By Atiena Abed Nia
Atiena Abed Nia completed her Bachelor in Iranian Studies and Economics in Göttingen, before she started the Master programme Euroculture at the Universities of Göttingen and Uppsala. Currently, she is working on her Master thesis with the topic “Europe’s role from the Afghan perspective.” Next to her studies, Atiena is engaged in migration topics and the corresponding sectors: she works as an interpreter in therapies for traumatized refugees in Farsi and has established a post-migrant youth organization called Ayande.
A few months ago, 2,000 people from Morocco tried to reach the Spanish exclave of Melilla. While trying to cross the six-meter high border fence, the Moroccan security forces brutally cracked down on migrants and asylum seekers. According to human rights organisations, 37 people died and hundreds suffered serious injuries. As claimed by the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), paramedics were prevented from treating the injured. 500 migrants have successfully entered the enclave. Many were immediately driven back by force. Unfortunately, such “pushbacks,” although controversial and illegal, rather illustrate the rule than the exception at EU borders. Let’s go a little further and ask ourselves: what is the main cause of such tragedies?
European-Moroccan migration policy
While the shocking images spread around the world, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez justifies these massacres: “It was a violent raid organised by the trafficking mafia.” Even EU Council President Charles Michel pledged his full support to the Spanish authorities. With this statement, Spain, and thus the EU, openly admits its participation in this massacre. At first glance, one wonders what interest the Moroccan government could have in preventing migrants from leaving its borders. When taking a closer look, the explanation is quite simple:
Since its foundation, the EU has financed the expansion of border fences between Melilla and Morocco. The justification: it wants to “defend” the border of the European Union. However, these border fences are only one example of how freedom of movement within Europe is based on the lack of freedom of movement of non-Europeans. The strategies of European-Moroccan migration policy include three main elements: Repatriation agreements and voluntary return programmes, cooperation in border management, and the promotion of “migration management”. All three components are both politically and financially very costly, and at the same time ineffective. According to a report, the European Court of Auditors criticised the lack of clear strategies, non-transparent spending and a lack of supervision and control. Moreover, all three elements do not guarantee the protection of ‘migrants’ and refugees’ rights in Morocco.
Political arrangements also exist in other ways. A friendship agreement between Spain and Morocco allows Melillensians and residents of neighbouring Moroccan towns to cross the border with their identity cards. Thus, more than 20,000 Moroccans commute daily to the exclave as labour migrants, cheap and lawless labour working, for example, on the fruit plantations in Spain. This division of migrants into desired and undesired migrants is intended to directly control migration flows. In order to make such externalisation possible, large sums of money flow to Rabat so that the Moroccan authorities do their part in this European policy. The same is true for Libya or Turkey, while it doesn’t really matter what warlike activities they carry out against other ethnicities. Moreover, there is a danger that these countries often use migration as a means of pressure to obtain funds or political concessions.
Europe’s right of asylum
Morocco is just one of many examples for inhumane European Migration policy. Moria, Belarus, Ukraine, Mediterranean: massive violence against people seeking protection at the EU’s external borders is becoming increasingly common. There appears to be a system. While poorer EU countries like Greece and Poland or African states like Morocco are blamed for such scandals, other countries like Germany and France wash their hands in innocence. But aren’t these countries rather doing the EU’s dirty work and operating as a guard dog?
While the world is busy with other things, laws are being created in Brussels that fundamentally violate human rights. One of these decisions, which is in the context of the reform of the Common European Asylum System called ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum,’ was taken by the Council on 10 June 2022. Establishing this law means creating even more obstacles for people who are seeking asylum. In summary, the ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’ contains the following:
Screening Regulation: Asylum seekers may be detained for 5 days within the EU for pre-screening and are officially considered as not having entered. If border officials see little chance of asylum, they can be deported more quickly which means a danger of misjudgement.
Asylum Procedure Ordinance: If the acceptance rate of the country of origin is below 20%, the asylum border procedure is applied. Asylum seekers could be detained at the border for up to 2 years without receiving social benefits or other forms of assistance, meaning more and larger reception camps like Moria.
