Fortress Europe

Increased integration of EU asylum and immigration policy

Over the last 15 years or so EU states have been gradually increasing cooperation and attempting to establish common policy and law on areas related to immigration and asylum. Successive agreements, treaties and 'action plans' have led to the creation of Fortress Europe, causing thousands of deaths of refugees and asylum seekers and as well as criminalizing and marginalizing immigrants within the EU.

One of the first steps towards the creation of Fortress Europe was the Schengen Agreement which was originally signed in 1985 by five EU states (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) to eliminate border control between those countries and to establish a common visa policy. The agreement was said to be about the freedom of movement over the internal borders between the Schengen countries however in order to "compensate" for increased freedom of movement within the Schengen area, much of the agreement was about increased control of travellers coming in. Common rules regarding visas, asylum rights and checks at external borders were adopted and coordination of the police, customs and the judiciary was increased. In fact while just four articles in the convention are about open borders, 138 are about increased control (1). Little by little the Schengen area has been extended to include almost every Member State, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

As part of the "compensatory measures" of the Schengen agreement, designed to negate the freedom of travel within the Schengen area, the Schengen Information System (SIS) was set up. This vast database system, housed in Strasburg, is comprised of records on people's identities as well as lost or stolen objects, which are entered by Schengen member states and which are then accessed by the other state agencies. At the end of 2001 there were 10,541,271 records held on the SIS (2). A large number of the people listed in the SIS files so far have been asylum seekers.

In May 1999, the Schengen agreement was incorporated within the legal and institutional framework of the EU in the Treaty of Amsterdam. This treaty sought to regularise the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees trying to gain entry to all European states and required the European Council to adopt legislation in several key asylum and immigration related areas by May, 2004. The Treaty of Amsterdam was also the first time that refugees and asylum seekers were specifically criminalised - this position has continued from the EU, governments and the media where asylum seekers are termed 'illegal immigrants' and roped in with child pornography, stolen vehicles, terrorism, counter fitting and drug offences.

Subsequent EU summits on asylum and immigration, such as in Tampere and Seville, have attempted to come to agreements on common EU immigration and asylum law before the deadline in May. At these summits agreements have been made which generally make it increasingly difficult and dangerous for refugees and asylum seekers to gain entry to the EU and which increase cooperation on the surveillance, harassment and deportation of "illegal" immigrants. On 29th of March this year, for example, the EU justice and home affairs council met to examine various directives relating to asylum seekers and refugees including one on the obligation of carriers to communicate passenger data and the proposal for a European Agency for the management of operational cooperation of external borders. Following this meeting, leading EU NGOs called for the complete withdrawal of the directive on minimum standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status, which they state is "intended to deny asylum seekers access to asylum procedures and to facilitate their transfer to countries outside the EU." (5)

Death by Policy

One EU policy is the containment of refugees and migrants within their home regions, regardless of the human cost One of the strategies to achieve this has been to target migrants' country of origin and force their governments to cooperate in "migrant management". For example, in the recent EU summit in Seville it was agreed that in future all EU agreements with non-EU states are to: "include a clause on joint management of migration flows and on compulsory readmission in the event of illegal immigration" (para.33). This is to include those who are "unlawfully present" in the EU, e.g.: own nationals of the third country and people who may have passed through the third country in transit. "In the event" that there is an: "unjustified lack of cooperation" in joint management of migration flows, the EU may apply direct pressure through agreements on trade, aid and assistance coupled with political and diplomatic sanctions.(3)

Other steps taken to make it as difficult as possible for migrants to enter EU countries have been the drive towards increased security at external borders. At the Seville summit it was agreed to establish, possibly within the next five years, an EU border police force (to be called the European Union Corps of Border Guards) to patrol shores, ports and crossing points against "illegal" immigrants. This EU police force would have its own uniform and badge and be drawn from all 15 member states. As a step towards this, cooperation among the police and immigration units of member states is to be increased immediately with the creation of a special unit of heads of border control from member states and the setting up of a network of liaison officers.

Thousands of people have died so far because of EU policies such as these. According to UNITED, a European anti-racist network, from 1993 to 2001 more than 2000 refugees and migrants died in and around as a result of European refugee policies. Details of the 2042 cases are available from their website ( Anti Racist Initiative Berlin also published a report documenting deaths and injuries of refugees, in more than 3,400 individual cases, that resulted directly and indirectly from Germany's refugee policy (4). They record for example that 121 refugees had killed themselves in the face of their pending deportation or died in the attempt to flee their deportation; 47 of these people died in deportation imprisonment.

