Pushbacks and European standards of humanity

Human rights issues related to migration are steering the domestic politics of Europe for a decade or so

Shazia Anwer Cheema January 26, 2023
The writer is a PhD scholar of Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague. She can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @ShaziaAnwerCh

Last year I attended the screening of three LUX European film award nominees at Edison Hub Prague. I remember one film ‘UTECT’ nominated for the award was a Danish film based on the story of an Afghan boy. The journey of the boy’s migration was heart-wrenching but the most heart-pinching were the details of how his family scattered in Europe and seek asylum in different countries. The story is the reflection of the philosophy of migration and EU’s immigration policies. Human rights issues related to migration are steering the domestic politics of Europe for a decade or so and the ‘Pushbacks’ policy is under stern criticism by human rights groups.

Euro news reported that the new Head of EU Border Agency Hans Leijtens, at a press conference in Brussels on January 19, categorically stated that he would follow three “guiding principles” during his tenure: accountability, respect for fundamental rights and transparency. He also made his stance clear about ‘Pushbacks’ and said they are not legal and should be prohibited. It must be remembered that International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in its report confirmed that at least 252 migrants had died as a direct result of illegal pushbacks or forced expulsions by ‘European authorities’ from 2014 to October 2022. IOM reports that 97 of the pushbacks-related deaths were documented in the Central Mediterranean, 70 in the Eastern Mediterranean, 58 on the Turkey-Greece land border, 23 in the Western Mediterranean, and four on the Belarus-Poland border. IOM report further said that 29,000 people died on migration routes to Europe since 2014. The deadliest migration route remains the Central Mediterranean from Syria, Libya and Tunisia towards Malta or Italy, with migrants crossing the seas in rickety rafts.

We remember that Britain even before Brexit decided that all asylum seekers entering Britain via the English Channel will be push backed as they must seek refuge at the first point of their entry into the EU. The Belarus refugee crisis is fresh enough to remind us that suffering human beings must have kept in mind while fleeing war and misery that they need to know the legal entry points of their illegal entry. They must negotiate with human smugglers the political scenario of Europe and then choose an entry point that can secure their human rights otherwise they will be considered a threat or a political weapon and will pushed back to no-lands.

Hans Leijten’s views are a beacon of hope for suffering humanity as he categorically rejected the idea of subjective humanity. There is no doubt that EU standards of human rights have always been based on a superior moral compass. However, overwhelming influx of people seeking refuge in the EU has established another fact that this moral compass has a threshold and can break after a certain point. This basic weakness has provided fertile ground for hatemongers to sow that seed of fear in society for the sole purpose of domestic political gain. Recent history has witnessed barbed wire fence in Hungary, prison-like caged facilities in the EU bordering countries for refugees, and even pushback laws for refugee children and women.

EU economic crisis and the general population’s reservations about their resource distribution are understandable but pushback is not the answer. The solution lies much deeper into the reasons for human displacement and mass immigration.

EU’s recent refugee crisis is almost 90% related to the Iraq, Syria and Afghan wars and the EU had to bear the brunt of such wars due to its direct or indirect involvement in these conflicts. EU’s politicians must reassess the NATO-led war adventure in which the catalyst, the USA, being far from the war zones never got affected the way the EU got affected. These wars are all fought under the pretense of saving humanity, and the EU had to bear the brunt of this rhetoric which of course affected the EU from the level of demographic change to their social welfare system. I am repeatedly writing that is the high time for EU to set its own priorities and learn to say no.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2023.

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