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)

Italy: The cause against disqualification of women, men and children

There is a cause that mirrors the cause of political feminism because it confronts the same principle of disqualification. In Italy, the cause of welcoming with dignity and respect “migrants/refugees” is being vilified by the new extreme right Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini who has engaged in a war against the most vulnerable women, men, and children who are looking for safety. 

The humanist initiative that has taken place in Riace, a small village of Calabria, under the leadership of its mayor Domenico Lucano, in his third term, has been recognized as a model of integration. For this, Lucano became the perfect target for Matteo Salvini, who first had him arrested and placed under house arrest and then deported him away from his villageusing false pretenses of misusing funds and supporting a “business” of immigration.

When Domenico Lucano became mayor in 2004, Riace was on the decline. He had a vision, he imagined an alliance between the local people and the people in need of a place to live. He had plenty of ideas to initiate a different kind of socio-economy that involved community building beyond the usual norms and appearances. His policies revitalized the villagewith the development of a small craft industry with artisanal shops as well as an efficient co-operative waste sorting unit that has been run with migrants for the past 7 years. That was unbearable for the anti-migrant Italian Minister of the Interior. Domenico Lucano proved that a global villagewas possible. His arrest and deportation are part of the global destruction of a sound system of social politics of integration. The goal is to curtail any sort of solidarity, despite that working in cooperation is always more efficient for a more sustainable society. 

Italy has a new policy: close all human size structures and build huge centers in which to park the refugees/migrants. The Italian government wants to reduce the number of refugees admitted under a humanitarian program which reduced the number of refugees by 60 %. Once again, some people coming from the South are not qualified to be alive, and women are the first ones to be isolated and disqualified.

Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean Sea, the Aquarius, the rescue boat from SOS Mediterranéeis now permanently harbored, missing a flag to navigate. Médecins Sans Frontières announced that it stopped its operation with SOS Mediterranée. The Italian government declared a war against the most vulnerable women men children, the refugees trying to escape the hell of Libya, and further ensured that no country would provide them with the all-important flag. Despite petitions and demonstrations, France, Spain and others did not come to the rescue of the rescue ship.

The resultant reality is death in Mediterranean for people who need the most support for having escaped extreme climate conditions, violence, rape, and for having endured slavery-like situations. Not long ago, the infamous international community was shaken by the image of the slave trade in Libya on CNN. Congratulations went to the work of the journalists who uncovered it, expression of moral outrage burst out in all circles. Where did that outrage go? Where is the outcry as Matteo Salvini degrades our fellow human beings using the rhetoric of migration crisis to lie about the reality of the situation. 

 Matteo Salvini knows no limits. Cruelty is now his official policy. 

Last week, the NGO Mission Lifeline accusedFrontexand Eunavforof crimes against humanity and called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the case of 25 migrants drifting without water and food on a dinghy for 11 days, 70 km west of Tripoli, Libya. Nobody moved to rescue them, and the Aquarius was no longer available.   In this time of climate urgency, crossing borders is becoming an impossible task for the people the most affected by the policies and actions of rich countries. The dehumanizing populist extreme rights developing in our world institutionalize the criminalization of migrants. Migration is presented as a source of crisis, even though only 3% of human beingson earth migrate. Who needs migration crisis? The mayor of Riace and many others have demonstrated that there is another way. Why are their initiatives being hampered? 

(Photo Credit 1: Twitter / SOS Méditerranée France) (Photo Credit 2: Miriadna.com)

Keep the civilian rescue ship, the Aquarius, at sea on the Mediterranean Sea!


As authoritarian leadership governs our world, democracies become less and less inclusive. Consider the treatment of people who have to migrate from situations of violence.  There are growing reasons to migrate, with climate change and climate change violence affecting the south enormously. Affluent people are not called migrants, but rather expatriates. Since the most affluent are also the most influential, they shape the discourse of crisis prominent in the linked domains of economics and migration. “Crisis” leads the public to believe that no human being is directly concerned. The bodies of color drowning in the Mediterranean Sea are not human, are not people. They are just a crisis!

