Podcast of the Week: Border Trilogy

The US government’s policy on illegal migration flows through the Sonoran desert is simple: its dangerous and therefore people should be deterred. That isn’t the case: in reality hundreds of migrants die each year trying to traverse the harsh environment that leads into the United States. Clearly the policy is broken, but how did it even get to this point? Radiolab’s “Border Trilogy” looks at the development of “Prevention Through Deterrence” since the late 1990s. 

It tells the story of how the students from Bowie High School in El Paso, a border town which used to be a major crossing point, fought back against frequent harassment from US border patrol. The level of grief emanating from the border communities eventually led to a change in policy, driving migrants streams away from cities and into the desert.

Simultaneously, the podcast reveals the story Jason De León, an anthropologist searching for migrants’ scattered belongings in the desert. One day he finds an arm and nothing more, leaving him wondering how many people have simply atrophied out there. Lastly it tells the story of Maricela, the Ecuadorian mother who never arrived in New York. 


You can also access part 1, part 2 and part 3 directly on Radiolab’s website. 

sebastian kurz

Austria: Sebastian Kurz cruising towards Chancellorship

Vienna – Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s fresh-faced 30-year old foreign affairs minister is leading in the opinion polls and looks set to become the next Chancellor, writes Blaise Gauquelin in Le Monde.
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Sebastian Kurz with British Brexit Secretary David Davis

At just 30 years old, the unflappable Sebastian Kurz looks set to become the world’s youngest head of state (with the exception of the regent of San Marino).

‘With blue eyes that still seem sincere, and hair obediently slicked back,’ Mr Kurz took over the leadership of his party – the Christian Conservative ÖVP – this May, and triggered a snap election when he refused to continue to govern in a coalition with the Social Democratic SPÖ party.

Mr Kurz is positioning himself as the best antidote to Austria’s powerful extreme-right FPÖ party, who just missed out on the presidency last December.

He is the most popular politician in Austria, a country with a population of 8.7 million.

A recent poll published by the liberal daily newspaper Der Standard saw him leading his opponents on 30%.

But how has this ‘composed young man’ managed to ‘outshine the current social democratic Chancellor, Christian Kern, as well as the far-right Heinz-Christian Strache, a friend of Marine le Pen?’ asks Gauquelin.

“He took power from the inside,” via the young Conservatives, explains Peter Jankowitsch, a former SPÖ Foreign Minister. “He hasn’t made a single mistake.”

“I was very young.”
‘When others when off on an Erasmus year, Mr Kurz was preparing his conquest of power.’

“I was named as secretary of state for integration at just 24 years old,” he says, “it’s true that I was very young.”

“But now, after six years in government and two successive ministerial portfolios, no one can seriously say I lack experience.”

Bit by bit, he seduced his way into power, says Gauquelin, ‘putting together just the right network. CEOs, regional leaders, key editorialists: all were methodically approached and seduced.’

But none of that would have mattered though, says Profil, if he didn’t have a way of getting through to the people.

‘His Viennese accent is well-liked in the countryside, particularly because he doesn’t sound like an heir: his dad is a labourer, and his mum is a teacher.’

Mr Kurz wants more sovereignty for EU nation-states, and he has hard-line stances on refugees, immigration, and Turkey.

Enrico Letta

About EU Reforms – Interview with Enrico Letta

We set down with Enrico Letta, the former Italian Prime Minister, in his office at SciencesPo University, Paris, following the launch of his new book ‘Through thick and thin’ (published in Italian only) to discuss eurozone reform and how the EU can do better.
Enrico Letta
Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta

TPE Is reform of the euro desirable?

Enrico Letta Reforming the euro is crucial, because the euro was built for summer, not for winter.

Winter shows us the euro’s weaknesses. Some of these began to be addressed in 2012-13, with the Banking Union and the European Stability Mechanism, but after the worst moments of the crisis there was a lack of political will to finish the job. So these changes were never completed, which is why I believe we must finish off the blueprint for the euro.

