#weaponization

  • Weaponizing a River

    The Dam

    On the 10th of March, news reports emerged suggesting that Bulgaria had released water downstream from the Ivaylovgrad Dam on the Ardas, a tributary of the Evros (also Meriç, and Maritsa),
    and flooded the river border at the request of the Greek government. This intentional flooding of the border was subsequently denounced as fake news by the Bulgarian authorities and remains unverified. Yet due to the increasing severity of spring floods, including as recently as 2018, the release of water from Bulgarian dams has been a subject of friction between Greece, Turkey, and their upstream riparian neighbor. On the 27th of February, Turkey decided to effectively suspend the 2016 EU-Turkey deal and in doing so directed thousands of asylum seekers to the border with Greece. In the context of Greece’s military response, the recent reports have revealed a hidden violence designed into the environment of the Evros river. In the weeks since, there have been two confirmed casualties from the use of either live or rubber rounds—Muhammad al Arab and Muhammad Gulzar.

    The alleged opening of the dam and these shootings are not distinct but are in continuity with the long-term, albeit previously low intensity, weaponization of the river. These exceptional events prove the more insidious use of the Evros as an ecological border infrastructure extending to its entire floodplain.

    The intentional flooding of the valley, and its entanglement with border defense strategies, testifies to Evros as an arcifinious space. Derived from the legal heredity of international border law, according to legal scholar John W. Donaldson, the term “arcifinious” is the territorial concept whereby a state is bounded by geophysical limits with defensive capabilities, or “natural” boundaries “fit to keep the Enemy out,” such as seas, rivers, deserts, and mountains.
    According to eighteenth-century Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius and his followers, rivers are “part of ’arcifinious’ or ’natural’ military frontier zones that are ‘indetermined,’ and flexible based on the application of force.” While rivers shift of their own volition, they are also manipulated, like straightening. Perhaps more tellingly, the very flexibility of a river—its interstitial condition between water and sediment—is useful in the production of an “indeterminate” space that is materially porous, shifting, and thus difficult for trespassers to cross. This material ambiguity also makes river boundaries unstable in the eyes of international jurisprudence. The hostile characteristics of arcifinious boundaries are mobilized in naturalizing processes central to sovereign claims to territory in a practice that enables states to obscure their agency in relation to border deaths.Some days before the 10th, word had been circulating inside the Fylakio registration and pre-removal detention center in the north of the Evros region that the dam would be opened to make the river more difficult to cross. The dam being discussed by border guards as part of a border defense strategy emphasizes the river not as “natural” but, to the contrary, always flexible to force. Fylakio, also located near the Ardas river, would be one the first villages reached when onrushing water from the dam crosses the Bulgarian-Greek border. Before these waters arrive at the “Karaağaç Triangle,” the Ardas serves as the Greek-Turkey border for one kilometer, after which it meets the Evros/Meriç between the Greek villages of Marasia and Kastanies. This is the northwestern point of the Karaağaç Triangle, which was the only segment of the Greece-Turkey border not originally delimited by the Evros/Meriç river in the 1926 Athens Protocol, an annex to the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty. Instead, it is today a stretch of deforested land with an eleven-kilometer-long deterrent fence. Proposed in 2011 and completed in 2012, the fence directs border crossers to more dangerous routes across the river, and to deadlier maritime crossing routes in the Aegean sea. Fittingly, the fence is mentioned as a “technical obstacle” in FRONTEX Serious Incident Reports (SIR).The Karaağaç Triangle is where refugees were directed by the Turkish government on the 27th of February, and where they found themselves trapped between Greek forces who would not let them cross and Turkish forces who prevented them from returning to Istanbul and the Turkish mainland. It is where Muhamad Gulzar, a young man from Pakistan, was shot dead, and five more were injured on the 4th of March. During our visit to the Evros in early March, we witnessed trucks carrying fencing towards strategic—yet unfortified—parts of the river. The fence is currently being elongated by forty kilometers, particularly along parcels of Greek land that sit on the Turkish side of the river, and vice versa.In the war of words exchanged by the two sides, the Greek government and far right Twitter has been using the term “hybrid war” to describe what they perceive as a Turkish attempt to “intrude” on Greek territory through indirect means, here with refugee bodies instead of bullets. In response to Turkey’s weaponization of refugees, Greece and the EU are also employing a form of hybrid warfare explicitly incorporating the river ecology itself. Where so many people were—and still are—trapped in spaces along the frontier, like at Karaağaç, they are exposed to a hybrid form of border violence involving farmers spraying pesticides onto refugees across the fence, the deployment of large fans to direct teargas back to the Turkish side, and the use of water cannons to spray blue liquid across the fence so those who make it onto the Greek side can be easily identified. In addition to these assembled elements, on the night of the 26th of March, the impromptu camp that had been set up in Pazarkule, on the Turkish side of the border, caught fire. In videos that were circulated, witnesses claim that the fires were lit by Turkish authorities (jandarma) in their attempts to remove asylum seekers from the border (a measure supposed to counter the spread of COVID-19).Authors in critical border studies refer to the mobilization of geophysical and environmental features either as a hybrid collectif, an assemblage of actants, landscape as space of moral alibi,

    or what we call border natures. The border’s ecology of exception is made possible by both the river’s adaptability to force and flexibility, and contributes to the production of an ambiguous space in which multiple modes of violence are perpetrated with impunity. Methods of hybrid warfare are unambiguously mobilizing environmental elements. As such, “nature” can no longer be an alibi but is directly incorporated in the production of death at the border.

