February 6: European Day of Border Victims

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By: Miguel Urbán / Source: Público / The Dawn News / February 7, 2018

Photo credit: Prensa Latina

Tuesday February 6 marks the four-year anniversary of the death of 15 people who were trying to reach the Spanish coast of Tarajal, Ceuta, swimming. Fifteen people died product of an illegal, exaggerated police operation. This was not only a humanitarian tragedy but a direct aftermath of our migratory and border policies. What has happened on February 6 is particularly serious due to the precedent of impunity it created.

Deterrent strategies are used on migrants on the European borders and the tragedy of Tarajal is an example of it. They increase the amount of risk for people who cross the border with the objective of discouraging those considering to attempt it in the future. That was the explanation given by the Mayor of Lampedusa Island, Giusy Nicolini, when talking about deaths in the Mediterranean sea: “Each day I am more convinced that the European immigration politics treat this sacrifice of lives as a way to stop the flows, in order to achieve a deterrent effect”.

In fact, these deaths in the Mediterranean and the refugees that have been crowded in the appalling refugee camps of Greece for almost two years, have so much impact on Europeans that they create an exaggerated perception of the immigration volumes. Statistics prove that Europe has barely received a tiny portion of the forcibly displaced people of the world. But depicting Europe as a continent overwhelmed by the arrival of refugees and migrants has been the perfect excuse to legitimize the consolidation of migratory policies of “Fortress Europe”.

This has changed the message sent by Europe from “Refugees Welcome” to “Do not come to Europe”, as expressed by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The EU has responded to the challenge of immigration with an unprecedented combination of neoliberalism and xenophobia, strengthening every policy regarding security and externalization of borders—the EU-Turkey agreement being the main example. The so-called ”Libyan solution”, intends to add a new twist not only with the externalization of borders but also with the extraterritorial administration of confinement centers by adapting the European model of barbed-wire fences and deaths in the borders and on-the-spot deportations to the Australian model of border administration.

A sort of “closed-border populism” is going through Europe, which is not only an efficient element of political propaganda that allows to show citizens the concrete “work” governments are doing on migration, but also a symbolic tool —as old as it is recurring in history—to create a division between the “community” and the “foreigners”. Divisions are not only built with cement and barbed-wire fences, but also with fear to the unknown, to the others, and by widening the gap between “us” and “them”. Stigmatization of migrant population has been a fundamental element to draw a border between those who should be protected, and those excluded from any form of protection. It is a platform of consensus upon which they can build the border control apparatus of current Fortress Europe.

In this way, the criminalization of immigrants is not just a product of the rising far-right or of a handful of irresponsible politicians, but the consequence of a conscious, planified, white-collar institutional policy which pursuits a degradation on the social and juridic protection of migrants. Because Fortress Europe is built on fences, walls and barbed wire, while it feeds on a mass of poor, rightless workers that are seen as a threat by the popular classes. It creates a war between the poor, a competition in the lower class, a struggle between the last and the second-to-last. A generalized idea that “there isn’t enough for everyone” feeds the exclusion mechanisms that Habermas defined as characteristics of “welfare Chauvinism” which concentrates the latent tension between citizenship status and national identity.

In this sense, the social unrest and the political polarization caused by the shortage policies use the weakest link —the migrant, the foreigner or simply the “other”—, effectively absolving the political and economical ruling classes, who are truly responsible for the plundering. Because if the premise “there isn’t enough for everybody” is true, this means there are people in excess: “there’s not enough room for everyone”. This is the thin line that connects austerity to exclusion.

In parallel, the criminalization of NGOs and humanitarian aid won’t stop growing. The are countless examples: Helena Maleno, Proactiva Open Arms, Proemaid, MSF, among others. Meanwhile, in Brussels offices, this criminalization is being turned into law! Several NGOs have demanded the modification of the 2002/090/EC Directive due to its ambiguity regarding human trafficking; not in vain, FRONTEX, in a sick exercise of institutional demagogy, has already accused the NGOs of collaborating with mobs, as if they were more worried about uncomfortable witnesses than about deaths in the Mediterranean.

There have always been victims of first and second order. We have always fought—and we will continue doing so—to end with these distinctions. Justice, Truth, Reparation and Non-Repetition are the four basic pillars to dignify the memory of the victims. “Most of the border victims and their families are not recognized by European institutions; many of them remain disappeared, some of them suffered forced disappearances in border contexts. Recognizing their situation as victims and as relatives of victims is the first step to clarify these human tragedies” says the manifest to which we subscribed in order to recognize February 6 as the European Day of the Border Victims. A day to remember the victims, but above all a day to work in favour of the change of the European migratory policies so we don’t have to mourn over more border victims.

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