Inhumane Treatment of Refugees at EU Borders Shows Europe’s Ugly Face

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EU (European Union) corporations are selling more arms than ever before, and EU states don’t like to be confronted with the results of this deadly industry.

Heiligenkreuz, Austria

Heiligenkreuz, Austria

As more and more people are forced to flee from their countries because of war and  bloody dictatorships, several EU countries besides just Hungary have started to build more fences, even higher than before. At the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melillain in northern Africa, there are high fences at checkpoints where Spanish police try to deport refugees directly from the border. Between Turkey and Greece, there are also high fences, and at the mediterrean sea, war ships of EU member states have done many so-called “pushbacks” in the open sea. Since 2000 more than 25,000 refugees have died at EU borders.

Heiligenkreuz, Austria

Heiligenkreuz, Austria

The EU likes to promote its self as a union of moral values: a union that stands for democracy, freedom (including freedom of movement) and human rights. But what I saw as I traveled to Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary last weekend had nothing to do with the values EU politicians like to talk about. Its not just the violence that the Orban government used against refugees at the Roeszke / Horgos border crossing with Serbia. Its not just the fences. Its also the race-baiting by many european politicians and parts of the media that has been going on for years, not just in Hungary. In Germany, Merkel is speaking double-tongued. She publicly welcomed refugees, but her governing CDU party also wants to aggravate german asylum laws. The Merkel government wants to cut the already very low benefits for refugees and turn them partly into goods instead of money. The new German asylum plan will also reduce the right to stay, so in the near future even more people will be deported.

Refugees returning to Kosovo in 2000.

Refugees returning to Kosovo in 2000.

This isn’t the type of trip I usually report on. During the Kosovo war in 1999 I went to the Albanian/Serbian (nowadays Kososvo) border to bring medicine and other supplies to people that fled from the war zone. We also helped people to get into Albania and brought them to a refugee facility there. When cruise misiles hit their targets, we felt the earth shaking, even when it was at a distance of 50 kilometers from where we were staying. I started to have nightmares and act nervous when I got back home every time I heard a helicopter. In 2000 I did another relief transport, this time in Kosovoa as the war was over. But every now and then there were sporadic gunfights.

Kosovo's capital Phristina in 2000.

Kosovo’s capital Phristina in 2000.

It took some time but I managed to come to terms with it and recovered very well. The images in my head were gone and I didn’t get nervous every time I saw a helicopter in the air. That started to change as the EU began to close their borders more tightly. More and more reports were published about refugees drowning at our borders, and EU member states began to build the first fences. People who were looking for refuge were not able to come into the EU as easily anymore, and many of them paid with their life.

These where some of the things I thought a lot about during the long drive towards the border last Friday. The first border I crossed was the German / Austrian border at Passau. Germany started to control the German/Austrian border again after more and more refugees arrived. But what did the German government expect? Everything was very peaceful until now, so why did I see so many riot cops at the border?

In Austria, I saw the first military convoy. I had never seen them in Austria before, but during this trip I saw them again and again. I drove to Slovenia, met with a friend and then continued my journey to the Croation / Slovenian border at Bregana. I bought supplies (Water and food) to donate to refugees still stuck at the Slovenian border. At another border crossing, about 10 kilometers away, Slovenian police had attacked refugees the night before. There were several injuries, including some inflicted on little children. Are these the European Union values politicians are talking about? I arrived the morning after that attack and the Slovenian police were still blocking refugees from crossing the border. Children were sleeping under the open sky on cardboard during a cold night. Violence and inhumane treatment are the real values of the EU, this I am very aware of. That and the fact that neither Hungary nor Slovenia could close the border if countries like Germany and France didn’t want them to. So the pictures I saw of German and Dutch police cars at the border in Hungary weren’t surprising to me. It was only a few months ago that the German government demonstrated how they blackmail countries that choose to make their own policies like Greece did.

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Riot police blocking refugees from entering Slovenia.

