Tuesday September 26, 2023

Migrants at the border

March 07, 2020

In light of the events of the last days, the European Union’s high-minded talk about human rights can only be perceived as unbearably cynical and hypocritical.

An estimated 13,000 migrants are stuck on the Turkey-Greece border are being denied entry into Greek territory, and are stuck in a no man’s land at the border between Greece and Bulgaria.

The Greek authorities are making an example of these stranded people. They are showing that it is in fact possible for an EU country to suspend the internationally-sanctioned right to claim asylum by preventing migrants from reaching locations where their cases could be processed. Trump has done so at the US-Mexican border, now Greece is doing it on mainland Europe.

But the Greek authorities are not alone – even residents of the border areas are stopping migrants from entering, with some reportedly using physical violence, while the authorities fire teargas cannisters. On social media one video shows what appears to be a Greek coast guard boat intimidating a dinghy full of migrants by passing by at high speed, while another video shows the coastguard pushing away a dinghy with poles as well as using a gun to open fire into water.

A child has died and another has been hospitalized after a makeshift boat capsized. Another migrant was reportedly fatally wounded after Greek security forces opened fire as migrants at the border, though Greek authorities denied this incident actually took place.

The EU has made similar deals with Libya, Sudan, Niger and Rwanda, all of which are nations known for committing grave human rights abuses. As part of these deals, the EU helps fund and build the policing and surveillance capabilities of these unstable or autocratic states. To crack down on migration, the EU has also suspended its own Mediterranean sea rescue operation, while its member states Malta and Italy criminalized the sea rescues undertaken by private citizens and aid-organization.

The images from the borderland are heart-wrenching, disturbing images and seem to represent a new escalation in violence against migrants by an EU member-state. Though such incidents had taken place in the past, the EU has mostly outsourced such abuses, most prominently to the Libyan coast guard, whose agents – consisting partly of militia members – collects migrants in the Mediterranean to detain them in abhorrent, dangerous conditions in which hunger, torture and rape have been widely reported. Now the violence is on our doorstep and it is harder for EU governments to feign ignorance.

The wave of migration towards the Greek border has come as the result of the decision of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to open its borders so that migrants stranded in Turkey can move northwards, towards Europe. Erdogan turned down a European offer of 1 billion Euros to assist with the refugee crisis because he claims that Ankara had already spent $40 billion to settle refugees. In the past, the autocrat Erdogan had promised to host Syrian refugees and contain them in Turkey in exchange for money from the EU.

The West and EU’s failures, or negligence, in the region have been manifold. Contrary to the common perception, the EU countries did not carry the burden of the Syrian refugee crisis, which is the 21st century’s most severe one: 90 percent of Syrian refugees live in urban areas in the immediate neighboring countries, often in makeshift camps.

What’s worse about the EU conduct is that it did not even provide the sufficient funds so that countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which alone hosts 3.6 million “registered” refugees, could have a fighting chance to provide for the displaced newcomers while not disrupting the lives of their citizens. Erdogan has played a role in escalating the war in Syria while cynically exploiting the desperation and vulnerability of displaced people.

Excerpted from: ‘Yet Another Betrayal of Humanitarianism: EU Policies at the Greece-Turkey Border’.