The human cost of building fences

The human cost of building fences

While the EU spends millions on keeping people out, a quiet tragedy is unfolding at the gates of ‘Fortress Europe’.

Europe is a continent shaped by warfare, with a history of people moving around seeking sanctuary and a better life. Thousands fleeing war and poverty are still arriving at the EU’s borders, thinking they have reached safety.

Many of today’s refugees and migrants have fled desperate situations in countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. They make their – often dangerous – journeys to Europe in the belief that it will protect their human rights.

But these days, very few of them ever get the chance to enter ‘Fortress Europe’. Over the last few years, EU countries have been busy building fences, real and invisible, to keep people out.

Bulgaria is the latest example of this. Almost 8,000 refugees and migrants – more than half from Syria – crossed its border with Turkey between September and November 2013. Between January and the end of March 2014, just 302 made it across.

What changed

The answer is clear: keeping people out is EU strategy. This works on two fronts: It enlists its non-EU neighbours, such as Turkey, to intercept people heading for Europe. It also encourages EU countries to secure their borders, invest in sophisticated technology and deploy thousands of border guards.

As our new research shows, this has recently happened in both Bulgaria and Greece.

Since 2007, the EU has spent €1.82 billion on managing its outer borders. Frontex – the agency that co-ordinates border operations between EU states – has a budget of €89.2 million for 2014. By contrast, the European Asylum Support Office has a budget of just €15.6 million.

Keeping people out is an expensive business. And it offers no solutions – it simply pushes people from one border to another, forcing them to take ever-riskier journeys to reach safety. The Mediterranean route from north Africa to Italy claimed over 400 lives in October last year alone.

The human cost of Fortress Europe is growing. An estimated 23,000 people have lost their lives trying to reach Europe since 2000. Millions are stuck in limbo, often without even basic support, in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Through our S.O.S. Europe campaign, Amnesty is calling on all European governments to stop the spiralling human cost of the fortress they are building. We want them to protect people before borders, and shoulder their responsibility to care for some of the world’s most vulnerable children, women and men.
Building fences is not the answer – we can do better than this.

MYTH: Europe is being flooded by refugees.
REALITY: Most refugees stay in their home region. The countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees in mid-2013 were Chad, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and the USA.

1 million: Syrian refugees living in Lebanon by April 2014.
4.5 million: The original population of Lebanon.
96,326: Number of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe from the beginning of the crisis until April 2014.

Take action
Join our S.O.S. Europe campaign – visit and use #SOSEurope and follow @SOS_Europe on Twitter