Mobile Surveillance Controls in the Netherlands: Monitoring illegal immigration legitimately and effectively?
Welcome to the Virtual Research Environment of this research project on profiling and decision-making in migration control. The research is carried out by the Institute for Criminal Law & Criminology
of Leiden Law School the Netherlands and supported and facilitated by the Royal Military and Border Police, the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the Leiden University Fund and the Gratama Foundation. Click here to meet the research team
Background of the Research
The Schengen Agreement (1995) has resulted in the in the disappearance of border control on many of Europe’s national borders. Nevertheless, due to ongoing issues of irregular migration, transnational crime, the international fight against terrorism and the deficient protection of parts of the external borders of the European Union, Member States have continuously expressed the necessity to monitor the flow of people and goods crossing their internal borders.
In accordance with the legal framework of the Schengen Border Code (SBC) enabling the free movement of persons, in 1994 the Netherlands has introduced so-called Mobile Surveillance Controls (Dutch: Mobiel Toezicht Veiligheid, MTV) which are carried out randomly in border areas on roads, in trains, on the water and at airports. These mobile controls allow the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (Dutch: Koninklijke Marechaussee, KMar) to check citizens’ travel documents in areas immediately behind the internal borders. The purpose of these “stop and identify” controls is to counter irregular stay in the Netherlands as well as various forms of related cross-border crime, such as human trafficking, human smuggling, and identification fraud.
Since August 2012 the Royal Netherlands Marechausse has the possibilty to use the @migo-BORAS camerasystem during the performance of the MSC. The system will use cameras placed along the borders to catch illegal residents and prevent irregular immigration. Fifteen fixed cameras have already been installed on 13 highways including two regional roads. Another six are mounted on military patrol cars. Besides collecting and storing information on vehicles passing into the Netherlands, the cameras will also be used to assist random mobile surveillance controls on the basis of a predetermined risk profile.
As with all stop and search-like powers, in the case of the MSC the authorized KMar official enjoys a certain professional discretion in the exercise of the MSC: which person – or which vehicle – should be checked and who should not? Whereas it is necessary and desirable for law enforcement officials to have discretionary space, is the way in which officials use and give substance to this space increasingly subject of international discussion and scrutiny. These discussions and researches particularly focus on the factors and indicators that - either consciously or unconsciously - influence an official's decision to stop a certain person or vehicle over another.
In these discussions scholars from various disciplines often point at possible dangers of the expansion of discretionary stop and search powers. Not only would some of these powers be at odds with fundamental and human rights, more often, scholars also point at the danger of ethnic profiling. With regard to the latter, the increased use of technology and data-collection is also presented as highly problematic. Whereas these discussions used to be mostly focussed on law enforcement in the United States and the United Kingdom, the past couple of years a similar debate has risen in several European countries. The Netherlands being of them.
Without downplaying the necessity to take these debates and the concerns that were raised seriously, for the Netherlands, solid empirical evidence to support the claims that are made about - for instance - ethnic profiling, is often lacking. In fact, little is known about the ways in which law enforcement officials perceive and use their discretionary powers as well as the factors that play a role in the decision-making process. The same holds for the ways in which the stop and search powers are perceived and experienced by the persons who are subjected to them.
Decision-making in border areas
The limited research that has been carried out in the Netherlands, but also the larger part of the international research focuses on discretionary powers used by police officers. The discretionary powers as exercised by KMar officials under the MSC have never been researched before whereas, as Pratt (2010) states, actors and instruments involved in and used for discretionary stops in border areas are rich and interesting site for research due to their in between-ness: "In between nation states, in between inspectors and officers, in between immigration and customs, in between facilitation and security, in between regulation and enforcement." Therefore, in this research we chose to explicitly focus on the KMar and the MSC.
The most recent publicly accessible research on the Mobile Surveillance Controls dates from 2001, evaluating MSC as it was carried out between 1994 and 2001. This report involved a more general evaluation of MSC, without a more specific focus on the way in which discretionary powers are being employed in practice. Against the background of significantly changed European and Dutch public and political debates on migration and security and the recent introduction of the @migoboras system, a new study on the MSC controls, that does involve this focus, seems strongly desirable.
The aim of this research project is to gain further insight into the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Mobile Surveillance Controls. In doing so, we will also include the recent use of the @migo-Boras cameras as an important technological means to support the checks. Although the final goal is to include all different MSC, in this first phase of we will focus on the MSC as carried out on the highways in the border areas with Germany and Belgium. Most likely, the second phase will focus on the MSC on the international trains.
In order to address the aim of this research, the project is divided into three research ‘layers’. First, to obtain a good understanding of the checks and the discretionary power that exists for these checks, we will pay attention to the legal context in which the MSC take place (whether or not supported by @migoboras). Secondly, we will empirically examine the practical context in which the MSCntrols are carried out, herewith specifically focusing on the decision-making process of the KMar officials involved. Finally, we will identify the impact of the MSC on the persons subjected to the check by mapping out their perceptions and experiences.
By using theories on crimmigration, citizenship and sovereignty, the results of the three research layers will be analyzed against the background of changes in migration flows and transnational as well as against the broader context of current discussions and polices on these issues on the level of the European Union.
The main purpose of our VRE is to structure the communication, data collection and file exchange between the members of the research team as well as to enhance the organizational aspects of managing a large-scaled project. Nevertheless, besides these more research-oriented goals, another specific purpose of this VRE is to inform a broader audience of interested professionals through regular updates and blog posts.
Should you have any further enquiries about the research, feel free to contact the research coordinator Dr. Maartje van der Woude.