In Italy, a close election brought to power a coalition of right wing and extreme-right wing leaders described as populist. They used the fear factor associated with “crisis” to eliminate the reality of the political situation in Italy. Italy’s parliamentary regime makes it hard to have a leader when elections are tight. After the so-called populist Giuseppe Conte became the head of the government, he nominated the leader of the extreme right-wing group “the League,” Matteo Salvini as Minister of the Interior. As good populists, they abhor the arrival on the coasts of Italy of what they call the migrants, especially those of color; their campaign was mainly based on fear of foreigners of color. Meanwhile, it is precisely people of color who are roughly exploited in Italian industries that count on these populations without rights to extract heavier profits. When Matteo Salvini stated that Italy will not receive migrants anymore, he used the word “migrants” to signify the Other, a large category of human beings mostly non-Caucasian.

Recently in Europe the odyssey of the only civilian rescue ship of the Mediterranean has epitomized this reality. They would cruise the Libyan waters. The Aquarius is a humanitarian ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEEwith the collaboration of Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders. The story of this maritime rescue team is emblematic as this ONG was formed after Mare Nostrum was dismantled. The last blow for the Aquarius came from the Italian government, which pressured the Panama Maritime Authority to deflag the Aquarius.  Not having a flag makes it impossible to dock although the ship can stay at sea. That occurred while another show of force took place when the Aquarius had another 59 people who had been rescued off the coast of Libya.

One of the sailors on board of the Aquarius spoke with a journalist.

Where are you?

“We are 30 nautical miles away from the Maltese coasts, it has been five days that we have been going in circles in bad weather with sea swells over 5 meters. We have 58 people on board. We have 12 children under the age of ten. It’s very dangerous for them and very difficult to keep an eye on them at all time. The Aquarius is a working boat not a passenger boat. These people share with us exceptional moments of life.” 

What are you able to tell them?

“To tell them? They tell us thank you and I ask them to forgive us, I feel ashamed.

When we arrive at a rescue site, there are no numbers, no migrants. We see children in the arms of their parents who are drowning. We see people covered with oil. We hear screams. We see people who have been adrift for days, without food, without toilets, with oil leaking everywhere. We see gazes fixing us. We have outreached hands. We see all that. And then what to tell them? I don’t know. Sorry it’s shameful, it doesn’t reflect our values, this is not what Europe is about, sailors don’t abandon people at sea. 

“We can see Malta, and it has been 5 days. Where they come from, they have survived atrocities. They faced inevitable death until our rescue boat arrived. Now we have them on the deck, they are still thankful and trustful. Therefore, sorry, sorry for the people who make decisions, they don’t respect you. They call you migrants, who am I to call you migrants? Here onboard people are simply human beings with names, there are no migrants here. These people, these policy makers, they must come onboard. We will provide them with boots and sailor gear and they will see. 

“We have children who are running around on the deck, they are full of life and playful with us. So just our apologies that you are not welcome. 

“For political reasons, we cannot cross this imaginary line 12 miles away from Malta, because you are not allowed there, but I, because I am a good French boy, I am allowed there. Apparently, your life doesn’t have the same value than mine.”

The European Union faces its own contradictions. With the rise of the extreme right wing, the Aquarius has become that annoying ship that must remain moored in Marseille. After the end of Mare Nostrum, the goal for some in Europe has been to bring the civilian rescue intervention of SOS Mediterranée to an end. In 2017 the Aquarius rescued 15 078 people from 40 countries, 34% more than in 2016. 14 % of the survivors were women. On October 7th, across Europe, from Berlin to Madrid, thousands of people demonstrated in support of SOS Mediterranée. Petitions are circulating to demand France provide a maritime registration to the Aquarius and to allow the ship to return at sea. Nobody is questioning anymore the Libyan torture camps and yet, if the Aquarius doesn’t return to the area, the Libyan Coast Guard will be left in charge of “rescuing” the people escaping the violent grip of the system of migration. Please consider signing the petition, here.

(Photo Credit: SOSMEDITERRANEE)

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)

On BBC News, amnesia passes for history, and the refugees are doomed

Young girl returning from the store with a pot of soup and a bottle of milk, Lodz

On BBC News today, Dariusz Rosiak from Polish National Radio concludes an interview with an afterthought, “You also have to understand that there is a cultural gap which is important and it has to be taken into consideration … Poland is a one-religion, one-ethnic country, and has been like that for the last 50 years. People, they have to understand the necessity to accept people of different color, of different creed, of different culture. You can’t expect them to be able to do it just like that.” And the interview ends.

For the last 50 years.

