On the Move with Begüm Başdaş (18): with Maria Serrano on “Fear and Fences” at the borders of Spain-Morocco

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This week Begüm Başdaş talked with Maria Serrano, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration about European Union’s brutal border practices to keep migrants and refugees from entering European territories, with a focus on the Spanish enclaves at the border of Spain and Morocco.

While the images of people entering from North African border are very dramatic, Serrano emphasized that there are also many arrivals from Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, to seek protection in Spain. Serrano argued that Spain has very low acceptance rates to offer international protection to asylum seekers and relies heavily on Morocco to control its southern borders.  With regards to thousands of people crossing over to Spanish enclave Ceuta in May, Serrano commented that this has been going on blatantly for a very long time where people face unlawful collective expulsions without access to individualized asylum procedures. Serrano said, “EU is turning a blind eye to abuses happening at borders. Some of these abuses are state policies. It is not only the border officials being the bad guys, but also it is basically state policy to reject these people sometimes through legal reforms.”

Serrano commented on the brutal pushback practices at EU’s internal and external borders and said “there is obviously a pattern. We are seeing here how far the countries are going. This is a slippery slope and once you allow this to happen, it multiplies, and people do not have any protection. There is no accountability and one of the main issues is that there is a lot of impunity at borders. Survivors of these violations are unable to get any remedy or any justice. These borders are very brutal and violent.”

Serrano also commented on the European Court of Human Rights that ruled Spain did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights when it summarily expelled two men from the Melilla enclave to Morocco. Serrano argued that “this ruling is dangerous because it legitimizes the pushbacks and it establishes a precedence based on mistakes of facts, but also if your behavior is ‘bad’ in the eyes of the court, you cannot be afforded the rights of the Convention.”  Serrano said that “EU member states are pushing people back, but also criminalizing irregular entry” and added “It is cruel to criminalize asylum seekers.”

Maria Serrano is a human rights activist. She works as a Senior Campaigner on Migration in Amnesty International. Serrano has worked on human rights for over 10 years. She has led Amnesty’s strategies on asylum and migration in Europe for the past 6 years, which have included work on access to asylum in Europe, Europe’s outsourcing of refugee protection and border control to third countries and forced returns to war countries. She has conducted research and designed campaign strategies covering several countries in Europe, including Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Malta.  More recently, she has also worked on the criminalization of activists and organizations helping refugees and migrants across Europe, which Amnesty International has documented in the report Punishing compassion: solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe, and campaigned to defend the freedom to help others with the campaign #FreeToHelp

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