Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Opinion

The Mediterranean Sea: A migration border

  • Lampedusa - the Italian island that thousands of migrants try and reach every year (Photo: Antonio Amendola)

The recent shipwrecks in Lampedusa have shown that the only tools the EU and its member states have for dealing with the arrival of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea are strict migration controls.

This is the case even if the refugees are fleeing situations of violence and insecurity.

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Deserving humanitarian treatment consistent with EU principles and values, these people face EU and Italian laws restricting immigration.

The important issue here is that the Mediterranean border is so structurally flawed that these measures make repetition of such dramatic situations inevitable.

The shipwrecks in Lampedusa and in the Straits of Gibraltar are the consequence of a securitisation approach as the EU seeks to seal the border between the developed North and the developing South.

Although the Mediterranean is not the world’s only intersection between the North and South, it is where the two opposed realities come closest, especially in terms of its citizens’ expectations - one of the main reasons for emigrating.

This means the EU's border agency, Frontex, will not be able to prevent new emergency situations involving migrants or refugees.

Since its creation in 2004, this agency has been responsible for the practical application of this approach and acts as a European border control and interception system for irregular immigration.

Why has security border control and surveillance been prioritised?

One of the main factors is the growing rejection of immigration in Europe over recent years. This can be seen in an annual survey, conducted since 2009, of around 1000 experts and key actors on relations between Europe and the Mediterranean.

In the results of survey - by the European Institute of the Mediterranean - migration is always present in three of the five main future scenarios that can affect the region. One of them establishes a direct link between migrations and increased social tension and xenophobia.

Respondents consider the issue to be a more significant factor for the European area than the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel, or equally as relevant as the feared conflicts over water scarcity.

Another of the assumed scenarios is that irregular immigration from Southern Mediterranean countries will continue to grow despite any control mechanisms imposed by the EU.

Yet Europe refuses to consider other approaches to migration.

It persists with a border control and surveillance perspective. This view is even gaining ground as border control is seen as a key element for EU internal security and as a response to economic, social and political instability of neighbouring countries.

Border management is at the centre of the migration policies defined by the European Council. It is also present in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) action plans that the European Commission has established with, among other countries, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

This security approach to migration goes hand-in-hand with the increasing number of political parties based on the rejection of immigration.

The electoral growth of the National Front in France, the FPÖ in Austria and Golden Dawn in Greece are more recent examples.

However, it not only concerns the rise of clearly xenophobic parties in Europe but also the inclusion by the traditional parties of some of their approaches on the political agenda.

Thus, the restrictive vision of migration management and the expulsion of those without legal residency are elements that have become legitimised in the classic European party systems and, consequently, in the shared strategy at the level of the European Union.

The writer is Euro-Mediterranean Policies Advisor at the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed)

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