Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Weaponizing Refugees at the Land Borders of Evros: Constructing the Other Through Fear and Danger



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Guest post by Εvgenia Kouniaki. Εvgenia is a Lawyer at HumanRights360. She focuses on monitoring and reporting cases of illegal practices at the European land borders of Evros, as well as hate crime across the country. She is a graduate of the Law School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and of Social Anthropology of the Panteion University of Athens. She is currently enrolled in the Postgraduate Program in Social and Cultural Anthropology at Panteion University. She was also a member   of   the   legal   team   of the civil litigation in the Golden Dawn's trial representing the Egyptian victims.

Photo: Dimitris Tosidis

The moments of 2015, when we witnessed European and Greek solidarity with refugees turned gradually  into a dystopia forming the crisis of February-March 2020, with images of hatred and racist violence on the Aegean islands and the Evros borders flooding the media. While Turkey was invading Syria’s northern borders, the media and the official - European and national - political leadership spoke of Erdogan's invasion to Europe using refugees as a weapon.  Similar to how the "crisis" of 2015-2016 was used to “legitimize” the need of even greater border “protection”, through surveillance, detention, and increased returns, the February-March crisis was used for the reinforcement of border militarization. This post attempts to capture how these two ‘crises’ continue to shape migration and asylum policy in Greece and in the European Union.

The new Pact on Asylum and Immigration, reinforces not only questionable border procedures but also the externalization of refugee management through readmission agreements, equivalent to the EU- Turkey Joint Declaration, which the Greek government requested to be replicated at the land borders of Evros. In this context, reception and detention centers at the land borders will become key migration management tools, resembling the situation on the Aegean islands.

The concentration of 13,000 people in Kastanies, Evros in February/March 2020 was confronted violently (by both sides) with widespread use of chemicals, two killings and illegal pushbacks in which "self-appointed" groups related to far-right organizations in Greece, Germany and Austria participated. 

During this time, refugees were defined in domestic media as the "national enemy", "Erdogan's tool, weapon", and border protection was equated with deterrence and pushbacks. In the name of a national security threat, the Greek state justified the purchase and supply of ammunition, M84 stun grenades, grenades of chemicals, grenades (CS830) and armament, amounting to 2,180,520.00 Euros. According to the Ministry of Citizen Protection, all those purchases were completed "for the purpose of covering any urgent and unforeseen necessities of the Greek Police concerning any possible tackle of migration flows in the Evros Region". Additionally, according to news articles, the Hellenic Police and Greek Army bought two "super-weapons", two Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) «to help prevent illegal crossings by refugees and migrants into Europe». The LRAD is an acoustic hailing device, sound cannon and sonic weapon. According to the reports, its use causes "painful pain, shock, panic and disorients the victim".

This militarization also includes the strengthening of various advanced forms of surveillance and deterrence such as the fence in Evros borders, drones, thermal cameras and more. This is all backed up with more EU money; at least 28.406.664,99 Euros is currently channeled to Greece to build walls around reception and identification centers and refugee camps.

At the same time, criminalization of new arrivals has been dealt with severity by the local criminal courts. Refugees, families from countries with high refugee profiles such as Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, following the flagrant delicto proceedings, were convicted of illegal entry, and were sentenced to up to 4 years in prison and a fine of 10,000 euros, without suspension of their sentence and were transferred to prisons in the mainland. In some cases, new arrivals, including unaccompanied minors, received a notice for a pending trial for illegal entry within the first 10 days of their arrest. This penal treatment is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention as article 31 stipulates that no sanctions must be imposed on those coming from countries where their lives and freedoms are in danger.

At a European level, the so-called refugee “crisis” (2015-2016) is still being used ideologically to justify the investment of funds by the EU in the border surveillance and control industry, as shown in the FRONTEX budget (p.60 the provisional Draft Estimate of Revenue 2021 (900,414,187). However, arrivals in Europe hardly approach the significant numbers of 2015. More specifically, 204,720 refugees arrived in 2017, 150,100 in 2018, 141,850 in 2019 and 95,031 in 2020; the latter only refers to arrivals in the Mediterranean Sea. Accordingly, arrivals from 2009 to 2014 have been at roughly the same level. Consequently, the current numbers cannot be a valid reason for investing huge amounts of money at deterrence and surveillance mechanisms.

In parallel, the Pact introduces a “solidarity mechanism”, in the form of the “Return sponsorship”, whereby a Member State commits to support a Member State under migratory pressure by carrying out the necessary activities to return individually identified illegallstaying third-country nationals from the territory of a Member State benefitting from a compulsory solidarity measure, {…}. However, if these efforts prove to be unsuccessful after 8 months, the sponsoring Member State would transfer the persons concerned and continue its efforts to return them in accordance with the Return Directive 2008/115/EC”.  In fact, for each relocation, if the return process by the Host State fails, the Sponsoring State receives a relocation contribution to continue the return process, a contribution of €10,000 per relocated person in order to be finally returned by the Sponsoring State (chapter 5.2).

Undoubtedly, the European Union has set to reinforce a system of economics of illegality  in the name of “the fight against illegal immigration”, where human and financial resources are wasted and respectively “invested” not in the integration and employment of cultural and productive assets of those seeking a better future in Europe but in their detention and organized de-legalization and dehumanization. The “contribution” of relocating “illegal immigrants” in order to be returned highlights a mechanism that produces “illegal people” who are “bought” and “sold” within the EU.

Such migration and asylum regulations construct and produce objects to be governed through management devices, categories, and mechanisms, based on colonial racial hierarchies (Rodriguez, 2018). The equation of the “mechanism of solidarity” with “return sponsorship” consists of a racial ideology where we – the Europeans – need to build “solidarity” to confront the – uncivilized, dangerous, poor – Other. This mechanism is a painful reminder of Europe’s colonial past.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Kouniaki, E. (2021). Weaponizing Refugees at the Land Borders of Evros: Constructing the Other Through Fear and Danger. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/06/weaponizing [date]

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