Battling against the Fortress Mentality
In recent days, hundreds of Africans have tried to scale the border fences to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. In his commentary, Peter Philipp suggests that the time has come to set up a system of regulated immigration
As long as people do not have any prospects in their native countries and are willing, if needs be, to risk their lives in order to secure the chance of a better life, classic methods of protecting the EU's external borders are doomed to failure.
Europe has certainly no reason to be proud of what is currently happening to African refugees on the Moroccan-Spanish borders. European governments remain silent; at best, a few human rights organisations are voicing criticism about the treatment of the Africans.
The "fortress mentality" has spread
On the whole, however, there would appear to be a silent consensus, namely "where would we be if everyone could just simply climb over the fence into Europe?"
And this from a continent that repeatedly assured the world in the course of its union that there would be no such thing as a "fortress Europe". Since then, the fortress mentality – and everything that goes with it – has spread.
As has the degree of indifference to what happens outside this fortress. Apart from Spain's timid protest to Rabat that it is not very humane to simply bundle refugees into trucks, drive them into the Sahara, and dump them there, no-one is standing up for these miserable creatures who are so desperate to get to Europe and to get a share of the affluence they expect to find there so that they can support their loved ones at home.
"Economic refugees" is the derogatory term used to describe these people, as if there was a huge difference between escaping an oppressive dictator and escaping abject poverty. Quite apart from the fact that most of these refugees are in fact fleeing both.
Wealth and poverty are relative
But the term "economic refugee" is also loaded with the criticism that these people just want to somehow get rich at our expense. This is a feeling that would appear to internally justify turning such refugees away. How far the western Europeans have come since the days when they congratulated anyone who succeeded in crossing the "iron curtain" to get to the West.
But now, the streets of the West, of the European Union, are no longer paved with gold, as people in some African countries would appear to think. But this is all relative: the poverty in which people in Europe live seems to be affluence to some Africans. So the question remains as to whether Europe can be allowed to ignore the problem.
And is it really appropriate to use the north African transit countries as "deputy sheriffs"? Libya as the starting point for dangerous Mediterranean crossings or Morocco as the runway for desperate leaps over the Spanish border?
Reception camps for refugees?
The outgoing German Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, suggested setting up reception camps in these countries. In doing so, he was ignoring the fact that for those refugees who failed to make it across the border, these reception camps would be at best prison camps. And now, no-one is protesting at the fact that Morocco – which is, after all, not exactly a liberal democracy – is maltreating the refugees in a variety of ways.
The very clever in Europe now think that it is time to start treating the "roots" of the problem: in other words, in Africa itself. This is a long-term process with an uncertain outcome. Have the Europeans long forgotten that they themselves once fled to the United States to escape famine and misery?
In a similar way, maybe it is time to set up a system of regulated immigration for Africans wanting to migrate to Europe. But don't worry: they won't steal our jobs! There are too few skilled workers among them for that to happen. But one day, they too may pay taxes and pension contributions.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan