What are the political problems, demands and arguments in relation to the migration and asylum policy crisis and the refugee/ solidarity movement? Some thoughts and a report of a movement's meeting.
Closed borders and securitization comprise the dominant response of Europe to the “refugee/migrant problem”. It's obvious that not only the European leaders are refusing to face the core of the problem but they are also fostering racism and xenophobia. Independently of the restrictions and the board fences, there is no way to stop people from leaving a threatening situation, from wars, violence and poverty. Securitization cannot be the answer to a political/humanitarian crisis. Now more than ever, especially after the recent attacks in Europe and other places and the new anti-immigration bills ready to be applied in various countries, there is a growing need to intensify activities that will produce political and activist resistance against border closing and the rise of fascism and xenophobia in European societies.
The strengthening of the solidarity movement in Europe has to overcome several constrains. The constantly changing situation, the alteration in European policies, the differences between European countries (entrance, transit or destination) on various levels, history, tradition and experience about migration, national politics and mainstream discourses, parties (far-right, xenophobic or not) in power etc., create difficulties in relation to possible common responses. We should also acknowledge the differences between solidarity groups (regarding aims and priorities, ideological backgrounds, forms of organization, views on the civil war in Syria and the situation in Middle East in general etc.).
Despite all that, we all agree that although in the long term the only way to really solve the “refugee/migrant crisis” is the improvement of the situation in the countries of origin, in order to address the current dramatic situation we should seek a European response. We need a strong pan-European movement that will demand open borders, the establishment of a safe path to Europe and the creation of open reception centers. We need a strong pan-European movement that would fight for social justice for all. For that reason networking and cooperation are indispensable. One of the first steps is the exchange of information on the situation on the field, especially on the Balkan Route and on other regions of interest and the coordination of actions. On that ground a series of meetings were taken or will take place between activists, grassroots initiatives and NGOs. See also Open The Doors, No To Walls and State Of Solidarity.
On 11 and 12 December 2015 such a meeting was held in Zagreb organized by the Center for Peace Studies, the Right to the City and the whole Croatian “Welcome” Refugee Support Initiative. People from a variety of organizations, from Turkey, Greece, FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Spain and, of course, Croatia, met to elaborate on the following issues: Political context in EU and on the “Balkan route”; Political and activist answers to border closures, hotspots, externalization of asylum system and division of refugees by nationality; (Trans) national networks for creating political resistance and solidarity and fighting xenophobia; Integration policies, socio-economic integration and a) the right to housing, b) migrant labour.
One of the most interesting points of the meeting was that the discussion moved beyond the current dramatic situation and tried to address the integration issue. Despite the fact that for those who have experienced negation of first aid or food and shelter, all that may sound a little bit unrealistic, the prospect of welcoming thousands of new citizens in European countries urges us to rethink and elaborate on integrations models and practices in European societies. As it was stated during the meeting: Although Angela Merkel and politicians in other countries have declared multiculturalism as dead, multiculturalism is a fact in our societies and exists in the streets of our cities. And, anyway, EU presents itself as a multicultural union.
The integration policies that had been applied in Europe - and which were clearly problematic - were based on labour and were expected to lead to complete assimilation. The selection and future acceptance of the refugees in European countries on the basis of their country of origin (and sometimes religion) reveals not only a racist and but also a class-oriented ideological background, in other words, “if Europe needs cheap labour, let's take the more qualified and the more white (and Christian) ones...”. The application of such views is not only a clear violation of the basic principles of the UN as well as the EU declarations, but also appears extremely dangerous: this is not the Europe we want!
It is of major importance not only to fight for equality of rights between the “old citizens”/natives and the newcomers, on education, labour, housing, health care, but at the same time find ways to prevent any potential conflict between refugees/migrants and the local population (especially regarding the less privileged and the young). We have to plan a strategy that can ensure dignity for all and prevent any kind of social exclusion. We should learn from previous experiences, for example, the creation of ghettos in the cities as the outcome of certain housing policies, the negative socio-economic impact of of condemning migrants to informality. The involvement of established communities of migrants in the integration procedures could help considerably.
More generally speaking about the solidarity movement created around the refugee/migration crisis, it seems that apart from old organizations with valuable experience in supporting immigrants and refugees, new collectivities have emerged. An optimistic aspect is that a lot of people with no prior political involvement have taken action. At the same time, there is significant improvement on networking and collaboration between NGOs and grassroots movements. Although acknowledging some problems with NGOs working on the field, cooperation on concrete actions can be fruitful and trust can be built through shared experiences. Another important aspect is the high participation of women: in many cases they are the major actors in the movements and organizations of solidarity. Though, as it had been pointed out, it can be translated as a reflection of the traditional female role of caring, the fact that women are on the front-line is very promising.
It remains an open question if the mobilization of so many people will lead to the establishment of new political subjectivities and an empowerment from below. Nevertheless, the Europe of Solidarity emerges beyond securitization, the violations of basic human rights by EU policies and the xenophobic mass media discourse. The mobilization from below, the variety of organizations and collectivities, the mere existence of so many Welcome Initiatives, especially in countries that suffer from austerity policies, is part of the Europe we want and imagine and gives hope for a better future for all.