Helena Maleno Garzón refuses to let all that is human drown in the Mediterranean

Helena Maleno Garzón at a workshop

The year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost, sinking into the sea bottom as it reveals the sinking of our own collective humanity. Last year, over 5000 women, children and men drowned in the Mediterranean. The year before close to 4000, and the year before that, a little over 3000. This year, the reported death toll hovers just over 3000. That “success” is largely due to draconian measures that have sent refugees back to slave markets and brutal prisons in Libya and life-in-death in Morocco. Spain has replaced Italy as the preferred port of entry for those seeking a life, be they called migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. Such is today’s morbid mathematics that over 3000 innocents drowned in one body of water in one year is touted as “success”. This is who we are … or not. Helena Maleno Garzón is a Spanish activist and journalist based in Tangiers. Working with Caminando Fronteras, a human rights group founded in 2002 that monitors and reports on the Spanish – Moroccan borders, Helena Maleno Garzón has spent the last years documenting, working with, rescuing and insisting on the dignity of migrant, refugees and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. Helena Maleno Garzón refuses to let all that is human drown in the Mediterranean, and for that refusal, she is described as a criminal by both Morocco and Spain.

Two Spanish cities – Ceuta and Mellila – sit on Morocco’s coast. In 2015, Helena Maleno Garzón described the two enclaves as “the most heavily guarded borders in the EU to keep out African migrants.” Two years ago, Helena Maleno Garzón described a scene of mounting violence, excessive and illegal use of force, and preventable tragedies, such as the massacre of 15 African migrants on February 6, 2014, at the El Tarajal beach, in Ceuta. As a Liberian woman refugee explained, “We are subjected to ongoing institutional violence when we reach the border. This can range from denial of access to basic rights, to torture, physical abuse, and even sexual violence. What you see on the Melilla fence is only a fraction of what we suffer in transit.” In the intervening years, that fraction has grown as it has intensified. After 15 years of engagement in the area, Helena Maleno Garzón and her colleagues at Caminando Fronteras have declared that the area is now a war zone.

And so, the Moroccan government, at the behest of the Spanish government, has charged Helena Maleno Garzón with smuggling and human trafficking. The Spanish government tried the same trick a few years ago, but had to withdraw the charges earlier this year. Earlier this week, the Moroccan court postponed Helena Maleno Garzón’s trial until January 10 of next year. In Morocco and in Spain, many are rising to Helena Maleno Garzón’s defense. Across Spanish social media, #DefendiendoAMaleno appears next to #NoEsDelito. The defense of Helena Maleno Garzón rejects the criminalization of assisting others in need.

Helena Maleno Garzón stands trial for asking which is the greater crime, to cross a border, to assist crossing a border or to maintain that border with lethal force?  Spanish policy mirrors European policy, and “what you see on the Melilla fence is only a fraction of what we suffer.” Look into the mirror. Let us move closer to the water’s edge, grasp one another’s hands, encircle the Mediterranean, and speak the names of every child, woman, and man who died in the sea or at the hands of border guards while trying to find haven. Let us do so for the sake of humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: El Pais / Caminando Borders)

26: The infinite mirroring of the horror we have created

Sutherland Springs

“Whose grave’s this, sir?”
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

“Mourning. We will be speaking of nothing else.”
Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx

26. Two mirrors face each other. “Sutherland Springs: Texas church shooting leaves 26 dead”. “Italy probes deaths of 26 Nigerian women from migrant boats”. These headlines both appeared on the BBC news website today. In Texas, the Governor said, “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain.” In Texas, half of the people killed were children. In Italy, most of the women were between 14 and 18 years old. This is the fearful symmetry we have produced. No immortal hand or eye would dare produce such horror. This is completely ours. 26. We should all be in pain, and not just today. Who will remember the day in which 26 innocents here and 26 innocents there became specters, objects for the work of mourning, subjects for the never-too-soon debates? Who will claim responsibility, for the wholesale mass production of guns, refugees, asylum seekers, and corpses? 26. Whose world is this? Whose grave’s this, sir? 26.

Salerno

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

All that is human drowned in the sea

This year, all that is human drowned in the sea, all that is holy has been profaned, and we are at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind. In 2016, at least 5000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Last Friday, two boats capsized, and “about 100 people are missing and feared dead.” Who fears them dead? No State and no amalgam of nation-States fears them dead. Rather, in this the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe, the year’s epitaph is simple: “2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees”. We are the world, and we turned the sea into a graveyard. This year, the women, child, man of the year lies on the bottom of the Mediterranean, and we do not know their names, and we do not much care. If we did, they would be alive today. So here is a poem for the unknown refugees who lie in the cemetery that we have made of the Mediterranean. See you next year.

