The European Union is a fascinating construct. It has brought long standing peace to a region that never had more than a few decades of that at a time. It has brought together former enemies and has produced a young generation of Europeans with a complete disregard for borders and language barriers. I love this part with all of my heart.
From very early on, though, Europe, as much as it was about togetherness for those who are on the inside, it was also about the otherness of those outside. Frontex, founded in 2004, is the latest bureaucratic manifestation of that. In 2005, one of my favourite rap groups, swedish “Loop Troop” (they later renamed themselves to “Loop Troop Rockers”), published an album and a single named “Fort Europa”, a strong statement of condemning this fortification of the European continent. More and more legislation, on the other hand, ate away at the human right of taking asylum, putting more and more of the burden on the victims, making it harder and harder to enter the EU as a refugee.
There are many who say that this is absolutely necessary. That “opening the borders” would lead into chaos and a mass influx of people who would then in turn crush our social security systems and destabilize our society (these people usually use less chosen words).
Five years ago
In 2015, germany seemingly descended into chaos when suddenly an enormous influx of refugees reached the country, after chancellour Merkel had one of her lighter moments and declared that it was the right thing to open the borders and welcome people and that we (as in we-germany) would manage (“Wir schaffen das!”). The chaos was, with some exceptions, mainly provoked by right wingers who spread fear and lies, not so much by the refugees themselves.
Look, I’m not going to claim that there were no problems. But organisational issues were completely blown out of context, including the infamous firing of an agency leader for being suspected to too easily confirming requests for asylum, where later research found no evidence of such, and agencies were purposefully understaffed and in general most people seem to all too happily agree that “we can’t let that happen again”.
And then some questionable deals with questionable country leaders (the horrendous deal with Turkey) were made and “the situation improved”, while thousands of people drowned in the mediterranean sea, but at least germany had not to worry about those pesky refugees anymore. In my home town, hastily constructed container villages became temporary winter homes for homeless people and in fear of the invigorated right wingers and to not provoke an alredy complicated situation between Russia, Turky, Syria and the USA, nobody made any attempt to fix the actual underlying problems.
Enter 2020, when Erdogan decides to cancel the deal, unfortunately with some legitimate argumentatory weight. The Syrian conflict did not relax, quite the contrary, with Russia and Assad, the Syrian dictator who hates his people, increasing the pressure on Idlib, a city near the turkish border, increasing the pressure on Turkey.
Cancelling the deal in this case means carrying busloads (literally) of refugees to the EU border, in this case, well, Greece. The situation in Greece, specifically on the island Lesvos/Lesbos, has been pretty terrible for a while, with refugee camps being overloaded, underfunded and now, increasingly being under threat from locals who seemingly start to lose their temper.
What does the EU, or in this case Greece do when met with thousands of people suddenly showing up at the border? They start shooting tear gas canisters at families with kids and in some cases, as it seems, not only that but also actual bullets. Also, Greece, claiming support of a clause in European law, “temporarily” suspends the right to seek asylum. The number of people at the border at this moment? 15k. Less than a typical footie match audience in any large European city. But taking them in would set a dangerous precendent, right?
And now, it would be pretty easy to blame this all on Greece, if it weren’t for some, you know, facts.
You see, Greece is one of the poorest countries in the EU and has been long left alone with most of the burden of incoming refugees, as the EU internally in these last five years never managed to come up with a distribution system that would fairly distribute refugees over the union. All the while the rest of Europe has completely ignored it’s moral obligation to not only help Greece, but also help the refugees. Instead, Frontex and other authorities let people drown in the mediterranean sea, litigate against NGOs who try their best to do the job the official authorities should be doing and seem to look at the unfolding catastrophe in Greece with a sense of indifference that makes my blood boil.
And Turkey was promised to get some relief of their about 4 million syrian refugees, something that never happened, again, because the EU is unable to come up with a distribution basis as some countries outright refuse to take any more refugees in.
In contrast to the reaction one would expect from a union that prides itself in being peaceful and grounded in human rights, our politicians are already quick to ensure everyone that “2015 will not happen again” and that “the people coming from turkey must know that they won’t be able to enter the EU”. And humanity, kindness, and whatever we claim in “christian values” is forever lost at the turkish-greek border in March 2020.
Let’s take it to the streets
Tomorrow, on the 3rd of March 2020, the organisation “Seebrücke”, which has been fighting for years to end the deadly practices that lead to all those deaths in the mediterranean sea, will host a ton of protests all over germany and I will most definitely be on the streets tomorrow night. We need to make sure that politics understands that this is not the Europe we have dreamt of. This is not the Europe we’re envisioning. This is a disgrace and a shame and needs to stop immediately.
The European Union is a fascinating construct, but nothing undermines its legitimacy quite as much as these clear violations of basic human rights. If we make a difference between those who belong here, who are “inside” and those who do not belong here, who are outside, we have already lost a large part of our humanity.
The hole goes deeper
Those of you who read this and think of my European perspective as naive and also probably still quite colonialist, I need to apologise. This text is a quick outburst that does not take things like (neo-)colonialism, white supremacy and other related concepts fully into account. I know, that in order to fully understand the story of the refugees, of the conflicts in (northern) africa, we need to look deeply into our own history of exploitation, of colonialisation and all of the terrible things we as Europeans have done to the African continent. We need to stop looking at this as something that is simply caused by a mindless dictator (or a couple of them). We also need to understand that we can actually see the Syrian civil war as probably one of the first human conflicts caused by climate change. A quick outburst like this text cannot do any of these aspects any justice. And with that I hope that I can at least ensure you that while the text may be naive at times and too simplistic, maybe, this is a function of my limited time and my rage and frustration and not a function of my ignorance.
Header image taken from Wikimedia Commons