Snuffing out the other at the border: The extreme Right’s heartless policies

The heartless are at work in various borders using various ways to exercise heartlessness. In the 2019 European elections, nationalists, populists, and the extreme right-wing elite came together (with the help of Steve Bannon) following current trends that brought authoritarian leaders to power. While the neoliberal system of austerity, hyper consumption and incarceration hadsomething to do with it, populists’ political discourses of have played the-fear-of-the-stranger score. 

The phrase “immigration crisis” triggers fear in places where migrants in processing centers on the borders are out of sight, but the real crisis is for migrants. They face crisis at home, trying to escape, and crossing borders. Then they face crisis as they arrive in Europe or the US. Crisis for migrants has a name: detention. During the European election campaign, Raphael Glucksmann, a leading candidate for one of the leftist lists in France, declared, “Some migrants in Hungarian jails are starving to death, because they don’t receive food.” He admitted that he pushed it by saying “to death” but the reality was well described in a report, published May 2019, by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic.

While the report documents inaccessibility of “refugee protection,” the common thread for too many “democracies” is detention. The US has “iceboxes”, cells where migrant families are detained in freezing conditions with little to no medical assistance, resulting in children’s deaths. Hungary has its no-food plan and the cold. The report relates the conditions of living in the “transit zones,” another name to mask detention centers. 

The language used by the extreme Right, that is seeping into the language of mainstream media and people, masks the terrible human rights violations imposed on asylum seekers and immigrants arriving at the European and US borders. Language is key if we want to understand how the politics of suffering. are trivialized. In 2015, under Viktor Orban’s rule, Hungary changed its legal framework for asylum seekers. The new framework is migration without human rights, stepping on all international human rights obligations. Sound familiar? Every violation requires a language of justification. Here is the Hungarian version: Migrants arriving in Hungary are “free” to demand asylum although the status is almost impossible to attain. There are two places where people may file for asylum status in Hungary, both on the Serbian borders. These places are described as “place of accommodation” and called Transit Zones. According to the report: “The Commissioner considers that the systematic confinement of asylum seekers in the Transit Zones without time limit and effective access to remedy under an environment described by the CPT as `carceral’ qualifies as detention.” 

Asylum seekers cannot leave and do not receive food. This is why the French candidate, Raphael Gluksmann, described the situation in Hungary as a threat for all. When Hungary implemented its policy of food deprivation, cases were filed with the European Court of Justice (August 2018); only then did regular food distribution to migrants on the border resumed. Since then, food has been regular in the Transit Zones. Families with children are detained in Transit Zones, surrounded by rolls of razor blade wire. Extreme Right policy makers justify their actions creating inhumane conditions by pretending that they will deter asylum seekers or immigrants from arriving at their borders.

In the US-Mexico border, the separation of children from parents was justified in this way: Asylum-seekers should not have brought their children and undertaken the long and difficult journey to the processing center. The parents are blamed for putting their children’s lives in danger! Immigrants (distinctions between asylum seekers and immigrants have disappeared) are held in detention in such bad conditions that some decide to return to the dangerous conditions they left in the first place. Children were separated and kept in foster care before the child-separation policy was called into question. So much for extreme Right’s family values!

When applied to human beings, the word “illegal” persuades people that “illegals” do not have rights. In the US, many do not know that even if a person does not have proper documents, they still have rights under International Human Rights laws. The phrase “illegal immigrant” nullifies and renders invisible any human being without documentation, even asylum seekers. Trump and his followers describe asylum seekers and all Latin American immigrants as terrorists and rapists. The public has been fed on this narrative of fear since the 9/11 attacks. Now it has grown to the satiation point with the “crisis” at the border.

In Europe and the US, the heartless had an answer to justify heartlessness. The Hungarian response bluntly stated that their true mission is to protect their territory and punish those who commit offences/crimes. According to the government, anyone entering “illegally” endangers the territory. 

In France, the Defender of Rights, a Constitutionally authorized position, has attacked the French government for incarcerating children. A legal battle has taken place over the confinement of migrant families, with the higher courts ruling against the decision to keep migrant families in jail.  The number of migrant children kept in confinement is directly connected to national politics. The period with the lowest rate of incarceration of children covers Christiane Taubira’s time as Minister of Justice, since she believed in restorative justice. Meanwhile, in the US, with the wave of young Democrats voted into office in 2018, we see the beginnings of counter arguments to the extreme Right’s spewing of fear against the Other.

Today’s migrations occur in a context of wars, climate change, and over-exploitation of natural resources. As philosopher Elsa Dorlin recently suggested, we need to understand how exposing the murder of the Other at the border is based in necropolitics becoming necroliberalism. The Geneva Convention, the International Human Rights—these are eschewed by the Right through the language of fear and capitalist territorialism.

