FECL 52 (December 1997):
In the early 1990s, when the wall of isolation surrounding Western Europe was being extended to include Central and Eastern Europe, some observers already warned against a "domino effect". Germany's eastern neighbours, they said, would gradually pass on the restrictive migration and border control policies imposed on them by the West to the next states in line. The system of readmission agreements and other inter-state arrangements made this a predictable trend. The domino effect has now become a reality: the Polish government is now passing on to the Ukrainian government the pressure it itself is subjected to from the European Union (EU), the Schengen group and, in particular, Germany.
The pressure exerted by Western European states on the CEEC must be considered against the background of an economic dividing line which - in spite of its limited geographical length of approx. 750 km - is one of the most fateful in Europe. Between Germany and Ukraine, the difference of income is 100 : 1, and between Germany and Poland still a hefty 10 : 1.
The new border regimes and amended legislation on aliens does more than only serve to cement the economic hierarchy between states. In view of the expansion of the "grey" to "black" labour markets in all countries, this also produces a spectrum of exploitation and, as in Poland in 1996, leads to an "illegalisation" of people from more distant countries. Since neither Poland nor Ukraine are members of the European Union or Schengen, Germany and other EU countries seek other, often less formal - but increasingly direct - ways of exerting influence.
The German government has gradually been extending its sphere of operations to the Polish-Ukrainian border. According to Germany's Interior Ministers (Federal and Länder), Poland's border with the former Soviet Union has become a "criminal geographical area", which they observe "with concern".
The issue has become a regular item on the agenda of the German Interior Ministers' conferences, leading to (among others items) frequent visits of the Ministers and their senior officials to the countries concerned. Further, between 1993 and 1996 Germany spent DM 120 million to finance material and equipment along Poland's western border, and to set up a Polish administrative system for refugee and deportation proceedings.
The next item on the German government's agenda is the financing of equipment for the next "outer wall". In November 1996, Interior Ministers and senior officials from several German länder made a fact-finding tour at Poland's eastern border. One member of the fact-finding group summed up his conclusions as follows:
"Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland's eastern neighbour ensured the inviolability of its borders itself. Today that power is no longer present there. (...) Rough forest terrain [on the eastern Polish border] offers traffickers in illegal immigrants and criminal organisations the best conditions for running their 'business'. (...) All those who cross that border illegally will one day find their way into the territory of the EU - unless they are rejected at the EU's outer borders."
This is how Germany justifies planned action at advisory and financial levels along the second outer ring of Fortress Europe. Specifically, the aim is to shut down international refugee escape routes. Three of these routes are well known: the "northern route" through the Baltic, the "eastern route" from Belarus or Ukraine to Poland or the Slovak Republic, and the "southern route" via Romania.
The first visible changes in the control of Poland's eastern border appeared in 1996. The Polish border police operating there now have "mobile rapid response groups", deploying helicopters of the Kania type, and carbon dioxide measuring instruments, enabled the detection of people hidden in, e.g. truck containers. In 1996, a total of 60,000 people either were not allowed into Poland or were seized when attempting an illegal crossing of the border into Poland. It is, however, difficult to say whether the use of ever more sophisticated detection devices really contributes to curbing illegal immigration. An officer at the police bureau responsible for crime prevention commented on the introduction of carbon dioxide detectors as follows: "I'm not so sure that trafficking in illegal immigrants can be tackled this way. The eastern channel [i.e. the escape route via Moscow or Kiev to Poland] is still being developed. And there's too much money at stake there for the smuggling gangs to waive this business. It is more likely that they will bribe customs officers and border guards."
The function of the Polish-Ukrainian border is being transformed by the incipient western orientation of Ukraine. So far, the border's main function has been to mark the spheres of influence of the Polish and Ukrainian states. Now it is becoming an advance bulwark of Germany's and the EU's restrictive migration and asylum policies. With respect to Ukraine, Poland is being assigned a function as a gatekeeper of Western Europe. This imposed role seems to conflict with Polish-Ukrainian efforts to improve mutual relations. Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland was the first state to recognize the independence of Ukraine, and there is already talk of a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. In April 1996, the Ukrainian government officially and definitively opted for a cautious political westward orientation towards the EU and NATO. This is the context within which German-Polish-Ukrainian cooperation is developing in the domain of refugee policies.
