The Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe

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Since 1993, UNITED has been monitoring the deadly results of the building of ‘Fortress Europe’ by making a list of the refugees and migrants, who have died in their attempt of entering the ‘Fortress’ or as a result of Europe’s immigration policies.

More than 40,000 deaths have been documented up to now.

If the death of over 40,000 people does not wake up Europe’s conscience, what will?

Working with the list of deaths

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WELCOME to Fortress Europe


From hope to tragedy

Since 1993, UNITED has been monitoring the deaths of asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants seeking a better life in Europe. The cases included in the ’List of Deaths’ range from fateful attempts to enter the impenetrable fortress that Europe has built around itself to those on clandestine journeys and during state-operated detention or deportation. Whilst they reveal diverse causes and circumstances, they are all the result of an increasingly complex, unworkable and unjust system.

Blood on European hands

These deaths are not isolated incidents but are the direct consequence of tightening EU immigration policy. In the face of civil war, conflict, global political and social unrest, and the deepening effect of climate change, Europe responds by adopting exclusionary practice and policies, turning a blind eye to the root causes of migration. The List draws unwelcome attention to the role of our societies in protecting those who flee from war, persecution and poverty and highlights the serious flaws in our asylum and immigration systems that routinely threaten individual human dignity. These rights are laid out in the 1951 Geneva Convention; they are not simply a set of values and principles we should try to uphold, but constitute international law. Each time they are broken, they are therefore a direct violation of the protocols to which each participating country is bound.

Download UNITED’s regularly updated list of death cases here.

Fortress Europe: A Deadly Exodus

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Numerous deaths, especially those that remain undocumented, are a direct consequence of the repeated reinforcement of EU borders. Not content with excessive policing and militarisation of the borders, common practice is now to extend, move and redraw them as a response to migration flows. The externalisation of the EU’s political borders can be seen mostly in North African countries, whose coasts are the starting point for many migrant journeys into Europe, especially to Spain, Italy and Greece.

The Italy-Libya Agreement, validated in 2005 and re-signed for another 5 years in 2010 demonstrates how the European countries systematically evade international treaties in managing immigration. Italy, as an EU member state and signatory of both the Geneva convention and convention of Human Rights, is bound to an agreement affording asylum seekers a safe place for refuge, the opportunity to apply for refugee status and upholding human rights and dignity throughout. Libya, who opted out of this agreement, is not bound to similar rules.

In May 2010, 18 alleged criminals were executed in Tripoli and Benghazi. As many were foreign nationals, who typically receive insufficient language and legal assistance, they are not given a fair trail. The death penalty is therefore used disproportionately towards them, clearly illustrating a violation of human rights.
(Amnesty International, June 2010)

By contracting out border policing, migrants are subjected to the inhumane treatment that the Human Rights Convention prohibits. Italy therefore indirectly breaches the convention as it voluntarily relinquishes control of the standards of protection they are obliged to ensure. They manage this on a series of levels; through funding repatriation flights from Italy to Libya, the provision of two patrol boats in 2009 for Libya to more effectively hunt down migrant activity on Libyan seas and by allocating funds to detain migrants held in Libya. The EU has also drawn up agreements between Egypt and Malta, extending its sphere of influence.

As it builds Fortress Europe through immigration policy and the increasingly restrictive measures implemented by member states, the EU can therefore be seen to be redefining its borders – and undergoes a constant process of manipulation with these imagined political lines. Externalising EU policy is not the only method, processes of “border imperialism” are also at play; countries wishing to become member states – candidates such as Turkey, must comply and cooperate with the Schengen Agreement, adopting European policies and meeting Schengen requirements in order to be serious contenders. There are conflicting interests for such countries to adopt these measures; Turkey for example has valuable trade and economic relations with countries such as Armenia and Georgia, but is forced to limit these and allow EU member states to have access to restricted information and their border operations (Euskirchen, Lebuhn et al, 2007)

There are further realignments and restructuring of borders; no longer confined to controls at crossings and immigration checkpoints, all busy population flows such as public transport routes, train and bus stations, service areas and city plazas are considered strategic points of transit. These spaces are therefore subject to strict policing and monitoring, enabled by modified laws and government institutions that treat all “foreign looking” people with suspicion, demanding documentation from them. The internal extension of EU borders, in its ability to absorb public space into its policy, knows no limits.

