The EU’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 contradicts the fact that its member countries are the biggest exporters of war and arms to the developing world and they are implementing harsh immigration and asylum polices. Protests by asylum seekers and refugees in Germany exposes these realities.
‘Nothing ever burns down by itself,
every fire needs a little bit of help’
This article aims to inform about ongoing protests of asylum-seekers and refugees in Germany, to contextualize their reasons for concentrating on the issue of the ‘Residence Obligation Law’ and to introduce the planned tribunal against the Federal Republic of Germany.
While the states of the ‘West’ are often glorified as paradises of human rights, enlightenment and democracy they are increasingly implementing harsher immigration and asylum policies (Ek 2006 & Slater 2004). The image of the European Union (EU) as a guarantor for peace and justice was lately supported by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Price last year. This was criticized by various groups and individuals for the fact that EU countries are amongst the biggest exporters of war arms and that the Union maintains a state of war at its external borders, under surveillance and direct involvement of the deadly and dehumanizing Frontex operations. Having the official status of an EU agency, Frontex coordinates the border patrols of police forces and contingents of different national armies. Therefore, the awarding of a peace prize to the EU can only be seen as a sarcastic misinterpretation of existing realities.
The gap between social reality and a blissful image of the EU is reflected in the establishment of a discourse of borderlessness inside the Union, a space of internal peace and freedom – as if some kind of utopia was close (Best 2003).
In the meantime the very same Union keeps on combining this ‘utopian’ discourse with sophisticated mechanisms of discrimination (Best 2003). ‘The instances of anti-utopia in the EU however outnumber this utopia by far’ (ibid.). In order to legitimize xenophobic policies, the ‘new lager inside’ of the Union is constructed as a given norm and migration from ‘outside’ as the exception to that norm. Meanwhile, restrictive immigration policies violate human dignity and, in the worst case, undermine even the right to life (ibid.). ‘The historical lesson is clearly that exclusion on grounds of immigration restrictions can, and all too often does, kill’ (Düvell 2003).
While for some the borderless inside of the Union (or the Schengen Area) is a true fact, others are facing numerous frontiers and limitations of movement, not only while entering the territory, but also within it.
NO RESIDENCE OBLIGATION LAW NO MORE
The German government plays a major and disreputable role in these developments. It was one of the states pushing to ratify the ‘Dublin 2’ [i] agreement, which is considered as one great step towards the establishment of ‘fortress Europe’ as activists for the ‘freedom of movement’ named it. It also just recently called for a blockade against the integration of Romania into the Schengen Area, to only name some striking examples.
Not only on the level of the EU and the Schengen Area, but also within internal affairs, Germany's migration policies are characterized by xenophobic laws that only apply for refugees and asylum-seekers. People seeking asylum in Germany are denied the right to choose their place of residence by being forced to reside in special asylum seeker housing – called ‘the Lagers’ by refugee and antiracist activists. Often these reception centres are located in isolated areas with few facilities accessible by foot and insufficient access to public transport. During the procedure for granting the right of asylum, which can take many years in some cases, refugees are not only bound to ‘the Lager’ as their place of residence, but are also not allowed to leave the administrative district without a special permission that is rarely granted.
This discriminatory practice creates borders that are invisible for most of the society, as the only ones they apply to are asylum seekers. Therefore the sole crossing over to another administrative district is considered a crime against the Residence Obligation Law (Residenzpflicht) that is only committable by refugees seeking asylum in Germany.
Even though these obviously xenophobic laws are criticized by human rights advocates, refugees and anti-racist/antifascist left-wing groups, they still exist since their implementation in 1982, with the awareness of the majority of the population concerning these circumstances being shockingly low.