After the fall of the Soviet block, Western European governments responded to the disintegration of Eastern Europe by promoting the creation of a cordon sanitaire for Fortress Europe in the so-called Visegrad states. The development of a new border regime meant more than just a reorganization of the regular and border police forces. According to their objectives in the domain of migration policies, the ministerial conferences determined de facto which states would in future perform buffer functions, and which would belong to the new periphery. However, the old and new elites in the CEEC proved rather hesitant to comply with this political dictate on migration by the Western European states as they benefit from the existence of an informal migrant economy. This is why implementation of the measures laid down at a number of international conferences on migration policy proceeded at very different paces.
In the course of the last few years, considerable changes have nonetheless occurred as a result of international conferences in this field. Initially, the Vienna Ministerial Conference (24 to 25 January 1991) and the smaller follow-up meetings - described collectively as the Vienna Process - were of immense importance. The goal of the Vienna Process was to establish Europe-wide political coordination of measures to combat illegal entry of migrants to Central and Eastern Europe. In September 1994, after more than 20 meetings of subordinate working groups, this all too informal inter-governmental structure suggested that its mandate be transferred to the Council of Europe.
A parallel circle, the Budapest Forum (or Budapest Group) had formed at the suggestion of the German government following the Budapest Ministerial Conference (15 to 16 February 1991). The focus of this Forum is on technical questions of equipment for border police and the development of personnel control systems in Central and Eastern Europe. The Forum is also used to arrange for financial support from the European Union (EU) to enhance border systems. Resources have been generously provided, e.g. by the PHARE programme of the European Commission.
One particularly notable feature of the Budapest Forum is its informal character and the key role played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These NGO's, like the ICMPD [International Centre for Migration Policy Development, based in Vienna, and headed by Jonas Widgren, a former Swedish senior official and diplomat], live from government contracts, and design threat and surveillance scenarios, advise policy makers, and busily arrange the provision of border control technology.
Down the years, the Budapest Forum has split up into numerous specialised subgroups. The last ministerial conference organized by the Forum took place in January 1993, again in Budapest, and was attended by representatives of 34 states and organizations (see FECL No.13: "CONFERENCE ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IN BUDAPEST"). The next ministerial conference of this magnitude was scheduled for September 1997 in Prague.
In this context, mention should also be made of the involvement of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an inter-state body that is now financed by 59 governments and private organisations and sponsors. It has long since transcended its original mandate - to provide refugee travel assistance on behalf of various governments. Today, the IOM not only performs "repatriations" - often resembling soft deportations - but also provides expertise on developments in migration. Furthermore, it advises governments in Central and Eastern Europe on how to pursue Western specifications in migration policy, and gets government representatives, border police chiefs and consulting firms around one table at international conferences on "illegal migration". For example, the IOM's Helsinki regional office organized a 12-country conference in January at the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The subject of the meeting was the elimination of the eastern passage, i.e. the refugee route leading through Ukraine or Belarus to Poland. Among other things, the delegates discussed the improvement of various methods for control and search, and the extension of the system of readmission treaties.
In the first few years after 1989, the Central and Eastern European states did, in fact, hesitate to perform such bulkhead functions, since a number of internal political and economic considerations stood in the way of this dictate. As a result of growing consultation and greater interlocking between states in recent years however, the pace of internal assimilation is being forced. With the Polish state now being a candidate for EU membership, it is - in its own interest - prepared to adopt its Western neighbours' migration and asylum policies, and is keen to demonstrate its ability to implement them.
Meanwhile, a change has also occurred in the "bulkhead strategy" for Fortress Europe. The first international ministerial conferences in the early 1990s were marked by the threat scenario of a million-fold migration following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the "Iron Curtain". In the meantime, European police and security circles have made the fight against so-called "organised crime" the catch-all leitmotif into which migration and asylum policies are now being fitted. Illegal migration is now being construed as imported crime, so that commercial refugee assistance is categorised accordingly as "organised crime". In line with this police scenario, the alleged threat to internal security must be met by addressing the "criminal geography" and by identifying socially adjusted "control filters". Stereotypical characteristics like skin pigmentation, speech, "alien" behaviour and other visible signs of foreign origin are taken as criteria justifying boundless surveillance, monitoring and investigation methods. These features become "significant" stigmata that can be used by the police wherever whole regions can be labelled with a racist definition as "cultural areas" and entire populations as homogeneous "peoples".
