Introduction: Europe’s New Borders

by Rasmus Degnbol

A small rubber dinghy filled with refugees and migrants arrives on the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos on 30 October, 2015. The island has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees arrive from Turkey in 2015. All photos by Rasmus Degnbol, used courtesy of the artist

As a child of the 1980s, I remember the holiday trips in our gray Audi 80 to Spain with the family, I was sitting in the passenger seat beside my father with the map that covered the entire windshield when it was unfolded. When we stopped and took a small break my dad showed me the borders on the map, and told about the different countries and cities. When you crossed the border it felt like a new world — when I, as a child, suddenly heard German, French, and Spanish words for the first time, or I was allowed, on rare occasions, to hand over our passports to the border police when we crossed. March 26, 1995, was the end of using our passports through Europe; when the Schengen Treaty was implemented, almost 10 years after the first had been signed, Europe suddenly seemed a little more united, and free.

Borders are something that is difficult to define for those of us who have never experienced war or unfriendliness in the European countries, and with both the Schengen agreement and EU enlargement in the early 2000s, the borders had become increasingly blurred in our consciousness — until 2015.

Fences, barbed wire, and armed militant border guards have suddenly become the new standard in Europe, and as I, in the early summer of 2015, was watching all the physical manifestations and transformation of something I thought belonged to the past, I decided to photograph these “new” European borders and what consequences they have and will have for Europe and the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who these days come to our borders. All this was done using a technology developed by the military: the drone.

My project, Europe’s New Borders, offers a sense of scale on the dehumanized border crisis unfolding in Europe throughout the last two years. It covers most of the borders of the European Union, the transformation of these, and the consequences, big and small, concrete and abstract, for the refugees and migrants.

Over 100,000 life vests and rubber boats lie in a nearly 10-meter-high pile on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on 31 October, 2015. In 2015 Greece received well over 800,000 refugees and migrants, primarily arriving by boat over the Aegean Sea from Turkey. The island struggles to cope with the influx on its shores.
The border fence in Ceuta, Spain, early morning on 7 September, 2016. The fence is a six-meter-high parallel fence facing Morocco, keeping sub-Saharan migrants and refugees out. The fence has barbed wire, watch posts, sound sensors, motion sensors, lights, cameras, and patrolling guards on foot, in cars, in the hills, and at sea in boats. It was first built in 1993, was raised in 1995, and was raised again in 2005 to its current height. It is the ground zero of European Border control.
A group of Syrian refugees from Aleppo walks on the dirty track along the beach on Lesbos. The refugees have just arrived by boat from Turkey on 31 October, 2015.
Refugees and migrants rest at the privately funded camp OXY, outside the town of Molyvos on Lesbos, 1 November, 2015. The island received hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees in 2015, but has received little official help, nor has it established a reception center on the north coast, where most arrive. This privately funded camp makes sure the migrants don’t have to walk the nearly 60 km to the reception center outside Mytilini city.
A refugee and migrant mass grave at the border between Greece and Turkey, along the Evros River, on 4 December, 2015. There are no official records of the bodies buried here, but estimates are 450. Most of the bodies are never identified; only two graves are marked with tombstones and the names of two Syrian-Palestinian boys born in a refugee camp in Syria. The gravesite is unmarked and fenced.
In this forest four Afghani asylum seekers froze to death in November 2014. The men were found on the border between Bulgaria and Serbia, outside the town of Kireevo. The four men were in the process of obtaining refugee status in Bulgaria but tried to cross the border, and in the harsh cold weather and fog they got lost and froze to death. Image taken on 9 December, 2015.
Hungarian border police patrol the newly made border fence at Röszke, near the border to Serbia, on 4 November, 2015. On September 14 Hungary saw over 10,000 refugees and migrants cross over their borders, and the same day they completed their border fence and cracked down on anyone trying to cross illegally into the country. Now numbers are down to under 100 per day, having sealed off the entire southern border stretch.
Rejected Moroccan migrants sit at their makeshift camp, right beside the newly erected Macedonian border fence to Idomeni, Greece, on 5 December, 2015.
Macedonian military guards on the barbed-wire border fence with Greece, 5 December, 2015. They are armed with Kalashnikovs and heavy machine guns, protecting the border against the almost 10,000 refugees and migrants on the other side, in Idomeni, Greece.
A four-kilometer bus convoy waits outside of the reception center in Presevo, Serbia, on 8 December, 2015. The busses come from all the borders of Serbia and are privately owned and run; the companies often overcharge for the tickets. Now they wait for the refugees to return to take them farther north.
Refugees and migrants in the Croatian winter-transit camp Slavonski Brod are marched toward the train that will take them to Slovenia on 6 November, 2015. They have been in the camp for five to six hours, where they have had access to hot tents, food, and medical assistance.
Workers maintain the fence at the edge of the Jungle in Calais on 19 April, 2016. A migrant bikes past. In early March the French authorities cleared half of the Jungle, pushing out migrants to live elsewhere.
Amir walks in the garden outside his apartment on Jersey, in the Channel Islands, on 23 April, 2016. He arrived from France in the boot of his brother’s car, but was caught by Jersey law enforcement. Armir is the first official refugee to reach Jersey island, but because the island does not have any asylum laws, he is currently awaiting sentence in a criminal case. A local charity had Amir released from prison on bail, and have since provided him with a room at the local church while he awaits his verdict.
The refugee center in Oberursel, Germany, on 24 April, 2016. The center has, over the last five years, received complaints about living conditions. The owner, a former Stasi general named Mr. Pohl, owns many similar centers throughout Germany, all using the same standards and all having been accused numerous times of using the situation for the owner’s benefit.
Kånna, Sweden. The local school was arson attacked on 15 October, 2015 — the day before it was supposed to house 80 asylum seekers. The police are currently investigating the attack. Graffiti with hateful rhetoric towards immigrants is written on the walls. Sweden has been struck by countless arson attacks since receiving almost 200,000 refugees and migrants in 2015.
15 September, 2016. The now-empty asylum seekers’ tent-center in Haderslev, Denmark. The camp was opened in January 2016 to accommodate the rising number of asylum seekers reaching Denmark. Since opening, this camp has been highly criticized for being unnecessary, as the regular Danish asylum center has free space. On 3 September, 2016, the camp was closed down and the almost 200 male inhabitants were moved to other centers around the country.
Two migrants walk in the buffer zone at the Calais camp known as The Jungle on 19 April, 2016. A newly made area clearly separates The Jungle from the freeway; this zone, referred to by police as the buffer zone, makes it easier to spot migrants trying to get near the fence that trucks heading to the UK pass.