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End the inhumane migratory policies of Fortress Europe
by ReCommons Europe
23 April 2020

Today we publish the third text of the publication entitled “The impact on the South of European financial policies and development cooperation strategies and possible alternatives”, elaborated in the framework of the ReCommonsEurope project. Since 2018, this project engages the CADTM, in collaboration with the association EReNSEP and the trade union ELA, in a work aiming to feed the debate on the measures that a peoples government in Europe should implement as a priority. This work of elaboration concerns all social movements, all people, all political movements that want a radical change in favour of the 99% .

Thus, a first phase of this project culminated in 2019 with the publication of a “Manifesto for a new internationalism of peoples in Europe”, which was signed by more than 160 activists, militant peoples and researchers from 21 European countries. This manifesto, published in 4 languages (French, Castilian, English and Serbo-Croatian), expose the most urgent measures on the following issues: currency, banking, debt, labor and social rights, energy transition in order to build an eco-socialism, women’s rights, health and education, as well as more broadly international policies and the need to promote constituent processes.

With this second phase, we seek to define a set of clear proposals that a peoples government should implement in order to bring about a real and profound change in the unjust relations between the European states and the peoples of the Global South. To this end, we are carrying out a process of drafting texts, based on joint work between activists, politicians and researchers from the countries of the South and the North. This work concerns the following areas: the indebtedness of the countries of the South vis-à-vis the countries of the North, free trade agreements, migration and border management policies, militarism, the arms trade and the wars, and reparation policies regarding the spoliation of cultural goods.

As shown by the terrible migrant reception crisis which took place in March 2020 on the Turkey-Greece border, the European Union has adopted an inhumane fortress policy [1]. The coronavirus-related health crisis is particularly affecting reception camps such as the Lesbos camp in Moria. These camps are in themselves a violation of the fundamental rights of people fleeing war and insecurity. Their reception capacity has been largely exceeded for years, which will only increase the number of coronavirus victims in the camps. It is high time to put an end to this policy.

In addition to this third text, we invite you to read the other articles that are part of this project:

- Abolish illegitimate and odious claims by European countries from third parties and give absolute priority to human rights

- Putting an end to the EU’s neo-colonial policies in the field of trade and investment

Since the Schengen agreements in 1985, the questions of migration and policies implemented to restrict it have been a priority for European Union countries. While the Schengen agreements opened borders between member countries, they also marked the point where building Fortress Europe as we know it today began.

European border policies have become more and more harsh, linking migratory policy to antiterrorist policy. This dangerous link became the justification for European border policies. The Frontex agency, in charge of coordinating European border “protection”, saw its budget soar from 6 to 330 million Euros from 2005 to 2019. This impressive increase clearly shows the place migrant control policies hold in the present-day EU. Firstly, this means strengthening physical borders via walls and barriers over at least 990 km, and reliance on high-tech surveillance equipment. What this actually means is militarizing borders, seeking to “protect” European soil, like a city under siege from “barbarians”. Moreover, when discussing borders, we must not forget that the main one is the Mediterranean Sea. It is also the most deadly, with more than 35,000 people drowned in less than 20 years.

More broadly, it is an approach to border policy that is consubstantial with the neoliberal political agenda. Structural adjustment policies have favoured capital in countries of the North while increasing dependency among Global South countries [2]. In short, these are policies that resume colonial relations, by exacerbating social crisis in many formerly colonized countries, and push people to migrate towards Europe.

For some years now, European countries have sought to outsource management of surveillance of this extremely deadly border. This is why the 2016 Valetta summit shored up programmes aiming to externalize European borders [3]. An externalization that aims to delegate responsibilities for management of migratory issues such as reception, asylum and border control to non-European countries. This policy has two main aims:

-  upstream reduction in mobility of migrants towards the EU;

-  increase returns from European territory to third-party countries.

In effect, European borders have been pushed farther and farther away. In July 2017, Italy, backed by the EU and its member states, signed an agreement with Libya’s El-Sarraj Government of National Accord, after reaching a similar agreement with Turkey in 2016 and negotiating Migratory Pacts with five African countries. After making entry European countries such as Greece and Italy shoulder responsibility for asylum seekers, according to the so-called “Dublin rule”, the EU is now seeking to push management of its external borders across the Mediterranean. This policy means a severe reduction in asylum rights and leads to a violation of migrants’ human rights.

These measures, justified by the “migratory crisis”, targeted Sahel countries first. Thus, under the pretext of combating terrorism and organised crime, military missions have been deployed at the Mali and Somali borders as well as those of the Central African Republic. These measures deprive those countries of their sovereignty and independence. Similar deployments have provided further opportunities to meddle in African countries, such as France’s blatant interference in Mali to protect its historical colonial interests during the extension of Touareg groups, under the pretext of rooting out terrorism and organised crime, including “illegal immigration” [4].

Firstly, the logic behind externalization allows the EU and its member states to shirk their commitments in terms of reception, in violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees. Secondly, externalization enables the EU and its member states to flee their responsibilities in the event of violations of fundamental rights (violence and refoulement) during border patrol operations, which take place far beyond what European public opinion is aware of. Due to the relations of dominance European countries maintain towards countries of the South, public opinion in the latter has not been taken into account when they challenge these policies. In short, while capital flight and exploitation of natural resources are tolerated, if not encouraged, by dictatorships in countries of the South, this prevents people enjoying freedom of movement and travel and requires them to take great risks.