Ultimately, all this aims at developing an "overall European security zone", based on the "organised crime" scenario and on the criminalisation of migration. This scenario and the matching vision of a "control state" suggest the growing importance of the social policy dimension. The classification scheme used by the police and the judicial authorities, marking off a "chosen people" of citizens of EU or EU-associated countries from "illegal" non-Europeans, deprived of all rights is part of a top-down change in society that has become apparent all over Western Europe in the 1990s. With a criminological redefinition of offenders ("smugglers and traffickers") and victims (penniless refugees, women forced into prostitution), the police apparatuses and public authorities are trying to use human rights arguments to justify and legitimise their actions, while at the same time recasting them for the purposes of the state and twisting them for repressive ends. In view of the political and social implications of this model, and in view of its exportability and its bonding power between states, it is proper to speak of a new security concept in Europe, designed by the Schengen states. All the same, there is no united legal area in "Europe as a whole" in which this concept could be simply and comprehensively realised. The readmission agreements and third-state arrangements numbering well over 100 that now form an overall European scheme of deportation and deterrence are a network of bilateral relationships between a few dozen European countries. They are supplemented by an equal number of bilateral deals providing for formal and informal legal assistance. While this cooperation is being run within a multitude of bilateral and international frameworks, including, among others the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the various meetings are always attended by the very same ministers, state secretaries and senior officials.
Recently, the Council of Europe, too, has been playing a part in pushing through restrictive Western European asylum and migration policy objectives - and, in doing so, is using the human rights discussion in the CEEC. A mandate for Europe-wide coordination of asylum and migration policies, as initiated by the above-mentioned Vienna Ministerial Conference, was to be handed over to the Council of Europe at its 6th Conference on Migration Issues. To this end, nearly all those European ministers whose departments include migration matters met in Warsaw from 16 to 18 June 1996. The discussions followed from the specifications drawn up by Council of Europe working groups since the early 1990s. These working groups in particular had, in the previous year, engaged in advance discussions on how the concept of so-called "safe third countries" might be introduced in Central and Eastern Europe. This is a development which, in the medium term, cannot fail to lead to a de facto extension of a common legal area of deportation and "illegalisation", since each state will declare its own neighbours "safe third countries". The Council of Europe's conference of June 1996, was the first time an influential international body officially addressed these questions. In particular, the delegates discussed ways to combat "illegal entry", and to upgrade border surveillance. This strong focus on policing was officially justified with the well-known argument that the "abuse of asylum by illegal immigrants" is increasingly arousing "xenophobic feelings" in the domestic population. Central and Eastern European states were reminded that, since 1995/96, they can claim legislative and financial aid from the Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe in setting up refugee administration systems. Also, they were urged to make use of a multilateral fund set up for the financial and logistic support of countries in Central and Eastern Europe handling deportations.
At this conference, the governments of Poland and the other Visegrad states, now potential recipients of refugees, took up their new positions in the new European order as intermediaries in relations with their eastern neighbours. But they too - the buffer states - were urgently recommended by the conference to "draw their conclusions from the experience gained by Western countries in this field [i.e. refugee and migration policy]". Poland was admonished to at last adapt its foreigner legislation and controls to meet western standards.
In Poland, the memory of the role of the police both during the occupation by Nazi Germany and under the post war communist regime is still alive. This is why the Polish people, so far, have not been keen to approve the introduction of repressive measures. However, one new control instrument has been approved by the Polish parliament, the Sejm. From January 1999 on, new identity cards will be issued (according to the German model) with the photo and the signature of the bearer entered by laser printing. All personal data will also be noted in a bar code; the introduction of the new ID-cards is to be completed by the year 2005.
