Border control: new forms of violence

At the end of 2013 the number of people forced to leave their homes was, for the first time, higher than it had been in World War II. According to figures compiled by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 51.2 million people live in places other than their homes, driven out by persecution, conflicts, violence and the generalised and systematic violation of their human rights. If these millions of people were a country, it would be the 26th biggest in the world.

Of the total number of people in displaced or refugee situations, half are under 18 years old and 49% are women.

Among those obliged to flee their homes every day, to break away from their roots and bid farewell to their loved-ones, the situation of people from Syria and Palestine is particularly alarming.

It is enormously difficult to measure the dimension of exile from Palestine. According to figures issued by the UNRWA (1), there are more than 5 million refugees and most of them live in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. There are 59 official Palestine refugee camps (in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria).

For its part, Syria is already the country with most internally displaced people in the world, standing at almost 6.5 million and beating Colombia, which held the leading position for several years.

With the Syrian civil war, the situation of the Palestine refugee community has also suffered serious decline. One example of this is the situation of those living in the Yarmouk refugee camp, in Damascus. This camp was the centre of political and commercial life for the Palestine community in Syria, and today it has almost been destroyed. Only 18,000 of the 150,000 people who once lived there have managed to stay, or are unable to leave. Attacks by the forces of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his opponents, the humanitarian blockade and the collective punishment suffered in Yarmouk have meant the murder of hundreds of Palestine men and women and death by starving of dozens more, not to mention massive flight from the camp.

While refugees seek protection outside their countries, internally displaced people move inside the borders of their country, trying to find somewhere safe without having to take exile in another state. Often this internal displacement is the first attempt made by people who can’t or don’t want to leave their countries of origin; but when the danger continues, these same people are forced into exile, to cross borders.

Crossing borders has become a danger for those in flight. It means putting their lives at risk yet again, particularly in the case of those who try to reach Europe or the United States.

Border externalisation (2) has been operating in Europe for years now, as it has been in Spain by means of an extensive military and police force that places priority on security and the obsession to control the flow of migrants over and above respect for human rights. This continuous and growing harshness of migratory policies has converted the flight into a new form of violence, with serious consequences on the exercising and enjoyment of their human rights by refugees and immigrants. It also means failure to fulfil the international conventions and treaties agreed to, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes in its articles 13 and 14 the right of all people to circulate freely and the right, in the case of persecution, to request and receive asylum in any country.

The Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande estimates that 19,507 people died trying to reach Europe between 1988 and the end of 2013.

Getting to Europe is complicated. But even so, countries such as Germany, France, even Italy, take in far more refugees than Spain. Obtaining international protection in the shape of asylum is a right that refugees can only exercise if they have succeeded in reaching a country that is safe and recognises them as refugees.

Spain received 2,500 requests for asylum (virtually the lowest figure since asylum legislation was introduced) in 2012, and 4,500 in 2013; now, in 2014, although the final statistics have not yet been issued, there are approximately 6,000 asylum-seekers. This rise, after years of falling sharply, is due to very particular situations, such as the bloody Syrian war, the situation in Mali and the armed conflict in Ukraine. Most of the people who have requested asylum in the last two years in Spain come from these countries. Others have also arrived from Algeria, Palestine, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia, among others. The majority of these people will have their applications denied and they will be left in a vulnerable, irregular situation.

With the commitment of the refugees and immigrants who arrive in the Basque Country and the involvement of people who live here, at CEAR-Euskadi we continue to defend the only right left when all others have been violated: the right to cross borders and reinvent a new life.

NOTES

1. UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, committed to a specific group of refugees and which contributes to the well-being and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees.

2. Border externalisation is a phenomenon characterised by a network of policies complementing one another with the aim of shifting the administration of exterior EU borders southwards to prevent the arrival of refugees and immigrants.

For more information: www.cear.euskadi.org

CEA(R)

Comisión de Ayuda al Refugiado en Euskadi

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