Outsourcing border security: NGO involvement in the monitoring, processing and assistance of Indonesian nationals returning illegally by sea.

AuthorFord, Michele

Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands. With over 54,000 kilo-metres of coastline, its national borders are mainly at sea. Managing these borders has proven to be a difficult exercise for a number of reasons. First, the complex legal issues that surround archipelagic states, and negotiations over the precise location of Indonesia's international boundaries, has meant that some of Indonesia's borders remain the subject of ongoing legal contestation. (1) A second associated issue concerns the mapping of exclusive economic zones (EEZ), particularly in relation to Indonesia's border with Australia, and its impact on the livelihoods of Indonesian fishers. (2) Third, fiscal and technological constraints have limited the capacity of the Indonesian authorities to police its borders. For example, it has been widely reported that the lack of funding, maintenance and spare parts has meant that the navy has few serviceable vessels and that no more than 25 naval ships are operational at any one time. (3)

The lack of political will or wherewithal to secure the border has meant that Indonesia is regarded internationally as a "hotspot" for smuggling (of goods, drugs, people and contraband), human trafficking, piracy and sea robbery, and terrorism. (4) These problems are increasingly being addressed through a range of bilateral and multilateral agreements and joint policing initiatives with Indonesia's nearest neighbours. In the Straits of Malacca, for example, security responses to trafficking and irregular migrant flows have converged with the increasingly visible presence of navy and customs boats as a result of bilateral and multilateral agreements and coordinated counter-piracy initiatives between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. (5) However, the presence of the navy in the Straits owing to these initiatives has not led to a reduction in "illegal" flows across this part of the border. Malaysian people smugglers--many of them bringing into Indonesia returning Indonesian migrant workers not in possession of formal paperwork --have established close connections with the Indonesian navy's local commands, which at times actively facilitate their landings.6 While this may be regarded as a form of corruption, the navy's involvement with people smugglers nonetheless ensures an orderly arrival process for the thousands of Indonesian citizens who return by sea every year without passing through a recognized entry port.

Despite the large numbers of arrivals, the Directorate-General of Immigration has shown little interest in Indonesian nationals returning illegally by sea. Instead, over time much of the work of assisting undocumented labour migrants returning to Indonesia has been undertaken by NGOs and intergovernmental organizations involved in counter-trafficking activities. (7) Intergovernmental organizations such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Office (ILO), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) play a significant role in assisting undocumented labour migrants, refugees and displaced persons in the region. NGOs, trade unions and church groups are also very active in providing welfare and labour rights assistance to returning undocumented labour migrants and refugees. Such groups, however, are rarely involved in border security and/or regulation. The direct involvement of NGOs in regulating crossborder migration thus signals a significant shift in the ways that the non-government sector has hitherto been involved in managing labour flows in the region.

This paper presents the case of Gerakan Anti-Trafficking (Anti-Trafficking Movement, GAT), a counter-trafficking NGO operating on the island of Batam. GAT is very different from other counter-trafficking NGOs. Instead of focusing on victim identification and repatriation assistance, it has become involved in the monitoring or apprehension of undocumented labour migrants who use the services of people smugglers to return to Indonesia without passing through an immigration checkpoint. GAT's modus operandi is also very different from other cases where the state has consciously outsourced aspects of immigration control to private companies, either through a combination of public-private partnerships or direct outsourcing. The paper begins with an overview of the literature on non-state involvement in border regulation, before turning to the case study and its implications for attempts to maintain the integrity of the border. (8) It concludes that, while undoubtedly novel, GAT's activities ultimately neither support the activities of the state nor challenge the legitimacy and efficacy of its border protocols because GAT operates in a space in which the state chooses to be absent.

Outsourcing Border Control

Border security is commonly regarded as the responsibility of the state and its agencies. However, where once the state was responsible for making decisions about who entered its territory, when and where they entered, and for how long, now these decisions are often the outcome of complex negotiations between national and international legal and regulatory regimes in which non-state actors are playing an increasingly significant role.

Much of the scholarly research on non-state involvement in border regulation has focused on Europe, North America and Australia, where non-state actors are involved in border regulation as receiving countries seek to "outsource" or "externalise" control so that unwanted migrants do not arrive or are easily identified and removed. Such actors include airlines and other transport providers, employer groups and private security firms. Writing about the European Union (EU), Gallya Lahav argues that these non-state bodies are "either incorporated by European states, or 'privatized' in the sense that their functions have evolved from a contractual relation into becoming de facto regulators themselves" (9) For example, the abolition of passport controls has been achieved by legislation that makes transport or carrier companies liable to check that passengers possess appropriate travel documents and are eligible to enter member states. This regulatory framework, which Aristide Zolberg refers to as a form of "remote control" migration policy, has been in place since the early part of the twentieth century. (10) But since the late 1980s the laws have been strengthened and the responsibilities placed on carriers have increased, primarily in response to the increasing number of "jet age" asylum-seekers. (11) The focus has shifted towards deterrence before entry rather than detention after arrival--a process that Lahav describes as the virtual extension of the state's borders "outwards". (12) As a consequence, the number of bilateral and multilateral agreements between individual countries has increased tenfold as private actors are increasingly being called upon to carry the burden of regulation. In the case of the EU, for example, the stringent passport, visa and identity checks of passengers undertaken by airline companies prior to departure have meant that the absence of passport control within the Schengen Area of the EU is largely irrelevant.

Migration regulation is carried out not only beyond the border. Private sector employers and enterprises have also taken on roles associated with monitoring and regulating "illegals" within the borders of the nation-state. In many countries, governments require employers and employer groups to take responsibility for monitoring and addressing the presence of undocumented labour migrants in the workplace. Such roles are enforced through fines and other punitive actions against employers found to be employing "illegal" migrants. In some cases, these roles have been outsourced to private labour inspection agencies. (13) Private firms are also increasingly involved in the management of migrants detained or imprisoned on account of immigration infringements: in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, detention centres are contracted out to private for-profit security companies. (14) This outsourcing of immigration enforcement can come at the expense of migrants' welfare. In Australia, for example, there has been considerable public concern about the conditions in privately run detention facilities and particularly the ability of private security firms to provide for the physical and mental health of detainees. (15)

While it may be tempting to view the involvement of private enterprise in migration regulation as a sign of the state's failure to manage its borders, these developments can equally be seen as constituting a shift in modes of regulation rather than a fundamental change in state function. (16) Migration control is a politically fraught arena. Shifting the implementation of immigration policy to private, local or international arrangements can be an effective strategy for governments that wish to distance themselves from unpopular policies and practices. Successful public-private partnerships can also be a means to enhance a state's reputation for border control and migration management. As Lahav argues, that rather than displacing the state, such "processes of devolution aim to enhance the political capacity of states to regulate migration, to make states more flexible and adaptable to all types of migration pressures, to shift the focus of responsiveness, and to generate more effective state legitimacy". (17) As a consequence of these hybrid public-private partnerships, "the intersections between public and private are becoming increasingly blurred and hard to disentangle, determining where private involvement begins and where public authority ends becomes likewise difficult". (18)

Privatized regulatory strategies are also attractive to governments because they supplement the capacity of overworked and under-resourced state agencies. As such, they may be seen as an extension of the shift towards privatization...

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