Dr Philippe Frowd from the Department of Politics studies border control and migration in the Sahel region of West Africa, to help us better understand border security in this area.

Tell us about your research

My research explores the ways that phenomena such as irregular migration become perceived as security threats, and the different ways that specific agencies respond to these threats. I am interested in the ways that security practices are applied at international borders and how they contribute to attempts to control migration.

My work is focused on the Sahel region of West Africa, which is an area struggling to deal with transnational threats caused by long, porous borders. I’m mainly working in Niger at the moment - the most prominent African transit country for migration to North Africa and Europe. What is happening there, in terms of international efforts by the EU in particular, is a microcosm of attempts to make border security smarter and move it away from Europe’s shores.

Why is your research important in today’s society?

Migration is high on the political agenda, and not only in Western countries. The growing association between migration and economic insecurity in Britain was a key feature of the Brexit vote. Forced displacement is a tragic reality for Syrian refugees and people from across Africa and parts of Asia as they undertake perilous journeys across the Mediterranean. New forms of borders have emerged in response to the increased mobility of people across Europe. We need to understand the security fears which emerge from this situation in order to develop creative and humane responses, such as facilitating asylum claims and labour mobility.

Another reason is that much of the response I see to security threats in the Sahel is in the form of international intervention — not just military but also through police cooperation and even development aid. The ongoing conflict in Mali is the obvious example here in terms of the military responses it has attracted, but there is a broader question of how interventions of a softer variety (such as police cooperation) affect national sovereignty. Interventions also create certain incentives for national elites and, in many cases, create incentives that clash with democratic politics.

What difference will your research make?

My current work in Niger is trying to understand the way that transit migration is understood by European and Nigerien actors. This is, in my view, helpful for drawing conclusions about what types of policy making are applied to different states along migration routes. It also helps us to better understand the incentives African states have in leveraging their relations with external partners on migration.

Who are you working with?

I am working with Dr Gernot Klantschnig from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at York as well as colleagues from across three continents on a project about the policing of ‘illicit flows’ of people across West Africa. We have partners from institutions such as the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. We are particularly interested in developing new ways of thinking about routes, the economics of these flows and the security institutions that emerge around them. My interest in irregular migration is represented in this project as well as partners’ interests in drug trafficking, violent political entrepreneurship, and radicalisation.

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