Scottish Enterprise are “key players” benefiting from European Union (EU) policies designed to stop the arrival of economic migrants and forcibly displaced people.

The report – entitled The Business of Building Walls – puts a spotlight on an industry involved in building physical walls and fences, as well as a “maritime wall” across the Mediterranean Sea and virtual walls of surveillance and biometrics that now extend across Europe.

It says that since 1990 the EU and Schengen Area states have built around 621 miles of land walls – the equivalent of six Berlin Walls – in order to stop the arrival of forcibly displaced people into Europe.

The authors conclude that “building walls against the world’s most vulnerable people violates human rights”. Critics of the arms trade said the Scottish Government should stop giving public money to firms “fuelling atrocities, abuses and xenophobic migration policies”.

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The report names three arms firms – Thales, Airbus and Leonardo – as well as a number of construction, shipping, technology and security firms winning border militarisation contracts.

The report – co-published by the Transnational Institute (TNI), the Dutch campaign against the arms trade, Stop Wapenhandel, and the peace research group, Delàs Center – says that at least at least £777 million has been spent by EU countries on land, walls and fences since the end of the Cold War.

A further £584 million was spent on maritime operations between 2006 to 2017 and £863 million on virtual walls between 2000 and 2019.

The report points out that Leonardo, formerly Finmeccanica or Leonardo-Finmeccanica, is a leading supplier of helicopters for border security, used by Italy in the Mare Nostrum, Hera and Sophia operations on immigration and migrants at sea.

“It has also been one of the main providers of drones for Europe’s borders, awarded a £58 million contract in 2017 by the European Maritime Safety Agency to supply them for EU coastguard agencies. Leonardo was also a member of a consortium, awarded £123 million in 2019 to implement and maintain EU’s virtual walls,” adds the report.

“It jointly owns Telespazio with Thales, involved in EU satellite observation projects, REACT and Copernicus, used for border surveillance. Leonardo has participated in 24 EU research projects on border security and control, including the development of the European Border Surveillance system (Eurosur).”

Italian firm Leonardo MW is the ninth largest arms firm in the world with profits of £440m in 2018. It has a factory in Edinburgh and since 2007 has received £13,810,225 from Scottish Enterprise.

According to the report, the French arms firm, Thales, produces radar and sensor systems, used by ships in border security including Dutch and Portuguese vessels deployed in operations by Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency.

“Thales also produces maritime surveillance systems for drones and is working on developing border surveillance infrastructure for Eurosur, researching how to track and control refugees before they reach Europe by using smartphone apps, as well as exploring the use of high altitude satellites for border security, for the European Space Agency and Frontex.

“Thales currently provides the security system for the highly militarised port in Calais. Its acquisition in 2019 of Gemalto, a large biometric identity security company, makes it a significant player in the development and maintenance of EU’s virtual walls. It has participated in 27 EU research projects on border security.”

Thales employs more than 700 people at two sites in Glasgow and has received £204,992 from Scottish Enterprise since 2007.

The report also reveals the extent of lobbying by arms firms. Some companies named are involved in the European Organisation for Security (EOS), the most important lobby group on border security.

EOS has an integrated border security working group chaired by Leonardo and Gemalto.

The report says that company lobbyists regularly meet with EU institutions, including the European Commission. “Airbus, Leonardo and Thales together with EOS held 226 registered lobbying meetings with the European Commission between 2014 and 2019,” it continues.

“In these meetings representatives of the industry position themselves as the experts on border security, presenting their goods and services as the solution for ‘security threats’ caused by immigration. In 2017, the same group of companies and EOS spent up to €2.65 million on lobbying.”

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The report’s authors conclude that the “heavy militarisation of Europe’s borders on land and at sea” has led refugees and migrants to follow more hazardous routes and trapped others in desperate conditions in countries such as Libya. This was the result of policy decisions made by the EU member states and corporate decisions to profit from these policies, they say.

Report author, Mark Akkerman, said: “The European military and security industry through their successful lobbying has succeeded in framing migration as a security threat rather than a humanitarian challenge. This has turned on a seemingly limitless tap of public funding for militarising our borders yet prevented the policies and investments we need to respond humanely to refugees and to tackle the root causes of forced migration.”

Niamh Ni Bhriain from the Transnational Institute said: “As we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is tragic that so many new walls have been built across Europe to keep out the most vulnerable people on our planet. This report shows that the new era of building walls is driven by a powerful military and security industry that have shaped EU border policies and reaped the financial rewards.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the report “exposes the scale of influence that arms dealers have in the corridors of power”. He added: “Wherever there is war, conflict and human suffering, there will always be arms companies looking to profit from the destruction and misery.

“The border security industry profits from racialised and Trump-esque policies, while profiting from humanitarian crises around the world. The fact that it is the same companies that are pouring weapons into conflict zones is a sign of how morally bankrupt they are.

“This money can only boost these companies and increase their profitability. The Scottish Government should set a positive precedent and stop giving public money to those that are fuelling atrocities, abuses and xenophobic migration policies.”

Chris Afuakwah of the Scottish Refugee Council said: “One of our key principles is that everyone seeking protection should have an opportunity to do so. More walls is not the solution, and will only lead to more deaths at borders across Europe. We urgently call for safe and legal routes for people seeking safety.”

A Scottish Enterprise spokesperson said in response: “We have not provided funding for projects of this nature to these companies. Our work involves helping them diversify into non-military, civilian applications.”

Thales and Leonardo did not respond to requests to comment.

Photo thanks to iStock/Frank-Andree

1 comment
  1. Scottish Enterprise? How do they know what these companies spend the money on. Their reply is just bollocks! Who funds Scottish Enterprise? The taxpayer?
    The Scottish Government needs to do something about this.

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