Today’s imbalance is less pronounced than ten years ago, when Ireland first sought financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [the first banking crisis in a Eurozone country].

What was created in 2012-13 – a partial Banking Union, and the European Stability Mechanism – under Mario Draghi [President of the European Central Bank] was very important, but not enough.

Today we see the difficult consequences born out of a lack of a real European Monetary Fund, which would mean complete the European Stability Mechanism, and a Banking Union with – crucially – a European wide deposit guarantee.

There needs to be an investment branch accompanying EU monetary policy. The Juncker Plan is this investment arm in its embryonic form, it must be fleshed out.

In my book I outline a project that I would call ‘Big Europe,’ which would have the European Investment Bank (EIB) at the heart, the motor, which would become just as powerful as the European Central Bank (ECB).

So Europe would be both the ECB and the EBI. Their aim would be to increase investment and budgetary discipline, as well as monetary and interest rate stability.

Without that, we will be powerless to remedy the next crisis.

I hope that after the election of Macron, and the German elections [in September], the Franco-German axis will reorient Europe in this direction. Mario Draghi is already pushing for such measures.

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Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank

TPE You pay homage to 3 men that were active in the 80s and 90s, Helmut Kohl [former German chancellor], François Mitterand [former French president], and Jacques Delors [former president of the European Commission]. Shouldn’t we judge them by the consequences of their policies? The rejection of Europe, the rise of populism, the euro crisis, increasing sovereign debt…

Enrico Letta Mr Kohl, Mr Mitterand and Mr Delors finished their work in the mid-1990s.

The problem is that we haven’t continued with their same vision and execution –that is what has left the euro incomplete.

The process of the creation of the euro as a currency – which began in the 70s – was dealt a mortal blow in 2003 by France, Germany and Italy, when France and Germany crippled the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact [by continually flouting the spending rules], with Italy in the EU presidency willing to turn a blind eye.

For me, that’s what opened the door for the Greeks to fiddle with their accounts.

Anti-IMF graffiti in Greece.

They could say ‘if France, Germany and Italy don’t adhere to the Stability Pact, why should we?’ So 2004 not only signalled the beginning of Europe’s financial woes, but also the beginning of the non-completion of the Economic and Monetary Union, as the Stability Pact was not respected.

Certain countries didn’t take their responsibilities seriously, and consequently EU coordinated financial solidarity and investment never materialised.

Europe is stuck in this position and nothing has moved forward. I believe it’s not the fault of the leaders, but the fault of the governments’ lack of courage in the 2000s. They believed that the euro was so large a mouthful to swallow that everything else had to be put on hold.

The 2000s mentality was ‘we’ve done the euro, now we need to digest.’ But they didn’t understand that they had to continue, not stop, because the world was changing. The EU was left without effective financial tools.

“There is a fatal divide between what the elites and the people think.”

TPE Is there not a gap between certain elites – who refuse the idea of borders on a moral basis – and certain sections of society – who call for tighter borders? Should the elites impose themselves on the people in a democracy? Or not?

Enrico Letta A study published by Chatham House recently showed a clear divide between the ‘elites’ and the ‘people.’

In all the big European countries, it is exactly as you say. There is a fatal divide between what the elites and the people think.

There is a real job to be done. Not only does it relate to media and the stories they tell, but it is also cultural, political and educational.

Big changes are required in each of these domains to bridge the gap. The elites can’t brutally impose their will on the people, the internet makes all that impossible.

I wrote my book in reaction to Brexit and Trump’s election, which are symptomatic of this gap. The rise of Macron is a positive sign that the world is moving in the right direction, but it is by no means definitive.

“The EU must work out how to make a difference to people who aren’t part of the elite.”

We need a European leadership that is capable of speaking to the people. This is absolutely essential.

Until now the European leadership has been able to speak to – and win over – the elites, on the left and the right, but the people have rejected them. This needs to change.

One example I give in the book is the Erasmus scheme, which is a double-edged sword. It’s Europe’s great success, but if we talk about it as if it were the only big success story, we arm those who say that the EU is purely for the elites. After all, Erasmus is only for university students, who will likely end up forming part of the elites.

