January 2021: Pushbacks
Welcome to our first newsletter. Every month, we will be sharing a round-up of what we’re reading, listening and watching concerning a specific topic within migration systems. We hope you will find it interesting and useful. To begin, we explore the illegal process where asylum seekers and refugees are forced back over a border by state and EU forces, therefore revoking their right to seek asylum in the country at hand.
Frontex started the year by announcing their new uniformed European Border and Coast Guard standing corps on Twitter. But this new year’s ‘look’ was quickly overshadowed by investigations from the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog (OLAF) for their complicity in the practice of illegal pushbacks at the Hungarian-Serbian border and Greece-Turkey maritime border. Following mounting calls to resign, Frontex’s director Fabrice Leggeri decided to suspend operations in Hungary on 27 January, seeking to distance his organisation from the Hungarian government's expulsion of over 4,000 people to Serbia since December. This is not the first time Frontex has been under investigation for malpractice, and will by no means be the last.
To get a sense of the nature of Frontex’s ongoing pushback strategies in the Balkans and Greece, we recommend visiting the Border Violence Monitoring Network website, where you can support their important work, as well as read monthly reporting, and access a large database of testimonies regarding these pushbacks. Their latest special report highlights “how cross-border removals have persisted, adapted and been augmented by institutional responses to the pandemic,” focusing on the Balkan region. Multidisciplinary research group Forensic Architecture’s investigation into this practice in the Evros/Meriç River from Turkey to Greece, details European agents’ involvement in the Aegean. Their analysis shows how the river as a natural border has “been weaponised to deter and let die those who attempt to cross it and to obfuscate this violence and deflect responsibility.”
We will leave you with a recent interview with activist and writer Harsha Walia on the Migration Conversations podcast, where she contextualises the violence borders produce, pointing to the political and historical conditions that uphold current formations of the nation-state and unequal access to mobility. Speaking through her long-standing experience as an organiser in the No One Is Illegal movement, Harsha says “it is so important to look at the ways in which systems are being exported across jurisdictions [...] There is so much to be learned around the ways in which states share structures of violence.”
The role of Frontex spreads across national and international interests, and public and private stakeholders, as it works with and through EU member states; the specific practice of pushbacks as a cross-party operation, systematically violates international law and human rights, while also diffusing accountability.