The process of sorting the «good» migrants from the «bad» threatens everybody

Daniel Trilling

The first deportations from Greece under the new EU-Turkey deal took place on 4 April. Although the deal has been framed as a way to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, with the EU promising to resettle one Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian it sends back, most of the people deported on this first day came from Pakistan, or elsewhere in South Asia. These are the sort of people usually described as "economic migrants", not refugees. While some of them will be fleeing political persecution or conflict, many of them have come to Europe because they see no way of earning a living at home.

They take the same dangerous journeys and face the same abuses at Europe's borders as do the refugees from, say, Syria or Eritrea, but they generate less sympathetic media coverage and have fewer rights: if they don't claim asylum, or if their claim is rejected, they must either live hidden from the border regimes of European states, or they risk long periods of detention – as happened in Greece after the government's effort to round up and imprison undocumented migrants in 2012.

Much of the discussion around the EU-Turkey deal has centred on whether refugees - ie, people who have a legitimate case for protection under international refugee law - will be given due process. This is an important question. There is already evidence that the Greek authorities are not giving people the chance to claim asylum before they are assigned for deportation, and that the EU has not provided sufficient resources to make the system work. Furthermore, despite the EU's efforts to label Turkey a "safe country" for refugees, there is much evidence to the contrary. For example, Amnesty International claimed that Turkey forced a group of Afghan migrants back to Kabul only a day after the EU-Turkey deal was signed.

But to focus only on the situation of refugees risks implying that the migrants who do not fit this category –the "economic migrants"– deserve whatever treatment they get. In my opinion, the violence of the border system is partly explained by the process of sorting the "good" migrants from the "bad", and to play one group off against the other ends up threatening everybody. For many years, European businesses have profited from the labour of undocumented migrants - on farms in Greece and Italy, for example, or in service industries in the cities of northern Europe – yet at the same time official policies have treated their movement as a threat to be eradicated. The border defences of Fortress Europe have been constructed in response to this "threat" and they have proved destructive for refugees and "economic migrants" alike.

First published in Greek on "Enthemata" of the Greek newspaper "Avgi", 10.4.2016

No more refugees, just “irregulars”...

The deal of shame between E.U.-Turkey

 Stratis Bournazos

Below are some comments in immediate reaction to the agreement as announced on the afternoon of 18th March. We at AnalyzeGreece! consider this agreement to be of particular importance and gravity, which is why we sought to formulate an immediate reaction to it.

1. The agreement reiterates and fully confirms the main points from the statement made by EU leaders on 7th March (except for the added extensive references to international treaties and individual asylum claiming processes – obviously to calm the backlash the absence of these created), a statement strongly criticised by all humanitarian organisations, which claimed that it undermines international law. As regards today's agreement, I will refer to the first, immediate response by Amnesty International: “horrendous deal had been sealed shame on EU”, according to Iverna McGowan (head of Amnesty International al’s EU office), “a cyanide pill” to refugee rights”, according to John Dalhuisen (Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia”, while the press release is entitled “A historic blow to human rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), calls it “the deal of shame”: “European leaders have decided to barter migrants’ and asylum seekers’ dignity and rights for selfish short-term political gain. Such cynicism is despicable”.

2. The main aim, axis and core of the agreement is the stopping of flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, not the tackling of the refugee crisis, much less the provision of international protection to those who have a right to it, and the protection of refugees. As such, the word “refugee” is only very rarely used in the text; instead, reference is made to migrants and “irregular migrants”. If, however, according to UNHCR data (as cited in a comment by Marilena Katsimi of Facebook), of those crossing the Greek border 91% are refugees (45% Syrian, 28% Afghan, 18% Iraqi - of whom 36% are children and 21% are women), this clearly means the stemming of refugee flows. In other words, the de facto abolition of international treaties, above all the Geneva Conventions, which require the provision of international protection to those in need: if all those wishing to come to Europe (the vast majority of which are refugees), are to be stopped, then they have no access to international protection.

3. For the reasons above, the three “filters for the reduction in flows”, to which Alexis Tsipras referred during the press conference, are all too eloquent. First, the war against traffickers, second, the presence of NATO ships, third, those who manage to pass through these two filters and who reach Greece will in essence be excluded from relocation (as they will be placed at the bottom of the list). In the words of the Prime Minister: “The first filter –and this is an obligation taken on by Turkey– is the dismantling of the network of traffickers operating on Turkish shores. The second filter is the operation of NATO.Turkey has now committed to withdraw the objections it has been posing until now, so that NATO operations can be carried out efficiently and effectively. The third filter was decided upon today. When neither the first nor the second filter are effective, we provide refugees and migrants with a strong disincentive to make use of trafficking networks so that they may reach the Greek islands: those who do come will not have priority in the relocation process and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be swiftly returned. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be examined on an individual basis [...]. We believe that the message of today's decision, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, is the activation of these three filters, so that we may have an immediate result the reduction of flows from Turkish shores to the Greek islands”. I think the filters speak for themselves, but I will make three comments, one for each filter.

Comment #1: when no legal and safe passage is available, no safe route, everyone, including refugees, makes use of trafficking networks. Therefore, if one takes the decision to “end irregular migration”, as stated in the agreement, then, in the absence of a legal route, one also puts an end to the possibility of refugees coming to Europe (or, more correctly, one makes the journey more expensive and dangerous, as new routes and illegal networks will without doubt be created). Comment #2: NATO ships will, in other words, act as a mobile sea fence throughout the Aegean, which will prevent refugees from reaching the coast. Comment #3: “they will not have priority”. That is, they will be punished, thereby having their right to relocation forfeited.

