Europe’s border policy is designed to push refugees into the sea

Coffins are carried through Brussels in protest at the EU’s cruel policies on migration. (Amnesty International/Flickr)

Shortly before a huge migrant boat disaster early this month, The Sun, a daily paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, published a column by British TV star and rightwing provocateur Katie Hopkins calling migrants “cockroaches” and “a plague of feral humans.” 

Not long after it went to press, as many as 850 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean when their wooden fishing boat capsized about sixty miles off the coast of Italy. Days earlier, 400 refugees had drowned. The death toll this year has already reached 1,780, a more than 50-fold increase from the same time last year. The death toll is projected to rise further during the warmer seasons.

Given the timing, Hopkins’ genocidal language generated a great deal of attention and outrage, including a denunciation from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who likened her vitriol to Nazi propaganda against Jews in the lead up to the Holocaust.

Largely unnoticed amid the uproar was the fact that Hopkins’ proposed solution — to “bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats” — is precisely what Europe’s supposedly “enlightened” liberals have chosen to do. 

In response to the crisis, European Union leaders have agreed to launch military operations against smugglers in Libya using Apache helicopter gunships, to send nearly all migrants who survive the journey back to where they fled and to destroy the boats before they set sail to Europe. 

The EU also plans to outsource its border patrol operations to security forces in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Mali and Niger to prevent refugees from reaching the Mediterranean coast, further restricting their freedom of movement and ability to escape persecution and possibly deporting them back to their places of origin, which include Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. 

Death as deterrence 

As Europe scrambles to respond to worldwide outrage spurred by this latest migrant boat catastrophe, it has placed the blame squarely on the smugglers. 

There is no doubt that the human traffickers have engaged in murderous exploitation of refugees. In September, smugglers deliberately sank a boat, killing some 500 people, almost all of whom were Palestinians from Gaza. However, shifting all the blame onto smugglers deflects from Europe’s own culpability.

Smugglers are merely a symptom of Europe’s deadly border policies. 

Over the last decade, the EU has deliberately sealed its land borders, effectively pushing refugees to use deadly sea routes. 

The border between Spain and Morocco, one of just two land borders connecting Europe to Africa, is sealed by fence that is seven yards high and reinforced with barbed wire. Though the fence hasn’t stopped people from trying to climb over it, the barbed wire tearing through their flesh in the process, those who manage to scale the fence alive are swiftly deported.

Bulgaria, which two decades ago celebrated the dismantling of a wall that caged people in, is building a wall at its border with Turkey to keep mostly Syrian refugees out. Bulgaria became a preferred route after the construction of a fence at the Turkey-Greece border for the same reason.

With land borders cut off, refugees, no less desperate for security, are predictably risking dangerous sea voyages on rickety vessels to reach safety. 

(US Border Patrol employs a similar policy of “deterrence” at the US-Mexico border, where the wall funnels migrants into the most dangerous desert terrain, where many die of thirst on the perilous trek from Mexico to the US.)

Let them drown?

After nearly 400 African refugees died in the Mediterranean trying to reach the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in 2013, Italy launched Mare Nostrum, a navy search and rescue operation that saved 150,000 lives until it was scrapped in October 2014. 

The EU replaced Mare Nostrum with Operation Triton, which is overseen by Frontex, the European border management agency. Though the EU agreed to triple the budget of Triton in response to the latest mass drowning, the extra funding is unlikely to stem the deaths. Triton’s mandate is surveillance and border protection, not search and rescue, and it only patrols up to thirty miles off the Italian coast. Even the head of Frontex stated that the agency’s priority is not to rescue migrants

The British government explicitly refused to take part in any search and rescue operations, arguing, against all available evidence, that saving people encourages migrants to make the dangerous sea voyage. Britain’s Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, insisted that halting rescue operations “at the earliest possible opportunity” would deter potential migrants from setting out on their voyages. (According to Frontex, the number of migrants increased 160 percent three months after Triton replaced Mare Nostrum.)

There are more refugees today fleeing war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War, according to the UN. The refugee crisis is largely isolated to the Global South due in no small part to the lasting impacts of colonialism and ongoing imperialism pursued by countries in the Global North. 