In addition to the ministerial meetings, the conferences of the IOM and the Council of Europe, NATO has also begun to take action in coordinating governmental refugee policy - taking particular account of Eastern Europe. A seminar of the NATO North Atlantic Cooperation Council was held in Warsaw on 16 and 17 September 1996 on the "Economic Aspects of the Impact of Migrations and Refugees on State Security". This meeting was also attended by representatives of most of the states that have emerged from the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia and have not yet become members of the Council of Europe.
The background for NATO's interest may be sought in the social policy-based redefinition of military concerns in Eastern Europe. Since 1989, military policy in Central and Eastern Europe has been geared less to a threat from outside than to domestic-policy issues. With a view to extending its sphere of operations to migration, NATO may be taking advantage of the fact that border controls in most CEEC have been a military affair since the time of the Warsaw Pact. In the early 1990s, the military were in charge of preventing the illegal entry of migrants and refugees.
The agreements signed by Germany with Central and Eastern European countries on "combatting organized and serious crime" have led to "unbureaucratic" bilateral collaboration regarding police interrogations, forensic inquiries and other simple investigations. The emergent democracies of the former Eastern Bloc have comparatively few regulations on cross-border police cooperation. This is why Western authorities are welcome guests under these "unbureaucratic" arrangements. This is particularly true for Germany which is holding out some prestigious control technology as bait. "Curiously enough, the arrangements [with the CEEC] allow more in the way of police cooperation than the links that have evolved over decades with most Western European countries", says Jürg Wolters, a senior officer at Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). Against the background of numerous informal cross-border contacts between authorities, the "Agreement on Cooperation between Law Enforcement Authorities and Border Police Authorities in Border Areas" signed by the German and Polish governments on 5 April 1995 can be regarded as a legalisation a posteriori of existing practices.
Important "ice breaker functions" - to quote German police jargon - have been performed by the regional agreements between the state police forces of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Saxony, on the one hand, and neighbouring district police forces in Gorzów, Jelenia Góra and Zielona Góra, on the other. They aimed at setting up joint German-Polish police offices in Frankfurt/Subice, Görlitz/Zgorzelec and Guben/Gubin.
On 10 April 1997, the German Federal Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther announced the conclusion of an agreement with Poland. "The objects include the setting up of joint investigatory and monitoring groups, the establishment of joint operational bodies and command centres, the creation of joint offices, (...) the establishment of a special border police reporting service for unlawful migration and human trafficking, and the exchange of border police liaison officers." This would enable German agencies already operating in Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries to considerably extend their range of action. The agencies concerned are the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) with its OA 31 section ("Trafficking"), the Federal Border Police (BGS) with its central office for combatting illegal entry, and the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees (BAFL).
Individual cases of cross-border cooperation between police forces and prosecutors have come to the notice of FFM staff observing court trials in Poland (see FECL No.45: "Asylum seekers returned by Germany, jailed in Poland").
In the course of multilateral police cooperation, EDU/Europol in The Hague has already set up "project teams" with an international composition playing an active role in combatting refugees. These "teams" draw up strategic analyses and carry out concrete investigations not only in the EU, but also in Eastern Europe, with these being directed against so-called organised crime in the field of "illegal immigration". Investigations and "measures" taken by the EDU against a group of Indian refugees, who were seeking to reach the West via Eastern Europe (and had no connection at all with drug trafficking), recently led to 22 detentions. The lawfulness of such EDU operations is questionnable; in recent months, they have attracted parliamentary criticism.
Finally, according to press reports, a trilateral border guard and police coordination group involving Germany, Poland and Ukraine started work in early 1996. This group was created in order to coordinate "operations against illegal migration from East to West". No details are available about the frequency of the group's meetings or about its actual mandate and powers.
Roughly since 1996, systematic search operations for organised refugee groups are being conducted by police in Central and Eastern Europe. At about the same time as the above-mentioned Warsaw conferences, extensive operations were undertaken by the Polish police and border guards. The arrest of Romanian Roma people, the media-effective burning of their huts and belongings in the middle of Warsaw - and their subsequent deportation in July 1996 - formed the prelude to a series of house searches directed mainly against people from Asian countries. Simultaneously, detention procedures at the eastern Polish frontier have been changed, leading to a sharp rise in immediate deportations. Official statistics suggest that this resulted in many arrested people immediately filing asylum applications.
