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The impact of externalization and securitization of border protection and asylum processes

A refugee is ”an individual who -owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion- is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[1] Irregular migration and forced displacements range from the effects of globalization and growing disparities in living conditions, seeking employment and/or educational opportunities, the will to reunite with family members, fleeing from persecution, conflict and violence in their countries.

Of late, the movement and mobility of refugees is not only restricted to the Horn of Africa sub-region. The same is happening almost everywhere including migration from Eastern Europe, Asia, and other parts of Africa, the Latin America as well as within the European Union.

Most countries with refugee problems are characterised by weak state structures.[2] In the Greater Horn of Africa sub-region, for example, national statistics show that Kenya and Ethiopia registered 421,789 and 247,934 refugees from Somalia respectively as of July 31, 2015. Additionally, as of 31 March 2015; Yemen had 246,648 refugees, Uganda had 29,053 refugees by 28 February 2015, Djibouti had 11,931 by 30 June 2015; Egypt had 7,365 refugees by January 1, 2015; Eritrea had 2,802 as of May 1, 2015 while Tanzania had registered 154 refugees by May 31, 2015.[3] This, therefore, means that there are less asylees, more refugees and migrants.

Europe, on the other hand, is also gripped by an intense debate over asylees, refugees and migrants. Their numbers have soared largely because of the boatloads crossing the Mediterranean. For instance, in 2015 alone, the EU recorded an influx of 1.2million first time asylum seekers;[4]those seeking irregular access to Europe by sea in 2015 were 590,000 more than twice the number that reached Europe in 2014.[5]This has not only put local authorities under pressure and cost the European public huge sums of taxpayers’ money but it has also put more pressure on the asylees, refugees and migrants. Consequently, the Valletta Summit[6] was held to address these issues.

This article is an attempt to look at the impact of externalization and securitization of border protection and asylum processes within the context of migration and mobility. The article will briefly look at greater risks for refugees and migrants, the impact of human trafficking and smuggling, and some of the emerging issues from the field of migration and mobility. Finally, the article will provide some policy recommendations on the way forward.

Greater risks for refugees and migrants

Refugee protection embraces the guarding of basic human rights of refugees in danger and these include the right to life, liberty, and security, freedom from torture and degrading treatment as well as the right to access basic needs necessary for human survival. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that each and every person has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.[7]However, there are gaps in refugee protection which need to be bridged.[8]For example, the right to sanctuary is entrenched in the Refugee Convention; this convention creates a framework for the international community to engage with the refugees and provide help when they need it.[9] Yet, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), “climbing over razor wire fences, taking to sea in leaking boats or stowing away in airless containers, refugees and migrants around the world risk their lives every day in desperate attempts to find safety or a better life.”[10]

The countries that once acted swiftly towards the refugee crisis and opened doors to refugees are, on the other hand, starting to close up their borders for fear of open-ended responsibilities, abetting uncontrolled migration or because of [in]security issues. Many refugees have become targets of intimidation, xenophobic and violent attacks. As a way to discourage other asylum seekers, some countries have even resorted to the detention of illegal entrants, most of whom are seeking asylum. Moreover, some asylum countries have become wary of the economic burden and other social costs of maintaining refugees and paying off their claims. Even, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been struggling with budgetary issues.[11]

Even in Europe with its well developed social security and welfare systems catering for the underage, the elderly, and those who do not work, the system has not been able to cope with the stress produced by the influx of refugees and migrants. For many refugees and migrants, acquiring the legal papers to stay, study, and live in Europe is a long and time-consuming process. Education opportunities beyond the basics, for example the local language and non-tertiary education, are difficult to access before one gets the language proficiency. The language barrier coupled with racism also impedes integration.

The impact of human trafficking and smuggling

Moreover, governments in the Greater Horn of Africa sub-region have made efforts to implement policies in a bid to mitigate human trafficking and smuggling. And, although they have signed and ratified international instruments like the Palermo Protocol and the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, most of these countries continue to act as the source, transit and final destination of human trafficking and smuggling.