In the recent European elections, the populists, though divided, collected votes among disenchanted people. In France, for example, where incarcerated people vote, the majority of incarcerated people voted for populist parties, including the one that is clearly xenophobic. On the other hand, in the same elections, there was strong resistance to the heartless, coming from people organizing for environmental justice, gender ethnic class equality, migrants’ rights, and more.The heartless must be brought down.

(Image Credit 1: United for Intercultural Action) (Image Credit 2: Coordination Sud)

The politics of suffering, a growing project in Europe

In France, the yellow vests movement, some of whom are inspired by nationalistic racism and others need community and support, continues to monopolize the attention of social media, forging a large variety of opinions. Some talk about the suffering that pushes them to hit the roundabouts, others talk about shattering the government, all are the product of the neoliberal austerity creed. 

The trigger was the implementation of a new tax on diesel fuel that was going to impact mainly the population who has older cars in the outskirts of big city suburbs and the rural population. 

Additionally, diesel fuel was once subsidized to serve the interest of oil companies and is now officially identified to be responsible for premature death due to deadly micro particles released in the air after combustion. 

Should the concerns be also about climate change with the building of a disaster? Should the perpetuation of economic interests be questioned? Instead of asking these questions, the official discourse from a large political spectrum revolves around consumer purchasing power and unemployment. In this European setting, the term suffering is largely used to depict a large range of social situations. 

What does it mean to be suffering in France and elsewhere? Who is suffering? 

Here is Trump’s understanding of the notion of suffering: “On behalf of our nation I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.” The suffering endured by Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans who were facing death at home and now are facing repression going north does not qualify as suffering for Trump and his cronies. 

In Europe, the suffering of 49 migrants who had been rescued by humanitarian ships in January has been ignored. This came after the closure of many ports of access, decided arbitrarily by the Italian Government against sea-rescue organizations. These organizations, such as SOS Mediterranée, were created after the end of Mare Nostrum to compensate for the absence of official rescue ships. Now, it is the turn of these non-governmental organizations to be dismantled by the authorities. 

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, just released a report about refugees/migrants arriving in Europe and at European borders. Reports come with numbers. With an estimated 2,275 people drowned in 2018 in the Mediterranean Sea, the year is a record of deaths compared to the number of arrivals in Europe.  More than 1500 people have already died attempting to reach Europe since the beginning of 2019. This situation casts doubt on the decisions by nation-states to remove rescue ships and close land routes rendering traveling to safety very dangerous. 

The UNHCR’s Director Pascale Moreau declared: “With the number of people arriving on European shores falling, this is no longer a test of whether Europe can manage the numbers, but whether Europe can muster the humanity to save lives.”

Saving lives would be a good idea, but there is a good deal of suffering awaiting the saved lives when they face asylum process. Incarceration of migrants is on the rise in Europe; that is the project of the Italian minister of interior, Matteo Salvini. 

There is another way, leaving them in the streets with the increasing homeless population, thanks to neoliberal austerity. Women are particularly vulnerable when homeless.  Every year, the Abbé Pierre Foundation sarcastically rewards the best initiatives to impede the homeless from finding a place to rest in cities. The award called “Les Pics d’or” (golden picks) goes to municipalities, metro stations, even banks. They render public spaces uninviting and uninhabitable with all kinds of devices, picks, individual seats instead of benches, rocks, and massive planters. And then there are the police raids slashing tents given to migrants by humanitarian helpers. 

So much work done by the neoliberal technocrats to make the Wretched of the Earth  suffer, while the richer are thirsty for help and assistance for their leisured life. Although it seems cliché, this reality of asymmetry is well described in the most recent World Inequality Report.   

There is no crisis of migration: only 3% of people migrate, 97 % stay where they are, 70% of African’s migrants remains on the continent, and, in 2017 only 10 % of migrants migrated for economic reasons. In France, only 0.5% of the population is undocumented; although they are eligible to free health care some are dreaming to create administrative devices to impede their access to health care services.

So much confusion about suffering generated by economic austerity, migration.  Let’s remember:  “Sapiens Africanus was born not in a lattice of sharp borders but rather an open ecosystem, punctuated by climates, shortages, abundances, droughts, and floods, ruptures and junctions, alliances, parasitisms, antagonisms, sharing, and exploitation….” Patrick Chamoiseau in Migrant Brothers, imagine migrant sisters! 

(Photo Credit: SOS Mediterranée / Laurin Schmid)

For women migrants and refugees, justice instead of policing!

 


“They are conscious of their impending death, still they would rather float out to sea. That makes one ponder the conditions of life for many in the world,” a woman rescuer on the Aquarius told me. The Aquarius is one of the rare vessels still rescuing people on the border of the territorial waters of Libya. The women, men, and children who embarked on flimsy dinghies after having been dispossessed by all the agents of this drama finally land in Europe. The reasons of the conditions that made them flee are not discussed; what is discussed is constraining the flow they form and managing those people. Although they experienced many levels of torture, they still must “convince the authorities” of their need for protection.

