The Failures of Fortress Europe

As Europe crumbles under the weight of its colonial and ecological debt – state sanctioned actions – sometimes performed by private actors will become evermore extreme, Layla-Roxanne Hill reports from Fortress Europe.

Exiting the Channel Tunnel and arriving into mainland Europe, is a sight which no photo app is able to filter into a social media post worthy of love heart emoji. That must wait until the train rolls past miles of concrete walls, giant metal fences topped with coils of razor wire, gates and guards with guns. CCTV documents some of the realities only those employed to detain and those who are detained see. The carriage is silent, the passengers who are still awake either look then look away, choosing to be absorbed in something less ugly. Some choose to fix their gazes out the window, avoiding eye contact when they move their attention away from this public display of (border) control.

In the days before I left for Paris, the UK was delivered – bypassing a general election – its second Prime Minister in three years and talk of Scottish independence intensified as a result. The Prime Minister’s newly formed Cabinet, though deemed to be the youngest and most ethnically diverse in history, attracted criticism from across the political spectrum. Several top positions were filled by those from a Black and minority ethnic background, including two of the most powerful; the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. This manoeuvre, draws attention to problems of a ‘representation’ which rewards a minority who preserve existing exploitative and oppressive structures, which further marginalise the marginalised. And, depending on what incomprehensible harms are pursued by this Government – and more broadly, representation which aligns itself with assimilation – could undo years of Black and people of colour solidarity.

As the train sped its way into more aesthetically pleasing surroundings and fellow travelers appeared to be more at ease with the European landscape which unfolded before them, campaign rhetoric and the frenzied debates which have since followed the European Union Referendum crossed my mind.

Was a vote to Remain a vote for Fortress Europe?

For over twenty years, the EU has been conducting the most extensive, well developed and far-reaching border enforcement programme in history, largely in an attempt to prevent ‘illegal’ immigration – a category that generally refers to undocumented ‘economic migrants’ and refugees from poor countries and the Third World. Since 1993, atleast 36,570 refugees have died as a result of polices enforced by fortress Europe. As ever, the lives of black and brown people are at the sharp end of the border controls that European progressives are keen to invisibilise.

I was in Paris to attend Nyansapo, an Afrofeminist festival hosted by Mwasi Collective – a group formed by Black women in 2014 as a collective response to racist, heteronormative and capitalist systems. When organising the first Nyansapo festival in 2017, Mwasi Collective received backlash from French anti-racism organisations and the far-right National Front, which culminated in the Mayor of Paris threatening to prosecute the organisers for discrimination. What discriminatory practice were they undertaking? Designing the festival so that some of the workshops held at it were to be attended solely by Black women.

This year, held over the course of a weekend, Nyansapo consisted of intensive (re)learning via workshops and discussions. To help address immediate needs of support and mutual aid, sisterhood and self-love was given equal importance to the workshops and the sharing of meals, encourage of honest yet difficult conversations and dance were central to the festival. Though a group of English speaking attendees were present, Nyansapo 2019 was conducted in French, with translation services provided for English speakers. Though this made me aware of my being ‘different’ amongst people who are very much ‘like’ me, I was appreciative of the decision (intentionally or not) to conduct the festival in French. It reminded me of my identity is presented and the ways in which, the people who would most benefit from this festival – Black women in France – would not because a small minority’s inability to experience discomfort was being enabled.

Struggling to choose from a range of workshops which sought to theoretically place topics ranging from the Gilets Jaune (Yellow Vests), the Afro-feminist position against prisons, and colourism, to practical workshops on podcasting, French Sign Language (and even a dance class for teens, I settled for Migration: Fortress Europe hosted by Spanish Collectives MAPA 12N, Ayllu and El Espacio Afrofeminista, Feminist struggle in Haiti hosted by Neges Mawon and Formal Education and Anti-Racism: Are Our Classes/Courses Anti-Racist? hosted by Abou and Many Chronicles.

Each workshop brought together and highlighted the insidious reach and impact of Euro-centric ideologies. From the undocumented deaths of migrants detained at police stations, border and detention centres in Spain and discriminatory practices non-white children experience within formal French education structures to a predominately Black Haiti – where lighter skinned and/or people of mixed ethnic origin are afforded opportunities ahead of darker skinned Haitians – the longlasting legacy of European colonialism.