The last time the Residenzpflicht was fundamentally questioned on a legislative level was last year, when the national parliament debated its abolition, which was rejected by a majority in the parliament. After all, the protests against and the questioning of the Residenzpflicht led to the easing of it in some of the federal states, but the internal logic of the special laws for refugees is still characterized by discrimination and denial of fundamental rights. Concerning the denial of free choice of place of residency, the organizing committee of the conference ‘Refugees have a Voice’ (March 2011) states that, ‘although individual or specific situation in Lagers are different all over Germany, the situations of every refugee boils down to (...) [a"> concept of isolation, exclusion and total control of those seen as unwanted in this society. The values of the so called unwanted guests are identified with being accommodated in Lagers located either at the edge of the community or in the middle of nowhere, striped off all rights to privacy and choice, restricted from exercising the right to move freely and availability of limited medical attention, just to name a few among other repressive mechanisms.’ [ii">
Furthermore, asylum- seekers in Germany cannot access the labour market unless they have been waiting for a reply to their first instance application for more than a year. In the meantime, they are entitled to benefits mainly given in the form of vouchers. These are insufficient for asylum-seekers to sustain themselves and vouchers can only be used in certain, sometimes expensive, shops (a similar system is used in the UK where asylum seekers are given the ‘Azure’ card). [iii">
Even though these special laws are subject of various local protests and criticism since their implementation, last year’s uprising of a refugees protests in many parts of the country seems to be a great step forward in terms of self-articulation, self-determination and public acknowledgement.
BREAKING ISOLATION: ‘REFUGEE MARCH’
In March 2012, refugee protest camps began spreading throughout Germany, as well as actions in direct opposition to the Residence Obligation Law, against ongoing deportations and for the freedom of movement. [iv"> Only months later, in September 2012, a group of refugees, asylum seekers and activists marched 600 km from Würzburg, in the southern state of Bavaria, to Berlin, arriving on 6 October 2012. The event was organised by the VOICE Forum and the Karawane network. [v">
Asylum seekers who took part in the march symbolically tore up their residence permits when crossing the ‘border’ of their administrative district of registration on their way to Berlin. The significance of the protest attracted the attention of national media and was one of the most reported actions for refugees' rights in many years. [vi">
In order to create a space of continuity, the activists occupied a public place in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. Since then, the established camp functions as a space for discussion, a basis for organisation and of course as a materialized symbol for the struggle.
The camp and a later occupied abandoned school building are the bases of the ‘asylum strike’ (Asylstreik) in Berlin, including a number of actions, debates and demonstrations, one of which was the protest and temporal occupation of the Nigerian embassy in Berlin. This is aimed to build public awareness and put pressure on Nigerian officials to question their cooperation with the German administration in the deportation of Nigerian refugees from EU territory. [vii"> Another one was a hunger-strike which was based in front of the Brandeburger Tor and therefore next to the national parliament. This action was widely reported in media and led to debates and meetings of activists and politicians. Furthermore, activists carried out a bus tour [viii"> throughout the country to visit a number of ‘Lagers’ and there is a conference to take place in April this year to highlight and address the situation of refugee women [ix">. To take another step forward, refugee activists are planning the International Tribunal against the Federal Republic of Germany to be held this June.
INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL AGAINST THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY
According to the organizers, the idea for a tribunal first came up in 2009 during a conference entitled ‘United against colonial injustice in Germany’. [x"> Since then there have been numerous local and nationwide meetings to prepare the tribunal and calls to refugees, activists, groups and individuals to participate and provide documentation of personal experiences, professional work or artistic expressions.
Calling for large participation in the tribunal, the VOICE Refugee activist Miloud L. Cherif states its objective as: ‘To join The VOICE Refugee Forum in 2010 and to work together with the Break-isolation Network and KARAWANE in order to fight for the rights of refugees and migrants in general gave me the chance to defend my rights as a refugee. Many powerful and successful events have taken place since then, but the Tribunal in June 2013 is a chance for me and for every refugee to apprehend their right and say: Enough... The colonial injustice must end – now!’ (Miloud L Cherif - The VOICE Refugee Forum) [xi">
The Tribunal aims to unmask the ‘paradises of human rights, enlightenment and democracy’ and highlight the circumstances under which refugees are forced to live in Germany and the making of these circumstances as they cannot be seen separately from current as well as historical uneven developments and injustices.