My father’s family came from Piotrków Trybunalski, near Łódź, and, apart from my father, they were all killed during the German occupation. My father, Charles Moshenberg, was born in 1926, in the midst of the Second Polish Republic, which ended with the September 1939 invasion of Poland. My own family’s history and that of Second Polish Republic haunt Rosiak’s comments as well as his historical amnesia.

When the Germans and their Soviet allies invaded Poland, the country was a patchwork of national minorities. While the 1921 Polish census listed 30.8 percent of the population as “national minorities”, the 1931 Polish census put that figure at 31.1 percent. During this period, Poland was also undergoing intense urbanization.

Who were the national minorities? Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Germans followed by much smaller communities of Lithuanians, Czechs, Armenians, Russians, and Roma. Along with Jews, Poland also boasted, or not, an array of religions, from Roman Catholics to Greek Orthodox to Protestant.

By 1931, Poland had the second largest national Jewish population in the world: “At the time of the population census of December 9, 1931, there were about 3,136,000 Jews in Poland, i.e. 9.8% of the population, making them the second largest Jewish community in the world. In 1931 more than a fifth of all Jews lived in Poland.” At the time of the 1939 invasion, the number of Jews who claimed Polish as their first language was rising, as it had been for the past decade.

And then they were gone: the Jews, the Roma, the “national minorities”, the others, dead in the ghettoes and camps or fled.

Fairly quickly, Poland became used to the story of being one religion, one ethne. By letting the story stand, unquestioned, the BBC colluded in this myth making. Interwar Poland was not a model of diversity, but it was a thriving, growing multinational, multiethnic, multi-religious nation-State. The loss of that multi haunts more than Poland. Now more than ever, that history should be invoked. Rather than circulating naturalizing alibis for murderous inaction, open the doors to the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, around the world.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Roman Vishniac Collection, International Center of Photography)

In France, give the migrants legal documentation!

When the European Court of Human Rights was formed in 1959, many thought that it was a good step toward a more human Europe and hoped it would inspire better behavior beyond Europe. On June 8th, in Paris refugees escaping wars and human rights violations asked where was the European Court of Human Rights as they were thrown forcibly into a police bus on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district of Paris.

Despite a protective cordon formed of residents of the district, Communist Part and Left Front elected officials of Paris, and members of the many associations who bring support to migrants and refugees, the police special unit CRS intervened on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district. The police intervention was violent and destructive.

The refugees regrouped, after the police dismantled a nearby camp. These refugees have traveled far, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan, and, since the summer of 2014, about 350 of the hundreds of thousands who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea have landed in this very visible improvised camp under the Parisian metro of Porte de la Chapelle, in the northern part of Paris.

On June 2, the first police intervention moved some asylum seekers to hotels in various areas around Paris and left others. Some came back even though they had a room in a hotel. They felt isolated, and they were starving since the authorities did not include food in their plans. As the executive director of the federation of associations dealing with social rehabilitation explained, at least in Paris, associations would deliver food to the camps.

In France, associations have historically formed a strong civil solidarity structure. Thanks to the work of associations such as France-terre-d’asile, Salam, and others, migrants receive support and food. These associations denounced the hypocrisy and repression but also welcomed the recent changes in the asylum bill that simplify the demand process and remove some of the constraints that were a true conundrum for refugees and plan for more housing structures. Additionally, since 2012, Europeans in France are permitted by law to welcome undocumented migrants in their home. These associations still question both the lack of financial support in this time of financial austerity and the expulsion process.

In fact, France terre d’asile had alerted the authorities of the formation of these camps some time ago, demanding decent solution for the migrant refugees. Today, they condemned a year of inaction that has left migrants living in precariousness and terrible sanitary conditions.

Despite an unprecedented mobilization of associations along with the OFPRA (Office francais de protection des refugiés et apatrides, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People), the State solution was to send the police and inflict violence on migrants.

Many camps have formed in France, especially in Paris and in Calais. Migrants face different legal situations. Some file for asylum, others don’t want asylum in France. But the main issue is to welcome them, explained Danielle Simonnet, a Paris Councilor. Although she judged it too late, she welcomed the proposition of the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to create transit camps where each migrant would receive the administrative, medical and human support needed. This is a question of pure solidarity, according to Danielle Simonnet, adding that France has not reacted in a timely manner to the situation. Among the refugees of Porte de la Chapelle, 16 of them had proper asylum documentation and still did not know where to go. In France, the law requires providing accommodation to asylum seekers. In addition, Pierre Henry, of France terre d’asile, had to intervene to get refugees out of detention centers, even though it is unlawful to detain them.

