The new European Union policy extending the FRONTEX mandate on border protection into Western Balkan countries also expresses a further engagement: it prioritizes the protection of borders over the protection of the lives of migrants and refugees.
The significance of this policy can be interpreted not only as a breach of international humanitarian conventions and practices, but also as an instrument that establishes European commonality as an exceptional value vis-à-vis the external — that is the neighboring Middle East and Africa.
The borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ now run along continental lines, and the long-isolated Balkan region is becoming incorporated into the Union through the militarization of its borders.
The fact that border control ‘enlargement’ came to the Western Balkans before single market enlargement, tells about the EU’s priorities in the region and about its internal shifting climate. Now that xenophobia has become a mainstream political presence in many member states, policing, borders, and deportations are becoming even more important issues for Brussels.
Hungarization of the Balkans
Undoubtedly, Hungary is the country that sets standards for inhuman policies and practices of treating refugees and migrants at its borders. Although criticized by a number of human rights organizations, it has never been punished for its racist fence on the border with Serbia.
In the first step of the “Hungarization” of the Balkans, Albania is now going to host FRONTEX, the European border and Coast Guard Agency, which will patrol along its land and coastal borders. FRONTEX is tasked with being the border and coast guards of Schengen Area member states, but now this mandate has been extended, and soon Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro will join the border control union, too.
Instead of opening the borders and accepting the people fleeing from the worst places on the face of the earth, the EU has found a way to talk about common challenges in managing borders – these being the words of Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
The European Union is one of the best institutional structures in the world in terms of mechanicalization of real life issues.
The European Union is one of the best institutional structures in the world in terms of mechanicalization of real life issues, banalizing concrete situations and finally muting its complicity in the worst human catastrophes of recent decades — the deathbed called the Mediterranean.
FRONTEX forces on the European borders display the most extreme, yet central role of the sovereign, that of deciding which lives are worthy of being counted as desirable and which lives are discounted as unworthy and left to bare existence. Stripped of their rights as refugees and migrants, arriving at the shores of Europe they find themselves in the midst of an abyss created by the violation of international conventions by various member states.
The Balkan states that have struggled for a long time to improve their human rights record, and have often faced heavy criticism from the EU, are now being compelled by that same structure to restrict and violate the rights of refugees and migrants.
This practice shows that the political climate that has been unfolding in Europe in the last decade has somehow incorporated the once discriminated against peoples of the Balkans into the idea of Europeanness, but, this has come as a result of the “need” to unite against a new and much deeper “difference” — the people of other continents.
Necropolitics of Frontex
The borders and migration policy of the EU has been one of the key features of its politics, which operates through various levels of exclusion. Inside the new border that will now include the Western Balkan countries and will “protect Europe against foreigners,” there is another border that still protects the European “core” against an internal “foreignness” — the Schengen zone.
The freedom of movement for most Western Balkan countries inside this zone is limited to only three months in half a year — effectively determining the substance of the travels to this zone – limited… preview version.
While the Schengen politics is a politics of discipline, the politics of FRONTEX in the Western Balkans is proper necropolitics.
And in the case of Kosovo, the exclusion is total and collective, with individual exceptions — only those who are checked in person can be allowed to travel individually for the duration that the visa prescribes.
While the Schengen rules perform individual control (three months limit or visa limit), thus still recognizing some sort of political capacity and rights to these individuals, the external control by FRONTEX at the Western Balkans borders performs control on bodies — the aim is to restrict as much as possible the number of “foreign bodies” entering the continent.
While the Schengen politics is a politics of discipline, the politics of FRONTEX in the Western Balkans is proper necropolitics. It is a policy that declares the life within the “common European zone” as one that is worthy, and the one outside its border as ‘bare life’ — one that is reduced to its biological/natural status.
The move of FRONTEX troops to Albania, and then to other Western Balkans countries, has to do precisely with the display of necropolitics. Up until now, the Western Balkans region has been an “indeterminate zone” where refugees and migrants were entering and wandering through the territory of European soil, thus entering the space where life is worthy, but as bodies that were not recognized in their political existence.
The mixture of these two elements created this zone of indeterminacy that the EU could not tolerate anymore. When Commissioner Avramopoulos speaks of commonality, he addresses exactly the common space determined for the worthy life. Beyond this space, human beings are left to the fate of natural conditions — to the deadly waters of the Mediterranean.
Many examples show that border controls will not solve the refugee and migrant problem, as long as the very conditions which drive people to leave their countries are not addressed.
Many examples show that border controls will not solve the refugee and migrant problem, as long as the very conditions that drive people to leave their countries are not addressed by a common international effort, where the EU could play a leading role. But instead of addressing these, the EU has worked with African countries, such as Libya and Niger, to provide them financial support and in return demand a stricter limitation of the movement of refugees and migrants through these countries.
As a result, we have seen torture camps in Libya and a set of new inhumane laws adopted in Niger against the movement of refugees and migrants. What happens in these countries, is of no concern to the EU that is incentivizing a barbaric treatment of refugees and migrants — the torture takes place outside the zone of worthy life. It only cares that the numbers of bodies arriving on its shores decreases, and to date it has achieved significant success.
But the cost that is being paid in human lives is unbearable and continues to produce tragedies of an appalling scale — the European Union is directly complicit in these tragedies. A few days ago, a group of international lawyers sent a submission to the International Criminal Court demanding an investigation into the direct complicity of the EU in thousands of migrant and refugee deaths in the mediteranean.
The countries of the Western Balkans do not have to participate in exacerbating this tragedy but, due to their complicated position with the EU, they are being slowly dragged into the militaristic complex, without yet participating in the economic one.
Western Balkans will embark on implementing border policies that came as a result of a political strengthening of the darkest political forces of the continent.
Most of the regional political groups would believe that having FRONTEX on their soil and around their borders, means a step closer to the EU. But, the question now is: What kind of Union are we getting closer to?
Rather than FRONTEX maybe the better example is the Greek population of the islands, who for many years now have provided help and aid for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants.
We’ve also seen similar examples of solidarity in our countries. People from Velika Kladuša, Bihać, Tuzla and other cities all over Bosnia have provided shelter, food and support to refugees through self-organized initiatives.
And instead of taking over this human practice and institutionalizing it, Western Balkan governments are embarking on a policy that runs in the other direction — making the life of refugees even more precarious.
Being the last few countries in Europe where there are no such strong anti-migrant and anti-refugee mainstream political elements, the Western Balkans will embark on implementing border policies that came as a result of a political strengthening of the darkest political forces of the continent.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.