4. “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”, reads the text of the agreement. A key question here is: Who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What will happen to, for example Afghans and Iraqis? I don't think there is any room for optimism: based on the overall spirit of the agreement - everyone will be considered to be irregular, except, perhaps, Syrians. And I say perhaps because there is no certainty even for Syrians. The agreement states that “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU” – wording which reveals that Syrians will be returned, too.

5. Yet how will Syrians, who are prima facie considered refugees, be returned to Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the agreement makes explicit reference to respect for international law. The key term here is “safe third country”, which is used in the text. If Turkey is declared a “safe third country”, then Syrians can be returned legally. Of course, declaring Turkey to be a “safe third country” is both arbitrary and provocative, as Turkey has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations condemn it for refugee arrests and abuse, as well as expulsions and push backs to Syria and Iraq, there is no system for claiming asylum in place (except for European citizens, and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not safe even for its own citizens: at the moment in which the agreement is signed, authoritarianism by the Davutoglu government is in its zenith, with pogroms against Kurds, mass arrests and the persecution of academics and journalists. By the way, the added status granted to Erdogan and Davutoglu through the agreement, precisely at this moment, is scandalous.

6. The resettlement programmes, unfortunately, look like a joke. Out of a total of 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number which goes up to 3 million if we take account of the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis), only 72,000 will be resettled – an infuriatingly small number, which confirms once more that the agreement bears no relation to any attempt to solve the refugee crisis.

7. Finally, as regards the references being made in the agreement to respect for international law, the processing of individual asylum claims, etc. Very briefly, and running the risk of being un-nuanced, I will say that not all of the eggs can be put in one basket. If the main aim is to curb refugee flows, this cannot take place whilst respecting international law. I will once more cite John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International (by the way, the fact that in the last few days we keep referring to texts by NGOs and humanitarian organisations, not by left wing political parties, is telling – but that is a different story): “Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”
           ***
We will continue our coverage of this very important issue over the next few weeks. Concluding this commentary, I would like to say that the agreement is not a diplomatic success, as Alexiis Tsipras stated, but a significant defeat and embarrassment. Starting today, we must, both in Greece and in Europe, organise our resistance to the agreement. #StopTheDeal, #Refugees Welcome!

PS. Two pieces of good news, coming from Spain, on a Saturday, no less: at  Madrid city hall, the EU flag is at half mast in protest, while in Barcelona a large rally took place against the agreement (rallies had also taken place in previous days, while the Spanish Parliament had rejected the “preliminary” agreement of 7th March).

Stratis Bournazos is a journalist and historian, member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece! and Enthemata Avgis.\

Translated by Despina Biri

First published  in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi", 20.3.2016.

 

​​EU-Turkey non-deal: snap analysis

Paul Mason

The EU Summit on 7 March failed to reach agreement with Turkey but the outline of the deal to be done on 17–18 March is clear. Here’s the bullet points from the Heads of State statement, together with my commentary. These are enumerated as “principles”.Your head of state has signed up to them:

* “To return all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU;”
… Not legal. If these “irregular migrants” claim asylum they are a refugee and protected from return under international law until their claim has been processed. It will be challenged in the courts immediately.

* “To resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States, within the framework of the existing commitments;”
…This presumably starts on implementation, and is not retrospective. It leaves around 30,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, which is manageable. But it replaces law with arbitrary power. Who decides which refugees in Turkey get to come to Europe? Why not simply put the ones who want to leave Turkey for Europe on a bus or flight to Berlin, avoiding the peril of crossing to Lesbos, being sent back and then — presumably — joining an arbitrarily organised queue of people in Turkey?
The whole thing would be better organised through the #safepassage demanded by NGOs and will redouble calls for that.

* “To accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016;”
…Not possible. One state can block it. Will David Cameron sign-off visa free travel for 75 million Turkish citizens to Britain 23 days before the Brexit referendum. Will Poland sign up? Will Cyprus? Dream on.
[Its been pointed out since I wrote this that the visa free agreement is with Schengen only. But the agreement says “all member states” do I think my point is valid.]

* “To speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated 3 billion euros to ensure funding of a first set of projects before the end of March and decide on additional funding for the Refugee Facility for Syrians”
…Remarkably, Erdogan has demanded exactly what he is shown demanding in the leaked Tusk-Erdogan notes, which I have doubted the veracity of. Nevertheless, €6bn would be cheap for Europe if it stemmed voluntarily the desire of people to leave camps in Turkey and come to Europe.

* “To prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible, building on the October 2015 European Council conclusions”
…This is one of the most shameful commitments the EU has ever given. We should state, now, there is no possibility of Turkey joining the EU under the AK Party. In the leaked documents that’s what Erdogan says: put us out of our misery. Europe should, as I suggest in the Guardian, signal to the secular, democratic forces in Turkey that it will re-start accession talks only when there has been a stable democracy for, say, five years, with full commitments to human rights, press freedom etc honoured. We should have no truck with the Christian right who say Turkey cannot enter because it is muslim, or because it will flood Europe with cheap labour: the issue is democracy. Turkey cannot begin accession talks because it does not meet the Copenhagen criteria for membership, and is moving in the opposite direction. I think there will be outrage way beyond the Christian right in Europe over this, if it happens.

* “To work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe”
…Is this a commitment to create a safe haven? Militarily? Via the Turkish military, which has been covertly supplying IS, and bombing the Kurds? If not, the onus on EU leaders is to say so sharpish because there is no consent in Europe for the creation of safe havens, welcome though they would be.
***
And that’s it. Nothing on human rights in the entire document; nothing about stop bombing the Kurds; nothing about stop jailing newspaper editors; no incentive to cease burning down the local offices of opposition parties.

