(Reuters) As a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, states feared the situation was spinning out of control. Some worried that violent extremists were using refugee crowds as cover and put up hundreds of miles of anti-immigrant fencing.
For months, the fences did nothing to reduce total arrivals. Instead, they changed the routes people took, forcing them to try new borders which were in turn fenced off.
Now, Europe is trying to send new arrivals back to Turkey. And since the last barrier closed on a route through Greece, migrants and refugees are looking for other ways in.
The barriers are not just dividing countries. They are also splitting societies, Europe’s political leaders, and, critics say, its stated humanitarian ideals.
(Reuters) Brussels – The official European response to Europe’s migrant crisis – championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel last August – is for member states to pull together and provide shelter for people, especially Syrians, fleeing war or persecution. But in reality, most members have failed to take their quotas of refugees and nearly a dozen have built barricades to try to keep both migrants and refugees out. The bloc is now trying to implement a deal which would see Turkey take back new arrivals.
Many of these walls separate EU nations from states outside the bloc, but some are between EU states, including members of Europe’s passport-free zone. Most of the building was started in 2015.
“Wherever there have been large numbers of migrants or refugees trying to enter the EU, this trend has been followed up by a fence,” said Irem Arf, a researcher on European Migration at rights group Amnesty International.
CHAIN GANG: Hungary used about 350 prison inmates to build a fence along its border with Serbia in 2015. The barrier was one of the first to block the western Balkan route to the north. REUTERS/David Balogh
For governments, fences seem like a simple solution. Building them is perfectly legal and countries have the right to control who enters their territory. Each new fence in Europe has sharply curbed the numbers of irregular immigrants on the route they blocked.
For at least one company, fences work. The firm which operates a tunnel between France and Britain says that since a major security upgrade around its French terminal last October, migrants have ceased to cause trouble.
“There have been no disruptions to services since mid October 2015, so we can say that the combination of the fence and the additional police presence has been highly effective,” Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said.
But in the short term at least, they have not stopped people trying to come. Instead, they have diverted them, often to longer, more dangerous routes. And rights groups say some fences deny asylum-seekers the chance to seek shelter, even though European law states that everyone has the right to a fair and efficient asylum procedure.
Forced to find another way, migrants and refugees often turn to people-smugglers.
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