06 September 2019

Migration and its consequences- Europe’s mud borders

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Migration from South to East, towards Europe’s developed states, has become a challenge lately. Not only because of the number of those trying to get on this dangerous path, the transformations it brings in targeted states’ political establishment, divisions’ re-evaluation in addressing this issues among Western states, but by announcing a tendency that could bring an earthquake, a human deluge started from the South or Asia’s underdeveloped belt that no one could ever come through, with all the existent security measures. In order to face this uncontrollable human wave, the physical and technological hedges must answer, even partially, to the issues those taking this path have, those who are seeking a better life at North of the Mediterranean Sea.

Image source: Mediafax

Between migration and human trafficking, the difference is semantical-based

Migration’s issue was often addressed considering its collateral coordinates rather than those related to phenomenon’s actual essence. Hence, many governments and policy makers were focused on combating human and goods trafficking, even immediate and concrete humanitarian solutions, instead of looking for solutions to understand and act where all the issue starts from.

It is about what everyone calls “anti-politics”, a term that, despite other definitions, is related to addressing the issue as if the events and actions to have negative consequences are either combated or denied. In other words, all related to migration, whether there are the actions of those showing empathy to migrants, or humanitarian organizations’ actions, are starting to become negative, and the politicians are highlighting it also to the society they are part of. And, indeed, authorities’ actions, the legislative measures aiming at decreasing asylum’s possibilities, to strengthen the force structures, are the great side of this phenomenon and so are they presented for the public eye.

A quite recent example are the measures taken by the Italian authorities to block the entry of the German ship, Eleonore, in the Italian ports, because it had around 100 Libyan refugees on board, who were just saved from drowning. The law, promoted by the former vice-president and home affairs minister, Matteo Salvini, along with the operations taken to keep this ship away from the Italian ports, foresees even a 1 million fine for those being part of rescue operations, including ships’ detraction. 

Although among the Europeans, in general, the anti-migration policies are not that obvious as Italy’s, the tendency is the same: criminalize the participation in this process, by including all participants, migrants of humanitarian organizations, in the category of those encouraging human trafficking.

Measures taken by a series of states to strengthen entry’s legal conditions are making the illegal entry the only way possible, by avoiding the official routes. This leads to a paradoxical result: traffickers networks are growing, officials’ corruption is increasing in the border regions or the security structures whose aim is monitoring and managing this phenomenon.

In 2015, in full migration crisis, EU migration, home affairs and citizenship commissary, Dimitris Avrampoulos, was stating, in opposition to what was actually happening at Greece’s borders, that “Europe is declaring war to traffickers”.

Without actually denying the phenomenon, which allowed the penetration of European borders, the solution was a political-based one, not am actual physical interdiction. This just highlighted Sofia Operation’s contradictory results, speculated by Brexit’s promoters themselves: „People, when they get rescued, call their friends to tell them that there are EU vessels only 20 miles from Libyan waters to save them.”

Lacking of political decisions publicly assumed, borders are still in a grey zone, wherein everything is possible, regardless if it is about the states they leave from, wherein, supposedly, boarders’ security measures are bad, or states they are heading to, wherein they are hoping to end this nightmare and which, basically, have better methods, legislation and the necessary authority to implement the law.

How much does it cost to become a European citizen

The negotiation of borders and travel routes was, in 2015, the peak of the migratory assault on Europe, a current fact, which continues today, on a smaller scale. Syrian asylum seekers in Germany explained what it means to buy the road they were traveling towards central Europe: “We bought the road. The police cleared the way for us. It was ours for half an hour or an hour, as needed.” It also happened in the countries they left from or the transit ones: “They (the Turkish border guards) sold a portion of the border to use it for a limited time. For example, 2 hours. On top of $ 50,000. That’s how you are sure that nothing can happen.”

The Europe entry had a price for each migrant. The mercurial was known, it probably works today also, following different data. The relationship between local authorities and human trafficking networks was also known and only entrances and transits’ unexpected inflation led to different central, southern and eastern European executives’ measures, which dramatically decreased the number of people crossing the borders illegally.

"The trafficker asks for $ 700 from each person, $200 goes to the authorities and they keep the other $500” says someone recorded, at that time, in Greece. Those who do not use protected and "bought" routes do not get the security provided by local authorities. Accidents happen especially to those who want to act independently, who do not know the routes. Nobody comes to save them if the rubber boat purchased on their own proves to be only a sieve inflated with the pump.

Of course, money dictates on all occasions: if you pay, you can go, if not ... And the above costs only refer to the border crossing, probably the most dangerous of all. If the southern route is used, there are less land borders to cross, but it is also a several hundred kilometers maritime one. The Balkan route requires a short, but dangerous, jump on one of Greece’s islands, if they do not chose the route in north of the Dardanelles Strait, and then are five, six or seven land borders left, depending on preferences and circumstances. The difference between the Hungarian and the Croatian police action method, when dealing with migrants, is based on notoriety and rank: the Hungarian one was also the subject of a Europe’s Council report.