    What is the role of water in the politics of death at the border? Here river waters stand at the intersection of connection-division, and life-death.
    The fluvial frontier is a complex and nuanced territorial condition braiding together multiple elements including conservation, transboundary river management, military technology, the geopolitics of resource logistics, and the divergently visible and opaque politics of border crossing. Thinking against material and discursive reproductions of both rivers and borders as “natural” phenomena, the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa river is the result of multiple organizational technologies of territorial sovereignty. Primary amongst these is the mobilization of major infrastructure: the dam and the contingent release of waters downstream would be a direct threat to the lives of asylum seekers attempting to enter the EU. If Bulgaria, as a member state, had opened the dam, this would have been premised on its contribution to the fortification of the external borders of fortress Europe.

    2. A Shifting Border

    The Evros/Meriç/Maritsa has its source in the Rila mountains. It runs for 310 of its 528 kilometers through Bulgaria, with the final 210 kilometers forming a border, initially between Bulgaria and Greece, and then for the last 192 kilometers between Greece and Turkey before reaching its delta and emptying into the Thracian Sea in the Aegean. The river is fast, with a mean annual flow rate of 103 cubic meters per second (a rate which can increase twofold between December and April). Its course flows over sandy and malleable soil, and annually discharges approximately 3.2 million tons of sediment and 9.5 billion cubic meters of freshwater into the sea.
    This results in frequent erosion that alters its banks. Capricious shifts of the river produce islands of stranded land; there are expanses of “Turkish” earth on the “wrong” side of the river, and elsewhere, land has been ceded by the river to Greece. These stranded territories are also points where fatalities become concentrated. Pavlos Pavlidis, coroner at the University Hospital of Alexandroupolis, capital of the Evros prefecture, and Maria-Valeria Karakasi have identified a particular parcel of land near Feres, the entry point to the Delta, as the location where seventy-two bodies were recovered between 2000 and 2014. This is also where refugees were recently directed by geographers aligned with Turkish authorities,

    and where a young man from Aleppo, Muhammad al Arab, was shot dead by Greek soldiers standing inside the dry river bed of the 1926 border, which now acts as little more than a trench. Within the above calculations of river flow and sediment transportation is concealed a deadly politics of bordering that incorporates the full spectrum of the Evros’s hydrology and manipulates the ambiguities produced by rivers.

    The river’s movements occupy a central role in the territorial disputes between the riparian states of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, and compound what is already a militarized terrain. Due to these shifts, and the river’s own agency, many have considered rivers as inadequate political boundaries. Donaldson words it thus: “the presence of water makes a boundary river unstable, forceful, and risky; incompatible with the legal fiction of a fixed boundary line that would prefer the stability of land over the dynamism of water.”
    This instability lies behind the fantasies of territorial control implied by the international committee assembled in 1926 with the task of determining the precise course of the border between Greece and Turkey at the end of the Ottoman Empire.The 1926 committee, headed by Dutch colonel J. Backer, deemed that the border follow the median line between the banks throughout the course of the river, or its main “branch,” when the river splits. The border was marked with red ink on ten maps that were attached as annexes to the protocol, and the first twenty-six demarcation “pyramids” were installed. Delimited in such an inflexible way, like many river borders, it could not respond to shifts in the median line and changes in the course of the river. Instead, the demarcation of the protocol fixed the river in time and to an abstract line. Consequently, efforts to enforce the demarcation of the border have long been hampered by the agency of the river itself. As early as 1965, markers installed to designate part of the border along the Evros/Meriç by a joint Greek-Turkish committee were quickly carried away by the river. Similarly, in 2015, parts of the fence were carried away by flood waters released from the Ivaylovgrad dam. As recently as October 2017, Turkish authorities dug trenches underneath the fence to prevent flooding.

    There is now almost 100 years of geomorphological variation between the drawn border and the current course of the river. Islands that used to be there are no longer; banks have moved and canalizations have directed the river in divergent ways. Two rivers and two borders exist at the Evros/Meriç: the cartographic border of the old median line (featuring now almost unmoving oxbow lakes) and the water of the new trespass line. It comes with little surprise then that stabilizing the river banks to the 1926 condition has been a concern of both Greece and Turkey. Since 1936, the two countries have made efforts to draft plans for common flood defense, most notably the study undertaken in 1953 by the Chicago-based Harza Engineering Company. None of these plans were fully implemented, and after the 1970s, bilateral communication ceased for decades.

    In addition to the proposal of the fence in 2011, the Hellenic Army General Staff planned an unfulfilled project to dig a “120-kilometer-long, thirty-meter-wide, and seven-meter-deep” “moat.”

    Officially an “anti-tank trap” functioning primarily as a defense against Turkish invasion, in the context of increased crossings in 2011, the “moat” would have only been a further technical barrier for border crossers.

    Where rivers appear at first glance as “natural,” they are, to greater and lesser extents, the result of centuries of small and large-scale engineering interventions. In Stefan Helmreich’s concept of “infranature,” second nature—that which is always produced as socio-technical—is “folded” back into first or organic nature.
    What appears as “natural” or “organic” is therefore actually a mask for the production of techno-natural infrastructures. Helmreich echoes a famous passage in Michel Serres’s The Natural Contract where he describes the birth of geometry emerging from the calculations of Nile floods. Out of the “chaos” and “disorder” of flood events, Serres proposes that measurements made by surveyors, for irrigation purposes, reordered nature to give “it a new birth into culture.”

