Fences in Evros (on the Greek-Turkish border), Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Austria… The Calais tunnel and the “protection” of the French and UK borders… Fences in Mexico. Walls in Israel. Visible and invisible fences through the sea, through the land, though the air. Refugees and migrants demonstrating near sunbathers on a beach in Calais, on a beach in Lesbos, on a beach in Kos.
Refugees and migrants with no names stacked between borders and outside the realm of geographical boundaries and temporality. In uncharted territories, people who concretise the meaning of Michel Foucault’s Heterotopia, “spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental”.
Europe is now but a shadow of the People’s Europe that celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Europe that celebrated the demolition of fences and walls that divided people. For months thousands of refugees have been trying to get to Greece and Europe, in search of work, dignity and survival. Many of them, children, women and men have drowned in the waters of the Aegean and the Mediterranean, chased by Europe’s border police, Frontex. Others, who manage to arrive, find themselves in modern concentration camps, and suffer the brutality from the Greek police, and plundering by illegal or legal mafia — traffickers, black marketeers, unscrupulous shopkeepers.
According to UNHCR, by July 2015 12 million Syrians had fled their homes. Of these 7.6 million are displaced within Syria, two million are in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 0.6 million in Jordan, 0.25 million in Iran, 0.2 million in Egypt and only 0.4 million in Europe. Drowned More than 3,150 people have been drowned in the Mediterranean in the first nine months of 2015. In the last two months 100 children have died in the Aegean. And yet the EU leaders have decided, in their endless summits and counter summits, new measures of repression and deterrence against refugees attempting to cross the border. The numbers of refugees will grow as long as there is an escalation and continuation of the wars.
The wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan all have the direct engagement and intervention of the imperialist centres, the most recent being the direct involvement of Russia and the US in Syria, the intensification of repression in Palestine by Israel, and the war of Erdogan against the Kurds, the left and the labour movement in Turkey. The Aegean is a sea cemetery of the new “sans papiers”. On 27 October, 11 refugees died, of whom eight were children, and 40 went missing near Lesbos and Agathonisi. Before then, a total of 925 refugees had been rescued in 20 incidents in the maritime areas of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Kos. The continuing tragedy in the Aegean makes two measures urgent.
The first would be to organise passenger-ship transfers of refugees from the Turkish coasts directly to the ports of Piraeus, Kavala and Thessaloniki. Second would be to dismantle the fence in Evros, on the land border between Greece and Turkey. In Greece, the government of Syriza and Anel has responsibility. Their “half promise” before the September election of a liberal and humanist programme in all aspects of life not affected by the Third Memorandum and budgetary concerns has crashed. Tsipras is now defending the fence in Evros. On a tour with Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat President of the European Parliament, and in response to the left parties and the youth of Syriza who demand the removal of the Evros fence, Tsipras said: “The demolition of the fence in Evros seems a good idea to those who have no idea about reality, to those that do not know that there are mines in Evros!”
If there is still a problem with mines in Evros, why does the government not collaborate with the Turkish government to clear the mines? Were the whole of Syriza and all the revolutionary left, anti-racist and progressive forces and movements politically naïve when they were fighting against the creation of the fence in Evros back in 2012? Was Alexis Tsipras “politically naïve and ignorant” when abolition of the fence was included in the programme of Syriza? The funding given by the EU for interceptions and returns is 27 times greater than funding for “humanitarian aid”. The funds allocated for Greece are as follows: €430 million to create “hotspots” (processing centres), €80 million for expulsions, and only €2-3 million for humanitarian relief.
After the last EU mini-session on 25 October, which involved ten countries of the EU but excluded the UK, France, and Italy, a 17 point draft plan for action was drawn up. It included: creation of “hotspot” screening centres, new fences and military-style operations by Frontex in cooperation with coastguards, police and armies in all countries that are considered to be the routes of passage for refugees. 100,000 resettlement places for refugees will be found in Europe. But in the summer alone, and in Greece alone, the number of immigrants and refugees passed 250,000. The external and internal borders of Europe will be closed even more tightly. Co-operation will take place between Greece, Bulgaria, the EU, Turkey, Macedonia, and Albania, for border control. Detention camps will be built in Greece for 50,000 refugees. The EU leaders are cynically granting promises EU entrance and unrestricted visas to Turkish citizens, €3 billion to the murderous government of Erdogan. This in exchange for keeping the refugee “problem” within Turkey and outside the EU borders. hospitality In Greece, shortly after the Deputy Minister of Migration Policy, Yannis Mouzala, backed keeping the Evros fence, he announced plans for two “hospitality centres” in Sindo and Lavrion for 20,000 refugees. He also said the government will reopen the infamous Amygdaleza detention camp: “immigrants who have illegally entered Greece are subject to different laws.” This is the same Amygdalega detention centre that the last Syriza government was gradually shutting down (back in March 2015) due to the inhumane living conditions which led to the suicide of a Pakistani national. The Greek government could have demolished the “fence” in Evros, allowing refugees to move more safely by land. This government could have operated boats, in cooperation with Turkey, to carry refugees safely from the Turkish coast. Why these simple, straightforward solutions have been conveniently eradicated from official discourse on the “problem of refugees”?
