Opinion: Europe is walling itself in | Opinion | DW | 20.06.2015

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Opinion: Europe is walling itself in

Hungary aims to stop the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa by building a wall along its border with Serbia. Europeans are outraged but they should consider their own hypocrisy, says DW's Robert Schwartz.

The global rise of war and suffering has made images of migrating human masses a common sight in the media. Thousands of people from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe's eastern and southern fringes have left their homes, seeking protection from death, destruction, political persecution or poverty.

And what about safe, wealthy Europe? It's isolating itself, in the belief that it's unable to solve the problems at the political level - admittedly, not an easy task.

Walls are not the answer

But building walls is not the answer. History has shown us that, time and time again. The European Union knows it, as do the individual member states. Nonetheless, the number of high walls and fences literally enclosing Europe is growing.

Schwartz Robert Kommentarbild App

DW's Robert Schwartz

First, Spain attempted to protect itself from North African migrants by erecting sharp-edged fences along the borders of its North African enclaves. Similar fences are now found along the borders between Greece and Turkey, and Bulgaria and Turkey. And new fences are expected to pop up in other parts of Europe as well, with the next set to appear on the Hungarian border to Serbia.

People are outraged, yet we should beware our own hypocrisy. Right from the start, the EU's expansion to the south, east and southeast has gone hand in hand with a series of measures intended to secure the external borders. The most recent EU members were welcomed into the fold only after they had secured their borders. Major European corporations, such as EADS, have been awarded million-euro contracts to heavily equip the eastern borders with electronic fences, while the European border agency Frontex erected an invisible wall along the Mediterranean coast a long time ago. It wasn't just barbed wire and concrete that turned Europe into a fortress.

But neither visible fences nor invisible walls have been enough to dissuade refugees from seeking a weak point in the EU's defenses, in their attempts to enter the long-sought-after world of safety and possibility. Quite the contrary: the sad statistics show that expanded border facilities have led to increased deaths and injuries at the EU's borders. And at the same time, the number of those who have breached the borders has also risen, as has the number of refugees.

Despite these findings, Europeans continue to staunchly defend their encampment from refugees and other migrants. Surveillance is the key word here: We keep everything under surveillance, even ourselves. All for the sake of our prosperity! We declare nations to be safe countries of origins, even though their institutions are far from democratic and just. And we build walls!

Specter of immigration does not exist

All these measures have by no means achieved their desired effect. It is high time that responsible European politicians not only define the problems, but also begin pursuing effective and humane measures to address them. The right to asylum, the right to a decent life in freedom and safety - these basic rights can no longer be ignored. The reasons for migration must be overcome. And the walls must be taken down - the ones in our minds, as well. No longer should the issue of immigration continue to be a specter in the EU, a subject exploited by populists for their own aims.

The first step has already been taken. After the most recent boat tragedies in the Mediterranean, in which thousands of refugees died, the European Commission seems intent on changing Europe's refugee policies. Any attempts at change until now have failed because of the selfish inclinations of individual member states. Now, however, the EU has the chance to prove that Europe is truly a community of values.

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