Nigel Farage and the British media have been hounding migrants in the British channel. Marty Smith argues we need to understand these events in the wider context of EU securitisation and anti-migrant politics.
In recent days, we have witnessed BBC journalists repeating the actions of unrepentant race agitator Nigel Farage, in his social media campaign beginning months ago, where he ventured to the English Channel to brow-beat refugees travelling to the UK. The press pack have now co-opted this spectacle, interviewing and mocking those in the inflatable vessels seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
This is where the ‘Hostile Environment’ meets ‘Fortress Europe’ and the EU meets the UK, through the Conservative party and its outriders like Farage. Combined with corporate media, the grotesque dance of these forces must be understood, even as they prepare the way for fresh rounds of attacks on working class people in the wake of the pandemic. The commodification of suffering being televised to the public will ultimately be utilised by this government as a backdrop for UK wide assaults on living standards, in a post coronavirus economy that will further immiserate the working class majority.
Largely unnoticed during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest crimes of Fortress Europe’s border policies have begun to make their presence felt across the continent. Emboldened by the European Commission at the start of the year to act as an “aspida”, a shield, against migrants, the Greek authorities were the first to display the barbaric measures which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seeks to bolster, partly through the appointment of right-wing Greek politician Margaritis Schinas as commissioner for the ‘European Way of Life’.
His brief, created at the start of the year, was to uphold “European values” – principally by dealing with the migrant ‘problem’.
In late 2019, newly elected members of the Greek parliament began to appear on national TV with the proposal for “maximum deterrence” to a refugee crisis which has dominated much of the nation’s political conversation for the last decade. Kyriakos Velopoulos, the leader of the far right Greek Solution party, demanded measures drawn from the infamous and systematically racist Australian migration system. His proposals included that asylum seekers should be denied access to migration detention camps, like those at Moria on the island of Lesbos, and that Greek authorities should simply place beaching migrants into state sponsored life rafts in a ‘push-back policy’ against flows of migration. These deplorable deportation structures, which were designed with the sole purpose to launch migrants intercepted at sea “back to where they had come from” subsequently began to appear dotted all across the Aegean Sea in the early months of 2020. To this date, the Turkish Coast Guard have found over a dozen of the fluorescent orange life vessels adrift, which were full to the brim of displaced citizens without an engine or explanation of why they were there.
Greek authorities have yet to deny their involvement and refuse to document the situation as a matter of urgency.
The right-wing ultra-nationalist parties of Greece have vehemently opposed the Dublin Regulations. This is a piece of EU legislation that shackles refugees into asylum claims in the first European state they arrive in. More often than not, this results in migrants facing an indefinite stay, in reprehensible overcrowded conditions, until arduous immigration requests are processed.
Political parties and fascist organisations like Golden Dawn, who influenced the state’s limited control on migration policy throughout the 2012-2015 New Democracy government, and now Greek Solution, have fed racial animus amid the extreme austerity measures forced on Greek society through the economic adjustment programmes of the Troika. Moreover, the previous SYRIZA government of 2015-2019, under pressure from the European Union, introduced the 2015 ‘hotspot’ policy. This approach identified several islands in the Aegean Sea as locations in which asylum seekers would be screened, held and prohibited from entering mainland Europe.
Displaced citizens became a bargaining chip, repeatedly used in diplomatic wrangles with Brussels by both the Greek and Turkish governments. In February of this year, President Erdogan suggested that his state could no longer handle the increasing influx of refugees, with approximately 3.7 million already displaced there, as a result of conflict in Syria. Many actors within the European polity viewed the move as another power play by the Turkish state for increased financial aid from the EU.
The Turkish government had previously signed a border externalisation deal with the institution in 2016 worth €6 billion, to stop migrants heading towards Europe. In February 2020, President Erdogan lifted security which had previously prevented those attempting to reach the continent via their border with Greece and significant numbers of refugees began to migrate into continental Europe. The escalation resulted in numerous stories from migrants who had subsequently witnessed Greek authorities shoot two Syrian men, in the neck and head, at the border crossing of Ipsala, Turkey.
