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Fortress Europe

  The Eu has been building high walls around its perimeter to keep out the immigrant, the asylum seeker and the refugee. Most of the planning and decision-making has gone behind closed doors and away from the gaze of the public. According ti the writer, the attitude of the EU is reflected in the increase in fascist and racist violence throughout Europe.
By Tony Bunyan  

Since the creation of the Ad Hoc Group on Immigration in 1986 a whole plethora of measures and policies have been put in place to exclude refugees and asylum-seekers from entering the EU. These include a series of Conventions and policy recommendations agreed through the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers defining 'safe' countries to which asylum-seekers can be sent back; setting grounds for rejecting applications which are termed 'manifestly unfounded'; measures to track down so-called 'illegal' migrants. Measures which undermine the basic rights of refugees and asylum-seekers supposedly protected by international conventions.

The EU states have constructed a 'cordon sanitaire' at external borders of the EU and 'buffer' states in eastern Europe and Magreb countries committed, through 'economic' cooperation agreements, to take back refugees.

These measures were intended to be in place for 1 January 1993 when the Single European Act came into effect. On that day it was planned that with external border controls in place internal controls between the member states would be removed. While some countries were slow to implement the change only the UK remains adamantly opposed to removing its border controls with the rest of the EU.

The Schengen Agreement

On 26 March seven countries of the nine EU countries in the Schengen Agreement Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, and Luxembourg (to be joined later in the year by Italy and Greece) will have in place: external border controls, the abolition of internal controls between each state, and the Schengen Information System up and running (a computerised database containing information on asylum seekers to be rejected, 'illegal' immigrants, and police criminal records). This is backed by 'hot pursuit' agreements allowing police to operate across borders and to put out 'surveillance' requests on 'suspects' in other countries.

Denmark and Austria have been admitted as observers to the Schengen Agreement and Sweden has indicated its willingness to join (Denmark and Sweden have a proviso that the Nordic Passport Agreement can be kept in place). By next year the UK and Ireland (which are linked through a common travel area) may be the only EU member states outside the Schengen system.

Secret Decision-making

Decisions on immigration policy in the EU are not made by the European Commission nor the European Parliament (which has no powers in this area). Under the 'third pillar' as it is called covering policing, immigration and judicial cooperation decisions are made by intergovernmental bodies, such as the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers (created after the Maastricht Treaty). It is a process totally under the control of governments and their officials, with the Council of Ministers acting as both executive and legislature. They prepare reports in secret, agree them behind closed doors, and then announce their decisions which cannot be amended by national parliaments.


Immigration if falling

Immigration into the EU did rise until 1993 but it has been falling ever since. there was an increase with the wars in former Yugoslavia but these refugees were not granted asylum just provisional rights to stay. Now governments around Europe starting with Germany and Sweden are sending people back to 'safe' areas in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The assumed mass emigration from eastern Europe has not materialised. Third country nationals with residence in EU countries do not have the right to live and work in another country, only the right to visit a right opposed by the UK.

The external barriers and criteria set up to exclude refugees and asylum-seekers have subjected those caught up in the process to the most degrading treatment. They are held in prison or specially-erected camps opened up in every country often with squalid conditions; border police send people back to so-called 'safe countries' with no right of appeal' refugees and asylum-seekers who protest have been bound and taped, some died, some suffered permanent brain damage, some committed suicide over the possibility of being returned to 'safe' country where they and their families have been persecuted.

Institutional racism

Fuelled by the racism implicit in the EU governments' measures to stop immigration into western Europe there has been a dramatic rise in racist attacks, on asylum-seekers, refugees and ethnic minority citizens of the EU. Racist and fascist groups do not distinguish between the legal citizen and the so-called 'illegal' migrant, nor do immigration officials. For in Sivanandan's phrase 'they carry their passports on their faces'. The exploitation of the immigration issue by EU governments results in the inhuman treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and exposes black and ethnic minority citizens to attack.


Tony Bunyan is the editor of Statewatch bulletin, which monitors civil liberties in Europe.

This piece was first published in Around Europe, Quaker Council for European Affairs, no. 173 April 1995. Edited by Tim Brown, Quaker House, 50 Square Ambiorix, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium. Tel. (02)230.49.35
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