Further flight through EUrope

Afghan refugees from Bavaria in Paris, German speaking Pakistani refugees in Northern Italy, Somali refugees from Norway in Germany. The attempt to develop options for action based on solidarity.

Over the past two years, one round of tightening laws against refugees and migrants has been chased by another. In EUropean countries, the human rights of rejected asylum seekers are being trampled – homelessness and exclusion from social benefits as a means of deterrence. In light of this, more and more of those who are increasingly deprived of their rights decide to continue their flight to other EUropean countries. They are further fleeing from the threat of deportation or from impoverishment. They are also further fleeing, because some have had enough of the endless waiting. These are not always rational decisions, sometimes it would certainly be easier to continue the fight for the right to stay in the original countries of arrival. In most cases, however, the continuation of flight is underpinned by a conscious decision: the decision not to tolerate injustice any longer and to move on. Against stagnancy and for freedom. This text is an attempt to take a closer look at some of these further flight movements – and, above all, the attempt to develop options for solidarity. We do not have to start from zero. We can draw on decades of experience of solidarity with sans-papiers, with illegalised migrants throughout EUrope.

1. Three exemplary moments

Afghans from Bavaria flee Seehofer’s deportation charters to Paris

From Gare de l’Este to our meeting point with our Afghan friends at Porte de la Chapelle, we walk through streets full of migrant shops of all kinds: Indian tailors offering money transfers, Pakistani money transfers besides a Western Union, a Cameroonian hairdresser, a Somali restaurant, an Afghan grocery store, a Sudanese halal bistro… all side by side. A hairdresser offers advice in Bengali on problems with the Foreigners Authority (OPFRA). In these lively streets, Paris shows that all the racist madness of today has, in fact, already lost. At every corner one can feel the informal reality of migration, which creates spaces beyond the legal framework and has a long history here. With two Afghan friends from Bavaria we sit in an Afghan-Indian Hamburger-Fries-Kebab snack bar, where there are enough sockets for mobile phones to recharge and where the newly arrived get a discount on food. Some sit here also with sleeping bags and luggage. Another Afghan friend from Graz in Austria joins us at some point. Together they explain the system to us in some detail and try to underline what might be important for others who will come here, too. They talk about the difficulty of finding accommodation, about the first nights on the street and how difficult it is to find a place to recharge one’s mobile phones when you live on the street. We learn how important a French SIM card is at the beginning, because the first step in Paris is to register with the asylum authorities via a phone call.

Reza*, who has been here the longest, has witnessed the eviction of an informal settlement near Porte de la Chapelle. The residents were then distributed to various gym halls outside of Paris and after a lengthy procedure were given accommodation – for the time being. However, they did not receive any financial support and fear that they would soon be completely excluded from the system due to the Dublin proceedings, meaning that they would have to spend many more months on the street if they want to avoid deportation back to Germany. The two Afghan friends from Bavaria miss their previous place of residence very much. One of them could not bear it after the first week on the street in Paris and went back to Germany once again. But after a friend told him that the police were already there to pick him up for the charter deportation to Kabul, he returned to Paris.

Paris is the last hope for many Afghans who were rejected in Germany. Especially in Bavaria, which pursues the most rigorous deportation measures, it can affect almost anyone who is only legally ‘tolerated’ in Germany. Continuing the flight is a difficult decision. Some decide too early to flee, head over heels, when the foreigners authorities begin to exert pressure.[1] But some flee also too late. An article from July 2018 in the Stern magazine impressively describes in the portrait of a deportee to Afghanistan how he hoped until the end that the already signed vocational training contract would protect him.[2]

Pakistanis from Hessen in Northern Italy

With a protection rate between 70 and over 80% for Afghan refugees, the chance of obtaining a right of residence in France is indeed much better than in other EUropean countries – if the Dublin Regulation did not exist. The probability of a Dublin transfer to Germany is clearly given – absurdly about as many people are transferred from Germany to France (753 persons in 2018) as from France to Germany (978 in 2018).[3] And so, many people only have the option of going underground in France and thereby have to live with an extended Dublin transfer period of 18 months. Once this period has expired, the asylum procedure must be carried out in France. For many, going underground means having to survive two years in homelessness and without any support of the French authorities. They live in slums or somewhere without a roof. They do not speak French but Bavarian German – in Paris they are called “the Germans”. Nevertheless, life on the street is always better than being deported to Kabul – which usually means having to risk once more the dangerous path across the sea.

February 2018, a café in Gorizia, northern Italy. Around the tables men sit for hours with cups of tea, loading their mobile phones and chatting away. As it turns out, almost everyone speaks German as well as Urdu. It is a meeting point for newly arrived Pakistanis from Germany and Austria, who come to northern Italy to reapply for asylum. Unlike Austria and Germany, Italy still does not deport to Pakistan. We drive on, meet a friend from a small town in Hesse/Germany. He carries advertising leaflets and lives in an overcrowded apartment for which he has to spend a large chunk of his salary – simply a for a place with a mattress. But he soon has an appointment for his first Italian residence permit and is happy that he was not at home during the deportation attempt a few weeks earlier in Germany.

