Activists protest against borders at the Stop DSEI arms fair week of action, September 2019


Migration is framed by governments as a security problem and a threat - a narrative pushed by the military and security industry, who make a killing from selling the equipment used to maintain borders: from border patrol ships and razor wire fencing, to fingerprint databases to monitor migrants' movements.

Last updated 21 January 2021


The security industry has often described and treated migrants as threats to ‘security’. As well as being untrue, this account dehumanises migrants, and importantly doesn’t take into consideration the collaboration between the border, surveillance and arms industries which has led to, among many other things, the graveyard in the Mediterranean sea.

This collaboration is evident in wars, the violence inflicted on communities by foreign states including corporations, and the militarisation of borders and detention.

Militarising borders

Since 1995, Europe has been building walls to keep out immigrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution, war, repression, violence, economic and environmental collapse and who have a right to seek a better future in a safer country.

In the past few years, the UK government has spent millions fortifying Calais. Southern and Eastern European countries have built thousands of kilometres of fences.

The closure of land routes to Europe has forced those seeking a better future to risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean from Libya. The EU response has not been to support those seeking safety. It has been to stop migration to Europe at all costs. As a result, thousands have died each year attempting to make the crossing.

The EU has equipped, trained and supported the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea and return them to Libya. Migrants in Libya experience appalling levels of violence and exploitation.

The EU is also pushing its own border controls further away to try to keep migrants at a distance. The most well-known arrangement is with Turkey, given €6 billion to act as a ‘buffer’ between Syria and Europe. This was followed by a sharp increase in unlawful detention and deportation in Turkey that Human Rights Watch called “a new low”.

Companies profiting twice

Many arms companies profit twice from militarism. They profit from selling weapons that fuel conflict and force people from their homes. The same companies then profit again by building the fences and walls, and by producing the technologies and warships to police borders.

  • Thales supplies maritime surveillance systems for drones, is researching how to track and control refugees on their way to Europe, and provides the security system for Calais.
  • Leonardo supplies helicopters and drones for border security and received a contract in 2019 to maintain the EU’s ‘virtual walls’.
  • Airbus also supplies helicopters for border patrol.

The Business of Building Walls

Read more about the companies which profit twice, first from weapons sales causing people to flee their homes and again from increasingly militarised borders

Read TNI's report


The military and security industry has been highly influential in shaping EU military and security policies, lobbying both for more military intervention, and for militarised borders. Large companies and lobbying organisations, such as the European Organisation for Security (EOS) and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) have successfully pushed discussions of borders and migration towards militarisation.


Crucial to both border and the arms industries, and a focus for arms fairs, is surveillance. Surveillance is a rapidly increasing market, that again undermines human rights in the UK and internationally. Often, these national and internationally committed violences are inflicted by the very same corporations.

One example is the Gamma Group, a surveillance company that sells monitoring centres for communications, technical surveillance and intrusion technology as well as being a member of the exhibiting Covert Technology Suppliers Forum. The company tried to sell its ‘FinSpy’ surveillance technology to Egypt before the revolution and its spyware has since been discovered in a total of 25 countries, including Bahrain, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. It has been alleged that its equipment appeared to have been used to continually monitor an Ethiopian political activist living in the UK, having fled Ethiopia in 2009 due to “constant surveillance and harassment.”

Detention Centres

One of the most infamous detention centres in the UK is Yarl’s Wood, the immigration detention centre in Bedford which detains survivors of torture and sexual violence, and where racist verbal, physical and sexual abuse have been reported. A legal case related to the health crisis forced the Government to release 300 detainees recently, but thousands remain detained across the UK. There have been over 30 deaths reported in UK immigration centres, and thousands of attempted suicides.

  • Yarl’s Wood is run by Serco Group, the world’s 73rd largest arms company. It works closely with the UK military sector, winning £92m of Ministry of Defence contracts in 2018. In 2014, Serco renewed the $1bn contract to run all detention centres on the Australian mainland and an offshore ‘processing centre’ on Christmas Island.
  • G4S is contracted to run Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres in Gatwick, as well as a separate contract to run Tinsley House family unit which detains children. It also owns Armorgroup mercenary company, which was a major private military contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan and involved in numerous scandals.

Find out more

Eye DJ by-nc-nd/2.0/ on Flickr

Detained voices

Sharing the stories, experiences and demands made by people held in immigration detention centres in the UK.

All African Women's Group

Self-help group of women asylum seekers and immigrants, many of whom have been detained in Yarl’s Wood.

CAAT is developing its thinking around UK Borders policy, as the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration strategy is part of a wider racist, state sponsored violence that also keeps weapons flowing to countries where they predominantly harm people of colour. Whether it be through policing, detention, borders or drones, we must resist the arms industry in its entirety.


Day of action against Borders and the arms fair


Action reports

Activists with banner that reads 'free movement for everyone.'

Stop the Arm Fair Week of Action Day 7: Borders & Migration

At the arms fair, arms companies don't just promote weapons of war that fuel conflict and oppression, they also show off the latest in technology that governments can use to toughen up their borders when people are forced to flee - warships to patrol the seas, surveillance equipment and security fencing.

Repression starts here: protest the European Detention Summit

CAAT will be protesting outside the 'European Custody and Detention Summit' taking place at The Tower of London. The summit poses as a forum to share best practice and discuss the future of custody and detention but, in reality, it is a trade fair for prison builders and some of the world's biggest security companies.

A speaker talks in front of a crowd with banners in the background

Resisting police militarisation: shut down ‘Security and Policing’

Activists from several groups including the Network for Police Monitoring, Global Justice Now, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, London Mexico Solidarity, London Campaign Against Arms Trade and Stop the Arms Fair protested outside the Home Office to call for an end to the 'Security and Policing' arms fair.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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