In their efforts to protect their borders from refugees and migrants, European Union leaders seem to be avoiding the core of the issue: “sealing” the borders of Greece and Italy toward the sea will condemn many people to death; closing off these countries from other EU members will force them to host hundreds of thousands of people who do not want to be there. Unfortunately, some proposals on the table suggest that things will get worse.
Before the start of the two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday, Berlin appeared keen to see joint patrols by Greek and Turkish forces in the Aegean; France suggested a European border control under the jurisdiction of Brussels; the Hungarian prime minister wanted to see Greece’s borders sealed either toward the sea or toward the rest of the EU. Turkey, for its part, insisted that only if its citizens were granted easier access to EU visas would it cooperate more closely in controlling the flow of refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Turkey on Sunday to try win over its government.
These ideas and actions reveal that Europe’s leaders either do not understand how people and countries act or are trying to put off necessary decisions. The flow of refugees and migrants does not stop at borders but only at the source – their countries of origin. And the solution to this flow cannot be the ghettoization of countries of entry.
In a letter to EU leaders, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stressed that “the exceptionally easy access to Europe is one of the main pull factors.” The straits between Turkey and Greece are indeed narrow but they are deadly, as the almost daily death toll shows. The crossing to Italy is neither brief nor safe. A year ago, when Britain pulled its forces from an international rescue mission in the Mediterranean, it argued that the existence of such missions simply encouraged migrants. When the operation was scaled back, the death toll soared. The masses did not stop coming, nor will they stop when border controls are increased. What will the guards do? Sink the boats or shoot desperate people?
The proposals for a European border corps with increased powers or for joint Greek-Turkish patrols raise serious issues of national sovereignty without contributing toward solving the refugee crisis. We see, though, that in their panic to keep the refugees as far away as possible, Berlin and Brussels appear to be ignoring the Turkish government’s increasingly autocratic ways just a few weeks before national elections and are in a rush to appease it.
We are waiting to see what our leaders will decide. Will they reinforce the ethical borders which, in a harsh world, make the European Union a continent of humaneness, justice, solidarity and hope? Or will they, in their bid to seal national borders, tear down the idea of Europe?