The Berlin Wall was a symbol of repression and for most of us the iconic image of an enthusiastic crowd tearing it down remains an important symbol of freedom and of the people’s desire to claim their human rights. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border has sparked controversy in Europe. Yet building walls seems to be very fashionable over here too.

Walls and fences on the borders between Bulgaria and Turkey, Greece and Turkey, Macedonia and Greece, Slovenia and Croatia, Spain and Morocco, and Hungary and Serbia are the physical manifestations of the EU’s strategy in response to the wholly avoidable crisis on refugee issues: blocking access for people, many of whom are entitled to protection.

Respect for fundamental human rights is being eroded in front of our eyes, with even the principle of non-refoulement now at risk. Although it is convenient to believe that it “only” affects the people seeking our protection, this is simply not true. Human rights are universal; they are not just for particular groups – for “us” but not for “them”, for the “deserving” but not for the “undeserving”. A threat to the rights of some is a threat to the rights of all because anyone can find themselves in the “undeserving” group. We are all “them” at some point in our lives.

We could ask: What are we willing to live with in terms of violation of rights just to prevent people from seeking our protection? Instead, we should really be asking: What are we willing to live without to prevent people from seeking our protection? Because we will ultimately also be the victims of a selective approach to human rights…

Catherine Woollard, Secretary General for the European council on Refugees and Exiles