Dismantling fences

03 March 2016

Brussels, 3 March 2016 – "I
really don’t think anyone would leave their whole life, their home, friends and
memories unless they have to," Iva, a JRS staff member in Croatia, told Danielle
Vella of JRS Europe recently, "We see people aged 80 years and more, people in
wheelchairs… yesterday there was a man who had two heart attacks. No one takes
such a risky way just to leave home. They want to see if they are lucky enough
to get away from a situation of certain death to one where some will

As countries have restricted entry to their territories, with
some closing their borders in a domino effect, a bottleneck of people has built
up in Greece

seekers are blocked by fences and guards who are prepared to use force to keep
migrants from crossing the borders. As a result, migrants will resort to
smugglers as the only option for moving out of Greece to another European
country where they can more feasibly claim asylum.

Our partners
at ECRE support the reality that high fences and barbed wire cannot keep people
fleeing war and persecution out of Europe. The building of
fences along borders is an inappropriate and ineffective attempt to control the
movement of people. Instead, effort should be concerted towards safe and legal
channels for protection in Europe, harmonisation of reception conditions in all
EU member states and solid integration policies to assist people upon

JRS Europe
is concerned with the conclusions that the European Council reached on
migration issues in mid-February.
By attempting to control and reduce the flow of people arriving, their main
objectives are: "to rapidly stem the flows, protect our external borders,
reduce illegal migration and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area."

areas of concern are the proposed European Border and Coast Guard, which is
proposed to be operational by July, and the Council’s suggestion of FRONTEX’s
increased cooperation with NATO.  As pointed
out by Human Rights Watch
, this operation
potentially complicates implementing the non-refoulement principle and prevents
forced migrants from reaching the EU territory, which is a violation of their
fundamental rights.

"The lack of
clarity of the EU’s intentions around the development of such instruments and
the role that the NATO operation will play in the Aegean Sea is worrisome," says Olga Siebert, JRS Europe Advocacy Officer. Questions arise about the
obligations that these bodies will have to uphold fundamental rights while they
have the power to function as military operations. "JRS serves and accompanies
people on the ground, therefore we are concerned that the Council focuses on
protection of borders, rather than protection of people," Siebert concludes.

JRS Europe urges
the Member States of the European Union to uphold the rights and dignity of
people seeking international protection. In doing so, they must dismantle
fences, both those that are physical and symbolic.

In JRS’s work
with refugees, we witness every day the hope and resilience that people have in the
face of such daunting obstacles. We hear refugees tell us that they see Europe
as a place where freedom and justice are upheld, such as Haysem who came from
Syria with his wife and five little children: "For four years, I’ve been dreaming to get here. Now I feel
very calm, good and happy. Just now, we were all singing together in our room –
me, my wife and my children."

“JRS serves and accompanies people on the ground, therefore we are concerned that the Council focuses on protection of borders, rather than protection of people.”
-Olga Siebert, Advocacy Officer, JRS Europe