Investigación en Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades

Walls and barriers are not solutions

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Nearly four years have passed since I read this paper at the International Conference organized by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, held in Berlín from the19th to 20th May 2009, titled Fortress or Area of Freedom? Euro-Mediterranean Border Management.

And, if you read the text carefully, it will be seen that the pessimistic predictions fell short.


 Thanks for the invitation. There is an obligated note of clarification I would like to make before starting: the Canary Islands are located at the parallel 28 latitude North. We are sort of lost in the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, the islands certainly constitute one of the access doors to the Schengen space. For that reason, it is right to include the specificities of the Archipelago in this conference, even if the geographical note in the title refers to the Mediterranean only.

To set strategies, suggest rectifications or to judge European Union policies in the area of migration and asylum right requires a good deal of knowledge about the reality in which action is needed. In the Canary Islands we are witnesses of intercontinental migratory flows, in particular, of flows that come from Latin America and Western Africa.

In the Canaries we see and touch these realities. Our islands, for their geographical peculiarity constitute a great astronomical observatory for the observers of the firmament, for the clarity and cleanness of its sky: they are a very interesting vulcanologic observatory, for the singularity of its geomorphology, and above all, a thriving human observatory, for their condition of crossroad of peoples of the entire world.

The observation of migrant flows that meet in the Archipelago tells us, first of all, that there is no human power capable of containing the migrant tide. In Spain we use an expression that comes in very handy to describe this reality: you cannot put doors in the field. All efforts to hold that movement are useless. Besides, they are egoistic, selfish, and blind.

The indisputable consequence is that the European politics regarding control of migrant flows and the regulation of the right to asylum require a deep revision.

Some of the solutions that have come up to the fore to confront the phenomenon of irregular migration are nothing more than sloppy remedies. For example, Spain has come up the legal figure of social entrenchement (arraigo social), that allows for the normalization of the people who find themselves in a situation of administrative irregularity. For that it is needed to prove that they have been in the country for three years and that they have a job offer. But just how is a person supposed to finance herself for three years if she is not allowed to work? More reasonable to ask is, what happens if at the end of those three years this person does not find a job offer? Evidently, in this case, the legal norm presents itself as a clear invitation to illegality.

Maybe the question we should be asking is rather: Is there a sincere political will from the European Union member countries to facilitate the process of integration for migrants? To me, it seems like there is no such a will, at least in Spain: if there was such a will, how can we explain the administrative inefficiency, the scandalous delay of legal proceedings, the disproportion between the high costs and exaggerate spending in border control, on the one hand, and the irrelevant quantities invested to offer job opportunities and housing to those people entering the country, on the other?

How can we justify the shameful interrogations that foreigners are subjected to by Spaniard officials? Or the interrogations that Spaniard citizens married to foreigners are subjected to? How can it be justified that an anonymous official dares to pose questions that touch the privacy of couples or personal intimacy in the name of migrant flows control?

European politicians should think twice about their proposals and the directives they suggest. It is not enough to propose reforms the purpose of which is to hide imperfections. What we should aim at is changing the problems at their roots, and we can only do that by gaining knowledge about the state of affairs in the origin countries.

The designers of these policies could use some walking along the streets of cities like Bamako, Dakar, Saint-Louis or Nuadibú; or perhaps visiting the houses where persons crowd together waiting for the moment to start the adventure of jumping into Europe, without giving a thought about the obstacles that documents represent, without even wanting to look around them to count the number of deaths among relatives and friends who had the same dream before.

How can we judge over asylum right without knowing closely the motives that pull the citizens of the Western Sahara, now incorporated to Morocco, and the Ivory Coast to apply for it?

Let us think for a moment about the case of Spain, where the economic crisis has triggered the unemployment rates to reach 20% of the active population. Nobody can honestly think that this situation will revert, not even in a fantasy, as long as the construction industry, in risk of sheer collapse, keeps being one of the main motors for the creation of jobs.

I want to end here. The message I have tried to pass on to you this morning is very easy: politics cannot ignore reality and reality, which is very stubborn, tells us that the walls and barriers are not solutions. Let us save some resources that we have spent on the walls and barriers, then, and let us think about some more profitable investments.

Roundtable discussion transcript:



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