Crisis regulation: In crises, asylum procedures can deviate from important standards and the asylum border procedure would also apply to people from countries where the recognition rate is 75% or lower. This means again the risk of frequent misjudgements.
Distribution: No binding distribution mechanism has yet been decided, as not all EU members are willing to take in refugees which means the main burden remains with the countries of arrival in the south.
One important point is still open for discussion: are people seeking protection considered to have entered the country or not during screening? If the asylum seekers are granted non-entry status, the consequence would be detention during screening, subject to asylum- and deportation border procedures for a total of about six months. Thus, fair asylum procedures at the external borders would not be possible, as under these circumstances, in particular, the necessary independent legal support cannot be guaranteed.
To sum up, the new legislation legalises current human rights violations by EU authorities. With these regulations, the EU clearly deviates from the international right to asylum and continues policies that violate human rights.
EU’s foreclosure efforts
It was only in 2020 that the EU decided to increase its spending on border protection. Instead of the previous 13 billion euros, almost 35 billion euros were granted. One part of the money goes to national border guards, while another is invested in Frontex, the European border management agency that helps national border guards. According to the German online platform Statista, Frontex’s budget has increased sharply between 2005 and 2022. In 2005, the budget was six million euros, but in 2022 it rose to 754 million. By 2027, it is expected to increase to 900 million euros. However, the border management agency is under great criticism. There is evidence that Frontex is involved in illegal pushbacks as well as cooperating with the Libyan coast guard, which is known for its massive human rights violations. Therefore, Frontex violates the non-refoulement principle, which is part of the Geneva Refugee Convention, among others. Through this externalisation policy, the EU is circumventing national law, European law and human rights obligations. Moreover, research by the Guardian newspaper showed that the EU and its members spent millions on technology to deter refugees from entering Europe. Everything from military drones to sensor systems and experimental technology is being used. The latest frontline is Poland’s 187 kilometre border with Belarus, which is now equipped with advanced cameras and motion sensors. When it comes to violations of human rights, Frontex is going one step further and planning a massive, illegal collection of data on people on the move. According to Seebrücke, an international civil society movement, the data include the DNA, religion, political beliefs and sexual orientation of fleeing people. Frontex argues that religion and sexual orientation are relevant for the ‘defence against terror.’ However, according to Seebrücke, the real goal of this routine data collection is even more racist criminalisation of refugees.
Spending billions of taxpayers’ money on border protection does not prevent people from trying to get to Europe. Frustrated, exhausted and at subsistence level, people are waiting at the borders, sometimes for years, for the opportunity to apply for protection in Europe – usually without success. They keep trying, even after many pushbacks, taking more and more often dangerous routes. The question is no longer “whether” asylum seekers are prevented from exercising their right to apply for asylum, but only in what inhumane way these preventions materialise.
What needs to happen?
For years, people seeking protection have been exposed to deadly dangers at almost all of the EU’s external borders. Instead of rescuing the desperate from the sea and bringing them to a safe haven in Europe, it relies on deterrence and refoulement. Necessary consequences must be drawn to end these normalisations of violence against refugees at the EU’s external border. Otherwise, tragedies at European borders will always happen. Furthermore, European media, governments and politicians must speak openly about this brutal human rights violation. The massacre on the Spanish-Moroccan border is a good example of how it should not be done. There were no condemnations, warnings or sanctions, neither against Spain nor against Morocco. Where is the indignation of Western media and politicians? In the last years, a fearful image of refugees as “the strangers” has been produced. Thus, many people do not mind at all if clear legal provisions are simply not respected at Europe’s external borders. Furthermore, there is a lack of monitoring, which essentially means that there needs to be an independent, permanent and functioning government control of what happens at the EU’s external borders. EU states have not been able to agree on any other answer in migration policy, let alone on a policy of solidarity for the reception of those seeking protection in Europe. It seems to be a form of war by the ‘Nobel Peace Prize winner EU’ against helpless, unarmed people who are forced to leave their homes due to war and disasters.
Picture Credit: Javier Bernardo, dpa