The best that can be said is that the negotiations failed and that these are some kind of holding position to stop Erdogan pulling the trigger on another million refugees into the islands.

These bullet points, reflecting Turkey’s demands completely, will never be implemented because the EU leaders represent democracies, where international law applies and where entry into commitments — on visas, EU accession etc — is the subject of parliamentary debate. Get real.


Paul Mason is  a journalist,  writer and  Broadcaster. Author of "Postcapitalism — A Guide to Our Future", producer of "#ThisIsACoup documentary".

First published on medium.com/@paulmasonnews

Saturday night with the refugees in Idomeni

Report rom a delegation of the Hellenic League for Human rights to the Nea Kavala hospitality structure and the camp in Idomeni

Kostis Tsitselikis, Meriç Özgüneş, Vivi Verbi

Report, 05.03.2016. Following our previous visits to refugee accommodation, in an attempt to comprehend the issues requiring intervention for the promotion of solutions based on the principles of social justice, we hereby present the findings from our visits to the two camps.

The refugee camp in Nea Kavala, accessible through the road bordering the village, and which is in close proximity to a supermarket, has been in operation for a week, and hosts approximately 3,000 refugees. It is an open structure, without restrictions on exit. It is operated exclusively by the military, that is, there is no civilian staff from the Ministry of Interior/Migration, which creates an issue regarding whose jurisdiction the camp is under.  The camp lies outside the Diavata- Idomeni axis (though very close to the latter), and very few organizations visit it, so that very few humanitarian aid materials are available. We realized this as we were handing over what little milk, toys, clothes and medicines we had. Aid is not distributed following a system, as no civilian staff is available to carry out this work.  We were particularly impressed by the staff which was present (7 people in total, all military), and by the lieutenant in charge of the camp (who performs his duties on a shift basis), and who appeared to be fully aware of his duties, responsibilities, as well as of objective restrictions, as there is no aid, infrastructure or sufficient staff available.

The military is in charge of providing food, using a field kitchen, which covers the needs of refugees with 3 meals/day, but without guarantee that this will continue to be the case following new arrivals. One doctor is based permanently at the camp. However, the tents appear to be entirely inappropriate for the weather at this time of year, as they do not close from below, while there is also no heating. 50 portable toilets do not sufficiently cover the needs of the refugee population. There is some electrical lighting in certain places, but not throughout the camp. The refugees we met with were not dressed appropriately for the weather.  We saw children with no shoes on. The refugees are staying in the camp without incident, waiting until they can continue their journey to Idomeni, where the much coveted border crossing is located, while withstanding all the  inadequacies in the camp (as regards both infrastructure and services).  The camp, at the state in which it was when we visited, could not possibly meet the standards for infrastructure and services, in spite of the goodwill that the staff demonstrates.

The camp in Idomeni, approximately 20km north of Nea Kavala, continues to grow, as the number of people leaving it has for the past few weeks remained very small. We will not repeat what is already known with regard to living conditions, as media and other coverage is ongoing. We must stress that the state is absent from the camp, barring a few police officers surveying the final 100 metres leading to the «exit gate».

Approximately 4,000 of the 14,000 people are camped inside large tents, which until recently formed the relatively «contained» camp, while most of them are camped in the area around those large tents, in makeshift shelters or without any shelter at all. Most of them have no access to heating (the large tents being the exception), with few portable toilets which do not cover needs, with very light meals and insufficient running water; many set out to the village of Idomeni on foot, or even to Polikastro, to take a shower. We spoke to an Iraqi family, who mentioned that police do not allow taxis to approach the camp, thereby putting more stress on the already exhausted people seeking the bare necessities outside of the camp.  Small fires for heating, burning wood or (mainly) garbage, make for a very stuffy atmosphere. As regards the presence of organizations, UNHCR, doctors, those preparing food and more generally all those providing all kinds of aid, there is no need to report anything beyond what is already known;  they provide the only significant amount of aid (which is randomly distributed, however) to desperate, exhausted and ill people (many of whom are elderly and small children), living in adverse conditions, in the hope of crossing the border.

Police officers in the «border crossing zone» appeared polite, making every effort to do something amidst the chaos, which is largely self-regulated but also inappropriate for the country as a whole. Following a detailed account by a police officer, we realized that only certain refugees may cross the border (that is, only Syrians or Iraqis holding passports or hotspot entry documents - to the degree that this is permitted by Austria and the Balkan states between Greece and Austria), on the basis of their date of entry into Greece.  For example, on the day of our visit, only those who entered Greece on 18th February were allowed to cross the border. Yet this was not widely known, except by those who had access to this information, which in turn created congestion in the area surrounding the border gate.  Those who did not make it, had the right to cross on the following day, and so on.

As a result, the congestion and generally indescribable situation in Idomeni could be avoided using a system for disseminating information, and of course through the creation of 12,000 places for refugees to stay in the wider area, even similar to the conditions in the Nea Kavala camp, assuming that the periods of stay would be pretty short. Many problems would have been solved through the organized transport of those who do have a right to cross the border on the basis of the admittedly rational criterion of date of entry. In the end, the numerous international television channels with their satellite connections –who take up the main «road» of the «camp»– feed into the European and global discussion by shaping positions and contributing to political decision-making on an issue which, had there been sufficient political will and coordination, would not exist. At least not in the manner described above.

The Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) is the oldest human rights organization in Greece (set up in 1936). HLHR operates with a continuous presence and activity in line with its statute, namely the protection of human rights in Greece. Since its establishment is a permanent member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and represents this network in Greece and participates in its organs.
 

Translated by Despina Biri



 

Welcome the Refugees to Europe: A Moral and Political Necessity!