The impact of human trafficking and smuggling has both economic and legal implications. For example, human trafficking and smuggling is spurred by economic crises, extreme poverty and inequality, as well as the continued threat of escalating violence and human insecurity.[12] Human smuggling involves moving people for profit or commercial purposes; however, the person that is being smuggled across the border has lesser power whatsoever.[13] Smuggling is defined as “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.”[14]

Trafficking, on the other hand, involves movement of persons across borders by manipulating, deceiving and or coercing them;[15] their consent is nullified by the trafficker in order to gain control over them.[16] According to article 3(a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, human trafficking is;

”the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purposes of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”[17]

Most countries have signed and ratified the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. However, cases of human trafficking and smuggling remain high; while the implementation of these two protocols also remains uncertain. Moreover, the requirements under the protocols remain weak and optional; hence, those who are caught in these kinds of crime have little or no motivation to collaborate.[18]

The Valletta Summit established, an Action Plan, a political declaration and an Emergency Trust Fund.The lack of trust and political engagement has made it hard for the stakeholders to create policies to implement the outcomes. Moreover, the summit has made little progress in enhancing legal routes for migration. The EU Member States have not provided for increased resettlement quotas, humanitarian visas, family reunifications, sponsorship programmes and educational scholarships for refugees. One can argue that decisions by EU Member States were based on self-interest rather than the common interest or that of the migrants. It will, therefore, be hard for the Summit outcomes to be implemented to improve the lives of refugees and those that have been rescued from human traffickers and smugglers.[19]

Emerging issues

Three key issues emerge from this article: First, human trafficking and smuggling have been among the fastest growing forms of transnational crime because current world conditions have created increased demand and supply. Migration flows are enormous and this illicit trade is hidden within the massive movement of people. The supply of these victims exists because of globalization and the resultant increasing economic and demographic disparities between the developing and the developed world, along with the feminization of poverty and the marginalization of many rural communities.[10]

Second is the evolving nature of migration. Migration flows have been and continue to be important vectors of social, economic and cultural change. Today, despite the ongoing global economic and financial crises, global migration figures continue to be on the rise. According to OECD-UNDESA, emigration rates to OECD countries have been on the increase especially to Europe and Latin America. Migration rates of skilled populations surpass the entire emigration rates for many countries of origin [and] this means that there is a variation in the nature of movements.[21]

Lastly, the role of development aid is also a very important emerging issue. The Valletta Summit established an EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa in order to address these issues by investing in poverty eradication, developing benefits of migration and addressing instability and crises to prevent new conflicts. The Fund also seeks to enhance cooperation of migration and mobility, reinforce the protection of migrants and asylum seekers and prevent irregular movements, migrant smuggling and trafficking of people.[22] However, Hammond argues that whatever development aid given through the Trust Fund will not have immediate positive impact on would-be migrants, [since] the effects take many years to be achieved.[23] Development aid will, therefore, not be able to stop issues of cross border movements completely, especially in the short term.


The movement of people across borders is not limited to Africa but it is also happening everywhere. Their figures have also increased lately. The big numbers of migrants has put local authorities under pressure and cost the European public enormous sums of taxpayers’ money but it has also put more pressure on the asylees, refugees and migrants. A large number of people are smuggled and trafficked across international borders.

The role of the international community in migration continues to evolve greatly. Unlike before, countries that used to accept migrants have started closing up their borders to refugees due to the social and economic consequences that come with hosting refugees. Moreover, those countries that have signed legislation that prohibits human trafficking and smuggling continue to act as the source, transit and final destination for trafficked and smuggled people.

The Valletta Summit aimed to mitigate the problem of migration. Burden sharing was fronted as the best solution to manage issues of migration. This has also been implemented through financial assistance for asylum offering states to help them take care of the needs of the refugees and their resettlement amongst states. Consequently, a number of EU countries have synchronised their laws and policies to ensure the fair distribution of immigrants and asylum seekers. However, some EU countries have, of late, become concerned about the political and economic costs. Moreover, tension exists between and among host countries and refugee populations and [this is] potentially far more explosive.[24]

This article, therefore, recommends that first, there should be burden sharing between among source countries and destination countries of refugees, asylees and migrants but also between and among consumers mainly on fair equitable distribution of burdens and responsibilities. Moreover, economic powerhouses such as the United States, Germany and Norway can and should do more to alleviate the status quo.