In 1951 in Geneva, the international community agreed on a convention on the protection of refugees. They decided that asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country. It was the time of post WWII international conventions, when the narrative was “never again.” The convention affirms that no one should be expelled against her or his will to a territory where she or he fears threats to life or freedom.

The main industrial countries have reinterpreted the convention they ratified. As Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), told us, in the United States this is the worst period for immigrants in his lifetime and he has been working in immigration for decades. He also told us that they had seen no refugees coming since the election.

The European governments have been designing policies to close their borders to refugees and migrants. In countries previously known to welcome migrants – such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Hungary – anti-immigrant parties have reached unprecedented levels of representation. As a result, those countries have aligned their immigration policies with the more conservative countries. In 2015, the Swedish population grew by an additional 1.6 %, thanks largely to the arrival of 163 000 refugees. As elsewhere, Sweden’s discourse of public debt and unemployment rates has included immigrants as an aggravating factor. This triggered horribly restrictive asylum policies, placing Sweden at the bottom of the 32 European countries. Meanwhile, the Schengen free circulation agreement in EU countries has fallen apart. Now the Swedish border patrol requires passport or photo IDs, even at the iconic Øresund Bridge border between Copenhagen and Malmö.

While asylum policies vary from country to country, they have all been tightened, especially in countries where these policies had been rather generous. Most recently, the newly elected French President announced that he wanted to reform France’s asylum process. He claimed this would provide a more human and just process and at the same time insisted on the importance of managing the problem of smugglers as well as discouraging people from trying to reach Europe.

While President Macron spoke fine words about humanizing French asylum policies, his Interior Minister was showing a “tough on immigration” face. France has not been very welcoming to asylum seekers and the application of its asylum policies does not respect the notion of protection that the Geneva Convention commands.

The Paris-based Primo Levi Center assists women, men, and children who have faced political violence, rape, torture, humiliation, persecution. They provide long term treatments to their patients. Typically, their patients are referred to them up to 3 years after having drifted onto the coast of Europe. Despite having been tortured, 50 % of their patients saw their asylum applications rejected in the first round. The Center published a report that identified the breaches in the process that should have provided protection. They made strong recommendations, among them a reform of Ofpra, the office in charge of first addressing asylum applications, demanding that the office be put under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice as opposed to the current Ministry of the Interior. They demanded justice instead of policing.

The report identified variances of results between the different judges in charge of reviewing the cases and granting asylum, showing that judges’ biases about migrants are a determining factor. In the current climate of “de-welcoming” refugees, refugees are often seen as liars who mislead the officers recording their testimony. This perception obscures the reality of torture that the asylum seeker has lived through. Torture excludes people. Once in Europe the torture continues as the refugees continued to be excluded. As one of the Primo Levi’s patients explained, “How do you make them believe that I was forced to eat parts of a fetus pulled out of the body of a woman who had been executed in front of me by a soldier.” Half of the refugees/migrants are women, who have been raped, abused during their trip, used as weapon of war and then face gender inequality when applying for asylum.

There is no time in these interviews to recognize the psychological trauma of the victims of torture. Now, the President’s reform will accelerate that process. If the improvement of protection rate observed in 2016 with an increase of 35 % compared to 2015 should continue, acceleration of the process shouldn’t mean officers are obsessed with identifying the good refugee from the fake refugee, essentially the economic refugee. Instead, they should give refugees the benefit of the doubt.

The paradigm must change, as determined defender of human rights Giusi Nicollini, Mayor of Lampedusa, declared when she received the Simone de Beauvoir Award, “The people who fled violence defied death, they are a modern example of heroism.” She identified the situation of migrants/refugees to be the new apartheid, a new holocaust. Giusi Nicollini lost her seat in the last election to someone who campaigned on tougher measures toward refugees. The role of conventions and their legality must be reinforced. We must switch the rationale from the balance of power to the balance of justice.

 

(Photo Credit: Yahoo / AFP / Carlo Hermann)

In the US and Europe: women, migrants, and injustice

Two news stories worthy of comment today: first, The New York Times reported yesterday that a nine-man, three-woman jury acquitted a young man from the elite prep school of St. Paul’s of rape charges, even when his 15-year-old victim reiterated over and over, that she had said “no” to her rape, several times during the ordeal.

What part of “No means No” did this jury not get?  In the twenty-first century?

