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A Case Against Fortress Europe - Estrella del Pais

The Caravan Festival - In memory of victims of the fortress Europe

Information in English
Caravan Conference in NRW - Situation of migrant workers in Europe by Estrella del Pais of Migrante Europe in Armsterdam

Following speech was held during the ILPS (International Legaue of Peoples’ Struggle ) European Coordination Conference in November 26-27 2005, in Frankfurt, Germany. Under the topic civil and political rights which covered „anti-terrorist legislation, workers, migrants and refugee rights a member of „migrante europe“ (the european branch of the interenational philipino migrant organisation) made this contribution:

A Case Against Fortress Europe

By: Estrella del Pais

The horrific scenes of the fire at a detention center at Schiphol airport on October 28 were beamed on television and broadcasted on radio across the Netherlands. Television viewers and listeners watched and listened with concern as the news reported of around 300 detainees in that prison. Next day, the news broke out that 11 detainees were trapped in their cells. 11 helpless detainees were burned alive in the fire.

Undocumented Filipino migrant workers in Amsterdam were among those who were very worried and anxious about the identities of the dead. Many phoned the office of MIGRANTE-Europe asking if there were any Filipinos among the victims. They know that a few undocumented Filipinos have been detained there before deportation because they were accused of being illegal immigrants. The office made inquiries from the marechaussee, the Red Cross to find out if there were any Filipinos among them. They took a sigh of relief when no Filipino was among the victims but sad that there were 11 dead migrants. The victims included 2 from Ukraine, 2 from Turkey, 1 from Bulgaria, 1 from Romania, 1 from Libya, 1 from Georgia, 2 from Surinam, 1 from the Dominican Republic.

The burned detention center was one of those used by the authorities to detain rejected asylum seekers (those rejected upon entry at the airport or those scheduled to be deported after categorized as out-of-procedure cases), to detain the so-called illegal immigrants ( the economic migrants), and drug-related offenders.

After the fire, the Dutch government thru Mrs. Verdonk, minister for foreigner relations and integration engaged in a cover-up of the controversial issues around the fire namely: the accusation of criminal negligence because the detention center did not have a central, automatic button to open prison cell doors in case of fire; and more
damning for the government is the exposure of its inhumane, repressive policies on asylum seekers and so-called illegal immigrants. Among the victims for example was a Bulgarian who was detained because he forgot to carry his passport when required to show one by a police agent. Two young Ukrainians, a young man who visited his Ukrainian wife residing in Holland and a young woman also on visit without visum were among those
who were burned to death in their detention cells.
Later, the detainees who survived the fire were dispersed in smaller prisons. Their lawyers could not even talk to them. The lawyers could not get access to their clients.

Fortress Europe

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome set up the European Economic Community (EEC). Since then the treaties and institutions of Europe have aimed not only at the free movement of capital and the elimination of trade barriers but also the free movement of people. The Treaty of Rome contained a provision on the free movement of workers. Migrant workers were to have full social and family rights.

In 1986, the Single Europe Act was passed and Article 7a states:

“The internal market shall comprise as area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty.”
However, two different sets of immigration rights started to evolve since the 1970’s – one set for migrants from the European member countries and another set for Third World nationals who have settled in Europe. The rights of migrants from European member countries differred vastly from Third World migrants. The former enjoy the freedom to look for work in any European member country while retaining full social and family rights. The latter do not have the same freedom. A French national who finds a job in The Netherlands will have full social protection and the right to family reunification but a migrant with a Turkish nationality already settled in Germany loses all these rights should he decide to move from there to The Netherlands.

In 1985, the Schengen Agreement was signed between France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. It said border controls were to be abolished between them. In pursuance of the Schengen Agreement the Schengen Convention was signed in 1990. It took effect in 1995 with two more countries, Portugal and Spain joining it. Border controls were taken down between the Schengen countries. Since then more European countries have joined the Convention.

In 1992, the Maasticht Treaty was signed. It is officially the Treaty of
the European Union.

Internal frontiers started to disappear. However, external borders of the European Union were being fortified. West European states were now more concerned about enforcement of their external borders. They pressured southern states to enforce immigration controls. There was absence of immigration controls before in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

In Portugal an Alien’s Law was passed in 1992. It established detention centers for migrants and introduced visa requirements. In Spain, an Alien’s Act was passed in 1995. It introduced a labor permit scheme. One after another, EU countries adopted their own Alien’s Law. The basic theme is to curb immigration, to control immigration including asylum seeking. Third world migrants and non-European Union migrants are to be excluded , prevented to enter the European Union. Fortress Europe was ushered in.

In 1987, the first list of 50 countries whose nationals would require visa came out, later expanded to 73 countries in 1993. The list now includes all Third World countries and refugee producing countries.

In 1990, the Schengen Convention provided for police and judicial cooperation and information gathering. It strengthened the Europol and the building of the Schengen Information System (SIS). “The SIS is a massive system which has been condemmed by Amnesty International and the UNHCR, designed to increase internal controls on migration: it has more than 30,000 terminals and contains large amount of personal information including fingerprints. Almost 90 per cent of those registered on the SIS are the so called unwanted immigrants, including many asylum seekers.” [1]

Fortress Europe is best described by Francis Webber in his book /Crimes of Arrival/. He says:

“In Dover, the police uses sniffer dogs to seek people in containers. In Germany the police uses helicopters, patrol boats and three kinds of heat seeking equipment to detect illegal immigrants along its border with Poland.

Vast amounts of money and time are devoted to improving the technology of control. Western Europe’s junior partners, particularly Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland which have been recruited as buffer states and act increasingly as the frontline of immigration control are being equipped with automated travel document scanners, UV-IR lamps, security laminate verifiers, etc. Biometric controls are being developed which
could do away with the need for passports. Digital fingerprinting and electronic scanning of the iris of the eye are being explored.

