Multicultural Germany Class: European Borders

This post is part of a series in which students reflect on their discussions in the UC Berkeley undergraduate seminar “Multicultural Germany.” This week’s summary is by Melissa Carlson

This past week, we started opening up our discussions on immigration, identity and membership to talk more about how those topics apply to Europe as a whole. Specifically, we looked at how borders both define and separate different populations and ethnic groups. When talking about borders, it is important to address possible questions of construction, depiction, and enforcement. The video clip “Fortress Europe” from The Guardian depicts the heavily surveilled border between Turkey and Bulgaria that keeps a lot of asylum seekers from war-­torn Middle Eastern countries out of Europe. Interestingly enough, in order for immigrants to apply for asylum, they have to be in the country that they wish to seek asylum in. Therefore, this forces them to cross borders illegally in order to get legal asylum status within a country.

A dichotomy exists where the internal borders of the European Union are weakened to promote free movement among members states, yet the outside borders are strengthened in order to prevent immigrants from the Middle East and Africa from entering Europe. Borders are presented as beneficial to the EU in the sense that they ensure a protected boundary and keep unwanted enemies and violence outside the confines of Europe. The border between Turkey and Bulgaria is depicted in the video as an important gateway between the Middle East and Europe, so it is heavily reinforced and constantly watched. Even though the men who guard these borders take their job very seriously and view those who are crossing the borders as potential “enemies,” most of the immigrants crossing the border are persecuted and innocent families searching for safety and stability in Europe. This makes one wonder if such heavy surveillance and often aggressive enforcement is needed in order to keep these asylum seekers from crossing the border. As demonstrated in the video, a man was beaten up for trying to cross the border in order to reach his family on the other side. To what extent is this border between Turkey and Bulgaria ensuring peace for Europe if the guards are aggressive towards innocent families seeking asylum? Peace may exist within the EU by preventing a huge mass migration, but it is also creating more trouble and instability for asylum seekers who face border aggression, the breakup of families, and poor living conditions if they are “lucky” enough to cross the border. This raises important issues that need to be addressed by the EU, since it is their borders that are causing more obstacles for asylum seekers. Europe is historically known for being a collection of states willing to take in asylum seekers. By having such aggressively enforced borders, not only are Europeans physically separating themselves from foreigners, but they are also establishing cultural and social boundaries. Such borders reinforce ideas of “us” versus “them” and the need to draw boundaries as a way to preserve and protect the internal population. The EU shouldn’t be creating such obstacles for asylum seekers who are trying to flee persecution and violence. Creating boundaries causes more physical and emotional harm for the immigrants than beneficial good to the overall EU population.

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