 M. Agier, H. Arenz, A. Athanasiou, W. Bajer, É. Balibar, M. Bouazi, H. Bozarslan, M.-C. Caloz-Tschopp, E. Delruelle, M. De Nanteuil,  A. Insel, N. Klotz, A. Latimer, C. Louis, G. Marramao, R. Martelli, S. Mezzadra, M. Nikolakaki, B. Spineli, E. Tassin, H. Venema, F.-O. Wolf et. al.

You can sign the petition here.

We, citizens of the Member States of the European Union, of the Schengen Area, the Balkans, of the Mediterranean, and of the Middle East as well as citizens of other countries in the world, who share our concerns, are launching an emergency appeal to our co-citizens, to our government leaders and our representatives in national parliaments and in the European Parliament, as well as in the European Court of Human Rights and in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:The refugees from the Middle East must be rescued and welcomed !

For years now, immigrants from the southern Mediterranean fleeing poverty, war, and repression have been drowning at sea or been dashed against barbed wire. When they have succeeded in crossing the sea, after suffering extortion at the hands of smuggler rings, they are expelled, incarcerated, or thrown into clandestinity by the states who designate them as ‘dangers’ and ‘enemies’. Despite this, they are courageously persevering and helping each other to save their lives and create hope of a future.

But since the wars of the Middle East and especially in Syria have assumed the proportions of mass slaughter with no end in sight, the scale of the situation has altered. Held hostage between the warring parties, bombed, starved, and terrorised, entire populations have been thrown into a perilous exodus that, at the price of thousands more dead, pushes men, women, and children towards neighbouring countries and knocking at Europe’s doors.

This is a major historic and humanitarian catastrophe. It presents us with a responsibility of which there is no way out.

The incapacity of the governments of all our countries to put an end to the causes of this exodus (if they are not indeed contributing to their exacerbation) does not exonerate them of the obligation to save and welcome the refugees, while respecting their fundamental rights, which, with the right to asylum, are enshrined in the foundational declarations and conventions of international law.

However, with few exceptions – Germany’s exemplary initiative, an initiative that has still not been suspended today; and the gigantic effort by Greece to rescue, welcome, and escort the thousands of survivors who daily arrive on their shores, even if its economy has been plunged into devastating austerity – Europe’s governments have refused to face the overall situation, to explain it to their populations, and to organise solidarity and go beyond national egoisms. On the contrary, from east to west and north to south, they have rejected the minimal plan for distributing the refugees worked out by the European Commission or are involved in sabotaging it. Worse, they are engaging in repression, stigmatisation, and the brutalisation of refugees and immigrants in general. The situation of the ‘jungle’ of Calais, followed now by its violent dismantling, in disregard for the spirit and letter of a court decision, is a scandalous, though not the only, illustration of this.

By contrast, it is the citizens of Europe and elsewhere – fishermen and inhabitants of Lampedusa and Lesbos, activists of refugee relief and immigrant support networks, lay and religious shelter centres, endorsed by artists and intellectuals – who have saved their honour and pointed the way to a solution. However, they are running up against insufficient means, and sometimes the hostility of public authorities, and they have to face, like the refugees and immigrants themselves, a rapidly growing European xenophobic front ranging from violent, openly racist or neo-fascist organisations to ‘respectable’ political leaders and governments increasingly overtaken by authoritarianism, nationalism, and demagoguery. Two completely incompatible Europes are facing each other, and from now on we have to choose between them.

This xenophobic tendency, which is deadly for the victims of violence and ruinous for the future of the European continent as an space of liberty must be reversed immediately.

With 60 million refugees in the world, Lebanon and Jordan receive a million of them each (representing, respectively, 20 per cent and 12 percent of their populations), and Turkey receives 2 million (3 per cent). The million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015 (one of the richest regions in the world, despite the crisis) only represent 0.2 per cent of its population! Not only do the European countries, taken as a whole, have the means to welcome the refugees and treat them with dignity but they must do so in order to continue to lay claim to human rights as the foundation of their polities. It is also in their interest if they want to begin to recreate the conditions for peace and collective security, along with all the countries of the Mediterranean area that have shared the same history and same cultural heritage for thousands of years. And this is what has to be done to remove from our horizon, once and for all, the spectre of a new epoch of organised institutional discrimination and of the elimination of ‘undesirable’ human beings.

Nobody can say when and in what proportion the refugees will ‘go back home’, and nobody should underestimate the difficulty of the issue to be solved, of the resistance which it generates, and the obstacles and dangers it carries with it. But nobody can continue to ignore the will of the populations to receive refugees and the refugees’ wish to integrate. Nobody has the right to declare the problem unresolvable in order to evade it more easily.

Very large-scale emergency measures thus are needed immediately.

The task to provide assistance to the refugees from the Middle East and Africa in the framework of a state of emergency has to be proclaimed and implemented by the governing bodies of the EU and carried by all the Member States. It has to be upheld by the United Nations and be the object of a permanent consultation with democratic states of the whole region.

Civilian and military forces have to be deployed, not to carry out a coastal guerrilla action against the ‘smugglers’ but to bring aid to the immigrants and to put an end to the scandal of the drownings at sea. It is in this framework that it will possibly be necessary to crack down on the traffic and condemn the complicity that benefits from it. It is prohibiting legal access that generates Mafioso practices, and not the inverse.

The burden of the frontline receiving countries, in particular Greece, must immediately be relieved. Their contribution to the common interest must be recognised.

The Schengen free-circulation area must be preserved, but the Dublin Regulation that provides for pushing immigrants back to the entry country must be suspended and renegotiated. The EU is pressuring [[OR: should pressure? ! ]] Danube and Balkan countries to reopen their borders and negotiate with Turkey to convince it to stop using refugees as a political-military excuse and bargaining chip.

