The Trump administration’s family separation policy has outraged the world. Including those that continue to show unwavering support for both the EU and its member states - who implement equally devastating policies that impact migrant women and their families.
Since 2015, the term ‘migrant crisis’ is what many EU member countries, the EU, and mainstream media, have used to describe increased levels of migration to Europe between 2015 and 2017, in particular the increase in asylum seekers, refugees, and those displaced by conflict, climate change and disaster. The term is purposely not ‘refugee crisis’ or ‘crises faced by migrants’, and is rarely used to describe or examine the multiple crises faced by those trying to reach Europe. It is a term that is designed to (and has been effective in) stirring a feeling of an overwhelmed, overburdened, and struggling Europe, an image of an ‘emergency’ of migrants ‘descending’ on Europe, flaming already high levels of xenophobia across the region. This in turn is used to justify ‘counter offences’ and emergency actions that ‘discourage’ those attempting to reach Europe; quota systems, refusal of governments to engage in rescue operations or accept arrivals, increased funding for border patrols, and relocation programmes, to name a few.
Although, what is termed, ‘irregular’ migration to EU countries has fallen sharply since peak level in 2015, migration remains extremely politicised in most EU countries. Support for right wing parties and policy makers has risen significantly in many countries in recent years, and the previous increase in migration has been used as a divisive political tool to gain support; from hard-line right Brexit supporters in the UK in the run up to the referendum on the UK leaving the EU, to the recent election of the populist prime minister and right wing government in Italy.
Responses from European states to Trump’s separation policy have been that of disgust and attempts to distance, with France, the UK and other governments sharing their outrage, branding the policy ‘disgusting’ and ‘wrong’. However, there is a large element of hypocrisy in their words, as well as in the words of many EU Feminists, who decry the Trump administration's policy, whilst continually failing to speak against the pervasive, systematic, and destructive migration policies and approaches at both EU and national levels, in particular related to refugees.
The risk of separation of children from their families on the dangerous journey to Europe, as well as the dangers, discrimination and violence they face on their journey and on arrival, is a consequence of EU and member country policy. Although neither the EU or an EU country has a specific policy for the removal of children from their families on arrival, more general migration policy and approaches, in many countries and by the EU, means families face long term, and sometimes indefinite separation, but also that children and families are drowning and dying on the long and dangerous journey they face.
Many adults who arrive in Europe, following a long, arduous, and dangerous journey, have left behind families and children they plan to safely bring to Europe once they have been approved asylum or refugee status. However, in recent years national and EU level policy has made it harder for families to be reunited.
From two to three year waits before asylum and refugee applications can be processed, the detention of unaccompanied children for immigration or ‘criminal’ processing, lack of time restrictions on detention, age disputes, voluntary return programmes- where governments effectively bribe refugees to return to their country with the lure of a financial package and flight home, reports of sexual assault, violence, denial of privacy, detention and immigration officers with no child protection training, to degrading conditions in detention centers.
In the UK, a bill that was tabled earlier this year and gained support from MPs, and gives unaccompanied refugee minors in the UK the right to sponsor family members to join them and to reintroduce legal aid for such applications, is set to be opposed by government as it passes through to committee stage. Even in Sweden, long considered the EU country with the most progressive refugee policy, in 2016 enacted a temporary law for three years that stopped refugees from being able to bring their family members to Sweden.
Across the EU, migration policies and the actions of governments are reflecting the dangerous rise of the right, racism, xenophobia, and toxic nationalism, , as much as Trump’s family separation policy does.
In June, EU leaders met in Brussels for a ‘mini Summit’ on migration, and despite hailing the summit a victory, the few details emerging have concerned migrants rights activists of where things are headed.
European women’s movements have failed to have any real critical analysis of the right wing messaging around migration. This, a result of three decades of the dominance of a neoliberal, white, mainstream European women’s movement, that centralizes a woman’s experience and needs around reproductive lives and pay equality, and who’s only discussion point related to migration, is trafficking. Thankfully, in some countries, this ‘mainstream’ feminism is being surpassed by a more socialist feminism, that addresses the intersections of class, race, gender, allowing opportunity for a much more intersectional and people-focused analysis related to migration and the experiences of refugee and asylum seeking women.
European feminist movements must develop a critical analysis of EU migration policies, and be willing to question, call on, and speak out against the EU and member states, and show as much outrage towards them as they do the Trump administration’s policies.They must examine the crises that are the catalysts for ‘irregular migration’ , and how their governments and the EU are complicit; conflicts supported or ignored by the same EU governments that turn away those displaced by them; the role of the EU as imperial powers, the war mongers in our governments and others who profit for conflict and instability in regions ; examine the discrimination and challenge refugees and asylum seekers face when they arrive, especially women; the crises of inadequate refugee and asylum programmes across EU countries , the lack of funding, and dwindling specialized services ravaged by austerity; the crises of racism and xenophobia and the rise of the right; all catalysts for the dangerous journey people set out on, and the dangerous situations they often arrive to.
People are not a crisis, and feminists in Europe must be the first to say it.