This week, Hungary attempted to seal off its border to throngs of desperate refugees with a crudely constructed wire fence. A flimsy prison gate cordoning off Fortress Europe: There could be no clearer metaphor for the absurd small-mindedness of a political bloc that once prided itself on its humanitarian vision.
Families scrambled at the gates at the stroke of midnight. Security forces tried to push back crowds who had traversed continents and oceans, only to see their last hope for sanctuary dissolve in an acid hail of riot police and tear gas.
It’s not as if Europe has no experience with these obligations. Sixty years ago the continent was awash in refugees created by social upheaval and two world wars. But the 20th-century humanitarian regime has failed the refugees produced by today’s social calamities, leaving Europe unraveling at the seams.
Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, tells The Nation, “People should not be in a situation where they should have to leave everything they own and take deadly, perilous undignified journeys across water on unseaworthy boats, across land [while] facing this violence. They’ve already survived war. They should be provided safe and legal passage to protection.”
Although EU law enables freedom of movement generally within European borders, asylum seekers are bound by the Dublin Regulation, which typically forces people to seek asylum in the country they are first registered, with few exceptions. The system has led to wildly contradictory border policies, with Germany erratically trying to let more migrants in (though it recently instituted ad hoc border checks), and front-line states like Greece, Hungary and now Croatia trying haphazardly to contain or restrict border crossings.