At the border in Bregana I saw many riot police, armored vehicles, and a helicopter in the air. What is it that the EU is so afraid of? Afraid of helpless people who are seeking refuge? Is this the way the EU member states treat people that are looking for protection? After about one hour, a few buses came. For some reason only Syrian refugees with children were allowed to get on the busses. Almost all refugees protested, including some of the refugees that were allowed to get on the bus. Great solidarity. Also from activists and many volunteers. I decided to try to find out where the buses were heading to as nobody really knew.



Together with journalists from the UK and Germany I decided to follow the buses. First, I thought there were Croation journalists following the buses, but the journalists from the UK drove a rental car with Croation licence plates. At the beginning it looked like there was only one police van, which accompanied the busses after they passed the Croation / Slovenian border. But a few more police cars came and also several policemen, or maybe even secret service members in “civil cars”. Every now and then we passed police cars who watched the group following the convoy. After the convoy passed Ljubljana and started to drive towards Maribor, the journalists from Germany and the UK were stopped by the police and weren’t able to report where the buses where going to. I decided to hang back a bit more distance and wasn’t stopped by the police.

Unfortunately, I lost the buses about 10 kilometers before Maribor after I had to pass them by at the motorway. I drove to the Austrian border to see if they would pass it but they didn’t. Later I heard that the buses did go to the border, but took a smaller border crossing. Soon after that, I heard that a child had died at the Croation / Slovenian border the night before. It was one of the children that was forced to sleep outside because of the closed borders of the Schengen area in the EU. Another dead child for EU politicians to take account for. A few tears in my eyes. Tears of anger and tears of sadness.

heiligenkreuz2While I was monitoring the Austrian / Slovenian border, it was reported that Croatian authorities had sent a train full of refugees to Hungary. Hungarian authorities decided to drive the refugees to the Austrian border at Heiligenkreuz. I decided to drive to Heiligenkreuz. On my way to the Hungarian / Austrian border I saw more and more presence of the Austrian military. As I arrived, I witnessed total chaos at the border. Hundreds of refugees. Men, women and children who came to live a life in peace were treated like objects and forced from state to state. Children were sleeping on cardboard again, and many people were trying to help. But also lots of soldiers and military. At least the Austrian state was bringing people to places they could sleep, and transporting people to other cities and to Germany. But I can’t describe the images I saw of people who have been through so much. Again, tears of anger and sadness.

I went to Hungary for a short while after I heard that a large group of refugees were walking to the border. We saw people who helped and brought them to the border in their cars. It felt good to see that. On September 15th, a new law went into effect in Hungary. This new law against refugees entering the country illegally says that they can be sentenced with 3 years imprisonment, so it its a very important job to bring refugees out of the country.

The next morning I drove to Salzburg. Again, a lot of military. There were even a few soldiers patrolling the streets around the main train station of Salzburg. In front of the train station, there was big tent put up by the Austrian red cross. Inside the main train station there were many riot police, but without helmets. Police, army, red cross and many volunteers were preparing the arrival of refugees who were on their way from Nickelsdorf.

I went to the German /Austrian border at Freilassing. The border crossing was full of riot cops. It was the next border crossing where I didn’t any of the European values European politicians often talk about. What I did see were many riot policemen. The most important European value seems to be repression of people who seek refuge.

I saw many people who supported and helped the refugees, and I saw states that did everything they could to keep refugees out of their country – even if that meant that more than 25,000 people drowned. Activists call the European Union “Fortress Europe,” and for a good reason. For the European Union, only people from western countries have freedom of movement. But the routes of the refugees show that “Fortress Europe” has a few holes and people keep on digging.

Today Austria did several pushbacks at the Austrian / Slovenian border, but the people kept coming. There is no fence, wall, sea or border that can stop the will of the people. The will to survive and to live life in a place on earth where there is no war. That’s why people will keep coming, and they have a right to do so.

On Thursday September 24 there will be another “Cars of Hope” convoy to bring people to the countries they want to go to. Activists literally bring their demands for the freedom of movement into practice. It won’t be the last Caravan for open borders either.




About Author

Born near the city of Amsterdam I started filming, taking photos and writing for autonomous and other magazines in the 1980's in Amsterdam. Nowadays I write for Revolution News and several blogs in Germany. Sometimes I live in Germany, sometimes on Tenerife, Canary Islands.