The Statewatch website has done a considerable service in leaking a European Council document revealing the plans for a large-scale joint police surveillance of migrants between Monday 13th October and Sunday 26th October, and revealing that such surveillance raids happen every six months with the rotating presidency of the European Union. This latest operation, under the lead of the Italian Presidency, takes the name ‘Mos Maiorum’, referring to the traditional values of the Roman Republic: a reference which is not only a cynical euphemism for what is really a racist surveillance raid on anyone who looks like they might have been born outside the European Union, but also an alarming reference for a country with such a recent history of fascism.
The leak has done a service to migrants who might feel forced to avoid railway stations, airports and other border areas during these weeks, and a service to democracy in Europe by revealing a program which the Council attempted to hide from public scrutiny, but requires the highest possible democratic oversight and debate. Extraordinarily, following the leaked documents, both FRONTEX and the European Commission publicly distanced themselves from the initiative, (correctly) attributing it to the member states, showing how politically divisive such activity is even within the normally consensus-seeking European institutions.
The purported aim of the action is to ‘apprehend irregular migrants’, identify the routes of irregular migration, and gather information on the operations of organised criminal people smugglers.
The legal basis for stopping, questioning and potentially apprehending people suspected of being irregular migrants is left totally vague by the documents of the Council. In previous such operations we know that many people have been apprehended and are then either deported or detained, in a context of secrecy not allowing for a public debate on the principles invoked in deporting such people or even fair trials of these individuals. Quite asides from this, it is difficult to see how the police can act on any principles which are not racist: simply stopping and questioning anyone based on racial profiling
The instructions from the Council detail information that should be gathered about the people stopped, including their nationalities, age and gender, date entered the European Union and so on. There are no details about how this personal data should be protected, how long it can be stored or what it can be used for, giving the impression that there is one rule for the indigenous Europeans (whoever they are) and another rule for anyone who could be said to be from elsewhere. One may ask how effective a contribution this is to (countering) the rise of xenophobic and nationalist world views. Official discourse on the operation emphasis the fight against people smuggling, offering a distorted image of the reality of migration to Europe. The only way of really stopping illegal and often murderous people smuggling is to provide safe ways into the European Union for asylum-seekers. That is completely the opposite of what the European Union is doing. The European Union is even cutting back on the few programs that were designed to ensure some safety of migrants: one year after another shipwreck off Lampedusa marked the public opinion in Europe and prompted repeated calls and promises for action, the Mare Nostrum program of the Italian navy, which is credited with saving the lives of up to 100,000 people, is coming to an end to be replaced with a much smaller EU program which is insufficient for increased numbers of migrants fleeing conflict in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
That such a program should be going on without public knowledge, debate or oversight, even from the European Parliament, is completely unacceptable. We refuse that in the name of European cooperation parts of our population are placed under surveillance or worse. As Migreurop and the FRONTEXIT campaign have pointed out, the European Union is acting as if it were at war with migrants, especially those who are fleeing real wars elsewhere. We cannot allow the member states, or the police forces of the member states, to pull us into such an ignoble, inhumane and ultimately unwinnable war by stealth: this is the opposite of the peace between people that the European Union should stand for, and to which the European civil society is showing its commitment, issuing multi-lingual travel warnings, or gathering reports on witnessed police presence and activity assimilable to the operation.