Pillar 2 Hazardous and Dangerous journeys of transit

Building war from the countries of origin to the gates of Europe

Rapporteur: Helena Maleno Garzón
Researcher specialising in migrations and trafficking in human beings, journalist and activist in the group Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders).

The “non-law” spaces that are built on European borders allow, among other actions, people who ask for help in a small boat to be drowned, people badly wounded in barriers not to be assisted, and human beings in the desert to be abandoned. All this justified by the primacy of the territorial sovereignty of Europe.

At the beginning of the 21st century, European policy towards territory control is leading to the development of the concept of border as an entity beyond the boundaries between states. We are moving towards the construction of a space categorised by its own rules; borders as legal and political spaces separated from the laws of the rest of the territory.

These are areas where Europe can implement policies that are separate and far removed from human rights. They are “non-law” contexts where legal primacy is exercised by immigration control and bilateral agreements with third countries.

Due to the implementation of these control policies, the power of border security industry, increasingly managed by armaments and war industry companies, has increased. Safran, Finmeccanica, Thales, Indra and Airbus, have become the new business lobbies that influence the construction of non-law spaces, forming what we can call “border wars[15]“.

European policies on borders have been accompanied by a discourse aimed at the public that has turned towards building an imaginary scenario around movements of people being directly related to the issue of security.

In the process of filling the border space with warlike meaning, politicians, through the use of the media, have directed discourses aimed at creating a climate of “invasion” around movements of people and outlining a reality of uncontrolled masses that want to enter like an avalanche into the European territories where there is no more space for anyone.

Europe has normalised violence and disseminated messages in which the borders are places of exception, and that what happens in these contexts is due to an extraordinary situation linked to the security of the territory.

Borders as spaces of war, but also as places where the new slavery of the 21st century is constructed.

The absence of the right to free movement has formed a breeding ground for other businesses linked to transnational criminal groups, related to trafficking but, above all, to the trafficking in human beings. These have benefited from the militarisation of immigration control.

In a Europe in economic crisis with a decline in the rights of working people, people in movement are not only cheap labour, but form part of a new slavery with different purposes demanded by the European markets.

The blocking of the right to movement has been so beneficial to business lobbies linked to the war industry and to criminal groups that these movement control strategy policies are no longer only applicable in destination and transit countries, but also in the countries of origin. Since 2015 it has a new strategy in its control policy, which is to sign agreements with the countries of origin[16], criminalising people who leave their territories[17] and allowing deportations from Europe.

Military strategies in non-law areas (borders).

Surveillance techniques in the service of facilitating selective expulsions from non-law spaces. Push-back.

Surveillance techniques, such as the SIVE system, or FRONTEX operations, are used to obtain expulsions back to the third countries from which the crossing to Europe begins. One of the star elements of these policies has been the push-back[18], which has mainly operated on the Spanish border with Morocco and has inspired, inter alia, the EU agreement with Turkey.

It consists of returning them to third countries through various practices that place the right to life at risk for the people who are moved. The expulsions are made without individualised administrative procedures, indiscriminately, and to countries that do not guarantee respect for fundamental human rights[19].

Selective and indiscriminate detentions in the accesses.

Europe demonstrates to the citizens that all the policies developed in the non-law areas are designed for fighting against the mafias. In order to make this struggle effective, it systematically and selectively stops people crossing the border in various ways. On many occasions, these people have no relation with the crimes imputed to them, since criminal networks do not expose themselves in non-law spaces.

In many cases innocent people that are being used as bait by the networks are detained.

Invisibilisation of victims of border violence.

Europe has not set up a proactive search operation for missing persons, and there is no official access to information for the relatives of tragedies.

Control processing of victims/survivors of borders.

The right to reparation and justice for surviving victims of violence in non-law areas is not protected. Control and foreigner procedures are applied to victims of tragedies, not protocols of assistance.

Military strategies in transit states and the origin of people in movement.

European states have been consolidating a border strategy based on outsourcing[20] to the belt states.

