Is Europe Closing the Borders?

The recent changes in migration policy being considered by the European Union and how the grassroots foster the political will needed to cope with these changes in a constructive way was discussed in A World of Neighbours December zoomcast.

Professor Peo Hansen has studied the European collaboration around asylum since the beginning of the 1990’s. In his presentation he was unequivocal:  Europe is closing its border. He traced the currents trends in European Union policy to its position seeking to prevent the flow of refugee through Turkey, in the face of the millions fleeing from the civil war in Syria.

Listen to Peo Hansen and Dominica Pecoraro in the zoomcast recorded Dec, 10.

As stated by European Commission president Jean- Claude Juncker to the European Parliament in October 2015: “We face two possibilities, and these are the options. We can say that EU and the European institutions have outstanding issues with Turkey on human rights, press freedoms and so on. We can harp on about that but where is that going to take us in our discussions with Turkey? […]. We know that there are shortcomings but we need to involve Turkey in our initiatives. We want to ensure that no more refugees come from Turkey into the European Union.  (Quoted in The Daily Telegraph 2015b)

Hansen now sees the most recent proposed EU policy changes as “…Brussels’ deliberate contempt for human rights and EU law – in the full glare of publicity!”

With a focus on deterrence, and collaboration among member states in sending asylum seekers back to their sending countries, Europe will be governed by its most draconian regulations in decades.

Hansen decried language used to describe the reception of asylum seekers on the basis of human rights as a ‘sacrifice’. He has devoted much of his recent research to debunking the notion that refugees and migrants are a social and economic burden to hosting countries.  He argued that, on average, foreign-born persons made up to 50% or more of those working in restaurants, laundries, factories, as well as those laboring as infant and elderly caregivers.

He cited the headline in the Swedish newspaper Södermanlands Nyheter in 2015: “Without the immigrants, healthcare collapses.” The article pointed out that the region’s healthcare organization employed some 7,900 people in 2014, of whom 1,340 were either foreign- born or children born to two foreign- born parents.  A government study in 2018 put it even more starkly: “Without the foreign- born women and men, the elderly care would face significant problems in fulfilling its task.”

Hansen is affiliated with the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, REMESO, of the University of Linköping.  He will publish this latest research under the title of A Modern Migration Theory: An Alternative Economic Approach to Failed EU Policy, to come out in March 2021 (Agenda Publishing).

In looking at the policies and practices of the United Kingdom, Domenica Pecoraro, chief refugee officer for the Church of England diocese of Canterbury, focused on the intentionality around creating a ‘harsh environment’ to deter asylum seekers.  This included the severe restrictions placed on family re-unification, even for unaccompanied minors.  Pecoraro provided this harrowing story to illustrate the considerable toll of these restrictions on the lives of the already traumatized:

Marta and her three children travelled across Europe from North Africa and arrived in the UK more than 12 months ago. Her husband vanished, and Marta believes that he was killed by local gangs. She left soon after her husband disappearance, fearing that both her sons would be targeted and executed once they reached adulthood. The family was referred by a local teacher following the enrolment of Marta’s youngest daughter in primary school. Both her sons are in their early 20s, not in education or training. The very slim financial support and the ban to work, leaves them all vulnerable to exploitation. We have signposted Marta and her sons to local NGOs in the hope that they would join English classes and wrap around asylum support, unfortunately, with little success. We have raised funds to go towards school uniforms and winter clothes for the family and provided supportive evidence for their asylum claim. The long wait for their asylum application to be processed, and the impossibility to work, is now also affecting Marta’s mental health.

Pecoraro shared that the Church of England’s underlying response to the ‘’hostile environment’’ has been to be a glimmer of light, whether in policy or practice, by focusing on human dignity, and care for the vulnerable and compassion. The Church has supported amendments to lift the ban to work for asylum seekers, is against indefinite detention, and in favor of more safe and legal routes. She says that, “…we do not believe that it can be right to have a policy which dehumanizes or seek to make life intolerable as a means of border control.”

In contrast the government’s approach, the work of many parishes, clergy schools and community centers on the welcome and accompaniment of asylum seekers. The Church’s advocacy also extends to those who have received refugee status, but are nevertheless facing formidable obstacles to building a new life in the UK.

Share this blog!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter

Rev. Dirk Ficca is Senior Advisor to A World of Neighbours. He has long experience in the global interreligious movement, having served as Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. He has taught at DePaul University, Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.