The process of sorting the «good» migrants from the «bad» threatens everybody

Α deported migrant disembarks from a Turkish ferry in Izmir ,April 4, 2016. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Α deported migrant disembarks from a Turkish ferry in Izmir ,April 4, 2016. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty
Daniel Trilling

The first deportations from Greece under the new EU-Turkey deal took place on 4 April. Although the deal has been framed as a way to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, with the EU promising to resettle one Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian it sends back, most of the people deported on this first day came from Pakistan, or elsewhere in South Asia. These are the sort of people usually described as "economic migrants", not refugees. While some of them will be fleeing political persecution or conflict, many of them have come to Europe because they see no way of earning a living at home.

They take the same dangerous journeys and face the same abuses at Europe's borders as do the refugees from, say, Syria or Eritrea, but they generate less sympathetic media coverage and have fewer rights: if they don't claim asylum, or if their claim is rejected, they must either live hidden from the border regimes of European states, or they risk long periods of detention – as happened in Greece after the government's effort to round up and imprison undocumented migrants in 2012.

Much of the discussion around the EU-Turkey deal has centred on whether refugees - ie, people who have a legitimate case for protection under international refugee law - will be given due process. This is an important question. There is already evidence that the Greek authorities are not giving people the chance to claim asylum before they are assigned for deportation, and that the EU has not provided sufficient resources to make the system work. Furthermore, despite the EU's efforts to label Turkey a "safe country" for refugees, there is much evidence to the contrary. For example, Amnesty International claimed that Turkey forced a group of Afghan migrants back to Kabul only a day after the EU-Turkey deal was signed.

But to focus only on the situation of refugees risks implying that the migrants who do not fit this category –the "economic migrants"– deserve whatever treatment they get. In my opinion, the violence of the border system is partly explained by the process of sorting the "good" migrants from the "bad", and to play one group off against the other ends up threatening everybody. For many years, European businesses have profited from the labour of undocumented migrants - on farms in Greece and Italy, for example, or in service industries in the cities of northern Europe – yet at the same time official policies have treated their movement as a threat to be eradicated. The border defences of Fortress Europe have been constructed in response to this "threat" and they have proved destructive for refugees and "economic migrants" alike.

First published in Greek on "Enthemata" of the Greek newspaper "Avgi", 10.4.2016