Knocking at the Doors of “Fortress Europe”: Migration and Border Control in Southern Spain and Eastern Poland (Working Paper #126)

Stefan Alscher, Humboldt University

Introduction: The “fight against illegal migration” has become a main topic of EU-summits in the last years: common border patrols, harmonization of deportation proceedings, and more funding for the control of the exterior borders represent several key themes punctuating ongoing debates. The explosiveness of this subject is illustrated by images of overloaded refugee boats, floating on the Mediterranean Sea near the Spanish, Italian or Greek coastlines; these images add fuel to anxieties in parts of the population of the actual and future EU-member states. The events in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in October 2005, when hundreds of desperate migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa tried to enter EU-territory by climbing over or tearing down the fences, were drawing even more attention to this subject – and showed clearly the deficiencies of the EU migration policy.

At the same time, the European Union just witnessed the biggest enlargement in its history. Ten states, above all from Central and East-central Europe, joined the EU on the 1st of May 2004. Although this step partially abolished the longstanding division of the European continent into East and West, it is foreseeable that new parting lines will emerge at the future exterior borders of the EU. The new neighbors of the enlarged EU – like Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine – have no perspective of joining the club.

Though debates about a broader concept of Europe (“wider Europe”) beyond the newborderlines are discussed in several circles inside and outside the Union, these discussions will not have any notable effects for the living conditions of the citizens of bordering states. Rather, citizens of the Mediterranean border states or the neighboring states beyond the future eastern border will not be able to enjoy a visa-free entrance to the EU in the mid- to long-term perspective.

Furthermore, negotiations between the EU, single member states and the actual and future neighbors are designing the construction of a “security belt” against undocumented migration. Readmission-agreements, safe third-country regulations, and lists of secure countries of origin are some of the instruments used by the administrations of the EU and its member states to move the problem of undocumented immigration away from the center of the Union. As well, southern neighbors like Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as eastern neighbors such as Ukraine are being integrated into the safeguard system against undocumented migration – and therefore are being asked to strengthen their border controls and to readmit those migrants who entered the EU via their territories.

But it is not so much the neighboring states that are intensifying their border controls. Above all those EU-member states, which have to supervise parts of the common EU-exterior border, have been and still are intensifying border controls as a defense measure against undocumented immigration. Since summer 2002, the “Integral System of Exterior Surveillance” (SIVE)1 has been put into operation at the Strait of Gibraltar. With the help of modern high-tech measures, migrants’ boats are already recognized shortly after leaving the Moroccan coastline and beginning their journey towards the north. The SIVE is to be expanded to additional coastlines including the Canary Islands.

Similar developments can be observed at the Polish eastern border. Poland’s borders with its neighbors Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad have been strengthened with support from foreign border-guard agencies – especially the German Bundesgrenzschutz2 – and financed by EU-funds from the PHARE-program. Border Guard stations, which are responsible for the monitoring of the so-called “green border”, have been erected at an interval of 12 to maximum 15 miles along the whole eastern borderline.

Working Paper #126»