Taking some time to process the collective Black woman experiences and learning I’d been absorbing, I walked through central Paris, where the divisions, inequalities and state sanctioned violence discussed at Nyansapo were made visible on the streets. At Place de la République, people gathered to remember Adama Traoré, a young Black man who three years earlier and like Sheku Bayoh here in Scotland, died in police custody. The loud but peaceful demonstration was disrupted by the arrival of the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) – French riot police – charging through the crowds, chasing down, conducting stop and searches and in some cases detaining Yellow Vests protestors. As Europe crumbles under the weight of its colonial and ecological debt – state sanctioned actions – sometimes performed by private actors will become evermore extreme.

Upon returning to Scotland, I watched the multi-layered political situation continue to stagnate, the failing systems kept relevant only by lurching from one mini crisis to another.

For over five years, supporters of Scottish independence – particularly those who joined the SNP post 2014 – were told to be ready, long before the EU Referendum. They have waited and continued to organise outside of a SNP independence framework. They’ve waited whilst senior figures in the party they support attack them for wanting a Scottish Independence rooted in the radical left. As people become disillusioned, they often look elsewhere and find successes in the actions of political ideologies which are less progressive and more right leaning and Scotland is not immune to this.

Scotland may or may not have another chance to disrupt the status quo but these divisive times still offer an opportunity to confront the failings and harms of neo-liberal agendas and demonstrate a deep reconciliation. Unlearning and relearning together, won’t be easy, but with collective sincerity, we as a people are able. The key question is, are we willing?

Comments (29)

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  1. Willie says:

    Looked at the headline cartoon and noticed the focus of black feminist vote. ( now replaced by another headline cartoon )

    Without any trace of racism whatsoever i have to say is this the absolute focus of what’s crucial to Scottish folks at the point in time.

    I didn’t bother to read the article after that Ed. The headline, I’m afraid put me off.

    Black Feminism – it’s a key topic that energises the masses. Get a grip Ed, you do good stuff, but this I don’t think is biggest burner that folks are currently focussed on.

    Any thoughts about pension age going up to 75 years of age?

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Amen to that, I’ve never read such a load of undiluted pish in all my life.

      1. Alan Bissett says:

        Is it perhaps possible that neither of you are interested in black feminism because you are white men?

        1. David McCann says:

          Surely we can raise the level of debate to a more rational level, though not necessarily a radical one!
          I do find however, the concept of turning from left wing radical solutions to right wing solutions, hard to grasp, but perhaps someone will enlighten me!

          1. Willie says:

            Not sure what you mean David when you say that we should surely be able to raise the level of debate to a more rational level.

            You abstractly mention radicalism, and moves from left wing to right wing, but whatever that may mean, I think that most folks in Scotland would rather discuss austerity, pensions being raised to 75, the prospect of a privatised NHS post Brexit and so on, rather than Black Feminism.

            Whilst black feminism is important, and especially so for Layla Roxanne Hill, I hope you can maybe enlightened to realise that there are other issues in society. A very poor article in my view , but hey, a focus on the one eyed, one legged, tailless albino donkey community is always welcome for those who want to critically raise the rational level of debate.

        2. Grant Buttars says:

          You beat me to it Alan. Willie’s comments just reeks of while male privilege and whataboutery.

    2. Douglas says:

      Och just wheest Willie, will ye, you’re just embarrassing yersel, man.

      I, for one, want to read what Layla Roxanne Hill has to say about black feminism – if that is even the right way to characterize this article, and it’s not.

      You’ve no basic manners. If you’re no interested in an article, just don’t read it…eh? What happened to basic manners? What happened to keeping your mouth shut when you’ve nothing to say?

      Layla-Roxanne is part of a historically oppressed minority in Scotland, and for that very reason we need articles like this.

      You’d get on like a house on fire with that Superego over at Wings. Why not go over there for a spell and stop bringing down the tone of Bella Caledonia?

      Who the FF are you to set the agenda on these pages anyway? Unbelievable…

    3. Your inability to interact with perspectives and issues beyond your own is disappointing and must be very limiting for you.

      Your inability to grasp the wider issues of exploitation and repression that are described in our columnists article is also a shame.

      While I am quite open to hefty criticism and fierce debate (particularly against myself) I am not going to tolerate racism in any form on these pages.

      Layla is a highly-valued regular columnist for Bella and a leading light in solidarity campaigning across Scotland.

      When you write “a focus on the one eyed, one legged, tailless albino donkey community is always welcome” you forfeit your right to participate in this forum.

      No doubt you will be aghast and it all will be seen as terribly unfair. I don’t care and suggest you go and educate yourself.

