UN experts report highlights role of private military and security companies in immigration management

A new UN experts report shines light on the role of private military and security services in immigration and border management and their impact to the rights of all migrants.

Key points
  • The report highlights the responsibilities of private actors in human rights abuses a well as lack of oversight and, ultimately, of accountability of the system.
  • It calls upon states to strengthen regulation of these companies actions and to be transparent when deploying private actors in immigration and border management.
  • If further underlines that at times, companies are directly responsible for human rights abuses of migrants, notably in situations of deprivation of liberty, and calls upon private actors to take responsibility for their actions.
  • The report also stresses that even when not directly responsible, these companies are complicit in human rights violations and abuse caused by other actors through the security technologies they provide and their co-framing of migration as a security threat for which the “solution” is security.
News & Analysis
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Photo: Francesco Bellina

A new report by the UN Working Group on mercenaries analyses the impact of the use of private military and security services in immigration and border management on the rights of migrants, and highlights the responsibilities of private actors in human rights abuses as well as lack of oversight and, ultimately, of accountability of the system.

Governments worldwide have prioritised an approach to immigration that criminalises the act of migration and focuses on security.

Today, borders are not only physical but can be digital as well (i.e. digital portals and databases) as part of a broader strategy to digitise immigration enforcement: large amounts of data are being requested from migrants – from their fingerprints to their digital data trails – and decisions are based on this constant surveillance.

 

 

As highlighted by PI in our submission, in this context, private military and security companies have come to play an essential role in providing a variety of surveillance tech and data exploitation ‘solutions’ and services to governments. The interjection of for-profit actors such as surveillance companies offering what they present as easy technological solutions into immigration enforcement mechanisms is inherently dangerous.

But technology at the border seems to be a good business for them.

The report shines a light on the impact of these services on the human rights of all migrants. It then looks at the lack of transparency, oversight and accountability of companies operating in this sector, and the impact on effective remedies for victims of violations and abuses by these companies. It concludes that, at times, companies are directly responsible for human rights abuses of migrants, notably in situations of deprivation of liberty; while in other instances, they are complicit in widespread human rights violations and abuse caused by other actors, such as immigration and border authorities.

Particularly, on the right to privacy, the report highglights the impact that the surveillance measures can have on all human rights of immigrants. It constitutes another clear testimony of the fact that interferences with the right to privacy provide a gateway to the violation of the rest of human rights.

The report stresses that:

41. In the absence of adequate privacy safeguards in many countries, there are risks that data is gathered in a non-transparent manner and without informed consent, stored for long periods, and becomes outdated even while the database is still in use. Decisions taken during screening processes for migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, that rely heavily on such technology with its presumed rationality and superiority, lack nuanced human judgment and risk potentially serious errors. Given the high-tech nature of such systems, States may lack adequate legislation, knowledge and expertise to provide effective oversight of these operations. Moreover, abuses of the right to privacy generated by these systems are likely to go underreported as migrants may be unaware of their rights or unable to exercise them due to the vulnerable situations in which they find themselves.

Key Findings

  • The consequences of States contracting companies to undertake an array of security services to support State policies to tighten border controls have been dramatic. At times, companies are directly responsible for human rights abuses of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, notably in situations of deprivation of liberty.
  • Even when not directly responsible, these companies are complicit in human rights violations and abuse caused by other actors, such as immigration and border authorities, through the security technologies they provide and their co-framing of migration as a security threat for which the “solution” is security and military technical and technological tools, which only they can provide.
  • The lack of available and accessible information impedes efforts by media outlets and non-governmental organizations to monitor these operations effectively. One way to seek to overcome this has been through freedom of information requests to Governments, although not to private companies, in those countries with enabling legislation. Those who have availed of this mechanism, however, found it to be onerous and inconclusive as information released is not comprehensive, at times severely lacking, and often released only after long delays.

Recommendations

The report makes several recommendations to States and companies. Among others:

  • It calls for stronger legal and regulatory frameworks to govern private military and security services involvement in immigration and border management to ensure the companies respect human rights standards
  • It further calls for regular reviews of advanced purchased technologies.
  • In addition, the report recommends states to be transparent when outsourcing of immigration detention and border control powers and ensuring that effecitve oversight is in place to ensure human rights compliance
  • The report takes a clear stance on the issue of immigration detention, recommending States terminate the outsourcing of the overall operation of immigration detention facilities to private military and security companies, and take instead legal and policy measures to favour the use of alternatives to detention, with deprivation of liberty as a last resort.
  • Finally, the report provides recommendations for companies, focusing on due diligence and transparency with regard to their contracts and operations, to ensure that they are respecting same standards as public entities with similar functions. It further calls companies to cooperate to ensure that appropriate remedies are in place through legitimate processes.