Novel Assemblages of Border Policing
The emerging alliances between state and non-state organizations and international institutions in the South can be understood as ‘novel assemblages’ (Sassen 2008). As Sassen (2008: 67) suggests, these ‘assemblages’ are ‘not exclusively national or global but are assemblages of elements of each’; they are ‘partial’ and often ‘highly specialized formations’, centring on single purposes or particularized normative orders. In this context, even ‘resource-poor and immobile individuals or organizations’ (Sassen 2008: 66) can tap into new digital technologies and public-private contractual networks (notably through cooperation with resource-rich international NGOs in the North) to become ‘part of a global public space’ and ‘part of a type of horizontal globality centered on diverse localities’.
The role of NGOs in these novel assemblages of border policing is particularly pertinent to our discussion. As Walters (2011: 154) reminds us in his analysis of the border as ‘a space of humanitarian government’, border policing has become much more complex and polymorphous, as border regimes now combine elements of control with practices of pastoral care, aid, and assistance. Much has been written about the rapid growth of the aid industry throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, where NGOs have been viewed as ‘doing good’ in opposition to authoritarian or corrupt governments by some commentators, but as facilitators for privatizing foreign assistance by others (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Lewis and Wallace 2000; Walters 2011). In Indonesia, for example, the number of officially registered NGOs was said to have increased from 130 in 1981 to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 by 1994 (Clarke 1998). Their relations with the state are ambiguous and contingent, characterized by overlapping personnel, co-option, and control in some cases and opposition to the state in others (Lindquist 2004).
In the field of human trafficking in Asia, the ebb and flow of donor funding and dense patchworks of anti-trafficking alliances have transformed particular types of local NGOs into key actors in the border management and international development industry. In Indonesia, local NGOs redefined their expertise from HIV/AIDS prevention to counter-trafficking in order to fit into changing donor interests and priorities of international organizations such as USAID, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Asia Foundation, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and Terres Des Hommes Netherlands. Although the clients (or ‘risk groups’) and the nature of work on the ground may seem unchanged (ie outreach programme targeting sex workers and female migrants), the layers of contractual relationship and public management techniques of standardization and performance auditing reveal the institutionalization of the dominant trafficking discourse as well as the complex and precarious nature of these alliances.
One example is YMKK (Yayasan Mitra Kesehatan dan Kemanusiaan), an NGO that shifted the focus of its work from HIV prevention and reproductive health to trafficking in Indonesia. In practice, this new remit meant ‘adding questions about whether the woman being interviewed during outreach work has been “trafficked” and if she wants to leave the place she is working, usually a place of prostitution’ (Lindquist and Piper 2007: 149). The information collected by outreach workers through a standard questionnaire is turned over to data-entry staff in order to compile reports that are presented to donors as a basis for evaluating their work. As Lindquist and Piper (2007: 150-151) pointed out, anti-trafficking alliances between YMKK and other organizations are fraught with difficulties and dilemmas:
Clearly short-term and long-term goals are potentially in conflict, as the concern with finding victims stands in opposition to NGOs’ aim to gain the trust of women and pimps in the brothel areas. Although the Program Officer at the Counter-trafficking unit at IOM clearly stated that they were not supporting ‘rescues,’ it is not clear that their partner NGOs use the same form of reasoning ... NGOs who report trafficking victims are reimbursed by IOM once the guidelines have been accepted. In each case it is the head of the countertrafficking unit at IOM in Jakarta who makes the final decision. It is therefore not possible to send individuals who have not directly been defined as victims by IOM. Even though there are limited funds available, IOM’s ‘victims of trafficking’ project has led to some competition for victims among NGOs on Batam, with NGOs complaining to [the author] that other NGOs were ‘taking’ victims in their target areas.