At the same time, air and sea transport has to be operated to transfer all the registered refugees to the northern European countries that are objectively able to receive them instead of letting them accumulate in a small country in danger of becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for humanity.

In the longer term, Europe – facing one of the great challenges that is changing the course of the history of peoples – has to develop a democratically controlled aid plan for the survivors of this huge slaughter and for those who are helping them. It has to establish not only receiving quotas but also social and educational aid, and therefore a special budget and legal provisions guaranteeing new rights that embed the displaced populations in the receiving societies in a dignified and peaceful way.

There is no other alternative. It is either hospitality and the right to asylum or barbarism!

This appeal was initiated, among others, by:
Michel AGIER (France), Horst ARENZ (Germany), Athéna ATHANASIOU (Greece), Walter BAIER (Austria), Etienne BALIBAR (France), Marie BOUAZZI (Tunisia), Hamit BOZARSLAN (France), Marie-Claire CALOZ-TSCHOPP ( Switzerland), Edouard DELRUELLE (Belgium), Matthieu DE NANTEUIL (Belgium), Ahmet INSEL (Turquie), Nicolas KLOTZ (France), Amanda LATIMER (UK), Camille LOUIS (France), Giacomo MARRAMAO (Italy), Roger MARTELLI (France), Sandro MEZZADRA (Italy), Maria NIKOLAKAKI (Greece), Barbara SPINELLI (Italy), Étienne TASSIN (France), Hans VENEMA (Netherlands), Frieder Otto WOLF (Germany).


First published on transform!, 4.3.2016

 

Dora Bacoyiannis and refugees as “continued punishment”

 Challenging the everyday racism of normality
 
Benjamin Dalton
 
On the evening of 23rd February, I was lucky enough to attend the BBC World Service “World Questions” event in the audacious Megaron Concert Hall in Athens (which will be broadcast on Saturday 27th February). For a long time now I have avidly watched “Question Time”, though I admit to finding myself frequently disheartened and bemused, if not outraged, by the guests and their so-called “answers”. Nonetheless, I was exceedingly excited to participate in the discussion on the topic of Greece and the EU, chaired by Jonathan (not David) Dimbleby, including a panel consisting of Euclid Tsakalotos, the Finance Minister of Greece, Dora Bacoyannis, former Mayor of Athens and Foreign Minister, Despina Koutsouba, member of the Region of Attica Council and the Association of Greek Archaeologists (and a member of Antarsya – theAnticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow) and Josef Janning, Head of European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin Office and Senior Policy Fellow.

Moreover, I was overjoyed to have my question selected as a guide to the discussion which read as follows: “Is it time for the West and the EU to acknowledge that tough anti-immigration sentiments, and the laws and policies they influence, are deeply rooted in racist ideologies?”

I must say that the most revealing response came from Dora Bacoyiannis, who unsurprisingly appealed to the populist “continued punishment” that the current influx of migrants and refugees imposes upon the Greek people. She went on to vaguely touch upon the strain on services and the lack of resources which was met with rapturous applause from the suited and booted audience of aging Athenian business people and ‘expatriates’ (read: not immigrants!) from the US, UK and elsewhere.

Whilst the answer was a terrible one, I was pleased that it pointed directly to the heart of my question. There is no defense for tough anti-immigration policy that doesn’t, in some way, rely on the supremacy of specific persons or nations over another and the unfair preservation of their freedoms and privileges over those of the people they are trying to keep out. I would like to hear from Bacoyiannis what, precisely and specifically,  the nature of this punishment she speaks of is, other than the potential presence of black and brown people bothering her (and other people with similar class backgrounds) for change as she saunters down the polished marble streets of Kolonaki. Heaven forbid one should actually move into the house next door to her Kipseli mansionette.

The applause I mentioned from the near homogenously conservative audience would have anyone believe that these were the victims of said influx. And yet, with the quaffing of red wine and fingering of the cheese boards and snackettes so graciously provided by the British Council, I sincerely doubt this is the case. Perhaps they feel taxed by the guilt of their relative opulence? Again, I doubt it. It is likely that they are so far removed from the day to day struggles and strife of those ‘below’ them that they can achieve comfort when they see the world twisted through the warped lens of media and country club gossip which includes them within the narratives of crisis, if not the actual experiences.

My point here is that the non-racist justifications for anti-immigrant policy and sentiment are based on warped logics such as those Bacoyiannis so kindly presented. There is a general view that migrants are here at the expense of other people, as if they are taking something from the Greeks, when this is just not the case. Study after study indicates net economic benefit coupled with disproportionate lack of public service use when migrants are allowed to operate as human beings. This is not to diminish the real struggle which has become part of Athenian life that is plain to see almost everywhere for its people, but the two are not causally linked and claiming so makes a joke of everyone involved.

The main limit to “migrant benefit” is actually constraints upon their freedoms, which in turn result in laborious processing procedures, arrests, detention and other strains on public services.

I had met with a Sri Lankan woman earlier that day who explained her predicament of having serious health problems but no access to medical care. Eventually she produced an X-Ray which clearly showed the ‘stones’ somewhere in her abdomen. It was obtained at vast and non-disposable expense because the lady was undocumented. She told me that she had been given some kind of exemplary card by an NGO for those in dire need of medical attention. The card was of course refused by the doctors, who probably, like everyone else, have no idea what it means or what it’s for.  

