As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, EU authorities are increasingly revealing their double standards in how they treat refugees. European countries have welcomed white Ukrainian refugees, quickly integrating them into the labor market and schools. Meanwhile, Black and Brown refugees from the Global South continue to experience Europe’s racist border regime.
Reports coming out in news globally shows that people from the African continent who have lived in Ukraine for years are not receiving the same treatment as white Ukrainians. Refugees trying to reach Europe from Africa and West Asia are violently rejected, as exemplified by the brutality on the border between Morocco and Spain surrounding Melilla, occurring just a couple of days after European governments opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees.
In the span of 2 weeks, Europe absorbed 3 million Ukrainian refugees. When the Syrian war was at its peak—a war escalated by NATO bombing—around a million black and brown refugees who fled to Europe were met with closed borders, militarized guards, and xenophobia.
Episode 7 of the “Eat NATO for Breakfast” show addressed the militarization of European borders and the double standard in the treatment of migrants and refugees. Here we offer a summary of the arguments presented by Sara Reader and Carrie Hou from Abolish Frontex.
What is Frontex?
Frontex is the European Union’s border agency, and plays a key role in enforcing the EU’s racist, colonial and militarized border regime. Frontex began as a small agency in Poland, but has become the most powerful agency in the EU, with a budget of 5.6 billion euros for the years of 2021-2027. Although Frontex is overseen by the EU Commission, in practice it operates as a rogue agency with little transparency and accountability. The EU Commission, in turn, distances itself from Frontex.
The agency now purchases its own equipment, such as ships, helicopters and drones, from the arms, security and surveillance companies which have lobbied to become influential in shaping the EU’s border and defense policies.
Frontex aims to have its own army of 10,000 armed border guards by 2027 to “guard” against those seeking asylum. These are refugees of conflict and violence, often due to Western and NATO bombing or occupation.
Since 1993, 44,764 people have died because of the militarized policies of Fortress Europe: drowned in the Mediterranean, shot at borders, killed by suicide at detention centers, or tortured and killed post-deportation. All of these deaths were avoidable; many of these people fled their homes for political, climate, health or economic reasons, all in which EU and NATO actions have played a decisive role.
Frontex violates human rights
Frontex also uses “risk analyses”: analytical reports which determine the level of the so-called “risk” that the “migration threat” poses to the EU. Frontex uses these reports to influence how the EU acts in accordance with the purported “risk” level, thus reinforcing border control, expanding Frontex’s deployments and growing the agency’s resources.
Frontex often depicts migration as a “threat”, adding fuel to the flames of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Europe, a warmongering continent
Security and protection are central topics in the official agenda of the European Union. These concepts are based on the history of unequal relations between the center of imperial capitalism and its peripheries. Europe’s richest countries built themselves on centuries of the underdevelopment of the Global South using colonialism, imperialism, violence, slavery, exploitation, oppression and exclusion.
This legacy continues: The EU continues to fuel wars, instability and repression through arms sales and other forms of support to countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Military operations cause the death, destruction and destabilization of countries, communities and economies. Unequal trade relations, exploitation and exclusion maintain and exacerbate poverty. The EU is one of the main drivers of climate change through its extractivist and fossil-fuel dependent economy.
For all of Europe’s proclamations regarding “defending liberal democracy and human rights”, Europe is and has been one of the largest exporters of human rights violations.
We must challenge the idea of “security” and “defense”, and understand whose interests are being defended and whose lives are considered disposable. Through its influence on European governments and institutions, the arms industry has created a militarized concept of security. Whether the issue is migration, climate change, civil unrest and protest, or a pandemic, the arms industry frames these issues as “threats”.
As has been made clear over the past month: the EU is capable of welcoming refugees with open arms. The question is not capacity, instead it is political will. The way Europe has responded to the 3 million white refugees who have fled Ukraine is remarkable when compared to how Black and Brown refugees have been and continue to be treated.
The so-called “refugee crisis” of 2015 was used to further militarize Europe’s borders. Only 1 million people entered Europe over the course of a year due to panic over migrants. The people fleeing Ukraine surpassed that number only in the first week of war. This hypocritical double standard must be eliminated.
The Situation in Eastern Europe
Since the 1990s, EU member states and the Schengen Area have built nearly 1000 km of walls to prevent displaced people from migrating into Europe. These physical walls are accompanied by even longer “maritime walls”, i.e. naval operations patrolling the Mediterranean, as well as “virtual walls”, i.e. border control systems that seek to stop people entering or even traveling within Europe.
Poland has begun construction on a wall to prevent undocumented migrants from crossing its border. The wall, spanning over 180 kilometers and reaching heights of up to 5.5 meters, will be equipped with motion detectors and thermal cameras. Less than six months ago, Poland declared a state of emergency at its border with Belarus when thousands of people, primarily Kurdish people from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were trapped at the border in freezing weather conditions without food or medical attention.
The government has sent in thousands of military personnel and created a two-mile militarized zone, barring health workers, aid workers and journalists from entering. Several people have died on both sides of the border, and few were able to apply for asylum. Many were immediately pushed back into Belarus and beaten by border guards. 1,500 people were stuck in detention centers inside Poland.
Poland’s president Andrzej Duda declared: “The time has come when you need to defend your homeland. We need to guard our borders more than before.” Frontex director Fabrice Legerri visited the Polish-Belarus border in October 2021, and was “impressed by the means deployed to secure the border”, thanking Poland for cooperating with Frontex through ongoing exchange of information and providing the Agency with data on the situation in the Polish section of the external border. These are the same borders which are now welcoming millions of white refugees from Ukraine.
What are the demands of the Abolish Frontex movement?
The main demand of Abolish Frontex is the institution of safe migration routes for all, permanently, not only in times of crisis. But Frontex is only the tip of the iceberg. Abolish Frontex wants to build a radical platform that connects and amplifies different demands, such as the right for all to move and live freely, an end of illegal detentions and deportations, an end to the surveillance, criminalization and repression of migrants, and the demilitarization of borders.
Abolish Frontex, inspired by the police abolition movement in the US, wants to provide concrete steps towards abolishing the EU border regime and the system it represents. Over 115 groups have joined the campaign since the launch.
The pandemic laid bare the impact of years of austerity politics and the decimation and privatization of national health services as well as globalized and unjust trade relations in Europe. As governments scrambled to respond to the crisis and provide enough hospital beds, staff, protective equipment and ventilators, it became obvious, even to those uncritical of militarism, that the concept of security being sold to us does not, in reality, keep us safe.
There is an urgent need to tackle the root causes of climate change, inequality and conflict fueled by the European weapons industry. Europe needs radical social change and investment in welfare, housing, education, the transition to a low-carbon economy, healthcare and other public services.
Europeans need to build and strengthen internationalist, anti-capitalist and decolonial movements, and understand the economic and political system as a whole and the role that war, militarism and the arms trade serve to maintain the colonial, capitalist system.