      1. florian albert says:

        Although I am not impressed by the language ‘Willie’ uses to make his case, I think that he does have a serious point.
        What is the purpose of Bella Caledonia ? Presumably, it is to help bring about political change. To achieve that, in our society, involves engaging with ordinary people.
        For most of them, the cause of black feminism is not a priority. Perhaps, it should be, but – right now – it is not.
        This is not just a problem for Bella Caledonia or even for the Scottish Left. Across the developed world, the left has been losing out to populists and at the heart of this regression is the belief that minority groups are viewed as more inherently virtuous than the traditional working class.
        When was the last time Bella Caledonia had an article on Scottish schools ? (A high priority for the SNP government and an area where differences in achievement are closely related to social class.)
        Most people would see that as a more important issue in our society than black feminism.
        Bella Caledonia is free to continue its own editorial priorities but, if these fail to resonate with ordinary Scots, it will find itself on the margins.

        1. Your comment is deeply problematic for a number of reasons.

          This isn’t about black feminism this is about humanity, solidarity and structural racism within Europe.

          Presumably from the tenor of your comment black people aren’t ‘ordinary people’.

          Rather than ask ‘when was the last time Bella wrote about schools?’ (quite recently actually) you should ask yourself when was the last time you read about black feminism or a subject you find so difficult engaging with?

          Thank you for your kind permission “Bella Caledonia is free to continue its own editorial priorities” – we will – and we will continue to publish on a range of diverse subjects and stand by and with the people who are most marginalised (which incidentally includes women, POC and working class people who are not some distinct groups you can separate by the way).

          1. florian albert says:

            There is a chasm between the vast majority of ordinary Scots and activists like Layla-Roxanne Hill, whose interests are ‘decolonialism, intersecting identities and media.’
            R I S E would no doubt applaud the causes you champion but, as they discovered in the election of 2016, they lack traction with voters; hence my comment about marginalization.
            If this marginalization is to change, the initiative will have to come from the Scottish left, the voters are not likely to embrace the left’s world view any time soon.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @florian albert, this would be the 2016 election which had a turnout of “55.8% for the constituency contests and 55.9% for the list voting”:
            Suggesting that whatever was on offer “lack[ed] traction with voters”. So who feels badly served by the political system in such great numbers? Might it make sense to reach out to these marginalised groups? Find out what they want? Bearing in mind that many who voted could also have felt poorly served by political options on offer.

        2. Robbie Carrol says:

          Ordinary Scots? Why not Say what you mean – white scots? What a prism you live through. Have you ever considered that this knowledge might help us become extraordinary Scots? Or are you happy to follow in the footsteps of our English brothers and sisters and see where that gets us? And forgive me if I’m wrong, but as demonstrated by her writing (and beyond) Layla’s knowledge lies beyond ‘decolonalism, intersecting identities and media’. I’ve heard her speak at events where she always highlights the working class, rural Scotland, the lack of class analysis in any political discussion and plenty more. Seems your sort of ‘ordinary Scots’ can’t bear to hear anyone’s truth except their own. God forbid Leyla should come out as disabled and gay – that would truly blow minds here eh? Instead of applauding ‘Ordinary Scots’ (or does mixed race Scots not count?) like Layla who live here and are taking their time to give us something to think about which isn’t the usual dross, all we do is try an obliterate them. If you can’t see why this is important for Scotland’s future, we deserve a replica of England.

          1. florian albert says:

            My initial comment on this thread was to point out that the pro-Independence Scottish left is stuck on the political margins. When criticizing me, you ask if I want to ‘follow in the footsteps of our English brothers and sisters.’ I did not mention England. Your bringing up English people exemplifies the weakness I was seeking to draw attention to. There will be some who will applaud your stance – as the editor of Bella Caledonia has . My view is that comments such as that are more likely to alienate potential supporters and ensure the continuing isolation of the pro-independence left.
            Serious politics is about priorities and the ones Ms Hill has chosen to highlight are not – to repeat – ones which many other Scots would pick. That is where I came in.

    4. milgram says:

      Congratulations on making a comment that proves the importance of marginalised groups having space to discuss and organise independently. You’ve reminded me why it’s important to pay attention to other voices even (especially) when they feel distant to me.
      “Unlearning and relearning together, won’t be easy, but with collective sincerity, we as a people are able. The key question is, are we willing?”
      Don’t be like Willie, folks.

