The death of 23 migrants in the Spanish enclave of Melilla should shine a spotlight on the failures of the EU’s migrant control policy.
Many media outlets shared tragic images depicting the anti-migrant repression in the border zone of Melilla, one of the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, where at least 23 Sub-Saharan migrants died on June 24 trying to cross the fence between Morocco and Melilla.
Despite the gory televised images of this tragedy, the event itself was not an exception, far from it. Similar accounts are regularly reported from the Poland-Belarus border, the Mediterranean shores, or the English Channel.
Indeed, what happened in Melilla is merely a recap of a story that the rest of the world knows only too well.
Once upon a time, Europe boasted of being a beacon of enlightenment. It even hid its imperialist designs under the pretext of “spreading civilisation.” Nowadays, though, not much is left of that veneer.
However, the European dream is very much alive in the minds of the destitute migrants, as thousands embark on dangerous journeys to survive extreme poverty. Across the global south, where Western colonialism left only despair and misery, the chickens are coming back home to roost.
Meanwhile, Europe, much like the Roman empire millennia before, is busy building walls across its borders. Among the first walls to be erected two decades ago was in Ceuta and Melilla, one of the vestiges of Spanish colonialism in North Africa.
Today, there are 1000 km long walls on the borders of the European Union. Every year, a new one is built. Needless to say, despite the construction of these walls in Melilla, the influx of migrants is on the rise. The use of walls, technological surveillance, and lethal violence from Spanish and Moroccan forces have not resolved the migrant problem.
The same conclusion can be witnessed in other European peripheries. This failure cannot be swept under the carpet, even when the EU likes to resort to perception management tactics, as they did in their very selective treatment of the Ukrainian refugees.
The politics of migration
Two lessons can be drawn from the Melilla episode. First, migrants and migration are among the most important issues in international politics. Considering political instability in different places, global inequality and the climate crisis, it is not difficult to foresee that the influx of migrants will continue to increase. As this problem grows, it has greater bearing on international relations. The ups and downs of Spain-Morocco relations and the human tragedy that occurred in Melilla clearly shows this correlation.
In May 2021, more than 8,000 migrants crossed into Ceuta and Melilla in a matter of days. A few months before, tensions between Spain and Morocco simmered to reach their climax. The ability of thousands of migrants to cross the Spanish side of the border in a very short time was associated with the willful negligence of the Moroccan forces at the border. The Spanish side also accused Morocco of blackmailing the migrants to cross the border.
A similar episode unfolded on the Belarus-Polish border in 2021 when migrants gathered and were charged by the border police, which implemented illegal pushbacks at odds with international law and the EU’s own human rights code. Back then, EU countries accused Belarusian president Lukashenko of blackmail. On the other hand, Lukashenko did not hesitate to imply that the cause of the crisis were the policies of EU states.
The heavy-handed approach of the Moroccan border police contrasted with the nonchalant attitude they displayed about a year ago. At that time, the flux of migrants caused a political crisis in Spain. Following this incident in Melilla and Ceuta, Spain changed its neutrality policy in the Western Sahara issue in favour of Morocco.
Therefore, the zeal demonstrated by the Moroccan forces was purely transactional. They now have more reasons to guard the borders vigorously. This chapter, and many others, show that the role of migrants in international relations will increase in the coming years. Unfortunately, this means also more violence will be directed against migrants.
EU’s outsourcing policy
The second aspect is that the Melilla tragedy echoes the failure of the EU’s job of “outsourcing” its migrant control policy to external actors to keep its hands clean.
This strategy was reflected in the brutality of the Moroccan police in Melilla, not the Spanish, while not involving the Spanish government directly. Likewise, the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guards hunt migrants in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, the violence perpetrated by border countries like Greece, Hungary and Poland is whitewashed as individual mistakes at the local level. In a way, the EU also outsources the problem to its border countries even if the human cost is dire.
A joint investigation by influential media organisations like Le Monde and The Guardian revealed the extent of the abuse. According to the report, Greece enslaves some illegal migrants and forcibly use them to entrap other migrants, and send them back after subjecting them to abuse and torture.
The methods followed by the EU and its member states are simply abject, underlining the hypocrisy of Brussels. It is ironic to compare the EU’s approach in this context with its declared principles of integrity, the rule of law and due process.
Overall, this problem has been institutionalised in different ways over the years. Western countries view the migrant predicament through the prism through violence and repression. In the current situation, non-governmental and human rights organisations are quasi-absent from the Western discourse on migrants.
As discrimination and violence against migrants grow daily, all human rights organisations, opinion leaders and freedom-loving people around the world must use their influence and power to stand against the EU’s inhumane treatment of migrants.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of TRT World website.