Europe has therefore become less a fortress of one single rigid, identifiable border, but a borderland comprising of several kilometres of border zones. Perhaps the analogy of “Fortress Europe” is even misleading; these territories and spaces are pliable, ignoring certain streams of migration, such irregular migration that brings in the labour upon which the economies of many EU member states are dependent.


This is yet another field of government activity in which EU policy has pressured member states, especially new members, to adopt a more restrictive, hard-line approach towards irregular migrants. Upon accession, EU Border countries have harmonised their policies with the Union’s, building more transit centres in order to increase their detention capacities. Romania, which once experienced high levels of emigration, has, through financial and technical support of the EU, stepped up its removal and detention operations. Hungary has also responded to EU concerns that the country is a gateway for migration to Western Europe by affecting a clampdown on its borders, which have led to prolonged detention periods in centres with poor living conditions where healthcare is notoriously inaccessible.

Unsatisfactory detention conditions are not only limited to accession states, but can be seen across the Europe. The List of Deaths includes many cases where failures of the system and staff to provide a decent level of care to those they are obliged to protect. Detention centres across Europe are being criticised and investigated for their inhumane treatment of migrants, often with grave consequences. In a Barcelona detention centre in May 2010, the body of Mohamed Abagui, a 22 year old Moroccan man was found; unable to face the deportation that authorities confirmed was awaiting him, Mohamed took his life by hanging himself with a bathrobe belt. Just one year earlier in the same centre, Jonathan Sizalina was found dead in his room, allegedly having committed suicide. However, fellow detainees are reported to have witnessed guards kicking him.
(Setmanari Directa, May 2010)

In April 2010, a 40 year old Kenyan man died in a UK detention centre as a result of being denied medical treatment; his pleas to staff for painkillers and medical treatment were ignored, and an ambulance that was called by other detainees was, critically, turned away by centre staff. Whether through mistreatment, neglect or the psychological effects of isolation, fatalities remain rife in our detention centres.
(Guardian, April 2010)

Migrants in holding facilities are treated worse than criminals; in many countries, these centres function as no more than basic prisons. Rapid changes to asylum policies in Ireland were not met with sufficient development in managing immigration controls; the country has not yet established a single dedicated immigration detention centre, instead choosing to contain detainees within prisons. Facilities for irregular migrants are insufficient for current immigration systems; it is clear that governments process detainees on such a mass scale that they fail to ensure the necessary measures are in place, yet they press ahead with plans to extend. In the UK for example, plans to build Europe’s largest removal centre continue in spite of the Chief Inspector of Prisons warning that the centre supplies “prison-type accommodation, in small and somewhat oppressive cells – at odds with the atmosphere and facilities in the current centre.”

The fatal effects of mass-scale processing are unmistakable; in April 2010, following months of criticism and complaints of overcrowding in a Danish asylum centre, a fight broke out in the canteen. This was due to tension amongst detainees in the dinner queue and resulted in a 30 year old Afghani man being stabbed to death in the chest.
(Copenhagen Post, April 2010)


Whether due to a belief that countries in conflict are now safe places to return to, or simply that the requirements to remain in the receiving countries have not been met, deportation is a convenient way to cattle people around and manage immigration statistics. This is only viable if we can ensure their safety and reintegration upon return. Few forget the tragic case of Adam Osman Mohammed in 2008, who after being sent back to Sudan when asylum was refused in the UK, was shot dead by the military.

Regardless of the wisdom of authorities’ decisions, they have a duty to conduct deportation procedures in a way that prioritises safety, welfare and preserves human dignity. It is therefore impossible to justify the humiliating treatment given to passengers on a repatriation flight in March 2010 from France to Lagos, Nigeria with a second pick-up in Spain; over 40 Nigerians, including women and children had their hands and feet cuffed together, with these cuffs being strapped to their waists for the entire flight, receiving only small amounts of bread and cheese as meals.

These uncivilised, heavy-handed methods of handling deportees are widely reported and in March 2010 Joseph Ndukaku Chiakwa, who was already weak from a hunger strike in protest at his deportation, died after police in Zurich airport forcibly restrained him. Fellow Nigerian passengers on his flight verify that they wore shackles all over their bodies, were tied to seats and made to wear helmets by police.
(Solidarité sans Frontières, April 2010)

In processing applications, when governments across Europe regularly refuse asylum or issue deportation orders they can have enormous impacts upon the psychological and emotional state of failed applicants. UNITED has recorded many instances over the years where news of forced repatriation or failed asylum claims have resulted in suicide. In Hamburg in 2010 alone, Wadim S from Latvia jumped in front of a train, whilst Yeni P, a 34 Indonesian woman and David Mardiani, a Georgian of 17 years, hanged themselves in a deportation centre – all whilst awaiting deportation.