The Greek government, with its newly elected right-wing Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, immediately opposed such a move by Turkey stating that these refugees were being utilised once again as “political pawns for unjust matters relating to foreign policy”. New Democracy legislators sought the permission of the European Commission to increase security protocols, which later materialised in the form of the suspension of all asylum claims from anyone who entered Greece “illegally” as of March 1st, 2020. Ursula von der Leyen held a press conference in support of the measures and divulged to the Greek government that the institution would be deploying additional officers from Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard agency, to the region.
Frontex was initially established as an agency in 2004 to manage the EU’s borders and migration flows, but now acts as a militaristic enforcer of Fortress Europe. In 2016 Frontex was given more powers to use force against migrants. New regulations also allowed the organisation to act in member state territories without their consent, thus infringing on their sovereign right to use a non-securitised approach to dealing with the ever mounting refugee crisis. Frontex’s operational capacities have expanded dramatically since their formation, and now act as the primary force in repelling migrants. The organisation’s operational budget has been increased from €6.2million in 2005 to €322 million in 2019. This reflects the political determination of the EU to deploy Frontex as the primary border control organisation, superseding national governments, representing a significant development in the coercive apparatus of the EU and a further centralisation of power.
The deployment of Frontex in Greece has however brought about legal implications for the actors involved. The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has insisted there is no historical basis or precedent for the measures taken by the Greek government, such as the blanket suspension of asylum applications and the use of aforementioned unilateral “push back” policy.
Moreover, the complicity of the European Union in the matter further contravenes the institution’s own legislation pertaining to refugee rights, with a coalition of NGOs and legal representatives in the country already documenting their violations to present in parliament committees later this year.
These EU securitisation practices aim to reinforce the idea that people who migrate from countries on Europe’s periphery are committing some kind of criminal action (despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum). Frontex’s focus is to ultimately safeguard the EU’s structures and internal cohesion, a far cry from the rhetoric of peaceful co-existence and more equal relations between territories. The ideological practice is to embolden the notion of an ‘internal safe space’ and an ‘external unsafe space’ – at the heart of the European supremacy concept.
In this instance, people’s ability to move freely is determined by considerations of territorial power which are organised centrally in Brussels. The relationship between the centre and the ‘peripheries’ of the south and central-Europe continues on a vicious feedback loop. After a decade of detestable ‘structural adjustment’ the centre now helps pollute the internal politics of the peripheral countries with the idea that all their woes – many created or worsened by the EU itself – are actually caused by migrants.
Despite securitisation, those fleeing from European-plundered Africa states to Spain, or from the war ravaged Middle East to Greece and Italy, will still be prepared to run the risks of drowning in the Mediterranean just to escape the untold misery they have faced through famine or war. They run the gauntlet in the hope that they are one of the fortunate who survive to see the other side and merely peacefully live out the rest of their lives in a continent which is complicit in the destruction of their original homes.
If anything can be considered a beacon of light in this grim situation, it is the countless organisations of resistance that have formed, such as SeaWatch and AlarmPhone, designed to circumvent Fortress Europe. These activists show compassion in rescuing families adrift in the Aegean, providing them with shelter and helping legally process their immigration applications.
They have offered nothing more than a basic respect for their human rights, and yet this is still something which most legislators, on both the left and right, within European institutions and national parliaments, will never be able to claim.
Pro-refugee extra-parliamentary actors across the continent of Europe must mobilise in place of failing institutions and around campaigns to end the gruesome financial agreements between the European Union, Greece and Turkey – which have helped to establish a ring of refugee concentration camps around the continent, as well as those resisting the EU’s militaristic measures like Frontex. The exclusionary framework in operation and the current racial border regime, must be broken down to foster a shift in societal attitudes towards migration.
Movement towards the UK, the European Union and throughout it can no longer be a criminal act, punishable by death by drowning or a mere existence on islands of humanitarian crisis, and instead become a safe avenue for the circulation of people from every continent, out of choice rather than necessity.