Meanwhile, the EU will only offer resettlement to 5,000 people who qualify for asylum, meaning the vast majority who survive the Mediterranean “will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return program co-ordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex,” according to The Guardian

Such policies are reminiscent of the treatment of another group of persecuted refugees in the not-so-distant past. 

In the lead up to the Nazi Holocaust, Western nations not only placed quotas on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, but in some cases boats full of Jewish refugees were turned away. Such was the fate of the SS St. Louis, the infamous cruise liner carrying 900 German Jews who were denied entry in 1939 by Cuba, the United States and Canada, forcing them to sail back to Europe. More than 250 of those on board died at the hands of the Nazis. 

Today, Western leaders atone for their nations’ complicity in the Holocaust with cheap pronouncements of “never again,” declarations of unconditional support for Israel and a commitment to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination, all the while denying asylum to today’s persecuted refugees. 

Cheap talk 

During his 26 April visit to Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace, the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil, French President François Hollande warned, “The worst can still happen. Anti-Semitism and racism are still here.” 

“We must not forget anything,” he said. 

Just two days earlier, Hollande announced that he would be seeking a UN resolution to grant the EU authorization to destroy migrant boats before they set sail for Europe. 

The fact that most of today’s refugees are Muslim provides an ideological imperative for blocking their entry into an increasingly Islamophobic Europe, with politicians stoking fears of Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism to rationalize border cruelty. 

Indeed, Raymond Shamash, a member of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), explained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he is running for office to protect Jews from Muslim immigrants. 

“Most of the people coming over from Libya and Sudan and Somalia and Afghanistan do share one characteristic — that they are Muslims. I feel a demographic shift will make the position of the Jewish community untenable,” said Shamash. 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage recently issued a similarly panicked warning, arguing that relaxing EU asylum policies would result in “a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilization.” 

Likewise, Kent Ekerot, a member of the Swedish Democrats (SD), insists that anti-Semitism in Sweden is entirely “imported” due to “unrestricted immigration” of Arabs and Muslims, which he and his party fervently oppose.  

Rooted in fascism and the country’s neo-Nazi movement, SD captured 13 percent of the vote in the last general election, making it the third most popular political party in Sweden. 

Israel’s existence as an exclusionary settler state is deceptively justified on similar grounds — as a necessary response to the world’s indifference to the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to grant asylum to non-Jewish African refugees fleeing genocide in places like Eritrea and Sudan, preferring instead to round them up into detention and deport them. 

Openly referred to as “infiltrators” by Israeli government officials, Africans seeking asylum have — like Palestinians — been labeled a threat because they are not Jewish. Earlier this month it was discovered that three Eritreans who Israel deported were among those beheaded in Libya by Islamic State  (also known as ISIS) for not being Muslim. 

Israelis on social media rejoiced at the news, with some heaping praise on the killers. “It’s a shame [Islamic State] doesn’t catch them before they reach Israel,” commented one Israeli. “Now we understand how to deal with the problem, bring here ISIS and they will take of the Eritreans and Palestinians,” remarked another.

This is the hatred European leaders are endorsing when they exploit the Holocaust to justify Israeli apartheid. But European support for Israeli discrimination is more than just empty penance for the past. After all, Fortress Europe benefits from Israel’s cruel policies of occupation and exclusion. 

Israeli technology created to make the control and removal of Palestinians more efficient may be procured by the EU to militarize the borders of Fortress Europe, as The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin has reported

As the Mediterranean Sea becomes a graveyard for refugees, it’s more apparent than ever that Europe has learned all the wrong lessons from one of the darkest chapters in its history.




Why should any of this come as a surprise to anyone? Everything has gone berserk in the hands of the West (strategically comprised of the US, UK and France, no more), which has already extinguished nearly 100 million lives in two world wars. This is the same strategic alliance with laughable "civilizational" pretensions that is drowning the world in a sea of blood.

The West emerged from under the shadow of an unparalled medieval civilization, literally defined and today understood by Western scholars themselves as Islamic in more than just a religious sense. It made up almost the entire "known" world at the time. The West has hijacked humanity's steady development toward a level of civilization we all aspire to and like to call "modernity." This "modernity" has been reduced to a begging cripple (pardon the expression). We preside over gargantuan piles of pure junk, both intellectual and technological.

