Human Trafficking | Overregulated, but unprotected? Human trafficking governance is not protecting sex workers in the Netherlands

Human Trafficking | Overregulated, but unprotected? Human trafficking governance is not protecting sex workers in the Netherlands

Furthering the discussion on the negative consequences for sex workers of the regulatory conflation of sex work and human trafficking, this post reflects on how regulation focused on identifying cases ...

Human Trafficking | The criminalisation of sex clients will not help combat human trafficking

Human Trafficking | The criminalisation of sex clients will not help combat human trafficking

Starting in 2014, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons has been held on 30 July each year. The events that correspond to these days are meant to raise awareness about ...

#AbolishFrontex: On World Refugee Day, we call on the EU to end its border regime

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone while attempting to reach Europe. This article shows how EU border agency Frontex has been complicit in the suffering and deaths of many thousands of refugees and why it cannot be allowed to continue doing so. Today, on World Refugee Day, through the international campaign #AbolishFrontex we urge the EU to end its border regime.

Photo: Brussels Frontex Office. Abolish Frontex.

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year while attempting to reach Europe, bringing the total number of refugees and migrants who have died due to the restrictive policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ since 1993 to 44,764. This is an amount equal to the inhabitants of a small town – and the real number is likely to be much higher. These were people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats, were shot at border crossings, or who lost their lives after being deported to unsafe places. They were avoidable deaths, deaths that resulted from choices made by bureaucrats, by politicians – and by members of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex.

The European Agency of Shame

What started as a small agency in Poland has ever since become one of the EU’s biggest. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is now a key actor in enforcing the EU’s border regime. It does so by running border control operations throughout the Mediterranean region and Balkan countries, coordinating and enabling deportations, and cooperating with member states as well as third countries to increase border controls. Frontex’s border guards and other employees have reportedly and repeatedly been directly and indirectly involved in illegal pushbacks, effectively preventing refugees from making use of their right to claim asylum, and are complicit in the commitment of violence against migrants at borders and during deportations. Frontex also cooperates with and delivers trainings to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, responsible for multiple pullbacks into Libya, where migrants are held in “concentration camp-like conditions”.

And its influence and power are increasing. The budget of Frontex has grown by over 7,560% since 2005, with €5.6 billion being reserved for the agency from 2021-2027 by the European Commission. Thanks to this, it has been able to recruit an army of border guards who can own and use handguns and aims to have 10,000 guards by 2027.

In response to these developments and their potential ramifications, on 9 June this year, an international coalition consisting of more than 80 groups and organisations launched the campaign #AbolishFrontex to end the EU border regime, with direct actions across eight countries in Europe and North Africa. They presented the following list of demands:

  • Abolish Frontex
  • Regularise migrants
  • Stop all deportations
  • End detention
  • Stop the militarisation of borders (and the military-industrial complex)
  • Stop the surveillance of people on the move
  • Empower solidarity
  • Stop the EU’s role in forcing people to move
  • Freedom of movement for all – end the EU border regime

Locating the root cause of inhumane border regimes

Crucially, to stop Frontex, the EU needs to stop funding it. Why? Because the cycle of violence is perpetuated as long as support for Frontex continues. But that also means changing the EU’s approach toward migration. The ever-expanding budget of Frontex symbolises the EU’s reliance on deterrence, repression, and externalisation to deal with populations it has marked as unwanted. The EU member states are fortifying Europe’s land, sea, and virtual borders instead of developing a much-needed politics that would create safe migration channels. Furthermore, by framing migration as a security issue that needs a securitised response, they avoid addressing their own involvement in the root causes of why people have to move in the first place.

One of these causes is found in the spending on arms, which totalled USD 378 billion in Europe and almost USD 2 trillion (USD 2,000,000,000,000 – an amount so big it can hardly be read) globally in 2020. Arms trade fuels wars around the planet, benefiting and lobbied for by the same companies that are also profiting from the increased militarisation of borders. The investigative research ‘Frontex Files’ has shown that the EU agency is among the institutions targeted heavily by lobbyists from the border industrial complex. This cycle – arms companies in rich countries producing weapons that displace people in poorer countries and subsequently producing security equipment that keeps the displaced people out of these very same rich countries – perpetuates violence.

