Posted on August 6, 2021

The Walls Are Going Up Across Europe

Aris Roussinos, Unherd, July 31, 2021

There is an irony to be discerned in the European Union’s adoption of a series of fantasy bridges as a unifying symbol on its Euro banknotes: in reality, it is walls that are going up across the continent’s eastern approaches, as European politicians brace themselves for the flow of refugees about to make the trek from Afghanistan. After 20 failed years of war, the American pullout from Afghanistan will probably see the Taliban controlling more of the country than it did on 9/11, including the former anti-Taliban heartlands of the Northern Alliance. With a median age of 18.4 — more than 40% of the country’s 30 million population is less than 14 years old — most Afghans have lived their entire lives underneath Washington’s imperial umbrella.

The country’s Westernised middle classes, centred on Kabul, and ethnic and religious minorities like the Shia Hazara, who played a central role in the 2015 migrant crisis, are unlikely to try their chances under Taliban rule, as long as the door to Europe remains open. Already, Afghans make up 42% of the refugees and migrants living in squalid conditions on Greece’s eastern island camps, perhaps an even larger proportion than they did in 2015 when the large presence of Afghan Hazaras was dramatically underreported in the West, distracted by the Syria crisis, despite Afghans constituting a major portion of the migratory flow, including 2/3rds of Sweden’s 2015 arrivals.

But in any case, the Europe of 2021 is not the Europe of 2015, and Europe’s leaders have no appetite for a return of the political turmoil that followed Merkel’s experiment with open borders. {snip}

When asked whether Germany had a duty to open the country’s doors to Afghan migration, even Merkel herself recently responded that “we cannot solve all of these problems by taking everyone in”. Instead she encouraged, rather unrealistically, a dialogue with the Taliban so “that people can live as peacefully as possible in the country”. In neighbouring Austria, Chancellor Kurz’s centre-right/Green coalition has responded to the surge in arrivals on its eastern borders with the deployment of the army and angry protests that European migration policy has “failed” {snip}

The Austrian government has decisively swung towards the Central European approach of hardened borders and expedited returns to countries of origin, with Kurz stressing that he would not halt deportations to Afghanistan, as Sweden and Finland already have, a reflection of a public mood darkened by recent high-profile crimes carried out by Afghan asylum seekers. Like centre-left Denmark, which is accelerating both its return of refugees to Syria and the search, apparently along with the UK, of third-party countries in Africa willing to host refugees and migrants on its behalf, the new mood in Austria is not the result of the populist Right coming to power, but instead of centrist parties adopting solutions that were in 2015 considered the sole preserve of the radical Right.

As in Spain, where the next government is likely to be a coalition between the centre-right PP and the radical right Vox, in Italy a coalition government between the centre-Right and the far-Right looms in the wings. Indeed, Salvini’s Lega is now so outflanked on its Right by the rising power of Georgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, the most popular political party in the country, that it can be considered centre-Right itself, so far has the country’s Overton Window shifted. {snip}

{snip} When Erdogan opened Turkey’s land borders with Greece in spring last year, bussing migrants to the border fences in a confrontation that came uncomfortably close to war, Greece’s militarised response unexpectedly won applause rather than censure from the EU hierarchy, as well as the swift dispatch of both Frontex border guards and funds to build an impassable border wall, now being beefed up with EU surveillance zeppelins and drones. {snip}

After all, when Belarus’s autocrat Lukashenko began funnelling migrants to the Lithuanian border a few weeks ago, Frontex immediately responded with the deployment of border guards, and support for Lithuania’s planned new 550-km border wall — with Estonia even donating 100km of barbed wire to its struggling ally. Once again, the exact same fortification project Orbán was condemned for in 2015 was hurriedly paid for by the EU in 2020, and presented as a heartening symbol of EU solidarity by 2021. {snip}


All this is, of course, a dry run for the almost certainly militarised and exclusionary border policing efforts that will grapple with the vast population movements from Africa and South Asia that will attend the coming decades of climate change. Already, Bangladeshis are the largest single national group making the dangerous crossing from North Africa, and it is not difficult to see a desertifying Sahel or collapsing Lebanon adding new sudden crises for European leaders torn between their desire to maintain allegiance to postwar liberal ideals on asylum and the increasing desire of their voting publics to reject them. The avowedly open, cosmopolitan Europe of the 1990s and 2000s is already dead, and even the lame duck Merkel and her ailing CDU party have abandoned the Wir schaffen das attitude of 2015 in the face of the coming wave.