For Bacoyiannis to claim that these people are putting exorbitant pressure on public services is disingenuous to say the least. The pressure falls mainly upon NGOs and informal services as a result of failing public services and not the other way around. We can see this in the example of the Asylum Service outsourcing its workload and asking NGOs to offer Skype for appointments. This has essentially led to huge amounts of their otherwise valuable time being used on constantly calling Katehaki (where the Asylum Service is located), to infrequent avail. This is not to mention the pressure on the migrants themselves which is something they have more in common with members of the public than Bacoyianni has with the people.

The racist ideologies to which I alluded in my question are pervasive, insidious and highly normalised. So much so that they are given frequent platform by institutions such as the BBC and espoused with abandon in parliaments across Europe. The inevitable effect is further normalisation and acceptance by their consumers, serving to galvanise their influence as tools to be exploited by politicians and the military industrial complex. These are not views we should have to digest as members of society. The reality is in front of our eyes but not so plain to see. It is a shame that they appear from one of the world’s most respected and widespread news sources under the guise of ‘impartiality’ but this must be a lesson to us all to question everything, use our own brains and not believe the hype!



Benjamin Dalton is Generation 2.0 RED member

 

Open event: Migrants & refugees in Greece and Europe: borders and barriers

Migrants and refugees in Greece and Europe: borders and barriers
Αn open discussion in English hosting by AnalyzeGreece!
Wednesday, February 3, 18.30
Viotechniko Epimelitirio (VEA), 18 Akadimias Street, Athens
Speakers:
Dimitris Christopoulos, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Associate Professor, Panteion University
Apostolis Fotiadis, journalist, author of the book Border Merchants
Olga Lafazani, post-doctoral researcher, University of Barcelona, member of Network of Social Support of Refugees and Migrants
Achilles M. Peklaris,  journalist, activist in Lesvos’ “Village of All Together”, member of Migrants’Social Cente
Coordinator: Despina Biri, AnalyzeGreece!
 
A million migrants and refugees in total arrived by land and sea in Europe in 2015; 840.000 came through Greece. To cope with this, the State, local authorities, NGOs and volunteers have taken action rescuing and supporting these people through their journey.
On the other hand, European member states are closing their borders down leaving Greece alone to accommodate thousands of trapped people and to deal with the problems caused by the continuing migration influx.
Under the circumstances, there is a de facto disruption of Dublin III and a series of meetings of the European Council in an attempt to form some sort of a European Action Plan on Migration.
AnalyzeGreece! is celebrating its first-year anniversary and it is hosting  a debate on migration issues in order to engage foreign correspondents, experts and NGOs as well as Greek and foreign citizens and migrants and refugees’ representatives, to reflect on the following aspects:
A. European Policy for Migration and the role of Greece as a host or transit country
B. The role of solidarity movements in the current situation in Greece.
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Speakers:
Dimitris Christopoulos,
Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Associate Professor, Panteion University
Apostolis Fotiadis, journalist, author of the book Border Merchants
Olga Lafazani, post-doctoral researcher, University of Barcelona, member of Network of Social Support of Refugees and Migrants
Achilles M. Peklaris,  journalist, activist in Lesvos’ “Village of All Together”, member of Migrants’Social Cente
Coordinator: Despina Biri, AnalyzeGreece!



Analyze Greece! offers and alternative critical view amidst the often confusing and conflicting information about Greece. It is grounded on well-documented analysis, opinions and comments, originally published in Greek, from a left-wing and grassroots movements perspective. We exist to fill a gap; while iterations of crisis and resistance abound in Greece, much is lost in translation. Analyze Greece! provides a link between Greek social movements and the people of the world.
AnalyzeGreece! is an independent website that hosts analyses and alternative news from a critical left viewpoint. All published texts are about Greece and are exclusively in English, emphasizing issues such as Let-wing governance, the far-Right and Golden Dawn, racism, refugees and migrants, solidarity and resistance movements, democracy and Greco-European relations. Most of the articles come from Greek left intellectuals and activists and are either written originally in English or are translated by our team.
 
THE EVENT WILL BE HELD IN ENGLISH


 

Europe is cynical towards the refugee issue

Interview of Srećko Horvat to Anastasia Giamali
 
We all saw last week a photograph depicting an endless convoy of refugees walking in fiedls in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by a horseman . Perhaps this scene was from Slovenia. The scene is very similar to the convoy of WW2 prisoners. Do you think that some countries derive some sort of "satisfaction" from such disparaging attitudes or is it a purely defensive approach of societies scared of the "foreing", the "different", the "muslim"?
You know what’s the problem with that photograph? The same as with all the other sad and cruel photographs. Who still remembers Aylan Kurdi who drowned off and was washed up on a beach in Turkey in his red T-shirt, blue pants and tiny shoes at the beginning of September 2015? How many before him, how many after him? This whole “aestheticization” creates “anestheticization”. Even if we are bombarded by all these images everyday, at some point we don’t care anymore, life has to go on. The ordinary European has his own problems, and we can’t blame him. But national governments of Europe are lost, they don’t even have any particular “satisfaction”, they are just lost and they forgot what Europe really means. And even worse, the EU is also lost. But even more responsible than any national government.  
 
Do you think that the entry and establishment of a large number of refugees or immigrants in Europe would cause significant changes in European societies ?
Yes, of course. It always did. But why would that be bad? Europe is dying anyhow, it is a continent that is aging, and above all, it is a continent where utopia is dying. No one speaks about utopia anymore. Maybe the refugees can bring some sort of utopia. Or to put it in a very simple example: you know that the most typical, the most “authentic” Italian food, such as pizza or pasta, wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t migration? Tomato came from Latin America, and pasta from Asia. So we could say that the most “authentic” Italian thing is not “authentic” all, it is a product of centuries of interference of cultures. Of course, Europe will change, after this huge migration. Nearly 250,000 refugees have passed through the Balkans since mid-September, of cours this will leave traces.
 
