What shall we do when the borders close?

We have been cooking soup, distributing blankets, giving information, warmth, food and hope. It has been fun, it has been tragic. We’ve tried to bring a human face to the Balkan route. It has been intense, rewarding, invaluable. The support has been staggering, seeing the solidarity has been beautiful. But I am afraid we are on the wrong track. While we are providing aid and saving lives on the ground, politicians up high in the glass towers of Brussels have been hard at work getting over their differences in order to contain, regulate, close up and slow down the arrival of foreigners in Europe. They are doing it by means of savage bureaucracy, with the tidal waves of history propelling them forward, coming down on support movements as well as visitors to our continent, breaking up solidarity, isolating refugees from us and society. Migrants are step by step being put away in camps and prisons, contained like a disease, to protect Europe from exposure. This is the brutal face of bureaucracy and order, regulation and isolation, which tolerates no independent assistance, no independent information, no independent contact.

The shock of a million foreigners has set European racists reeling. It has made bureaucratic machines crack and sputter. The micromanaging states of Europe want this disaster of irregularity, chaos and non-registration to end. Better a drowned refugee than a non-registered one. Better an imprisoned child than a smuggled one. Keep THEM in those white boxes and keep those white boxes in barbed-wire fences and have volunteers – registered, of course – keep refugees in line. Sort them by nationality, gender, age, vulnerability, take their fingerprints and check just HOW MUCH they suffered, because we don’t accept just anyone here, you know. Write their number on their hand, tag their fingernails, count the cups of soup they get, stamp their papers, give them thirty days to get to Level 2 or it’s Game Over. Then their journey begins again, and when they get here next time, the open camp will be a detention center, the food-distributor a prison guard, the registration will be for a flight back home. And where will we, the soup-cookers and clothes-distributors, be then?

The incompetence of Greece and Europe has made people believe this can’t happen. But this is an illusory hope. Sure, Greece is incapable of managing registration, let alone keeping a million people detained. But Big Brother Europe has plenty of force to spare. Frontex-officials are coming to the islands like a plague of black locusts, gnawing apart nonconforming support structures, ridding the Balkan route of the insufficient Greek Coast Guard and insubordinate volunteers. In due time, tent camps will have disappeared and there’ll be a clean, white wall with a roll of barbed wire on top for us to graffiti edgy slogans on. Wet and fearful people will be brought in, and they will be “processed”, and when they will come out a magical transformation will have happened. They will either have the luck of having become a Second Class Temporary European, ready for deportation as soon as Their Disaster is over, or be an Economic Migrant, a worthless rightless leech on our goodwill, a disgusting rapist opportunist Muslim that can’t be deported too early. And where will we, the blanket-distributors and soup-givers, be then?

The weather is cold and windy, and still the boats bring thousands of people every day. What will it be like this summer? We are not the only ones wondering. The showrunners of Europe say they have two months to “save Schengen”, to hold together a thirty year old project, which is now crumbling under the weight of a million undocumented people – 0.2% of Europe’s population. More refugees are residing in Lebanon, a country of four million! If this is what refugees have brought us so far, what next? The infinitely rigid structure of European law, order and bureaucracy, carefully and painstakingly built on top of fivehundred years of colonialism, slavery and oppression, is completely and utterly freaking out over this miniscule disturbance in the continent’s demographics. Europeans have built their collection of states like a kid builds a house out of toothpicks – on the assumption that nobody comes in and disturbs it. Now the smallest gust of air is making it collapse. “We cannot cope with the numbers any longer”, the Dutch prime minister says. Just imagine what he’ll be saying in June, when the Aegean sea will be warm and still.

We have to prepare for this. Europe is freaking out already, and it has given itself two months to save itself from the refugees. Only its boundless incompetence and disunity have allowed migrants to travel for this long. But with a near-fascist government in Poland, a straight-out racist ruling Hungary (with an even worse opposition), and the whole of Central Europe just waiting for an excuse to shut their borders, we can’t rely on hope or prayer anymore. Even the Empress of Europe, Angela Merkel, tried and failed to open the doors to refugees. She was sailing against the storms of five centuries, against the waves of populism, xenophobia and terror that rule the states around her, and even her own party.

