Refugee crisis and building fences: This time it’s Austria’s turn

We might have another fence, this time at Austria-Slovenia borders. Albeit it seem it is not the same concept as in Hungary, in my view it clearly shows Europe is inching towards securitization of the refugee crisis. For politicians it is probably the best way how to show the voters that they are doing something. But what kind of impact it may have on the refugee crisis? Do you think that at the end Europe will start to flirt with the idea of closing external borders? Read few comments.

Artur Gruszczakprofesor nadzwyczajny UJ, Instytut Nauk Politycznych i Stosunków Międzynarodowych, Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie

First, the building of a ‘fence’ or a ‘wall’ at the Austrian-Slovenian border is a clear evidence of the following facts:
– Austria is not capable to manage the refugee crisis and is going to employ radical measures to curb the migrant inflow.
– Fencing borders has always been typical for ‘gated communities’, i.e. territories and locations providing its inhabitants with high level of security and order and protecting their welfare against ‘aliens’. ‘Gated communities are exclusionary, meaning that they hesitate to accept ‘others’ or ‘aliens’ if they do not meet high standards (in terms of material resources, political power, prestige or fame) set by the gated community. Austria seems a paradigmatic case of such ‘gated community’ .
– restablishing borders is an act of deterrence, it seeks not only to regulate the inflow of migrants/refugees but most of all aims to discourage them from approaching a given territory. This deterrence mechanism has been widely used across the EU since the outbreak of the refugee crisis. In the most extreme cases of Austria or Hungary, it is a physical barrier confronting the immigrants and making them bounce off the border wall.

Second, it will deepen the crisis because of amassing the incoming migrants/asylum seekers in weak states of the EU, mainly the southern countries, like Greece or Italy, which have experienced enormous problems with guarding their external borders. The planned hotspots in EU countries may turn into explosive areas generating violence on both sides: desperate migrants and public security forces.

Third, the closing of the external borders is not an idea, it is one of the institutions of the European integration, the crucial ‘flanking measure’ accompanying the free travel principle in the EU and the Schengen zone. So, the issue is not to erect new borders (fences, walls) but rather to make all EU member states comply with obligations and duties resulting from EU law. Of course, the problem is how to enforce these obligations upon ‘weak links’ in the entire system of management of EU external borders. If the EU won’t be able to do that instantly, or in the coming weeks, one can expect the individual countries will close the bulkheads, as in the case of sinking ship attempting to rescue some parts of the vessel.

Andrew Geddes, Professor, Department of Politics, Co-Director, Social Sciences Migration Research Group, University of Sheffield

The refugee crisis has presented very serious problems to politicians both at national and EU levels. The scale of movement has been so large that border control systems have effectively collapsed in some parts of Europe. Politicians will, of course, want to be seen as responding to the views and interests of their electorate, but they have to think very carefully about the nature of their response. Building walls and fences is a strong and powerful representation of ‘doing something’, but it’s also important to do the right thing. One problem with building fences is that it does nothing to address the reasons why refugees and asylum seekers are leaving countries such as Syria. The problem might be that people continue to move towards Europe but that fences and walls make their journeys more difficult and more dangerous. Fences alone cannot be a solution and may end up being a very expensive way of making things worse.


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