Europe: together against refugees

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Europe: together against refugees

By Emmanuel Blanchard


Refugees in Hungary near the Serbian border in August 2015. Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed under a Creative Commons Licence

Europe has been very open about criticising Hungary for its policy on refugees.

On 2 October 2016, Hungary held a referendum. 40 per cent of the Hungarian people voted. 98 per cent of voters voted against taking refugees into Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn started this campaign against the refugees.

Many think the referendum is an example of the big disagreement in European politics between ‘old Europe’ and the ‘Visegrad Group’ - Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. They think that the Visegrad countries, who do not want to take refugees, are not supporting EU ‘values’.

But the leaders of these countries agree with the idea of border control. This means no freedom of movement for asylum seekers and keeping them as far as possible from the Schengen area, and if possible in detention.


Countries of the Visegrád Group. Map by CrazyPhunk

The Visegrad countries were not the only countries to protest when, for a few weeks at the end of 2015, Germany and Austria opened their borders to asylum seekers on the ‘Balkan routes’.

Germany and Austria’s policy to welcome asylum seekers broke all European rules on asylum. And so other EU countries became very worried.

In February 2016, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was angry with the German chancellor during a visit to Munich. He said, ‘We can take no more refugees... Now we must do what we discussed and agreed: have controls at hotspots or the busiest points on exterior borders, etc.’ He said that for more than 20 years the EU has not supported the basic principles of the right to asylum.

The EU sees border controls as more important than the right to asylum. This stops asylum seekers from having the right to asylum under the Geneva Convention and international agreements.

European rules and especially the Dublin regulation mean that asylum seekers are all mainly in countries where they arrive first. This again stops their freedom of movement. After Germany closed its borders again and the chancellor joined her European partners again, they could criticise the Italians and Greeks for not looking after the ‘security’ of the EU.

The European Commission had this policy from the spring of 2015 and used it more and more from February 2016 as the solution to the ‘refugee crisis’. This policy sent European officials to open camps to identify refugees on Greek islands. In Italy they sent away asylum seekers who crossed the sea to reach EU borders. The same policy saw Turkey as a ‘safe country’, and the agreement with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in March 2016. For months, the European Commission wanted to send back more refugees and wanted countries to work together more where they were involved in refugees leaving them or passing through.


Refugees who were rescued from a boat in the Mediterranean Sea in Al-Beheira, Egypt. Photo via REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The idea of sending refugees back from the busiest border points replaced the policy of ‘relocation’ – provisional rules about sending refugees who arrived in Greece and Italy to different parts of the EU. On 26 September 2016, only 5,600 people were ‘relocated’. This is less than 10 per cent of the number estimated. On the same day they put more than 60,000 refugees into crowded Greek camps in conditions everyone thought were inhumane. The number of refugees ‘relocated’ will probably go down in the coming weeks. Soon after they started the plan, they stopped it.

In July 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was worried that the Aegean islands were then one very big prison. The Mediterranean Sea is now one big cemetery, where over 4,000 people have died since the start of 2016. And now European policy is changing Greece into one big refugee camp.

The situation shocks human rights defenders. But many heads of state are also worried. They prefer to have refugee camps outside EU borders. This was UK prime minister Tony Blair’s suggestion in 2003. And Viktor Orbàn said on 24 September 2016 that the EU should start big refugee camps outside the EU. The EU should pay for them and guard them. They should send refugees there and they should stay there while the EU considers their applications for asylum. We must take his words seriously. Hungary was perhaps the first country in the Schengen area to shut some of its borders but the French and the British followed.

Laurent Fabius was then the French foreign minister. He said we should not put up fences for people when we do not do the same for animals. That does not support European values. He said this when Hungary planned to build the wall against refugees along its border with Serbia.

But the Hungarian leader is not alone with his idea of a world of camps and walls. Many nations, including the EU and its member states, have had the same refugee policy for 20 years.

Emmanuel Blanchard is the chairman of Migreurop. It is a Euro-African network against closing borders, externalization of migratory controls, and policies which isolate or deport migrants.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).