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Despite Europe’s mass investments in border controls, people keep arriving along the continent’s shores under desperate circumstances. European attempts to ‘secure’ the borders have quite clearly failed, yet more of the same response is again rolled out in response to the escalating ‘refugee crisis’. Amid the deadlock, this paper argues that we need to grasp the mechanics of the European ‘border security model’ in order to open up for a shift. Through ethnographic examples, the paper shows how Europe’s ‘fight against irregular migration’ has generated a vicious cycle in which every new migratory ‘crisis’ justifies further reinforcements, which in turn triggers more drama – and yet more demand for border security. This cycle may be broken once policymakers start replacing today’s destructive incentives in the ‘border security market’ with more positive ones. The paper concludes with recommendations along these lines: in the short term it argues for a harm reduction approach, applying lessons from the failed ‘war on drugs’, while building towards a genuinely global strategy for mobility. Given the formidable political challenges, the paper insists on a full evaluation of the real costs of border security to build momentum around novel coalitions that can push for a change of course.

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Policy briefing


LSE/Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Publication Date



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