Other root causes, of course, include the climate crisis, also largely caused by rich countries, unequal trade policies that increase poverty worldwide, and repercussions of (neo-)colonialism. To put it simply, Europe is rich because it exploits other parts of the world, and other parts of the world are unsafe because Europe makes them so. Abolishing Frontex would not be a gesture of benevolence, it would mean taking responsibility for the destruction of people’s homes and lives the EU is causing elsewhere. The least the EU can do is to provide shelter to those displaced.

Beyond Frontex and national security

Abolishing Frontex also means to challenge the idea that fortifying borders and blocking migration leads to increased security. This idea rests on a deliberate misunderstanding of the concept of safety and perpetuates racist and colonialist structures of power. As Arun Kundnani writes in his recent TNI publication ‘Abolish National Security’,

An abolitionist framework entails understanding that genuine security does not result from the elimination of threats but from the presence of collective well-being. It advocates building institutions that foster the social and ecological relationships needed to live dignified lives, rather than reactively identifying groups of people who are seen as threatening.

Turning Europe into a fortress cannot be the answer to the challenges of our time. Instead of enlarging Frontex, we need to tackle the root causes of the displacement of people and establish safe migration routes to Europe for those who need and those who want to move.

Let’s abolish Frontex and make death at sea history. Join the campaign:

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Josephine Valeske

Josephine Valeske holds a MA degree in Development Studies from the ISS and a BA degree in Philosophy and Economics. She currently works for the research and advocacy organisation Transnational Institute in Amsterdam that supports the #AbolishFrontex campaign. She can be found on Twitter @jo_andolanjeevi.

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How Europe’s (anti-)migration policies are fuelling a humanitarian crisis

How Europe’s (anti-)migration policies are fuelling a humanitarian crisis

When some one million people crossed the Mediterranean in the course of 2015 to seek refuge, European countries called it a crisis. Yet the real crisis was created by European ...

When the storm subsides: what happened to grassroots initiatives assisting refugees?

When the storm subsides: what happened to grassroots initiatives assisting refugees?

Back in 2015, cardboard placards bearing the words ‘Refugees Welcome’ that were shown in public spaces became an important way for ordinary European citizens to demonstrate solidarity with refugees and ...

Back to basics: embracing frugality in high-resource contexts and beyond

The use of rather rudimentary wicker shields by Dutch police during recent anti-lockdown protests is surprising given the availability of resources in the Netherlands to invest in more high-tech protection gear. This act of frugality in a context where it isn’t considered ‘necessary’ can help us better understand frugality as a strategic choice and supports the argument for the need to embrace frugality at an institutional level, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large group of young people seeks confrontation with the police and pelts the police present with stones and fireworks on Beijerlandselaan in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 25 January 2021. EPA-EFE/KILLIAN LINDENBURG / MEDIATV Source:

A few weeks ago, a picture (1) shared as a funny meme on social media attracted much attention. The picture was unanticipated in many ways, showing the Dutch police using wicker shields for protection while controlling the youth protesting against the night curfew that had been announced shortly before. I was not sure about the authenticity of the picture; however, a quick Google search confirmed that it was real.

It was the type of shield used that struck me. The Netherlands is one of the most resourceful countries in Europe. It is in the top ten of the Global Innovation Index (2). For the Netherlands, it’s not difficult to design and buy robust, lightweight shields. So why use these shields?

I thought there could have been two reasons behind not using a ‘proper’ shield. First, perhaps, since these protests erupted suddenly, the police were not prepared logistically, so they might have had to use whatever best ‘substitute’ for a proper shield was available to deal with the situation. It reminded me of the Indian police wearing cricket helmets while controlling aggressive protesters. They wore these helmets because most of the state governments failed to provide proper equipment to police personnel. However, this was most likely not the case for the Dutch police.

I believe the use of wicker shields was an intentional decision rather than a result of logistical unpreparedness. It was a symbol of something more interesting. Some studies show that people feel less reluctant to attack the police personnel when they carry heavy weapons, including shields (3). The Dutch police is most probably aware of these research findings, so they might have chosen a shield that does not look like a proper shield so protesters would cooperate with the police rather than attacking them. The wicker shields were ‘good enough’ to protect police personnel in a non-extreme violent situation and at the same time they do not look like intimidating equipment that provokes people to become even more violent.

I kept wondering about the frugality displayed in this act. The police could have used high-tech shields, but they didn’t. So, to dig a bit further, I started following the discussion about this ‘unexpected act’ of the Dutch police on a digital platform (4). While commenting on the picture, one of the users opined:

“These rattan shields are lighter, and flexible. The flexibility absorbs the force of impact, so the arm must deal with less impact. Even when they get damaged you still have the biggest part intact. The cover is a non-burning material. For years people have been doubting if they shouldn’t have the clear plastic ones, but in testing these always are preferred.”

