Obscene borders

Activity Report 2017

Although the country’s presidency of the EU does not begin until July 1st, Austria has already announced, through its Prime Minister, that it will seek to focus on borders. This is hardly surprising from the leader of a party on the far right, but this impulse is shared by a number of European heads of government and may even be the lowest common denominator between member states. According to the President of the European Council, in a statement made last January, “Protecting our territory, protecting our external borders and the fight against illegal immigration” are likely to be the only subjects of consensus. The “obsession with borders” is certainly not new and was flagged up about a decade ago by several analysts who highlighted the fact that globalisation had gone hand in hand with the demarcation and strengthening of thousands of kilometres of national borders. 2017, however, has set new records for the use of “borderisation” to mask the absence of a European vision.

For those willing to see reality as it is, it is clear that this old obsession has degenerated into sheer obscenity. The discourse of the Director of Frontex singing the praises of border reinforcement as a policy for the protection of fundamental rights is emblematic of an attitude that refuses to acknowledge the humanity of the men and women seeking to cross these borders despite being labelled pariahs, in other words, in spite of the approach that makes it impossible for them to claim their rights. In asserting that improved “surveillance techniques ensure protection for those being persecuted or under threat”, Fabrice Leggeri in fact obfuscates one of the greatest crimes in recent decades.

The “let them die” policy practiced by the EU and its member states has in fact turned the Mediterranean Sea into the most dangerous border in the world. As a result, more than 3,100 people died trying to cross it in 2017. This carnage is now well documented; equally barbaric situations, such as those facing migrants in earlier stages of their journey, notably in the Sahara, will come to light in future. Of course, Europe has not taken responsibility for this crime against our shared humanity, although it does endorse it: at least that is the message that emerges from the answers offered by the European institutions. This reaction essentially consists of vilifying and attacking NGOs who try to arrange rescues at sea and bankrolling the Libyan coastguards so that they can send back the “damned of the sea” to their jailors and other agents in the transit economy that has evolved into an entire industry of persecution.
The limits on border externalisation and debasement of fundamental rights have indeed been stretched yet again. While 2016 was marked by a reprehensible arrangement with Turkey (accompanied by press releases from the EU incessantly drawing attention to how this had stemmed the flow of arrivals to the Greek islands), 2017 featured the intensification of negotiations with various Libyan stakeholders eager to secure their share of the bounty for guarding the external borders of the EU.

Upstream of the Libyan fish trap, European funds are also poured into other stages of the “migrant routes” that must be closed off at all costs, without ever stopping to consider the ramifications of this policy in terms of the regional balance and patterns of movement. The projection of borders ever further overseas and deepening divides in terms of rights (to circulate, emigrate, be protected from abuse by armed forces, etc.) are the hallmarks of this new imperialism. Within the EU, all member states have understood that unless they rely on external actors, “burden sharing” could lead to the emergence of diplomatic rifts, or worse, with the inevitable corollary that these external actors have discovered a way to leverage their negotiating position in their otherwise unbalanced relations with the EU.

Such is the underlying rationale that Migreurop has continued to decode and expose over the course of the past year, notably through the 3rd edition of the Atlas des migrants en Europe published by Armand Colin; the Briefs, aimed at a broad readership; as well as the peripatetic exhibition Moving Beyond Borders. Once again, these activities were made possible thanks to the dedication of paid staff, the mobilisation of dozens of volunteers and support from many partners.

After years of financial instability, the auction of contemporary works of art and the “We dream under the same sky” project will allow us to ensure that the association is on firmer financial footing with a consolidated budget going forward. Above all, these initiatives constitute a major opportunity for our network, allowing us to reach out to new audiences and build bridges with the art world, as part of a shared commitment towards social transformation and the defence of human rights.