First of all, because the Syriza-ANEL government remains subservient to the European policy on supposed “control of refugee flows”. Secondly, because the government does not dare to clash with the racist prejudices which have saturated previous governments and much of Greek society. ANEL has within its ranks openly racist and xenophobic politicians. ANEL leader Panos Kammenos repeats, as his “red line”, that the borders must remain “impervious” and that the Thrace-Aegean-Cyprus line is a “line of defence of Hellenism.”
According to the activists of the anti-racist movement, the Coast Guards continue a policy of “pushing back” when they come across drifting rubber boats in the Aegean. If it is true, it is a racist crime, violating even the old unwritten laws of seamanship. The remaining Syriza rank and file and the Syriza MPs and members of the cabinet who were prominent activists in the anti-racist movement, such as the former minister of immigration policy, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, must speak out. The deputy minister of immigration policy, Yannis Mouzalas, stated on ERT that “the tragedy of the refugees will only stop when Turkey takes responsibility for controlling its borders and stopping transportation of refugees to the Greek islands.” So around three million refugees should stay indefinitely in the refugee detention camps that have been set up in Turkey’s heterotopias... Demonstrations On Saturday 31 October, 500 people from Patras, Athens, Volos, Ioannina, Larissa, Kavala, Komotini, Alexandroupoli, Orestiada and Thessaloniki demonstrated against the fence in Evros. They managed to get to Kastanies, the last village before the fence, and were then blocked by riot police who stopped them with tear gas and chemicals. On the same day, a big demonstration was organised in Mytilene, the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos, near the Turkish coast. The demonstration occupied the main street of the city and joined refugee groups waiting for the boat to Athens at the harbour. Demonstrators, both locals and refugees, stood in unison against the European policy that translates into unsafe journeys and horrible deaths for those that seek to flee from war and poverty. A key demand of the demonstration was demolition of the fence in Evros.
A visit by the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to Lesbos was met with demonstrations and occupations of public buildings. The mayor of the island, Spyros Galinos, had just before the visit proclaimed a three-day mourning and arranged for a common Orthodox and Islamic prayer in honour of the dead in front of the Asia-Minor “Mother Refugee” statue in Epano Skala (the old Turkish quarter of Mytilene). Interviews with locals in the northern part of the island over the last few weeks are full of representations of the dead refugees as something that is “holy” even for the Greek community, and of their death as something utterly pitiful that provokes anger against the smugglers but also against the politicians who do not provide a safe passage for refugees. Residents, solidarity activists, members of non-governmental organizations, port authorities, opened the church of St. Nicholas in the harbour of Molyvos to treat refugees, to save human lives. Ordinary people mobilized with only one thought: “To save the people”!
The mobilisation against the fence opens a new cycle of struggles. We will not stop fighting against their fences and their closed borders! We will not stay silent when confronted with death! We need to stop their crime! To tear down their fences!
The first thing that should be done (and this requires EU pressure, the UN, and the governments of Greece and Turkey) is getting ships carrying refugees from the coast of Turkey to Greece. That would immediately stop the drownings. The fences should be torn down where they have been built (Evros, Hungary-Serbia border, etc.) and replaced by open reception and accommodation centres that ensure the quick and humane passage of refugees to their country of destination.
Two hundred local solidarity networks are reported nationwide. They need to be coordinated in a regional and national level through horizontal democratic and accountable structures of direct democracy, and coordinate their actions with the solidarity movements and struggle developed in many European countries. We should participate in and encourage individual and collective acts of solidarity and cooperation for refugees and immigrants (gathering food, relief supplies, volunteer work, accommodation, medical aid, Greek lessons, cultural events, free transportation, coastal rescue operations) without ceasing to place demands on central and local governments and on the EU.
We should assert working-class control of the allocation of the resources and funding from the perspective of internationalist solidarity. Call for a massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation, and a “Memorandum against the rich” in order to meet the needs of the working class, immigrants, and refugees.
For Greek activists, the battle-front against Euro-racism and imperialism is not only “outside” but especially within our own country. It is “our own” government, “our own” fences, “our” state orchestrated racism, “our own” Fascism (Golden Dawn), “our” business interests, “our own” unscrupulous speculation against refugees (traffickers, black marketeers, some unscrupulous shopkeepers and types who are spreading the poison of racism at the same time that they are charging refugees one euro for a banana and two euros for a bottle of water). The battle is first and foremost “at home”.
The thought that the number of refugees is “unbearable for the country “ undermines solidarity and leaves full room for racism. The residents of Molyvos, a village of 1,000 souls and primarily a tourist place, are “welcoming” three to seven thousand immigrants daily! They hear very loud voices telling them the influx is “unbearable”. But they hold on. Not all of them, but enough that together with the solidarity volunteers and the members of non-governmental organisations they do not allow racist voices to dominate. An elderly resident of Molyvos interviewed about the issue, despite the “excessive” daily flow of refugees to his village, describes them as “our blood”. He sheds tears for the drowned children, and says that the first thing is that “we must save them”. He “curses” the powerful of the world, who “leave people drowning.” Solidarity above all and first of all. Solidarity without a second thought and without “preconditions”! That is our road!