    Such culture, however, may itself produce violent effects. The measurements that reorder the river waters of the Evros are born into a culture that takes the form of a hybrid military-natural assemblage.

    Understanding the often intentionally ambiguous calculations of infranature in its combative applications helps to clarify how rivers are technologized through overt human interventions, such as dams and other large engineering projects, as well as in less overt ways. Rivers and their flows respond to assemblages of smaller scale and almost invisible interventions or those that occur far up river, like the opening of a dam. In these ways, the very speed at which water travels, or the amount of sediment that accumulates in the muddy delta, are part of the measurements of the infrantural technology of the arcifinious river. In these border environments, the river itself is potentially armed and dangerous.

    The river and its imagined doubling as a moat instrumentalizes the already treacherous route for asylum seekers beyond the scale of a “deterrent” into an engineered space unconcerned with fatalities. Stepping back from the Hellenic Army General Staff’s imagination, the Evros already performs the arcifinious role of a moat at the EU’s fluvial frontier. The drawing of a fixed, yet imaginary line along the central course of the river effectively produced the river as a frontier, whereby its movements and muds become spaces where sovereign territorial imaginaries are projected with horrifyingly real effects.

    3. Flood

    The risk of major flood events has long been one of the primary transboundary concerns in the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa. Such events have increased in frequency over the last twenty-five years, leading to a once in a thousand-year flood in 2005, severe events in 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014, and 2015, and a “state of emergency” announced by the Greek Government in March and April 2018.
    Flooding in the region is closely tied to the politics of hydro-electric infrastructure. The majority of large dams and reservoirs in the basin are concentrated on Bulgarian territory (as many as 722), while Turkey has built sixty, and Greece just five (mainly for irrigation purposes, as opposed to energy production). Flow variability is central to many transboundary agreements whereby upstream riparian nations either force or allow downstream riparians to adapt to seasonal changes in both wet and dry conditions.

    This is a concern for hyrdrodiplomatic relations between Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

    When a tri-lateral working group met in October 2006 in Alexandroupolis, Turkey made a written demand, supported by Greece, that the reservoir storage capacity of large dams situated on the Ardas tributary in Bulgaria be regulated to “minimize water discharges downstream and reduce flow at Edirne,” a densely populated area, near to the border fence, and a major confluence where the Ardas and another tributary, the Tundzha, meet the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa. The Bulgarian delegation refused to respond and cancelled future working groups. Bulgaria is resistant to such regulation because of the role that the private sector plays in managing hydro-electric infrastructure.
    To maximize energy productivity and profits, their primary interest is to maintain the highest possible water level in the dam reservoirs all year round. Under previous conditions, this would have been in direct opposition to the interests of the downstream nations who want to regulate reservoir storage in wet seasons so they have the capacity to accommodate potential increases in volume that risk overtopping dams and result in flooding. The events of the past month, however, show that within the context of Bulgaria’s entrance into the EU in 2007, upstream storage of high levels of water is also part of military contingency planning to flood the valley and safeguard what is now a common European frontier.

    Recent attempts at hydrodiplomacy in the region include the 2016 “Joint Declaration Between the Government of the Hellenic Republic and the Government of the Republic of Turkey” signed by Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras and Ahmet Davutoglu.

    This agreement incorporated multiple political and hydrographical issues that fold onto the frontier, including a Joint Action Plan to “stem migration flows,” with the implied proviso that Greece will support Turkey in EU visa liberalization dialogue. While this proviso has since been forgotten, the lubrication of one form of movement was unambiguously exchanged for the curtailment of another. This is followed by a section on flooding, acknowledging the damage caused each year and expressing a joint commitment to adhering to the centralized European Water Directive. As downstream nations, Greece and Turkey agreed and welcomed faintly veiled “goodwill and cooperation” from the “other relevant parties,” intimating Bulgaria, to whom they direct much of the blame.

    The overlaps between a river that regularly floods and a territory where border crossers are at the mercy of systematic violence resonates troublingly with nationalist media and governmental rhetoric of “flows,” “floods,” or “surges” and the “stemming” of migrants.”
    Naturalizing metaphors such as these emerge wherever border regimes are discursively or materially constructed to ensure the illegality of movement across borders, and in doing so, racially “other” border crossers. Indeed, hydrologic metaphors are evoked to draw a distinction between those who do not belong and those who do within a sedentary notion of territory. In light of the events of March 2020, the material movement of water out of place is not perceived as a threat that must be contained to prevent it seeping into discourses that legally and culturally ground the nation-state. Instead, the movement of these waters are deployed in the very efforts to exclude others from the space of the nation-state.Joint Operation Poseidon Land, EU border agency Frontex’s Evros operation, began in 2011. The name conjures a pathologic mythology, casting border crossers as mortals committing the hubris of seeking refuge in Europe, while Frontex claims the role of chastising deity. Here Poseidon, god of both the sea and rivers, intervenes at the land-water divide. In mythology, where his trident struck, land quakes and flooding and drowning ensues. Echoing a crude sketch of the hydrologic cycle, Operation Poseidon Land transposes border violence in liquid form from the Aegean—where Operation Poseidon Sea is enacted—to the headwaters of the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa and back down along its course. The rumored intentional flooding of the valley from the Ivaylovgrad dam brings Frontex’s troubling mythological sensibility into reality.

