Hunger strike: Transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean, Tunisian migrants, and Davos

Marie Dean

While, in Davos, billionaires and millionaires gorged themselves, in England, transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean led a solitary hunger strike for her dignity and life, and, on the island of Lampedusa in Italy, over 40 Tunisian migrants sewed their lips shut and entered a hunger strike, demanding to be transferred off the island onto the mainland and demanding not to be deported. All this occurred while the munching billionaires told the gulping millionaires “how the middle class feels.” For Marie Dean and for the Tunisian migrants, the whole world was not watching.

Marie Dean, 50 years old, currently sits in HMP Preston, a men’s prison in Lancashire. Dean has petitioned to have her chosen gender recognized. The Ministry of Justice refused. The Ministry of Justice assures the public that Marie Dean is perfectly safe in an all-male prison: “There are stringent procedures in place to ensure transgender prisoners are managed safely and in accordance with the law. We have robust safeguards in place to ensure that the system is not abused.” Those “stringent procedures” did nothing for Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, or Jenny Swift, transgender women prisoners placed in men’s prisons. Each protested, begged, pleaded. Each was “found dead”. Now, Marie Dean says she is willing to fast unto death, rather than suffer ongoing dehumanization. What happened to Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, and Jenny Swift? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. What is happening to Marie Dean? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. While Marie Dean fasts unto death, the world watches the super wealthy gorge themselves in Davos.

On Lampedusa, forty some Tunisians migrants have been held for several weeks. Recently they were informed they were to be deported. In response, they went on hunger strike, some sewing their mouths shut. In 2013, Tunisian and Moroccan migrants sewed their lips together in protest of the abysmal conditions of detention. As one detainee explained, “People … are treated like animals.”

Marie Dean is on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill her soul. Forty some Tunisians are on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill their souls. Marie Dean and the Tunisian migrants encapsulated the horror that lies at the core of the so-called global economy. For the billionaires and the millionaires to dine at the Davos feast organized by the International Organization of Thieves and Robbers, some must lose their lives. Some lose their lives because they are transgender women; others lose their lives because they are African migrants. They will not be found dead; they will be sacrificed. Marie Dean says NO! The Tunisian migrants say NO! Look away from grinding jaws of Davos, look at the closed and sewn lips of HMP Preston and Lampedusa. The time is now … before more are killed.



(Photo Credit 1: (Photo Credit 2: Giornale di Sicilia)

Lampedusa nowhere, Lampedusa everywhere

The plan was, and is, simple. Cut off routes for migration; create one “forced route”, an impossible route. If anything goes wrong, blame it on the dead. Call it Plan Lampedusa.

The only problem is that those who moved through Lampedusa refuse to die, vanish, or accept. Welcome to the Lampedusa Charter, welcome to Lampedusa in Hamburg. Welcome to Lampedusa … everywhere.

A week ago or so, over three hundred immigration and asylum activists met, on the island of Lampedusa, to write a new Lampedusa Charter. The 300 included representatives from Lampedusa in Hamburg, the Moroccan Social Forum, and Terre Pour Tous, a Tunisian organization of relatives of migrants and shipwreck victims. The Charter rejects the forced route to Europe. The authors of the Charter reject the erasure of their lives, their humanity, and their stories.

For Europe, and beyond, Lampedusa has become the spectacle of tragedy. Regularly, Africans, by the boatload, drown or “are saved” off its shores. But the news media never seem to question why those shores? Why are there so many drowning off the shores of Lampedusa? And what happens to those who pass through, on to the continent?

Lampedusa in Hamburg offers one response. In early 2013, about 300 West African men made it to Hamburg. They survived the treacherous trip through Libya. They survived the impossible journey across the Mediterranean. They made it through Lampedusa and onto the mainland, and finally made it to Hamburg.

The 300 applied for asylum and ran into obstacles, many of which derived from EU regulations. And so they organized. They organized Lampedusa in Hamburg. They organized solidarity networks. Football clubs supported them. Bar bouncers protected them from racist attacks. The State did nothing. Then the “Lampedusa tragedy”, the death of over 300 African refugees, happened in October 2013. Hamburg declared “danger zones”, meaning specified areas in which police could demand anything of anybody, without any proper cause or due process. Lampedusa in Hamburg, and its allies, responded with mass demonstrations. Finally, the State relented … somewhat. The danger zones were disbanded. Lampedusa in Hamburg still lives under threat of deportation.

