A Walled Europe: The Shadow of the Middle Ages in Migration Policies

Yoselina Guevara
The Brenner Pass hosted a symbolic border crossing in protest against Austrian plans to deploy its military in the area to block refugees from entering the country. Fabian Wagner

In the face of the certain possibility of a new wave of refugees, particularly from Afghanistan, twelve European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia) asked the European Union (EU), through a joint document, to finance with European funds the construction of walls on their borders. According to the nations signing the petition, Brussels should further strengthen border measures against migrants by adapting the “existing legal framework to new realities”, such as the “criminalization of irregular migration”, considering that “physical barriers are an effective protection measure that serves the interests of the entire European Union, not only of the Member States and that this legitimate measure, should be additionally and adequately financed through the EU budget as a matter of urgency”.

The document also states that “to ensure the integrity and normal functioning of the Schengen area, all our external borders must be protected with the highest level of security … our migration and asylum policy must be resistant to abuse by third countries.”

Europe without a common migration policy

EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson stated that so far the bloc will not fund walls against migrants. The Pact on Immigration and Asylum, proposed by the European Commission a year ago, goes in the direction of strengthening the external borders: externalization and repatriation are the two pillars on which the commission’s policy document is based, announced in September 2020, a few days after the fire that destroyed the Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Reiterating the anachronistic approach that the only solution is to lock oneself in a fortress, to “prevent” the entry of thousands of citizens who in their desperation keep trying to enter Europe, will never lead to the solution of a problem that involves many edges, among which stands out the futility of the wars, invasions and sanctions that the United States and its European allies have propitiated in the countries of origin of the refugees. Of course, the protection of external borders is of utmost importance, but it must be separated from the migration issue. To think that “illegal routes” along which migrants move can be countered by erecting walls and putting up barbed wire is not only inhumane, but bordering on insanity. The consequences of unregulated migration systems and the reduction of reception capacities can only be dealt with in one way, namely by giving the European Union a common foreign policy, in addition to the much-vaunted defense policy, which also has competences in the field of migration.

The multiplication of walls

According to a 2020 study, in 1989 there were six physical barriers in the world and now there are 63; among the best known walls is the one propitiated by Donald Trump, which separates the United States from Mexico. But there are also several walled borders in Europe and their construction has increased since the migration crisis of 2015, during which Hungarian President Viktor Orbán built a fence on the border between Hungary and Serbia to prevent refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghans traveling the Balkan route, from entering the country to reach other destinations in the European Union. Right in that area is where the walls are multiplying between Slovenia and Croatia, between North Macedonia and Greece, and on the border of Lithuania and Belarus. So far, the longest wall, 235 kilometers long, is located on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey.

Other barriers have been placed on the border between Greece and Turkey, in the area of the Evros River, which is one of the busiest crossing points for migrants with about 40 km and monitored with drones. Poland, is preparing to build its barriers, while Spain, has reinforced the nets and barbed wire in its two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in African territory, France intends to wall its borders around the port of Calais. Lithuania has already announced the construction of a 508-kilometer-long wall on its border with Belarus to stop the arrival of migrants, mainly from Iraq.

Latvian authorities have also recently revealed that they will build a 134-kilometer-long fence on their border with Belarus. What is on the horizon is a medieval future with walled cities and countries reverting to the old barbaric policies where there is no respect for human rights or international law.

Yoselina Guevara Correo del Alba Venezuelan correspondent in Italy