    4. Anachoma

    A week before the flooding made the headlines, and a day after Muhammad al Arab’s killing, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen visited Evros, along with three EU leaders and the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Following the visit, they gave a joint statement in which der Leyen thanked Greece for being Europe’s aspida, using the Greek word for “shield” (ασπίδα).

    Der Leyen’s choice of vocabulary uncannily echoes local military discourse, in which the region is often called Greece’s ανάχωμα (anachoma), or embankment, against Turkish invasion, and more recently against asylum seekers. The landscape of the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa is entirely sculpted to either contain or facilitate movement, be it of military personnel, people, or water. The berm, a versatile and ambiguous military-ecological technology, is the physical embodiment of the ανάχωμα. There are multiple types of berms, each of which is designed to perform distinct functions. There are surpassable/summer berms, main berms, tertiary berms for flood defense, raised rail lines and roads enabling movement during flood periods, irrigation, and, most explicitly in the delta, anti-tank installations. A hierarchy is designed into the system of flood control to allow water, armies, and people to penetrate the frontier space to varying degrees.

    The military imaginary of Evros as an ανάχωμα also refers to a more nuanced politics of demographic engineering. The delimitation of the border in the 1920s coincided with the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, a process which created imagined communities that the river division helped crystalize. The process intended to produce a Greek Christian population along the border as a demographic buffer—or embankment—against invasion. This began with the transfer of Greek-speaking populations from what became Turkish territory on the shores of the Aegean and the Anatolian peninsula, as well as Pontic Greeks from the shores of the Black Sea. In return, Turkish-speaking and other Muslim populations from Greek territory were moved to Turkey, although significant minority populations still remain in western Thrace. In the century since, Turkish, Pomak, Bektashi, and other Muslim minorities in western Thrace have been the focus of multiple marginalizing practices. A system of checkpoints (barres) was put in place in 1936 to isolate these communities, the last of which were removed as recently as 1995.
    When we visited the Bektashi villages of Roussa and Goniko in Evros, we saw the check point still standing, an abandoned yet powerful reminder of the state as an ambient presence.

    As embankments of wet earth, berms are concentrations of these politics of demographic engineering and territorial control. They are ground engineered in excess. They are routes of control through the floodplain for the police, military, and local farmers, and they figure within the imaginary of the moat as obstacles for invading forces. The berms reveal the border regime’s deployment of the environment as defensive “infranatural” technology.

    Corresponding to the engineered limits of the floodplain, berms are often placed along the edge of the military buffer zone that runs along the Greek side of the Evros border, also known as ZAP (Zoni Asfaleias Prokalypsis). As human rights reports have been claiming for years, where the floodplain/buffer zone broadens, the river becomes a site where human rights violations occur. These include the failure to rescue and illegal pushbacks of border crossers back to Turkey.
    A case on May 8, 2018 involving a group of fourteen people attempting to cross during a flood event speaks directly to the overlapping of flooding with the operations of the border. The attempt failed and resulted in one fatality. Once the group returned to Turkey, they attempted to contact Greek authorities with a picture of the ID card and the GPS location of the body. Greek police stated that the flooding was too severe to attempt a recovery, and over the next few days, no confirmation of the recovery of the body was received. In other examples, the police have refuted the possibility of pushbacks because the water is too high or the geomorphology makes it impossible. In this way, the behavior of water in excess is co-opted as an obviatory device; a mask in the construction of denial. The flood is an alibi for border violence. Consequently, the berm infrastructure marks the limit of the flood and acts as a container for this riverine geography of exception.

    5. The Delta

    The Evros Delta, where the river meets the Thracian Sea, covers a surface area of 111,937 square kilometers. A protected conservation area designated as a wetland of international importance by the 1971 Ramsar treaty, the delta’s saline waters, ponds, and islands are home to a number of migratory bird species. Since last month, however, it has hosted a different kind of migration, with army and police units operating side by side with local, self-proclaimed “frontiersmen,” “guardians of the border,” and hunting clubs from all over Greece arriving to prevent what they understand to be an “intrusion” of “illegal aliens” (“lathrometanastes”) into Greece. Joining them are far-right and neo-nazi militants from Europe and the US who have flocked there to demonstrate their support, and “safeguard Europe’s borders.” Showing little regard for human life, they describe their operations as “hunting” for refugees. The ongoing dehumanization of asylum seekers using both language and physical force permeates the region. Detainees in the recently exposed border guard center at Poros, have described guards treating them “like animals.”
    The violent events of the past month, including the killings of Muhammad al Arab inside the Evros delta and Muhamad Gulzar in the Karaağaç Triangle, as well as the reports of the opening of the Ivaylovgrad dam, are punctuating moments that bring to the fore the slower environmental processes mobilized against asylum seekers at the border. The Evros catchment basin is currently a densely braided space of border violence and death, incorporating military personnel, nationalist and neo-nazi paramilitaries, local farmers and hunters, as well as the very ecology of this deltaic marshland, such as temperature and meteorological conditions. Indeed, rather than being a “natural” border, the Evros is an exemplary case of a borderized nature, where environmental elements, which are not deadly on their own, are made deadly by forcing people to traverse them under treacherous conditions. We have spoken with asylum seekers who have described the fog that hangs above the Evros. Fog, like clothes sodden from swimming across the river, and combined with freezing winter temperatures, contribute to the threat of hypothermia for border crossers, which, after drowning, is the second highest cause of death at Evros. As reported in the media, paramilitaries who have been recently drawn to the area to hunt people who cross “at night and in the fog,” are transposing the old Nazi directive for disappearing bodies “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) onto the Evros Delta.Through the waters of the river, amongst the impacted earth of the berms, and under the veil of the heavy airs of teargas and pesticides, complex forces are deployed and emerge from the fog of the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa. Understanding the complexity of the river as a weaponized border ecology is crucial to reveal the ongoing and intensifying violence that unfolds across different scales in this region. To confront the far-right that is currently assembling its forces rhetorically, environmentally, and in person in the Evros delta and all along the fluvial frontier, and to counter the obfuscating tactics long deployed by the police in their use of the river as alibi, requires understanding how this border is constructed. When considering the Evros border, we must learn to perceive the entire floodplain as a border technology. This, in turn, involves striving to see the river as a spectrum, from freezing fog in the valley, dew in the field, and mud in the floodplain as clearly as it sees water flowing between the riverbanks themselves.To assist migrants in defending their rights, and to resist the far-right seeping out of border regions into increasingly xenophobic societies, the very concept of “nature” needs to be reframed to encompass the ways it is deployed within the military imaginary of borderized environments. Practices must be developed to perceive how border regimes harness environmental processes. Such practices reveal the varying watery states of the Evros/Meriç/Maritsa as what they are: the riverine arsenal of a deadly defense architecture. The border regime operates as an expanded or “dispersed” territorial technology: an entire region designed as a violent ανάχωμα.