Secondly, border protection, helping refugees and asylum processes should be viewed at with a welfare and humanitarian eye rather than with an externalist and security-laden policy-making Securitization of borders poses greater risks for refugees and migrants; it also brings in negative impact on human trafficking and smuggling at a global scale never witnessed before in human history. Therefore, there is a need to equally share the burden of migration between Africa and Europe, for example. Lastly, development aid cannot fix the migration problem, instead, it might increase the rates of migration. This means that there is a need to change how the provision of development aid is currently done. There must be some kind of a synergy between relief, rehabilitation and development aid.

Ibrahim Farah is a former lecturer from the University of Nairobi, is the founder of the Mogadishu-based Justice & Peace Network (Maandeeq– JPN). He can be reached at

Valentine Opanga is currently doing an MA degree in Environmental Policy. She is a Research Associate at the Somali academy. She may be reached at


[1] See the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. See also the Protocal Relating to the Status of Refugees.

[2] Vera Gowlland-Debbas, The Problem of Refugees in The Light of Contemporary International Law Issues, Papers presented at the Colloquium organized by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague / Boston/London.

[3] Refugees in the Horn of Africa: Somali Displacement Crisis Information Sharing portal, The UN Refugee Agency.

[4] Eurostat Nwes Release, Asylum in the EU Member States Record number of over 1.2 million first time asylum seekers registered in 2015 Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis: top citizenships, 2016.

[5] Metcalfe-Hough V., The Migration Crisis? Facts, Challenges and Possible Solutions, ODI Briefing 2015.

[6] The Valletta Summit took place on the 11th-12th November 2015 in Valletta, Malta. This Summit brought together Heads of State and Government from the European Union and Africa to try and find out a solution to migration and refugee issues, strengthen cooperation and address the current challenges but also opportunities of migration.

[7] See the Universal Declaration on Human Rights Article 14(1).

[8] Feller Erika, International Refugee Protection 50 Years On: The Protection Challenges of the Past, Present and Future, IRRC September Vol. 83   No. 843, 2001.

[9] McFayden Gillian, The Contemporary Refugee: Persecution, Semantics and Universality, eSharp, Special Issue: The 1951 UN Refugee Convention -60 Years On (2012).

[10] See UNHCR’s “All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration,” Asylum and Migration at:

[11] Jastram Kate and Archion Marilyn, Refugee Protection:A Guide to International Refugee Law, Inter-Parrliamentary Union and the Office of the United NationsHigh Commissioner for Refugees, 2001.

[12] Bhabha Jacqueline, Trafficking, Smuggling and Human Rights, Migration Policy Institute, 2005.

[13] Gallagher Anne, Trafficking, Smuggling And Human Rights: Tricks and Treaties, Forced Migration Review, no. 2002, pp.25-28.

[14] Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention

against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 3(a).

[15] Gallagher Anne, Trafficking, Smuggling And Human Rights: Tricks and Treaties, Forced Migration Review, no. 2002, pp.25-28.

[16] UNODOC Report, November 2009.

[17] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,

supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 3(a).

[18]See the Daily Nation, August 24, 2015.

[19] Van Dillen Bob, the Valletta Summit on Migration: A Disappointing Result, the Broker, 2015.

[20] See more in Shelley Louise, Human Smuggling and Traficking Into Europe: A Comparative Perspective,TransAtlantic Council on Migration, 2010,pp. 2-3.

[21] OECD-UNDESA, World Migration in Figures: A joint contribution by UN-DESA and the OECD to the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, 3-4 October 2013.

[22]The Valletta Summit Action Plan, November 2015.

[23] Hammond Laura, Valletta Summit: Aid for Africa Is Not the Solution to the Refugee Crisis, Europe Newsweek, 2015.

[24] Boswell Christina, Burden-sharing in the New Age of Immigration, Migration Policy Institute, 2003.

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