Sunday 8 July 2012

Some Animals are More Equal than Others - Immigration to Europe

While browsing through the news channels and while reading the headlines of Europe’s big newspapers, one cannot help but smile at the idea that European integration is suffering from the greatest crisis in its history due to problems that exist purely as the result of an irrational belief of people in the value of capital. The unfathomable numbers we are daily confronted with mean little to us, and often, they are in fact, largely imaginary. Financial ‘products’ have value only because we assign them value – in themselves they are useless, and no harm would come to the world should we decide to get rid of them all together.

However, we should not let the notions of debt, money and financial products blind us from the very material and real problems that continue to plague Europe, and it is my conviction that the most prominent of those is the abhorrent condition of refugees along the borders of the EU. Each year, thousands of people die during their attempt to cross the Mediterranean, people who were full of hope that upon their arrival in Europe a better future would await them. Hundreds of so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ are crossing the Greco-Turkish border of the European Union every day, amounting to over 100,000 each year. These numbers in themselves are meaningless if one doesn’t understand that behind each individual lies a decision to give up their home, to sell all their possessions, to give all their money to smugglers, and to spend years on a journey to the supposed promised land of Europe. If you reach Europe from Somalia, thousands of miles of desert lie behind you, as well as the terror of dying from thirst, or of drowning in the sea while crossing it in an overcrowded fishing boat. If you come from Afghanistan, and you enter Europe via Turkey, what awaits you in Greece is certain homelessness, and the impossibility of applying successfully for political asylum.

Countless deaths and tens of thousands of destroyed ambitions and aspirations are the price that Europe’s leaders are willing to pay for keeping refugees out of Europe. The Geneva Convention of Refugees, which nearly all countries have signed in the 1950s, assures everyone the right to asylum of one is suffering from political or religious persecution in one’s homeland. Fair enough, but Europe is building ever higher walls to prevent people from reaching the continent in the first place. The Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla (both are surrounded by Moroccan territory), have been fortified with three-meter high walls, bladed-wire fences and motion detectors. Plans to build similar facilities along the Greco-Turkish border are currently being implemented. Everyone knows that this will result in even more deaths, but apparently Europe’s leaders and institutions are in an almost psychopathic condition, lacking any kind of moral or ethical consciousness. They boycott the Euro in Ukraine while human rights violations against refugees have become the norm. They commemorate the deaths along the Iron Curtain, but they accept the deaths of thousands in the Mediterranean each year. The ‘soft power’ Europe has no credibility left, if its own human rights record is abysmal when it comes to asylum seekers.

What Europe needs is nothing less than a paradigm shift in its view of migration. Borders are arbitrarily drawn to demarcate possession of land, to which we somehow collectively claim the right. We then tell everyone who comes from poor countries to stay out of that land, if you come from rich countries its fine. Is this absurdity and injustice not obvious? If pupils reading Orwell’s Animal Farm understand how the pigs declaration that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other’ is ridiculous, then why is there no outcry against an injustice that is happening right on our doorstep? I know that the popularity of a call to open borders will not resonate well with the wider population – people are too encapsulated in constructed notions of national identity, and the seemingly natural partition of the earth among states. States and borders have been created by human beings, and the only thing that keeps them there is our belief in them. The earth is for everyone, and to argue that some people don’t qualify to accessing particular parts of it contradicts common sense and morality.

My vision of a European asylum system that is just and implementable will be outlined in the next post.

Harald Köpping

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