Directed by Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden (2015)
I was strangely moved by this documentary of European tourists and Syrian refugees interviewing each other on the Greek island of Lesbos. The latter is a common destination for refugees who cross the Mediterranean from Turkey.
I was genuinely surprised by the high educational level of the refugees. All were professionals (lawyers, teachers, mechanical engineers) or skilled trades people (carpenter, cosmeticians) in Syria. It’s no wonder Germany is so eager to accept them.
The postscript to the film indicates that most of the pairs reunited once the refugees reached their destination, with most of the Europeans actively assisting their refugee with adapting to their new life.
According to UNHCR (the UN High Commission for Human Rights), more than 50 million people have been permanently displaced through wars in the Middle East, political persecution, climate change and grinding poverty. Of these, hundreds of thousands face such life threatening conditions at home that they risk death by crossing the Mediterranean in rusty, leaky, overcrowded boats.
Refugees typically take one of four routes in their desperation to reach Europe: illegal entry into one of the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, a short choppy boat trip from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos or across the Avros River into mainland Greece, jumping a wire fence from Greece into Bulgaria or crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Europe or Die is a four part documentary follows some of these migrants on their dangerous voyage and closely examines their treatment by EU countries on their arrival.
This documentary was a real eye opener for me. Given the majority of these refugees are the helpless victims of proxy wars started and funded by the US and wealthy EU countries, their refusal of to adopt consistent and humane immigration policies is clearly a crime against humanity under international law.
Part I: For most sub-Saharan refugees seeking illegal entry to Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish enclaves on the Moroccan coast, the best option is to jump three high razor wire topped fences. Under EU law, the first fence demarcates the Spanish border. Refugees who make it past the first fence (it’s really a kind of game) are home free and must be given the option of moving to mainland Spain. They’re also entitled to legal assistance and an interpreter to help them apply for asylum.
The most common is for thousands to storm the fence simultaneously and overwhelming the border guards. Typically two out of 1,000 will get through. It’s illegal, under EU law, for Spanish police to forcibly return them. However “pushbacks,” as they are called are common. As is shooting their hands and feet to make it harder to climb the fence. This is also against the rules.
Part 2: A second common route for migrants is to take the “death boat” from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos or across the Avros River to mainland Greece. Refugees can pay smugglers several thousand dollars to cram them into shabby, overcrowded boats that frequently capsize.
Greece is experiencing a five-fold increase in illegal migration as a direct result of the civil war in Syria. Recently they have experienced a big influx of Iraqi refugees (mainly Yazidis*) with the rise of ISIS. As part of the game, the EU has another law, called the Dublin rule, that political refugees become the responsibility of the country where they are first picked up, irregardless of the country’s ability to provide jobs or social services.
Part 3: A third route is to cross the razor wife fence separating Turkey from Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. Bulgaria keeps political refugees in unheated tents without access to clean water. Once they are granted asylum they are forced to leave the camp and end up homeless on the streets.
Part 4: The final, most common method of reaching Europe is to cross from Libya to the Italian Island of Lampedusa. Up until a few months ago, the Italian Navy operated the only search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean. Called Mare Nostrum, it was made up of 900 personnel and 26 naval vessels – at a cost of $9 million euros a month.
In 2013, Mare Nostrum saved 150,000 migrants from boats that had capsized. Owing to the refusal of the EU to support this fantastically expensive program, it had to be cancelled in 2014.
It’s been replaced by Triton, an air surveillance program that requests nearby merchant vessels (if there are any) to rescue migrants in leaky votes.
In 2014, 170,000 migrants made it safely to Italy and 3,000 drowned.
*Yazidis are a Kurdish ethnic group ISIS attempted to exterminate in August 2014.