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?