Category 8: EU (-states)
When writing about the role of the EU in the worsening situation for migrants on Lesvos, we could name dozens of decisions taken by the EU broadly or by its member states. In the past, it was especially Frontex (the European agency for letting people die or killing them actively), the EU-Turkey Deal or other migration pacts that had the aim to keep migrants away from central Europe. As we already wrote, these policies determine the bad living conditions of migrants in big camps at the external borders of the EU. In the mean time, right wing governments have come to power (or right wing ideas have taken hold of ‘centrist’ governments) across Europe, worsening the situation for migrants (and all racialized people) in these countries. Therefore, the so-called migration crisis – which is actually a crisis of racism – doesn’t begin and doesn’t end at the external borders of the European Union.
Except for Frontex, all of this happened in the context of the fire in Moria in September. Decisions were taken at both the EU level and by member states individually that made things worse for migrants. In the following text, we will write about the new Pact on Migration and Asylum of the EU as a whole as it was a reaction to the fire in Moria. In the second part, we’ll write about the reactions of the EU member states while also referring to actions of solidarity that took place in these states.
Pact on Migration and Asylum
On September 23, the EU Commission presented a new pact on Migration and Asylum. However, the contents of the Pact are not new. It is about the EU Commission selling the old, racist ideas in new packaging. It feels like you are reading an article of a young start-up company using terms like ‘a fresh new start,’ ‘building confidence,’ ‘a new balance between responsibility and solidarity,’ or ‘establishing a reliable management system.’ However, there is nothing solid or firm within this Pact.
On the contrary, the Pact highlights the European border regime’s actual one true aim, which is to fortify its external borders. We will now take a brief look at the Pact on Migration and Asylum and discuss its inhumane proposals:
- The expansion of asylum procedures directly at the borders, including increased detention. This means that all people who want to enter the EU without valid papers, including people recently rescued from distress should be taken to closed camps under detention conditions.
- This also includes introducing a so-called “pre-entry” procedure at the EU external borders. The screening process includes health and vulnerability checks and the registration of biometric data and fingerprinting. It also leads to asylum access decisions, including whether to apply the accelerated border procedure, relocation and returns. Within just five days, they will make this critical decision. But as we can see now assessing asylum claims is not that easy and quick and can last up to 5 years until a decision has been taken. Health and vulnerability checks tie in with one of the primary goals of the border regime: the identification (and permitted entry) of possible workers and people that can be (super)exploited if they’re healthy enough. That’s something we can see already now as in some families,for example, the 30-year-old man gets asylum faster that his 60-year-old mother as he has far more ‘productive potential’ as a worker than his elderly mother.
- However, the screening is more of a pre-screening system, primarily sorting by country of origin. Migrants from a country where the average EU recognition rate is below 20% are supposed to have a fast return border procedure within 12 weeks. This undermines the individual right to asylum and the personal examination of their reasons for fleeing.
- Probably the screening will be done by the border police. As we have already seen, police violence will increase even more.
- These border procedures lead to the detention of migrants and the establishment of more open-air prisons like Moria. A lot of people will have an asylum procedure under conditions of confinement. They will be imprisoned for up to 6 months (12 weeks for the asylum border procedure and another 12 weeks in case of a return border procedure). Being imprisoned for no reason can have a traumatic effect on migrants as we already see at Moria, Lipa or Kara Tepe/Moria 2.
- The Pact also considers deportation instead of the protection and acceptance of refugees. The Pact establishes a so-called solidarity mechanism: those who do not want to accept refugees can instead deal with their deportation. This is a tremendous victory for populists like Viktor Orban and a ridiculous interpretation of the term ‘solidarity.’
- Instead of mandatory redistributions, the Commission has developed some financial incentives: If countries accept migrants from other member states, they will receive 10,000 euros per person from the EU budget. In the case of minors, the amount is 12,000 euros. It’s all about the fucking money.
- Expansion of Frontex. Frontex will also hold the post of deputy executive director for returns. That’s pretty cynical. Frontex is already known for illegal push-backs and the violent repression of migrants. Now their human rights violations are officially sanctioned by the European Commission.
