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Crisis on the Greece-Turkish Border : let’s have done with Fortress Europe
7 March 2020

Press release of the CADTM International network

Once again, European policies have proved to be murderous. For several days now tensions have increased at various cross-border points between Greece and Turkey. Attempts by migrants to cross into Greek territory have resulted in heavy interventions (including the use of firearms) by Greek security forces. Since Monday 2 March at least two people have died: a child of four drowned near the island of Kos as Greek coastguards were trying to sink a boat full of migrants fleeing Turkey; Muhammad al-Arab, 22, was shot dead on the land border between Turkey and Greece, with a strong likelihood that the shot came from either the Greek army or one of the Greek paramilitary militias encouraged by the Greek and Turkish authorities. [1] If, as claimed by spokespeople of the Greek army, it was in response to an act of provocation by the Turkish army, that does not make what happened any less serious. It is the direct result of policies implemented by the Greek government, the Turkish government and European authorities. The extreme violence used by the police force and by the army as ordered by the Greek government, as well as the suspension of asylum in Greece was unwaveringly supported by the European Union. Ursula Von der Leyen thanked Greece for being Europe’s “shield” in these difficult times. [2]

Over recent days we have also witnessed several aggressions against migrants on the island of Lesbos where the huge refugee camps of Moria and Kara Tepe are located. Far-right activists verbally and physically aggressed people, vehicles and spaces of solidarity with migrants on the island and attempted to prevent other boats from Turkey from reaching the coast. We must emphasize that such a strategy of harassment is very similar to the actions of Greek security forces and Frontex agents, whose sole aim is to prevent, at any cost,people fleeing war or conditions of misery from arriving on European soil.

The agreement signed between the EU and Turkey in 2016 is to be read in the context of this “migration crisis” which is in fact a crisis of respect for human rights. This shameful agreement include s the EU paying €6 billion to Turkey to implement measures that prevent migrants from reaching European soil. The agreement is shameful not only because it prevents asylum, but also because it turns asylum into commodity that can be paid for. A price that Turkey is now claiming so as to put pressure on the EU on one hand but on the other hand to further guarantee total freedom and impunity for its military aggression in the North of Syria.

The discourse of various EU representatives concerning the EU policy for the management of borders perfectly suits its neoliberal political agenda. Whilst it promotes structural adjustment policies in countries of the South, which increase their dependence towards countries of the North at the same time it puts these countries to guilt for their management of the various (economic and social) crises they are experiencing, and identifies migrants as responsible for those crises, or at least of aggravating them. This results in the criminalization of migrants and the militarization of borders. The budget of the Frontex agency, which is in charge of coordinating the “protection” of European borders, has dramatically increased from €6 to €330 million between 2005 and 2019, which shows how important the control of migrants currently is for the EU. This results first in strengthening physical borders, with 990 km of walls and fences , and supplying high technology monitoring tools. Borders are literally militarized to protect the European soil as though it was a fortress besieged by “barbarians.”

To complete this racist policy the EU signs agreements through which those countries of the South commit themselves to monitor the EU borders. For let’s keep in mind that the EU-Turkey agreement is not the only method the EU uses to externalize its borders. In order to make sure that non-European countries agree to implement policies that restrict migrations, the Union and its member States use their so-called “Official Aid” as a lever. In exchange for measures that limit departures and increase expulsions from the EU towards countries of “origin” of migrants considered to be undesirable (readmission agreements), the EU and its members will grant or refuse access to various funds.

The persecution and criminalization of migrants do not abolish illegal immigration. On the contrary, such an approach results in aggravating illegal immigration and the dramatic number of fatal casualties it entails. Young people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, fleeing death and extreme poverty, will still be prepared to run the risks of migration. The CADTM considers that a progressive policy in the current context must oppose the policies of Fortress Europe and disobey so as to respect human rights. Its action must be inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention on Asylum.The most immediate measures to be taken are the following:

  • put an end to shameful agreements such as those between the EU and Turkey, or between Italy and Libya  [3];
  • shut down internment centers for migrants, which are actually prisons;
  • stop criminalization and the laws that stigmatize migrants as “illegal”; also stop moralizing distinctions between wanted migrants (to whom asylum and access to the labour market are granted) and unwanted (or “illegal”) migrants;
  • implement genuine reception facilities for migrants that guarantee access to public services;
  • develop safe ways (both physical and legal) for people to migrate. This should include the full use of embassies and consulates in the concerned countries and the relinquishing of subcontracted management of “Schengen visas”;
  • promote freedom of movement of people within the Schengen area and beyond;
  • in countries on the borders of Europe, put an end to military devices such as walls and fences, surveillance systems, etc.;
  • scrap the Dublin protocol for migrants who wish to ask for asylum in a country that is not the one through which they arrived in the EU;
  • take drastic sanctions against Turkey;
  • cancel the illegitimate debt demanded from countries of the Global South since this debt is a terrible burden on the living conditions of populations and is one of the reasons that force hundreds of thousands of people to look for better living conditions in Europe;
  • dissolve Frontex;
  • withdraw the NATO membership of EU countries;
  • prohibit trading in arms.

We must improve the necessary legal and administrative frameworks to ensure the safe circulation of persons, for migration to be a choice, not a necessity that all too often has a fatal issue. On the other hand, European countries should aim higher than the current colonialist excluding framework of the EU. They must implement a compensation policy for the plundering of resources enacted for centuries by the ruling classes and the big European companies.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Mike Krolikowski.