Apostolis Fotiadis: Europe speculates on the refugee crisis

28.10.2015 - Athens, Greece - Marianella Kloka

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Apostolis Fotiadis: Europe speculates on the refugee crisis

Apostolis Fotiadis is a freelance journalist. He has reported on politics since 2005 with an emphasis on European immigration policy and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. He is an analyst in Greek and foreign media. In early 2015, he published his book “Border Merchants” (ed. River) which focused on how the European Union and especially European technocrats and the Commission interpret official immigration policy as a security concern with rapid militarisation of external borders. This book is considered a manual for those who work voluntarily or help in refugee and immigration issues in Europe and in which one can refer to for information, evidence and – in part – interpretations.

Have there been any developments after the publication of your book regarding the matters you describe in it? For example any news on Eurosur?
Eurosur (note from the editor: a smart border control warning system that is being launched by the European Commission and implemented by Frontex) is in a long term completion process, no one expects the system to be improved in the short term. However, all the appropriate measures for infrastructure, financing and institutional legislation are constantly ongoing. The funding programmes submitted by EU Member States for 2015 are highly prioritized. The actions and the purchase of equipment are underway. As a matter of fact, Frontex – even before the refugee crisis emerged and before it had to substantially modify its budget – gave priority to Eurosur for both last year and this year. So we could say that it is well rooted.

What is happening today with the debate you describe in your book, regarding where Frontex operates and where Member States operate?
There are recent developments. Frontex has been used by the European Commission to take over control and jurisdiction of external borders from national authorities. This is done directly with operations such as “Triton” in the Mediterranean Sea. Something similar will be attempted in the Aegean in the coming months, in a much more gentle way but with the ultimate goal of passing responsibility for border control to the hands of the Commission. There were discussions about joint Greek-Turkish patrols which would be supported by Frontex. The bad news is the Commission’s logic to prevent the inflow of refugees.

Why is the Commission proposing joint patrols if it cynically wants to reduce the number of people coming? Why doesn’t the Commission demand that Turkey checks the people prior to them getting on boats in order to safeguard its coastline?
I was puzzled by this. Studying the General Affairs Council results, which are now conclusions of the European Council, I found a paragraph that says that when a member state fails to implement the Schengen evaluation mechanism for guarding its borders and, in particular, external borders that member state will be obliged to accept the support of Frontex emergency operations (the so-called RABIT missions that have not yet started). This particular paragraph is targeted at Greece. For months now there have been requests to Greece – either informally or through diplomatic channels – to trigger an emergency mission for border control in the Aegean. There is already an ongoing mission by Frontex, the so-called POSEIDON operation (concerning only Greece), which could be financed to fulfill the needs of Greece for better border controls, assuming that there is such a need. Nobody however is suggesting this, on the contrary they are asking for a RABIT operation because such an undertaking will transfer jurisdiction from national authorities to the hands of Frontex. I therefore think that at this stage what the Commission cares about is to have control of the Greek-Turkish border rather than to control the influx of refugees. And of course the Commission’s vehicle for such a monitoring is the Frontex Agency.

Do we have active Frontex operations in the Mediterranean at this point in time?
We do have military operations in the Mediterranean Sea, the so-called SOFIA[1] operations. The name is so ironic. It is said that a little girl was born on a boat on the way to Italy and named Sophia. So we name such operations SOFIA, i.e. sending submarines, aircraft carriers, aircraft, etc., which will take control of vessels in international waters and probably send them back. The TRITON operation, which is supervised by Frontex, takes place in the same area and is the operation that replaced MARE NOSTRUM. The TRITON operations have a federal character executed simultaneously with SOFIA which is a military operation, both of which have the same goal, however: to control the Mediterranean and cut off the flow from Libya. Of course, their character affects the way of monitoring, nevertheless you may see them as a whole. At our land borders we have mostly controlled the situation because of Frontex and walls but mainly because Turkey prevents the flow from entering.

Concerning the European Commission, Turkey, the refugee crisis and the geopolitical game:
Behind the refugee crisis, a big geopolitical game is underway. The Turks, for their own reasons and rewards arranged with the Commission long ago to control land flows. Greece accelerated procedures for refugees to cross Europe and now the Commission is building an entire mechanism to re-close its internal borders and to force Greece to make all the checks here. I am driven to this conclusion by what Mouzalas [2] implied without openly admitting it. The entire system, the resettlement effort with its particular characteristics, the Dublin Treaty which is going to be reinforced until Spring 2016 by the Commission but also Turkey’s agreement as mentioned before, will result in Greece being forced to undertake a kind of extended jailing (if of course Greece fails to contribute to the resettlement, which is very likely). That is what Mouzalas declares if you watch carefully. He declares of course that this is to be done on terms that respect the processes and people’s dignity. All of us nevertheless know how all those words are applied in practice. I do not expect so much pleasant news concerning the kind of border controls that will take place, either Greece and Turkey will work together or Frontex by itself, not to mention Greece’s internal procedures.

Would you like to comment on the policy applied in recent months, from February onwards?
It was a policy based on reality, when you have an enormous influx, you just let them pass.

