Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Dystopian Defenses Reflect Europe’s Hypocrisy on Human Rights

Europe’s Human Rights Hypocrisy
Migrants hold placards during an anti-racism demonstration in the Moroccan capital Rabat on June 28, 2022. AFP

Justin Salhani

Around two thousand Africans attempting to enter Spain in late June were deterred through brutal violence by Moroccan border guards. Official reports say at least 23 of the Africans were killed, though rights groups claim the figure is higher. Videos that circulated from the aftermath purported to show Moroccan security forces standing over bloodied and beaten young African men or throwing rocks at others trying to climb over a security fence.

Demands from the UN secretary general and human rights groups have led Moroccan and Spanish authorities to launch an investigation. Meanwhile, demonstrations were held in cities across Morocco and Spain by citizens shocked at the brutal tactics used at borders. Crossings inside the European zone are becoming more permeable. However, Fortress Europe’s exterior border is making movement for the world’s poorest people more difficult and perilous than ever.

Human rights organizations have asked Morocco, Spain and other EU states to implement safe pathways for regular migration, reduce human rights violations, and to respect human rights at borders. Instead, Europe has shrunk resettlement quotas and outsourced the crackdown on migrants to authoritarian states with horrendous human rights records like Morocco, Turkey and Libya who on occasion will use these people seeking dignity as leverage to enhance their own rule.

Europe should take note the corrupt, human rights abusing autocracies that they partner with share many of the same traits that so many in the global south are seeking to escape.

There are many reasons behind human movement. But in the 21st century, inequality of resources and wealth is a key reason. A survey from the Ichikowitz Foundation shows that more than 50 percent of Africans aged 18-24 want to migrate to Europe or the United States. But rather than seeking to address global inequality – an issue that Europe has contributed to significantly through a history of colonialism and continued to prop up through relations with corrupt and autocrat regimes – Europe is clinging on to the embers of empire by turning invisible lines into humanity dividing walls.

The biggest example of this is the ludicrous sums of money EU states are spending on dystopian technology to deter refugees and migrants. The EU border force Frontex has awarded an Israeli arms company a 100 million Euro contract for Heron and Hermes drones. These drones, often used by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, surveil boats crossing the Mediterranean so they can inform Libyan coast guards. And in December 2021, Poland approved a 350 million Euro wall that will stretch 200km across the border with Belarus. The wall is equipped with advanced cameras and motion sensors.

Greek authorities use sound cannons to blast 162 decibels at refugees attempting to enter their territory. The EU also spent 4.5 million Euros on a three year trial for artificial intelligence powered lie detectors in Greece, Hungary, and Latvia, according to the Guardian. Academics have called the lie detectors unreliable, describing the criteria to decide if a migrant or refugee is lying as ‘pseudoscience’.

The money used for these technologies could be redirected into programs that build better social cohesion – not just for programs that seek to help new arrivals adjust but also address some of the material conditions that have been capitalized on by various far right parties in Europe.

Of course, European border guards don’t need technology to create inhumane ways of greeting desperate people.

A recent report published by Le Monde discovered that Greek soldiers and police have been forcing Syrians to work for them to turn away other Syrian arrivals. One Syrian interviewed described the process as ‘slavery.’

“The EU is always talking about values like human rights, [speaking out] against violations but … week-by-week we see more people dying and we have to question if the EU is breaking its values,” German MEP Özlem Demirel told the Guardian in December 2021.

Without a safe pathway to Europe, an entire economy is emerging. Some of it is clandestine, like the human smugglers who make thousands of Euros guiding people through perilous routes. But some of it operates in broad daylight, as companies have been discovered marketing dinghies online as ‘migrant boats’ or ‘refugee boats.’

In recent years, such boats have set off from Libya or Turkey hoping to make it to Europe. Increasingly, an economic crisis has seen Lebanon become a point of departure, as desperate Syrians and Palestinians, but increasingly Lebanese too, take to the seas in efforts to reach Cyprus or Italy. These journeys at sea are dangerous, as shown by a sunk boat off the coast of Tripoli, Lebanon from April 2022 ended in at least seven deaths with at least 20 people missing. But land crossings, as the June confrontation at the Spanish border shows, can be no less deadly.

The European project emerged from the idea that the continent could witness less armed conflict and more economic cooperation. It’s been an imperfect project from the start but in recent years European imagination – particularly related to receiving refugees and migrants – has been replaced by an inhumane attempt to simply decrease the number of arrivals on European shores.

Within Europe there are many doing important work. Demonstrations that spread through Spain after the brutal crackdown on their border with Morocco were encouraging, as are the rescue boats – those of organizations and individuals – who work to save travelers arriving by sea. Human rights and humanism are values that Europe claims to hold dear and many European citizens and organizations practice them.

Various European governments, and the EU as an entity, should look to support these citizens and organizations, stop the empowerment of autocratic regimes on the EU’s periphery, and apply UN recommendations on refugees and migrants. Europe needs a radical change in approach. The current approach is only fueling the process that creates migrants and refugees in the first place.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our writers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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