Europe's border regime leaves the Mediterranean a (profitable) graveyard

Europe's border regime leaves the Mediterranean a (profitable) graveyard
Comment: Europe's militarised fortress keeps out the global poor and the victims of war, while private companies fuel conflicts and profit from reinforcing borders, writes Tommaso Segantini.
6 min read
14 Mar, 2017
Thousands have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe [AFP]

In April 2016, European Council President Donald Tusk wrote that the EU needed a harsher plan to counter "uncontrolled migration".

The "unrestricted flow of people" reaching the European continent, Tusk argued, must be stopped through the implementation of "tougher policies" and a stricter control on "who crosses our borders, where and when".

At the beginning of March, the European Commission announced the implementation of a new Action Plan regarding the return policy of illegal migrants, adding another layer of repression to the current migration policy of the EU.

The press release of the Commission outlining the Action Plan says that Member States of the EU are encouraged to "detain" and use "coercive measures" on migrants not eligible for refugee status "who have received a return decision and who show signs they will not comply" or who refuse to cooperate, in order to make the "removal" of irregular migrants from European soil more efficient.

These and other measures to make return procedures more effective will give "a strong signal against taking dangerous irregular journeys to the EU in the first place", said EU commissioner Dmitris Avramoupoulos.

The new Action Plan, the press release continues, is part of the "humane return policy" of the EU.

This further hardening of the EU's migration policy illustrated in the Action Plan is the natural prosecution of the lethal border regime implemented by the EU in the last decades.

The EU's inhuman border regime

While the creation of the Schengen Area in 1995 loosened internal border restrictions in Europe, more attention was directed towards the continent's external frontiers.

The salient feature of Europe's emerging border regime in the 21st century, Professor Reece Jones writes in his book Violent Borders, has been the "militarization of border enforcement" based on a "deterrence policy" to "dissuade migrants" from attempting reaching the continent's shores.

The EU's strategy of dissuasion of recent years has turned the Mediterranean into a deathbed for thousands of people

The rationale of EU policy is that its tough border enforcement will, in the long term, discourage people trying to make the perilous journey at sea. The evidence of recent years, however, disproves this belief.

As the EU increased its border policing with tougher and stricter controls, migrants attempting to reach Europe have journeyed along ever-more dangerous alternative routes.

European countries have not created humanitarian corridors for refugees. There currently exists no legal or safe path for them to reach Europe.

Therefore, by "tightening of legal entry into the EU", scholar Henk van Houtum writes, European institutions have only expanded "the 'illegal' escape routes and entries into the EU".

The EU's strategy of dissuasion of recent years has turned the Mediterranean into a deathbed for thousands of people.

According to data provided by the Missing Migrants Project, between 2014 and 2016 only, more than 12,000 people lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, with victims increasing every year.

The militarisation of Europe's borders has also become very profitable for the multinationals involved in arms manufacturing, surveillance technology, private security, and intelligence provision.

According to a report by the Transnational Institute, these companies are "actively encouraging a growing securitisation of Europe's borders", coming up with "ever more draconian technologies", and lobbying European institutions to adopt even tougher border security measures.

Moreover, the main "beneficiaries of border security contracts are some of the biggest arms sellers to the Middle-East and North-African region". Thus, private companies fuelling conflicts by selling weapons and causing people to flee are also the ones devising - and profiting from - Europe's border security apparatus.

Graffiti in Belgrade [AFP]

Europe's deadly border politics and the profit-seeking of private corporations have colluded and found common ground over the exclusion of migrants and refugees, creating a toxic, perverse cycle of death.

European officials' blaming of human traffickers or smugglers for the death toll on Europe's shores only obfuscates the decisive role of the EU's deadly border regime.

Once those who make it alive reach Europe, they are met with a highly uncertain and anarchic system of assistance and relocation.

To this day, each European country retains the right to examine asylum applications. With time, the lack of coordination and of a common policy has resulted in some countries being more likely to accept asylum demands, and others adopting stricter criteria or judgment and less likely to grant asylum permits.

As a consequence, migrants, aware of this fact, "avoid providing their fingerprints in less desirable situations [as the Dublin Convention would require] by burning their fingers, [or] covering them with glue or plastic", Jones writes.

After avoiding the registration process, most start wandering around Europe, trying to reach another destination. As they "zigzag their shadow ways" in a state of semi-illegality, most of them are destined to "a life of scraping by on the margins of society".

Moreover, the limited definition of "refugee" excludes all people reaching Europe for economic or environmental reasons. According to current legislation, "a refugee fleeing political persecution is more legitimate than a migrant fleeing a life in a filthy, crowded, disease-ridden and dangerous slum" of a poor country, Jones writes.

This artificial and deeply unjust distinction is rarely questioned in public discourse.

The roots of Europe's border apartheid

Seen from a broader perspective, the EU's border regime primarily serves to protect and preserve the wealth and privilege of the continent from the world's poor.

Through its tough border policing, Europe is protecting itself from the human consequences of the destruction and poverty it has created

The "restrictive... global apartheid geopolitics" put in place by European institutions is designed to sustain and reproduce "global inequality, material, and symbolic segregation", van Houtum argues, and effectively maintains a "discrimination based on the lottery of birth".

Through its tough border policing, Europe is protecting itself from the human consequences of the destruction and poverty it has created in the past few centuries around the globe: after pillaging the African continent, destroying the livelihoods of millions, and invading and wreaking destruction around the world, European countries have designed a militarised fortress to keep out the global poor, the uprooted, and the victims of war.

Europe's borders have become a "lethal barrier, a filter, and a prison for all those lives excluded from the full humanity of the white, European, Western citizenry", Mania Barsefski similarly argues in Jacobin.

The EU's self-promoted image as a "bastion of cosmopolitanism and anti-racism" crumbles in the face of its inhuman border enforcement based on the exclusion of black and brown people.

Despite its proclaimed "superiority in terms of humanitarian principles and liberal democratic values", academic Timothy Raeymaekers writes, Europe's history is marked by "racism and imperial conquest" and the dehumanisation of its colonial subjects under its domination.

The border regime that took shape in the past twenty years is a reflection of Europe's history of "frontline imperialism"; the negation of entry to its postcolonial populations is the continuation of Europe's dark legacy.

The rhetoric on humanitarianism, values and human rights only serves to mask the everyday brutality of Europe's border regime, and its deeply unjust nature.

Tommaso Segantini is an independent freelance journalist. 

Visit his blog, or Follow him on Twitter:@tomhazo

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.