A contribution from Jovana Bogicevic in relation to the externalization processes happening at the border with the European Union and the consequences on people on the move.
With the emergence of the new and changing migratory routes in the past years, we have witnessed the emergence of the new “centers of crisis” to which the attention of the international community whether academic or “general” has been focused on. In the last months of the previous year, the eyes were on Greece and more specifically the camp Moria, where the inhumane conditions the migrants have found themselves in, inevitably worsened by the fire that has occurred in the month of September has made observes to declare Greece as a place where “finishes Europe”.
In the past months, with the increase of migrants using what is known as the Balkan route, worsened conditions during the winter months, the focus has in great measure been shifted to the area of the Balkans and more specifically Bosnia, with the humanitarian catastrophe being “declared”.
What has been a particular focus of the international community and observers are the so-called pushbacks that are happening along the external borders of the EU and that are preventing the third country nationals to enter into the territory of the Union and that are as a consequence being denied internationally recognized rights, such is the one of claiming asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, the foundation of the international protection law.
The said situation has made the international observes to declare Bosnia and the territory of the Balkans where migrants and asylum seekers are being finally pushed back to, as a place where “finishes Europe”, and with the asylum seekers being denied the “basic rights” in “the heart of Europe”.
The recognized and pointed out “discrepancy” between the asylum seekers finding themselves in the “heart of Europe” (geographically) but still remaining with the basic rights denied (in the area of the Balkans/outside the EU) can also be observed through the already existing and established discourse of the Balkans as the “European Others”; The said discourse could help/offer an additional aspect/layer in understanding how, not just migratory but also the recognized crisis of the “rights” in Europe is being confronted and addressed.
Balkans as the European “Others”: On the edge of Europe
In the 90s of the last century, Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova on the path of Edward Said has written a book titled “Imagining the Balkans”, offering a view of the Balkans not as a geographic area but as a “mental construct” created on the part of the “West”, and the Balkans as the European “Others”. According to Todorova, the keys are in the hands and minds of those that have the “power of representation” where the Balkans are being “used” as a way through which the West thinks about “itself”, through the binary opposition.
The discourse of the Balkans as the European “cultural” others as showed by Todorova can be followed back to the period of the Otoman empire, only to be enhanced during the wars in the 90s when the term “balkanization” has been coined.
As a consequence, the idea of “Europe” as an area of rule of law and the countries of the Balkans, primarily the ones of the ex-Yugoslavia (with Croatia and Slovenia always more escaping the categorization in the same group) remaining in the shadow, what Maria Todorova terms as “inbetweenes” and liminality, beyond the reach of the rule of law.
What has been happening in the past months along the Balkan route and particularly on the Croatian border where the migrants/asylum seekers become finally surpassed back to the external area of the Union are termed as the “illegal” and almost by definition violent pushbacks, and represent an effective denial of the possibility for claiming asylum and exercising the internationally guaranteed right, challenging and blurring the distinction between the “Europe” and the “Balkans.”
Balkan Route and the Pushbacks: Frontex in between the Balkans and “the Europe”
There is no universally accepted definition of the concept of “pushbacks “, where one of the definitions terms it as “various measures taken by States that results in migrants, including asylum-seekers being summarily forced back to country from where they attempted to cross or have crossed an international border without access to international protection or asylum procedure or denied of any individual assessment on their protection needs which may lead to a violation of a principle of non-refoulement”.
With the tightening of the EU migration policies, the asylum remains one of the last resorts to those who want to access what is often termed as “fortress Europe”, with the pushbacks having even those rights refused to them.
The so-called Balkan route does not represent a “new” occurrence, and has been particularly active throughout 2015/2016.
According to the report titled “The dark side of Europeanization: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Border Regime”, since 2018 Bosnian corridor has emerged as one of the most used routes, with the non-EU states increasingly serving as the “buffer zone” for the “unwanted people on the move”, where up to now around 22,000 migrants has remained In the situation of “liminality”.
The asylum seekers taking the said route have an aim of claiming asylum within the area of the EU, that represents internationally guaranteed and one of the fundamental rights and where the “illegal” (i.e. unregulated) entrance into the area of the Union should be allowed. Namely, as postulated by the Dublin III Regulation, 604/2013 the practices of pushbacks are in conflict with European Union Law, since the procedures define that in the presence of the asylum seeker dispositions relating to border asylum procedures should apply.
The right on claiming asylum therefore represents one of the fundamental rights that should be guaranteed to any person finding themselves on the territory of a country and expressing the need/wish to apply for asylum, while being allowed to remain on the territory of the said state during the examination of the application.
As a consequence of the pushbacks and the externalization of the EU borders, the asylum seekers that are unable to enter the territory of the Union in order to claim international protection and are returned to the countries of the Balkans are finding themselves in the area of limbo, or what Maria Todorova terms as “inbetweenes”, on the “threshold” of Europe, and presumed domain of human rights and the rule of law, but being denied the possibility of exercising the same rights.
Human rights of the asylum seekers in “limbo” and the “inbetweenes” of the Balkans
The respect of the human rights and “the rule of law” has become part of the European identity that becomes apparent in the discourses and proclamations of the “end of Europe” whenever the said rights are being denied; The discourse becomes particularly apparent when it comes to the countries, as the ones of the Balkans, that geographically are part of the European continent but do not share the same “heritage”, and are not the members of the Union. As a consequence of the migratory route and the pushbacks, the asylum seekers are forced to remain within the territory of one of the neighbouring countries and are at the same time finding themselves in the “inbetweenes” and liminality characteristic to the Balkans.
Taking into consideration the said discourses can offer an additional and alternative perspective on the gestation of the migratory movements and the liminality the asylum seekers are finding themselves in along the so called “Balkan route”.
 La rotta balcanica: i migranti senza diritti nel cuore dell’Europa, 2021. Rivolti ai Balcani
 Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, 2009, Oxford University Press
 Report of the European Comission on the Balkan Migratory Route 2021, available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2021/689368/EPRS_BRI(2021)689368_EN.pdf
Report of the European Commission on the Balkan Migratory Route 2021, available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2021/689368/EPRS_BRI(2021)689368_EN.pdf
The Dark Side of Europeanisation: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Border Regime. 2020. Available at Report of the European Comission on the Balkan Migratory Route 2021,available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2021/689368/EPRS_BRI(2021)689368_EN.pdf
The Balkan Route: Migrants without rights in the heart of Europe.2020 Rivolti ai Balcani: https://www.asgi.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/The-Balkan-Route-Report-2020-by-_-Rivolti-ai-Balcani_-italian-network.pdf