We have to be prepared for Europe to try, haphazardly and fumbling, but with the determination of a mad drunkard, to lock up refugees and stop their coming here. Europe’s two ventricles of racist society and control-freak bureaucracy reinforce each other, pumping their insidious ideology across the continent. It spews forth in the utterances of everyday people: “There’s no space for them here”, “they don’t fit in”, “they’re all rapists”, “open borders just wouldn’t work”, “there has to be some order to this”, “they’re after our jobs”, “if we save them, more will come”. Europe has built itself assuming it was safe from foreigners. Now it’s in existential crisis. And as a rat stuck in a corner, it will rip apart anything and everything to save itself. It won’t spare any right, it will break any refugee, that stands in its way.

We have to be prepared for this. The state has benefitted from our providing wet arrivals with dry clothes, giving hungry camp-dwellers food, distributing blankets to freezing people sleeping under the starry sky. But now we are in the way. We are giving people a reason to care. We are building relations with those who are not supposed to be here. We are fighting for them, sometimes one person at a time, to make it through the next border. Now we are the targets.

We have to unite, communicate, know our strenghts, and attack the racism, exclusion and separation that the state is imposing on us. Europe is giving itself two months to save itself. What will we do?

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What shall we do when the borders close?

15 thoughts on “What shall we do when the borders close?

  1. I write this with a heavy heart having just read the above post,I have donated,I have sent clothes,I have shared my heartfelt comments,I have signed the petitions,I have been critical to those who oversee the world and do nothing,I have cried for the images I have seen,I have offered to go and support the refugees, We cos there are more like me have given of their time,their support,left family to go and support,loved,cried and cared for the needs of the refugee, and I guess no one would have done it any other way.
    Can someone now advise me what do we do next?who shall we write to expressing our need for the powers to act now?who will hear our voice?
    Because if no one can direct us to a someone who can plan,take action,demand,deliver on the empty promises ( which change daily) then the future is bleak and all those who should have had this in order from the very time before it became a crisis will be responsible for the failure of the most disorganised chaos of the lives of others.

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    1. Hey there, Laura! I can only say what I am doing: talking to people that want to change things, and study how things have been changed before. If you are up for doing something, then find others to do it with you. (I’m in Athens, in case you’ve got ideas!) If you don’t know what to do, talk to others that are willing to put in an effort as well. We won’t have any luck, whatever we think of, if we don’t do it together.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Alexander says:

        Many of us would love to have the financial independence Benjamin here seems to have, to be able to relocate there and help these people but we all have to work and put food on the table.
        My suggestion is, if anyone wants to help to send money to legitimate, known help organizations with a proven track record, like doctors without borders, oxfam or the red cross.There are a lot of scammers when a crisus like this happend,trying to personally benefit by appearing to be a helping sympathizer.Dont fall for it.Or, try to get a job with some NGO organization working there.
        Dont forget there are also political interests playing into this and I am sure some if those “helpers”are paid to present a chosen viewpoint and stir trouble thst would benefit some country or interest.

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      2. @Alexander As I personally witnessed in Idomeni, “legitimate” organisations (with a noble except of MDF aka Doctors Without Borders) are largely legitimate because they play along the lines set up by governments. And governments are the first to play their political game in this situation. I am rather willing to contribute, however I can, to a small solidarity group, working under community scrutiny (there is quite well developed self-organised network of grassroots watching each other, as they work together) than to a big organisation that WILL conform any request from politicians or business, to keep real funding flowing.
        I prefer a risk of being scammed by someone to the certainty of being scammed by the government — directly or indirectly.