    5. John M says:

      It’s telling the folk what get upset about something they feel out of their depth. If you choose to read (or not read as is the case here) the article as only being about Black Feminism, then it seems that you have a very narrow vision or an inability to understand things beyond your level of comprehension.

      You have someone here bringing you knowledge and perspectives which can enhance your learning and you choose to be defensive and spiteful. Bet you any money if Leila-Roxanne wrote about pensions (which I have no doubt she could) you’d find a point of contention with that – perhaps because she isn’t old enough or enough like you to write about it with any authority.

  2. Alistair MacKichan says:

    There is a central thrust here – it is that Europe has a border security issue which kills migrants, and Europe in this regard is not attractive. The second most impacting image in the article is the French riot police violently attacking the Gilets Jaunes, and wider protest movement which the article references. French authority is not attractive, and the author rightly points to law enforcement being contracted out to irresponsible private agencies. France is unattractive, and Europe is unattractive. The article does not say it, but the conclusion surely is that a future Scotland is best out of Europe, paddling our own canoe on immigration, human rights and feminist issues. What on earth is this Scotland in Europe all about? A market for whisky? A better title for this article might have been “Its not all about the money”.

    1. John M says:

      Aye, I think that’s what she is implying Alistair. The EU isnae aw that and there could/should be a chance for the Left in Scotland to build something which is supportive of an independent Scotland outside of the EU.

    2. Douglas says:

      No Alistair MacKichan, “Europe” doesn’t have a common border policy, it doesn’t have a proper common immigration policy… so yours is a false logic.

      It is the member States of the European Union who decide these things. It is the government of Italy, where Salvini is Home Secretary, which is currently refusing to let the refugee rescue boat The Open Arms, with now 110 refugees, land in Lampedusa. It is neither “Europe” nor the “EU”, but the individual member states which happen to be in Europe who decide these things.

      This is the kind of fuzzy thinking that led us to Brexit. Right now there is no fully functioning common, working EU policy for dealing with refugees or migrants… because the member States can’t agree on one…

      It is not the fault of the “EU” or “Europe”

      1. Douglas says:

        Alistair, to give you a hypothetical example of the bogus logic you are espousing – not entirely your fault given the PM and the government have spread this false idea – if a boat of desperate migrants or refugees from war turned up in the waters of an independent Scotland in the EU, then the government of Scotland could either decide to let that boat land or not. It would be a matter for the Scottish government.

        If the same boat turned up in the waters of a hypothetical independent Scotland when Scotland was not in the EU, then the government of Scotland would have precisely the same options. Let it land or don’t let it land…. the EU is basically a trading club with bells on, it ain’t a State or a government. Any single EU member State has more sovereignty – much, much more sovereignty – than the entire EU does. Latvia, say.

        Every member State has a veto…

        That Salvini is Home Secretary of Italy is not the fault of the EU. It is the fault of the Italian electorate…. capisci?

  3. Ex Pat says:

    An opinion pieces that is accurate, direct and entirely accessible. Wouldn’t that be nice! We can but… read below. ; )

    Personally, it helps a lot to follow on twitter authors whose articles do _not_ fit the USUK Reality Distortion Field: Peter Foster, Telegraph; Tom Peck, Independent; Marina Hyde, Guardian; Beth Rigby, Sky; George Parker, FT, Robert Peston, ITV. Several on (very well deserved) holiday, so now we get Luke McGee, CNN; Finn McRedmond and David McWilliams

    “Europe isn’t that scared of Boris Johnson by Luke McGee,” 11th August 2019 – CNN –

    The next two may be behind paywalls. But there’s a fix for that, if you care to Google it.

    “Neither rogue nor wily fixer, Varadkar confounds British by Finn McRedmond,” 17th August 2019 –

    “Punishing Ireland’s economy will backfire on Brexiters,” by David McWilliams, 18th August 2019 – Financial Times –

    Some from non-UK writers, albeit based in the UK. As Gore Vidal said “Yes, he’s one of _them_, but often _they_ know more about what we’re up to!” Something to do with seeing through the USUK Reality Distortion Field (tm Steve Jobs). (*)


    The view from England’s former colonial doormat. –

    (*) The USUK Reality Distortion Field – Noam Chomsky, Monty Python and (Lots ; ) ) More –

    1. Ex Pat says:


      Why we should not be pessimistic: It is always darkest before the dawn. And many, most notably Noam Chomsky, have pointed out that one should _never_ believe the Muppet Stream Media’s version of the world. Why? “Es ist ein reiner Unsinn,” to quote John le Carré . “It is a pure nonsense. ; )

      John le Carré is always a good bet. –

      “These days it’s very hard to buy, or to read, uninfluenced, unbought, opinion. Whether in the press, in politics, on radio, on television. Increasingly people are afraid of offending against the corporate or the collective voice.”

