What is border externalization?

Image from Max Böhme on Unsplash

Externalization is a way for Global North countries to essentially expand their borders, outsourcing the violent systems they use to stop people on the move.

We talk a lot at Truth on Borders about the border and surveillance industry (BSI) and how it is key to the growing securitization of Global North climate change responses. Private companies (the BSI) that profit from human rights abuses and have close relationships with governments to provide surveillance or border enforcement are increasingly turning to border externalization for increased profits.

Externalization occurs when wealthy countries promise resources, international agreements, or any other benefit to third countries, subject to them acting as outpost border guards in order to “intercept” migrants and refugees in transit. This pressure is a way for Global North countries to essentially expand their borders, outsourcing the violent systems they use to stop people on the move to third countries and putting the inevitable human rights violations out of public sight. 

Well-known examples of border externalization:

  1. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF)
  2. The migration deal between the EU and Turkey
  3. The US-funded Frontera Sur programme implemented by Mexico along its southern border with Guatemala
  4. Australia’s jailing of boat refugees in third countries (Indonesia, Nauru, Papua West Guinea)

Externalized borders are harder to track, are used to circumvent international conventions on asylum and refugee protections, and are more easily exploited by unscrupulous private companies who may provide various security, training, and infrastructure services to third-country clients. 

Source: FINANCING BORDER WARS: The border industry, its financiers and human rights (Page 10) by Transnational Institute, April 2021