Ceuta and Melilla : The EU declares war on migrants and refugees

Interassociative opinion published in Libération on 12 octobre 2005 and in Le Soir on 13 octobre 2005

Having been engaged in a latent war against migrants for a number of years, the European Union has now passed the point of open war at its southern border. In just a few days, more than ten people have been shot to death while attempting to cross the Moroccan border with the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Mellila. Many others have been severely injured, and hundreds have been deported and abandoned with neither food nor water in the Sahara desert. In an attempt to contain the “invasion” of those referred to only as “illegals”, higher and higher walls are built, more and more sophisticated systems are put in place to protect these European islets on African soil from the sub-Saharan enemy.

Although the shots are fired by the Moroccan police, it is the European Union which provides the weapons. As part of the externalisation of its immigration policy, Europe is giving its close neighbours - the Maghreb states, Mauritania and Libya to the south - responsibility for the protection of its borders in a kind of imposed task sharing. Migrants find themselves held hostage in this subcontracting of violence. The European Union’s policy of "selected (chosen) immigration" which concerns only those migrants needed by the European economy, aims to avoid having to accommodate what it calls "inflicted (imposed) immigration": refugees and all those fleeing poverty, environmental catastrophes and conflict. In adopting this policy, the EU member states are willing to renounce all principles. They have, for example, declared “sure” a country like Libya, where arbitrary detention of foreigners, mass deportations and mistreatment are commonplace, to justify Italy’s regular practise of deporting to Libya entire charter flights full of the boat people stranded on Lampedusa island. And they have transformed Morocco into a veritable trap where thousands of transiting Africans are held under threat of police repression in inhuman conditions, with no concern for the fate of those requiring international protection.

On the other hand, the countries that make up this European-required buffer zone know how to raise the stakes. By allowing the exiles to embark for Sicily from its shores at the right moment, Libya was able to negotiate the raising of the arms embargo, the construction of various migrant camps on its soil and a financial commitment from the EU to protect its southern borders. Today, by instrumentalising the despair of sub-Saharan Africans with the broadcast of spectacular images of “charges” made on the ramparts of the Spanish enclaves, Morocco is putting pressure on its Northern partners to obtain an increase in European aid. A method which is proving to be effective: less than a week after the first shots claimed five migrant victims at Ceuta, European Commissioner Frattini was promising Rabat 40 million euros to support the country’s efforts against illegal immigration.

Whilst the United Nations authorities appeal (timidly) for principles - Koffi Anann recommends the EU use “more humanity” in its treatment of migrants, and the High Commissioner for refugees calls for the respect of international conventions - the European Commission persists in its hypocrisy and prepares to militarise further its asylum and immigration policies. If over 6 500 people have died over the last ten years while trying to cross the maritime and land borders between Morocco and Spain, it is supposedly due to a lack of coordination and integration of these policies. To rectify the situation, the “strengthening of the Euro-mediterranean partnership” is envisaged, in other words stronger operational systems at the borders, more police patrols, higher walls and deeper ditches. It’s a question of making the fortress both “impenetrable” and “inoffensive” for those trying to escape from the gravest consequences of North/South inequalities. It was thought that the myth of the “clean war” had had its day, but the attempt to conceal the macabre consequences of a policy portrayed as aiming to protect migrants and asylum seekers from themselves proves the contrary.

Fearful that their repeated human rights violations will end up causing alarm, the European states are trying, at the same time, to push back the borders of their institutional violence ever further. Following the European Commission’s line which recommends a partnership with border states to create “regional protection zones” for exiles, the French Minister of the Interior has recently proposed the three-way management (Libya-EU-HCR) of the refugee camps in the Sahara desert. The sorting of asylum or immigration candidates could thus be conducted well before the European borders, far from view of public opinion and the media.

Rather than using fundamental rights to work towards “the smooth and gradual integration of the developing countries into the world economy”, as is provided for in their founding treaty, the EU states have chosen to circumvent these rights in order to protect themselves from the world’s poorest. As such, the dead of Ceuta and Melilla are the emblematic victims of a Europe managing North-South relations from an essentially utilitarian perspective, repudiating the values it declares as “universal” and entrusting, behind the new wall of shame, the fate of thousands of people to the Sahara desert.

(Trad. du français, Jessica Edwards)