…these…. smacks of a European police state in which refugees are described as disorderly movements and measures designed to combat them.”

Allow me now to address the issue of the criminalization of refugees.

Within the EU, refugees are being criminalized by deliberate policy of EU governments. The category “immigrant” and “refugee” were associated with “drug smugglers”and “terrorists” as early as 1975 by the Trevi Group which formulated policies on terrorism, drugs and illegal immigration. This negtive linkage was continued at the EU summit in
Tampere, Finland which approved common policing plans to deal with asylum, illegal immigration and Europewide crime.

Various EU governments have painted asylum seekers as abusive, fraudulent and bogus refugees. They have concocted a clever ploy of isolating refugees and providing a basis for the rejection of their asylum applications by labeling them as economic migrants. This in turn has emboldened the media which considered asylum seekers as fair game.
They attack refugees as linked to organized crime , to cheating on social security, to shoplifting, to cheating on train and metro tickets and other rackets.

Although I am now 24 years away form the time I was myself a political refugee, looking back to that year I set foot on Dutch soil as an asylum seeker I could say that those years were more welcoming than now under Fortress Europe.

In 1982, the Philippines was still under martial law under a fascist government led by the former dictator Marcos. I was among those who was unable to go back home because of the certainty of political persecution. I chose to seek asylum in the Netherlands. I had to travel with a false passport. There was no other way. In the end I got a refugee status.

“However it is angering to know that in Britain in 1999, 450 people were imprisoned in ordinary prisons with criminal convictions for travelling on forged papers. Most of them were picked up at Heathrow on their way to claim asylum in US or Canada, a claim that their criminal records would cause to be ruled out. They were advised by their olicitors to plead guilty to shorten their sentences.”[2]

It is angering to think that under present EU policy, I could have been arrested and detained in prison, branded a criminal for carrying a false passport; that I would have been categorized a criminal rather than a refugee; that I would have been persecuted rather than protected by the very country where I have asked for protection.

Moreover, under repressive and restrictive EU policies on asylum, deportations are on the increase and sometimes involved considerable violence against asylum seekers. “In May 1999 Aamir Mohammed Ageeb, a Sudanese asylum seeker, died when border police in Frankfurt airport put shackles on his hands and feet and forced a motor-bike helmet onto his head.”[3]

Frances Webber in his book /Crimes of Arrival/ says:

“Deportations of rejected asylum seekers have involved the use of sedatives injections, straitjackets, stretchers, face masks, handcuffs, leg irons, surgical tape. Face masks were introduced in the Netherlands after surgical tape wound round the head and face of a Romanian deportee resulted in his suffering a brain damage. After the death of Kola
Bankole in Germany, while being sedated for deportation, the Nigerian embassy accused the German authorities of responsibility for 25 such deaths.”

In Belgium, the Belgian police was found guilty in 2003 of assault, battery and negligence in connection with the death of Semira Adamu, an asylum seeker from Nigeria. In 1998, she was hauled onto a plane bound for Lagos with her ankles shackled. Her face was pressed against a pillow. She lost consciousness and later died.

Recently, a preferred choice of deportation is chartered deportation.
This is done to avoid distressing passengers of regular commercial flights caused by the legitimate protests of to-be-deported asylum seekers. A member of /Karavan/, a grassroots network of refugees and their advocates in Germany to promote the rights of refugees and migrants has spoken of the harrowing experience of chartered deportations. Such report has also been corroborated by a speaker at the memorial for the illegal migrants who died at the Schiphol fire held in an Amsterdam church in November 2005. He spoke of an incident in the Netherlands where police took asylum seekers in the middle of the night , heavily guarded by police by a ratio of three policemen to one refugee
(he spoke of sighting some 300 policemen guarding a handful of asylum seekers at Schiphol airport), then hauled onto a plane containing asylum seekers deported from other EU states.

Such has also been documented. “The entry into force of the Schengen agreement resulted in the first joint deportation where the French, the Dutch and German authorities chartered a plane to deport 44 Zaireans.”[4]

According to Teresa Feyter, writer of the book /Open Borders, /“ EU policies on asylum seekers and so called illegal immigrants have led to great difficulties and even death. UNITED, a refugee support organization in Amsterdam has documented over 1000 deaths related to governments’s policies between 1995-98. Stowaways risk being killed and
thrown overboard if they are discovered, partly to avoid carrier’s liability fines. Or they maybe locked into containers in appalling temperatures and without food and water and unable to make themselves heard. They maybe sprayed with pesticides and crushed by moving cargoes.
Sometimes they die before they are discovered. Many drown in overloaded boats; at least 1000 people are said to have drowned since 1988 crossing North Africa to Spain. And another 547crossing the Adriatic to reach Italy. Others drown swimming the river Oder between Poland and Germany.”

Allow me to end my talk by narrating to you the story of two African youths seeking a way out of their lost continent. In August 1999 two stowaways aged 15 and 16, from Guinea were found dead in the landing gear of a plane when they arrived in Brussels. A note was found with one of them which said:

“Excellencies, gentlemen – members and those responsible in Europe, it is your solidarity and generosity that we appeal for your help in Africa. If you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and lost our lives, it is because we suffer too much in Africa and need your help to struggle against poverty and war….. Please excuse us very much for
daring to write this letter”.

But they would not know anymore that Fortress Europe has no room for young idealistic people like them. They would not know anymore that Fortress Europe is not for asylum seekers and migrant workers. They would not know anymore that neither is it for the working people but that Fortress Europe is a Europe for capital!