Residents of a tower block in Glasgow, UK awoke in March 2010 to discover deep indentations on the ground, where Serge and Tatiana Serykh and their son had jumped from their flat on the 15th floor in a suicide pact. The family, who were thought to be Kosovan or Russian, had recently heard that their asylum claims were rejected.
(Migration News Sheet, April 2010)

Populist reasoning that migrants do not need to remain within Europe stems from the belief they are “bogus” asylum seekers, opportunists and expats, all without a genuine and valid reason to be granted refugee status. But when so many choose to take their own lives over returning to the situations they flee from, when migration is not just the nicer, but the only option, there is clearly a need for governments to critically assess their decision-making processes.

Process ineffectiveness

There is a clear defect in immigration and asylum policies across Europe; the blind ambition of governments to control migration flows and meet immigration targets are not matched by resources, skills and training of the staff employed to conduct procedures. When policies are shaped purely as a reaction to statistics and goals, they are both ill thought out and difficult to implement. Frequent changes to the application process, to employment and movement restrictions, and entitlement to support services and healthcare all around Europe often lead to confusion, misapplication and result in unnecessary deaths.

In May 2010, the body of Abdoulaye, a 20 year old from the Ivory Coast was found hidden under a lorry in Malaga. He had begun this journey in Ceuta, where he had applied for asylum in January – the same month in which regional procedures for handling admissible asylum claims were changed. When he initially attempted to leave for the Spanish Peninsular, guards misinterpreted recent changes to asylum procedures and prevented him, which led to him embarking on his fatal journey as a stowaway. When his body was discovered in Malaga, authorities found he had been carrying the yellow card with him, certifying that he had the right to travel freely within Spanish territory the whole time. If the authorities themselves are unable to understand the correct procedures, how can migrants be expected to?
(Migration News Sheet, June 2010)

Due to recent racial laws approved in Italy, in March 2010 a 13-month-old baby from Nigeria was refused medical treatment in a hospital emergency unit, as her father had not renewed his NHS card. Her condition became more severe later that night, but upon returning staff told her family they could neither examine nor admit her. She died soon after.
(EveryOne Group, April 2010)

Policies and laws are being implemented all across the continent that exclude and discriminate in the provision of basic, vital healthcare and support. Because of their accountability to funding bodies and authorities, hospitals opt for a clean bill over human life.

Unaccompanied minors

Bowing to public pressure, there have been attempts to improve asylum procedures for children; pledging to end child detention in the UK for example. However, as governments reform conditions for unaccompanied minors, they take one step forward and two steps back. In pledging to stop such practice, instead of developing workable strategies to fully integrate them into their host society, allowing them to remain in the communities they have become parts of, many governments turn to alternative options to keep them excluded.

Announcements have been independently made by Sweden, Denmark, UK, Netherlands and Sweden to build or fund reintegration centres and orphanages in “safe zones“ within Iraq and Afghanistan. It is debatable whether European governments could truly ensure safety and welfare in the war torn countries that these children have fled from. This is yet another example of EU policy driven by targets and objectives rather than humanity. As the Danish government’s plan involves providing development aid to a Kabul care centre, Amnesty International warns that their inability to be directly responsible for child safety could in fact be a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is all too easy to dismiss or forget children’s extreme vulnerability. In despe-ration, they often take extraordinary steps to escape from danger; Maiouad, a 15-year-old Afghani boy was killed in a road accident near Calais, France whilst attempting to stowaway in December 2009 and one year earlier, Rezai Mahamut was run over by the wheels of the lorry he was hiding under in Italy.
(Fortress Europe, December 2009; EPolis Roma, December 2008)

At any age, the enormous trauma of forced migration it is no doubt difficult to deal with, and many undergo mental and psychological distress at the hands of asylum procedures. Expecting children to fully comprehend and process their situations is especially unrealistic.

Children, left without families and without a home, need our compassion and support; 12-year-old Hamid al-Amrani had already been identified as deeply distressed. Once his father had been deported back to Morocco, he was taken to a Madrid psychotherapy centre notorious for staff carelessness and mistreatment. Kept in isolation, Hamid hanged himself with a belt from his bathrobe in December 2008. Instead of providing him with the attention needed for a child with mental illness, intolerable care and staff neglect failed him.
(ABC, February 2009)


Migrants flee from their country of origin due to social, economic, political and environmental factors that restrict their quality of life. The Geneva Convention, which defines a refugee and the rights they are entitled to, does not recognise climate refugees or environmental displacement as grounds for forced migration. But when, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation, 25,500,000 environmental migrants exist in 2010 and this is estimated to increase to 150,000,000 by 2050, the figures speak for themselves.