Similarly, in Nepal, donor assistance in sex trafficking has significantly increased the number of NGOs in the field: an estimated 57 NGOs were said to have been involved in anti-trafficking, even though many were unable to provide any evidence of their anti-trafficking work or what they did with their funds (Kaufman and Crawford 2011). The resulting forms of unaccountable power and consequences of local NGO intervention can be deeply troubling, especially when they are cloaked in the name of protecting women and girls. In Burma, for example, women were forbidden to cross borders in the name of trafficking prevention:
Since 1997, unaccompanied young women between 16 and 25 in Eastern Shan State have been forbidden to travel to the Thai border. . This has limited the rights of young women and placed them further under the control of others. Young women forced to leave home to work in Thailand to support themselves and their families have simply ended up paying more to bribe officials to reach the border. Since 2004, young women in this area have also needed a recommendation letter or permit from the local Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation to travel to the border, supposedly to prevent possible cases of trafficking. In reality, this process has turned into a means for MWAF to extort money. In early 2006, the cost of a MWAF permit was 200,000 Kyat (about $200). (Women’s League of Burma 2008: 23-24)
Local NGOs with diverse agendas have been able to claim expert knowledge and expertise in counter-trafficking work and to tap into extensive regional and global networks and professional alliances. In Taiwan, local anti-trafficking NGOs and conservative women’s groups with middle-class social disciplinary agendas were able to tap into international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations’ networks for ‘exchange of skills, information, and advocacy purposes between organizations in the developed countries and those in the developing countries, which quickly and dramatically enhance the effectiveness of local efforts as well as their power of influence ... [and] give strength and credibility to local groups’ (Ho 2005: 96). In the process, international organizations were able to put pressure on the Taiwan government to reform its national laws and practices in broad areas of children’s welfare, thus ‘consolidating the “global governance” that the UN is aspiring for’ (Ho 2005: 96). At the same time, NGOs that were once deeply localized actors have become transformed into actors aligned with the objectives of global governance. Some may even enter into unexpected alliances with policing bodies, for example border militia, private security, and village-based vigilance groups that monitor women’s freedom of movement, leading to deeply divisive and disem- powering consequences.
One example ofthe emerging novel assemblages in border policing is Maiti Nepal, a local NGO which claimed to have rescued and rehabilitated ‘more than 12,000 women and girls’ in Nepal through patrolling the border to intercept suspected trafficking victims (
In Nepal, Maiti Nepal collaborates with the border police and employs trafficking survivors as ‘border guards’ in surveillance teams that work with border police and private security guards at official border crossing points to observe daily crossings and to intercept women and girls in ‘suspicious circumstances’ (Crawford 2010). In the name of paternalistic protection, any female crossing the border has to bear the burden of proving that she is not being trafficked. If a woman cannot provide a satisfactory explanation for her travel, she may be intercepted and detained. Indeed, women and girls have been forcibly intercepted and ‘rescued’ by Maiti Nepal ‘border guards’ and returned to their villages against their will or institutionalized in ‘transit homes’ or ‘care homes’ for an indefinite period:
[T]rafficking is determined from conflicting or hesitant answers being given by the ‘suspects’ (adult women as well as minors) to the NGO workers and police. For example, if a group of three girls are crossing together and they all give conflicting accounts of what they are doing, then they may be detained on suspicion of trafficking. This is a common sense strategy, but it has never been systematically evaluated to assess its accuracy. While recognizing a well-intentioned desire to protect women’s rights, the present ad hoc system could possibly limit a person’s freedom or right to mobility. This is particularly the case with respect to adult women. NGO workers who were interviewed for this report noted that women are sometimes ‘very angry’ and ask, ‘Why have we been stopped?’ Some women in the transit homes need to be ‘convinced’ that they were about to be trafficked. (Evans and Bhattari 2000: 22)
Border interceptions of this kind are predicated on particular gender stereotypes that identify women and girls as inherently vulnerable and unable to interrogate and deflect the deception of traffickers. Border policing efforts—and information campaigns for trafficking prevention in general—target particular at-risk population groups (ie women) in countries of origin and employ messages that discourage migration, with the aim of convincing aspiring female migrants of the dangers of sexual exploitation and abuse abroad. The net results have been to decrease viable migration options for women, by enabling Southern state and non-state actors to increase measures to control and deter the movement of female migrants. Indeed, a gender-specific ban on migration (eg banning Nepali women to emigrate for work in the Gulf states) has been justified in the name of trafficking prevention. But rather than reduce the problem of exploitation, such movement restrictions have brought troubling consequences. They tend to reduce whatever oversight and protection women might have had as legal migrants and push them into the hands of more organized criminal groups, more dangerous routes (eg travelling to the Gulf states via India or Bangladesh), and more vulnerable situations (Sanghera and Kapur 2000). In this context, what may seem to be a secure border from the point of view of the border police and NGOs may in fact be a space of insecurity for the local population (especially girls and women) and a stimulus for further criminalization and securitization.