The history of using wicker shields starts in medieval China and Korea. The national archive of Singapore also has a picture from the 1950s where police was using wicker shields to control rioters (5).

Riot police trying to control protestors in Amsterdam while holding wicker shields (source:

Different riot shields are used in different situations. The main purpose of a riot shield is to protect the police personnel. A normal non-ballistic riot shields can be made of different types of the material. However, transparent shields are made up of the polycarbonate.  Another user mentioned:

“Prior to the introduction of the modern police shields, rattan shields were standard issue with the Hong Kong Police. These were traditional Chinese shields. On Google, you can find pictures of them used in the 1967 riots. For their successful efforts, they were granted use of the prefix Royal, and became known as the Royal Hong Kong Police, up until 1997 changeover”.

Overall, there was around 200 comments in the thread, where people discussed pros and cons of this unexpected act of frugality by one of the most technologically advanced and professional police forces in the world.

The frugality element

Frugality is a virtue with the mindset of ‘doing more with less’. Sustainability, affordability, recyclability, flexibility and user-friendliness are the basic tenets of frugal approaches. In human psychology and evolutionary biology, frugality is a cognitive ability to make best suitable decisions with limited resources (knowledge and materials) in an uncertain environment. In spiritual discussions, philosophical traditions and religious thoughts, it has been suggested as a way of life. In India’s freedom movement, Gandhi used frugality as a symbol of self-reliance. He advocated for ‘voluntary simplicity’ in boycotting British products. He successfully mobilised the masses against the most powerful colonial power of his time through a simple idea of frugality. In economics, frugality is an outcome of rational choice where people make the most ‘judicious’ decisions to use what suits their needs best.

Most of the time we confuse frugality with cheapness and unattractiveness. It is true that some frugal solutions are not the best solutions. In fact, it is also not a primary aim of frugal solutions to be the best. The aim of frugality is to search for the most ‘workable’ solutions in specific circumstances. In everyday life in the Global South and elsewhere, frugality is an everyday practice. It has nothing to do with the binary of good and bad. It drives action as an approach to deal with everyday struggles.

The need for institutional frugality

Institutions set the rule of the game. They create the space for the propagation of certain ideas and approaches. The judicious embracing of frugality-based approaches at the institutional level will help to challenge the misunderstanding around frugal services and solutions.

Frugality is not the last resort of the underprivileged; it is also the responsibility of resourceful individuals and institutions. Institutions can reorganise or strategise their existing set of diverse resources to make frugal solutions and resources relatively more effective and acceptable. Planetary limits, rising inequalities, and global challenges like climate change have led to renewed interest in the ‘frugal ways of doing things’ as our resources are not infinite and as unfettered used of existing resources could lead to further inequalities and new global challenges. Individual voluntary simplicity is always welcome, but these are the challenges that must be fought at a larger institutional level.

The ongoing pandemic also calls for ‘new forms of frugality’ at an individual and institutional level, where creative resource reorganisation driven by frugality approaches can be a game changer in a post-pandemic world (6). Mixing flexible, situation-oriented decision-making with standard protocols, the strategic use of experiential knowledge, institutional memory, continuous communication with practitioners, and interactions with diverse sets of actors can help institutions harness frugality approaches (7).

The Dutch police in my opinion did well by showing that frugality can be welcomed at an institutional level and that rather rudimentary tools and practices focusing on lower resource use are not undesirable, but are making a comeback despite rapid technological advances.

Wicker shields may not be useful or robust enough in a context where extreme violence is observed and police equipment is used as a symbol of intimidation, but the example of wicker shields reflects the importance of old materials used in a different context. Wicker is also more sustainable to produce and can be recycled after use. Frugality is not about new or old, but about what is most suited to a specific context and how one can creatively engage in that search process.  



Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Birendra Singh is a Science Technology and Society (STS) studies researcher. He holds a Master of Technology (M.Tech) and a research Master (M.Phil) in the realm of science policy. His research interest includes, frugal and grassroots innovation emerging from marginalized spaces, politics of knowledge and social institutions. At ISS/EUR, his PhD project is aspiring to conceptualize knowledge and learning dynamics of the bottom-up frugal innovations. For more info

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

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