Spanish Southern Border: Human Rights Violations by Private Companies

Maria Soler Besumbes

During the last weeks, SHOCK MONITOR has actively contributed to gather information for two major events organized in Barcelona. On one side, the official launch of the report “Human Rights at the Spanish Southern Border (2017 – 2018). On the other, the 45th Session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on the violation of Human Rights of migrant and refugee people. These two civil society initiatives aimed to raise public awareness on the Human Rights implications of European’s Union current migration policies and, they have also highlighted the increasing role that private companies – among them, private military and security companies (PMSC) – have in the securitization of border control policies and in the violation of migrant’s rights related to the implementation of this racist and criminalizing politics.

In the current context of reinforcement of European Union’s policies on security, surveillance and border control, Spain has been the main pioneer in the construction of walls, by building its fences in Ceuta (1995) and Melilla (1998) along with other elements that conform the border devices, as well as an increasing militarization of the land and maritime borders.

The borders of Ceuta and Melilla have become a field experiment for the most cruel and inhuman policies of migration control at European level. In the Southern Spanish border the legal system applies rarely and on an arbitrary manner, and human rights are systematically violated with total impunity. Over the years, we have witnessed a growing fortification and armouring of Spanish borders, especially since 2005, during the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, when the military devices deployed in the fences preventing the arrival of migrants caused several unprecedented injuries and deaths.

To the injuries caused by the fences, we should also add the police violence, the brutality and misconduct and the so called “hot returns”.


To the physical control measures, we should add the technological ones, mostly under the supervision of the Spanish Military police. These technologies include the “early movement detectors”; “flood and road lights”; “mobile cameras with optical and sound sensors”; “alarm lights and sirens”; or “the water pressure system with pepper spray”. In addition to these control systems, we should add anti-climb meshes that cover the outside of the fence and control towers placed at regular intervals.

Theses fencing devices cause injuries in many people when trying to climb it or as a result of falls. Both the organizations working in the Moroccan area and those working in Ceuta and Melilla mention that after an attempt to jump many people suffer severe, such as deep cuts, fractures, serious muscular injuries. Likewise, many people also end up injured as a result of the attacks of the Moroccan and Spanish military and police forces.

At the same time, the implementation of border management mechanisms at the Spanish maritime borders, has resulted in continuous violation of fundamental rights of migrant people trying to reach Europe by the sea. The lack of safe routes, the control and surveillance mechanisms (SIVE, EUROSUR and Frontex Joint Operations), the aerial surveillance by drones and satellites, and the externalization of migration policies have created a system that perpetuates violence against migrants at different levels -structural, institutional, symbolic or physical.

A proof that the system has been created to block the arrival of migrants to the southern border, are the illegal practices like“hot returns”. Numerous deaths and disappearances of migrant people occur with impunity, despite the existence of control and surveillance mechanisms. It also exists a complete lack of truth, justice and reparation mechanism when dead bodies are found.

PMSC play a role in the securitization of border management policies

The militarization of European Union’s migration policies, responds to a global securitization process that began after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This process has resulted in an increase of military and defense spending, both at EU level and at member states level. Private actors working in the sector of defense and security have played a leading role in the creation and design of those policies.

The investment in national security, which includes the militarization of borders, is partly defined by a Group of Personalities (GoP), which consists of senior representatives of the European institutions and the main European arms companies (EADS, BAE Systems, Thales, Leonardo Finmeccanica) and technology companies (Ericsson, Siemens, Diehl and Indra).

To reinforce this alliance between the European Union and private companies, the European Organization for Security (EOS), responsible for defending the interests of the military and security industry in Europe, organized between 2013 and 2015 at least 8 strategic meetings with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

The lobbying of these companies have determined EU’s response to increasing migratory flows. Instead of developing measures for the prevention and resolution of structural causes of migration, a security approach has been prioritized, creating a “Europe Fortress”, based on increased control and surveillance at the borders, to the detriment of the human rights of people who migrate.

Many of the companies that today determine the so called “Fortress Europe” are in many cases, the same arms, military and private security companies that have fueled the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen through the sale of weapons, technological systems and security services. This companies gained relevance in the border control sector, thanks to research and defense programs funded by the European Union such as Framework 7th and Horizon 2020.


It is very important to raise public awareness about the danger that entails that private companies have an increasing capacity of decision on security and defense policies and the cost that this scenario is having in terms of human lives and access to rights for migrant people. Leaving migration control policies in the hands of corporate powers is an affront to democratic values and a violation of Human Rights. The externalization of border control contrIbutes to increase the presence of private companies and makes it more difficult to identify who is responsable for human right violations, favoring impunity.

Besides, there is no transparency and control of private companies by the Spanish and European governments and institutions, an scenario that contributes to the lack of public investigation and scrutiny and makes it even more difficult to establish a legal and democratic system that guarantees the rights of migrant peoples in Spain.

For Further Information read:
(2018). ‘Frontera Sur. Vías Marítimas’. Disponible en:
(2017-2018) ‘Permanent Peoples Tribunal’ 45th Session on the violation of human rights of migrants and refugee people. Disponible en: