5.3.2014 | Von:
Mechthild Baumann

On the Other Side of the Border Fence

Flüchtlinge vor Lampedusa auf einem Boot der "Marina Militare", der italienischen Küstenwache.Refugees off the coast of Lampedusa on a boat owned by the Italian coastguard. (© picture alliance / ROPI)

The tighter the borders become, and the more intensely they are monitored by both technology and personnel, the higher the number of migrants who die trying to cross these borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that with a count of 1500 deaths in 2011, more refugees than ever have drowned on their flight across the Mediterranean Sea or dehydrated on boats. [1] These figures, however, represent only recorded deaths and incidents. No one knows just how many corpses have not been found because they sank in the sea.

Human rights organizations regularly heavily criticize the practice of border surveillance. Refugees that made it into the EU have reported to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch that uniformed officials from Italy and Libya forced them to return on open seas in their unseaworthy boats, whereupon arrival in Libya they were taken into camps. [2] Similar events regularly find their way into the press. [3]

In 2003, Italy made an agreement with Libya (at that time still ruled by Muammar al-Gaddafi) which attracted a lot of interest and attention. [4] This cooperation was continued by the EU in 2004, shortly after they lifted a lengthy embargo. The EU financially supported Libya, among others, through the AENEAS program, which had around 120 million euro in available funds between 2004 and 2006. The goal of AENEAS was "to better regulate migration movements", to which the technical upgrade of border surveillance, training of border personnel and the support of "voluntary return" of people living irregularly in Libya contribute. The EU was criticized regarding this agreement that it not only paid for the immigration controls but that it did business at all with rulers in countries which the EU itself had imposed an embargo [5] on until 2004. [6] Criticism of the EU’s cooperation with Libya intensified in 2010-2011 when Libya got even more involved in refugee defense at the wish and financial support of the EU. [7] In February, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights eventually condemned the actions of the Italian coast guard, who had picked up over 200 people on open sea and sent them back to Libya without checking their status as refugees in 2009. Torture awaited the refugees on their return to Libya. [8] The verdict from this case will have further consequences for Frontex’s efforts. [9]

However, not only are the human rights and values of refugees sometimes ignored in the process, but the rights of EU citizens are being surrendered with the increasing automation of border crossing abuse. The information in passports and visas is limited to names, addresses, birthdates, height and eye color, but the new biometric technology allows for far more information to be saved. Access to this data has primarily been the Achilles heel of every information system, and not just since the NSA scandal. When the borders are monitored via Eurosur, it is not only the migrants entering irregularly that are monitored, but everyone else as well, which puts elementary data protection rights in question.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Frontex and the EU Border Regime".


UNHCR: Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/4f27e01f9.html (accessed: 7-13-2013)
Human Rights Watch: Pushed Back, Pushed Around www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/italy0909web_0.pdf (accessed: 9-13-2013)
Mehr als 1500 Flüchtlinge im Mittelmeer umgekommen www.tagesschau.de/ausland/fluechtlingemittelmeer100.html (accessed: 9-12-2013)
Compare also the EU agreement with Morocco on migration controls and its effects in: Heck, Gerda (2011), ‘"It‘s been the best journey of my life": Governing Migration and Strategies of Migrants at Europe’s Broders: Morocco’, in Baumann, Mechthild/Lorenz, Astrid/Rosenow, Kerstin (eds.), Crossing and Controlling Borders. Immigration Policies and their Impact on Migrants’ Journeys, Opladen, pp. 73-86
Sanctions against Libya: www.sanctionswiki.org/Libya (accessed 7-31-2013)
Kreickenbaum (2011).
Brantner (2011); Heilbrunner (2010); Böhm (2010).
European Court of Human Rights (2012).
Haarhuis (2013).
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