The outsourcing of borders allows the violence of European security to occur as a result of our policies, but outside the territory of European “democracies”.

The belt states of European militarisation, also transit spaces, make the migratory issue, the people in movement, into an element of political and economic pressure. Control of the movement does not therefore conform to the logic of International Laws but to the situation of bilateral relations, framed within a glossary of economic and geostrategic interests.

Europe promotes the development of immigration laws in countries of migratory transit.

European policies have promoted, within the transit countries of people who move, the application of foreign laws based on the criminalisation of the right to movement, from irregular entry into the country up to departure from the same[21][22].

Utilización de la Cooperación al Desarrollo como instrumento de negociación para implementar en origen y tránsito políticas de control del derecho al movimiento[23]. [Use of Development Cooperation as an instrument of negotiation to implement policies of control of the right to movement at origin and in transit[24]].

Estrategias militares de control de las personas que se mueven en los países de tránsito [Military control strategies for people in movement in transit countries][25].

Implementation of indiscriminate military raids on the settlements of migrants, in forest areas but also in cities.

Removal of the populations in movement from the border areas, which causes the application of differentiated rights for migrants in various areas of the transit countries.

Collective expulsions without guarantees to other border countries, with the aim of moving them away from European borders.

Forced collective displacement without guarantees within the countries of transit.

Construction of Detention Centres financed by the European Union and where there is no guarantee of respect for fundamental rights. In those located in Libya there are even kidnappings, for which releases must be paid for by the families in the countries of origin[26].

These are not people who are transiting through the “non-law” spaces.

The impact that these policies have on the violation of the rights of the people who move has increased in the last decade, and has had a significant impact on the right to life.

The construction of non-law spaces has been accompanied by the victimisation, criminalisation and reification of people on the move, which has formed part of the process of stripping them of their status as people.

That is why neither they nor their families have recognised rights and the European states are thus exempt from responsibility for the violence that they exert against the victims and the survivors of the border war.

Criminalisation has allowed European policies to justify the violation of fundamental rights as a strategy for combating the mafias. Notwithstanding, during these years of militarisation there has been an exponential increase in criminal networks that coexist and feed off the control industry. Above all, the increase in trafficking networks that take advantage of the opportunity of control to postulate themselves as a “migration strategy”, and which exist due to the demand made by the European slave market for various purposes[27].

The networks therefore have a high capacity for adapting to the economic permeability of the borders and respond to a demand for slavery in European markets that is highly feminised.

Understanding people as goods managed by the networks and demanded by the market has encouraged “reification”. It affects women and girls, who travel through non-law areas, and who are seen as goods demanded in European markets, especially for the sex market, but also for domestic service, drug couriers and organ trafficking.

Victimisation is also part of the framework of border violence. European policies mainly use this approach when talking about women and migrant children, putting the focus on the mafias as the sole perpetrators of rights violations. But the most serious thing is that Europe does not have the instruments in place for women and children in movement to have access to a comprehensive recovery of their violated rights. In this sense, these groups, which are instrumented by European policies to maintain militarisation, do not offer real alternatives for their protection.

In this way, it invisibilises the institutional violence exercised in migration control over people who have already suffered violations of their rights. Women, girls and adolescents refer to the sexual violence to which they are subjected by a patriarchal construction that is also reproduced in the populations in movement, and in the construction of border control. Non-law areas permit sexual violence against women and children in movement, which is also perpetrated by representatives of the security forces in charge of the control.

It is especially the victims/survivors of Human Trafficking, mostly women and children, that have been victims of economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in the social spaces outside the control of networks. Trafficking networks in many cases become spaces of violence that mitigate the other spaces, being considered a “refuge and a survival strategy” in some spaces where rights are very limited.

People who move, but especially women, children[28] and LGTBIQ+ people, differentiate between violence in private spaces, which is related to positions of power, patriarchy, and the trafficking networks. But they also refer to violence in public spaces, generated by the strategies of border control, and which is exercised by state agents and directly related to the violence of private spaces.

