Death by Policy
The Fatal Realities of "Fortress Europe"
- 15181 Deaths -


1. Death by Policy: These deaths are not isolated incidents

2. Open Borders - Open Minds campaining against the fatal realities of 'Fortress Europe'

3. A few facts on detention

4. A few facts on deportation

5. A violation of the Geneva Convention?

6. Get active! Join the campaign!

7. Example letter

8. What is UNITED?

Go back to campaign info

1. Death by Policy: These deaths are not isolated incidents

The on-going tragedy of people dying in search of protection is a shame to Europe's civil conscience. These deaths are not isolated incidents. They are the deadly result of the building of a 'Fortress Europe'. Europe's exclusion policy - a policy of border closing that makes it almost impossible to enter Europe regularly, that lacks re-settlement programs and cannot guarantee refugees a safe transfer to other countries - has forced tens of thousands of people to resort to irregular ways of getting to a country where they are safe and where economical survival is possible.

European governments have tried to implement border control and militarisation policies. No matter how hard they try, they are incapable of effectively shutting Europe's doors. The more they try, and the stricter the laws they implement, the higher the number of deaths gets. By reinforcing their exclusionist policy, they are shutting their eyes to the realities of the global political and socio-economical situation. By ignoring the tragedies experienced in the countries where most of the refugees come from, Europe is actually missing the point of the whole refugee and asylum question. European policies are also missing the humanity of those fleeing those lands, and rather considering them in terms of a problem. Europe has responded to this alleged urgency by making legal immigration and asylum nearly impossible, thus leading to the death of refugees.

On the way to 'Fortress Europe', in detention or identification camps, during deportation, or once repatriated, many refugees and migrants die. No matter how different the circumstances of these deaths are, they can all be ultimately put down to one and only reason: the building of a 'Fortress Europe'.

2. Open Borders - Open Minds campaining against the fatal realities of 'Fortress Europe'

UNITED for Intercultural Action protests against the building of a "Fortress Europe", which leads to the death of desperate people looking for safe refuge.

click on the map to see a readable version (pdf 472KB)

3. A few facts on detention

Refugees, asylum seekers and "illegal" migrants are often held in detention. Detention is often the result of border control activities, during which migrants are found "illegally" entering "Fortress Europe". Those already residing in Europe, when found living in "illegality" during police raids, end up in preventive detention as well, waiting for a formal expulsion order. There are also cases in which regular migrants or refugees living in Europe on humanitarian grounds end up in administrative detention, due to their precarious status, bureaucratic incidents, or the lack of legal assistance.

Detention centres exist throughout Europe and they go under many different names. The only thing in which they really differ is that detention may last from a few weeks to a year and longer, according to national laws in matter of immigration.

Centres for administrative and juridical internment exist also in both Morocco and Algeria, as well as in Libya. These centres serve as a vanguard for the European territorial control. The enforcement of detention laws is based on a series of bilateral agreements between European and North African countries. As a matter of fact, since the already restrictive immigration policies of many European countries are more and more leading towards a policy of exclusion, some Governments are even considering externalizing the handling of asylum procedures by detaining the candidates in camps outside the Schengen area. By externalizing detention, European countries won't have any direct control on the conditions of detention, which already are the focus of a passionate debate as far as centres on European soil are concerned.

Although media insist in naming them "waiting zones", "identification centres", "accommodation centres", "hospitium" etc., the centres where "illegal" migrants and asylum seekers are held don't differ much from a common prison, except for the fact that, due to the overcrowding and the lacking of a common policy of control, in most centres some of the basic human rights are daily violated. According to the international conventions in matter of asylum, human rights and preventive detention, refugee camps and detention centres are on the edge of illegality themselves. Legal assistance is often denied; NGO's and humanitarian associations are often denied entrance to the camps. The whole management of detention is often military-based, and due to the lacking of interpreters and social workers, conflicts and misunderstandings are solved with the use of violence. More and more frequent episodes of self-destruction practices take place in camps: from hunger strikes, eyes- and mouth-sewing to all manners of suicide, including putting oneself on fire. These episodes rarely catch the attention of the media, and are mostly witnessed by the medical staff allowed in the centres on rare occasions.