    https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/at-the-border/325751/weaponizing-a-river

    #weaponization #Evros #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #Thrace #Grèce #Turquie #architecture_forensique #Forensic_Architecture #rivière

    • GEOGRAPHY OF EVROS/MERIÇ RIVER PUSHBACKS

      Across January, BVMN collected testimonies
      documenting pushbacks over the Evros/
      Meriç river on the Greek-Turkish border,
      impacting over 500 people-on-the-move.
      These incidents validate a pattern identified
      by BVMN of Greek authorities using small
      islands in the river to stage pushbacks, often
      leaving groups stranded there for indefinite
      periods. Beyond inhumane treatment –
      pregnant women have been left without food,
      water or shelter – several reports indicate
      that people are placed at direct risk of
      drowning (see 8.4) in the river.
      Ironically, Greece has cited flooding as a
      reason not to mount rescue operations or
      recover the bodies of those who have
      drowned, while using the riverʼs water level
      and challenging geomorphology to refute the
      possibility of pushbacks.
      One testimony (see 8.5) offers a compelling
      example of the dangers associated with this
      practice. It describes how eight North African
      men were driven into the middle of the Evros
      river and ordered to jump in. With “water
      reaching their chests ”, the men were forced
      to wade to an island from where they could
      swim to Turkish shores. While attempting the
      crossing, however, one man was swept away
      by the overwhelming current, only managing
      to survive by grabbing onto a fallen tree.
      Witnessing this scene, the remaining men on
      the island feared to cross as they could not
      swim. With soaking wet clothes, they were
      stuck there for three days in sub-zero
      temperatures, until they were eventually
      retrieved by Greek police and pushed back to
      Turkey.
      Perhaps most unsettling is that the officers
      allegedly watched this scene unfold and took
      over 72 hours to intervene. Hypothermia is
      the second highest killer of transit groups in
      the Evros region. Reminiscent of the triborder
      area between Bulgaria, Greece and
      Turkey, which is being used to stage indirect
      chain pushbacks, this phenomenon
      represents a weaponization of geography, or
      as one commentator eloquently wrote, ʻa
      form of hybrid border violence that explicitly
      incorporates the river ecology itselfʼ.

      https://www.borderviolence.eu/balkan-region-report-january-2021
      –-> pp.7-8

  • How the Pandemic Turned Refugees Into ‘Guinea Pigs’ for Surveillance Tech

    An interview with Dr. Petra Molnar, who spent 2020 investigating the use of drones, facial recognition, and lidar on refugees

    The coronavirus pandemic unleashed a new era in surveillance technology, and arguably no group has felt this more acutely than refugees. Even before the pandemic, refugees were subjected to contact tracing, drone and LIDAR tracking, and facial recognition en masse. Since the pandemic, it’s only gotten worse. For a microcosm of how bad the pandemic has been for refugees — both in terms of civil liberties and suffering under the virus — look no further than Greece.

    Greek refugee camps are among the largest in Europe, and they are overpopulated, with scarce access to water, food, and basic necessities, and under constant surveillance. Researchers say that many of the surveillance techniques and technologies — especially experimental, rudimentary, and low-cost ones — used to corral refugees around the world were often tested in these camps first.

    “Certain communities already marginalized, disenfranchised are being used as guinea pigs, but the concern is that all of these technologies will be rolled out against the broader population and normalized,” says Petra Molnar, Associate Director of the Refugee Law Lab, York University.

    Molnar traveled to the Greek refugee camps on Lesbos in 2020 as part of a fact-finding project with the advocacy group European Digital Rights (EDRi). She arrived right after the Moria camp — the largest in Europe at the time — burned down and forced the relocation of thousands of refugees. Since her visit, she has been concerned about the rise of authoritarian technology and how it might be used against the powerless.