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    2. Alexander says:

      One thing you can do Laura is to contact medua in your country of residence and insist that they present the whole situation, daily, at the front newspaper pages, at the start of radio or tv news, keep people constantly informed and aware that this continues.The media should inform people that Greece,despite its efforts,simply does not have the financial or other means to adeqyately help and that other countries must step in with money etc to fill the gap.It should not be left up to individuals to help, there is too much needed, and countries have to share for the consequences of their action or lack of action, to keep peace in the middle east
      I personally have had enough of people like Angelina Joli and other actors who visit with ample media in tiw, “to help”, and as soon as they leave, they dont seem to remember their promises and seem to move on to other projects.ENOUGH of the photops of human suffering.Keep talking about it, keep it in the front pages, it will become a thorn to our governments and they will have to deal with it instead of hiding their heads in the sand or passing the buck to Greece to deal alone with it, or paying off Turkey billions and promising Turks easy access to the EU if they help take back refugees.
      Why doesnt anyone ask, why agree to give EU asylum directly from Turkey to one Syrian refugee for every one returned to Turkey by Greece?Why couldnt they just take them directly from Greece?Would it not be cheaper and more convenirnt? Would it also not be safer as there seems to be evidence that Turkey has collaborated withISIS, trading oil with them and who knows what else, not to mention its porous borders from where extremists enter and exit and the fact that it is making little effort to slow the human smuggling into Greece(I mean, nothing moves in Turkey without Erdogan knowing, so one wonders why is he allowing this human smuggling?)And,we all know Turkeys record on human rights….

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  2. BJ, thank you for the insightful and full of energy text. I am also trying to imagine what we can do, how to adapt our strategy — not just as volunteers, but as humans. The changes in Europe influence us as well. I am writing articles (https://freelab2014.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/house-of-glass/ and https://refugeesupport.net/2015/12/22/the-settlers/ among others) and try to build a safer social network (https://refugeesupport.net) for the people who want to face this challenge (You, folks, are invited to join, of course). If you are interested, just let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Jaqvaar says:

    As a resident of Kos, I have seen this first hand. The problem is very complex, the solutions however could be simple, if there were the will. Short-term solutions like a plate of food and shelter for the night (I admit I have not done enough, but I’ve always tried to lend a hand when I could and wish I could do more). Mid-term solutions like placement, temporary jobs and shelters, education or games for the kids. And the long-term solution which is the hardest: peace in the Middle East so that these people can go back home and rebuild their country.

    Interesting article, with a lot of insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alexander says:

      As the Greek government is trying to relocate and settle refugees temporarily, I am reminded of about 330 souls thst were moved to the south part of Greece, Kyllini.They were given the summer rental homes beside the beach, with all the facilities vacationers have, beautiful grounds and pool,and kind neighbours who welcomed them with open arms.Word got out to other Syrians who took taxis, on their own, to move there too, only to be transferred elsewhere because there was no more room.
      My point is that refugees seem to prefer certain locations over others,even if the facilities are equal,, and seem determined to go there and that creates problems of overcrowding, through no fault of the government.The situation in Idomeni,at the Greek and FYROM borders is another example.They are guests in a very bankrupt but welcoming country if limited means and they gave to respect that and be accommodative just as the Greeks were to them.I understand that in Idomeni, the land is privately owned by a farmer who rightly needs to farm it and provide the means to support his own family.Spring is here,if it is not done now he loses the season and his livelihood.Doesnt he have rights too?The government is trying to move them to sheltered quarters, in homes, but they seem determined to stay in the wet camps, wrongly hoping the border will open, risking their health and making it seem they are not being helped .
      As for the “hot spots”, I believe those are meant to hold the non-Syrians, and those that dont ask for asylum, as per EU request. They will be returned to Turkey supposedly (I am not holding my breath, I dont think Turkey is serious about the deal, and who trusts sultan Erdogan anyway?)