These deaths, as being caused by the extremely hard conditions of detention and by the lacking of social, medical and legal assistance, are directly linked to the enforcement of the exclusion policies referred to as "Fortress Europe".

4. A few facts on deportation

Another tragic consequence of the building of a "Fortress Europe" is deportation. When media talk about "expulsion orders" and "repatriations", they make a wide use of euphemism. When it comes to countries where human rights are daily violated, where life is not respected, where minorities are persecuted, countries in war or famine, repatriation becomes a euphemism for deportation.

Refugees and asylum seekers who are denied a regular status in one of the European countries get an expulsion order. Some of them are immediately escorted to the border, where they have no choice but resorting to illegal ways to either re-enter the country or make a living. Others end up in detention camps, waiting to be sent back to their home countries. Due to the conditions of detention and the over-crowding of most centres, legal assistance is rarely guaranteed. The examination of a case might last a few minutes. It might even take place without an interpreter, a social worker or a lawyer for the asylum applicant. Some of the refugees have been fleeing their home country for years. They have gone through many other countries and seen many atrocities on their way. They have reached Europe with their family, with their children. They might even have lost them along the way. Some have resided in Europe for years, working in the black market or depending on short-term permits to be renewed every few months. During all this time they were able to survive the worst, simply because the fear of going back to their home countries was greater than the difficulties they had to face daily. When they get the expulsion order, they know their chances of survival are close to zero. The only thought of it often leads to suicide. In fact, most of the countries where refugees come from are not safe. Ethnical, social, political and sexual minorities face extreme persecution.

5. A violation of the Geneva Convention?

In 2003, the Italian government has financed a repatriation program from Libya to other African countries. The report following a EU investigation reveals that 47 charter flights left Libya. The number of passengers, their nationality and the destination of the flight are also registered. 5.688 passengers were boarded on flights financed by the Italian government and directed to various destinations:

Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan, and Eritrea. Most of these countries are not safe. Italian reporter Fabrizio Gatti, writing for the Espresso, explains that: "Eritrea is a country where there have never been elections. Everyone is automatically enrolled in the army and is supposed to fight the war against Ethiopia. Those who try and flee the country, men or women, are treated like deserters. Amnesty International has charged president Isayas Afeworki with arbitrary arrests, torture, and crimes against humanity. On the grounds of these charges, European Union member countries consider refugees from Eritrea eligible for asylum. Libya does not. By financing flights from Libya to Eritrea, the Italian government has indirectly violated the international convention on human rights. What's worst, it has put the life of 109 people in danger of being tortured and killed." (Espressonline, 5 may 2005).

As in the case of detention, also deportation is being externalized to third countries. The alarming case of Italy financing Libya for deportations towards other African and Asian countries is the object of investigation for many humanitarian associations and for the European commission as well.

F. Gatti reports the scandalous backgrounds of the Italian-Libyan agreement and some of its tragic consequences in his article "Lagers of freedom". What follows is an extremely interesting extract:

"Arbitrary arrests of foreign citizens: men, women, even children have been held in detention for months now, unaware of the reason why they have been massed in camps, where they live on bread and water. None of the cases has been examined individually. Rather, there have been mass-expulsion orders. No legal aid was guaranteed to the refugees. The UNHCR had no chance to verify that human rights were being respected. There has therefore been a violation of international conventions. 70 pages loaded with shameful charges: this is the result of the investigation conducted by the European Commission delegation of experts who, between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6, 2004 visited Libya from Al Zuwara, on the Mediterranean Sea, to the detention center in Kufra, in the Sahara Desert."

