Razor Wire and Security Forces: A Deadly 'Fix' fot EU Immigration Policy

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December 12, 2005 15:21 | by Dawn Paley

"When you're born, you're retired," quipped Abdoulaye Thieye, "because you know you'll never work in your life." Thieye, a man of Senegalese origin, chose this anecdote to explain the situation facing the majority of Senegalese people today. "It's not a problem of discourse, but a problem of survival," he continued. "Young people will keep leaving until there is an end to the catastrophic situation

facing the country."

On November 8th, I met Thieye in front of the Spanish Embassy in Berlin, where a group of about fifty people were standing on a cool November afternoon, holding large banners protesting the fences between the Spanish exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco. Later, we would march to the Brandenburg Gate, where flowers -in memory of the people known to have died trying to get over these fences since September of 2005- would be lain.

The reason for the gathering was clear: to demand an end to the increasingly violent and militarized tactics of Spanish and Moroccan "security forces" towards Africans attempting to enter Europe. Dubbed "the fences of death," the barbed wire topped fences enclosing the Spanish exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta -as well as the guards patrolling them, the helicopters flying over them, and the surveillance systems all along their length- are together but one example of the at once racist and violent immigration policies of fortress Europe.

The fences around these exclaves are not new -the fence around Melilla was completed in 1998; that around Ceuta shortly after- but the fourteen deaths over a two-month period this fall represents a spike in violence along these borders. Between September and October of 2005, at least 1000 migrants attempted to scale the fences around Ceuta and Melilla to enter Europe. In the space of one week alone, 11 migrants were killed.

During the night of September 29th, five migrants were shot dead, two in Ceuta and three in Morocco. Less than a week later, on the night of October 5th, six people were murdered -some shot in the back- by Moroccan "security forces" as they tried to enter Melilla. During this bloody week, Moroccan and Spanish authorities detained an additional three hundred people, while an unknown number successfully entered Spain.

After the second night of killing, Moroccan authorities admitted for the first time that their "security forces" used firearms against migrants. They proceeded to claim, however, that their forces acted "in self defense." Days later, Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced that the Spanish government would raise the height of the fences around the perimeter of Ceuta and Melilla to six meters, add another barrier, and heighten security in attempts to keep African

migrants out of Spain.

Over the same two month period, over a thousand migrants were transported from the areas around Ceuta and Melilla to southern Morocco. Some were abandoned in the desert of Ain Chouater, and others left in the isolated region of Bou-Izakarn by Moroccan authorities. According to an October press release by Doctors Without Borders, "people who are sick and injured, pregnant women and children in need of immediate medical care" were left to fend for themselves, sometimes without food or water.

In October 2005, Spanish newspaper El Pais ran several front page photos of African men, snapped at night, the flash lighting their blood stained clothing as they ran from a border fence into Spanish territory. I asked Theiye about this depiction of Africans as the demonstration in solidarity with migrants made its way down the streets of Berlin. He responded that "these fences, these deaths, this is all a

cinema to distract Europeans from their own problems. Europeans need to take responsibility for their own problems."

African migrants in Europe have become scapegoats for the economic problems that EU countries are facing today. Helmut Dietrich, from the Berlin based Refugee and Migration Research Group, noted in a recent talk that it is not only the Spanish government and the EU that have taken strong positions against so called "illegal immigrants", but also Germany, specifically through their previous Federal Minister of Interior Otto Schily, as well as Italy's government led by Silvio Berlusconi.

Dietrich also noted that like the United States, "Spain is highly dependent on migrant labour to work in its tomato plantations and vegetable farms." Migrant labour is important in the European economy, and it is absolutely necessary from an economic point of view. Like Latino migrants in the US, the migrant labour force in Europe is constantly policed, threatened, and criminalized by people in positions of power.

And as is being proven in France in the wake of the country wide civil unrest that reached its peak in mid-November, there is no peace of mind for migrants who have become long-term residents of European countries. French Minister of the Interior Nicholas Sarkozy announced last week that people legally living in France who were convicted in relation to the civil unrest would be deported back to their countries of origin.

The recent deaths along the fences of Ceuta and Melilla are but the tip of the iceberg. In October of this year, 11 so called "irregular" immigrants were killed in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport as building housing the cells where they were being confined burned to the ground. These numbers, and all the countable "deaths by (immigration) policy" in the EU, add up to at least 6300 since 1993, according to figures collected by the Dutch NGO UNITED for Intercultural Action. The number of deaths that go unknown or unreported could easily be triple the amount of recorded deaths.

The EU and national governments are offering few long term, sustainable proposals to ease global inequality, which is the major factor pushing an estimated 800,000 migrants towards Europe each year. Instead of showing a commitment to human rights by opening up a wider dialogue about immigration in Europe, and instead of addressing the root causes of mass migration, the EU will instead concentrate on raising the walls around the fortress. Amnesty International announced their concern this October that "… the European Union's response to this latest crisis… will again be almost exclusively centred on controlling illegal immigration."

Standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where the Berlin wall once stood, Freweyni Haptemarian from the African Network Organization of Berlin (Afrika Rat) addressed passers by about the reasons for speaking out against the fences in Spain. "How can we celebrate 15 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and support the building and fortification of a new wall at the same time?" she asked, her voice echoing through a megaphone.

Haptemarian's question continues to echo, and on the streets in cities and town across Europe, mobilizations against racist, xenophobic immigration policies gather momentum. While their governments play the impossible game of sealing the borders, ordinary people will continue organizing and standing in solidarity with migrants killed, injured, or further displaced as they make their way towards the fortress Europe.

Dawn Paley is a Berlin based journalist, and a correspondent for Seven Oak, which first published this article at this website For more information on migration policies in Europe, please go to UNITED for intercultural action's website.