Blackwater’s Erik Prince Has a Solution for the Refugee Crisis
The last thing the refugee crisis needs is Erik Prince.
Last we heard from Erik Prince, he had set up sail for the new shores of Abu Dhabi, away from pesky congressional hearings about unlawful killings in Iraq, and close to the security-laden borderlands of the Horn of Africa. His new venture, Frontier Services Group, provides logistical and material support in conflict zones as well as aid delivery. We’d like to seize the opportunity of a new year to wish the former Blackwater CEO the best in his new endeavours.
In an opinion-piece penned for the respectable Financial Times, the adventurous Prince tackles the refugee crisis, that has affected the entire world but most specifically EU member states, struggling with the arrival of hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants – refugees and asylum seekers alike – on its external borders, mainly Italy and Greece. While makeshift boats struggling to survive choppy waters to Lampedusa is nothing new, the crisis has reached an unprecedented scale in 2013, mostly due to the war in Syria and Iraq. Fleeing the fighting, the bombing, and forced displacement, Europe has also seen refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Libya, places that have become synonymous with the damages of the war on terror.
This crisis has no end in sight. In addition to memorable photographs of abandoned life jackets left on pebble beaches in Greece, refugees in large numbers ride buses, trains or walk alongside newly carved out trails through Eastern Europe in the hope to reach Germany, France, England or Sweden. This has proved uncontrollable: Europol released that an estimated 10,000 unaccompanied children are “lost” on the continent; the shanty town that sprung up in Calais was home to over 8,000, including 3,000 children, before the French authorities decided to evacuate and destroy the camp. In the train stations of large capital cities, men, women and children, some injured, most suffering from intense trauma, all of them without assistance, are huddling for warmth in uncertainty.
As a lawyer, this has been constantly frustrating. The EU Commission isn’t interested in a long term, viable and lawful project of resettlement of the displaced. It has, through the EU-Turkey deal, violated provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is seeking to displace the problem rather than addressing it within its own territory. It is, very much so, displacing it and attempting to keep it in Libya, a disastrous result of failing policies for which it appears Erik Prince found a solution neatly encapsulated in an easy-to-read Financial Times column. What a time to be alive.
The solution is, of course, to bring private contractors in to assist EU border forces, facilitate border controls, and contain any potential security threats, all of this under the caveat that of course it would never supplant the existing structures. But in the absence of viable plans, I’m sure Prince’s solution would appeal to many.
There is no shortage of depictions and analysis of how chaotic Libya is, as well as the danger it poses to refugees. Placing Libya at the heart of an armed response or control to a migration flux protected by international law is unlikely to mitigate any further disaster. What Prince presents as a very magnanimous and groundbreaking solution on a silver platter is in fact already in place in several areas; it’s just poorly enforced, barely scrutinized if at all, and lacks coherence. On top of this disturbing pile lies the fact it does not focus on the humanitarian horror of Libya as a migration turning plate during a exodus of unprecedented scale.
But what’s more profitable than jumping into a glaring lack of leadership? Prince, who once lavished humble praise over himself for not having made more money with Blackwater (he’s a patriot, you see), sees yet another possibility to profit by deploying his employees to an area with little oversight and control. Collaboration with intelligence as well as enforcing border security poses a significant risk of inflating a terror threat or denying lawful and legitimate entry to vulnerable populations fleeing persecution. Prince’s constant insistance that such deployments are not just beneficial to states but also inherently carry humanitarian values is misguided. Ultimately the outsourcing of crucial elements of policy enforcement isn’t new and reflects a defeatist acknowledgement of institutional failure. The (mis)handling of the refugee crisis by the EU is often cited as a perfect illustration of the institution’s shortcomings. Weighed against the toll of human suffering, it is unforgivable.
No one could ever tell Prince he isn’t ingenious or industrious. His plan is simple, the budget is definitely a big selling point to the EU – and from what we understand he is ready to go. The refugee crisis proved to excellent PR for a man whose former company had to be rebranded three times at least to finally access the market. The damage done to his brand however isn’t that incumbent on EU states turning their backs on families of refugees, all of them never needing more state sponsored armed repression, arbitrary detention and denial of the rights when processed.
I assume Prince has a solution for human rights, too.
Sarah Kay is a human rights lawyer specializing in counter terrorism and warfare. She is currently working on oversight of emergency powers and litigating CIA torture. She lives between Paris and New York