Not alongside Frontex

As researchers of the network “Decolonising Development”, we are concerned with questions of ethics and politics in a world where the chance to live a decent life is still structured by the effects of five centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism – a world where the mobility of capital and tourists stands in stark contrast to the denial of the right to mobility to millions of migrants.

Decolonising academic research means, among other things, questioning the ethics of research funding and the way in which it may serve to perpetuate systems of oppression and discrimination based on the centrality of Europe. Research is not neutral, even when it is funded by supranational institutions with declared objectives of progressive cooperation among member states. That is why our Decolonising Development network works towards a resetting and diversification of structures, institutions and spaces in which knowledge about and for development is produced, shared, put into practice (Memorandum of Understanding 2020).

We speak here about Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency founded in 2004. Its mandate is “to ensure safe and well-functioning external borders providing security” to the European Union with an operational role in returning “irregular migrants” (Hartwig 2020).  As a matter of fact, its budget has increased exponentially since 2015, the year of the migrants’ crisis (from 142 million Euros annually, to 460 million Euros in 2020) to support an increase of guards to patrol the external borders of the Schengen European area, along the Balkan route and in the central Mediterranean. This evolution is happening under a silent European policy and an unaware public opinion. While it is politically deplorable and alarming that the humanitarian tragedy of people seeking refuge has become a matter of securitization of the frontiers, investigations have shown that the used policing techniques have allowed a perpetration of violence. Frontex is currently under investigation by the EU Parliament for responsibility in the pushback of almost 40,000 asylum seekers, 2,000 deaths, and human rights violations, as reports released by Human Rights Watch, the Frontex Management Board Working Group and UN agencies have denounced. Clearly, Frontex complicity in abuses of human rights contradict the alleged commitment with human rights by the EU. In addition, currently, Frontex inaction in saving lives during the ongoing Belarus-EU border crisis is a sign of its poor functionality.

How should we, as engaged scholars, deal with Frontex, especially when it comes to its relations with universities through joint course programmes (the European Joint Masters in Strategic Border Management) and for academic production of research?

Recently, a debate has been ignited for a 4 million euros funding granted by Frontex to the Polytechnic University of Turin, for the production of digital cartography, infographic maps and other services useful for the activities of the Agency. The University has denied any responsibility in front of any possible misuses of those scientific products. However, given the political grounds and technological use of borders as areas of pushback instead of humanitarian rescue, we support the petition “Not alongside Frontex” and hope it will expand outside Italy:

We cannot help but feel terror at Frontex’ the progressive advances in academic circles – when universities should be the spokespersons and examples of knowledge of human development that is firmly anchored in ethical principles. It is unacceptable to us that, within a public university, one can become complicit in a mission to hunt for migrants, and offer one’s support to the militarisation of borders and aggressive patrolling. The university cannot contribute to the production of potential strategic weapons – such as cartographic maps – because it would give them a scientific value, thus allowing Frontex to use a material that is presumably neutral, but which translates into passive participation in inhuman and criminal acts. Data is not neutral, nor is its use – especially if Frontex is to take advantage of it.”

We believe in the importance of this cause and reject the idea of neutrality of science and technology, especially if it is at the service of institutional repression instead of human rights. Academic production should be located in spaces of political responsibility and ethics, and have the respect of human rights as a first priority.

Signed by (in alphabetical order):

Giti Chandra

Wendy Harcourt

Paola Minoia

Lata Narayanaswamy

Julia Schöneberg

Juan Telleria

Kalpana Wilson

Aram Ziai

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