      Which doesn’t even start to consider the (im)pure propaganda organs like the Grauniad and Monbiot and oh so many more!? ; ) (See Operation Mockingbird! Ed). –

      – Part 3 – @ 7.18


      Tony Benn, John le Carré , and Craig Murray on Perfidious Albion in Bahrain – See comments by “Ex Pat” to “Bahrain Opposition Meeting at Frontline Club,” by Craig Murray, 23rd February 2013 – Craig Murray blog –

  4. Jenny Tizard says:

    Thanks Layla for sharing your experiences of what must have been an amazing event.
    The concrete and barbed wire fortifications at Calais really make visible a terrifying gulf between white skinned people with passports and desperate brown skinned people from poor countries without visas.
    For me, one fundamental part of the independence movement has been its inclusiveness, to the young, to gay people, to women, to people born outside Scotland who choose to come and live here. And the way in which the Yes movement, as you say, was ‘Unlearning and relearning together’. Not easy to achieve, not easy to maintain.
    As I write this Boris Johnson is talking on the radio about modelling British immigration policies on Australian ones. A country where people are detained indefinitely in prison camps. The fight against racism (and sexism) is one that we all need to join.

  5. Roland Smith says:

    I think I will make the point being old and having used Eurostar over many years that the barbed wire etc. at Calais has been put up at the behest of the U.K. government not the EU. It’s purpose is to stop immigrants who have reached the EU and indeed are in Europe from reaching the U.K. Europe has taken in an enormous amount of refugees in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy as examples, the fortress mentality actually exists in little Britain and some of the other backward countries of the EU not in the majority of the progressive EU countries.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    I thought the article meandered a bit, but I think it is worth picking out some key points.

    I support closable borders, not to penalize brown-skinned economic migrants and refugees, but to defend against pandemics. Here is border in Africa that is doing just that, screening 65,000 people a day for signs of Ebola, apparently:

    While “Fortress Europe” is a snappy term and deserves further scrutiny, I would not place primary blame for the deaths of 36,570 refugees on this policy. Rather, and in keeping with the colonial and ecological aspect, I would say the blame is better placed on neocolonial exploitation, the prosecution and feeding of wars by powerful nations who are also the world’s biggest arms dealers and who sit in permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council, amongst others. Religiously-fueled conflict must take some blame too, along with corporations and the international trade and finance systems that have robbed Africans and others of their resources and exploited their labour.

    I guess we need more cultural products like the television series Deep State, whose second series deals with malign foreign state and corporate influence in Mali, and has substantial roles for more than one black woman.

    Perhaps Europeans need a much better idea of the history of their nations’ involvement in Africa and elsewhere, something my eyes were opened to when I studied North-South Relations in International Politics and writers such as Susan George.

  7. Douglas says:


    I do think you are using the typical newspeak of the Brexit press when you talk of “fortress Europe”. They don’t use that expression in the Spanish press. Nor the Portuguese press or the German or French or Italian press either that I know of.

    It is this kind of language which has led us to Brexit…Europe as a fortress….

    Well, tell me please, why does no one talk about “fortress Britain” or “fortress America”? Nobody can possibly argue that the immigration policy of EU member States is anywhere near as bad as Windrush Britain and Trump’s America…

    …yet that is the subtext of the expression “fortress Europe”, this is its hidden message… that somehow a) the EU is to blame and b) we Brits are civilized in comparison to the Europeans…

    See how it works? It’s the UK press, which used to have a gutter section and a quality section, but in terms of language, are both indistinguishable on the matter of Brexit…

    We who write on Bella Caledonia have to be critical of these expressions and phrases which are hammered into us every day by the British press…

    We have to question everything, and that starts with the language we use…

  8. Heidi M says:

    I’ve just come across Layla-Roxanne’s work and found it excellent but can’t seem to find anything since 2019. Also, it seems someone isn’t proofing her work which is a great pity!

    1. Hi Heidi – thanks for your message. Yeah we are hoping Layla will soon return on a regular basis – she’s been super busy with a book and other projects. If there’s a mistake in the article please let us know and we’ll fix t. Thanks.

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