- The Pact’s overriding objective is clear: an increase in the number of returned or deported people from Europe.
This Pact on Migration and Asylum should never be signed. However, the EU States want to adopt the pact this year 2021. This must be prevented. Stop the asylum and return border procedures and all kinds of detention! We demand the closure of all camps, the abolition of the borders and freedom of movement for everyone!
EU member states
As we tried to look more deeply into the policies of individual EU-states concerning migrants after Moria burned down, we had to do a lot of research. In the aftermath of the fire, we had no time to read the news or get informed about what was going on in the rest of the world. Although we’re connected to people and comrades all over Europe and the world, covering everything is impossible so there may be some information missing in the following sections. We will not list exactly which country offered to take how many migrants but rather analyze the mechanisms of (not) offering ‘help’ – where ‘help’ means very different things.
One very important point in advance: when we write about a country offering to take migrants, it’s always those migrants who have already gotten asylum in Greece. On the one hand, that’s good as upon getting asylum in Greece people have their financial support severed. On the other hand, not taking migrants whose asylum applications are still being processed already anticipated the Pact on Migration and Asylum we wrote about last week: more or less fast procedures at the external borders that don’t meet the needs of fair asylum processes and in case asylum is granted, one can maybe continue to central Europe or wherever one wants to go.
In fact, some states, for example, the Netherlands play on this: a lot of migrants arrive in the Netherlands whose status in Greece is at this point not decided yet. So in recent months a lot of migrants, who got their asylum in Greece but had already been living in the Netherlands were told to leave the country again, even though the European Court of Human Rights has decided that migrants cannot be judged just by the Dublin Regulation because the conditions for migrants in Greece are substandard. The Netherlands’ strategy in this case seems to be to rely on the slow asylum procedures in Greece instead of fully accepting people.
We saw a huge discrepancy between actions of solidarity from individuals or organizations and the ‘help’ governments offered. Germany is a good example: many cities and administrative districts have declared declared themselves ‘safe harbors’ for migrants, and after the fire there were solidarity demonstrations across the country. The German government, however, has denied the initiative of safe harbor cities and has taken far less migrants than the safe harbor cities could accommodate – also after the fire, when the public conscience about the situation at the European external borders grew. The same can be seen in Austria: right after the fire some cities like Linz and Salzburg immediately offered to take migrants and stated that, at that moment, there were at least 270 beds for migrants. A few weeks later it was clear that Austria easily could take 3188 migrants. Just last week protesters in Wien camped outside for a few nights to gain attention and to show solidarity with the people who have to survive the winter in tents.
If you look beyond EU and state-level responses a lot of solidarity can be seen. More than 70 civil society organisations have signed a call for action urging governments to take in people displaced by the Moria camp fire. And 39 European cities saw demonstrations on September 20th demanding the relocation of migrants from the Aegean islands. We have witnessed this in many countries of the EU: while civil society, individuals, organizations and even state institutions like municipalities and administrative districts welcome migrants, governments will not.
One reason for this is probably growing racism and right-wing populism; politicans fear that they will not be re-elected if they are seen as ‘migrant-friendly.’ So governments end up pandering to people who have no respect for human rights, those same rights that EU governments claim to uphold and cherish. This is not a sufficient reason to let people suffer; it is hard to think of any such reason. Must the EU compromise with people who don’t respect other humans as equals? Doesn’t this contradict their aparent devotion to ‘human rights’? Time to end the sickening hypocrisy of European politics.
Of course, often politicians are wholly engrained in the racist right. And we cannot forget that Europe bears historical and ongoing responsibility for the displacement of so many of the people whose lives are now up for debate in the halls of European governance. We saw the far-right attitude of many (if not most) of our politicians come to light in the aftermath of the fire. For example, the German AFD stated that “arson should not be rewarded,” and Austria’s chancellor Kurz stated that he would not repeat “the mistakes” of 2015.