Would you consider this as a solution therefore?
I do not consider it to be a solution because I strongly believe that this question has no answer. You can only have the best possible management or servicing of interests through a hypocritical and manipulating way. All of them do the same. Some, of course, are trying for optimal problem management. There were possibilities for better management but maybe that does not serve the Prime Ministers, the Ministers and the election period agendas well.

Would you say that the last elections showed that the inhabitants of the islands approved of such a policy?
There were those who objected and attacked, there were people who helped and there were some who experienced a double “tourist” season this summer due to the constant arrival and stay of both humanitarian organization members and refugees. Anyone who buys a ticket pays a substantial amount (approx. 60 euros). If what they were saying about 45,000 people travelling during the week when Tsipras visited the islands is true, do the calculation and you can see how much money we are talking about.

A good question is what is a refugee crisis and why can’t Europe manage it? Is it because Europe has turned this crisis into a political matter?
Let’s have a look at the evidence and discuss it in order to avoid accusations about conspiracy theories. If we divide the 710,000 refugees that Frontex declared – and according to whom are double counted – among the European population you can see how many refugees correspond to every European society. Is this number actually unmanageable both financially and socially? The conversation should start from this point. We are talking about war refugees after all, some of these people will return to their country when the war is over. We are not talking about it because the subject of “uncontrollable inflows” feeds the entire debate: security doctrine, militarization, controls heavily promoted by the Commission, economic activity surrounding the militarization of controls and surveillance programmes that pass without any meaningful dialogue within European societies.

Even if we deal with the issue, they are provoking us: “What do you want? To fill up with jihadists?”
Any resistance observed in the past concerning the cost of border controls is gradually collapsing and programmes are being implemented. The programme that the Commission has systematically promoted since April, the “smart borders package”, with an initial forecast of half a billion euros is now referred to in all essential documents concerning the management of the refugee crisis produced by the Commission, hidden in minor sentences in order to avoid creating noise. We are talking about a programme which, back in 2013, was turned down by Parliament due to major objections on the grounds of cost and efficiency. Now that the political conditions are more positive, this programme will pass. That is the Commission’s way: you do not want it today? We will let the circumstances mature so that you will ask for it tomorrow.

Does the Mass Media know about all of this and turn a blind eye or they just don’t have the information?
Since the State handles this information it goes without saying that the media has access to it. They are not highlighting issues like this because it’s not part of their news agenda and not because of censorship. Since the mass media are actually “patronized” why should they oppose this? For example, the unmanned aircraft owned by the Greek Police which constantly declares that they will be used to detect and extinguish fires. It is true. However, in the Internal Security Fund’s text where the proposal was submitted in order to be financed, it clearly points out that these are necessary to control irregular immigration too. Therefore, there are multiple reasons why the mass media suggests to you the most painless version: it serves the agenda.

How was your journey and your effort to print in your book the lack of transparency you constantly refer to?
It is painful. It is terribly laborious because you are diving into European bureaucracy, a real sea of text. You reach some conclusions but when you try to cross check with reliable sources, they turn against you. Those who usually have the information and can support your conclusion refuse to give it. Either those people are part of a mechanism fed by funds and force or they are indifferent and show a lack of understanding because they are a kind of progressive political personnel who, however, are negative to that reality. It is a time-consuming and lonely journey. For example, I couldn’t get information for two years even though I had officially requested it. Eventually it was leaked by mistake.

You are of course a trained journalist and analyst managing to spend time on such topics. How easy is it for a citizen to see what happens with such a lack of transparency?
It is not impossible. As Marcos of the Zapatistas said, “to fight for something, you need organization skills and a minimum sense of dignity.” The system appears to be solid. In a perfectly organized manner, it arranges its interests; it ranks you as “bizarre” if you claim something different but, of course, some “bizarre” people insist on what they want and do not stop until they find it. The hard part is to find the sources for document that you are referring to. I asked, for example, the then Commissioner Malmstrom if the Commission can control the inflow of refugee with military means and at the time she was emphatically answering no, she was proposing one project after another!

What are your comments when Malmstrom openly declares in an interview that she does not take orders from European citizens and subsequently no-one reacts to such a statement?
The Commission is currently a directorate producing control and oppression mechanisms in part, promising a prosperity that is deeply controversial and blackmailing us by saying that if things are not done, the scenario is nightmarish. They claim that if you leave the Eurozone you will be ruined. If you do not do what they propose about the refugee crisis, the jihadists will come, European societies will be destroyed, Islam will penetrate Europe and other things will happen. The Commission constantly serves interests and searches for balance and never favours solutions, even bad ones. If someone observes this structure carefully they will see that the Commission only manages, never solves problems: neither the refugee crisis, nor the economic crisis.

What therefore can you recommend people to do?
Keep searching. We need people who can deal with the problem, who will not let things pass without watching them and we need people to denounce in a documented way. A democratic control and a regulatory framework must exist. People must have evidence every time. They must strive to be part of the conversation.

Despite the frustration that people are often experiencing, as happened for example with the recent referendum in Greece?
Yes, because these structures will determine our lives, to an absolute extent, unfortunately. Therefore we must deal with it. Each one of us. Any books written by me or others are not enough.

 

[1] In Greek language, “Sophia” or “Sofia” is a popular female name which also means wisdom.

[2] Mouzalas is the current Greek Minister responsible for migration policy.

 

Categories: Europe, Human Rights, Interviews, Politics
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