So why did the authorities respond with police instead of applying the law and behaving humanely?

Surveillance, policing and austerity are articulations of the current security mentality. The response from leaders of the right and extreme right has ranged from Marine LePen’s send them back to their war-torn countries and apply Australian immigration policies to Nicolas Sarkozy comparing the migrants to a water leak. With their disinformation, these leaders spread fear and intolerance, dehumanizing refugees and migrants. They bully the concept of solidarity. In fact, with 600 000 asylum seekers in 2014 for 500 million Europeans, Europe is not overwhelmed.

Instead, Europe must first end the Dublin II regulation that forces migrants to seek asylum in the country they first entered the EU. This regulation has caused migrants great suffering.

What of the people who live in France and don’t match any of the asylum categories? Danielle Simonet, Pierre Henry and many others respond, “Just give them legal documentation,” let them live decently, put in application the human rights concept!

 

(Photo Credit: http://paris-luttes.info)

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)

Migrants: We are all children of migrants

 

Saturday, 5th of March 2011.

Yarl’s Wood continues.

The women behind the fences are saying something about their children, but it is difficult to hear what exactly.  They seem to be shouting something about their right to stay with their children.  Perhaps they are referring to the effects of recent policy changes.

In October, a case was brought forth on behalf of two single mothers and their children who were detained at Yarl’s Wood by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers after dawn raids on their homes earlier in the year. In December 2010, in response, the government `signaled’ its intention to bring to an end children’s detention. This included closure of the ‘family unit’ at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and the suspension of children’s detention in any immigration facility over the Christmas period.

In January 2011, a court decision established that the detention of some families, including children in Yarl’s Wood, was unlawful. This decision required the government to bring to an immediate end the detention of children in immigration removal centers. The immediate response from the Home Office was that the detention of families ‘would be kept to a minimum’, while officials drew up ‘alternative arrangements’ to ‘protect the welfare of children without undermining immigration law’.

We demonstrated outside Yarl’s Wood partly to denounce the government’s ‘skillful’ use of publicity about ‘ending the detention of children’ as a way of avoiding talking about the brutal and inhumane detention regime in general. But even among some of the civil society groups that have specifically supported the end of children detention, suspicions remain concerning the government’s version of  “alternatives” to child detention. While the plan does not include any concrete improvement in terms of early access to legal aid for refugee applicants, it does mention the establishment of ‘new family conferences’. These would ‘draw in lawyers, social workers and others’, with the aim of providing ‘realistic advice to people who had been refused refugee status on what their options were’. For those who would not accept voluntary repatriation “it would be necessary to detain them in ‘secure accommodation’ for periods of around 72 hours to ensure that their departure could be enforced’.

Migrant Rights Network argues that the ideas of ‘family conferences’ and a new ‘independent family review panel’ is dangerous.  It is quite easy to imagine that the large-scale detention of families with young children will be simply reproduced in a new form.  Furthermore, these family conferences risk turning exactly those social workers and other experts who should support migrants’ children and vulnerable adults’ welfare in their communities, into immigration control functions. Those who used to work for migrants in our communities will be absorbed into the machine of control and detention, ultimately ‘advocating’ ‘voluntary’ return and deportation.

The rhetoric of the UK government around the economic recession legitimizes increasingly restrictive policies against migrants. This then naturalizes chauvinistic and militaristic approaches towards the ‘management’ of immigration as part of the ‘big society’ discourse about having to ‘share’ the consequences of the economic downturn. Of course, `they’ must pay more than `us’. The politics of racism and gender discrimination are fully at play in this era of mobility restrictions and economic austerity.

Walking back from the fences we discuss the contradiction of today’s migration politics and how grassroots groups should respond to it in practice. Yes, we will probably have to support migrant’s individual demands for regularization but cannot afford to support the whole policy/ing logic based on the continuous differentiation of migrants, the production of multiple divisions, between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the more and the ‘less vulnerable’, those who ‘deserve’ integration and those who do not, or simply the right to access that which seems to become an ever increasingly ‘precious good’, conceded by national governments in Europe,  that is, the status of ‘legality’.