Following this, we also need to observe the fact that governments made promises in the days and weeks after the fire but have not fulfilled them. As far as we could find, no member state of the EU took as many migrants as they promised to take shortly after the fire. Having endless conversations without finding solutions until nobody can follow anymore is a strategy, often used by our governments, that aims to exhaust and distract people. The Netherlands for example agreed to take 100 migrants, 50 of them unaccompanied minors, 50 other “most vulnerable” people. Until now 51 people were allowed to go to the Netherlands but still not a single unaccompanied minor from Moria. According to different newspapers they did not even take one person yet from Moria. The government justifies this partly with the “difficulty of finding suitable candidates from Moria,” as many migrants are from Afghanistan, which in their view is a low risk country. And even though they have not even taken those 100 people, “in return” they want to take only 400 people per year from the UNHCR program instead of 500. This would make taking those 100 people a requirement of NL under the United Nations resettlement scheme. Germany announced that it would take 1553 people but by November 2020 had taken only 149.
It seems that these promises were made due to grown public consciousness sand pressure following the fire in Moria but are at the end of the day empty. All of this demonstrates stifling nature of state bureacracy; public pressure died down and governments got away with doing close to nothing because people became confused, tired, and distracted. On top of this, the EU is a union of states, intensifying the negative impacts individual states – like Hungary and Poland, which absolutely refuse to take any migrants – have. And we can see an important aspect of the modern state which is lessening the initiative of the people: many people in solidarity don’t know what to do and how to support as migrants are locked up far away. Also, some people may not take initiative as supporting migrants is a states’ task. What we need is a self-organized society based on mutual aid without borders!
The next thing is that we need to clarify the term ‘help.’ The help spoken about in the EU was ‘states first, people second’. Via an EU mechanism, Greece requested help from other member states. While for many people and organizations this help would surely have meant taking migrants from the overcrowded camps, for the governments it was primarily about financial support and support by contributing items. Items like blankets, beds, tents and heating – that isn’t even allowed to be used in Moria 2.0. Therefore, it was never about ‘helping’ the people affected by the fire but rather about helping Greece restore its infrastructure of control and border policing. This can be seen in suggestions to build up a new prison on Lesvos financed by the EU – ideologically called a ‘reception facility’ as it would have been the entrance area of a hotel. It was made very clear by the Latvian Interior Minister who recommended a strengthening of Frontex, border security, and deportations to solve the ‘so-called migrant crisis‘ instead of supporting migrants. ‘Help’ meaning financial support or support by items was offered and fulfilled by 14 of the member states of the EU while only 9 offered to take migrants. And fun-fact: just as promises to take certain numbers of migrants have ended up being empty, we know that from some states ‘help’ which was appraently sent has never reached Lesvos.
The EU can also discourage member states from taking initiative: some members stated they would take migrants if other states would also do so, clearly banking on other states not doing so. No one wants to take initiative and be a progressive actor independently of other states. Calling for a European solution is escapist in this case as there is no chance to find a European solution in consensus with all member states – especially the most racist ones. But at the end of the day, maybe that is what European solutions look like: no one taking initiative and everyone being happy except for the people suffering from this inactivity. Also – getting back to bureaucracy – huge amounts of money are being blown in a mechanism that has no aim but ‘creating jobs’.
For example with the 3 million Euros Denmark gave to Greece, every migrant living in Moria could have gotten 250 euros which would have made it possible to travel to Athens by ferry and to fly to any other country in Europe easily. But instead, the money is spent on constructing new prisons for migrants and offering them basic supplies they have the ‘inalienable right’ to anyway. The aim of governments ‘helping’ by sending money or items is obvious: they can say that they’ve ‘done something for migrants’ while these migrants are still imprisoned far away from their countries. The fact that most of the countries which denied taking migrants sent money or items supports this argument. It appeases the public raising its voice in solidarity with migrants while also making a comittment moderate enough not to alienate the racist far-right. Even when governments seemed to be willing to take migrants, the number was always ridiculously small and wasn’t fulfilled.
For us, these politics of the EU make no sense. Considering what the EU actually is though – an imperialist fortress that constantly needs to “secure” its borders – they do fall in line. Colonialism and imperialism are deeply entrenched in the structures of Europe, perhaps these structures are beyond reform; there is very little we can hope of them. Hey Europe: Abolish yourself and all your member states, thanks.