Communiqué from Mytilini/Lesvos, August 2009
20.Sep.09 - "From Lesvos to an unknown land": this was the response given by Mr X. at the NoBorder Camp in Mytilini, when asked where he planned to go after his arrival in Athens. Mr X. was acting as a spokesperson for a Somalian group, who, along with migrants from Afghanistan and Eritrea, were released from the "Pagani Welcome Centre" shortly before the official start of the NoBorder Camp. Pagani, the "reception centre" of Lesvos; the detention centre with a capacity of 250 people was filled with around 1,000 occupants – men, women and children – in August, when the Camp took place. Needless to say, Pagani was totally over-booked. A video made with a camera smuggled into the centre by one of the transit migrants clearly documents the unbearable conditions in which they were being detained.
In Mytilini a farewell party was thrown for migrants released from the centre. NoBorder activists, other transit migrants and locals from Mytilini accompanied those leaving on their way to the ferry for Athens. A moment in which hope and uncertainty, confidence and lack of prospects, comfort and anxiety was compressed and condensed. A moment in which the strategy of European border politics to render transit migrants invisible was broken through by the migrants themselves, with solidarity from activists.
Along with the border control agency Frontex, Pagani attracted much anger and frustration. Around 500 migrants were released from the centre with papers following considerable pressure from NoBorder activists. These papers, however, only grant recipients 30 days habitation in Greece. In this time migrants are expected to organize their return to their native country. It goes without saying that many use this time to recover, to contact relatives and friends, maybe to earn some money, and to further plot out the route to their goal destinations in Europe or elsewhere. This time is used to figure out what opportunities can be found in the coming journey – or to figure out if it is better to stay put. It is used to realize the potentiality of "life plans". Each step is a step into an "unknown land".
Tarifa, a small town previously known only to fans of kite surfing and tuna fishing. Ceuta and Melilla, footnotes to the Spanish history of colonisation. The Canaries, Europe’s biggest tanning salon. Lampedusa: an unknown. Lesvos, a small tourist island, an exemplary observation point for the playing out of European population policies; one of the many archipelagos of migration and the hope for a better life.
"The right to hope. To many, the borders seem like the gateways to paradise. Before the borders, lies a flaming moat, which needs to be conquered; Europe is the castle surrounded by the castle moat. The first contact with those that have managed to get there always reveals the same story: they tell us that this is paradise. We all want to see this paradise. We insist on our right to be allowed to see this, on our right to have a chance" (Tarek, transit migrant).
Today each of these places produces breaking news in the European media. The hotspots for the detention of Europe’s arriving migrants. Places where the bodies of those who have died crossing the seas wash up on the shore. Places of detention and places of transit. Small towns with 10 – 20,000 residents, towns that are militarized by camps and border police. Small towns onto which the social problems and implications of European migration politics get pushed. The externalisation of the camp, of deportation, finds its continuation here. On the negotiation tables of Europe’s metropolitan cities agreements such as the Dublin II are consolidated, which legalise these barbarities. The misery of Pagani is the displacement of these politics onto the edges of Europe.
Shut down Pagani. No ifs, no buts. Disarm the ships and helicopters of Frontex. No ifs, no buts. Issue the release papers; release the children, the women and the men. No ifs, no buts.
"Our whole continent is searching for hope. The hope to escape from misery through migration, this hope is the air that we breathe, a music that is always there, a whole culture. The idea of migration was born in us while we were still young. All over the world children dream. When you ask a child here ‘what would you like to be when you grow up – doctor, professor or pilot’, then the child answers: ‘I will become a migrant’. Someone who has left the country is worth more than everyone else" (Tarek, transit migrant).
We belong to the first generation to witness the disappearence of the internal borders in the European Union. The first generation for whom it has become everyday – everything but normal or self evident – to grow up in multinational, postcolonial, ghettoised, multilinguistic milieus. We have seen that the desire for free movement can tear down iron curtains. We have grown up with globalisation, with the internet and computers, with mobile phones, with interrail, with journeys home over the Autoput and human compassion that spans across borders. We have come of age with the wars in the Balkans, with the wars in Somalia, Rwanda and in the Sudan, in Afgahnistan and in Iraq. We have also grown up with those wars that we repress in our everyday lives. We have come up against new borders that run through our cities and countries. The presence of terror as justification for control, for the retraction of civil rights, for detention, internment and intervention is the mantra of our times. Our life is the change and the transformation: the death of the old social order, the uprising of Precarity, and the enormous question mark hanging over the future.
"We are all victim to the lies and promises of television. We believe in these success stories. When thousands of people fail to migrate successfully, but one person does – we don’t look at the stories of the thousands, we look at the story of one. The question is never raised of what s/he does over there, if s/he collects garbage or sells drugs. You only see what s/he has, when s/he returns: a car, branded clothing, a real life. The people smugglers profit from this, they promise you what you want to hear. We call them the sellers of dreams" (Tarek, transit migrant).
Many of us see the desiring gazes focused on the red passports of the European Union. We are aware of Schengen’s blessing of us and its curse on others. Do you believe that we are not enraged by these conditions, that we position ourselves as the profiteers of this system? Do you think that we don’t see how these insidious border regimes make the travels of transit migrants more and more dangerous with every passing day? Does anyone really believe that the coming citizens of Europe, in the most truthful sense of the word, do not use their hands to work, do not use their understanding to think, do not use their masses to assemble, just because migration is made illegal? Everybody knows that this work, this exploitation and this mobility, is the basis that allows the European constitution to function.
"The cat hunts the mouse and the mouse is always faster. And so are we, always. Migration existed since ever, since the beginning of human existence and why should that end now? In Africa nothing is changing actually. So our families sent us on the journey, which changed us so much that we are not able to go back. I came here by accident. And it is the best journey ever. The track has been the best experience of my life" (Jean- Marie, transit migrant).
What we want is simple. We want the right to travel in safety. The legal codification of these pathways. The normal state of arrival and travel instead of a constant state of exception. So that everyone can arrive, unpack their suitcase in peace and become a citizen of Europe, if they so desire.
Citizens of Europe 2009