    With the pandemic still raging and states more desperate than ever to contain it, it seemed a good time to discuss the uses and implications of surveillance in the refugee camps. Molnar, who is still in Greece and plans to continue visiting the camps once the nation’s second lockdown lifts, spoke to OneZero about the kinds of surveillance technology she saw deployed there, and what the future holds — particularly with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Molnar says, adding “that they’ve been using Greece as a testing ground for all sorts of aerial surveillance technology.”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

    OneZero: What kinds of surveillance practices and technologies did you see in the camps?

    Petra Molnar: I went to Lesbos in September, right after the Moria camp burned down and thousands of people were displaced and sent to a new camp. We were essentially witnessing the birth of the Kara Tepes camp, a new containment center, and talked to the people about surveillance, and also how this particular tragedy was being used as a new excuse to bring more technology, more surveillance. The [Greek] government is… basically weaponizing Covid to use it as an excuse to lock the camps down and make it impossible to do any research.

    When you are in Lesbos, it is very clear that it is a testing ground, in the sense that the use of tech is quite rudimentary — we are not talking about thermal cameras, iris scans, anything like that, but there’s an increase in the appetite of the Greek government to explore the use of it, particularly when they try to control large groups of people and also large groups coming from the Aegean. It’s very early days for a lot of these technologies, but everything points to the fact that Greece is Europe’s testing ground.

    They are talking about bringing biometric control to the camps, but we know for example that the Hellenic Coast Guard has a drone that they have been using for self-promotion, propaganda, and they’ve now been using it to follow specific people as they are leaving and entering the camp. I’m not sure if the use of drones was restricted to following refugees once they left the camps, but with the lockdown, it was impossible to verify. [OneZero had access to a local source who confirmed that drones are also being used inside the camps to monitor refugees during lockdown.]

    Also, people can come and go to buy things at stores, but they have to sign in and out at the gate, and we don’t know how they are going to use such data and for what purposes.

    Surveillance has been used on refugees long before the pandemic — in what ways have refugees been treated as guinea pigs for the policies and technologies we’re seeing deployed more widely now? And what are some of the worst examples of authoritarian technologies being deployed against refugees in Europe?

    The most egregious examples that we’ve been seeing are that ill-fated pilot projects — A.I. lie detectors and risk scorings which were essentially trying to use facial recognition and facial expressions’ micro-targeting to determine whether a person was more likely than others to lie at the border. Luckily, that technology was debunked and also generated a lot of debate around the ethics and human rights implications of using something like that.

    Technologies such as voice printing have been used in Germany to try to track a person’s country of origin or their ethnicity, facial recognition made its way into the new Migration’s Pact, and Greece is thinking about automating the triage of refugees, so there’s an appetite at the EU level and globally to use this tech. I think 2021 will be very interesting as more resources are being diverted to these types of tech.

    We saw, right when the pandemic started, that migration data used for population modeling became kind of co-opted and used to try and model flows of Covid. And this is very problematic because they are assuming that the mobile population, people on the move, and refugees are more likely to be bringing in Covid and diseases — but the numbers don’t bear out. We are also seeing the gathering of vast amounts of data for all these databases that Europe is using or will be using for a variety of border enforcement and policing in general.

    The concern is that fear’s being weaponized around the pandemic and technologies such as mobile tracking and data collection are being used as ways to control people. It is also broader, it deals with a kind of discourse around migration, on limiting people’s rights to move. Our concern is that it’ll open the door to further, broader rollout of this kind of tech against the general population.

    What are some of the most invasive technologies you’ve seen? And are you worried these authoritarian technologies will continue to expand, and not just in refugee camps?

    In Greece, the most invasive technologies being used now would probably be drones and unpiloted surveillance technologies, because it’s a really easy way to dehumanize that kind of area where people are crossing, coming from Turkey, trying to claim asylum. There’s also the appetite to try facial recognition technology.

    It shows just how dangerous these technologies can be both because they facilitate pushbacks, border enforcement, and throwing people away, and it really plays into this kind of idea of instead of humane responses you’d hope to happen when you see a boat in distress in the Aegean or the Mediterranean, now entities are turning towards drones and the whole kind of surveillance apparatus. It highlights how the humanity in this process has been lost.

    And the normalization of it all. Now it is so normal to use drones — everything is about policing Europe’s shore, Greece being a shield, to normalize the use of invasive surveillance tech. A lot of us are worried with talks of expanding the scope of action, mandate, and powers of Frontex [the European Border and Coast Guard Agency] and its utter lack of accountability — it is crystal clear that entities like Frontex are going to do Europe’s dirty work.

    There’s a particular framing applied when governments and companies talk about migrants and refugees, often linking them to ISIS and using careless terms and phrases to discuss serious issues. Our concern is that this kind of use of technology is going to become more advanced and more efficient.

    What is happening with regard to contact tracing apps — have there been cases where the technology was forced on refugees?

    I’ve heard about the possibility of refugees being tracked through their phones, but I couldn’t confirm. I prefer not to interact with the state through my phone, but that’s a privilege I have, a choice I can make. If you’re living in a refugee camp your options are much more constrained. Often people in the camps feel they are compelled to give access to their phones, to give their phone numbers, etc. And then there are concerns that tracking is being done. It’s really hard to track the tracking; it is not clear what’s being done.

    Aside from contact tracing, there’s the concern with the Wi-Fi connection provided in the camps. There’s often just one connection or one specific place where Wi-Fi works and people need to be connected to their families, spouses, friends, or get access to information through their phones, sometimes their only lifeline. It’s a difficult situation because, on the one hand, people are worried about privacy and surveillance, but on the other, you want to call your family, your spouse, and you can only do that through Wi-Fi and people feel they need to be connected. They have to rely on what’s available, but there’s a concern that because it’s provided by the authorities, no one knows exactly what’s being collected and how they are being watched and surveilled.

