Guest post by Emma Foley. Emma has an MA in Migration Studies from the University of Sussex and currently works in the migrant rights sector in the UK. She’s on Twitter @efoley.

Review of Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent by Matthew Carr (Hurst & Company, 2012).

In Fortress Europe, Matthew Carr takes on-board the waves and influxes of unrepresentative media coverage on migration in Europe and responds by comprehensively chronicling―and interrogating―the processes of border construction. By outlining an extremely complex perimeter that covers a distance of tens of thousands of miles by land and sea, he covers the multifaceted complexities of the task. Travelling to the borders of the European Union and talking directly to migrants, border guards, coast guards, local residents, government officials, and activists, Carr provides a variety of perspectives, from state actors to those most excluded at the margins of Europe, in a broad but detailed approach enabled through a personal journalistic dispatch.

The topic of ‘Fortress Europe’ is introduced with the events of 2005 at Ceuta and Melilla, both in terms of the numbers and the violence that captured the attention of European media. Here, ‘battles’ at the fences of the Spanish exclaves ‘were the most dramatic expression of a nightmare that has haunted the European imagination ever since the end of the Cold War’ (p. 3) and became an excusatory catalyst for the escalation of border securitisation in the European Union. Referring to the founding principles of the EU―a union based on the project of European integration and collaboration ―Carr describes the hypocrisy of the European human rights framework and the EU’s treatment of migrants. At and within the borders of Europe, lay sites of violence and violation at routine occurrence, which break into the conscience of media and political attention only in ‘occasional moments when the death toll rises to new levels of obscenity’ (p. 4). EU values of rights and inclusion are being played out in terms of the exclusion and mistreatment of others, alternating between ignorance and hyper-attention towards these populations, depending on the moment.

With the substance of the book structured in two parts, the first, ‘Hard Borders,’ outlines the recent history of EU border construction and its manifestations. Utilised in the exercise of sovereign control and in the name of stability, borders have undergone a process of hardening in a project that has no completion. From the introduction of identity documentation and its increased significance, to the shift in paradigm concerning refugee populations, to the compensatory controls accompanying the creation of the Schengen zone, and the militarization of border technologies, this hard-line approach is ‘justified’ through the concerns of security, terrorism, and crime. Carr takes the reader to various points along the border of the EU: the eastern frontiers of Poland and Slovakia, the Strait of Gibraltar and colonial exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Lampedusa, the labyrinthine crossing points of Greece, and the British Isles. Through these excursions, he demonstrates that though often brutal, the border is far from static. Carr interweaves the descriptive scenes of these landscapes with historical accounts of the symbolism associated with the places―histories that are often at odds with present roles in the Fortress Europe structure.

Carr shows that as countries join the Union, with the associated conditions and funding for increased security, many European countries have experienced shifts from countries of emigration to immigration. The function of the border as a diplomatic bargaining tool is also highlighted in the extension of border control to non-EU neighbours such as Ukraine, Morocco, Libya, and Turkey, with the use of readmission agreements that allow multiple states to deny responsibility for the treatment of migrants. In this, Carr's knowledge on the securitisation of Europe is a reflection of his specialism in terrorism, where human movement is treated militaristically and as a threat to be controlled. Although seemingly contrary to the philosophical spirit of the EU and Schengen in their creation, external borders are continually hardened in a transactionary response to free movement within Europe―the defence being built ultimately against the rest of the worlds' poor.

The second half of the book, ‘Border Crossings,’ deals with the realities of movement across borders for those seeking safety and improved livelihoods and for the EU citizens that live in border-zones and borderlands, as well as the acts of smuggling and human trafficking. Through the inclusion of individual stories of people trying to reach Europe, Carr describes the fundamental inequality that EU dominance has bought. The horrific journeys made are situations that few EU citizens may ever find themselves in, with birth or national accession as the deciding factor in terms of legitimacy and legality―concepts to which nation states give supremacy, generalising humans under the bracket of ‘cross-border crime,’ equated with the smuggling of contraband and narcotics as a crime against the state. With governmental focus on migration in terms of international crime, a faithful reliance on the solidity of borders for detection and prevention with an accompanying immigration enforcement agenda provides people smugglers with a trade and human traffickers with a means of further coercion. Put simply, Carr shows how borders create formal and informal economies and criminality in their manifestation.

Humanitarian acts of kindness and metaphorical border crossings, in acts of solidarity by EU citizens, are also important in Carr's text, as he invokes the need for a bottom-up approach towards change in the current political climate. Despite the steady narrative of invasion throughout Europe, it’s those living at the EU's new borders, or internal points of concentration, that are left to deal with the humanitarian crises: the fishermen carrying out rescue operations, priests opening reception centres, and ordinary residents opening their homes and challenging deportations―acts of humanity which have in some cases been criminalised with charges of smuggling, as the border is internalised and enforced both on and by citizens.

Carr also takes us to the borderlands created by the regular expansion and remodelling of Europe; here, other sets of pressures affect EU citizens in terms of cultural identities, repression and assimilation for Europe’s ‘own’ ethnic minorities, and creating barriers between families where they didn’t exist before. Finally, we’re reminded that the project of the EU’s border securitisation sits in context within the securitisation of the western world, even sharing a competitively collegial relationship with countries such as the United States and Australia in their border enforcement projects.

This book would be of great value to readers interested in migration, securitisation, and the European Union. It is accessible to wide audiences through Carr’s engaging journalistic style. The breadth of the journeys he made and the number of individual accounts included, speak of his dedication to the subject and his care in giving voice to as many perspectives as possible while embedding himself in the research of this topic.

Written in 2012, prior to the current movement of people to and through Europe, one of the great values of this book can be its placing within this context. While political rhetoric would state that further fortification of Europe is necessary to attend to the current crisis, Carr’s book demonstrates that increased migratory securitisation is very much to the detriment of humanity―both European and non―as played out with the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean. The time-scale covered in writing also works to remove the temptation to think of ‘migration crises’ as temporary events in global history, reminding us of the constancy of human movement against which fortification cannot be the answer.

However evidentially critical of Europe’s migration and asylum policies, Fortress Europe is ultimately supportive of Europe and the Union’s founding principles. The summarising call of Carr’s work is that Europe’s borders should be an expression of its people; borders, their physical nature and territory, philosophy, and mindset, have the ability to change. In Carr’s words: ‘If borders can be hardened they can also be softened and made more open and accessible’ (p. 267)―and it’s the responsibility of Europe’s populations to do so.

Note: An updated edition of this book was published as Fortress Europe: Inside the War Against Immigration in November 2015 with a postscript commentary on events since the first publication.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Foley, E. (2016) Book Review: Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent. Available at: (Accessed [date]).