Suppression of human rights in Europe and refugees: Are they the cause or just a symptom?

This blog is filed by 

Iakovos Anagnostopoulos

LL.M. Candidate, 

Corporate Governance & Practice,

Stanford Law School, Class of 2016

Currently around 45,000 refugees and migrants are trapped within Greece. The number is a result of the blockage of the so-called Balkan route which was imposed just a few days ago by the government of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at its borders with Greece. The Balkan route was until recently used by refugees and migrants to reach northern Europe. The FYROM was followed by Croatia and Slovenia while the Serbian authorities also announced the taking of similar measures. Austria appeared to be blessing the actions taken. Albania and Bulgaria are doing the same now. Sweden and Denmark had imposed limitations on the refugees reaching their border prior to the above countries.

Inside Greece, the debate over the refugees and migrants is focusing on the logistics for the handling of this immense problem (rather than on the medium- and long-term management of it): the creation of refugees camps or “hot-spots” across the country in order for the huge human inflows to be temporarily hosted, recorded and then either forwarded back to their countries of origin, in the event that they do not qualify as refugees, or be granted permission to remain in the EU and be allocated across the member states (Solution that is objected by many EU countries).

Only in 2015 more than one million people made the “trip” to Europe. Around 4,000 of them died trying to reach the shores of Greece or Italy. Almost half of them are coming from Syria. This year appears to have started even more intensely with Greece having received almost 75,000 people by mid-February[1]. However only a few of them actually wish to remain in the country. The Greek government has stated that Greece would admit and host as many as 180,000 refugees but this is highly doubtful given its economically dire situation over the past six years.

I am not familiar with the refugee asylum system of Greece, let alone the dozen ones of the remaining of the European countries. So, I would avoid criticizing or being over-judgmental about their stance towards the refugees from a legal perspective (although, all intuitively I sense that they must be breaking their respective laws in this). My main concern here relates to the European Union as a political organization and in particular how the EU treats the people entering the Union as refuges or migrants. What these people are expecting from Europe and what they actually find when they cross its external borders and attempt to head towards their final destinations. Are there any impediments or limitations imposed on them and how these obstacles are conflicting with essential European values. What is the purpose of the refugees’ camps (hot-spots) and how their existence and operation can be reconciled with what Europe is supposed to represent when it comes to human rights?

First of all, I should explain why I refer to refugees and migrants separately: The former constitute a very special category of people violently displaced from their home countries due to war, persecution or natural disaster. Refugees are understandably a very dear category of international humanitarian law. The same is not true for migrants, i.e. people who leave their birth place in search for a better life, usually in another country. The law is not as friendly to migrants as it is with refugees and it often sets very strict quotas for their admittance to the host state[2]. I note here that article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union states that “[t]he Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.  Moreover, Article 3 paragraphs 1 and 2 provide that “1. The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples, and 2. [t]he Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime”[3].

Obviously, the European Union has statutorily put human rights at the center of its very foundations. It has also vested itself with the authority to regulate refugees’ asylum and immigration related matters and so the current crisis could be expected to be treated harmonically at a European level.  But it is not. Instead we are seeing member states act with a view to protecting solely their own narrowly interpreted national interests against not only their fellow member-states but the people who are seeking asylum from them. In a sense we are watching the EU “publicize” to the world its lack of maturity and its unpreparedness to handle a situation which it has helped build in the first place by means of its unbalanced foreign policies. The images from the route of refugees from Syria to Europe are disheartening. Even more disheartening are however the ones taken on European land. How is it really possible to watch children, drowning in the sea and being hungry and totally unprotected from the elements of nature in the 21st century Europe? How inhumane is to see refugees beaten-up by border-control police or treated as dangerous criminals that must be kept detained and separated from the rest of society?  Why EU governments do not stand against extreme-wing populists who attack refugees and migrants rather they are playing their game and bowing to their hostile screams and not opposing their rhetoric of hatred? What has made Europeans so scared and insecure about their own lives so that racism and hate against refugees and immigrants have lately nested into their hearts? And where is the respect for human rights and human dignity that the EU is built on?

It must not be a coincidence that crossing the Atlantic, from the EU to US, we find strong parallels in the appeal of Donald Trump to some, mostly feeling socially marginalized, American citizens. What is making people aggressive to humanism? Are perhaps people losing faith to people as globalization proceeds favoring more some over others? The article attached here provides some thoughts on this that deserve looking at.








[2] I find this to be at least hypocritical. While the immediate need for any country to admit as quickly as possible and with the least hurdles possible any refugees asking asylum can be understood on a humanitarian basis, reality shows that the relevant procedures are full of red-tape and thus extremely slow and the treatment of these people receive is far from ideal. So their theoretical priority over economic migrants in practice disappears. On the other hand, migrants are predominantly people seeking a better future for them and their families and they usually arrive to the host country with the dream of finding a new hospitable home which they will respect while themselves being treated decently and with the dignity they deserve -but so often missed in their home countries. They might be punished by strictest immigration rules but are usually the ones that revive their new countries with their energy and passion to progress and be part of their foster societies.



  • Refugees Syria International Law


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  • Refugees Syria Law International Law


1 Comment

Human Rights and Europe's Sense of Insecurity

Thank you very much Prof. Palumbo-liu for putting forward, at once, such an evocative and reason-driven piece by Iakovos Anagnostopoulos, triggering both our passion and reason for human rights. Unlike Iakovos, I am a student of humanities used to seeing the things from humanitarian vantage points which are, perhaps, not beyond the common-sensical precincts of jurisprudence.

I would like to relate Iakovos’ massive question, “What has made Europeans so scared and insecure about their own lives so that racism and hate against refugees and immigrants have lately nested into their hearts?” that may be problematized in view of his previous assertion pointing to the Europe’s coping with “a situation which it has helped build in the first place by means of its unbalanced foreign policies.” Perhaps, the very images of the refugees giving rise to EU’s scare and sense of insecurity triggers those of their own having grown out of their foreign and other “policies” taken in different conjunctures of history in relation to peoples within and beyond Europe. Europe’s veneration and urge for human rights and human dignity, to a great extent, dwarfed, and thwarted, to a some extent, by their policies stemming out of the age-old attitudes towards their “others” they have been cherishing from the time immemorial. Perhaps the time is “ripe” enough (for considerable number of people both Europe and America for whatever reasons at work behind the situation) to provoke this hoary way of feelings, that, unfortunately, at times, goes in company with those of the destitute, deprived, and “wretched” of the world that the people like Donald Trump cash in on at the juncture of human vulnerability.


Zakir Majumder