EU forces its neighbours to accept its policy of inhospitality

Taking the opportunity of the Euro-African Summit at La Valette, on Nov. 11-12 2015, Migreurop network strongly emphasizes that, under the false pretense of cooperation and development, UE bargains with African states to subcontract the control of its borders, to deter the possibilities of free circulation, and to prioritize detention and deportation of illegalized migrants.

Just a few weeks after the global sensation caused by the photo of the corpse of young Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the Turkish coast, the masks fell. From exceptional ministerial summits to ‘historical speeches’ to the European Parliament, via action plans and other texts from the Commission, the EU clearly restated its priorities with regard to border policing, subcontracting migration management to neighbouring countries and deterring migration movements:

  • By creating ‘hotspots’, migrant detention will become more widespread, including for asylum seekers. These camps will be used to sort ‘good refugees’ from ‘bad migrants’. European states declare themselves willing to ‘share the burden’ of receiving (small) numbers of asylum seekers, but on the condition that the few rights and procedural guarantees enshrined in law for all migrants are abandoned. ‘Hotspots’ are primarily envisaged as catalysts for expulsion, allowing the ‘return rate’ of refugees ineligible for the holy grail of ‘resettlement’ (the possibility of inclusion in the refugee quotas bitterly negotiated by member states) to be increased.
  • Subcontracting of border surveillance, as well as reception of asylum seekers, to states neighbouring the EU is reaffirmed. On 7th October, the president of the French Republic was thus able to state before the European Parliament that “it’s in Turkey that refugees must, as far as possible, be received”. The Commission and the majority of member states take a similar line, despite the fact that more than two million Syrians have already found refuge in a country which President Erdogan is taking in an increasingly authoritarian direction, stirring up tensions with the Kurdish minority and democratic forces.
  • The militarisation of border controls has reached a new level. In the name of the fight against people smugglers and other ‘traffickers of human beings’, it is becoming a war on migrants. The military ships used in the EUNavfor Med operation, cynically renamed ‘Sophia’, can now board vessels suspected of involvement in people smuggling at sea. Tomorrow, if the UN agrees, these interceptions, along with the destruction of vessels, will be authorised in Libyan waters. The most probable fate of passengers rescued from their supposed persecutors is to be sent to camps in Italy or returned to the hands of those they sought to flee, whether in Libya or elsewhere.

By reinforcing the financial, material and legal resources of the Frontex agency, the EU is effectively implementing a true surveillance network aimed at allowing only the minimum number of people possible to approach its coastline. Having blocked the possibility of entering Europe by air by denying visas to people deemed to pose a ‘migratory risk’, European decision-makers now dream of an impenetrable blockade along the coasts of North Africa and Turkey. Their vision would be supplemented by an aerial pathway for the forced return of all those who would be transported back to these EU outposts transformed into ‘hotspots’ (especially the Italian and Greek islands), putting their lives in danger.

To attain their objectives, the EU and its member states are willing to engage in all sorts of shameful behaviour: military operations led by France and Belgium in the Sahel are now envisaged as a way of cutting off migration routes; plans have been made to construct camps in Niger to facilitate forced or ‘voluntary’ returns away from European borders; the most repressive regimes (such as Sudan or Eritrea, especially in the context of the ‘Khartoum process’), which produce tens of thousands of asylum seekers, receive subsidies to contain their populations and ‘securitise’ their borders, etc.

These immense negotiations, in particular the issue of readmission agreements (in other words, commitment by origin or transit states to ‘take back’ people expelled from Europe), will be the key points of discussion at the upcoming Euro-African summit in Valletta (11th-12th November 2015). In order to justify the EU’s moral bankruptcy and refusal to respect international conventions on the protection of human rights, including those applying to asylum seekers, European authorities will continue to resort to a politics of fear: the balance of member states and the European Union in general is said to be under threat from ‘the biggest migration influx since the end of the Second World War’. To reinforce this point, statistics conveniently provided by Frontex will continue to be hammered home: “Must I remind you that Europe is facing unprecedented migration pressure? That since the beginning of the year, the Frontex agency has already counted more than 710,000 irregular entries to European territory?”, wrote the French interior minister in opposition to any improvement of the situation of the migrants stuck in Calais and forced in their thousands to live in makeshift camps.

Nonetheless, Frontex itself has admitted that its figures are biased. Indeed, the agency counts the number of border crossings, not the number of people. The latter, throughout their journeys towards Germany or northern Europe, are therefore frequently counted several times. In many European countries (such as France, the United Kingdom and Italy), national statistics on numbers of asylum claims have remained stable in 2015. However, Frontex data is used to frustrate movements in solidarity with refugees and to feed hostile and even xenophobic arguments. They conveniently hide the fact that in 2015, the EU has indeed been a mirage for hundreds of thousands of refugees, but it is no longer a true land of asylum: it receives only those who have survived the numerous obstacles placed on their routes, in such small numbers that this policy of inhospitality is shown for what it is. Thus, Turkey, which the EU would like to make the guardian of the impossibility of crossing its borders, receives at least four times as many Syrian refugees than the 28 member states combined. To achieve this result, the EU uses any means available and stubbornly defends the house arrest of the majority of the world’s population and the de facto establishment of an ‘emigration crime’ in contravention of all international conventions, particularly article 13 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is these values – inhospitality, denial of basic rights, cynical bargaining – that the EU will bring to the negotiating table in Valletta on November 11-12.

translation Eleanor Staniforth