The defense lawyer’s bizarre and illogical closing argument, which clearly found favor with at least some of the jurors, was this: “He’s not a saint. He’s a teenager.”  As if all male teens (and all men, it seems to imply), unless they are saints, will rape and assault young girls, and that that is a normal, acceptable thing; as if somehow, rape by teenagers should not be named or punished in the same way as rape by those who are not teenagers.  One of the six men who brutally raped and killed the bus commuter Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012 was a 17-year-old teenager.  Describing someone’s age status is not an argument. It is shameful that it became one, with a whole set of unspoken assumptions about acceptable sexual behavior, and seems to have been accepted by a majority of the members of that jury.  How this majority male jury was selected to decide a case involving a young girl’s rape, gender bias, and other serious concerns about this grave failure of the justice process also emerge.

The other story takes us to violence against a different vulnerable population: those Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean, and Afghani refugees dying on Europe’s roads and shores, in its fields and seas– those that European countries and international media dishonestly and dehumanizingly call “migrants.”  As Hannah Arendt forcefully argued, based on the experience of Jewish refugees in the mid-twentieth century, these minorities have lost the protection of their states, and are “stateless people” – NOT “migrants.”  Even the term “refugee,” she argued, hid from view the fact that these people were in the position they were in because their states could/would no longer protect them and their basic human rights.  Instead of dehumanizing these stateless people by building more walls and pushing them out to sea, Europe needs to deliver on its promises in the 1951 Geneva Convention—made in the wake of the independence of most of the world from over 300 years of brutal British and European exploitation, dehumanization, enslavement, and colonization—to respect and protect the human rights of refugees.  Somini Sengupta nailed it when she noted, “Countries are free to deport migrants who arrive without legal papers, which they cannot do with refugees under the 1951 convention. So it is not surprising that many politicians in Europe prefer to refer to everyone fleeing to the continent as migrants.”

If European states refuse to help these human beings and turn them away from refuge, they are no better than the state governments people are fleeing. In the dissembling name “migrant” that denies people their history and human identity, Europe simply reproduces the inhumane state violence of those regimes it disparages.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Telesurtv.net) (Photo Credit 2: EurActiv.com)

They have no names: Europe’s unmournable women

There is the work of mourning, and then there is the labor of the unmournable. Two weeks ago, the Institute of Race Relations published Unwanted, Unnoticed: an audit of 160 asylum and immigration-related deaths in Europe. Of 160 deaths from January 2010 to December 2014, 123 resulted from the immigration and asylum system. While the numbers are chilling, this is pure ice: “Because migrants who suffer inside Europe are denied access to welfare, entombed within detention centres or forced into a sub-subsistence life at the very margins of society, their deaths are unmournable, or, to use a phrase that one would have hoped would be obsolete, ‘Life unworthy of life’ (Lebensunwertes Leben).”

The numbers and data come from largely from local media reports and from local migrant and anti-racist support groups. Many governments don’t keep records of migrant deaths, and the ones that do are filled with black holes. The 160 is both a snapshot and the tip of a growing iceberg, and here’s a picture of the world of the unmournable: “In too many cases, those who die are unidentified. Sometimes only a nationality and an age are recorded, sometimes not even that. None of the twenty-three who died in Norway’s reception centres are identified, and we know the names of only four of the eighteen who died, mostly in direct provision hostels, in Ireland in the past five years. Eight of those who died in Greece are unidentified, seven of the dead in France, eleven of those who died in Germany. In such cases, the dead are in a very literal sense ‘unmournable’.”

The dead are in a very literal sense unmournable, and among those dead, the women are even more so. Of the 123 who died as a consequence of the immigration-and-asylum system, 13 were women. Some of them, like Samba Martine and Christine Case, are well known. Others, like Alta Ming, Tatiana Serykh, and Yeni P. should be. And the remaining 8, more than half of the group, are “unidentified.” These women are the unmournable unmournables. Their families may not know, their friends and even those who hunted them down don’t know, and the nation-States where they died refuse to know.

Of the 123 people who died as a result of the immigration-and-asylum system, 60 committed suicide. Of the 13 women who died in this nightmare, only three committed suicide. Three others died of “illnesses”, which means they were left to die. Christine Case was left to die in Yarl’s Wood. Samba Martine was left to die in the Aluche immigration detention center in Madrid. Alta Ming was left to die by both France and the Netherlands. One woman, an unidentified Nepalese undocumented migrant in Cyprus, heard police enter her building. Thinking it was a raid and fearing deportation, she jumped from a fifth-floor balcony to her death. There was no raid, and there has been no subsequent investigation. That was 2012. Three years later, she remains “unidentified.” Undocumented even in death.

And then there’s the Irish Five: five unidentified women asylum seekers who died of “unknown causes”. Two died in 2010, two in 2012, and one in 2013. Unidentified, unknown, unmournable.

This is the house of unmourning, and within its walls women are. They have no names.

 

(Photo Credit: David Sleator / The Irish Times)