Violence in public spaces is such that the victims/survivors do not have the tools to denounce the violence in private spaces.

How to empower constructions of resistance to border wars?

Communities in movement have themselves become accustomed to assuming institutional violence as an “inherent part of movement.” People in movement survive through building processes of citizenship, even if these are temporary.

Communities know that control policies directly affect their right to life. That is why they establish systems of protection based on information and the search for differentiated strategies so as not to die in transit countries or in non-law spaces. Even to minimise the impact that European policies have on their rights.

They build networks to alert people who are missing or dead at the borders. They are given names, and families are alerted so that they can perform a mourning even though there are no official data from the European authorities.

The people in movement also denounce the use of the term economic migrant as a tool of repression, since poverty is also a violence of the system. Women, children, and LGTBIQ+ people wield a search for rights in their decision to move.

These groups understand that their bodies become spaces of violence, especially sexual, and are also an instrument of power and exchange within the borders and the movement.

After passing through these places they also understand that they await the transit of exploitation in European territory, but they understand that it will be provisional and that this exploitation will allow them in the long term to exercise rights for themselves and their daughters and sons.

Women and adolescents who are victims of border violence are aware that their survival depends on strategies linked to gender and that at the border they are just another commodity passing through. Many are especially concerned about their daughters growing up in those spaces where the bodies of women are a commodity.

But the traces of violence are present in these groups through feelings of guilt, fear, submission, low self-esteem, somatised, in most cases, through body aches and nightmares.

Most of the resilience and reparation processes are built individually or within communities on the move, since Europe is unable to build processes of truth, redress and justice for people whose rights have been violated in border areas.

Legal denunciations of border violence are not effective. The relevant courts in each area have closed court proceedings, even where sufficient documentary evidence has been provided. This normalisation of violence has not only affected the citizenry, the reparation processes, but also the judiciary, which has understood that it should not intervene in “border wars”.

Obtaining justice in non-law areas is practically impossible, and that possibility is non-existent when we speak of European responsibility for violation of rights in third countries.

In a perverse use of the judicial system some of the violence has even been “legalised”. A clear example is “push-back” on the Spanish and Moroccan border.

Victims/survivors are afraid of retaliation even from host countries. They also say they will not be heard or believed by the authorities, or have a presence at legal proceedings.

In the process, the people in movement are not sufficiently supported and protected to be able to launch judicial denunciations. The procedures last for long periods of time, and the person does not yet have the stability to assume facing up to the revictimization of being exposed to recounting the situations of violence suffered.

Even when we speak of people in situations of slavery in Europe, such as victims of trafficking, the procedures for redress, protection and reporting are weak. They continue to be visibilised during exploitation in European territory as “migrants”, “whores”, “black”, “poor”, which significantly affects the reintegration of all their rights.

Border violence has an impact beyond the victims/survivors. The deaths and disappearances of people who move have a psycho-social impact on families, but also on the communities of origin.

Families can also suffer social, legal and economic problems, making them victims of border policies, which are directly caused by the disappearance of their loved ones.

The mass disappearances of people in multiple tragedies at border areas have also affected the communities of origin. Entire villages have lost relatives and have not entered processes of truth, reparation and justice.

This whole denial of reparation process has also meant torture and ill-treatment for family members.

Families are not in the position to demand justice, since we are speaking here about populations in movement, with administrative situations that do not allow access to rights. They have difficulty accessing official information, and being recognised as victims of border violence.

In relation to all the above, it is important to:

Support truth-seeking, reparation and justice processes, initiated by the victims/survivors of border warfare, families and communities of origin.
Generate spaces where the victims/survivors, relatives, and communities of origin of the border war are protagonists.
Reflect on the concepts of truth, reparation and justice, and what the instruments are that are helping take steps to achieve these.
Put on the media agenda the border wars, the business lobbies behind borders policies, and their connivance and feedback with the networks that generate slavery.

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