The (neo-) colonial character of what is euphemistically called migration management, ongoing wars under 'western' participation (direct as well as indirect), and economic and social unevenness are only some of the topics to be discussed. Putting the reasons to migrate or search for refuge into their context is seen as a way to de-individualize lonely and desperate situations. [xii">
We charge the German government to be responsible for the creation of ‘reasons for people to leave their lands as refugees, for the killing at the outer borders of Europe, and for the psychological and physical suffering, that refugees and migrants experience in their daily life here in Germany.’ [xiii">
‘Prior to the tribunal and on the way to the tribunal itself, it is our central aim to compile documentation on the human rights violations and the injustice imposed on refugees and migrants. The documentation can be provided to an interested public and to human rights organizations. (…) We want to investigate how far they violate valid national or international laws. (…) On the one side, the tribunal shall neutrally present the facts, on the other side, it shall express our emotions. We want to express both, our rage resulting from the violation of our dignity and freedom and the destruction of our countries through the colonial powers and our love and joy of our gatherings. The tribunal is a place of solidarity where we reach out our hands and claim our right to judge the criminals and the profiteers.’ [xiv">
However the tribunal is not to function like a traditional court but shall rather reflect and conclude experiences and open up perspectives. As the initiative to the tribunal is based on the self-organization of refugees and migrants, it will be them to present the history of their struggle and their choreography of resistance from their point of view. Refugees themselves and families of victims of racist attacks and police harassment will be given a forum to tell their individual experiences and own stories. Different experts are invited to give an insight to their professional contexts, reaching from counselling and international law and agreements to sociological or political science.
‘The tribunal in Berlin is as well a gathering of the various refugee communities from the entire republic. Our presence is a sign of the successful struggles against the Residence Obligation Law (Residenzpflicht), against isolation lagers and deportations. Each single day in which we organize gatherings despite the existing repression and exclusion, is a proof for our continuous work and our solidarity structures.
Everyone is invited to contribute to the content and organizational preparation of the tribunal.’ [xv">
[i] www.W2eu.info / www.W2eu.net: Independent information for refugees and migrants coming to Europe: http://www.w2eu.info/dublin2.en/articles/dublin2.en.html
[ii"> Fluechtlingsbc's Blog: http://tinyurl.com/brxhymy
[iii"> Press release: GERMANY: Mass protests across Germany for the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants (http://database.statewatch.org/article.asp?aid=31919)
[iv"> Asylum-Strike flyer: http://tinyurl.com/d8ddv4t
[v"> The Voice Refugee Forum: http://thevoiceforum.org/
[vi"> Refugee tent action: http://www.refugeetentaction.net/index.php?lang=en
[vii"> The Voice Refugee Forum: Petition against German State Occupation of the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin - Collaboration Founded on Corruption: http://thevoiceforum.org/node/3007
[viii"> Refugee Bus-protest: http://refugeebusprotest.wordpress.com/about/
[ix"> Refugee Women`s Conference April 19 to 21, 2013 in Hamburg Refugee women say: “We`ve had enough!” (the Refugee Women`s Conference to the tribunal in Berlin): http://thecaravan.org/node/3640
[xi"> Statement by Miloud L Cherif on the International Tribunal vs the Federal Republic of Germany http://thecaravan.org/node/3653
[xii"> Refugee tribunal: http://www.refugeetribunal.org/?p=36#more-36
[xiii"> Refugee tribunal: http://www.refugeetribunal.org/?p=13
[xiv"> Refugee tribunal: First announcement and call for active participation and preparation
[xv"> Refugee tribunal: First announcement and call for active participation and preparation
Best, U. (2003):The EU and the Utopia and Anti-utopia of Migration: A Response to Harald Bauder. In: ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2 (2), 2003. (www.acme-journal.org/vol2/Best.pdf)
Düvell, F. (2003): Some Reasons and Conditions for a World Without Immigration Restrictions. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2 (2), 2003.(www.acme-journal.org/vol2/Duvell.pdf)
Ek, R. (2006): Giorgio Agamben and the spatialities of the camp: An Introduction. In: Geogr. Ann., 88 B (4): 363–386.
SLATER, D. (2004): Geopolitics and the Post-colonial. Rethinking North–South Relations. Blackwell, Oxford.