The taboos are falling fast as the EU embraces the far-right racist approach to migration | Shada Islam

European Union leaders want to reinforce their controversial “fortress Europe” policies by clamping down even harder on inward migration. This reveals a deep and self-defeating disconnect between the 27-nation bloc’s internal actions and its international aspirations.

The EU’s self-image is that of a benign power and a force for global good. European leaders spend a lot of time telling the world about the virtues of “European values”. There is even an EU commissioner whose sole task it is to promote the “European way of life”. Other countries are constantly taken to task, often through the imposition of sanctions, for their failure to align with international human rights standards.

Yet external perceptions of the bloc are determined not by fictionalised narratives but by the real-life experience of African, Asian and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees who seek EU protection. The EU’s image is also increasingly judged against the treatment of its own black and brown citizens. Regrettably, the record is poor on both counts, prompting justified accusations that the bloc is guilty of double standards and has a human rights policy based on selective outrage.

Internal squabbling, rising numbers of migrant crossings and racist far-right narratives that demonise migrants and refugees have left EU plans for more humane migration management in tatters. Instead, taboos are falling fast and the previously inadmissible is becoming acceptable as a frightening disregard for the human rights of refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East is embedded in EU migration policy.

Having once denounced Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall on the US border with Mexico as morally unacceptable, the bloc now has nearly 20 external steel walls or razor-wire fences, running to a combined length of nearly 2,000km. Twenty years ago there were no walls around the EU.

While these barriers were paid for by national governments, EU leaders have just agreed to “immediately mobilise substantial EU funds and means” to help member states bolster their “border protection capabilities and infrastructure”. In other words, more cameras, drones and watchtowers.

Britain’s blueprint for outsourcing asylum applications to African countries such as Rwanda is now also on EU leaders’ agenda, as are plans to make EU development assistance, trade deals and visa liberalisation policies conditional on countries’ readiness to take back people who are denied EU asylum.

Ukrainian refugees and volunteers at Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 2022.
Ukrainians at the Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 2022. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Hans Leijtens, a senior Dutch official and former commander of the military police in the Netherlands, is the new head of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which faces a spate of criticism, court cases and investigations into alleged “pushbacks” and other breaches of human rights. Leijtens has promised “tangible results” in defending the EU’s external borders, which raises concerns that little will improve on his watch.

The EU’s embrace of the far right’s corrosive “stop migration” agenda is a violation of human rights and a breach of the bloc’s international humanitarian obligations. It is also shortsighted, given ageing Europe’s need for labour and the central role played by migrants as frontline workers, a fact underlined during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even more damaging, by normalising the policies of far-right politicians – of those who are in government and those outside them – the EU is eroding its own once impressive credentials as a global defender of democracy, good governance and the rule of law. As far-right ideas seep even further into the EU mainstream, Europe’s internal societal cohesion and measures to boost cultural, religious and ethnic coexistence are at risk.

In danger also is the EU’s promise to stop racism, discrimination and police violence against Europe’s black and brown citizens through an ambitious anti-racism action plan. Hastily crafted in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, the blueprint breaks new ground by calling for EU-wide action to root out structural and institutional racism against Europeans of colour.

Also, significantly, after years of paralysis on the issue – and despite some internal resistance – there is, for the first time, a drive to diversify the “Brussels so white” bubble by recruiting more non-white Europeans as EU interns and members of staff. EU bodies now run seminars on unconscious bias and microaggression. A new EU “coordinator” has been tasked to fight EU-wide racism and discrimination. After almost a year’s wait, the commission also has a new “anti-Muslim hatred” coordinator in addition to the one dealing with antisemitism who has been in office since 2015.

These gains in fighting racism in Europe are modest and remain contested. Their chances of survival are slim if, as many fear, EU politics slide further to the right through a wider alliance between the European parliament’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists party.

skip past newsletter promotion

Such a move would give rightwing parties a stronger say in appointing the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the head of the European external action service, the EU’s diplomatic arm. It is not even clear if the post of an EU commissioner for equality would survive such an overhaul.

This would have serious consequences for migration and anti-racism policies, but also for the EU’s geopolitical standing. Racism, xenophobia and Europe’s colonial legacies are increasingly acute obstacles to EU efforts to open a new chapter in relations with Africa.

This became clear last year when many African countries declined to join the EU’s stance over the war in Ukraine, arguing, as the Senegalese president Macky Sall did, that the “burden of history” makes them wary of involvement in a new cold war. Contrasting the EU’s warm welcome to those fleeing Ukraine with Europe’s stop-migration policies for others, Martin Kimani, Kenya’s ambassador to the UN, urged the EU to ensure that movement to Europe is also “safe and dignified”.

EU leaders may live in a well-insulated parallel universe where domestic and external issues are unconnected. Kimani’s words are a warning that Europe should practise at home what it preaches abroad. Failure to do so is an abdication of responsibility towards these countries’ citizens of colour and to refugees and migrants. It is also eroding the EU’s global standing.

#taboos #falling #fast #embraces #farright #racist #approach #migration #Shada #Islam

Leave a Comment