Home
by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

 

(“Home” by Warsan Shire appeared here.) (Photo Credit: Electronic Intifada /Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

Immemorial Day and the unbroken surface of the Mediterranean

“Fear not suffering’s gravity.
Return to earth its weighty share;
heavy are its mountains, heavy the sea.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus

Last week at least 700 people – refugees and asylum seekers – drowned in the Mediterranean. That raises this year’s known death toll to 2000. Italy plans to build a cemetery, a memorial of sorts, to those who die at sea. It would be located next the remains of the country’s largest fascist concentration camp. While the cemetery is the least Italy, or any country, can do, that cemetery is not a “final resting place”. There is no final resting place for those refugees and asylum seekers. This weekend is filled with images of cemeteries and those who come to the cemeteries: families, dignitaries, people. But there is no picture of the surface of the Mediterranean, and there should be. As we stare at the photographs of cemeteries, we should be made to stare at the unbroken surface of the Mediterranean. We should remember all who have perished in the name of war.

One day, impossibly, we will come to the water’s edge and grasp one another’s hands. We will encircle the Mediterranean and we will say the names of every child, woman, and man who drowned in the heavy sea while trying to find haven. Amen.

(Photo Credit: Miriadna.com)

Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken

From my adoptive hometown of Baltimore the racialized surveillance of movement of people appears clear and loaded with violence and discrimination.

Monday was the funeral of Freddie Gray who died in police custody of unnatural causes, adding to the long list of people of color who died in police encounters. He was beaten up evidently. His fault was to run away from police for no other reason than not trusting them. The police chased him. The police do not need probable cause to arrest in high crime area. Baltimore is a high crime area all by itself and also a “Black city.” In this racially discriminatory and oppressive context, a young Black man does not want to be close to police. The latter is not there to protect him. The same is true for Black women. The city has paid over $ 5.7 million in settlement for the wrongdoing of the police since 2011. There is harassment, humiliation and constant scrutiny of movement for the African Americans in the street of Baltimore. Still, the police authorities accuse the poor and the destitute to be the threat, while the city is cutting social, public housing programs and school budget including financial support for organizations that provide support to the population while many actors with power just organize the demise of their community.

Worldwide, movement is not easy for the poor or the destitute. While the United States is the showroom of pure racism, the Mediterranean Sea is the theater of the policy of laissez-faire, let them die. As Senegalese author Fatou Diome declared, this racialized laissez-die has shaped the European Union’s dissuading policies against migration.

Since the beginning of 2015, over 39 000 people have attempted the crossing to Europe. 1776 have died just to escape the violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq or other battled countries. This means one death every two hours since the first of January. This is the highest rate ever recorded. According to the UN Commissioner of Refugees, only 10% of people running away from violence migrate to the EU but that’s enough to rekindle the conservative and nationalist spirit of this rich continent.

On April 19th, a rotten trawler with 700 migrants packed on board capsized. All 28 survivors had been on the upper level. As is often the case, women and children were locked up down in the hold. And so they all died.

This happened after 400 migrants died in the Sicily. These latest incidents shook the consciousness of some in Europe. In Italy the population came to the rescue helping the migrants in a solidarity spirit that should be the norm. But the policies of asylum don’t carry this humanistic solidarity spirit. They penalize populations coming from the South. The Dublin II Accord signed by 32 European States has stated that demand for asylum can only be filed in the first entry country. Today these countries are typically Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.

At a recent summit EU Ministers of Foreign and Interior Affairs, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi demanded that the rest of Europe participate in rescuing and receiving this flux of migrants.

After the drama of Lampedusa that left almost 280 dead, chanting “Never again”, the EU leaders eliminated the Italian program “Mare Nostrum” that ambitiously had the ability to search and rescue in international and European waters the migrants. Mare Nostrum was replaced by the “Triton” program which is not a search-and-rescue operation and operates only on European waters. It is also less expensive. As Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted, the UE, is the biggest economic power of our time, somehow can’t 3 million additional Euros per month to aid migrants.

Ten measures that resembled pious hope more than coherent actions were proposed. European leaders agreed to return most of the refugees to their war-torn countries, consenting to only 5 000 permits. These decisions are marked by the neoliberal austerity mindset that imposes discrimination and misery for those left out of the political and economic order.

The leaders also agreed to increase the funds for Triton within the program of surveillance of borders called Frontex. They also affirmed that they would fight the traffickers. As the socialist group of the European Parliament argued, these actions merely add another layer of military violence to areas already ravaged by conflict.

There is an obvious discrepancy between the dramas taking place in the Mediterranean waters and the streets of Baltimore or other US cities, and the application of the right to move freely or migrate to seek safer land, safer lives.

Fatou Diome put it clearly, “If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken.” She added that the people who depart for survival already consider that their lives have no value and therefore are not afraid of losing it. The disaster has been already organized for them through imperialist wars and deprivation.

After the funeral, the riot in the streets of Baltimore shed light on the balance of power. Freddie Gray could not run away from arbitrary arrest and humiliation, and lost his life. The young rioters in Baltimore had a similar perception of their position. It is not enough to condemn violence, as Martin Luther King declared without “condemning the contingent intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention … Riot is the language of the unheard.”

These are large issues. Another type of dialogue and solidarity has to be formed if we are to restore a humanistic dialogue and discourse and free the movements of the oppressed.

(Portrait of Freddie Gray: Kim Sarabia / Colorlines)

(Photo Credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)