About the Right to Stay and the Right to Go
From Ouagadougou to Mitilini to Nickelsdorf and beyond
A few thoughts about the struggle for freedom of movement and fair development
From transact [*], October 2015
The Dublin treaty on the verge of collapse, Frontex with their back to the wall, the European borders breached: The ever growing flow of refugees and migrants and their incredible persistence has overrun the European borders regime. Peoples basic right to freedom of movement is being asserted thousands of times a day, in the central Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea, through Italy and over the Balkans, from Germany to Scandinavia. The opposition uses every means at its disposal to regain control. They sharpen their laws to keep people out, and to deprive them of their rights. Almost every day they tear lives into deaths: possibly via suffocation in a truck, or drowning at sea.
However, the self-organisation and the self-confidence of the refugees and migrants are constantly growing, often backed by lessons learned during the Arab Spring. The „March of Hope“ on 4 September at the Budapest Train Station marked a new peak in the refugee movement. This inspired new initiatives of the „Refugees Welcome“ movement in combination with massive media coverage in many european countries, mostly displaying the refugee plight in a positive light. Despite all „ambivalences of hegemony“ – with its unbearable paternalism or cynical discourses on usefulness of refugees – including distinctions between „good“ and „bad“ refugees – a certain potential for a transnational anti-racism movement arises. This can effectively follow the „long summer of migration“, and lead to the spreading of its values.
At this point the clashes should not be limited to the outer borders of the European Union. A bridge needs to be built, from a transnational solidarity perspective, to create social and political exchanges with those countries that migrants and refugees come from. That means, we need to look beyond the outer edges of the European Union. The fact is that the EU likes to present itself as the „successful fireman“ although it is often actually the one setting the fires in the first place. This is especially true in cases when the EU pushes it’s own neoliberal agenda at the expense of other countries less able to assert their position or defend their own values. Accordingly, we see three central challenges at present.
First: Keep escape routes open – the right to go!
This includes on the one hand a stabilisation and widening of the solidarity structures along the entire routes. This means initiatives around the whole Mediterranean like Sea Watch (http://sea-watch.org/), Alarmphone (http://alarmphone.org/de/) or the Rest House for Migrants and their Children in Rabat (http://afrique-europe-interact.net/1318-0-Das-Projekt.html).
They also include concrete travel help and web-guides, material support from local projects, and especially in the Balkans the construction of info-points and health projects. On the other hand, politically visible mobilisations are needed, like the convoys from Vienna to Hungary, or the Open Borders Caravan from Ljubljana (see below).
Second: Thematicise the background – The right to stay!
Whether through resource wars and weapons exports, through the creation and support of corrupt elites, or via land-grabbing, over-fishing and brutal trade barriers: the main reasons for migration all stem from the fact that Germany, Europe and the global economy are profiting from the exploitation of the nations these migrants are fleeing. And so the proclamations of politicians sound more and more ridiculous when they say they want to get to the root causes of migration. What they clearly want is a continuation of the exploitation of these countries, with no regard for the miserable consequences of their actions. In opposition to this stands the cooperation amongst self-organised initiatives and struggles for social justice in the global south. This much should be clear: the neo-colonial dependancy relationships will only be changed when social movements from Africa and Europe work together equally, with direct cooperation and collaborative work.
This is the case whether in Mali or Burkina Faso, with justice-based struggles for the right to stay and self-determined development, or in Syria where there is not only the resistance to the Assad regime and to the IS troops, but also new positively impressive initiatives creating fresh possibilities in Erbin, Quamishli, Daraa oder Kobane.
Third: Connecting struggles to a social offensive!
How will the future look in Europe and Germany? Will the rulers manage to stop the successful refugee struggles? Will they, if necessary, increase their power by making agreements with right wing populist and racist parties and organisations?