Probably the only difference between the two states - 1) migrants and transit states provider; 2) travel’s targets - it is authorities unknown complicity level with traffic networks’ organizers, up to higher levels, in the first case, local, in the second. A rather bitter consolation for European democracies versus the fragile states in northern Africa and the Middle East. 

Foreign frontiers, internal borders

Four years after the peak recorded in 2015, challenging by its size and intensity, migration continues to incite European states and institutions. Europe’s borders are still under siege, even if we are no longer talking about previous human waves, but their consequences in border regions’ economic life, in security institutions / structures’ functioning and adaptation, in the changes emerged in the political environment.

And the evolutions were not always the ones aiming at being induced by the political measures taken in Brussels, or in European states capitals, massively affected by this phenomenon.

Combating human trafficking and labeling it like that, including the migration process, has limited the entries in Europe, but has distanced the state from the humanitarian organizations that continued to advocate for human rights and the protection of those rescued from Mediterranean waters. The internal breach between force measures supporters and those wanting newcomers’ social integration was also concentrated in some states. The targeted states have regrouped and adopted policies to discourage, even if not through direct messages, those who intend to engage in this risky migration enterprise.


Following other regions’ examples, also affected by this phenomenon, for example, Australia, where a poster made by the Australian government textually says "If you come here by boat without a visa, you won't be settled in Australia", the European states have also started to send subliminal messages to refugees, saying: “Don't come! You will not be welcomed". Even less affected by this phenomenon, Denmark, has built a series of refugees tent camps, although it had former military barracks or other government facilities, precisely to remind migrants the fragility, the uncertainty of the places they will be settled in.

Once entering the European continent, refugees, regardless of the country they come, are currently facing three work options for the post-entry period:

1. System’s protection, communities and institutions’ care for human rights, for ensuring living conditions, but also for decent work and personal affirmation. It is not a general feature, there are also particular situations where they were received with protests, but in general, Europe respected its civilization and empathy status with those in need;

2. System’s control. European states have adopted national policies to manage this problem, but settling them in camps, even provisional ones, just for the initial period, seems to be a general approach. During this period, they are making the necessary checks, the newcomers are stabilized in controllable perimeters and the local population is satisfied that refugees’ freedom of movement is restricted and communities do not mix. Europe has also respected the traditional pragmatism new problems are addressed with and has tried, in a soft version, to identify which are the possible benefits for the labor market;

3. System’s ignorance. Authorities’ isolation by creating enclaves for immigrant communities or the self-isolation resulting from their inability to adapt to a different, economic, social, religious reality, brings a certain alienation, which has negative consequences for both communities. Migrants will seek a favorable new setting or opt for a subversive relationship with the authorities and, sometimes, states will respond with coercive measures that will increase frustration. And the politicians will use it as they know best.

A crisis and an opportunity 

During all this time, Europe acted so that to treat migration, which was threatening, at least at that time, its Southern and Eastern borders, in a holistic, extremely complex method, aiming at:

- decreasing the migration flow. It was the most visible effect, even if not claimed as such, for humanitarian reasons and a certain institutional cynicism. It was achieved through both political and administrative measures. The transit states were determined, having both political and financial benefits, to discourage those who were planning to use their territory as a starting point.

- ending human trafficking networks, especially in North Africa, by cooperating with the local structures that provided them protection. The most relevant example is Libya, where a number of local militias, involved in these illegal operations, have suddenly passed on law’s side, after some western states, especially Italy, offered assurances that they would support their efforts to engage in more lucrative activities, like oil infrastructure protection, first and foremost. And, probably, also receiving a certain political impunity needed to restore state structures’ unity.

- an internal political approach to the phenomenon that led to strengthening the control over national borders, visa conditions’ multiplication, security measures’ increase, as well as a common European approach, which allowed the European Border Police and Guard Agency to strengthen the Coast and the dependent structures, which have been improved numerically, by doubling personnel’s number and extending responsibilities; 

- general political approach that has spread a public insecurity feeling felt by the national communities in states that are massively facing migration in some parties and leaders political actions, limiting migration’s inputs. The paradox is that not only the right-wing, conservative, but also the social-democratic, socialist, otherwise promoting parties of social solidarity and committed internationalism, are involved in this action. And the motivation political-based: more migrants means more electoral fuel for the right-wing parties, the main opponents on the political scene. Thus, limiting migration is no longer a right-wing monopoly, as neither the manifestation of collective solidarity, indeed, for reasons national identity maintenance, it does not belong only to the left.

The crisis at Europe’s borders can also be an opportunity, according to a Chinese saying, of course, for ordering policies to combine national and European values ​​with humanitarian ones. It is not simple, because behind every corner is a politician interested in his current agenda more than in the common complicated, sensitive, difficult to achieve one. 

But what would these opportunities beif they would not come also with challenges the society must face by identifying innovative, correct, human and pragmatic solutions, useful to those who are Europeans since this terms got a common meaning, but also to those who seek to become one?

Translated by Andreea Soare