The EU must work out how to make a difference to people who aren’t part of the elite.

TPE Christian Democratic thinking is widely prevalent in Italy. Do European morals not contravene the notion of restricting immigration? And what do Christian Democratic values say about defending ones own interests: borders, defence of culture, the preservation of heritage…?

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Facade of St Andrew’s Church at dawn. Kiev, Ukraine. © Mstyslav Chernov

Enrico Letta The EU must demonstrate that it is not currently capable of managing this enormous migration phenomenon, but that no country would be able to manage the crisis efficiently on its own.

That’s the message the EU must send.

Naturally, it is a difficult message to convey when there is an influx of one million people. There are the ‘normal’ migration routes, but the war in Syria – which was linked to a particular concoction of factors – meant one million people coming to Europe. It was disastrous

But ‘normality’ will continue. Europe is shrinking, and ageing. The population of Africa will double in 30 years, and it is getting younger, so there is clearly a way forward.

Christian – and secular – values must be applied to the refugees, but they must be separated from economic migrants, who need to be subject to certain selection criteria.

We must also maintain relationships with the sender countries, or things will get worse.

The EU must demonstrate that it is not currently capable of managing this enormous migration phenomenon, but that no country would be able to manage the crisis efficiently on its own.

enrico Letta
Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Frontex’s Operation Triton.

TPE Is it Europe’s responsibility to take refugees in from the Middle East? Shouldn’t other international actors who had a hand in the crisis not also lend a hand? The U.S, Russia, Iran, the Gulf States etc.

Enrico Letta Of course, the answer is yes.

The French version of my book perhaps sheds some light on what I think about this issue: “Building Europe in a world of brutes.”

“I’m in Pisa, you’re in Paris, and we’re both voting for a Spaniard.”

Not everyone shares the European attitude towards democracy. The ‘strongmen’, enforcer-type leaders are who I am referring to as ‘brutes.’ Should we become more like them, say ‘this is the mood of our time,’ and be like Erdogan? A bit of Trump here, a bit of Putin there?

No, absolutely not. We must fight to do exactly the opposite.

TPE Is Europe currently acting as a pawnbroker, where every nation state hands in a few precious items – a portion of national sovereignty – in return for money, and a bit of protection? Don’t we need the EU to actively help the nation states – with, for example, a border force, or military protection – rather than just giving them money?

Enrico Letta I like the analogy very much, and I would add that what’s missing is a European political space.

“A bit of Trump here, a bit of Putin there? No, absolutely not.”

Now is the time to create this space. The evolution of what European nations are collaborating on means that there is a collective desire to determine how to work together.

We can’t just ask our Prime Ministers or our delegates in the European Parliament (EP) to work it out. They are election by national constituencies; they operate on a national level.

I strongly believe that we must make the most of the 73 British MEPs who are due to leave the EP. Rather than redistributing them between the member states, which would turn into a bloodbath and do nothing positive for the image of the EU, these seats should be given to pan-European deputies.

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European Parliament, Strasbourg.

This would mean the creation of a 28th electoral college, where we would mix the candidates and the electorates. I’m in Pisa, you’re in Paris, and we’re both voting for a Spaniard because of our political beliefs.

This would be a major change because it would finally bring about a Europe-wide political debate.

Refugee crisis action plan enrico letta

Refugee crisis: EU proposes new ‘action plan’ to help Italy with record numbers of arrivals

The refugee crisis is back, says Politico, ‘and the EU elite fears it will ruin their summer vacation.’
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Refugees from Syria and Iraq arrive on the island of Lesvos, Greece.

With the number of refugees arriving to the Mediterranean increasing once again, ‘Italy is frantic.’

‘It is all bringing back memories of the 2015’ refugee crisis, when over a million ‘desperate people streamed into Europe.’

Having closed the Balkan migration route in 2016 by striking a deal with Turkey, Brussels now hopes to ‘plug another hole.’ The Italian coast.