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      1. First of all, after closure of borders, refugees are no longer guests. They are forced to stay against their will. So, I do not really see a reason they they should be happy about it or quit their priorities in favor of cooperation with the government which itself is just running errands for players. As for deportations, you seem a bit deprived of information, let me help you.
        http://www.ekathimerini.com/207594/article/ekathimerini/news/greece-begins-refugee-deportations-under-eu-plan
        Deportations started already — and then get suspended, thanks to massive sabotage, through (forced again) universal claim for asylum in Greece. Legalistic approach, so predominant around this topic, is luckily vulnerable to hacking. 🙂

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  4. Very interesting article – it’s a huge problem and it’s not going to go away any time soon. I have been out to Vienna to distribute shoe boxes to refugee children and I have befriended a couple of Syrian guys here in Nottingham. I think that the political powers will continue to discuss what to do and the rest of us will ponder but act. I like the of action with contemplation – so we act and then we take time to think about how effective our action was. We can’t do it alone but through social media we can connect. I believe every little act of kindness is a peaceful fight against terrorism, every friend we make is another person who is less likely to be radicalised. It’s a drop in the ocean I know, but as Mother Teresa said “the ocean is made up of drops”.

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  5. I like your critique on Europe. I also think the solutions are simple but that would need a completely different approach.
    I expect that soon EU will completely shut down its borders.
    Basically the message will be something like “Everyone else has to change, so that we can stay the same. Turkey must integrate and patrol; Lebanon must integrate and patrol; Italy, Greece and Bulgaria must protect the borders; Greece may actually lose its Schengen membership in order to ‘save EU’; and refugees must get used to their fate in whatever camp, suburb or slum they end up”.
    In short term this may work out, but not in a long one.
    Leaving a whole generation that we have turned our backs to, showing that we care about human rights only when it comes to criticizing inconvenient politicians and parties in other countries, relying on financial compensations for our neighbours so they do us a favour (such as in the deal with Turkey)… Then, just a small economic crisis or a further destabilization of our neighbour states and our inner structures… and we’ll be in serious troubles. Given the tendency of European voters to opt for an indiscriminate rise of far-right, nationalism and racism.

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  6. Rula says:

    Safer boats need to be provided by UN & demanded of the rich Arab sgstes. If the world pressures Saudi Arabia& Qatar to host refugees – we can petition to the UN & US for such measures.

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  7. Sunita Putz says:

    Saudi Arabia and Qatar and/or the Gulf States will not host refugees – the refugees dont want to go their either – SA for eg. is pure sunni, SA is in conflict with Iran which is shiite – why should the refugees want to go to a region which is unsafe? – Secondly, the refugees are of different confessions, also orthodox christians which is another reason they are not really welcome in the Gulf States. The refugees are fleeing areas of conflict and Europe is a safe haven for them. What I cannot understand is how other European States bound by the GEneva Agreement can take their decisions of not hosting refugees without any kind of intervention!!!! Politically, the entire west and the western countries are the base problem of all the havoc created in the muslim states – and this includes the US and Great Britain – 2 Nations not even considering doing their part in welcoming refugees knowing they are geographically far away enough and thus not directly affected! I ask all politicians to, in a quiet moment, try and visualise, what it would mean to them if they were ever found to be in the same situation as all these refugees fleeing horrific war ridden areas!!! I also agree that there has to be some kind of controlling at the borders, no doubt – but controlling the borders does not in any way mean we cannot accept refugees. And I demand of all governments in the European Union to do their share in helping these refugees! “Together we stand, devided we fall” – this should be the motto of the EU – not only in economic agendas but in all social agendas too! –

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Alexander says:

    The canadians welcomed over 25,000 syrian refugees already, after prescreening back in the refugee camps,to make sure they passed safety checks.But once in canada,they were not only warmly welcomed but they were immediately given landed immigrant status and the right to legally work.Most were Christian Syrians, or were privatelly spondored by groups, such as Armenian-Canadians. (Maybe if people wanted to help the refugees stuck in Greece, they could try to find ways to privately sponsor them in their country of residence and be responsible for them until they find work).
    In the “anadian situation, in most cases, permanent housing could not be easily found because most refugee families were large and there were simply not enough vacant large apartments.Refugees kept complaining about being put up in hotels, and some had changed their mind and wanted to go back but of course that was not part of the deal and it would have to be at their expense.Most spoke English and are well-educated so the hope is they will find work eventually,though likely not in most of their fields,because certain professions like teachers, lawyers, doctors engineers etc need to re-qualify and go back to school at their expense in order to work in their field.

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