Athens (Brussels Morning). Lithuania’s parliament introduced a bill for the construction of a wall along its border with Belarus, intended to disrupt the flow of refugees to the small Baltic state. Latvia is not alone: Poland, Greece, Spain, Hungary, France, and Turkey are starting or completing similar fortifications.
Lithuania’s four metre metal fence will be topped with razor wire. It is expected to cost about 152 million euros. The country’s officials openly accuse Belarus of flying in migrants who then head to the border.
Poland has started building an anti-refugee wall, with a new fence on its border sealing off Belarus from the EU. The 2.5 metre wall would be modelled after the one built by Hungary on its border with Serbia in 2015.
Turkey has joined the new trend; it has started building a 3 metre concrete barrier on its 241-kilometre border with Iran for the same reason. Ditches, wire, and round-the-clock security patrols will cover the rest of the frontier.
Latvia has declared a state of emergency on its border with Belarus, where it plans to beef up patrols. The measure authorises border guards to return illegal migrants by force. A wall might be be built there also.
Some countries around the continent are ahead of the curve.
Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban used prison inmates to build a 175km-long steel barrier. Orban upscaled the structure in 2017, adding electric wires, heat sensors, cameras, and loudspeakers. The colossal project also includes two camps and several border control stations. The stations allow a maximum of ten people to apply for refugee status per day.
The “Great Wall of Calais”, next to the so-called “Jungle” migrant camp, is a UK-funded wall, a project that kicked off in 2016. The four metre barrier would be constructed run for 1 km along both sides of the main road to the northern French port.
Latvia has completed the construction of a 93-km barbed wire fence on the border with Russia, to disrupt the entry of Kurds who tried to enter in the past, mostly from Erbil.
Greece has already completed a 40 km fence on its border with Turkey to keep out potential Afghan refugees. The first fence was 12.5 kms long and did not include a sophisticated hi-tech, automated electronic monitoring system.
Greece and Turkey, NATO allies yet historic rivals, have long been at odds over migrant issues; but Athens is not the only capital to accuse Ankara of weaponising migrations flows to gain leverage over Brussels.
During a recent call between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the two leaders agreed not to shoulder responsibility for Afghan refugees on the world’s behalf.
United by fear behind walls
A Humanitarian Crisis of the kind experienced during the 2015 Syrian crisis could be politically devastating for Brussels and many member-states, fueling the surge of far-right anti-immigrant groups.
In May 2021 Spain has deployed troops to prevent a record number of migrants trying to enter through the north African enclave of Ceuta, via Morocco. Then we witnessed embarrassing scenes of pushbacks (more than 4,000 people) that the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, called “the restoration of order”.
In a report that proved embarrassing for Greece, published by Amnesty International in July 2021, Adriana Tidona, a Migration Researcher for Amnesty International, noted that “Greek authorities are closely coordinating to brutally apprehend and detain people who are seeking safety in Greece, subjecting many to violence, then transferring them to the banks of the Evros river before summarily returning them to Turkey”.
Sadly, this is not the first time that Greece has been publicly accused of pushbacks and violence against refugees and migrants. But this is the case all along the EU borderline.
During May 2020, people dressed in Croatian special police uniforms intercepted a group of Afghan and Pakistani refugees on the Croatian-Bosnian border, captured them, brutally tortured and humiliated them, and then, having inflicted severe and potentially permanent injuries, drove them back to Bosnia. Croatian authorities have never investigated the incident, dismissing all accusations.
On Friday June 18, 2021, the “Black Book of Pushbacks” was presented in Vienna in front of the Austrian Interior Ministry. The presentation included statistics and excerpts, which evidences systematic human rights violations against people on the move all along the EU’s external border, from Austria and Italy, all the way to Turkey.
As Europe prepares for a wave of Afghan refugees, one may expect that many of them could be pushedback, or find themselves up against a wall.