This is not all. The West has the audacity to continue preaching to the world about freedom and, amazingly, the "wisdom" of its leadership. It continues on the same trajectory, though with a better smile this time, having discovered once again that the very concept of "West" is nothing but a marketing gimmick. The West empty--it has nothing inside to offer a world in agony. There is certainly no "pilot" inside. The West is like a train racing nowhere, and it will crash, if it has not already. The century and a half of "Western" dominance, its moment of glory, has now passed. Like a dead star it continues to "shine" as it ebbs into the obscurity of its origins or from wherever it emerged "like a poisoned fruit," as the medieval Latin expression once described those strange origins.

I hear the crashing sound echoing around the world. But we are not in the 1930s, when groups of cutthroats can seize power and plunge the world in a world war and organize mass murder of minorities and dissidents on an industrial scale. Any hint of this will spell a violent end.


Both the above articlebyf Rania Khalek and the comment by Anthony
Shaker deserve our closest attention,

Why does Mr. Shaker include only the US, the UK and France? I have heard
(perhaps only a rumour!) that the EU consists of more than only three nations.
It also depends on US weapons and its ever- expanding "markets", to wit
NATO and soon more US bases such as in Africa and the recent treaty
with Japan. In this regard it will be crucial to note any and all responses from
the world's leading economy, China.

A meeting with Moscow, Beijing and Terahn is planned soon.

I do not feel that Iran will sign any "deal" as it is patently not "in good faith"..Thid
may be only a "gut feeling", instinct.

If possible they will expand their contacts to the East ("SCO", The Shangai
Cooperative Alliance, which already includes half the nations on the globe.
Watch for more analysis upcoming from Pepe Escobar.)

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Peter, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Rania has pointed to something very troubling about what we call the West. The "Western" concept is about internal homogenization. Fascism was not only a German, Italian or Eastern European phenomenon. Such thinking began to engulf France, the UK and the US before WWII. But we do not have to call the British Empire fascist to recognize the overtly racist nature of its goals. But I do not consider Germany (the heart and soul of Europe when it was still viable as a cultural sphere) quite a Western state. Not in the full sense, anyway.

But "West" has referred to a lot of very different things. Archaeologists and historians mean by it both Europe and ancient Near Eastern civilizations (Egypt, Levant, Asia Minor, Greece), which are its proper roots. However, strategic studies specialists consider the West as comprised of the Atlantic states and the Atlantic Alliance dominated by the US, UK and France .

Anyway, not all of Europe is part of the West, even within the European Union. Part of the European East was an integral part of the Ottoman world, before slipping into another sphere of influence traditionally dominated by Russia (more or less Orthodox) culture.

"West," the marketing gimick we know today, is the brainchild of both conservative and liberal ideologues and the official ideology of US, UK and French imperialism. Equating the West with "Europe" or even the European Union would be borrowing the same racist language of the ideologues, for whom the world is divided into "White" and "Non-White." This is the same Mickey Mouse worldview where fictional "Whites" can only inhabit a fictional "West." They talk like American rednecks and hillbillies who think that Canada is "Eskimo iglou country" and everybody outside the US of A is "Colored." People will be people, I guess! Politically, "West" comprises the Atlantic states dominated by the Atlanticist NATO Alliance. Nothing to do with race, everything to do with racism.


To Anthony Shaker:

Thanks for your reply. I don't agree with much of it. After all the
US put lots of effort in making Germany into the "West" (See Joyce and Gabriel
Kolko, THE LIMITS OF POWER). In any event, I don't think the point makes
a significant difference in assessing policies. I'll settle with "the West" as
a handy if inaccurate denotation.

I am now reading a book on the history of the Byzantine State (I don't recommend it).
It concerns the early mideivel period. There was no "France" but Germany was
at that time less developed. It is fortunate that the multitude of Byzantine Emperors
and a few Empresses did not last long having their noses removed and eyes put out.
For them there was an East and West. But as there was a "western" Empire and
and "eastern" Empire the policy ramifications were quite different.

Thanks so much.

----Peter Loeb

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.