BRUSSELS - Refugees and migrants spend over €1 billion a year to reach Europe. Europeans pay a similar amount to keep them out. A few companies benefit handsomely in the process. The hope business is cruel—and highly lucrative.

In August 2013, a group of 15 European journalists, statisticians and software developers launched, with Journalismfund.eu's support, The Migrants Files project to acquire reliable, comprehensive data on the deaths of migrants seeking to enter Europe.

This time, the Migrants Files team follows the money, at least some of the funds that flow through public and private hands as Europe struggles to contain the flood of migrants at its borders. They look at some of the costs 'Fortress Europe' imposes on taxpayers—and reveal some of the economic winners from Europe’s closed-door immigration policy.

R&D projects

European borders are under constant surveillance, even with military technology developed by private-held companies financed with EU subsidies. A team of journalists, statisticians and developers from over 15 European countries analysed 39 research and developments projects financed by the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA) from 2002 to 2013. Among the biggest profiteers were some of the largest European arms manufacturers: Airbus Group, Finmeccanica and Thales Group.

All data on research projects is available here.


While the EU's border security agency Frontex already gobbled up close to a billion Euros, countries of the Mediterranean have spent at least an additional 70 million Euro to acquire boats, night vision equipment, drones, off-road vehicles and other hardware for further border surveillance. The walls surrounding the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla cost close to 10 million Euros per year to maintain, while the wall closing off the passage to Greece cost Greek taxpayers over 7 million Euro. Since 2011, Italian taxpayers paid over 17 million Euros to Libyan authorities for boats, trainings and night vision goggles for the explicit purpose of tracking refugees and migrants.

All data on amounts spent is available here.


The largest cost associated with the politics of 'Fortress Europe' had never been assessed: since 2000, all 28 EU member states as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland deported or returned more than 3.2 million persons at a cost of at least 12.6 billion Euro. Research by The Migrants Files comes to the conclusion that European countries spent on average 4000 Euro to deport one person, half of these costs in transport. Altogether, the cost of deportations in Europe is close to a billion Euro per year.

All data on deportations is available here.

Migrants pay facilitators

High-tech sensors, the militarization of the Greek, Italian, Bulgarian and Spanish borders and thousands of deportations every year - they have all done nothing to deter refugees from attempting to reach Europe. According to UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency, 600,000 people sought asylum in Europe in 2014. Considering only the undocumented refugees and migrants, the investigation of The Migrants’ Files reveals that from 2000 to 2014, refugees paid at least 17 billion Euro to facilitators who helped them to reach Europe.

All data on money paid by refugees and migrants is available here.


Read about the first Migrants' Files investigation here.

The Migrants Files: Coordination by Journalism++Research and code by Elaine Allaby, Michael Bauer (Der Standard), Ana Isabel Carvalho (Journalism++ Porto), Aleksander Derylo (Gazeta), Jakob Espersen, Marcin Gebala (Gazeta), Daniele Grasso (El Confidencial), Peter Grensund (Journalism++ Stockholm), Sylke Gruhnwald (SRF), Timo Grossenbacher (SRF), Markus Hametner (Der Standard), Kristian Holgersen, Alice Kohli, Ricardo Lafuente (Journalism++ Porto), Alexandre Léchenet (Libération), Vadim Makarenko (Gazeta), Jean-Marc Manach, Andrea Nelson Mauro (Dataninja), Jacopo Ottaviani, Lise Møller Schilder, Julian Schmidli (SRF), Katerina Stavroula (Radiobubble), Marta Urzedowska (Gazeta).

The Migrants Files: Follow The Money
Team members

Nicolas Kayser-Bril

Nicolas Kayser-Bril is a French data journalist based in Berlin.

Sylke Gruhnwald

Sylke Gruhnwald is editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine Republik.

Alessio Cimarelli

Alessio Cimarelli is an Italian freelance data journalist/scientist based in Bologna.

Jens Finnäs

Jens Finnäs is a Swedish journalist.

Andrea Nelson Mauro

Andrea Nelson Mauro is an Italian journalist based in Bologna.

Andrea Nelson Mauro

Daniele Grasso

Daniele Grasso is an Italian data - driven journalist based in Madrid at El Pais.

Katerina Stavroula

Katerina Stavroula is a freelance reporter, data journalist and communication specialist based in Athens.

Grant of €5.140, allocated on 13/02/2015


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