Fortress Europe: EU borders and the privilege of perspective

On the anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, our reporter recalls her experiences at the Idomeni refugee camp.

Freedom of travel, but for who?
Freedom of travel, but for who?imago

Berlin-Whether borders are perceptible depends on the position from which one encounters them. When it comes to the movement of human beings across nation states, therefore, it is not the destination that is decisive but the starting point of the journey.

In the Henley Passport Index, the German passport is listed third out of 116. Ahead of it are Japan and Singapore. In last place is Afghanistan. The index describes the travel freedoms that comes with citizenship, in other words, the level of pure privilege enjoyed by the passport holder.

As someone with German citizenship, raised in the Europe of the Schengen promise, I am one of those people who barely feel national borders as a hindrance to their own freedom of movement. But in March 2016, this very same Europe blatantly demonstrated the arbitrariness of my national status. On the border between (then still) Macedonia and northern Greece, near the village of Idomeni, more than 10,000 people who had fled war and persecution from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq camped out not far from a fence guarded by Greek and Macedonian soldiers.

Rubber bullets, fences and push-backs

I drove with a small group from Berlin to Idomeni, a good 24-hour drive in a cramped car. We wanted to help distribute food, water and sleeping bags, to entertain the children a bit. But I also wanted to understand what was happening. For months there had been news reports of people struggling on foot through all kinds of weather. Photos of heaps of life jackets on the Mediterranean shores which stood for the boats arriving or capsizing along the way. And the image of the corpse of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach.

During the ten days there, I kept a diary. In it I wrote, "People have no shoes, they're hungry. The children are coughing." The notes also talk of protests in the camp. Refugees held signs urging European governments to grant them asylum. They hoped the press would act as mediators. Two men doused themselves with gasoline at noon and set themselves on fire.

A short time later, Macedonian forces prevented people from continuing their journey with rubber bullets. Today, Greece is building a wall almost 30 kilometres long on the Turkish border. In camps like Moria, people are stranded as if in detention centres. With its push-backs, the EU border agency Frontex commits a crime in the name of the alliance of states. More than 22,000 people have disappeared and died on Mediterranean routes alone since 2014.

European migration policy manifests inequality

For me, a deep-seated memory of the Idomeni trip is the return journey. We packed, got in the car, drove off, and showed our identity cards at the border crossing. Within the space of a minute, the border to Fortress Europe was behind us again. To this day, I am still at a loss for the right words.

At the walls of this fortress,it's not two political forces that come up against one another. Rather, the EU rules there by geographical, legal and political means: the Mediterranean, Dublin II, Frontex. Europe's policies are the expression of a structure that manifests global inequalities. Not everyone feels the impact of this border. But for so many it is deadly.

Antonia Groß, 30, is a trainee at Berliner Zeitung's politics desk.