Many people, especially men, from Pakistan live in the Rhine-Main area around Frankfurt. About one-third of all Pakistani migrants in Germany live in Hessen. Quite commonly, at some point, they had failed with an asylum claim and lived for years, many since 2015 but more than a few even longer, with only status of ‘toleration’ (“Duldung”) in Germany. Until the beginning of 2017, the Pakistani government did not cooperate in issuing travel documents for deportations. Although many Pakistani migrants were tolerated during this period, deportation was in fact impossible due to the lack of travel documents. Most of them worked, often gastronomy (especially in pizzerias), but also in construction. The situation changed with the first deportation charter flights at the beginning of 2017. Before, there had been a lengthy period during which the Pakistani authorities refused to issue travel documents for deportations despite a readmission agreement between Germany and Pakistan that had existed since 2010 (and in late 2015,the Pakistani Minister of the Interior even announced that he had completely suspended the readmission agreement). Since 2014 there has been an agreement between Germany and Pakistan to allow Germany access to Pakistani databases. It appears that the German authorities have had direct access to the Pakistani database containing biometric data of Pakistani citizens (the so-called “electronic platform”), latest since early 2017.[4] Neither were the details of this “deal”  made public, nor the sum of money the Pakistani government was supposed to receive from the German government in exchange. For all “tolerated” Pakistanis, this created the incalculable risk of deportation. In 2018 alone, 367 people were deported to Pakistan, the majority in a total of 12 collection charter-planes. Almost every month a plane, always coordinated by Frontex, flew from Frankfurt, Berlin or Düsseldorf to Islamabad. While on the one hand we warned against exaggerated panic and gathered information about possibilities of the right to stay beyond the asylum procedure, on the other hand the search for alternatives became important.[5] Many Pakistani with “Duldung” decided to go to northern Italy from 2017 on. In some cities, mainly German-speaking Pakistani refugees from Germany and Austria gathered. While we had tried for a long time to prevent the Dublin deportations from Germany to Italy, it was now the other way round. In fact, Italy, for its part, has hardly implemented the Dublin Regulation to this day. There have been a few transfers from Pakistanis to Austria by bus but we have never noticed any deportations from Italy to Germany in all of this time.

With Salvini’s racist tightening of the law, from June 2018 onward, times became harder for the Pakistani friends also in northern Italy, so that, at the moment, the flight to northern Italy makes less and less sense. Although there still are no deportations from Italy to Pakistan, it is hardly possible anymore to get a right to stay. Even those who have already been temporarily legalised are now threatened with withdrawal of their humanitarian status, which has not been granted since the so-called Security Decree was passed at the end of 2018.[6] And so some of our Pakistani friends think about coming back to Germany. They are again seeking advice as to whether they could try to gain a foothold here once more. When viewed in light of the overall number of tolerated persons, there are only a few who are actually caught and deported in the end. And some are thinking about developing a new “Plan B” and evaluating possibilities in different European countries again, if necessary residing there illegally.

Somali women from Scandinavia and Eritrean women from Swiss bunkers continue to flee to Germany

3pm on a completely normal Monday: the refugee-café in a small occupied house in Hanau becomes alive. It is difficult to move through the strollers, table football is being played and conversations takes place while two women pray on the stage in the concert room. Still in 2013, when “Lampedusa in Hanau”, a self-organised group of East African refugees was created here, the issue at hand were almost exclusively Dublin proceedings to Italy. By 2017, at the latest, the issues had widened, and we started to face threats of deportation to almost all European countries. An Iranian with fingerprints in France, an Iraqi woman with a toddler who went through an unsuccessful asylum procedure in the Netherlands, a Somali man who had lived on the streets in Belgium after his rejection, Eritrean refugees from Switzerland who had had to live in bunkers. And, again and again Scandinavia – Afghans who fled being deported from Sweden, Somali women who faced the same threat in Norway. All of them had good reasons to flee – and a new fight for the right to stay began for all of them, which will continue for several years to come. Even if they do manage to prevent the Dublin deportation, they usually have a lengthy legal process ahead of them, because asylum applications in Germany are often rejected as confirmatory applications. If an asylum procedure in a EUropean country has already been negatively concluded, then the procedure here is assessed as a follow-up application in which only new reasons count. Within a few hours, the gruelling consequences of EUropean asylum policy can be experienced here – and always also the persistence of the people to get through them. It is true that it gets very noisy in this refugee-café in Hanau, there or sometimes larger crowds and it gets hectic, but most of the people are also very concerned about the others and there are always small groups sitting together in which those who have already survived the problem can share their experiences.

