Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Reflections on Dutch Border Practices



Time to read

4 Minutes

Post by Vanessa Barker, Docent and Associate Professor of Sociology at Stockholm University. This post is the final installment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on Decision-making in the Dutch Borderlands organised by Maartje van der Woude.

The current refugee crisis in Europe is a failure of political will and a moral failing to stand up for fellow human beings. The inability of Member States to agree on a comprehensive plan of action exposes deep divisions within the EU not only about immigration policy but about core values within the European Union. The principles of free movement and human rights, principles that have been at the heart of European integration and self-identity, are severely strained as some Member States put up razor fences, introduce temporary border checks in free movement zones, dissuade refugees from coming, or in other ways deny access to the European Union.

This retrenchment stems in part from a more regressive stance towards migrants that has been developing across the EU for a number of years and identified as crimmigration, the intermeshing of crime control with migration control (see work by Juliet Stumpf and Valsamis Mitsilegas). Crimmigration entails the mobilization of criminal justice tools, techniques, and legal frameworks to control migration. We can recognize it when those who cross borders are considered not only strangers but suspects; they are perceived to be threats to national security and growing threats to social security. Refugees have been caught in this web. The current situation makes it imperative we understand the mechanisms and dynamics of crimmigration. Much of the border criminologies scholarship has developed explanatory accounts of the how and why mobility has been subject to increased controls. This blog series on Dutch border practices provides much needed insight into how crimmigration actually works on the ground, in face-to-face interactions. The researchers ask: how do the border police do their job? How do they understand or explain their job? And perhaps most poignantly: is their job legitimate?

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Through extensive fieldwork, focus groups, interviews, and incredible access to the Royal Netherlands Marchaussee (RNM) (see the second post by van der Leun and van der Woude), the team of researchers investigate what actually happens at the border. They focus on internal border checks―that is, immigration control―inside the Schengen free movement zone, specifically the areas between the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. These checks just to be clear aren’t at the border of the EU but are inside the EU, inside the borders between Member States. What is more, because they’re in the free movement zone, border checks aren’t universal but selective. The Netherlands justifies these checks in terms of controlling irregular migration and cross-border crime. But what the researchers discover is an ambiguous legal framework―the Mobile Security Monitor―that relies on RNM officers’ discretion to conduct these checks (see van der Woude’s blog post).

As Brouwer’s post and Dekkers’ post show, the officers’ discretion can be informed by highly problematic risk profiles based on ethnicity, skin color, and/or nationality. In the now familiar and toxic mix of race and crime, RNM officers stopped Dutch citizens with North African descent under the rubric of controlling irregular migration and transnational crime. As guided by an IT risk assessment tool, they were also more likely to stop cars with Romanian and Bulgarian license plates as certain nationalities became marked as risks. In the first case, these are fellow Dutch citizens subject to border control within their own country and in the second, these are fellow European citizens subject to border controls within Schengen. Both show how border control, particularly as it intersects with crime control, isn’t only about access to territory but access to membership (see work by Juliet Stumpf and myself Vanessa Barker). Border control patrols the boundaries of belonging, sorting out who belongs and who does not. Sometimes the officers get this right and prevent cross-border crime but other times, they get this wrong, checking the passports of nationals inside the territory, failing to recognize fellow members.

This type of internal border control has serious implications for the exercise of free movement, a basic right and founding freedom of the European Union itself. As the European Commission states: ‘The right of EU citizens to freely move to and live in any EU country, along with their family members, is one of the four fundamental freedoms enshrined in EU law and a cornerstone of EU integration.’ The researchers are right to questions the legitimacy of these internal controls, especially as they are selectively enforced and selectively eroding basic human freedoms for some people but not others in the name of crime control or national security. Moreover, differential treatment erodes core democratic values, eating away at another pillar of the EU.

This type of internal border control has serious implications for the meaning and robustness of EU citizenship, along with its more optimistic vision of a post-national world. The imposition of border controls on fellow EU citizens signals the strength and resilience of the nation-state and its possible withdrawal from supranational solidarities. It’s the nation-state that continues to assert its sovereignty over people and territory. Even within free movement, EU Member States didn’t cede control over their immigration policies—they maintained control over the right to remain. With internal border checks, Member States may be making a move to regain control over entry. Questioning the identity and undermining the rights of fellow EU citizens not only reflects but reinforces weakened cross-national alliances and solidarities.

These nationalistic tendencies in a country like the Netherlands, which was one of the six founding countries of the European Union, should give us cause for concern. We know from the parallel history of punishment that reliance on coercive controls rarely solves problems but is more likely to create new ones. Increased reliance on border controls coupled with breaking solidarity comes at a historical moment when the EU needs to show resolve, moral vision, and humanity. These qualities are indeed present in the European Union and they are present in civil society, as the new social movements—Refugees Welcome—surely attest.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Barker, V. (2016) Reflections on Dutch Border Practices. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/02/reflections-dutch (Accessed [date]).

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