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Europe raises the drawbridge

Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert
March 20, 2016

Refugees from Syria will soon no longer be able to reach the European Union. An inhumane success for the bloc, writes Bernd Riegert.

Griechenland Flüchtlinge Fähre Nacht
Image: Reuters/M. Karagiannis

Fortress Europe is secured. Beginning at midnight on Saturday, refugees arriving in Greece are to be sent back to Turkey after a legally dubious fast-track procedure. Overnight, Turkey has been elevated to the status of a safe third country, something that had previously been unimaginable. With this tactic of deterrence and closure, the European Union is blatantly contravening both the spirit and the letter of the UN Refugee Convention and the much-cited European values. If the plan succeeds, the number of refugees and migrants coming over the Aegean is meant to sink to zero. Because the land border of the EU to Turkey has already also been closed to refugees and migrants for years, it is now de facto impossible to reach the EU via this route at all. The right to asylum still exists on paper, but there is no way anymore of applying for it.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert
DW's Bernd Riegert

The advocates of the fortress mentality have mercilessly asserted themselves over the past few months. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has followed them by executing a radical turnaround in her refugee policy. The EU has agreed only on defending itself against refugees, not on taking them in and distributing them. The former is the only true "European solution" that Merkel has achieved. Because the EU itself was incapable of resolving the crisis, a dubious pact with Turkey had to be made. The fate of the refugees and migrants is the last thing to matter here. The German chancellor and her European colleagues should stop trying to disguise their ice-cold calculation as a humanitarian gesture. That is pure hypocrisy.

A last, even more dangerous route remains

There were not and are not any legal ways for refugees and asylum-seekers to travel into the EU anyway. The last "irregular" route is now the dangerous one via North Africa to Italy, which had lost some of its importance over the past year. Despite all attempts to make it impossible to use this route by deploying EU naval task forces off the Libyan coast, however, some 10,000 people still arrived in Italy this way in the first months of this year alone. The EU strategists would all too gladly declare Libya a safe third country as well so that an expulsion model along the lines of the one with Turkey could be established. But at the moment, this is not possible owing to the fact that Libya has no government with which to negotiate. In the view of the fortress keepers in the EU, many things were better while Libya was still being ruled by the dictator Gaddafi. Gaddafi used to detain refugees in return for EU money, and prohibited the journey over the Mediterranean.

Incidentally, Spain has been practicing this perfidious method to "success" in conjunction with Morocco, Western Sahara and Senegal for years. Refugees and migrants from North Africa that are picked up by joint coastal patrols are taken directly back to the North African coast. Currently, only a few hundred people per year manage to make their way to Spain via this route. As an advance preventive measure, Bulgaria would already like to be given permission to also send back refugees who will now perhaps land on its shores after coming directly over the Black Sea from Turkey.

The EU is making things simple for itself

So, since midnight, the external border of the EU in the southeast is secured; the influx of refugees will be radically cut back. A cap of 72,000 is being put on the number of refugees allowed to be taken directly from Turkey into the EU. All demands of the hardliners in the EU, of the CSU in Bavaria and of the nations along the Balkan route have thus been fulfilled. The EU no longer needs to argue about the distribution of refugees. The problem has been shifted to Turkey and the other neighboring states of Syria. A political success, but a sordid and morally dubious one. Angela Merkel should now also be honest and not allow any selfies with migrants anymore, but only photos of Angela, the mistress of the castle, who is energetically helping raise Europe's drawbridge.

The EU probably does not want to know exactly how the refugees and migrants who have been sent back will really fare in Turkey. The assurances given by Turkey are very vague. Critical media are suppressed. Correspondents from Germany have already had to leave the country, which is a candidate for EU accession. It is thus fairly unlikely that many critical assessments of the impact of the EU-Turkey deal will come to light.

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Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union
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