Increased Internal Policing/Intelligence

With regards EU asylum and immigration policy inside the EU, the focus has been on increased surveillance, racist harassment and control. The 1988 "Strategy Paper on Asylum and Immigration Policy" presented by the then Austrian EU presidency stated that control must cover "every step taken by a third country national from the time he begins his journey to the time he reaches his destination". The paper outlines clearly the extent to which non-EU nationals are to be harassed and spied upon, it recommends "security nets in areas whose geographic or transport characteristics mean that they are particularly exposed, spot checks in the hinterland, unprompted by suspicion, and intensive cooperation on the part of the authorities beyond the sphere of competence of the individual State".

Increasingly draconian measures are being taken to increase police powers of surveillance. Since S11 there has been a drive to extend the Schengen Information System and set up two new databases one dealing specifically with protesters and the other dealing with "foreigners". The aim is to facilitate the removal of third country nationals who have not left the EU with the "prescribed time frame". This database would be in effect a register of all third country nationals in the EU who will be tagged with an "alert" if they overstay their visa or residence permit.

It is EU policy to treat asylum seekers and refugees as criminals. For example, in 2000 the proposal for a system for the identification of asylum seekers (EURODAC) which involves taking and comparing fingerprints of asylum-seekers, was formally adopted by the European Council.

Why Fortress Europe?

No matter how tight controls at EU borders are, immigration to the EU is inevitable and people fleeing persecution, war and poverty, will continue to risk their lives trying to get into the EU zone. However, by maintaining strict control over migration into the EU and by turning down the vast majority of asylum requests, thousands of immigrants are forced to live in Europe illegally. This creates a workforce that will accept the most insecure working conditions together with the worst salaries and conditions. Entire sections of the EU economy base their profits on the exploitation of these people: building companies, restaurants, textiles, agriculture, etc. Illegal workers are a workforce that can be easily controlled and which, against their will, can put pressure on fellow insecure workers. Where immigrants are granted work permits, they are often on short term contracts, with their work permits held by their employers, so they can be subjected to super-exploitation.

Fortress Europe has other advantages for the European bosses. It acts as a wall, keeping people into the areas of the world where working conditions, humans rights etc are poor. Although the European bosses do not want to allow immigrants to enter Europe they do want access to these same people as cheap labour. For example, the EU is continuing the exploitation of the people of North Africa through creating a special trade zone of some of the North African countries similar to the free trades zones North America has created in Mexico. In Ireland this has been most visible with 'Fruit of the Loom' closing plants in the north west of Ireland and opening new plants in Morocco where workers are paid one seventh of what the (low paid) Irish workers were paid.

Finally, racist EU policies and propaganda which marginalize immigrants and portray them as a social, political and economic threats create useful scapegoats for European bosses. The ruling class wants to set Irish workers against immigrant workers so as to prevent the workers from seeing that their interests are the same regardless of nationality. Take for example the upcoming referendum which attempts to take away the rights of Irish children whose parents do not have Irish citizenship. In calling this racist referendum the Irish government intend to deflect the current anger of the population at, for example, the crises in our health service and the appalling housing situation. It suits the Irish elite to scapegoat refugees for all the problems that their mismanagement of society causes. The minister for injustice, Mc Dowell, has been caught several times blatantly lying and creating scare stories about immigration. He has spoken of "citizenship tourism", of "massive inflows" of non-nationals to the maternity hospitals, of the situation "snowballing out of control", and of the Masters of the Dublin hospitals "pleading" with him to change the laws on citizenship. None of this is really true. The Masters themselves have accused the Minister of exaggeration, and the figures bear them out. Take the Coombe Hospital, for example. The increase in non-national births last year was just 2 per cent. As with the other Dublin hospitals, a major portion of its 20 per cent of foreign mothers were living and working in Ireland entirely legally, with many from Britain and other EU countries, and the US.

They are among the growing number of immigrants on which this country is becoming vitally dependent for its economic survival, now and into the future. In the overall context of Ireland's rapidly declining birth rate, our society has no choice but to change or die.

No borders

Immigration controls are by their nature racist in that they always aim to exclude particular distinct groups. They cause massive suffering, cost billions and promote racism. It is completely unjust that there are more travel rights for Capital, bank accounts and commodities than for people.

As anarchists, our opposition to the immigration restrictions of Fortress Europe is based on the recognition that immigration is a phenomenon produced by Capitalist globalisation that makes life unbearable in many areas of the world. It is based on our recognition that every human being has the same right to happiness, to the opportunities and good things of life no matter what their skin colour or place of origin.


Deirdre Hogan (updated 2004)


(1) "EU Charter Gives Cops Greater Powers",

(2) "SIS II takes ominous shape "

(3) "EU Presidency Conclusions at the Seville European Council 21/22 June"



This text is from the pamphlet 'Whats wrong with the EU'.

You can read the rest of the pamphlet online or you can download and print out the PDF version

European union