Borders pose serious barriers to refugees. Europe is systematically sealing itself off against refugees and it is ignoring its obligation to human rights. With this, serious refugee dramas are playing out on Europe’s doorstep. So migrants are trying to reach the territory of the EU using makeshift boats crossing the Mediterranean or the Atlantic Ocean. This undertaking is not without risk and many refugees die during their escape to Europe.
Sealing the external borders of the EU
Whoever manages nevertheless to reach the gates of Europe, is risking his life while trying to enter the EU. In the period from 2000 to 2014 at least 27,000 migrants died on their way to Europe. Many people drown in the Mediterranean Sea or the Atlantic, because they were forced, for financial reasons, to make the journey in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats. In 2014, according to the UNHCR, 3,420 migrants died during the escape across the central Mediterranean Sea.
Visual.Change // boats of refugees in Sicily
The high number of death is mostly because the escape routes get always longer and more dangerous. This is because the European Union increasingly efficiently seals itself off from boat refugees and invests many millions of Euro in the guarding of borders, for example patrol boats, night vision equipment, and border monitoring technology. Since the middle of 2006, the European border agency “Frontex” has given interception measures far in front of European borders an important role.
In addition, transnational agreements were concluded that regulate the moving about of refugees in their native land. Owing to the Italian-Libyan treaty of friendship alone, in 2009 1400 refugees were intercepted at sea, and without the possibility of applying for asylum, sent back to Libya. In Libya, they were taken into custody and exposed to circumstances that were considerable human rights violations.
What is FRONTEX?
Freedom – Security – Justice. Under this motto, the “European agency for the Operative Collaboration on the External Borders of Member States of the European Union”, FRONTEX for short, has worked since October 2004 on the basis of an EU regulation. The task of this agency, based in Warsaw, is the active securing of the EU’s external borders against refugees and migrants through the coordination of the border protection systems of member states. Frontex calls seven areas the core of their work:
- Implementation of border protection operations
- Training of border guard officers
- Risk analysis of border crossing points
- linking border guards, research and industry
- Coordination of ad hoc deployment teams for border safeguarding purposes
- Support during deportations
- Exchange of information among units of the national border police
In order to implement this, Frontex was allocated nearly 85 million euros by the EU Budgetary Authority in 2013 alone.
The controversial border agency was largely initiated by Germany and was further expanded under its EU Council Presidency. Since mid-2006, Frontex has played an important role in interception measures far from the gates of Europe. In the course of Frontex deployments, refugee boats are picked up while still in international waters and transported back to transit countries or countries of origin in Africa. For example, between August and December 2006, 3,500 refugees were picked up in the Atlantic or along the coast of West Africa and sent back to Senegal or Mauritania during these “out-of-area” deployments. Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen clearly emphasizes his view of those in need of protection: “These are not refugees; rather, these are illegals.” (“The Standard” December 21, 2006). Human rights organizations criticize Frontex for its military approach with respect to migrants seeking protection. Often, the refugees’ need of protection is indiscriminately denied, and they are stigmatized as illegal immigrants. They are denied the opportunity to submit an application for asylum and to have it reviewed in accordance with the law. Today, refugees can usually get past Europe’s borders only with the help of professional bands of human traffickers.
Application for asylum in the European Union
In 2013, 51.2 million people were on the run worldwide. But only one third of these people left the borders of their homeland. Most of the people escaped into countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Only 434,160 people, therefore 0.8% of all refugees worldwide, finally applied for asylum in the European Union.
Regarding the numbers of applications for asylum inside the EU, the comparison between the total number of asylum applications and the relation of this number to the population figure is very interesting and insightful. In 2013, 126.705 refugees applied for asylum in Germany and 54.270 in Sweden. Per one million inhabitants, 6.680 asylum applications were filed – whereas only 1.575 in Germany. That means, countries other than Germany have to bear the biggest challenges in receiving asylum seekers.