It is difficult to calculate the environmentally displaced; regional climates are not often the sole reason for migration but the underlying root cause of social, political and economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, access to resources and conflict. Environmental migration must be understood in this wider context; a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that Africa will potentially see a 50% rise in the risk of civil war due to increased competition over fewer resources.

The List of Deaths includes at least 4,426 people from the Sahel, a region of Sub-Saharan Africa spanning ten countries, from Senegal on the West coast to Somalia on the East. This region has experienced two major droughts in the past 50 years, which have affected land, water, biodiversity and the industries and communities relying on these natural resources.

The common route from North Africa to the southern coasts of Europe is a graveyard of irregular migrants; 12 West Africans died of thirst in an attempt to cross the Algerian desert in August 2010, and at least 6 died at the hands of police during a riot in a Libyan detention centre in June 2009 – 12 Somalis are still missing.
(Radio France Internationale, August 2010; Fortress Europe, Sept. 2009)

Even if they are able to set sail from the African coast, using rickety boats on stormy seas, all too often they never arrive. In the same year, 16 Africans drowned in the Evros River trying to get to Greece in June and 19 died after their boat capsized when travelling from Turkey to Greece.
(UNHCR, July 2010; No Border, January 2010)

UNHCR warns that human-driven climate change is set to become the biggest driver of population displacement in the near future, but for as long as it remains legally unrecognised, those most affected by climate change will stay at the bottom of European governments’ political agendas. A new convention that defines environmentally displaced persons and outlines their rights is required, as well as a separate funding mechanism. This is the only way to force governments to take responsibility in allocating resources towards affected communities through proper resettlement programmes and helping vulnerable com-munities to adapt and cope better with the unavoidable impact that climate change has already started having on their lives.

Moreover, the legal recognition of environmental migration is an important step forward in pushing policy-makers to recognise the severity of human-made climate change and reach a fair and effective global agreement on how to deal with it.

The UNITED List of Deaths

UNITED collects data on where, when and under which circum-stances migrants died; all the cases contained in the List of Deaths are documented. It does not pretend to have a strong scientific basis, but nevertheless, the list is an extremely important tool for campaigning on the issue. It lacks a strong scientific basis so credible quantitative analysis based on the data cannot be con-ducted, however it lends itself well to qualitative research. It is accessible and appealing for researchers, journalists and artists who, by making creative use of the list, generate further awareness-raising through their work and projects. By making the list as visible in public as possible, real action against the cruel and inhuman consequences of Europe’s exclusion policies can be achieved.

Adopt a case: give the campaign a human face

The sheer number of deaths documented on the list is powerful in itself, yet each individual casualty must not get lost in the statistics. The human dimension is what makes the data so potent; by giving attention to the very real challenges, struggles and suffering that migrants face, you help your target audience to relate to and engage with the situation. In your campaigning, adopt cases that you feel will resonate most strongly with them – some possible options have been highlighted throughout this leaflet – if necessary, contact the UNITED secretariat for more background information.

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’.

More info about Death by Policy

Send a Letter of Protest:

Take your campaign to the decision-makers
This publication gives you some information that can be used to write your own letter of protest or petition statement to the policy-makers of your choice, or to those who can lobby on your behalf (you can also use the example letter on the UNITED website). Include a copy of this poster and the List of Deaths in your protest, and if you need more copies, let us know. There is strength in numbers, so send the protest letter to all your contacts in politics (download the updated list of refugee deaths here). Make Bad News Travel Fast: give your campaign more visibility
Take several copies of this poster to all the meetings, conferences and seminars that focus on migration issues. Try to stress both the importance of its content as well as the gravity of its figures.It is important to bear in mind that all these deaths were due to policies that criminalise a fundamental human right; freedom of movement, and many also violate others such as the right to leave and return to your country of origin, the right to seek asylum and the right to family.If you can, translate the contents of this publication into your own language. If you do so, please send a copy of your work to UNITED – we can all work together to make Europe sit up and pay attention. 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.
Contact the campaign team
Facebook: @UNITEDAgainstRefugeeDeaths
Twitter: @UNITED__Network #AgainstRefugeeDeaths
Phone number: Geert Ates +31-6-48808808