Tuesday 02nd June 2020
x-pressed | an open journal
October 18, 2015
October 18, 2015

Geopolitical and power games with the refugees

Author: Apostolis Fotiadis Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: Enthemata  Category: Borders
This article is also available in: elesfr
Geopolitical and power games with the refugees
Apostolis Fotiadis is a freelance journalist and owner of the blog apostolisfotiadis.wordpress.com and twitter account @Balkanizator. He has published the book "Border Merchants" («Έμποροι των συνόρων. Η νέα ευρωπαϊκή αρχιτεκτονική επιτήρησης»)

Everyone who wants to understand the political schemes of the EC in the refugee crisis can start from the first sentence of the Announcement issued on Wednesday (10/14/2015), while awaiting the relevant meeting of the Heads of State: “During the first nine months of the year more than 710,000 refugees, displaced people and other migrants found their way to Europe, a trend that is expected to continue”; and, in this number, as a footnote, the Commission cites: “figures published by Frontex in October 13, 2015″. Indeed, the day before, the agency had published on its website a text entitled “710,000 immigrants came to Europe in the first nine months of 2015″. On the very same day, and after the fuss on the internet about its calculation method, Frontex cynically admits double-counting those entering from the Greek border and then again from the Hungarian or Croatian. Later, they will add a relevant note at the end of the text. All this, however, is not of concern for the Commission. So one wonders: Does the Commission know how many people have entered this year in the EU? The correct answer is: Maybe they know, maybe they don’t – but that does not really matter.


Refugees at the train station in Geugeli. 28/7/2015, PHOTOGRAPH by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP

What the Commission does know is it has very little time ahead in order to restore the ruins of the control mechanism of population flows that has collapsed since March this year. It is no coincidence that in many points in his speech the super-commissioner Juncker refers to a six months deadline for the Commission’s plans to be carried out. The prediction is that next spring, as the war in Syria will become increasingly complex, there will be an even higher turnout of refugees, and the Commission wants to be ready to manage the situation.

If, for a while, we put ourselves in Juncker’s and Merkel’s shoes, we will feel, no doubt, the pressure of time. So we can interpret the intensity with which the Commission, supported by Germany, England, France and by smaller countries often adopting the role of “satellites”, opens the refugee problem. Essentially, since late August to early October, the Commission has put on the table all the issues affecting and affected by the refugee crisis in an effort to establish a solid control mechanism. But, unlike many scholars predicting that we are at the moment when Europe will move from the failed model of the “externalisation of migration flows” (the policy aiming to maintain, or to push flows outside the EU’s external border), towards another model of burden sharing with doses of European solidarity, it is not at all certain that the Commission intends to abandon the first model. It may be just putting forward the resettlement mechanism as an evidence of European solidarity, while perpetuating the “externalisation” model.

The cynicism of the Commissioners’ and northern European leaders’ way of thinking can be found in the technical details and fastidiousness engaged in order to integrate even international organisations with expertise and legitimising role in this policy.

Some examples:

For a nationality to be integrated in the resettlement mechanism processes, the refugee status should have been recognised for its members at a percentage -at an European average- of 75%. Undoubtedly, there must be some limit for the resettlement process to be functional, however, we must note that this threshold (75%) excludes the Afghans, who, though not acknowledged, are considered as the most unwanted refugees because they are the hardest to integrate.

Specifically for Greece, the Commission has announced that the return procedures through the Dublin Treaty will be re-established (the returns, unlike what most Greek politicians say, have been frozen since 2011 [1]). Indeed, it seeks to have completed the assessment by the end of November, so that the mechanism is activated at the end of the year. Although Frans Timmermans, the Commission vice-president, admitted the contradiction, as one mechanism will move away (resettlement) and the other will return (Dublin) refugees, it is clear, in the Commission’s reasoning that the first will not operate without the second. The idea, however, supporting the resumption of returns through the Dublin Treaty, as described in the Commission’s Announcement -which actually takes them for granted- constitutes fiction. As confirmed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the beginning of the year, the conditions in Greece are not such as to resume the returns system.

And here we enter even deeper waters. The Commission not only pursues it, as it is a necessary component of the new control system it is developing, but also seeks the appropriate legitimisation for this kind of institutional acrobatics. Of course, last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, reaffirmed in Athens that the agency has not changed its position on this matter; however, Guterrez’s mandate is coming to an end by the end 2015 and it is far from certain that most of the senior executives of the UNHCR would reply in the same way.

Having realised the importance of the UNHCR, the Commission has been “courting” it for months, since the Western Balkans road was opened and the refugees started flocking in Vienna and Munich. The Commission has since financed the UNHCR with tens of millions of euros, turning it into a partner in actions in North Africa, the Western Balkans and Greece, many of which, behind their beautifying rhetoric, are basically aimed at intercepting the flows –migratory but also refugee ones– towards Europe. Also in summer, the Commission claimed a greater role in decision-making processes of the UNHCR (in which it only has a monitoring role), under the base lever that is its second biggest funder, accounting for 30% of its budget (of course, on this amount it counts not only the Commission’s money but also all the money deposited bilaterally to the agency by the member states). The request was rejected one day before the High Commissioner took the plane to Athens, but the problem is not over… The Commission will come back to its attempt to control the UNHCR by supporting, as Guterrez’s successor, the proposed by Denmark former PM of the country, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who, in the last election campaign adopted clear anti-immigrant and anti-refugee positions.

The Commission’s priorities are, therefore, neither the refugees nor the solution to the crisis, but the potential for geopolitical control. In this context, we can integrate the importance attached by the Commission in the joint Greek-Turkish actions for the refugees in the Aegean. Despite the fact that what the Commission seeks is the least possible arrivals of refugees in the Greek islands, it does not propose the prevention to be done on the Turkish coast but opts for policies that settle the intermediate area of the border.

In the results of General Affairs Council, we find a photographic section which anticipates that a country failing in the process of the Schengen evaluation mechanism will be required to accept help from the emergency RABIT operation of Frontex. The opening of such an operation in the Aegean has been persistently asked from Greece by the Commission and several Member States. In other words, if bilateral actions are imposed and if Greece fails the evaluation of the mechanism in the next period (as is quite possible), the Commission, through Frontex, can obtain the high supervision of the area and impose its own policy.

There is, however, a detail that the Commission’s geopolitical strategy does not take into account: its interlocutors and the countries-tools with which it produces the planning are in deep crisis. And the political time is so dense that, within six months, the new mechanism planning prepared by the Commission may be up in the air.

[1] In 2011 the European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for inhuman and degrading treatment of an Afghan refugee (CaseMSS). Consequently, several Member States have suspended the transfer of third-country nationals to Greece under the Dublin Regulation provisions.

This article is also available in:

Translate this in your language

Like this Article? Share it!

Comments are closed.