People who have been taken away from their homelands , in this savage way, are emotionally "wounded", are eternally marked  by this adventure? Will they carry as long as they live the "capacity" of the refugee or is it something that will wear off as their life gets back on track?
Listen, I wouldn’t play this game here. I was a refugee myself, together with my father who got a political asylium in Germany, my familiy lived as refugees, or as the Germans called it “gastarbeiter”. And I’m not “wounded” or marked at all, even today I live like some sort of “refugee” without an address at all. During whole July, for instance, I lived in Athens. Anyhow, the very opportunity to build your life from the very beginning, when you know that some doors are closed forever, is something that gives you the strength. All these refugees that are coming to Europe are, in this sense, a big hope for me.  
 
Is there a reason why the former Eastern countries are tougher on immigration or is it just because they are dealing with larger numbers of refugees?
First we must say that none of these countries was prepared for what would happen. Except Hungary, of course, but for different reasons. This is at the same time the responsibility of national governments, but we must stress it is foremost a big failure of the European leaders who only recently met to discuss it seriously, although the refugee crisis is going on for months when it comes to the Balkans Migration Route, for years when it comes to the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Greece. So again, the EU was cynical: only when the problem started to penetrate into the centre of Europe, namely the Western countries, it started to be a problem. You probably remember that Matteo Renzi, not so long ago, warned the EU that Europe, if it wants to be Europe, has to take on this problem as a single bloc. This is the Plan A. And if Europe doesn’t choose solidarity, countries such as Italy, said Renzi, had a Plan B that will “hurt Europe”. This is now happening, with Hungary’s wall, with soldiers and tanks defending national borders, as if we were under some kind of war.
 
What should be the role of a country that "guards" the european borders like Greece or Italy?
Pardon my English, but Greece and Italy, parallel to helping all refugees as much as they can, should say “f*** you Europe”. It is the EU which in the first place created this problem, and now all the countries of the periphery, such as Italy or Greece, Serbia or Croatia, must suffer the consequences again. And what do we have now? We don’t only have “guards” of the European outskirts, we also have walls between countries such as Hungary and Serbia, Hungary and Croatia, and just recently Slovenia hints it might build a fence along the Croatian border to control migration. Europe fucked it up big time, this is the boomerang of our wars in Lybia, Syria and so on. Or, as a nice caricature showed these days, first we had export (of weapons), now we have import (of refugees). My proposal, and I hope leaders such as Alexis Tsipras, who rightly criticised the EU that as “a critical partner” in the refugee crisis Turkey was not invited to Brussels, will realise that it is the countries of the periphery, from Greece to Italy, from Croatia to Serbia, that have to unite and coordinate, that can build a possible new bloc.
 
Srećko Horvat  is a philosopher, and political activist from Croatia. He is the author of What Does Europe Want? The Union and its Discontents (with Slavoj Žižek) and The Radicality of Love.

Anastasia Giamali is a journalist at the left Greek  daily newspaper “Avgi”.


 

Open the gate! The fence and priorities

Manos Avgeridis

This weekend, a protest was organized on Evros, Northern Greece, with the demand to bring down the fence on the border between Greece and Turkey. Clashes between protesters and police were reported, yet the stance of the EU and of the Greek government remains intransigent. This is a call from AnalyzeGreece! for the demolition of the fence, and is a cry for help for those drowning in the Aegean daily.
ANALYZEGREECE!


Last January, I was writing a comment on the «Prime Minister of the fences», Antonis Samaras, who in the midst of the pre-election period visited Evros, presenting the wall along the Greek-Turkish border as «an achievement» and as «important work for the country». The achievement to which he was referring was none other than the reduction of refugee and migrant flows through the land border, and their displacement towards the sea, with all that that entails: more shipwrecks, that is, and drownings of hundreds of people.
 
Today, a lot has changed and, despite significant discrepancies and problems, the Greek government has attempted for the first time to formulate policy on the issue. The reasons are twofold: on the one hand because migration was a key issue for the people of the Left, who paid serious attention to it, and on the other hand because the exacerbation of the refugee crisis left no room for the «non politics» which previous governments usually opted for as a (non) solution, keeping their head buried in the sand of rhetorical terrorism, police crackdowns and concentration camps.
 
In spite of all this the fence along Evros continues to exist and were one to draw conclusions from the statements made by decision makers, there is no intention of demolishing it in the near future. The building of the fence began while PASOK was in government, continued under the New Democracy government, and continues to exist during the days of the SYRIZA-ANEL government. The Minister of Migration Policy, Yiannis Mouzalas, stated that he is «in theoretical agreement» with the demolition of the fence, that it would be logical to do so, but that for the time being its demolition is not possible; on the same day, Prime Minister Tsipras pleaded in Parliament against a Europe defined by walls and closed borders, without, however, making any explicit reference to the case of Greece.
 
It is often said that the fence is not a priority. Of course, the setting of priorities by a government under conditions where the possibilities of implementing independent policy are limited is reasonable and important. It is also important to recognize the strategic correlations, the limits and the difficulties that are in place today. The question, however, is precisely which these priorities are.  What one would expect would be the top, absolute priority in a 21st century refugee crisis would be the protection of human life. And this is not the case both in Europe and in Greece, despite the fact that the rescue efforts – with the participation and the decisive role played by volunteers and locals – who are fighting the waves in the Aegean, are extremely moving and often superhuman.
 