At the EU summit in Brussels in June 2018, the prevention of migration to EUrope was again negotiated. All horror scenarios of a failed EUropean asylum policy from satellite camps to hotspots were discussed at length and in great detail. The German Federal Government raised the issue of secondary migration within the EU as an important issue – not least because the phenomenon of secondary migration accounted for a significant proportion of the number of asylum applications filed in Germany in 2018. A similar phenomenon can also be seen in France. Over some months of the past years, the number of asylum applications in Germany was higher than arrivals by sea on all three routes to Europe. This was mainly due to the increasingly restrictive migration policy throughout EUrope. However, instead of discussing legalisation, the issue here was again isolation. While the Dublin Regulation was originally intended to prevent the phenomenon of secondary migration and flight, in today’s reality it accounts for a large proportion of flight in EUrope.

Fadumo* is 18 years old. She fled Somalia as a minor. Her parents died when Fadumo was two years old. She grew up with her uncle’s family, in which she experienced a lot of violence. She was subjected to genital mutilation as a child and still suffers from the physical consequences today. In 2015 she fled due to increasing problems with the Al Shabaab militia in her neighbourhood via Turkey and Greece and then on to Norway. In Norway, she was first accommodated in a shelter for minors. On her 18th birthday, she received a threat of deportation to Somalia following the rejection of her asylum application.

Fadumo therefore fled to Germany in January 2018, as she saw no perspective in Norway and noticed how other Somali refugees were deported to Somalia. In fact, after returning to Norway, she would be threatened with deportation to Somalia. In October 2017, a 36-year-old Somali woman had been deported from Darmstadt in Hesse to Norway. There she was arrested at the airport in Oslo, then detained for three weeks and deported directly from prison to Mogadishu.

In Somalia, Fadumo would not only have to fear further persecution from her family. Even as a single young woman, she would have little chance of securing a livelihood. Fadumo was therefore taken into church asylum in a parish in Hesse and was thus able to overcome the Dublin proceedings. She is currently in the process of filing a complaint, as her asylum application was then rejected as a secondary application. She does not give up and is certain that she will finally have a future here – because she has found a network that supports her, not least in a growing East African community. Fadumo’s story is that of many and she is not alone.

2. Further flight as resistance against the terror of deportation

These further flights are not only desperate forms of flight, they are active forms of resistance against the machinery and industry of deportation. At a time when EUropean interior ministers are outbidding each other with plans on how to make such machinery even more merciless and effective, these people are opposing it by ‘voting’ with their feet. They are building on the informal migrant structures that we experienced in Paris and described in the first part of this text. In them they find paths that are usually very stony, but which they prefer over being forcibly returned. In their search for a life without a constant fear, they set off again from countries within EUrope that they originally thought were the destination of their journeys.

Like many of their Pakistani friends in northern Italy, they are often exposed to massive forms of exploitation – often enough also within migrant communities, which are at the same time often the only sources of protection and the necessary, albeit often very precarious, infrastructure they need. Refugees who flee for the second, or third, time are often particularly vulnerable. Especially for women on the run, further flight and renewed illegalisation increase the danger of sexualised violence.

Many have already fought for years for the prospect of staying and are accordingly more exhausted than before. Quite a few are worn down by years of insecurity. As they continue to flee, they often face homelessness once more, and are therefore more at risk of suffering drastic health problems. In France (and in many other countries, too), living conditions during the Dublin procedure are a major problem: many of those affected receive accommodation only after long waiting periods (if at all), which they lose again as soon as they fail to report to local police stations during the Dublin procedure. Since the evacuation of the “jungles” in Calais, new informal settlements have emerged, initially in Paris and now in many places in France. It seems to be in the political interest to evict these settlements again and again, though they are also used as a deterrence strategy. A social worker from an aid organisation in Paris impressively described to us the danger of re-traumatisation and eventually impoverishment in homelessness, as many young adolescents get lost on the street and often end up addicted to drugs.

3. Connecting Solidarity Cities with one another

“From the sea to the cities”, a network of solidarity structures has formed in recent years, which has its origins in the support of refugees rescued from distress at sea. Here, sea rescue NGOs meet with representatives from municipalities in EUrope that adopt a different, solidarity-based attitude towards migrant travellers. They make connections with activist movements such as the “Seebrücke” networks in Germany. These often-informal networks can be important to maintain connections and strengthen migrant communities in EUrope by giving them additional support for their daily work and struggles.

What is still needed is a well networked “Underground Railroad” for freedom of movement, a structure that also supports the often-necessary instances of further flight. In times when there is no place of freedom, the movements can take place in all directions, not only from the port cities of the Mediterranean Sea towards the metropolises, but sometimes also from north to south. Along these routes that mark the shifts in miserable conditions within EUrope, also a map of solidarity can emerge.