Will there be a social division from below, with the „divide and conquer“ method of playing people and social movements apart from each other? Or can the impulse for autonomy and of the migration struggles reach into other social issues? Can the „March of Hope“ bring courage and a new dynamic that sparks social struggles across Europe? Freedom, dignity, democracy, social security for you and your family; these are the things the fleeing people demonstrate for with all of their energy, for these things they won’t be stopped by fences and borders. The want to reach the places of their choice, mostly with family and friends living across Europe. They want to learn the language, live in a respectable and human way, to work and live a normal life. „Solidarity for All“, the slogan of justice movements in Greece, should be chosen to actively avoid division and at the same time to attack the „normality of austerity“, and the politics of precarity and cuts to social spending.
Affordable homes for all through new housing construction programmes, access to all for health care and education, basic incomes for all and raised minimum wages: these social demands can and must be filled with new life, via social appropriation and social strikes, from the local to the transnational. In short, the struggle of migrants and refugees has given new force to the daily agenda. We must pick it up, and let us rip the borders down, in all countries, and in all of our heads!
Finally a word about us and about questions of how we define ourselves in these struggles: „Transact!“ – this slogan brings expression to our convictions, so that regional, inter-regional and trans-national struggles will be brought together. Therefore we look for possibilities to „Crossover“, to build bridges between different movements and between more and less radical left groups. We are interested in the connections between different social realities and struggles, which in our eyes are central conditions to work against global exploitation. We work on a number of different everyday struggles and social movements, and thus we are active in many different areas. In the following chronological collage some of these struggles become clearly detailed, and we include links for further reading. These examples at the same time give fantastic practical answers to the three challenges mentioned above.
A short chronology of current struggles
15.08.2015: Coal mine – Garzweiler
Fight for another Climate
We made it, that’s it for brown coal! At least for one day. Over the most diverse paths, over a highway, past violent police and aggressive security officers, we made it up to the coal diggers – those humongous monsters which spur on climate change on a daily basis, thus endangering the basic needs of millions of people. Those who suffer the most from climate change will be the poorest people. In order to secure perspectives worth living for all around the world, we must fight against climate change. If people want to or have to live elsewhere, they do not need our permission to arrive here. Neither our governments nor our enterprises have asked if they could destroy the climate, causing massive human suffering to those least responsible for its causes.
Further Info: https://ende-gelände.org/en
„We danced and sang with new people every night because this border cannot be held and everything is in upheaval.“
Over the course of two weeks of the Summer of 2015, the Greek island of Lesbos received over 15,000 refugees from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. On one day after registration, more than 500 people who had arrived at the harbour were provided with diapers, dry clothing, bottled water, and crayons as well as wheelchairs for the impaired, who would have otherwise been left behind. The pregnant, ill and the injured were driven to the hospital. The rate of women, children, elderly and fragile among the arrivals is unprecedented. The newly arrived experienced a humanitarian catastrophe on a daily basis on the island, having to wait hungrily under the blazing sun.
Information concerning the onward journey is most important: thousands of guides in Farsi and Arabic were distributed this Summer. Welcome to Europe! Most big aid organisations and NGOs are largely occupied with monitoring, and many display practical solidarity on a daily basis and ensure the survival of the refugees who are present. Farewell at the Ferry! Those who couldn’t garner a ticket this time are standing at the harbour and are photographing the banner attached to the stern of the ship with their smartphones: „Ferries not Frontex!“
More concerning the voyage „Back to the Borders III“ from Lesbos, Greece at: http://lesvos.w2eu.net/, Guides „Welcome to Greece“: http://w2eu.info/greece.en/articles/greece-guide.en.html
01.09.2015: Main-Kinzig Region
Two more church asylums prevent deportations
„Lampedusa in Hanau“, a self organized initiative by refugees, arranged church asylum to two Somali refugees to prevent their deportation to Italy and Malta (by the Dublin Regulation). Since June 2014, 19 people in the Main-Kinzig Region were protected by church asylum! Various legal and political activities ensured that 50 immigrants be granted to save them from deportation. Further information: http://lampedusa-in-hanau.antira.info/
March of Hope
After being stuck and having to wait at the Budapest Keleti Train Station for many weeks, the struggle against the blockade reached its climax on the 4th of September. More then 1000 refugees set out in the early afternoon for the 170km far away Austrian – Hungarian border. Their goal: Germany. A Budapest activist is of the opinion that the departure from the train station has to be seen as a non-violent valve for massive tensions which had been produced by government and police at the Budapest train station. Hundreds of refugees set out on train tracks in Western directions as well from Camp Bicske. Already in the morning 300 refugees, who were in Roske near the Hungarian – Serbian border, had overcome the fence surrounding the camp, but were later captured by the police.