    How do we fight this surveillance creep?

    That’s the hard question. I think one of the ways that we can fight some of this is knowledge. Knowing what is happening, sharing resources among different communities, having a broader understanding of the systemic way this is playing out, and using such knowledge generated by the community itself to push for regulation and governance when it comes to these particular uses of technologies.

    We call for a moratorium or abolition of all high-risk technology in and around the border because right now we don’t have a governance mechanism in place or integrated regional or international way to regulate these uses of tech.

    Meanwhile, we have in the EU a General Data Protection Law, a very strong tool to protect data and data sharing, but it doesn’t really touch on surveillance, automation, A.I., so the law is really far behind.

    One of the ways to fight A.I. is to make policymakers understand the real harm that these technologies have. We are talking about ways that discrimination and inequality are reinforced by this kind of tech, and how damaging they are to people.

    We are trying to highlight this systemic approach to see it as an interconnected system in which all of these technologies play a part in this increasingly draconian way that migration management is being done.

    https://onezero.medium.com/how-the-pandemic-turned-refugees-into-guinea-pigs-for-surveillance-t

    #réfugiés #cobaye #surveillance #technologie #pandémie #covid-19 #coroanvirus #LIDAR #drones #reconnaissance_faciale #Grèce #camps_de_réfugiés #Lesbos #Moria #European_Digital_Rights (#EDRi) #surveillance_aérienne #complexe_militaro-industriel #Kara_Tepes #weaponization #biométrie #IA #intelligence_artificielle #détecteurs_de_mensonges #empreinte_vocale #tri #catégorisation #donneés #base_de_données #contrôle #technologies_autoritaires #déshumanisation #normalisation #Frontex #wifi #internet #smartphone #frontières

    ping @isskein @karine4

    ping @etraces

  • La Croatie coupe ses forêts pour « protéger » ses frontières

    24 mai - 14h : Pour lutter contre l’entrée de migrants et de réfugiés sur son territoire, la Croatie procède à des #coupes claires dans ses forêts, afin de « #dégager_le_terrain » le long de sa frontière avec la Bosnie-Herzégovine. Ces derniers temps, des #bois ont été abattus sur les versants de la #montagne #Plješivica et aux abords de l’ancien aérodrome militaire de #Željava. Des pratiques similaires avaient été signalées aux alentours de #Hravtska_Kostajnica, en janvier 2019.

    La ministre des Affaires étrangères de Bosnie-Herzégovine, Bisera Turković, a demandé des explications aux autorités croates, déclarant que si elle comprenait le besoin de surveiller les frontières, elle attendait de ces dernières qu’elles informent leurs voisins avant de prendre de telles initiatives.

    De leur coté, les ONG dénoncent une infraction aux droits de l’homme et à la protection de l’environnement, et l’association écologiste #Zelena:Akcija a signalé ces coupes à l’Inspection nationale, afin de vérifier qu’elles étaient conformes aux directives prévues dans cette zone par l’Office des eaux et forêts.

    https://www.courrierdesbalkans.fr/Les-dernieres-infos-Refugies-Balkans-Bosnie-Herzegovine-un-nouvea
    #forêt #frontières #weaponization #asile #migrations #réfugiés #Croatie #Zeljava

  • Afghanistan investigates reports Iran guards forced migrants into river

    Afghanistan is investigating reports Afghan migrants drowned after being tortured and pushed into a river by Iranian border guards.

    The migrants were caught trying to enter Iran illegally from the western Herat province on Friday, according to local media.

    The migrants were beaten and forced to jump into a river by Iranian border guards, the reports said. Some of them are said to have died.

    Iran has dismissed the allegation.

    A foreign ministry spokesman said the incident took place on Afghan territory, not Iranian, and security guards denied any involvement.

    The number involved in the incident is unconfirmed but officials said dozens of migrants crossed the border, and at least seven people died with more still missing.

    A search party has been sent to retrieve the bodies of migrants from the river.
    The Afghan Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said local officials told it “Iranian security forces arrested a number of Afghan migrants seeking work who wanted to enter Iran”.

    “They were made to cross the Harirud river [at the Afghan-Iranian border], as a result a number of them drowned and some survived,” it added.

    Shir Agha, a migrant who witnessed the incident, told Reuters the Iranian guards “warned us that if we do not throw ourselves into the water, we will be shot”.

    Another Afghan migrant, Shah Wali, alleged that the Iranian guards “beat us, then made us do hard work”.

    “They then took us by minibus near to the river, and when we got there, they threw us into the river,” he added.

    About three million Afghans live in Iran, including refugees and wage labourers. Hundreds of Afghans cross into Iran every day to find work.

    There was a mass exodus of migrants returning to Afghanistan after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which has recorded almost 100,000 cases of the disease to date. Many are suspected to have brought coronavirus back across the border with them.

    But as Iran seeks to ease restrictions, Afghan migrants in search of work are crossing the country’s border in greater numbers again.

    Afghan officials have expressed concern over the incident in Herat province, risking a diplomatic row at a time of already strained relations over the coronavirus pandemic.