Which other priority can there be, under these circumstances, except the creation of free and safe routes for the refugees, so that they no longer drown at sea or die from the cold on rocky land in their attempt to cross walls, fences, police and hostile border patrols? Of course, discussions and attempts to reach the best possible agreements regarding infrastructure, organization, capacities and the distribution of «the burden» within the European Union – with and in spite of all the horror that has emerged through it in recent times. Yet do these not come after the protection of human life?
 
Usually at this point, in discussions on the topic, another, perennially popular argument appears: it’s the fault of the people smugglers/the slave traders/ the traffickers. The people smugglers, however, would have no role to play if there were ships, airplanes and buses legally transporting people to safe places, away from war, as required by international law (by now almost torn to pieces) and by common sense.  Let the fence stand, to go back to the case of Greece, if we were to accept that its demolition comes up against «technical difficulties», as the Minister said, but let its gates open to welcome the people; or let that be the basic demand made by the Greek government to Europe. Because, despite the fact that this would not be enough, fewer shipwrecks would occur, and fewer «shocking images» would appear. Of course, other problems would come in their place, with greater intensity than at present, but at least many of the children who drowned would still be alive. Is this not the abolute priority?  

First published in Greek on
"Enthemata Avgis", 1.11.2015

Translated by Despina Biri


 

Yiannis Mouzalas: An activist at the Ministry of Migration Policy: possibilities and limits

Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
The government's commitments to lift first home protection from foreclosures and to bring painful changes in the social insurance system (lowering of pensions and state subsidies, raise of retirement age limits), as well as the suffocating surveillance by the troika (or, rather, quartet) that leaves no room for replacement of the most odious measures with equivalents, suffice to explain why the Finance and Labour Ministries are currently the least enviable seats in the Cabinet. However, there is no doubt that the position of Deputy Minister of Migration Policy, ex-activist with Doctors of the World, Yiannis Mouzalas, belongs to exactly the same category. On October 28, three shipwrecks near the shores of Lesvos, Samos and Agathonissi left behind no less than 18 dead refugees, among them 12 children, and tens of missing persons. Within nine months, the government that attempted a paradigm shift in the Greek migration policy counts more deaths in the Aegean than what even the most pessimist among us would dare to imagine when ex-PM Antonis Samaras, implementing his intolerant far-right policy against refugees and immigrants, boasted illegal push-backs from the Parliament's podium.
 
Since the beginning of 2015 and according to the Ministry of Migration Policy’s calculations, about 420.000 refugees passed through the Greek borders, while the Coast Guard counts about 75-80.000 rescued persons at sea. It is no coincidence, though, that the morbid list of the drowned keeps growing.  Thousands of people keep coming in dinghies with no concern for their safe passage, and the fence the Pasok government built in 2012 on the Greek-Turkish border (along Evros river), of which Samaras was proud, forces refugees to put their lives at risk trying to pass onto the North Aegean islands by boat. Despite all the pressure by the antiracist movement, and even though everyone (even Angelos Syrigos, who was responsible for the migration policy of the previous government) accepts the need to secure a lawful and safe passage for the refugees, the government has no intention of bringing the fence down, at least until some kind of agreement with Turkey is made. Minister Mouzalas said that he agrees with the request to demolish the fence, “from an ideological point of view”,. However, he explained, “from a technical viewpoint, it cannot be done right now”.
 
Despite the dire economic situation in Greece, and even though commitments to the creditors leave the already scant hospitality houses with no resources and no personnel, during last week's EU mini-Summit on the refugee crisis, the Greek government committed to receiving 30.000 more refugees. What's more, five accommodation and identification centres (“hot-spots”) will open on islands/points of entry (Kos, Leros, Samos, Lesvos and Chios), while two more centres with a total capacity of 10,000 people will open in Athens and somewhere in northern Greece so that the examination of asylum requests is not overwhelmed when the flows intensify. During the previous EU-Summit, European Council President Donald Tusk had created expectations that, were Greece to assume increased responsibilities on the issue, that might lead to some fiscal leeway. However, at the recent mini-Summit, EC Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis grounded the Greek government, declaring that all its obligations must be observed on time and in their entirety.
 
The EU tactics on the refugee crisis, namely the continuing militarisation at the borders, its geostrategic games with Turkey at the refugees' expense and of course its intensifying efforts to allow the fewest possible refugees to reach the northern Europe, don't seem to discourage Mouzalas. On the contrary, he thinks Greece will take advantage of “the historical change of course in Europe”, meaning the relocation schemes instead of the detention measures that were prevalent until recently. So, although the 160.000 relocations to EU countries planned for the next two years are minimal compared to the 3 million refugees currently living in Turkey, as far as the Minister is concerned, “the crucial first step is taken: Germany will allow 1 million into its borders”. As regards “hot-spots”, which have already been condemned for inhuman conditions, his approach is similarly “realistic”: refugees, the Minister admits, are bound to be treated better than undocumented immigrants, for whom “the law will be enforced”, i.e. they will be sent back. Mouzalas justifies this on the grounds that the incoming flows to Greece are mainly (70-80%) refugee flows, so they “deserve” the best part of our attention.
 
Mouzalas attempts to strike a difficult balance. On the one hand, he complies with an EU logic that tries to keep the refugees as far back from its borders as possible, with restricted openings, intolerance towards economic migrants and incentives to Turkey to receive refugees despite its notorious human rights record. On the other hand, the Greek government opens or tolerates spaces of temporary hospitality for refugees in squares, parks, indoor stadiums and other facilities all over the country, frequently taking advantage of the local communities' solidarity reserves. For the time being, the climate of xenophobia cultivated by the previous ND-Pasok government has changed considerably, and this is something to be credited to the government. Yet how long the new mood of hospitality and solidarity will last, and which side the scale will tip in the end, is (also) an issue for the antiracist movement.

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou

 
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