In August 1996 alone, the number of applications leapt to 700 - nearly as many as had been recorded in a whole year until then. From 18 September 1996 on, extensive house searches were carried out in Warsaw suburbs, where refugees in transit had been temporarily housed. At the same time, even bigger operations by police and border guards - ending with a total of 400 to 500 arrests - took place in several other towns throughout the country. Apart from a few exceptions, the state authorities no longer accepted asylum applications - as FFM was able to establish later - or they misled the detainees as to their applications.
Still, people from other continents do not yet generally have to reckon with checks on city streets, in subways, buses and trains, on construction sites or at other workplaces. The police raids, which continued ever since September 1996, clearly concentrate on the above Warsaw suburbs. They mainly target Roma people and people from other continents. In transit, the latter are often dependent on commercial traffickers which is one more reason why they are targeted more quickly by international searches. Unlike these particularly exposed groups, Eastern European commuter migrants do not have to reckon with checks, let alone sanctions. They may enter legally or quasi-legally - CIS nationals do not require a visa to enter Poland, but do need an "invitation" which can be bought on the black market. If they exceed their legal length of stay, the do not run any serious risk. The obvious reason for this lies in the economic importance of these migrants, and particularly the hundreds of thousands of small traders, who mostly come to Warsaw via Ukraine.
The present situation in Poland may be summed up briefly as follows: Although the Polish government is presently seeking to demonstrate its ability to act against the "illegal" transit refugees, it is still a good way short of introducing blanket or dragnet like search practices. Indeed, such measures do not fit into economic policy calculations yet and, in view of the Polish people's notion of the state, it is hard to imagine the introduction of so obviously German-inspired policing methods in the foreseeable future.
At present, the following circumstances can lead to people being taken into custody: searches by police or border guards in residential areas; checks in areas near borders (illegal border crossing); re-deportation from Germany, handover of refugees to Polish border guards. Custody can be followed by completely different measures taken by the police or prosecuting authorities: unconditional release; release with an "administrative visa" stamped in the passport (order to leave the country); deportation or transit deportation by border guards to an Eastern European neighbour within 48 hours; custody pending deportation, followed by deportation or release; detention awaiting trial, criminal proceedings, imprisonment for illegal border crossing.
The decisions taken by specific authorities often look arbitrary; as a rule, expressing a desire to apply for asylum is no protection against custody. Sometimes, the decision on custody or release is taken against the background of tactical investigations. In our visits to prisons and to detention centres for people awaiting deportation, we noted that Southern Europeans tend to be regarded as involved in organised crime, whereas custody pending deportation appears to be the fate mainly of migrants and refugees from other continents. At present, there are 25 detention centres with a total of 425 places for people awaiting deportation. The construction of the centres was financed by the German government. Since September 1995, legal and de facto preconditions have been in place for a maximum three months' custody pending deportation, and full use has been made of the custody option since the police raids in September 1996.
In general, prisoners who apply for asylum when or after they are taken into custody have no written evidence of their application, so that they must fear deportation.
On 16 and 17 October 1996, FFM staff visited and interviewed a total of 122 people held in custody pending deportation in three Polish deportation centres. It turned out that all 122 detainees except one were men from Asian countries. 101 had been arrested in one major raid near Warsaw in mid-September 1996. 21 of those visited had been returned by Germany in accordance with the readmission agreement. According to the police authorities in charge, only six of the 122 detainees had applied for asylum, although all 122 assumed that they had filed an application. What actually happened was that the interpreter present (during the 5 to 15 minute interrogations of the detainees at the public prosecutor's office) had presented them an order for custody pending deportation written in Polish, but told the detainees that this was an application for asylum.
The fact that we heard such accounts in several deportation units, and that they agreed even in details, suggests that the refugees were being deliberately misled by the state authorities. None of the detainees was aware of the nature of the detention (custody pending deportation); nobody had notified them of their rights of appeal. No support organizations are available to look after them; apart from the wardens, there are no contacts with Polish nationals.