In Hamburg, African refugees and asylum seekers joined with others in the local Right to the City movement. They organized for the universal right to stay. From squatters to homeowners and apartment dwellers in suddenly chic neighborhoods to residents in areas facing `redevelopment’ to asylum seekers and refugees, people organized to combat racism, gentrification, exclusion, inhumanity.

Lampedusa in Hamburg, and its allies, are rewriting the narrative of immigration and citizenship, as they re-draw all sorts of maps. No amount of crocodile tears over the tragedy of Lampedusa can wash away the reality of Lampedusa. And that reality is that Lampedusa is everywhere. Migrants, immigrants, irrespective of their status, carry the portal of entry with them forever. Those who have passed through Lampedusa, they are forever citizens and bearers of Lampedusa. The plan was Lampedusa nowhere. Instead, the reality is Lampedusa everywhere. And the residents of that reality are organizing, demanding the right to stay.


(Photo Credit: Getty Pictures /

Lampedusa: Another solidarity is possible!

The little island of Lampedusa located between the Libyan and Italian coasts, actually closer to Libya than to Italy, has made the headlines again. Some call the island the Guantanamo of Europe. The island is the point of landing for many who either escape war zones or are simply pushed away as was the case for the many foreign workers from Africa or Asia in Libya. Lampedusa’s “reception” center or CPTA, centro di permanenza temporeana e assistenza, is full. It is a continuous theater of simple acts of dehumanization and intimidation.

Emotions are high after a video filmed by Ahmed, a Syrian refugee, with his cell phone and shown on channel 2 of Italian public television. The video shows people disrobing and standing naked in a cold wind before being spread with disinfectants said to contain a scabby outbreak.

Ahmed gave the video to a journalist adding: “We are treated like dogs… we were there naked in line, we were awaiting to be sprayed with disinfectant against scabby that we contracted in the center. It was like the Jews in the documentaries on Nazi concentration camps. The people in the center were staring at us, making fun of us to humiliate us…it was cold” and women were treated similarly.

These shocking images brought back memories of concentration camps and triggered public outrage as well as officials’ reactions. The mayor of the island compared the island to a “concentration camps,” although, a few years ago, another mayor of the same island showed no compassion for Tunisian refugees who were welcomed with slogans such as “Lampedusa does not want you, go away beasts”.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström declared, “The images of Lampedusa’s center are appalling and unacceptable.” It is not the images that are unacceptable. It is the reality that these structures are there and badly run by a world of private associations and cooperatives that use public subsidies to create a very profitable business of locking up refugees.

“The more they are the better it is. The longer they stay the better it is and a minor refugee is a cherry on the cake,” wrote Alessandra Ziniti in La Repubblica.

With the free circulation of people and goods in Europe came the paradoxical concept of Fortress Europe. Actually the latter was formed as a business to serve the new globalized markets. It has left a trail of devastation and mistreatment of women, men and children. In Italy, during the Berlusconi years the business of dealing with refugees and migrants was given to the best financial offers. Even Catholic movements (comunione e liberazione) and entrepreneurial priests along with international energy corporations took part in it.

The money involved is colossal as Italy spends 1.8 million euros every day to detain 40 244 refugees.

Meanwhile the refugees and migrants whose futures were threatened in their home countries have been parked, sprayed and dispossessed of dignity and humanity in these centers. The latest scandal of Lampedusa is just the latest addition to the long list of State/EU mistreatment of people that accompanies austerity measures, as in Greece, that destabilize and impoverish civil society, creating the conditions for more dehumanization.

We need to imagine another type of solidarity to force the European Union to deliver the promises of its message as the one expressed by commissioner Malström after the drowning of 280 refugees off the shore of the island in October 2013: “This is not the European Union we want” it is certainly not the world society we want!

(Image Credit: Courrier International / Kountouris)