The Italian case is just an example. Europe accepts far less refugees than those welcomed by much poorer countries. Nevertheless, European policies in matter of asylum are being directed towards a re-examination of the Geneva Convention. As a matter of fact, governments affirm that it is getting harder and harder to distinguish between those who flee for reasons contemplated by the Geneva convention, and those who flee for the collateral effects of those reasons. No matter what the reasons, the effects are often indistinguishably entwined. Refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe are perceived as, or rather are presented to the public opinion as the reason of many problems in Europe. They are used to create panic on immigration and their situation is abused as a scapegoat, thus stimulating racist ideology and offering ground to right wing parties. Instead of being the problem, refugees and asylum seekers are in search of a solution to the serious problems they leave behind, in the countries they flee. The situation in those countries is usually ignored, willingly or not. Refugees are not a problem. The real problem is what goes on ignored in the countries they flee.

6. Get active! Join the campaign!

UNITED collects data on where, when and under which circumstances the refugees died. All the cases contained in the list are documented. The list does not pretend to have a strong scientific basis.

Nevertheless, it is extremely important for the purposes of the Campaign to raise awareness on this issue throughout Europe. Although the lack of a strong scientific basis prevents quantitative analysis to be based on the list, qualitative research is possible. It is essential to reach researchers, journalists, and artists who, by making a creative use of the list, contribute to the awareness-raising with their work and their projects. It is only by making the list as public as possible, that a concrete action against the cruel and inhuman consequences of Europe's exclusion policy is possible.

20 June: International Refugee Day
The United Nations, on the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention in 2001, declared the 20 of June the International Refugee Day. UNITED coordinates an annual campaign around this date. This campaign also aims at highlighting the issue of refugees from an NGO perspective at all levels: local, national and European. We call upon all organizations to take part in the campaign. In the following sections you will find some campaigning tips and ideas.

Adopt a Case: give the campaign a human face...
The impact of the list of deaths is caused by the sheer numbers. Behind them, though, there are human beings.
In order to make our point and spread the message of the campaign across Europe, it is necessary to give the list a human dimension. As a matter of fact, the list is a powerful tool for campaigning both as a whole, and also as a series of single cases. Here are some striking examples taken from the list. You can adopt them in your campaign, or ask UNITED to provide your organization with more campaigning material...

>Italy - Libya: Death Toll in Migrant Ship Sinking Passes 230
Strong winds and a leaky hull caused a panic aboard an overcrowded ship that capsized in the seas off of Libya on Monday, and more than 230 of the 257 Europe-bound migrants aboard are presumed dead, officials from the International Organization for Migration said Wednesday.
The 20 survivors, interviewed by the organization at an assessment centre outside of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, on Wednesday, said they clung to the hull in the roiling sea for eight hours after the boat overturned.
(New York Times, 2 April 2009)

>Spain: Migrant boat death toll at 22
Spain’s Marine Rescue Service says the body of another migrant has been retrieved from waters off Spain’s Canary Island, bringing to 22 the number drowned when a boat capsized.
Service director Anibal Carrillo said Tuesday that authorities believe at least 16 of the dead are minors.
(Boston Herald, 17 February 2009)

>France: An Afghan man was stabbed to death during a fight between rival gangs of illegal migrants heading for Britain
The 30-year-old was killed in a notorious stretch of wasteland in Calais known as ‘the jungle’, where a journalism student from London was raped last summer.
More than 30 migrants armed with clubs, metal bars and knives fought last night among the cardboard shelters, which make up the camp.
“It was a battle among young men all trying to get aboard ferries heading for Dover’, said a Calais ambulance service spokesman. “There has been a great deal of tension as all try to use the same route into Britain. About 100 men claiming to be Afghans are living in the ‘jungle’ at the moment, and the victim was one of them”.
(Evening Standard, 08 January 2009)

>Greece: Baby drowns when migrant boat capsizes off Dodecanese Island
An 18-month-old baby drowned off the island of Syros yesterday when a boat carrying 19 illegal immigrants capsized, said the Merchant Marine Ministry. A coast guard patrol boat had spotted the smaller vessel shortly before it capsized. Coast guard officers were able to rescue 13 men, two women, two children and a Turkish man suspected of being a human trafficker. The baby was also pulled out from the water but was pronounced dead at a local health centre.
(Kathimerine, 13 January 2009)

Send a Letter of protest: give your campaign a stronger meaning!
This publication gives you some information that you can use in writing your own letter of protest to the policy-makers of your choice (example letter underneath). Include a copy of this poster in your protest. If you need more copies, let us know. There is strength in numbers, so send the protest letter to all your contacts in politics - ask for the updated list of refugee deaths from the UNITED secretariat.