The European Commission (EC) unveiled an action plan on Tuesday after the International Organisation for Migration published a report stating that 85,000 people had landed on Italian shores in the first half of 2017, up from 71,000 last year.

“I am not saying we’re coming out with a silver bullet,” said EC Vice President Frans Timmermans, “but it would already make a world of difference if member states would just do what they agreed before.”

His comments were a thinly veiled criticism of EU countries – especially Hungary and Poland – who have flatly refused to accept refugees under the EU relocation program designed to ‘ease the burden for front-line countries such as Italy and Greece.’

“Everybody needs to do their part in this across Europe,” said Timmermans.

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Refugees resting on the German-Austrian border, © Christian Michelides.

Brussels’ latest proposal is for North African countries to ‘take back migrants rescued in their territorial waters.’

They believe this would serve as a deterrent to those wanting to reach Europe.

The action plan also controversially calls for Frontex, the EU border agency, to take rescued migrants to ports elsewhere in Europe, not just in Italy.

‘There are also steps aimed as dissuading would-be migrants from leaving in the first place, and to help transit countries such as Libya and Nigeria patrol borders.’

Some Italian politicians have accused NGOs running search-and-rescue operations of running a “sea taxi” service for refugees.

And Brussels has called for a code of conduct for charities working in the Mediterranean.

Rome wants such NGOs to be ‘transparent about their funding and to let Italian coastguards board their vessels to check for smuggling activity.’

Vincent Cochetel – the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean – said NGOs are “singled out because there is the perception from some that they are part of the problem because they attract people, that they navigate too close to the Libyan shore, that if they were not there the Libyan smugglers and traffickers would not put people on those boats.

“We don’t think that’s a credible narrative.”

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Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Frontex’s Operation Triton.

EU interior ministers are meeting today in Tallinn to discuss the migration action plan and how to deal with the record numbers of refugees coming to Europe.

The refugee crisis “will not go away,” said Mr. Timmermans. “Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not for a decade, not for two decades.

“This is a global phenomenon that will be with us for generations.”


Refugee Crisis: returning the narrative to the most affected

At the end of 2016, 15 disposable cameras were given out in the newly opened Porte de la Chapelle refugee camp in Northern Paris.

The aim of the ‘Disposable Perspectives’ project was to allow those living in the camp to document their own experiences and thus diversify the media perspective of the refugee crisis.

Of the 15 cameras given out, 8 were returned.

Many perished as a result of police brutality – an issue often underplayed, yet often experienced. These lost photos tell as much of a story as the developed ones; the instability of these peoples’ lives reflected in the interruption of their participation.

The photos from the 8 developed films offer a touching insight into the lives and the individuality of people normally defined by their immigration status. It is clear those involved appreciated the opportunity to have their say, and the resulting series is one of friendship and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances.


Each participant took a different approach. Some turned the lens inwards, upon themselves and their friends in the camp, whilst others took the opportunity to explore and photograph Paris landmarks.

Others experimented with composition, taking shots through fences and into metro reflections, with a creativity seldom explored in the homogenising media narrative on ‘migrants.’



Along with the cameras, each photographer was given a blank postcard to write an accompanying message for their photos. Those returned showed an acute awareness of the opportunity to send out a message, one read –

‘Police don’t respect to the asylum seekers! Guys asylum seekers not animals, asylum seekers are people!’

Another said –

‘Well maybe I’m not professional photographer but I know that what I done it means what I felt and I think photos is kind of art.’

Overall, the notes emphasise the heartfelt tone of the photographs, one entitled ‘good life in France’ with another ending ‘thank you for giving me hope.’


Though these images offer just a small window into the daily lives of those involved in the project, it is crucial they reach as wide an audience as possible. The more people see these images, the better chance they have of dispelling prejudice in an increasingly fearful society.

The fact the project started in an adult men’s camp gives it particular potential, this group having suffered the most from the scaremongering of the media and certain far-right political parties.

The ‘Disposable Perspectives‘ project will be exhibited at the HIVE, Dalston, London, between June 2-9th.