About 35 km to the west of Budapest the march took a break for the night. The tired marchers prepared their sleeping quarters on the edge of the motorway. Just a few hours later buses arrived to bring the refugees to the Austrian border. One step had been made, the border was opened. On travels back in the pouring rain on the motorway and at road stops we met further straggling refugees in small groups or alone. They had made their way out of the Bicske Camp. In the flow of the „March of Hope“ these people also had successfully made it by nightfall across the border into Austria.
06. 09. 2015: Vienna – Nickelsdorf – Györ – Vienna
Refugee convoy – Rail Transport for Refugees
In the weeks before „The March of Hope,“ individuals and small groups started to occupy themselves with helping the refugees. This happened because of the 71 refugees that were found dead in a truck on the highway in Burgenland, Austria. These 71 did not survive the journey to central Europe. A Burgenland Mayor commented „That truck dumped the Mediterranean sea directly in front of our outlet mall. People who have previously been passive about the refugee situation are now actively becoming helpers.“
The „Mediterranean Tragedy in Burgenland“ had equipped them with the moral security of realising that such deaths can be prevented. In these days the „Refugee Convoy, Trains for Refugees“ group was founded in Vienna.
Protests from Relatives of the Missing
This date marked the 3rd anniversary of a boat accident near Lampedusa in which 70 people were drowned or lost. For the event an organisation of family members (Le Terre pur tous) organized a protest. The mothers and fathers of the missing, and other young people too, got involved in a theatre and boat action. In a meeting one day later people from different initiatives came together to discuss problems and perspectives for the fight against the „border“ in Tunisia. As Alarmphone and No Border Tunisia activists, we are a part of these meetings.
Syrian Activists on the Current Migrant Movement
For over four years Adopt a Revolution is in contact with people in Syria. Our focus is always on the activists that have organised the revolution there, and have (despite the years of war) tried to sustain activities of civil society. That this year so many left in the direction of Europe has not surprised us. The hope is too small for improving in Syria, the chances to return from neighbouring countries soon is also too small. At the same time we are impressed by the politicisation shown by the many Syrians making their way to Europe, and how they take large responsibilities – for example, in organising the march of hope. We have asked some of our comrades about their view on the developments in Europe with the increasing opening of the borders. Here are some answers:
Umm Ahmad, Duma, East-Damascus:
We see the problem of the refugees with genuine worry. We don’t want that they leave their country. The international community could help them to stay in their country if they would banish Bashar Al-Assad from Syria, instead of letting Syrians be driven from their own country. The way that these nations distribute refugees amongst themselves makes us sad, as though we were a cake to be sliced up. That gives us the feeling that we’ve lost our dignity. The international community is responsible for this. We want to get out of the war, but not into a bigger prison in Europe. The increasing of the bombings in August and the beginning of September, and the operations of the most violent methods of killing and destruction from Bashar Al-Assad, and the destruction of thousands of homes here has led to the situation that despite their fears many have fled into regions controlled by the regime in order to survive.
Heba, Duma, East-Damascus:
In Syria, the entire refugee conflict is viewed as a card that the European Union plays. The EU could have reduced the suffering of Syrian people by „imposing“ a political solution on Bashar al Assad, and this was possible. Furthermore, it could have been possible for the EU to take in the most injured people from the refugee camps and from besieged Syrian territories. However they only accept the ones who manage to reach the EU. We are convinced that the asylum in Europe ultimately does not benefit the Syrian people, if the Assad regime is not overthrown. We want a Syrian state that is sovereign and democratic. We want to stay here. We strive towards a political solution that lessens our suffering at home.