7. Example letter

To the responsible political body in the matter of immigration and asylum
Re: Death of more than 15000 refugees at the borders of "Fortress Europe"

We would like to share with you the horror we felt at the news of more than 13000 deaths of refugees.
Since 1993 UNITED for Intercultural Action, the European network against racism has monitored the deadly results of the policies building a "Fortress Europe". These deaths can be put down to border militarisations, asylum laws, detention policies, deportations and carrier sanctions. They are not singular incidents, but symptoms of policies that no longer see the humanity of those fleeing their homeland.
We protest, together with UNITED with its more than 560 supporting organisations, against these policies.
Borders cannot be shut to those seeking refuge. We have to see people as individuals, as possible victims of global conflicts. If we do not take care that the global political and socio-economic situation gets better, we cannot realistically expect people to stay in situations that we ourselves would find unbearable.

We expect from you that you will do your utmost to make sure that policies change and more tragic deaths are prevented.

List of 15181 documented refugee deaths
(pdf 304 KB) through 'Fortress Europe'

You can address your mail to:
The European Parliament
Committee on Human Rights

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,
rue Wiertz , B-1047 Brussels, Belgium

or directly to any member of the European Parliament, at the same address

Council of the European Union,
General Secretariat / Justice and Home Affairs
rue de la Loi 175 , B-1048 Brussels, Belgium

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population
Parliamentary Assembly
Council of Europe, Avenue de l'Europe, F-67075 Strasbourg

National Parliaments
Please find out the addresses of your national Parliament and the appropriate Members and Commissions from the public relations desk, or check your library.

Distribute this poster as much as possible:
make your campaign more visible!

Take several copies of this poster to all the meetings, conferences and seminars that are focusing on migration issues. Try to stress the importance of its contents as well as the brutality of its figures (please ask for the updated list of refugee deaths from the UNITED's office).
It is important to bear in mind that all these deaths were due to policies that criminalise a basic human right: the right of chosing freely a place to live.

When possible and appropriate translate the contents of this publication into your language. If you do so, please send a copy to UNITED. In case you need a picture of this poster just contact us and we will provide it. Order this poster (up to 100 for free) at the UNITED secretariat!

8. What is UNITED?

UNITED for Intercultural Action is the European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees.

Racism, nationalism, fascism, discrimination, restrictive asylum policies - these issues have a European dimension. It is important to fight intolerance on all levels.
Linked through UNITED, more than 550 organisations from a wide variety of backgrounds, from all European countries, work together on a voluntary basis. They base their cooperation on common actions and shared activities on a mutual respect. UNITED is and will remain independent from all political parties, organisations and states, but seeks an active co-operation with other anti-racist ini-tiatives in Europe. Through the UNITED network organisations meet each other, work on common actions and share information. European action weeks, campaigns and such are planned and discussed on UNITED conferences. The workers in the secretariat are in constant contact with the network organisations, ensuring that information and proposals for action are transmitted rapidly. Information is received from more than 2200 organisations and mailings go out to about 2500 groups in Europe. If you want to get involved, discuss the ideas and aims of the UNITED network within your organisation. Let us know that your organisation would like to join or receive information. And add us to your mailing list!


UNITED for Intercultural Action
European network against nationalism, racism, fascism
and in support of migrants and refugees
Postbus 413, NL-1000 AK Amsterdam, Netherlands
phone +31-20-6834778, fax +31-20-6834582,