Fortress Europe

I’ve been reading Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent, by Matthew Carr (published this year).

According to a 2006 study carried out by the Berlin Wall Association and the Centre for Contemporary Historical Research, 125 people were killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall throughout its entire history. Between 1988 and April 2011, 15,551 migrants died trying to cross Europe’s borders, according to the anti-racist organization United. The majority of these deaths took place during the perilous journeys across Europe’s southern sea borders, where thousands of men, women and children have drowned in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.

The book opens with a remarkable and harrowing account of a beleaguered border at Europe’s southernmost point, the Spanish possessions on the Moroccan coast. Over the summer of 2005, waves of sub-Saharan sin papeles (irregular migrants) stormed the enclaves, and were brutally driven back by both Moroccan and Spanish security forces.  Some of the vignettes are horrifying:

In the ensuing melee one man broke his neck falling from the fence, another slashed his throat on the razor wire and bled to death, and three others were shot dead. By the morning most of the intruders had been driven back into Morocco, leaving strips of torn clothing on the fence and a detritus of shoes, gloves, baseball caps, piles of ladders and patches of blood on the nearby ground.

The most poignant image is of a breach later that year, in which “some managed to break through the security cordon and ran with bleeding hands and feet to the local police station, where they were legally entitled to apply for asylum having entered EU territory, and sang and prayed to give thanks for their deliverance”.

The book’s politics are clear throughout. There are casual references to a “detention gulag”, and a Europe heading towards “something that may not be fascism but may not be far removed from it”. Carr argues that it is a “gross violation of the EU’s moral and political values for governments to reduce rejected asylum seekers to homelessness and destitution in order to make them leave”.

He thinks forceful border enforcement has “legitimized the most xenophobic and racist anti-immigration politics of the ultra-nationalist and extreme right in ways that threaten to derail the entire European project”. And, ultimately, he wants member states to create a “Europe of Asylum” predicated on softer borders.

The detailed human stories apart, the book is data rich, evidence based, and well researched. Recommended. (Strangely, it doesn’t seem to have garnered any reviews in the papers yet).

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