learning pages / Themes and topics

5.8 : Fortress Europe.

Since the EU was established, the borders between its member states have been dissolving. Yet at the same time, its external borders have hardened – an approach widely known as ‘Fortress Europe’. Even for those fleeing persecution, entering the EU has become increasingly impossible for most refugees. As a result, many have been forced to take more dangerous routes, with a corresponding rise in the number of dead or missing people as desperation leads them to seek out smugglers and puts them at risk of human trafficking. Fortress Europe does not stop at its actual borders, but goes deep into neighbouring countries or even further in some cases in an attempt to create a buffer zone through a web of agreements, funding, detention centres and naval patrols.

Border fence in Melilla, Spanish enclave at African continent, 2019.
Author: Lili Rutai

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (1948)

This is what is written in the founding document of the modern international human rights framework. But do countries follow these words? Not really. 

Across the world,  for instance by the EU, the US and in Australia this human right is breached for people coming in search of better opportunities or sanctuary. Or both.

Recently also the motivation to plug the borders has been transformed. While before it was as much about minimizing the number of people illegally living or working in respective countries, nowadays many countries including the EU, USA or Australia, are more concerned with avoiding being obliged to take in more people as refugees, fulfilling their commitments based on conventions, protocols and other documents they are signatory of (Geneva convention 1951, the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967, the Treaty on European Union, Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights).

Fortress Europe

Since the establishment of the European Communities (later evolving into the EU), the borders between its member countries have steadily dissolved and under the current Schengen system – an arrangement challenged by the travel restrictions set up between countries to contain spread of the coronavirus, but still holding – many young Europeans have never had to experience border restrictions as such. Such a luxury to have a strong passport.

At the same time, the EU has been hardening its external borders, particularly since the so-called refugee crisis in 2015/16 – a strategy known as ‘Fortress Europe’.

For people in search of better opportunities or seeking sanctuary, Europe – wealthy, relatively free, with many job opportunities and settled diasporas – was a common and logical destination. But while it is not a new phenomenon, the crisis in 2015/16 made the issue much more visible and presented a picture of migration as a largely unmanaged process. While the number of people put in place then to prevent entry are still in place.  

As a result, it is now even harder for migrants to enter the EU, irrespective of their motives, including the need to apply for asylum. Despite the fact that the EU as well as its member states have committed to allowing people to exercise this human right. This harsh approach has led to refugees taking more dangerous routes to reach Europe and consequently a rise in the number of dead or missing en route. 

A little known fact about Fortress Europe is that it actually does not stop at the physical borders of the EU but goes deep into neighbouring countries or even further (Sudan is one example). Increasingly, the EU and its member states have attempted to build buffer zones in countries upstream of migration routes, such as Libya and Turkey, to ensure that irregular migrants wishing to reach Europe are not even able to approach its borders. 

These approaches can take various forms, often in the form of agreements between countries: for instance, Morocco is paid by Spain to do much of the dirty work of militarizing its border, including naval pushbacks of boats heading towards the Spanish mainland and periodic raids on migrant camps near the Spanish enclaves on Ceuta and Melilla.  Other measures include building reception and detention centres for migrants and refugees beyond the EU borders without proper access to asylum procedures, funding and training coast guards as ‘development assistance’ and so-called ‘readmission agreements’ with neighbours or countries of origin to enable European states to easily send back those who managed to reach the EU.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, more commonly known as Frontex, is based in Warsaw, Poland and oversees the implementation of EU-wide migration policy. It provides up-to-date data on migration patterns to and within Europe that is useful for journalists. You can, for instance, look at the common routes taken by irregular migrants in its migratory map.

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5.1 : Migration as a global phenomenon.

Migration is not a new phenomenon: people have been on the move since the dawn of humankind. Indeed, the history of humanity is a history of migration – some have even argued that movement is our natural state. Migration has always been an essential part of our adaptation to environmental stress, social upheaval and other challenges. The same is true today, even though it has now become global in scale.

5.2 : What is migration?

Simply put, migration is human movement from one place to another. It may involve a single individual or an entire community, internal resettlement within a country or a journey spanning multiple continents, forced flight from the threat of violence or a voluntary search for opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, in many cases it can involve a mixture of patterns and motivations: for instance, migrants may have to flee very real dangers to themselves and their families, while at the same time actively plan for a better life elsewhere. Migration has a variety of facets and there are plenty of reasons – some even seemingly contradictory – why people decide to leave or stay.

5.3 : Terminology matters: From ‘economic migrants’ to refugees.

'Migrant' is an overarching term for anyone (with the exception of tourists) who moves from one country to another for a significant period of time. A refugee is a person who flees from conflict, persecution of a natural disaster and seeks sanctuary in another country. (In many situations of insecurity, many or even most of those forced to move may in fact remain within their country: these internally displaced people, also called IDPs, rarely receive the same amount of attention in international media, despite often facing considerable challenges). An economic migrant is a person who moves in search of education, employment and other opportunities outside his or her country. Asylum-seekers are people who have applied for asylum in another country. Finally, stateless people are those who have either been deprived of or were born without citizenship.

5.4 : Transnationals.

Technologies have not only enabled people to move across the world far more easily than before, but also to keep in close contact with families back home. In particular, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have facilitated the development of complex social connections, crossing national borders and spanning the globe. As a result, a growing number of migrants are now ‘transnational’.

5.5 : Migration and development.

Migration is often closely linked to processes related to development. There is no single definition of development, but in broad terms it can be understood as the potential for individuals and communities within a society to access services, employment and other opportunities on an equitable basis. If people do not have a chance to develop their potential, if they are excluded from participating in development, they might decide to move.

5.6 : Migration and minorities.

A minority may be a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population but also in some cases larger in number, but in a non-dominant position. Minorities usually possess certain ethnic, religious, linguistic and other characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population. Due to their marginalized position within society, they are vulnerable to discrimination, and are unable to secure an equal share of development opportunities. This all makes these communities more exposed to various challenges that they may attempt to resolve by deciding to move.

5.7 : Smuggling.

According to the UN definition smuggling "is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident." In principle, it implies a level of consent among those being smuggled – as opposed to those subjected to human trafficking, who are effectively captive to their traffickers. Once a migrant is smuggled through a border to their agreed destination, the relationship is usually over, while human trafficking generally involves the continued coercion of victims, often over a period of many years.

5.9 : Misinterpreted facts on migration.

Migration is an important issue in public debate and policy-making – across Europe and worldwide. And the media are part of it. Sometimes they build their narratives around migration on pure myths or speculation. At other times, however, they may reply on more subtle distortions and misconceptions: these may be, strictly speaking, factually correct but presented or interpreted out of context or misleadingly.

5.10 : Migration causes.

Migration is typically caused by a variety of factors, both ‘push’ and ‘pull’. People might decide to move because of a range of factors, be it employment, security, opportunities, education, even love, unavailable to them in their home country and ‘pulling’ them elsewhere. On the other hand, there can be compelling drivers of displacement such as conflict, persecution, natural disasters and other immediate threats, that push them to migrate. In this post we focus on the latter – push factors related to forced migration.

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