Kamal, Afrin, Aleppo:
There is a group that follows the news and occurrences at the border. That means that the media has a big impact, especially in terms of the large „Welcoming campaigns“. There is a noticeable rise of migration in most regions here. The migrants are mainly young people, or those that have some kind of qualifications such as good work resumes or university degrees. But also those that have a job here, and even some with high wages, decide to flee anyways.
Further information: https://www.adoptrevolution.org/en
Welcome to trains of hope: 7 days from Izmir to Hanau
On Lesbos, we have answered countless times the question of what happens to the fingerprints in Hungary that nobody asks for a few months later. We said, “go on, you will arrive, the journey is difficult but the people have never been faster then they are today!“ We waved to the ferry, up to 2,500 people at a time heading towards the Macedonian border. They were fast, faster then ever before, a record 7 days from Izmir to Hanau, 10 days from Homs. Now we continually stand on the train station in Hanau and say: „Welcome!“ at this stage of the journey. Together with many others from different communities and their associations, many that just want to say: „Hello!“ For a lot of people at the emergency accommodation, gyms and tents it is unclear where their future is headed.
There is still no registration, at least for the moment the old rules of a quick registration are loosened. Many continue on, towards Schwerte to an aunt, towards Leipzig to ones fiancée or to Hamburg because more Afghanis live there – or even farther north. Some want to make it to Sweden, Norway or Finland. After a few days some decide to stay because they have met nice people, because the city is relatively in the middle of Germany, or because they are simply more tired and want to finally settle down. Welcome!
17.09.2015: Burkina Faso
Le Balai Citoyen (the Citizen Broom)
As in Fall 2014 in Burkina Faso the long-term ruler Blaise Compaoré was overthrown by a large popular movement and flown off by French military helicopters, a political and social earthquake shook the country. One reason for this was that Blaise Compaoré had come to power in the 1987 French supported murder and coup-de-etat of his predecessor Thomas Sankara. Sankara had been one of the largest rays of hope in the African continent in the 20th century. Another reason was because Compaoré had been a good friend of Western, and especially French, business interests in West Africa. Especially following the October 2014 rebellion lead by Burkina Faso young people, this event has become a role-model for democracy movements across Africa, for example in the unfortunately unsuccessful mass protests in Burundi in May 2015.
It was even more shocking that on 16 September 2015 Blaise Compaorés former Presidential Guard tried to overthrow the transition government one month before the first free elections in over 28 years. Yet the people wouldn’t allow this to happen. Thousands took the so-called „people’s brooms“ onto the streets, carried amongst others by a broad international solidarity movement. International institutions such as the African Union reacted decidedly, and within two days placed sanctions on Burkina Faso. Within a week the well prepared military coup broke apart. This shows that the air is getting thinner for these autocratic rulers, regardless of how many are still sitting in their seats, very often with support of the West. Further Infos: http://afrique-europeZinteract.net/1393-0-Putsch-in-Burkina-Faso-2015.html
Battles for a Self-determined Development
According to new data published by the UNHCR, the people of Mali are rated ninth among the refugees arriving in Italy by boat. This is not a coincidence since the population of the West African Sahel-land is confronted with a multitude of severe problems, ranging from climate change to Islamic terror to the buyout of arable land of small farmers by big investors (to name only three examples). Therefore, it was all the more pleasing when over 500 farmers of the labour union Copon, co-founded by the transnational network Afrique-Europe-Interact, gathered in Kourouma on September 17, 2015, to coordinate further activities. These included the publicity announced land occupation of the villages Sanamadougou and Sahou, which have gradually lost their entire usable land since 2010. Further information: http://afrique-europe-interact.net/677-0-Aktionen-Europa—Vorschau.html
19.September 2015, Berlin
taz Panther Prize for Alarmphone
A Saturday evening in September, on this night workers from the Alarmphone will accompany almost 900 people on three boats through the Mediterranean Sea to their rescue, along with an additional 100 humans on two boats in the Aegean Sea. Aside from their normal work, this evening is also unusual for the Alarmphone. 2000km north, at the centre of Europe’s flashpoint for immigrant deaths, Alarmphone will receive the Panther Prize from German newspaper „TAZ“.
