Bodies and belongings of migrants and debris of the boat carrying them are pictured off Cythera Island, south of the Peloponnese peninsula on October 6, 2022. At least 18 people died, nearly all of them women, and about 30 more were still missing after two migrant boats sank in gale force winds off Greece, the coastguard said on October 6, with survivors dramatically winched to safety. (Photo: Dionysios Andronikos/Eurokinissi/AFP via Getty Images)

Building Walls That Shouldn't Exist

Walls keep getting built around us and xenophobia is on the rise.

In mid-October 2022, the German newspaper Der Spiegel gained access and published a report by OLAF, the European anti-fraud office, detailing misconduct and irregular activities of FRONTEX, the coast guard agency hired to monitor migration into the EU. The investigation had caused the resignation of FRONTEX's CEO, Fabrice Leggeri, back in April. Its findings were another sad confirmation of EU's polices on immigration issues.

The border agency

The report is over 120 pages long and includes testimonies from 20 witnesses and analysis of FRONTEX's digital data. It concludes that FRONTEX relocated one of its aerial drones so that it does not bear witness to the pushbacks by the Greek coast guard, failed to pursue a follow up action when it witnessed two incidents and gave false information to OLAF officials. FRONTEX's officials "hindered the capacity of FRONTEX to fully comply with its responsibilities, namely ensuring for, protection and promotion of, fundamental rights, as enshrined in particular in the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the EU," to quote the report itself.

FRONTEX has faced severe criticisms from the European Parliament in the past, when, after a 4 month investigation, a committee on Civil Liberties found that FRONTEX had evidence of human rights violations by member states but "failed to address and follow-up on these violations promptly, vigilantly and effectively." Interestingly enough, the committee did not find any evidence of FRONTEX being directly involved in pushbacks, even though the previous year video footage emerged of a FRONTEX ship creating waves near a dinghy full of asylum seekers.

Something is rotten in the states of western societies

OLAF's report indirectly confirms something that is common knowledge by now: with the blessings and subsequent cover-up of the European Union and the agencies funded by it, the Greek state is committing humanitarian crimes against migrants that enter Greek waters or Greek soil from the land border with Turkey, where a fence 40 km long will be extended by 80 km.

Beginning in March 2020, the border authorities arrested asylum seekers entering Greece through the river of Evros, detained them in completely unhygienic conditions, beat them up, stripped them naked, humiliated them, stole their belongings, and then sent them back to Turkey. Amnesty International's report, titled 'Greece: Violence, Lies and Pushbacks' identifies 20 different incidents from April to December 2020 and includes testimonies from the victims. One woman from Syria said: "They took my phone, my money, the milk bottle for the baby and all of our belongings, they took the diapers for our child." All in all, Forensic Architecture has reported 1,018 push-backs since March 2020, with over 27,400 victims. Meanwhile, the EU has allocated 700 million Euros to Greece for "migration management," while at a press conference in March 2020, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commision, called Greece "the shield of Europe."

But Greece is by no means the only member state that violates humanitarian rights of asylum seekers. Hungary has taken a notoriously fierce stance against immigration, by building a 160 km long, razor wire fence in 2015, while its border patrols violently beat migrants that travel on the balkan route and push them back to Serbia. Hungary's president, Victor Orban, has stated that migrants are "poison" and "every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk."

Similarly, Poland has built a 186 km fence on the Polish-Belarusian border that was inaugurated by the Polish prime minister himself. In October of last year, the Polish parliament passed a law that legalizes pushbacks and allows for migrants to be expelled, regardless of their asylum application. In the meantime migrants keep turning up dead at the border.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Biden administration kept the Title 42 policy in place, which allows the border patrol to expel migrants using the pandemic as a pretext, without consideration of their asylum application. In addition, despite Biden's pledges to stop the construction of the border wall with Mexico, reports have surfaced that it is actually resuming with the goal to close up the gaps that were left when Biden halted construction at the start of his presidency. Environmental activists have pointed out that the wall has disrupted the ecosystem of the region as wildlife cannot migrate easily in search for food and mates.

An alternative?

As a counter-example, it is instructive to consider how Poland responded to the influx of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Out of the total 7 million Ukranians that were forced to leave their country, Poland opened their gates to 1.4 million of them, the highest among European countries. When the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for the human rights of migrants visited Poland in July, he reported that Ukranians enjoy "legal stay in Poland for 18 months. They are granted full access to the Polish labour market and health care system; Ukrainian children are granted full access to school, on the same basis as Polish nationals. Ukrainian refugees are entitled to a one-off cash assistance of approximately 63 euro per person. Over 950,000 individuals have benefited from this allowance." He also gave a lot of credit to ordinary Polish citizens who literally opened up their doors (and their wallets) to the migrants.

As a closing remark, it seems that walls keep getting built around us and xenophobia is on the rise. The correlation between deteriorating internal economic conditions and anti-immigration is too complicated to be considered in this short essay. However, it might serve us good to remember the lyrics to Pink Floyd's song "Mother," the sixth track on their legendary album "The Wall." Essentially a dialogue between Pink and his overprotective mother, Pink asks her in the beginning if he should build "the wall." His mother tells him that of course she will help him build it. At the end of the song, he wonders "mother did it need to be so high?" The answer is no, the wall need not be so high. In fact, it need not exist at all. Taking a look at Poland's example during the Ukranian crisis and at Greek islanders at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, it becomes clear that people are more than capable of empathizing with refugees and welcoming them in their countries. The fact that xenophobia and hatred towards the foreigners are exploited by those in power should not let us forget of the kindness that normal citizens are capable of and the ability of the states to integrate them in their societies.

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