On November 3, 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down to
jubilation across the world in what was billed as the beginning of a 'new era',
free from walls and restrictions on human movement. However, today, reality is
much different. As of June, 29 years since the 155-kilometer long wall was
brought down in Berlin, close to 1,000 kilometers of walls stand tall around
and inside Europe, according to 'Building Walls:
Fear and securitisation in European Union' a report co-published by Delas Centre of studies for Peace, Transnational
Institute (TNI) and the Dutch campaign against arms trade (Stop Wapenhandel).
In 1989, in his famous address a day after the collapse
of the wall, German statesman Willy Handt had said, "We are seeing the parts of
Europe growing together again." 20 years later, then German president
Horst Kohler glowingly remarked on how it was time to seize the opportunities
to institute "a cooperative global governance which benefits everyone."
However, behind all the rhetoric lay the truth of
distress migration in a unipolar world where an unchallenged superpower
increasingly destabilized regimes around the globe. By then, two new walls had
already been erected by Spain on its Moroccan border. Morocco was and remains a
transit route into Europe from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa
and parts of West Asia.
By 2012, Greece erected a wall on its Turkish border,
which was followed by Bulgaria. While up until that point, walls were aimed at
stopping people from outside the continent, by 2015, European countries began
putting up walls to prevent the entry of migrants from their neighbors in the
Hungary erected a 329 kilometer-long wall on its
Croatian border and another 151 kilometer-long wall on its Serbian border. Both
these walls have electrified barbed wire fence, with over 3,000 soldiers and
border guards stationed. Heat sensors and thermal cameras monitor movement
around the border wall.
Austria erected one on its border with Slovenia, which
in turn put up another wall towards Croatia. Macedonia, afraid of the refugee
flow from Greece, raised a wall between the two. The UK, worried about the
refugees in the French port of Calais across the English channel, pressurized
France to build walls around this port to ensure that the refugees do not cross
the channel and arrive on the shores of southern England.
By 2016, the militarization of the French port was
complete. A concrete wall with barbed wire on the top was built, border guards
armed with riot-control equipment were deployed, and checkpoints to check
passports and carbon dioxide detectors to catch refugees attempting to
make the crossing by hiding themselves in trucks were set up.
By last year, when a total of 68.5 million people were
displaced due to armed conflict and violence across the world â€“ about 25.4
million of whom were forced to flee from their countries â€“ about 15 walls stood
tall in their way to "safety" on European soil. 7 of these walls were built in
2015 alone, when conflict in Syria, Iraq and other north African countries had
triggered waves of refugees. By making it impossible to reach Europe to
exercise their internationally recognized rights as asylum-seekers, these
walls, it is estimated, resulted in the death of 14,500 refugees.
Apart from these physical walls, there are many more
kilometers of virtual walls erected by surveillance systems. Also erected are,
what the report calls, 'maritime walls' as a result of increasing operations at
sea. This marks a drastic shift in the nature of maritime operations which no
longer seek to rescue refugees at risk of drowning but intercept them before
they reach Europe, in order to prevent them from being able to apply for asylum
in the first place.
The report states that "None of these European
operations in the Mediterranean had the rescue of people as their principal
goal. All the operations had the objective of eliminating criminality in border
areas and slowing down the arrival of displaced peoples. Only one, Mare
Nostrum, carried out by the Italian government, included humanitarian
organizations in its fleets, and this was replaced by Frontex's Triton
operation with a smaller budget."
Frontex, which the European Border and Coast Guard
Agency, was formed in 2005 to 'protect' the European Union and the Schengen
area from 'illegal immigration.' with a budget of 6.2 million euros, adjusted
to current euro value. By 2017, its budget had grown to 302 million euros â€“
which is an almost 5000% expansion in allocation.
Allocation for deportation operations rose from 80
million to almost 9 billion by 2013. In 2016 and 2017, 39 million and 53
million euros were allocated respectively.
This decline, however, can be explained by EU's
outsourcing of the task of stopping irregular crossings to countries bordering
Europe â€“ where systematic human
rights atrocities are committed in the process of stopping refugee flow.
These naval and land operations to stop refugees before
they enter Europe have continued,
unabated by the fact that there has been a 95% decline in the refugee flow over the last three-and-a-half years.
The impact of xenophobia
These measures against refugees, it therefore appears,
are less the result of any assessment of security threats and more a product of
the hysteria generated by the rabidly xenophobic and racist far-right parties
in Europe. These parties, economizing on working-class discontent with the
EU-imposed economic policies, have trained their guns against immigration, which
they argue, has been promoted by the EU.
Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands,
Hungary, Italy, Poland and Sweden, have relatively strong xenophobic parties
which have been winning more than half a million votes since 2010, the report
In Italy, Poland and Austria, such xenophobic far-right
parties are in government. In 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany
(AfD), which until then did not have a single seat, acquired 94 seats in the
German parliament, with a vote-share of 12.6%. Except in the case of Finland,
all the far-right parties in the above mentioned countries have expanded their
parliamentary representation. Fearing loss of more votes and seats to such
parties, centrist parties, like that of German chancellor Angela Merkel's, for
example, are moving to the right, trying to please anti-immigrant sentiments in
order to stay in power.
Such has been the stoked up fear that even NATO, which
was originally meant to 'protect' western Europe from Soviet aggression, is now
out into the waters to 'protect' Europe from refugees fleeing for their lives
on overcrowded boats.
When the inflow had hit its peak in 2015, the defense
ministries of all 28 European Union member states approved a request by
Germany, Greece and Turkey to have joint patrol operations on the Aegean Sea
with NATO vessels. Frontex, NATO and the coast guards of Greece and
Turkey have since been patrolling the seas, monitoring the movement of ships
and boats, in order spot those used by the mafia to smuggle migrants and
"In no case does the operation include rescue, beyond
the obligation stipulated under international law," the report states. That is
to say, the purpose of the patrol is to search for smugglers, and not for those
lost in the sea or for capsized boats. Should it so happen that patrols spot
people drowning in the sea, they are obliged under international law to rescue
However, in violation of the EU protocols which
stipulate that people thus rescued must be transported to the nearest European
country, the rescued are instead transported to Turkey, where the human rights
atrocities committed in the process of ensuring that migrants do not try to
cross into Europe are well-documented. Now, NATO and its collaborators are
engaged in training the Libyan coast guard, who are known to have tortured
refugees in the past.
"Collaboration with NATO to deal with migratory flows
sets a dangerous precedent, since a military organization intervenes to deal
with social issues and, moreover, this is not included among its functions.
This is a major militarization of the issue of migrants", the report warns.
In conclusion, the report asks, "Do we want to live in a
world surrounded by walls? Now more than ever, displaced people bring a
heart-breaking message: more and more people are fleeing violence and global
economic inequality. By walling ourselves means we do not allow the message to
reach us and therefore we cannot mobilize ourselves to change the situation