At the 2016 European Council, the 28 heads of State agreed to launch Migration Compacts with five African pilot countries. These pacts ensure partnerships that use tools within the competence of the EU (development and commerce aid) to commit African states to stem the flow of migrants to European shores and take back people who have transited through their countries, or their own nationals. So we are seeing not only instrumentalization of ODA (Official Development Assistance) in order to restrict migration, but also instrumentalization of the migration issue to facilitate European investment in third countries. Finally, these negotiations usually take place in full opacity, which only increases their illegitimate aspect.

To get non-European countries to accept implementation of a restrictive migration policy, the Union and its member states use development aid as a bargaining chip. In exchange for measures that can limit upstream departures and increase returns from the EU of migrants deemed “undesirable” towards so called countries “of origin” (readmission agreements), the EU and its members provide or refuse access to different ODA funds. Furthermore, this use of Development Aid results in violating fundamental rights such as the right to claim asylum and the principle of non-refoulement (Geneva Convention, the right to leave any country, including one’s own (Article 13 of the UDHR), freedom of movement within the ECOWAS region (via strengthened enforcement, profiling and detention), forbidding inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to protection of personal data and the principle of non-discrimination, just to mention those.

Processes such as the Rabat and Khartoum ones, and especially the Africa Emergency Plan Fund, are also mechanisms created to implement a border externalization policy. This fund has available more than 4,700 million Euros [5] since 2015, of which at least 1,270 [6] are targeted for border management. Thus we see an actual misappropriation policy, with funds intended to “help development” of African countries being used to a large extent to control borders. These projects serve, for example to fund training and arming criminal groups in north-western Libya to act as coastguards to prevent migrants travelling to Europe from that country at any cost, which has had fatal consequences. At the same time, it has been proven that there is major human trafficking in Libya, and that “slave markets” had operated openly. Of course, this is inadmissible, because this “emergency fund” has brought no positive response to centuries of colonial and neo-colonial relations. This fund actually perpetrates these, making these countries “border guards” at the edges of Fortress Europe.


Criminalization of migrant people will not eliminate clandestine immigration. On the contrary, these approaches lead to the exacerbation of clandestine immigration and the catastrophic death toll that follows in its wake. Young Africans, fleeing death, poverty and destitution, will continue to risk leaving their countries.
All progressive forces that take power in a European country must imperatively oppose Fortress Europe policies and disobey them, to respect human rights. Their action must be inspired by the Universal Human Rights Declaration and the Geneva Convention in terms of asylum rights. In more immediate terms, they must:

  • Close internment centres for migrant persons, which are outright prisons.
  • Do away with criminalisation and laws classifying migrants as “illegal” persons; also do away with the moralizing distinctions between good migrants (those who have access to asylum, those who have access to the labour market) and bad (“illegal”) migrants.
  • Implement actual measures welcoming migrant persons, guaranteeing access to public services.
  • Implement safe pathways (in physical and legal terms) so people may migrate. This would also involve full access to consular and diplomatic resources of the countries involved and abandoning the subcontracted management system via “Schengen visas”.
  • Defend free movement within and beyond the Schengen space.
  • In countries on Europe’s borders, put an end to military installations such as walls and fences, surveillance systems, etc.
  • Don’t apply the Dublin Regulation if migrants wish to ask for asylum in a country other than the one by which they entered the European Union.

Legal and administrative frameworks must be eased, and permanent dialogue maintained to ensure people circulate under safe conditions, to make migration a choice, not a deadly need.

Neither immigration policies nor development aid can compensate African populations for centuries of pillage of their natural and human resources, a pillage that has left an immense ecological debt and plunged them into underdevelopment and violence, which in turn entail forced displacement and asylum claims.
The natural and human wealth the continent has nowadays is capable of guaranteeing the peoples of Africa real development and safe living that will not force them to move elsewhere, if the peoples of the continent can exert sovereignty over their countries’ wealth. Ensuring a decent and safe life for the continents’ peoples is linked to their control over decision-making, which must be freed from neoliberal policies and neo-colonial mechanisms (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization). These alternatives will require building democratic systems, and strengthening self-organization of these peoples against the current regimes and for their sovereignty. Migration must be a priority in their struggle, since its causes are linked to neoliberal policies.

With respect to popular governments of European countries, they must go beyond the European Union’s exclusive and colonialist framework. There must be a reparations policy with respect to the pillage and exploitation of resources the ruling classes and major firms of European countries have practised for centuries.

Translated by Marie Lagatta and Snake Arbusto.

Footnotes :

[1CADTM, “Crise à la frontière entre la Grèce et la Turquie : en finir avec l’Europe forteresse”

[3European Commission, “Trust Fund for Stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa”, DG DEVCO, 1 March 2017.

[4European council on foreign relation, halting ambition :Eu migration and security policy in the Sahel

ReCommons Europe