At the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’

By Rosa Mas Giralt

The outer borders of the European Union and their ‘barrier’ structures are back in the news. Since FRONTEX, the EU’s agency for border security, started to reinforce the policing of unofficial migration routes through the Canary Islands in 2007, the course of these routes has turned towards the Eastern side of ‘Fortress Europe’. In these new trajectories, Malta, Greece and the Italian islands have become the major border spaces that undocumented immigrants attempt to negotiate. In recent reports, the BBC and The Telegraph have brought to the fore the situation on the border between Greece and Turkey, where an increasing number of undocumented immigrants are being stopped and held in detention centres. FRONTEX has also become active at this border, allegedly cutting the crossings from 350 to 60 people a day. Consequently, those would-be immigrants arrested (men, women and children) are held in detention centres, which human rights organizations have denounced as overcrowded and unhygienic. The image of crowds of people calling to journalists from behind the bars of these detention centres causes many to question the politics behind ‘Fortress Europe’.

Human geographers have long battled with trying to understand the decision-making processes of people who decide to leave their countries of origin for what, on many occasions, is an unknown future in an unknown land. A complex combination of macro and micro factors play a role in migrants’ decision-making processes; insecurity, natural disasters, poverty, family obligations, the wish for safety and a better future are all powerful factors that many contemporary migrants face. In a forthcoming article for Area, Van der Velde and Van Naerssen (2010) propose a geographical approach for analyzing cross-border mobility by using the case of the European Union. The EU’s policy is based on the premise that migration can be controlled by its outer border system so the authors consider whether these borders act as barriers to the potential mobility of people (from outside of the EU but also across European countries). Overall, they try to develop a model which can take into account all the factors influencing spatial behaviours in international migration, analyzing them through the basic components involved in human (im)mobility: people, borders and trajectories. Their approach brings to the fore, once more, not only the diversity of factors that play a role in people’s movement (or not) across borders but also the difficulty in developing models which can accommodate complex understandings of human agency, borders and trajectories.

 Read the BBC’s report by Razia Iqbal “Migrants at Greece-Turkey border face bleak future”

 Read The Telegraph‘s report “Sharp rise in illegal immigrants entering Europe through Greece”

 Read  Martin Van Der Velde and Ton Van Naerssen (2010) “People, borders, trajectories: an approach to cross-border mobility and immobility in and to the European Union”. Area. [Early View]

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