Against all apartheid regimes and borders: ceasefire and freedom of movement in Palestine

Migreurop Statement

As a Euro-African network of human rights organisations, activists, and researchers, Migreurop stands for freedom of movement for all. With this statement, Migreurop wishes to join the many calls for an immediate ceasefire and to denounce the complicity of most European states with the state of Israel in the ongoing massacres in Palestine. Migreurop condemns all forms of hindrance to mobility, of which the occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza are among the most extreme examples. The closure of borders and the outsourcing of migration control by or with the support of the European Union and its member states contribute to maintaining and reinforcing mobility apartheid and the hierarchisation of people’s rights and lives to the detriment of Palestinians.

On 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an order for Israel to “prevent acts of genocide” against Palestinians and “take immediate and effective steps to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza”. The United Nations’ highest court ruled that it had jurisdiction to proceed in investigating the case brought forth by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide. These provisional measures were ignored by Israel, whose military operation in Gaza has instead continued in full breach of the ICJ’s rulings over the past four months. Bombings extended and intensified in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, constituting the last area where 1,3 million Palestinians had taken refuge. Israel systematically blocked humanitarian aid from entering Gaza, using starvation and disease as weapons of war.

On 7 May 2024, the Israeli army began its ground invasion of the eastern part of the city. Since then, around one million Palestinians have been displaced from Rafah. On 24 May 2024, the ICJ issued a new order for Israel to “immediately, fully and unconditionally withdraw its army from the entire Gaza Strip”. In addition, on 20 May 2024, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested that arrest warrants be issued for the Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister, as well as for three Hamas leaders.

To date, the European Union and its member states have failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that Israel implements the decisions of the ICJ and complies with international law. Most European states have also repeatedly abstained or voted against UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire. Many of these states have instead continued – or have even accelerated – their arms sales to a state under investigation for genocide. To date (31 May 2024), more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed and at least 82,000 have been injured.

In the meantime, the EU and its member states have been busy pre-empting the potential arrival of Palestinian refugees to Europe by working to ensure they remain in Egypt were they to manage to escape Gaza. On 17 March 2024, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, accompanied by the Prime Ministers of Belgium, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Austria, travelled to Cairo to sign a comprehensive strategic partnership between the EU and Egypt with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi. The partnership is financed by the EU to the tune of 7.4 billion euros and aims, among other things, to “curb irregular migration”.

This partnership furthers European policies to externalise migration control, particularly the 2016 EU-Turkey deal. Following this model, the EU has recently struck new deals with Tunisia (July 2023 - 700 million euros), Mauritania (February 2024 - 210 million euros) and Lebanon (May 2024 - 1 billion euros). These agreements provide economic support and political legitimacy to regimes whose authoritarian drift and human rights violations have been widely documented. By subcontracting its “dirty work” to these states, the EU is not only giving them the green light to trample on human rights: it is also fuelling racist and xenophobic narratives and acts, contributing to the erosion of the rule of law.

In the case of Egypt, 5 billion euros of “untied and undesignated” concessional loans will be transferred to the Egyptian Treasury, giving the government considerable leeway as to how to spend them. With regards to migration, the deal provides for 200 million euros in non-repayable grants, allegedly to “combat human smuggling and trafficking” – a discourse that is often used to criminalise migration in general. This European support condones and reinforces numerous human rights violations, including the long-standing and documented deportation of Sudanese citizens. In line with the global migration regime, which materialises through the construction of walls (and barriers) and the widespread encampment of people on the move, since October 2023 Egypt has upped the militarisation of its border with Gaza while anticipating the future detention of refugees by building a camp in the Sinai. At the same time, Egypt’s pricing of access to its territory only allows entry to Palestinians who are able pay an exorbitant fee.

The impunity enjoyed by Israel since its creation, and which has been blatantly demonstrated over the last seven months, undermines the credibility of international law and weakens the respect for human rights the world over. The double standards applied by European states to Israel legitimise a complicity that is also based on military partnership. Israeli drones, for instance, are used by Frontex (the European border and coast guard agency) in the Mediterranean, where maritime surveillance (vessels that ought to rescue people in danger at sea) are replaced by aerial surveillance (drones and aircraft) to facilitate the push-back of border crossers. Israeli military and surveillance technologies are coveted because they are renowned for being “field-tested”, which is only possible thanks to Israel’s prolonged and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Being construed as places where “anything goes”, refugee camps, such as Moria camp in 2020, are also used as spaces for experimenting with and deploying new surveillance and control technologies. The use of these same technologies that hinder the lives and freedom of movement of Palestinians and of people on the move alike is also becoming commonplace to control populations in their entirety.

This securitisation of migration backed by major technological and military reinforcements is accompanied by the increasing criminalisation of people on the move and of those acting in solidarity with them. Accusations against them include those of human trafficking and terrorism. In the Central Mediterranean, judicial harassment, confiscation of vessels and hostile media discourses are commonly used against those involved in operations to rescue people whose lives are in danger at sea. In a similar vein, Israel has waged a campaign against UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for assisting and protecting Palestinian refugees in the region, which constitutes the main channel for vital humanitarian aid to Gaza. Accusations against UNRWA – including the allegation that a significant number of its employees were members of terrorist organisations (shown to be unfounded by an independent UN investigation) – were used to legitimise the bombing of its premises, the deaths of its employees and the blocking of its humanitarian convoys.

The Migreurop Euro-African network fights for freedom of movement: this includes the freedom to leave, to return, and to settle. Calling for freedom of movement only makes sense if it includes the right to remain and the right to return. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine began over 76 years ago, the exacerbation of genocidal violence in Gaza in recent months constituting one of its deadliest episodes. The ongoing attacks are causing the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians, many of whom had already been forcibly displaced over the past decades to the Gaza Strip, itself turned into an open-air prison by 17 years of full blockade imposed by Israel. The killing, imprisonment and forced displacement of Palestinians, generation after generation, must end. This situation is inscribed inthe racist and colonial logics that the Migreurop network struggles against. It represents an archetype of the apartheid of mobility on a global scale and of the hierarchisation of people’s rights and lives, and is sanctioned by a Europe which, in Palestine as on the roads of exile, lets people die or allows them to be killed.