Europe's Deadly Borders An Inside Look at EU's Shameful Immigration Policy

Along the frontiers between Spain and Morocco, Greece and Turkey and Hungary and Serbia, the EU is deploying brutal methods to keep out undesired refugees. Many risk everything for a future in Europe and their odysseys too often end in death.

The EU is doing all it can to keep out refugees.
Carlos Spottorno/DER SPIEGEL

The EU is doing all it can to keep out refugees.


Green dots and lines document the course of the border on wall monitors in the situation room of Fortress Europe, on the 23rd floor of a skyscraper in Warsaw. Klaus Rösler, 59, a German police officer and 40-year civil service veteran, is in command. He uses terms like "storm on the borders," "risk regions" and "overcoming crises." Rösler is the director of the operations division at the European border agency, Frontex, and he makes it sound as though his agency is defending Europe against an enemy.

The green dots identify refugees who have been apprehended. The dots are small and sparse between the coast of West Africa and the Canary Islands. They become more dense in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece. The sea route between Libya and Italy is almost entirely green.

Rösler has worked as a senior official with the German Federal Police in Macedonia, at the German-Czech border and at the Munich Airport. He took the position at Frontex in Warsaw in September 2008.

For a long time, there were only a handful of politicians in Brussels with an interest in the work at Frontex. The agency has been beefing up Europe's external borders against an influx of refugees since 2005. But now the civil war in Syria is creating millions of new refugees, and the next exodus is beginning in Iraq, as the terrorist group Islamic State continues to make inroads into the country.

In the Mediterranean, the Italian coast guard picks up desperate people from rickety vessels almost daily. In Germany, close to 20,000 people applied for asylum in July, the greatest number in 20 years. Some 200,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Germany this year.

A Question of Europe's Values

Given such numbers -- given the images of over-filled boats in the Mediterranean, border fences and overcrowded intake centers in cities across Europe, the question of the European Union's border policy is becoming a question of the EU's character and values. When 387 people drowned last October in a disaster off the Italian island of Lampedusa, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström called it a "horrible tragedy." The coffins lined up in a hanger at the Lampedusa airport were incompatible with the image "we Europeans have of ourselves," German President Joachim Gauck said in Berlin in late June, as he urged the EU to accept more refugees. Many citizens feel compassion for those who embark on the dangerous journey to Europe.

Nevertheless, the policies of European leaders have not changed since the Lampedusa calamity. The Italian coast guard and navy have frequently rescued boats in distress since last October, when operation Mare Nostrum began, bringing about 70,000 people onto Italian soil. But there was another disaster in late August, when 200 refugees died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in a decrepit wooden boat. Italy has also announced that it will end its rescue operations, which cost the country €9 million ($11.7 million) a month, saying it wants Frontex to take over. A division of the border agency called Frontex Plus will now assume at least a portion of the Italians' duties, although funding remains unclear.

Photo Gallery

3  Photos
Photo Gallery: Protecting Europe's Borders
There is virtually no legal path to Europe for refugees -- not for most Syrians, of which only very few are brought to Germany as so-called contingent refugees, not for Iraqis and not for people from troubled West African countries. Those wishing to apply for asylum in the EU must arrive illegally first -- on smugglers' boats, hidden in minibuses or traveling with forged passports on commercial flights. The EU is sealing itself off, fearing that if it fails to do so, even more people will come, particularly from poorer countries. But it is also true that the transformation of the EU into a fortress has created the conditions that have led to deaths along its borders. Many refugees choose the extremely dangerous route across the Mediterranean because Frontex is sealing off land routes.

Rösler coordinates Europe's defenses against migrants. His agency's annual budget has skyrocketed from roughly €6 million in 2005 to almost €90 million today. On Frontex's recommendation, EU countries send police officers and equipment to border regions. Under the Frontex mandate, officers from Germany, France and Romania jointly patrol Europe's external borders.

According to Rösler, Frontex's job is to control migration rather than prevent it. But the agency's success is based on how effectively it defends Europe against irregular immigrants -- and, therefore, potential asylum seekers.

The organization analyzes data from national border agencies including Spain's Guardia Civil and the Greek coast guard. They count illegal border crossings and collect information about traffickers and migration routes. Under Frontex leadership, the EU launched a new €340-million program last December to monitor its borders with the aid of drones and satellites.

A Staggering Death Toll

One number that Frontex does not record, however, is how many people die on Europe's external borders.

A consortium of European journalists found that more than 23,000 people have lost their lives while attempting to reach Europe in the last 14 years.

In Greece, refugees report abuse by coast guard officers. Hungarian prison doctors systematically administer sedatives to keep refugee camp inmates calm. Moroccan soldiers mistreat migrants camping out on the border with Spain. Aid organizations have documented these incidents.

Frontex is almost never involved in such human rights violations, and yet almost all of these incidents of brutality occur within the agency's sphere of influence -- and involve methods that make a mockery of what Europe represents.

Discuss this issue with other readers!
24 total posts
Show all comments
Page 1
superstueystu 09/11/2014
1. Enough is enough
As a young British student who has grown further and further against the EU I don't understand the pro uncontrolled immigration stance of this article? We have staggering youth unemployment and serious economic stagnation and debts across the EU. In the UK we have massive housing shortages, public services like healthcare and welfare are at breaking point. Food banks springing up everywhere. Social cohesion between immigrant communities and native citizens is at an all time low thanks to failed policies concentrating on multiculturalism rather than integration. We have every right both morally and politically to properly secure our borders and deport any and all illegal immigrants. We simply cannot afford to house, educate and support the worlds poor. We need a tough stance and a clear message that only those who have the skills we need, who are willing to integrate and respect our values and laws are welcome. I believe the Australians have the right idea. Otherwise the rise of nationalism and the extreme right will become very serious. I fully support this tougher immigration stance and believe it does not go far enough.
abtavares 09/11/2014
we shouldn't have borders? is this what you you're trying to say?
aibl 09/11/2014
3. immigration
"We want to live a decent life," says Eog.That´s it. Many of these uneducated people know it´s better to be uneemployed in the EU than in their failed native countries which remain at a medieval level due to a medieval religious ideology which they want to export to Europe, i.a. because their holy book commands them to do so. The Spiegel post is deeply irresponsible toward indigenous Europeans, who are losing their social states and safety on their own streets due to mass immigration. The Daily Mail 4 Apr. 2014, an army of 600.000 migrants (now probably more) are lined up on the African coast for an onslaught on Europe. Spiegel seems to want all of Africa and the Middle East to settle in Europe - partly due to wars instigated by the West through its Arab Spring and ouster of dictators who were able to govern the Muslims for whom democracy is blasphemy: Allah has given their Laws - secular Western laws are an offence to them.
donald.dutkowski 09/11/2014
Since when is it a moral obligation for any citizens of any country to allow ILLEGALS to come in to their country? GUNS at borders has been the usual as far as I can recall. THAT is why passports are issued.
peskyvera 09/11/2014
But when Switzerland, a small country, votes to restrict the number of people allowed to settle per year...all hell broke lose. Always pointing accusing fingers at others while conveniently ignoring the own sins.
Show all comments
Page 1

All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with permission

Die Homepage wurde aktualisiert. Jetzt aufrufen.
Hinweis nicht mehr anzeigen.