Spaces of contact and connection are crucial to create this map of solidarity. Like the fast food bistros in Paris, which serve as recharging stations for mobile phones and where newcomers can drink tea and exchange ideas without being forced to consume, such spaces emerge from the solidarity of individuals. They are just as important as squatted houses and social centres, which serve not least as collectively created spaces for contact and exchange. In Athens, the occupied seven-storey-tall City Plaza Hotel gave a temporary home for up to 400 refugees at the same time. It also has the function of providing information about other solidarity structures with which fleeing people can connect.

Last but not least, City Plaza has also taken up the permanent challenge of how the struggles of women can take place in these spaces and how solidarity-based spaces can be created in such a way that they offer as little room as possible for exploitation and structural violence and where experiences of sexism and racism can be discussed openly. To do justice to the many experiences made here it would need a separate article but it is crucial to allude to them as they are central challenges when it comes to developing everyday structures of solidarity. The City Plaza Squat is a “lighthouse” and is certainly unique in its size and continuity for over 3 years. Nevertheless, it is representative of many other places that are less public and have formed information hubs of solidarity in a more quiet way but similarly producing rich experiences and developing further.

If transit no longer remains at the EUropes’ external border, but shifts to its centre with the increase in diverse forms of further flight and increasing illegalisation, then we need the experience gained from transit also for the metropolises at the heart of the EU. We need more of these places of solidarity, we need closer forms of networking with community structures and, not least, we need learning processes from successful practices.

This all sounds like a major task ahead. Nevertheless, as in all social struggles, every first attempt counts. It is possible to start small. If a circle of supporters from a small Bavarian town refuses to let the contact to an Afghan friend break off and continues to support him by providing the rent for a sleeping place in Paris and also visits him there every few months, three things are created: First of all, there is a very material form of solidarity, which in this concrete case may prevent a young man from becoming re-traumatised during his further flight. Second, a point of contact has been made, a contact in Paris, a person there who knows how it works when the next ones have to leave. And finally – as we know from experience – a story has been created that will live on both in the small Bavarian town and in Paris. This story will live on and will be told ten years from now, showing under which hard conditions and tough efforts, carried by solidarity, a right to stay was struggled for and realised.

We can create welcome islands and rent apartments in which friends can rest and develop a perspective. There are many models of welcome islands in Athens, rest houses in Rabat and shelters for ‘illegal’ immigrants from the past. We can also build on the structures of previous struggles when it comes to medical care: since the end of the 1990s at the latest, with medical aid provided to refugees in Germany, structures have been built up that in some cities have also been able to fight for communal medical care for illegalised and uninsured people today.

Cities in Germany are also stations of transit. The extended transfer periods in the Dublin proceedings, which force more and more people to survive up to 18 months, while completely deprived of their rights, are also here regarded as ways to generate deterrent effects in the long term. More and more people spend long periods of time illegally in the cities in order to survive their Dublin deadlines. Here we need more structures and networks of support.

So, we need more solidarity rooms and apartments. We also need more contact points for those who are completely deprived of their rights, where it is possible to develop perspectives for each individual beyond the increasingly narrow legal requirements. And above all, we need to strengthen the community structures that are based on solidarity and find ways of connecting them with one another. This is not so difficult, because much of it already exists. We need a long-lasting power and energy to overcome this migration regime – and we need the courage to enforce equal rights for all every day. In all cities, we need to contest these outdated ideas of national legislation. . In Italy, the port cities with their solidarity with the newcomers are already showing us the way.

                                                           no one is illegal hanau / Welcome to Europe

************************

* All names changed.


[1] With regards to deportation threats from those residing in Germany back to Afghanistan, Welcome to Europe provides information online about the different ways of securing a right to stay even after the asylum procedure has been completely negative through its information guide “Information against the fear” : https://w2eu.info/germany.en/articles/germany-deportation-afghanistan.en.html

[2] https://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/nach-afghanistan-abgeschoben–wer-sind-die-69-betroffenen–8187742.html

[3] https://www.24matins.de/topnews/pol/2018-sechs-dublin-ueberstellungen-von-deutschland-nach-griechenland-161278

[4] See: https://www.aktionbleiberecht.de/?p=13879

[5] Information Against the Fear, Deportations from Germany to Pakistan, w2eu, April 2018, online: https://w2eu.info/germany.en/articles/germany-deportation-pakistan.html.

[6] In the first three months of this year, the number of Nigerian asylum seekers in Germany rose sharply for the same reason. They call themselves Salvini-refugees. After years of residence in Italy, most of them have started to flee because their living conditions have become unbearable, not least because of the increasing racist agitation in the media, and because they cannot develop a perspective on the right to stay in Italy.

The infomobile

... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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