Besides the public prosecutors, responsibility for the prison situation lies with the Warsaw Refugee and Migration Office. This is the Polish office that accepts, processes and decides on applications for asylum. By the time of our visit, no representatives of this office had been in touch with the detainees at the deportation units we visited. Nor had the UNHCR, which has an office in Warsaw, been seen in the deportation units we visited...although many of the refugees had sent letters to the organisation asking for help.
After FFM went public with the above findings at a press conference in Bonn, Warsaw immigration authorities announced that the detainees we interviewed would be registered as asylum seekers. According to the information available to FFM the visited detainees were set free in December 1996 or transferred to refugee facilities after the expiry of three months' custody.
Detainees returned to Poland from Germany complained they had been harassed by German border police because they were unable to state which countries they had travelled through. For the border guards, such information on travel routes is important, since it enables them to return the individuals concerned to Poland or the Czech Republic in accordance with "safe" third-state arrangements. One detainee who was arrested and returned to Poland by German border police in September told FFM: "They [the border guards] wanted to know where we had come from and what route we had taken. I told them that we had come with seven people in a truck. They asked whether we had crossed a river. I answered that I hadn't seen any river. Then they wanted me to sign a piece of paper. They said it was what I had stated. I couldn't read it, because it was in German. I said that I didn't know what was written there. They then threatened to beat me if I didn't sign".
The Polish government has concluded readmission agreements with the following CEEC: Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. These agreements enable not only the readmission of the above countries' own nationals seized in Poland without a residence permit, but also citizens of third states who travel through those countries and then through Poland as transit countries.
In spite of the deportation practice from Poland to its eastern neighbours, Polish laws do not yet contain the EU schemes of "safe third country" and "manifestly unfounded" asylum applications. Only when the new Polish Foreigners Act is passed - it may come into force on 1 January 1998 - will Ukraine become a so-called safe third country for Poland; although, the Ukrainian government has not signed the Geneva Convention. The "Domino" deportations - already taking place from Germany via Poland to Ukraine - will then have a solid legal basis in Poland. To ensure smooth deportation, regional cooperation agreements are being concluded between Interior Ministries, establishing direct lines of communications between neighbouring border police forces.
In 1996, 3,285 people were deported from Poland, i.e. 53 % more than in 1995 (306 people were taken by plane directly to their various countries of origin). In 1996, Polish border guards deported 1,860 people to Ukraine (484 Ukrainians and 1,376 third country nationals).
In 1996, one third of all refugees returned by Germany to Poland (third-state nationals) were re-deported by the Polish authorities to Poland's eastern neighbour states or via Warsaw airport to their countries of origin.
A further one third of all third country nationals returned by the German border police to Poland succeeded in filing an application for asylum in Poland - 1,391 refugees expressed their wish to apply for asylum directly to the Polish border guards, and 305 to the authorities in charge in Warsaw.
The fate of the remaining one third returned by the German border police to Poland is unknown. It could only be traced using the statistical material relating to refugees from more than one dozen different countries of origin. Official figures for 1996 suggest what happened, e.g., to the Armenians and Moldovians following their arrest.
Of the 1,010 Armenians who were seized in Poland on the grounds of having illegally crossed a border (682 following their return by the German border police; 328 in a wave of arrests by the Polish border police): 87 were refused asylum in Poland; a total of four were recognized; 130 went underground during the proceedings; 15 Armenians were deported to Belarus and 75 to Ukraine. Of 1,067 Moldovians seized on the grounds of having illegally crossed a border (848 after being returned by German border police; 219 in a wave of arrests by Polish border guards): one refugee was granted asylum; 14 went underground during the asylum proceedings; 442 were deported to Ukraine.
1. FFM Heft Nr. 5, Ukraine: Vor den Toren der Festung Europa: Die Vorverlagerung der Abschottungspolitik; Berlin-Göttingen 1997, ISBN 3-924737-40-1. Available from: FFM, Gneisenaustr. 2a, D-10961 Berlin; Tel: +49/30 6935670, Fax: +49/30 6938318. Homepage: www.berlinet.de/mh/ffm