“I am no animal; the Jungle is for animals.” This saying is one of the most commonly heard in the “Jungle” of Calais, the informal refugee and migrant camp in Northern France. This saying is also the embodiment of the treatment many migrants face along the journey to the proclaimed land of freedom: Europe. Most of these migrants—part of the “mixed migration” flows of people fleeing from war and violence in search of sanctuary and refuge—increasingly fail to find a welcoming Europe.
Since mid-2015, the approach to migration policies in Europe has changed drastically. Initially, a rights-based approach welcomed asylum-seekers with the aim to uphold the right to claim asylum and grant adequate procedure and reception conditions aligned with international and human rights law. However, this tide is turning toward a more control-based approach, which instead seeks to actively limit and manage the flow of migrants through more restrictive policies often in violation of human rights. At the center stage of this approach stands the goal of keeping the crisis as far away as possible through techniques of exclusion, securitization, and exhaustion.
Exclusionary politics has largely created two forms of distinction that have informed Europe’s policy toward migrants. The first distinction is between “us” (the Europeans) and “them” (the migrants). The second form of distinction is between two classes of migrants, the “real” refugees, deserving international protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 2011 recast Qualification Directive of the European Union, and “fake” refugees, the economic migrants in search of a more prosperous life in Europe. The rise of far-right voices is giving both forms of rhetoric more prominence.
The first distinction—between “us” and “them”—is increasingly turning Europe into a fortress lacking solidarity. The strategy of barbed-wire fences is quickly evolving into a trend. Hungary set the example and Slovenia and Austria followed, in addition to Calais in France slowly being fenced in completely. The free movement in the Schengen area was ultimately meant for “us” and not for “them,” so that the need of protecting this area is greater than the price of limited movement through the reinstatement of partial border controls. The recent controversy around the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria constitutes one of the latest bricks in building this fortress of Europe, which essentially wounds the heart of European unity and the area of freedom, justice and security based on the Treaty on European Union.
The second distinction—between the “real” and “fake” refugees—is increasingly embodied by the Hotspot Approach set forth by the European Commission in the autumn of 2015. Established in areas of large influxes of “mixed migration,” Hotspots exist to support the monitoring of the EU’s external borders more efficiently and to implement fingerprinting and thus reiterate the Dublin III regulation. Yet again, the approach expands the scope of the control-based approach. It creates a fast track technique, yet one that is also unfair and inaccurate, to determine who is a “real” refugee and who is a potential asylum abuser. Instead of adhering to individual assessment of the need for international protection, profiling often takes place based on nationality. Particularly problematic are refusal-of-entry documents handed out at Hotspots in Italy, Skype interviews in the Hotspots in Greece and the recent EU-Turkey deal, putting into question the principle of fair and due assessment. All these efforts and restrictive policies ensure the exclusion of as many migrants as possible and the inclusion of as few refugees as possible.
This exclusion not only stems from nationalist sentiments, but also from the image of asylum-seekers as terrorists and therefore, potential national security threats. The terrorist attacks in November 2015 in Paris and in Brussels in March 2016, which caused incredible damage to lives and property and attacked the heart of Europe, have spurred the fear that terrorists may find safe havens among the “mixed migration” flows and abuse the asylum system to spread extremism. However, asylum-seekers and terrorism are not correlated as refugees go through rigorous security checks before asylum approval. Nonetheless, the European Naval Force Mediterranean launched Operation Sophia in the summer of 2015 to combat migrant flows by targeting smugglers and traffickers. Despite presenting itself as a protector of humans committed to “reducing further loss of lives at sea,” the military nature and deployment of military assets send a signal of a stronger external border policy.
All of the aforementioned control-based policies turned the migrant crisis into a crisis of European solidarity. On one hand, national policies of asylum are diverging from common European asylum policies and becoming more restrictive by fulfilling only the lowest common denominator. On the other hand, the externalization of the crisis creates a common goal for member states: the goal to deter and exclude. Altogether, the fenced-off borders and Hotspots create permanent transit places known for their extremely dire conditions. Migrants often experience physical and mental exhaustion, adding yet another trauma to their experience of escape. At the same time, the two forms of distinction enforce the concept of illegality and thus criminalization of the migrants, thus extending the politics of exclusion, securitization, and exhaustion. To prevent this criminalizing and dehumanizing of refugees as animals, what is needed is a return to a fair rights-based individual assessment in conjunction with maintaining safe passages and fostering integration and employment as exemplified by the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) implemented for refugees in Jordan. Such an approach will benefit both the member states of the EU and those seeking protection.
Image: “The main road” (courtesy of Hannah-Sophie Wahle/Flickr)