Tuesday

18th Feb 2020

EUobserved

EU commission suffers from selective amnesia

  • The Evros river divides Greece and Turkey (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The European Commission won't admit to mistakes.

But a look into the past reveals a botched policy decision that helped contribute to the present migrant crisis.

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Earlier this week, a commission official told reporters that people in Turkey seeking asylum can present their claim on the land border with Greece. There is no need to use smugglers and take the sea route to reach Greece, she said.

If it were only so simple.

It is worth recalling that the EU-executive helped seal the Greek-Turkey land border after 55,000 people crossed in 2011. Many of which also relied on smugglers.

People risked their lives to cross the Evros river that divides the two countries - some drowned and a few others stepped on landmines that still dot areas near the south on the Greek side.

Would-be asylum seekers were, as a result, forced to take the more treacherous sea crossings in Lesbos, Samos, Symi, and Farmakonisi. Last October, over 100,000 landed in Lesbos alone.

In 2012, the EU commission dispatched border guards and helped finance an elaborate camera system that was installed on a long stretch of razor-wire fence on the Greek side of the border.

Soldiers in Turkish watchtowers stood guard on the other side, ready to stop anyone from attempting to slip by.

'Clear message to smuggler'

At the end of December 2012, a Greek police chief told this website, with some gusto, that all flows had stopped.

"We have given a very clear message to the facilitators [migrant smugglers] and their source countries in North Africa and other countries that Evros is no longer an easy passage to enter Europe," he said.

Greece at the time was on the cusp of political and financial implosion. Its right-wing government had launched a migrant snatching operation, Xenious Zeus, to "clean up" and "make safe" Athens.

Now, the new message from the EU commission to asylum seekers is to return to the Greek land border they helped seal in the first place.

To add to the credulity, EU commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Thursday (17 March) that the European Union "is the world protagonist of asylum. Nobody else in the world provides so generously for asylum."

'Iron cage'

In all fairness, Schinas wasn't a spokesperson in 2012. But is he being earnest or does the European Commission suffer from selective amnesia?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the sociological musings of a 19th century German philosopher.

In 1905, Max Weber coined the "iron cage" concept to help describe how bureaucratic machines shape social order and world views. Personal choice becomes more and more constrained.

The commission is now forced to cut deals with an increasingly autocratic Turkish leadership in a desperate effort to save the European Union from itself.

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday has made that clear. In a speech delivered in Ankara, he blasted people who voiced objections of Turkey's reversal on "democracy, freedom and rule of law”.

"For us, these phrases have absolutely no value any longer," he said in the lead up to a EU-Turkey deal on stopping migration flows to the Greece.

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Anny Nganga, an asylum seeker from DR Congo, has been surviving for almost three years in Moria, a camp on Lesbos island that was recently described as the "single most worrying fundamental rights issue anywhere in the European Union".

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