When refugees and migrants stand at Europe’s external borders, the humanist values that all of Europe likes to invoke are quickly rendered meaningless. While human rights apply universally and are virtually sacrosanct in Europe, they are systematically ignored and frequently denied to refugees on the borders of the states belonging to the European Union or those closely associated with it. It is not only since the tragic deaths of 360 people off the coast of Lampedusa on October 3, 2013, that Europe’s external border has appeared like a cruel barrier. Since 1998, more than 19,000 people have died on Europe’s external borders; 14,500 of those in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and in the coastal waters of Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean. Countless more die of thirst on their way to Europe in its bordering deserts, drown in rivers, or fall victim to the violence of criminal and corrupt networks.
The governments of the European legal space deny entry to asylum seekers and turn back desperate people. Refugees are criminalised, taken into custody and denied access to the labour market and reliable health provision. Even those wishing to come to Europe for but a brief visit are often not welcome. Rigid implementation of visa policy makes it especially difficult for people from poorer parts of the world to visit us. These are all dramatic consequences of European migration and refugee policy. However, European control of refugee- and migration movement does not start at Europe’s external borders, but reaches far beyond. By trying to control and influence the immigration and emigration policies of its bordering states, the European Union has virtually created an extraterritorial zone of isolation and containment of fleeing and migration beyond its borders.
The following studies on Senegal, Mauritania, Tunisia, Turkey and the Republic of Moldova exemplify what is taking place in the shadow of the European citadel. They demonstrate how the guidelines and extraterritorial interventions of the European counter-migration measures close down spaces previously open for transit and temporary stays, how these spaces are transformed into prison-like locations for refugees and migrants, and how social cohesion and sustainable potential for development are undermined in the populations involved.
Migration is an integral part of human development. Especially in this age of globalisation, mobility and freedom of movement are universal rights worth standing up for. During the course of the first half of the 19th century, about 500,000 people emigrated from Germany to America, the ‘New World’. Many of them were not just looking for a better life free from poverty and deprivation, but fled Germany for lack of religious or political freedom, or following the 1848 revolution. We should not forget this history when we see today’s refugees coming here across the seas. The search for a safe life is often preceded by an experience of violence, legal incapacitation or deprivation.
Europe must begin to actually and effectively honour its duties to human rights in its migration and refugee policies. There must be no more deaths at Europe’s external borders and targeted push backs to so-called ‘third countries’ have to stop. A first step in making possible proper standards in human rights would be equitable negotiations of truly fair conditions and potentials of migration. This, however, does not merely require different policies, but a combative and engaged general population which itself is willing to make the European border more permeable. It is an imperative of solidarity – one that applies especially to human rights and relief organisations such as ours, working for fair participation of those excluded.
Refugees and migrants on our doorstep are not only frequently victims of injustices and violent circumstances; they are also the protagonists of a global demand for inclusion. They follow the dream of being able, as foreigners, to make a home anywhere in the world. Let us follow them, let us walk with them, let us learn from them.