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- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 02:19:00
The Japan Times
February 23, 1997
A Declaration of War on Mass Migration
By PAUL J. SMITH
Special to The Japan Times
As wealthy countries around the world face a growing influx of illegal
immigrants and refugees, many are turning to military force to stem the
flow. In many cases, soldiers and sailors who have trained for traditional
military conflict are finding themselves patrolling national borders or sea
lanes as part of campaigns to halt or manage illegal immigration and refugee
The increasing reliance on military force by many governments facing
immigration or refugee emergencies suggests a fundamental change in how
countries will likely use their armed forces in the decades ahead. More
importantly, however, the trend suggests a dramatic shift in how many
countries are viewing the growing problem of international migration.
Immigration, once thought of as a social or economic phenomenon, is
increasingly being viewed by many nations as a security concern. Around the
world, political and military leaders from such diverse countries as
Hungary, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and the United Arab
Emirates are characterizing illegal immigration or mass migration as current
or potential threats to their national security.
In the United States, high-ranking State Department and Coast Guard
officials have declared that possible mass migration from Mexico or Cuba, or
migrant trafficking in the Caribbean, constitutes a threat to America's
national security. Defense planners in Western Europe, meanwhile, have
suggested that mass immigration from Northern Africa could destabilize their
As a result, many nations are deploying military troops to both intercept
immigrants and refugees before they arrive and repatriate them -- often
involuntarily and forcibly -- after they have arrived.
Malaysia, for example, recently gave its army limited police powers to
patrol the country's border areas to counter illegal immigrants. Italy has
deployed military troops along its lower Adriatic coastline to prevent an
influx of illegal migrants from Albania and other countries. Similarly,
South Africa has stationed hundreds of soldiers on its border with
Mozambique and Zimbabwe to curb illegal entrants.
Probably the largest military blockage of refugees in recent history
occurred in 1994 when the U.S. faced a mass influx of thousands of Haitian
and Cuban refugees. The U.S. deployed coast guard and naval ships as part of
a massive effort to intercept and rescue refugees on the high seas.
Afterward U.S. officials sent the refugees to military-run processing camps
in Cuba and Panama.
But in addition to using troops to stop illegal immigrants at the border,
many countries are relying on military force to repatriate migrants and
refugees back to their home countries.
Last year when France and Spain repatriated several groups of illegal
immigrants, they sent them home on military aircraft. When the Malaysian
government decided to repatriate Vietnamese refugees last spring, it
forcibly deported many of them aboard naval ships. Most recently Tanzania
has sent military troops to drive Rwandan refugees back into their homeland.
The U.S. government has recently begun using armed forces to assist in
repatriating illegal Chinese immigrants intercepted aboard human smuggling
ships. In 1994, the Pentagon dispatched military troops to help repatriate
migrants aboard a Chinese smuggling ship intercepted near Hawaii. Nearly a
year later, American defense officials deployed roughly 300 soldiers to help
repatriate illegal Chinese migrants found aboard the smuggling vessel Xing
Da which was intercepted near the Bahamas.
Many governments are justifying the use of military force in immigration and
refugee matters because of the massive logistical challenges posed by
managing large groups of people. Military troops, they argue, can create
refugee camps or temporary housing centers -- complete with health clinics
and dining facilities -- on a scale and at a pace that simply cannot be
duplicated by other government agencies.
Additionally, soldiers can provide a "show of force" that can prevent
volatile situations from becoming explosive. A Hawaii-based marine officer
involved in the 1995 Chinese migrant repatriation effort stated that the
presence of armed soldiers on Wake Island prevented Chinese smugglers and
their enforcers from intimidating or physically threatening the other migrants.
But reliance on military force to deal with immigrants and refugees is not
without controversy. For one, many traditional military leaders do not
believe that this is part of their duty. In a 1990 interview with the
military publication Jane's Defense Weekly, an Italian navy officer stated
that "with our limited equipment, the decision to use frigates or long-range
maritime patrol aircraft for anti-immigration patrolling is a demonstration
of the limited comprehension of our politicians about defense matters."
Similarly, during the 1994 Cuban and Haitian refugee crisis, U.S. defense
officials complained that critical military resources were being diverted to
nonmilitary tasks such as housing and caring for refugees. At one point, the
Pentagon proposed hiring civilians to substitute for the roughly 6,700
additional troops who were sent into Guantanamo Bay Cuba to take care of the
Apart from traditional military resistance, there are human rights concerns.
What happens when young, zealous soldiers, who have been trained for
traditional warfare, suddenly confront an influx of would-be immigrants?
Obviously, the most worrisome outcome is that potential refugees or migrants
could be shot. Last September, for instance, the Greek government reported
that one of its army outposts had fired upon a migrant trafficking vessel
carrying 15 illegal immigrants.
Despite many of these concerns, however, it is clear that military
involvement in immigration and refugee matters is a growing trend. As the
scale of international migration grows around the world -- driven by such
factors as population growth, unemployment in source countries and rising
economic disparities between nations -- many governments will come under
increasing pressure to "do something." For many of them, deploying military
troops will be a tempting choice.
The question that must be answered is whether current military training in
the military academies and schools around the world is preparing soldiers
and sailors for this coming reality. Only with the existence of such
training can the world be reasonably assured that growing military
involvement in international migration matters will not lead to a
Paul J. Smith is an adjunct fellow with Pacific Forum/CSlS in Hawaii.
Currently he directs the forum's project on migrant trafficking.
( From theory to practice -- nothing less than a humanitarian disaster!)
THAILAND TIMES: NINE BURMESE ARMY PORTERS SENT ACROSS THE BORDER
February 24, 1997
TAK ; Nine Burmese villagers, some of them still in their teens, who had
fled to Thailand after having been forced to work as porters for Burmese
troops were yesterday sent back across the border by Thai military
officials, according to a Thai army source.
Unlike their compatriots who also fled to Thailand following the Burmese
offensive on rebel Karen National Union (KNU) bases last week, the nine were
not granted permission to remain.
The men, who crossed over to Thailand last week, presented a sorry sight as
they returned to their homeland. On the point of starvation, they showed
visible signs of the hard work they had been forced into.
Thein Swe, 25, told of how together with 200 other Myawaddy villagers he had
been force to carry food and heavy ammunition on the grueling journey
between the Burmese town of Pa Kant and the border area opposite Tak's Phob
Phra district, according to the army source.
Earlier, accounts have detailed how the villagers were rounded up by the
Burmese troops as they were going about their everyday business.