Many women currently detained in Yarl’s Wood have worked and toiled in this county already for many years. They are fluent in English. They have kids here. Here they have built their lives. This makes us particularly angry and astonished in front of the injustice of their detention, but it does not change the unconditionality of our claim: freedom of movement for all. Everyone, independent off period of stay and status, whether escaping poverty or war, environmental disaster or political persecution, gender or racial oppression, has the right to freedom of movement, and freedom to stay and search for a new life. After all, as we would remind the small group of police engaged in their performance of ‘protecting’ the prison from us, we are all the children of migrants.

 

(Photo Credit: womenagainstrape.net)

We can’t talk to the imprisoned women, but we can chant with them

 


Saturday, 5th of March 2011

It is wet and foggy in the fields of Bedfordshire and our shoes fill with mud as we walk away from the group of policemen that have followed us in a circle along the fences of Yarl’s Wood migrants’ detention centre. This Saturday, the 5th March, as women demonstrate in London at the start of International Women’s Week, a group of migrant rights, no border and feminist activists travel to Bedford to bring our solidarity to the migrant women (and men) detained in Yarl’s Wood. We manage to reach the women locked in one of the units. At a distance, we can’t talk to the imprisoned women, but we can chant with them. We cannot hear exactly what they say but one message arising across the barbed wires is simple, loud and clear: ‘freedom, we want freedom’.

Yarl’s Wood is one of the seven privately run ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK, detaining ‘irregular migrants’ on behalf of the UK Border Agency. Initially the building accommodated 900 people in two blocks, making it the largest immigration prison in Europe. In February 2002 the capacity of the centre was reduced after one of the buildings was burnt down during a protest organized by detainees against staff harassment. At present the centre is composed of 4 units ‘hosting’ about 400 people.

In February of last year, the situation in the removal centre again exploded. The horrible conditions of detention were denounced by migrant detainees as some women decided to start a hunger strike demanding an end to indefinite and abusive imprisonment. In an attempt to end their protest, the management subjected many of the women to violent attacks and various forms of punishment. At that time six women detainees, accused of being ‘ring-leaders’, were moved into isolation and prisons.

On the 25th January, after almost a year in Holloway prison, Denise McNeil, one of the `leaders’, was granted bail at an immigration court. Two women still remain in jail without charge: Aminata Camara and Sheree Wilson. Activists from the campaign to Free the Yarl’s Wood 3, including members of No One is Illegal, No Borders, Crossroads Women’s Centre, Communities of Resistance, Stop Deportation Network and members of the RMT, filled the court for Denise’s bail hearing. They provided an important support and will keep campaigning ‘for Sheree and Aminata and all the people in Yarl’s Wood until the centre will be closed’. (For updates, see Free the Yarl’s Wood 3 campaign Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Free-Denise-Now/174533002581566 and Twitter feed: @freedenisenow. Also see the NCADC site: http://www.ncadc.org.uk/campaigns/DeniseMcNeil.html).

The reasons for the detention of people in centers like Yarl’s Wood are multiple, and sometimes quite different. One of the activists involved in the campaign to support the hunger strikers explained to me that many of the women who end up in detention have already served a prison sentence, often for a minor offence, such as using fake documents to travel or work. Rather than being released, these women are transferred back to detention as a ‘second punishment’ where they wait for their immigration case to be cleared and eventually granted status or deported. They are trapped in an indefinite space of juridical and existential limbo, from one prison to the other, on the grounds that their migration case is still ‘pending’: they cannot be returned to their country of origin (on complex juridical or humanitarian grounds), and yet their status as asylum seekers is not recognized either.

Denise has just been released on bail, and her status, as well as her future stay in the UK, remains uncertain. However, her case shows how important the external support of migrants’ rights activists to sustain legal individual cases can be by helping access legal advice and to build publicity around their otherwise invisible stories.  While it may appear only a small achievement, these forms of solidarity provide the migrant women with encouragement and help instill confidence as they engage in the hard battles for freedom of movement and the right to stay in a country where they have worked and toiled for many years. In many cases the women are ‘caught’ by the UK Border Agency after many years of residence in the country, where they have probably built a family, found work and made a home. This is a typical story for the women detained in Yarl’s Wood.

 

(Photo Credit: Open Democracy / IndyMedia.UK)