    In a tweet to Iranian officials, Herat’s governor Sayed Wahid Qatali wrote: “Our people are not just some names you threw into the river. One day we will settle accounts.”

    https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-52523048?__twitter_impression=true
    #Iran #frontières #rivière #Herat #Iran #hostile_environment #weaponization #enviornnement_hostile #migrations #asile #réfugiés #décès #morts #mourir_aux_frontières #morts_aux_frontières

    • Afghanistan Probes Reports Iranian Guards Forced Migrants Into River

      Afghan officials were hunting on Sunday for Afghan migrants in a river bordering Iran after reports that Iranian border guards tortured dozens and threw them into the water to keep them out of Iran.

      Authorities in western Herat province said they retrieved 12 bodies from the Harirud river and at least eight other people were missing.

      The incident could trigger a diplomatic crisis between Iran and Afghanistan at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has seen an exodus of Afghan migrants from Iran, with many testing positive. Up to 2,000 Afghans cross the border from Iran, a coronavirus hotspot, into Herat each day.

      Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday an inquiry had been launched. A senior official in the presidential palace in Kabul said initial assessments suggested at least 70 Afghans trying to enter Iran from Herat were beaten and pushed into the Harirud river on Saturday.

      Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said the “incident” took place on Afghan soil.

      “Border guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the occurrence of any events related to this on the soil of our country,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

      Abdul Ghani Noori, governor of Herat’s Gulran district, said dozens of Afghan migrant workers were thrown into the river by members of the Iranian army.

      “Iranian armymen used shovels and gunshots to injure Afghan workers and threw them in water,” Noori told Reuters, adding that some of the injured workers were being treated in a hospital.

      Doctors at Herat District Hospital said they had received the bodies of Afghan migrants.

      “So far, five bodies have been transferred to the hospital. Of these bodies, it’s clear that four died due to drowning,” said Aref Jalali, head of the hospital. He added that two injured men were brought to the hospital on Sunday evening.

      The Taliban militant group, fighting to oust the Afghan government, said Iran should launch an investigation into the killings and “strictly punish the perpetrators”.

      “We have learnt that 57 Afghans on their way to the Islamic Republic of Iran for work were initially tortured by Iranian border guards and 23 of them later brutally martyred,” the Taliban said in a statement.

      Noor Mohammad said he was one of the Afghans caught by Iranian border guards as they were trying to cross into Iran in search of work.

      “After being tortured, the Iranian soldiers threw all of us in the Harirud river,” Mohammad told Reuters.

      Shir Agha, who said he also survived the violence, said at least 23 people thrown into the river were dead.

      Afghan officials that it was not the first time that Afghans had been killed by Iranian police guarding the 920-km (520-mile) border.

      As of Sunday, at least 541 coronavirus-infected people in Afghanistan were from Herat province, which recorded 13 deaths, with the majority of cases Afghan returnees from Iran, said Rafiq Shirzad, a health ministry spokesman in Herat.

      https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/05/03/world/middleeast/03reuters-afghanistan-iran-migrants.html?searchResultPosition=3
      #noyade #torture #gardes-frontière #Harirud #armée

    • Afghanistan probes report Iran guards forced migrants into river

      Survivors say at least 23 of 57 people thrown by Iranian border guards into Harirud River drowned.

      Afghanistan has begun retrieving bodies of Afghan migrants from a river in a western province after reports that Iranian border guards tortured and threw Afghans into the river to prevent their entry into Iran.

      Afghanistan’s foreign ministry in a statement on Saturday said an inquiry had been launched and a senior official in the presidential palace in Kabul said initial assessments suggested that at least 70 Afghans who were trying to enter Iran from bordering Herat province were beaten and pushed into Harirud River.

      The Harirud River basin is shared by Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan.

      Doctors at Herat District Hospital said they had received the bodies of Afghan migrants, some of whom had drowned.

      “So far, five bodies have been transferred to the hospital, of these bodies, its clear that four died due to drowning,” said Aref Jalali, head of Herat District Hospital.

      The Iranian consulate in Herat denied the allegations of torture and subsequent drowning of dozens of Afghan migrant workers by border police.

      “Iranian border guards have not arrested any Afghan citizens,” the consulate said in a statement on Saturday.

      Noor Mohammad said he was one of 57 Afghan citizens who were caught by Iranian border guards on Saturday as they tried to cross into Iran in search of work from Gulran District of Herat.

      “After being tortured, the Iranian soldiers threw all of us in the Harirud river,” Mohammad told Reuters News Agency.

      Shir Agha, who said he also survived the violence, said at least 23 of the 57 people thrown by Iranian soldiers into the river had died.

      “Iranian soldiers warned us that if we do not throw ourselves into the water, we will be shot,” said Agha.
      ’We will settle accounts’

      Local Afghan officials said it was not the first time Afghans had been tortured and killed by Iranian police guarding the 920km (520 mile) long border.

      Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali in a tweet to Iranian officials said: “Our people are not just some names you threw into the river. One day we will settle accounts.”

      The incident could trigger a diplomatic crisis between Iran and Afghanistan at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has seen a mass exodus of Afghan migrants from Iran with many testing positive for COVID-19.

      Up to 2,000 Afghans daily cross the border from Iran, a global coronavirus hotspot, into Herat.

      As of Sunday, at least 541 infected people are from Herat province, which recorded 13 deaths, with the majority of positive cases found among Afghan returnees from Iran, said Rafiq Shirzad, a health ministry spokesman in Herat.

      https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/afghanistan-probes-report-iran-guards-forced-migrants-river-2005030926238