Joint Statement on the EU- Western Balkans Summit in Tirana

Image Nidžara Ahmetašević

On the occasion of the Western Balkans Conference in Tirana on December 6 2022, we publish here the “Belgrade Conference Joint Statement on Open Borders: Building Alliances for the Right to Migrate!”

The declaration opposes the externalisation of borders and the expansion of border protection, and calls for a human right to migrate and the creation of living conditions in the Global South that allow populations to remain in their country of origin in dignified conditions.

The forcible prevention of migration by the EU and its member states enables authoritarian states to blackmail the EU, increases profits in human trafficking and ties up financial resources that would be urgently needed to improve the living conditions of people in the current crisis.

We, the people currently living in the part of Europe called the European Union or in parts of Europe not belonging to this so-called Union, either for a longer or shorter time, or planning to live in the EU,

  • Recognising the responsibility of the EU and its Member States for the death, torture and suffering of many thousands of humans –  migrants and refugees – on the so-called Balkan route,
  • Reaffirming that migration and flight are effects of colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism,
  • Aware of the  weak and dependent situation of  countries of the Balkan peninsula making them vulnerable to blackmailing by the EU and richer countries of West/Northern Europe,
  • Aware of the direct influence of the EU itself in these countries as well as of organisations, such as IOM or ICMPD, promoting EU interests at the costs of migrants,
  • Convinced that the EU Member States whose considerable wealth is built on the exploitation of the Global South are able but not willing to provide decent living conditions to migrants and refugees,
  • Observing that the EU and its Member States invest millions of Euros in the securitisation and militarization of borders instead of using them to improve the living conditions of all peoples on and beyond EU territory  alleviating the effects of the current inflation and energy crisis for the population.
  • Observing that EU Member States make billions of profit from arms trade, while contributing little to avoid planetary collapse due to climate change, which will lead to more forced migration.  
  • Recognising the necessity to defend and reactivate the values enshrined in the Human Rights Declaration as well as the European Charter of Fundamental Rights,
  • Affirming that the rights enshrined in these legal documents must be complemented by the human right to free mobility as defined in the Charta of Palermo,
  • Affirming that human trafficking and smuggling as well as the instrumentalisation of migrants by third countries can be effectively and immediately terminated by introducing free mobility,

On this base, we state:

Since 2015, a plethora of action plans, joint declarations, and proposals for legislation have been released on the EU level. Various organizations and networks have been active to develop policies against migration and migrants. Illegal pushbacks have been carried out at the external and internal borders of EU Member States, partnerships with countries outside of the EU burden them with high economic and social costs for hindering the movement of migrants while giving authoritarian governments free rein to continuously infringe on the human rights of people on the move.

These policies have been continued and reinforced by the hitherto Western Balkans conferences and shall be materialised  at the upcoming EU- Western Balkans Summit in Tirana on December 6th. In Addition to the Action Plan on the Central Mediterranean of the European Commission an Action Plan on the Western Balkan Route shall be issued in Tirana. A main aim of the Mediterranean Action Plan is the externalisation of border controls and migration hindrance to Northern African states. It is to be expected that the Western Balkan Action Plan will include similar plans for the Non-EU countries on the Western Balkans.

Austria is at the forefront of further reinforcing Fortress Europe. Recently, the Austrian Minister of Interior Affairs has made five demands on the EU Commission: a pilot project for asylum procedures in an EU country at the EU’s external border, a “refoulement directive” that would make individual assessments no longer necessary, asylum procedures in safe third countries, easier withdrawal of protection status, even in the case of non-serious criminal offences, and more support from EU states for Frontex at the EU’s external border and in third countries.
These demands are clearly contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention on Refugees, and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. And, in fact, Austrian government representatives have recently criticised the Human Rights Declaration as too far-reaching and not adequate to contemporary conditions.

Against this background, we agree:
The only effective way of improving the situation of all people living in Europe or aiming to enter Europe is to open the borders and establish safe routes.

By renouncing the absurdly high costs for ever more sophisticated border control measures and constant proclamations of “crises” for which people on the move are blamed, considerable sums can be freed to support all people in need in Europe, e.g., migrants in their attempts to get education and gainful employment here or poor people needing support in the current crisis of inflation and increasing energy prices.

Migrants and refugees  must get the chance to start a new life in a country of their choice. Nobody must be forced to die at the place where they were born.

At the same time, real support of the countries of origin of migrants by the rich countries of the Global North is necessary. Above all, this means to stop exploiting these countries. Apart from that, investments in the interest of the populations of these countries (and not in the interest of the EU) must be made. In the long term, the real development of countries of the Global South will reduce migration as, under good living conditions, many people decide to stay in their country of origin. The considerable sums used to externalize migration control can make a difference for countries, e.g., in Africa, if used in a meaningful way.

Migration must be understood as a human right and not be hindered.

Migration can never be stopped by force. Migrants will always find new ways, maybe more dangerous ones, or more expensive ones, thus, increasing the profits of smugglers and traffickers.

Thus, the EU should choose the only human, responsible, and, at the same time, effective way of dealing with migration by making it possible for all to stay under decent conditions where they are or to decide to move to another place.

The Open Borders Conference 2022
  took place in Belgrade from 25 to 27 November and brought together activists, scholars, researchers, and representatives of different organisations working in Europe on issues related to migration.