Fortress Europe - the EU is killing refugees

By Simon Korner

The EU’s image is not what it was – and not just because of internal tensions over a Covid bailout to the poorer European countries. According to Remainers, the EU was supposedly the guarantor of a more progressive politics than neo-liberalism, a voluntary pooling of sovereignty that produced a harmonious continent, freedom of movement within the single market area and a civilized sharing of cultures and languages that prevented European wars. The idea of the EU as a social democratic haven took off with Jacques Delors’ 1988 promise to the TUC Congress of a ‘social Europe’ – offering apparent protection against Thatcher to a British labour movement demoralised by the miners’ defeat.

The benign image was shattered when the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF – forced austerity onto Greece, against a massive majority “No” vote in a 2015 referendum on whether to accept stringent EU bailout conditions. As President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, put it in response to Syriza’s earlier election victory: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”.

The relentless driving down of wages across Europe, as well as the brutal, sometimes deadly, police tactics in quashing the Gilets Jaunes in France, independence protestors in Catalonia and abortion rights demonstrators in Poland have also shown the notion of a gentler Social Europe to be a mirage.


But perhaps the starkest sign of the EU’s true nature is its racist treatment of refugees fleeing wars and poverty – in most cases caused by the very European countries now refusing them entry.

An article in Spiegel in 2017, described the Moria camp on Lesbos in graphic terms: “The dreadful stench of urine and garbage greets visitors and the ground is covered with hundreds of plastic bags. It is raining and filthy water has collected ankle-deep on the road. The migrants who come out of the camp are covered with thin plastic capes and many of them are wearing only flipflops on their feet as they walk through the soup… Welcome to one of the most shameful sites in all of Europe.” The article called Moria camp the “ground zero of European ignominy.” The camp, built to house 2,000 people, ended up with 13,000 people crammed in – all of them left without shelter when a huge fire completely destroyed the camp in September 2020.

Replacing the burnt out Moria camp is a new encampment at Kara Tepe, a former rifle range on Lesbos. Here 8,000 people, mostly young families, exist in tents that have already flooded three times during recent downpours. The camp has no shower facilities, almost no running water or sewage drains, and inadequate health provision. Food is scarce and of poor quality, according to Oxfam. Children are being inoculated against tetanus because of rat bites. Journalists are denied access, and so are lawyers. Inmates are not allowed to leave. Access to the sea near the camp is sealed off by barbed wire.

The EU’s latest affront to decency is its new Pact on Migration and Asylum – described by Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission, as a “new beginning”. The purpose of the Pact, von der Leyen claims, is to establish “predictable and reliable system for migration management.” Meanwhile, the EU Migration Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, blurts out the Pact’s real purpose: “The message is: You will return.” The Pact will effectively destroy the right to claim asylum, forcing refugees to return to their country of origin – in many cases to their deaths. The new system will detain refugees for 5 days in holding pens. These prison camps will be on European soil, but will not officially be counted as European. By this sleight of hand, the refugees will be deprived of any right to claim asylum as they will not be deemed to have reached a foreign country in which to do so. They will be in no-man’s land, without recourse to appeal to any European court. The decision to deport will be made by immigration officials. The new camps will screen all refugees, and deport anyone coming from a country with a high record of economic emigration – regardless of a person’s individual circumstances.

The Pact will also transform Frontex – the EU agency that polices Fortress Europe and has already deported 15,850 refugees – into a regular uniformed service, in effect a new EU standing army, patrolling Europe’s increasingly militarised borders.

An equally vile aspect of the Pact on Asylum and Migration is the new ‘deportation partnerships’. Harder-line countries like Poland, Hungary and Austria that refuse to take in an EU-allotted quota of refugees from Greece and Italy will be able to pay for those people to be deported back to their countries of origin. “Those who are not ready to contribute to relocation [of migrants from hardest-hit EU countries like Greece and Italy] would assume on behalf of the European Union the obligation to organise and carry out returns,” according to Margarítis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission. An ‘EU coordinator for repatriations’ is to be appointed.

More than 20,000 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, yet the EU countries have withdrawn search and rescue missions. In one case, French military jets from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle buzzed a drifting refugee boat but did nothing to help it. Sixty-one people on board died of thirst, hunger and cold. This year has seen the Greek coastguard ramming overcrowded boats in distress and shooting towards them to send them back into Turkish waters. The Covid pandemic has only reinforced the EU fortress. Italy and Malta have closed their ports to rescue boats. In France, Macron has destroyed migrant camps and tightened asylum laws – making deportation quicker. The same hard-right polices have been adopted across the EU. Hungary’s authoritarian ruler Orbán said in 2016: “The positions which were once condemned, despised, looked down upon and treated with contempt are becoming jointly held positions.” This is the real European Union – a vicious hegemon, whose member states show no solidarity either to desperate people or to one another.


Not that Britain can hold its head high. Our government has been considering the construction of what is effectively a concentration camp on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to house refugees.

Meanwhile, the British coastguard has been busy pushing away migrant dinghies in the dangerous waters of the Channel, at the behest of the Daily Mail, Farage and Patel. Former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney, the new Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, will use nets to ‘disable’ migrant dinghies. Drowning tragedies in the Channel, like the one in October that killed four migrants including two children, will not deter Britain from its routine brutality.

Moria refugee camp before it burnt down – photo by Faktengebunden

More than 20,000 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, yet the EU has withdrawn search and rescue missions.