Today, as in the past, many exiles are seeing their hopes dashed in closed camps in European countries, which on the one hand claim to be models of human rights, while on the other, demand that migrants remain outside the European Union (EU). Using the pretext of “massive” arrivals, the EU and neighbouring states have constantly reinforced their detention systems: from 2011 to 2016, the total known capacity of camps identified by the Network, has gone from 32,000 to 47,000 places.
While in some countries the number of camps has been reduced, this is not due to a more favourable policy for migrants. It is above all due to temporary closures following revolts, or to policies which encourage large centres. Alongside these detention facilities, is a more widespread type of para-internment, sometimes referred to as an “alternative to detention”. It is particularly in African and Balkan countries that the EU has outsourced its “migrant management” to, that camps are proliferating.
These changes are an indication of a streamlining process which is also being deployed in the selection systems put in place in 2015 as part of the “hotspots approach” (see note 1 of the map).
The fragmentation of control has led to diminished responsibility that could be invoked in the numerous cases of fundamental rights violations committed in the name of border control. Increasingly, it is people working for agencies and administrations with ill-defined roles who operate in these places.
Although the media regularly talks of the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean, violence also occurs during the “reception” or “selection” conducted at EU border posts: after the traumatic experience of the crossing, the boat people can find themselves behind bars for weeks or even months.
Hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom have been in the EU for a long time, are shut away, often with no information about their rights, for periods which can stretch to 18 months, as in Bulgaria, Greece, Malta, in Ceuta or Melilla.
The dominant thinking is not to let them in and to send back people deemed to be undesirable. However, many of them cannot be sent back and detention is used, above all, as a punitive measure, to dissuade those wanting to leave their country.
Due to the non-respect of the rights of migrants and the inhumane conditions in the centres, a silent anger is brewing. Hunger strikes, mutilations and suicide attempts…are just some of the forms of protest, which can turn into revolts. With no access to justice, deprived of any contact with the outside world, facing arbitrary decisions and the silence of the authorities, such actions are the only means of expression available to interned people. They express their suffering, their lack of understanding, but above all, their refusal to be deprived of freedom simply because they are not “on the right side” of the border.