A filled Deutsches Theater (a prestigious Berlin theatre) dignifies Alarmphone’s humanitarian and political opinion and commitment with applause. Some guests told us prior to the event, „All nominated projects are outstanding, but I chose you because you save lives“. And while they applaud, the seriousness of the situation at the Mediterranean fills the room. „Drowning, dear ladies and gentlemen, is a quiet process,“ begins the reception speech. It ends with, „That Alarmphone from Watch The Med acts as a spirit, protecting human beings, and not borders.“ Website: http://alarmphone.org/de/, Moving reception speech (in German): http://taz.de/Laudatio-von-Mely-Kiyak/!161089/
A live update feed on the situation at the Borders goes online
While in the beginning of September Hungary, Austria and Germany experienced the biggest change in the long summer of migration, with the marches and the trains of hope, the contested frontiers are once again also those in the south today. In Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and in Turkey, with the live feed w2eu.info, the network Welcome to Europe collects verified information daily about the constant changing situation at the borders, about and for the coordination of supporting networks at the different locations. Everywhere it can be seen clearly that the EU and its members fail to make accommodation, infrastructure, and essential information available for those on their path to safety. We have to do that ourselves and invite you to participate: http://live.w2eu.info/
26.09.2015 Botovo/ Croatia
The Power of the Refugee Movement…
The events at the Croatian/ Hungarian border in the past ten days were unique and have to be seen as huge success in the refugee movement. Special trains and buses were brought to transfer 1,500-2,000 refugees to a train station close to the border. From there they were escorted by foot to the border by the Croatian police. Hungarian soldiers then let the refugees board trains that brought them to the Austrian border. Between 50,000 and 60,000 refugees were able to use this intergovernmentally organized path (in September and the same number again until middle of October), which was obviously established due to the fear of conflict if there would be a massive traffic jam of refugees.
On 26 September we were in Botovo with the Open Borders Caravan. It was an unforgettable situation as 1,650 people – women, men, many children, the old, even people in wheelchairs – patiently yet with determination completed this step through the Balkans of their long route.
Unusual Sounds from the Trade Union House
Without broad alliances the current social disputes cannot be won. This can be explained by pointing out the statement of the Bremer trade union, which in its form would surely not have been possible without extensive cooperation with anti-racist groups. It calls not only for legal means of escape and freedom of movement instead of rigid quotas, but also for equal rights for refugees. In other places, this explanation will be surely useful in backing arguments for alliance processes. http://bremen.dgb.de/themen/++co++3c51ce32-6070-11e5-b8b4-52540023ef1a
Towards a Social Transnational Strike
About 100 activists from different European cities convened at the three day conference to continue and further specify the discussion started by the Blockupy movement, regarding a social transnational strike. Working groups have exchanged ideas regarding the differences and similarities of the precarious living conditions, the modified factory regime, „the government of mobility“, as well as the experiences with strikes and organized resistance, in order to develop new transnational action strategies. An agreement was made concerning the revival of the 1 March 2016 „Day without migrants/ migrants strike“ for coordinated actions regarding the struggle for freedom of movement and „migrant labour“ as well as the support for a planned communications tour of Amazon-workers between the various warehouses of the company. For further information: http://www.transnational-strike.info/
[*] “Transact!” is supported by activists from Berlin, Bremen, Hanau and Vienna. We don’t organise our own actions, but participate in numerous Networks and Projects such as those mentioned above.