Human Rights Without Borders: A Look Inside the German Refugee Crisis

The Refugee Crisis

Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world today.  As a nation with a very low birthrate, the country has been on the forefront of proactive immigration policy over the past 20 years in order to keep their labor force strong.  Coupled with a booming economy and high quality social and educational programs, Germany is a very attractive spot for many people looking to leave their homes for better opportunities.  Unfortunately, while skilled workers are viewed as valuable and necessary components of German society, there is a growing fear about the current wave of refugees entering the nation.

Since German reunification and the ratification of their constitution, the country has been a welcome home to those seeking asylum for political reasons.  This guarantee has provided a beacon of hope in recent years as conflicts Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Libya, and Eritrea have intensified, and countless displaced families are fleeing to Europe for safety.  This year alone Germany expects as many as 1.5 million asylum seekers to enter, according to Frontex, an organization charged with monitoring and maintaining Europe’s borders.  However, as the numbers of refugees have grown, so too have xenophobic fears and anti-Islamic sentiments throughout Germany and Europe as a whole.  Opposition groups view these refugees as threats to their jobs, culture, and most important, their security.  As waves upon waves of immigrants enter their country illegally, fears grow that terrorists may seize the opportunity as well.

Daily, more refugees continue to push towards European shores, while security forces in Europe have grown dramatically to prevent their arrival.  As forces struggle on both sides to keep the peace and ensure well-being for everyone involved, one human rights group has made it their mission to protect the interests of the refugees attempting to enter Europe- Human Rights Without Borders.  On Tuesday of our visit to Berlin, we were able to meet with Harold Glode, a director in the organization, in order to better understand the current crisis.

Human Rights Without Borders

Human Rights Without Borders is a non-profit NGO that focuses on immigration policies in Europe. Their main goal is to gather and spread information on human rights violations dealing with the immigration issues, and they also support people who have been criminalized for attempting to save the lives of refugees trying to enter European nations. Volunteers and interns post information to their webpage, mainly in German, but they also have volunteers who translate articles to other languages.

One major case they have been supporting is the Cap Anamur ship incident in 2004:
While the fishing ship was out in the Mediterranean, the crew of the Cap Anamur came across a refugee boat that was stranded in the sea. Initially, they contacted the coast guard authorities and were assured that they would be out to help soon.  The coast guard never came, so the crew decided to take action and rescued the refugees when their boat began to sink. Once they reached the shore, the crew members were arrested and tried for human trafficking.

No matter the verdict in the case, this is the new face of the European immigration policy- refugees will not enter a European nation at all costs.  Facing the threat of expensive and lengthy legal trials, boat captains refrain from rescuing the refugees.  The coast guard, meanwhile, is overwhelmed with reports and often refuses to help either, and in some situations, there were even reports of the coast guard intentionally sinking the ships of the refugees and leaving them to drown.

You can read more on these incidents in the following articles here and here for further explanation.

As a result, refugees, desperate to leave terrible circumstances, struggle and die trying to find help where they are no longer welcome.  While they can legally apply for a visa, if they have undesirable skills or come from an undesirable place, they will not get in.  The unfortunate truth of the matter is that these people are not businessmen, they are refugees from a country without specific needed skills and they have little to support themselves in a new place. Sadly they need asylum, but there is no legal way to apply for it.  Instead, they have to get into Germany first illegally before claiming asylum but there are major risks involved.  HRWB raises money to support the legal fights for the refugees and raises awareness of human rights violations through their website in the hopes of shedding light on these tragedies.


A great map of the European Refugee Crisis by the numbers today courtesy of Wikimedia.

Currently, European countries are engaging in two plans to curb the massive wave of refugees:

1)Attack the Source of the Problem

European countries are currently working with countries where immigrants are leaving to beef up security and to help them recognize false ID’s and passes to leave.  In the meantime, they are also trying to put pressure on governments of the Middle Eastern countries to keep the borders tightly monitored.  However, this is extremely difficult in areas where violence is worst, or bordering impossible in countries like Yemen where the chaos is so intense that there is no government currently in charge.

As mentioned earlier, Frontex is the organization that the EU employs to monitor the borders currently.  However with strained resources and so many access points to cover, the task of denying entry has so far proven largely impossible to enforce. Some of the latest technology they have employed includes motion detectors that direct movement to border guards who can then send mobile units to go and arrest immigrants before they even reach a border, or x-ray style devices to scan trucks and boats in order to look for heat signatures of people.  Along all borders, special forces have also massively increased, utilizing racial profiling in an attempt to identify illegal immigrant threats.

While these are certainly reasonable attempts to help prevent illegal immigration, the ultimate result is that the refugees have to use more difficult and dangerous methods to enter country.  As a result, 25-30,000 people have died or drowned attempting to reach Europe since 2000, and this is only the documented cases.  In response to this, EU politicians have individually made speeches that something needs to change, however in practice they have been increasing security efforts and surveillance systems rather than pushing through any significant reform.  For a time, the Italian government attempted to finance a rescue operation alone, managed to rescue around 150,000 people on their shores.  However the cost ran so high that recently they too gave up their domain to Frontex, who scaled back support and have now reported roughly 1,700 deaths along the coast in the last year alone, up three times the amount from their predecessors.

2) Stop the Traffickers

The second EU focus is to combat traffickers rather than rescue people:

The coast guard and special operations forces want to find the traffickers and destroy their ships.  However they can only typically identify them when they are found carrying refugees ashore, as ships rarely showcase the cargo they carry.  If a ship is identified as carrying refugees, the crew is prosecuted and the ship is destroyed, but the activity is so prevalent that so far the results have done little to prevent refugee immigration.

Final Thoughts

In Germany today there is a mixed response to the refugee problem.  In many areas, there are increasing incidents highlighting growing right-wing racism and extremism, but attacks are mostly small scale and in secret.  In other areas  however, neighborhoods have attempted to welcome new faces through local orientation programs, free foreign language and specialized education services, food and clothing drives, and the like.

Migration has always happened throughout human history, so what is the reason to stop now? By building up walls we create situations where things will only get worse for people everywhere. The current policing of the borders is criminal when they are killing people trying to escape such dire circumstances.  Furthermore, the Frontex organization by its very existence breaks the international conventions and treaties that were once signed to guarantee support for individuals who suffer from such radical human rights abuses.

As a final message from our meeting, Mr. Glode pleaded for us to think for ourselves and to take the time to look into what is really happening in the world today.  Right now, halfway around the world along the borders of Europe, people are dying simply looking for help, and organizations like Human Rights Without Borders urge us to ask questions, and to take action before it is too late.


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