Fortress Europe kills to protect imperialism

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Europe has the deadliest borders in the world, claiming more than 4,000 lives in 2015. The increased risk of winter crossings has not stopped those desperate to flee war, persecution, or poverty: in December 2015 an estimated 4,000 people per day crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece, and on 2 January 2016 the first death of the year was recorded when a two-year-old fell out of a boat that hit rocks off the Greek island of Agathonisi. Migrants have also renewed attempts to enter the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, with hundreds scaling the fences or swimming round them, but being forced back with violence by Moroccan forces and the Spanish Guardia Civil. During January 162 people were reported dead or missing at Europe’s borders; the actual figure is likely to be higher. Tom Vickers reports.

During 2015 more than 1.2 million people arrived by sea and land at the borders of Europe. Although a significant increase on the previous year, this is equivalent to only 0.24% of Europe’s population. Such numbers could easily be accommodated given Europe’s wealth, much of which has been plundered from other countries. The deaths that result from European states’ refusal to allow refugees and migrants safe passage is therefore a political choice, based on the defence of a barbaric capitalist system that cares nothing for human lives.

Europe fuels racism

European states have responded to the continued movement of people with increased repression. Racist rhetoric abounds, taking up long-standing ideas about refugees being a drain on state welfare, disguised economic migrants, criminal sexual predators, and an invading army. At the end of November Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte compared migration into the EU to the fall of the Roman empire, conjuring images of ‘barbarians at the gates’ rather than desperate people fleeing for their lives. On 18 December Henrik Sass Larsen, leader of the Social Democrat group in the Danish parliament, defended restrictions on migration in the name of protecting welfare for Danish citizens. In January, First Vice President of the European Commission (EC) Frans Timmermans suggested the majority of refugees’ claims should be dismissed in advance based on their country of origin. On 27 January David Cameron described Calais refugees as ‘a bunch of migrants’. Meanwhile crimes by migrants are widely publicised and seized on as a justification for further restrictions on all migrants, from the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve to a stabbing in a hostel in Sweden in January. On 26 January, the Danish parliament voted to seize valuables worth over £1,000 from arriving migrants, following a similar measure in Switzerland. Sweden is preparing to deport up to 80,000 migrants who arrived in 2015.

Schengen in crisis

The continued viability of free movement between the 26 countries in the European Schengen area, which excludes the UK and Ireland but includes Switzerland and Norway, has been called into question. Earlier agreements for member states to accept quotas of refugees are collapsing, with only eight countries still prepared to participate in the German-led plan by December, and the proposed number of refugees to be distributed from Turkey to European countries falling from over 400,000 in November to 50,000. France has said it will fulfil the commitment it made in September, but will not participate in any future quotas. Following periodic border closures between some Schengen countries in summer, at the start of December the first wire fences were erected between Schengen members Austria and Slovenia. In the first week of 2016 Sweden reintroduced controls on its border with Denmark, followed within hours by Denmark introducing controls at its border with Germany. Austria announced it would place a cap on the number of refugees it will accept over the next four years. Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia also tightened controls. At the end of January a meeting of EU Interior Ministers agreed to ask the EC to suspend Schengen for two years.

Summit about nothing

In December the fifth EU summit on migration since the start of the crisis reviewed measures agreed at previous summits that have not been implemented: of quotas agreed in September to distribute 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, by December only 184 people had actually been moved. The summit also discussed proposals for new measures which would allow the EC to take control of national borders for Schengen countries and deploy a 2,000-strong force of border guards, with powers to supervise asylum claims and detain and deport migrants.

Pressure increases on EU junior partners

Currently the EU’s Frontex border force can only be deployed on the invitation of national authorities, but the new force proposed by the EC would have powers to operate without permission. Its main areas of operation would be Italy and Greece, both of which oppose the measures, while Germany and France support them. Greece and Italy are also under pressure to establish massive detention camps for refugees while their cases are considered. The President of the European Council has suggested refugees could be held in these camps for up to two years. The Italian government warned that this would lead to the number of migrant detainees exceeding Italy’s prison population.

At the end of January, the EC issued a draft report on Greece, giving the country three months to intensify its registration and monitoring of refugees and migrants or face expulsion from the Schengen area. Eastern European states have also been threatened with cuts to their funding from the EU if they do not settle more refugees within their territory.

This is a naked attempt to impose the authority of the big European imperialist powers on their junior partners, and to force these states on Europe’s periphery to prevent refugees moving on to the wealthier and more powerful European imperialist countries in Western and Northern Europe. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte proposes a ‘mini-Schengen’ that excludes south-east Europe. As part of the same strategy Turkey has been promised £2.3 billion to police its borders with Europe, which Germany describes as only the ‘first’ payment. The idea is to save Schengen in some form, and with it the broader European integration project, by militarising the EU’s periphery.

United we stand

The imperialists are divided and can only continue if the working class and oppressed are also divided. Struggles in Britain against austerity, for decent housing and against poverty pay, will all be strengthened by international unity with those suffering under the same capitalist system elsewhere. International migration creates opportunities to form alliances across borders – we need to seize them.


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016

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