Europe Turns Its Back On Refugees

08 November 2015

IT DOESN’T take long for memories to fade. The picture of drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach near Bodrum, Turkey went viral across both social and mainstream media back in September. The image humanised the tragic fate of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in Syria.

Its immediate effect was to galvanise sympathy for refugees across Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to open Germany’s borders, announcing that her country was prepared to take 800,000 refugees this year, and criticised Hungary’s Viktor Orbán for building a fence along its border, teargasing and baton-charging asylum seekers.

But on 25 October, the leaders of 10 European Union (EU) countries and three non-EU countries met in Brussels to hammer out a 17-point plan to “resolve” the crisis.

They agreed to measures to control the movement of migrants, overwhelmingly from war-torn Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, through the Balkans from Turkey towards Austria, Germany and Scandinavia. Over 250,000 refugees have passed through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia since mid-September.


These measures allow travellers to be prevented from boarding buses or trains to the next border until they have been registered and fingerprinted, and unless the following country has agreed to allow them in. Already fleeing war zones, they are now to be treated like criminals. Welcome to Europe.

This of course is great for Europe’s richer governments to the north and west, who will be able to pick and choose how many they let in, without politically damaging images of stranded refugees on their own borders.

The quid pro quo for their poorer neighbours is that they will be able to deport asylum seekers, once registered, all the way down the line without breaking the Geneva conventions, which guarantee asylum only in the first country where they apply. Moves are already in place to declare Iraq and Afghanistan countries “safe” for refugees to be sent back to.

To manage congestion, special camps called “rest areas” will be built. The EU’s militarised border agency will be boosted to police them; 400 extra troops have already been sent to Slovenia. Operation Poseidon, the search and destroy Mediterranean naval patrol, will also receive more resources.

The purpose is to stop the EU from “falling apart”, as Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar warned. The Schengen agreement, which abolished internal borders between 26 European countries, was under threat, and with it “freedom of movement” within the EU. The growth of the far right and racist populist parties, as witnessed in Poland’s recent election, also worries Merkel and company.

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