Last year the Court of Justice of the European Union issued two judgments on the Syrian refugee crisis. Both cases concerned Europe’s externalization of migration policy – i.e. the legal and practical measures taken to enforce refugee exclusion outside or at the borders of the territories of EU member states. These policies have been labeled as the politics of non-entrée by Hathaway & Gammeltoft-Hansen. In the judgments, the Court decided that it was not competent to rule on the cases because it had no jurisdiction. As I have argued more extensively in an article published open access in the Journal of Refugee Studies, the result of this is that law is not only an instrument for excluding people from European territory. The exclusion now runs through law itself. Although European fundamental human rights law is still formally neutral, the exclusion of non-Europeans is becoming a core element of European law.
Officials see them as cruel exploiters of human misery: criminals, traffickers, predators. Indeed, many policymakers seem to suggest that if only we crack down on smugglers, refugee crises would be solved. Popular culture—including through Oscar-nominated documentaries—glorifies Greek and Italian Coast Guards and other anti-smuggler agents as saviors from the machinations of evil smugglers. Syrian migrants have a different view.
On 5 August 2016, the UN News Centre published a picture captioned UN team in Jordan uses cranes to hoist aid to Syrian refugees at sealed border. The picture is taken from Jordanian territory. The low mud wall behind the trucks marks the Syrian border. At the time, Amnesty International reported that more than 75,000 Syrian refugees were living in the desert on the Syrian side. The text accompanying the picture reports that “life-saving food and other supplies from the United Nations” are being “hoisted by crane and monitored by drones across the closed frontier” in what is called “a unique operation.” The World Food Programme delivered food packages, the International Organization for Migration contributed bread, and the UN’s children fund UNICEF hygiene kits. This picture, as well as the perky accompanying press release, captures the outcome of international, and in particular of European policies vis-à-vis the Syrian refugee issue. In 2011, Syria had 23 million inhabitants. At present, some 11 million of them have been uprooted; 6.5 million of them are internally displaced (IDP’s, including the 75,000 people at the Jordanian border), and 4.9 million have sought refuge outside Syria.