Migrant Lives

A Wall At The Poland-Belarus Border? Europe Must Make Hard Choices

Hundreds of migrants arrive in Germany every day from Poland, which makes the Belarus border a national issue for Germany. It's long past time that Europe acknowledge that tough measures are needed — maybe even walls...

A Wall At The Poland-Belarus Border? Europe Must Make Hard Choices

Polish servicemen guard the Belarusian-Polish border, November 2021

Tim Röhn

-OpEd-

BERLIN — In May I spent a night by the border fence in Ceuta, the Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa. I watched as every few seconds someone swam across the border into European Union territory. Spain's Guardia Civil seized people, dragged them along the ground, opened the gate in the border fence and shoved them back into Moroccan territory. In the space of a few hours, thousands of people came across an apparently endless stream. Then the army turned up.


Soldiers pushed the crowds back and formed a human wall on the beach. For those who managed to swim into Spanish waters – even children and frail old women – the soldiers didn't allow them to set foot on the beach. After almost a day of passivity, the Socialist party-led government in Madrid decided to crack down. The situation calmed down, the border was closed, and those trying to cross decided to turn back.

Ceuta, Lesbos, Lampedusa: Brutal Realities

Migrants sit by the fire in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border, November 2021

Ramil Nassibulin/TASS via ZUMA


This has been the reality on the EU's external borders for years now: people want to enter illegally, and governments want to stop them. The borders are harsh places. That is not only true of Ceuta, but also of the Spanish autonomous city of Melilla on the northwest coast of Africa and of the sea border between Turkey and Greece, where Greek officials simply abandon migrants and refugees who run into difficulties on the sea, instead of giving them a chance to claim asylum. It is also true of the waters around Libya, where migrant boats on the way to Europe are stopped by the coastguard, who have little concern for human rights.

Libya, Ceuta, Lesbos – these places seem far away. But hundreds of migrants arrive in Germany every day from Poland. With Belarus encouraging migrants to use it as a path to cross into the EU, Minister President of the German state of Saxony Michael Kretschmer (CDU) has called for "fences" and "probably also walls" to be built on the Polish–Belarusian border.

The alternative is a world without borders.

That kind of suggestion, which has gained support from German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, naturally causes a stir in Germany, where harsh border controls are scoffed at (take Trump's wall, for example), a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Green Party leader Robert Habeck has called for the migrants to be fairly distributed among EU countries, saying that "humanitarian standards must be met," although he's not specified which ones.

Let's be honest: border enforcement is tough, and it's tough to watch. The alternative would be a world without borders, and that is nothing more than a pretty utopia.

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