Stop the german camp system
by Gregor Samsa
This article (original title 'stop the global camp system') describes the german camp sytem against the backround of the global camp system. Originally it has been written on the occasion of the "action days against the deportation centre in Nürnberg/Fürth" which took place in 2003. The first time it has been published in the montly newspaper ak (analysis and critique) from Hamburg.
The camp system which is prevailing in Germany at the moment is based on 4 pillars: Refugees who apply for asylum are first of all put in a Zentrale Aufnahmestelle (ZAST) (central reception camp). Then they are put for the whole period of the asylum procedure in so-called communal accomodations. These communal accomodations can be normal residential buildings as well as big container camps or former barracks which fit several hundred people. Refugees and migrants who do not/no longer have an official residence permit end up in a deportation prison, if there is a court decision which says that they might escape from their imminent deportation. The deportation- and safeguarding-custody can last up to 6, in exceptional cases up to 18 months. Every year between 10.000 and 20.000 people are affected by it in Germany. The people who are admitted to the so-called Ausreisezentren are those, who are suppposed to leave the country , but who cannot be deported into their (suspected) countries of origin because they lack valid identity papers. The authorities accuse these people of covering up their identity and say that this is the reason why they have to be forced to contribute in one way or the other to obtain valid identity papers. This means concretely: permanent interviews, language tests, being brought to one's embassy, room searches, attendance controls, tightened Residenzpflicht (residential restriction), revocation of pocket money, etc..The fact that it is often the embassies of the (suspected) countries of origin who refuse to accept the affected people as 'their' citizens and who refuse to issue them the corresponding identity papers is deliberately concealed. Last but not least: When looking at their official objectives the 5 Ausreisenzentren which are running as experiments have largely failed: Not more than 16% of the people admitted could be deported, of 30% the identity could be established but a deportation could not be obtained; in contrast more than 50% have gone underground and become illegal. That the Ausreisenzentren are in spite of all this held to, that is that the massive effect of illegalization is more than condoned shows what's behind all this: Not refugees are the problem - at least not under certain circumstances, but refugees who cost money! It is the predominant trend almost everywhere in Europe to put refugees and people without papers in camps or prisons. Especially in many places in Eastern Europe prison-like camps are set up with financial aid from the European Union in order to intern migrants and refugees who do not have valid transit-documents. The still most blatant example of such a camp is probably the internment camp which is run by the IOM (International Organization of Migration) on the pacific island Nauru: By order of the australian government caught boat-people-refugees are kept there for an uncertain period of time under - according to amnesty international - "infernal" conditions (ak 473). A different type of camp are the camps which have been for the first time erected in the course of the war in Kosovo and which have the aim to keep refugees near the region they escaped from: While 1992 and 1993/4 during the war in former Yugoslavia several million people could fly to Western Europe, during the war in Kosovo 1999 about 550.000 of the 800.000 refugees from Kosovo could be dragged directly into temporary and strictly guarded refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia. From a perspective of migration politics this concept of accomodating the refugees near the region of war, which has been negotiated by the NGO's and western war parties has been an absolute success. This is the reason why it is the blueprint for a proposal which is at present supported by the british government within the EU and has the title 'a new vision for refugees': According to this proposal refugees all around the globe shall be put into camps which are financed by the EU and run by the UN. Possible applications for asylum would then have to be made in the camps erected near the respective region of war and crisis - with a waiting period of 6 months. Refugees who manage it to come through to Europe would as well be sent back to the camps responsible for them.
But what do the camps mean analytically and politcally? Which function and which character do they have? It is clear that the variety of different camps and types of camps rules out one-dimensional answers; but it is worthwhile to become aquainted with some examples of different attempts of interpretation.
1. In his very worthreading article ("Die Bundesrepublik als Lagergesellschaft" - Germany as a society of camps) Stephan Dännwald from the Bavarian refugee council focuses on the comunal accomodations for refugees and comes up with 2 theses: On the one hand side the restrictions which are linked to the accomodation in camps and to other measures of the asylum politics serve - as it is freely admitted by the state - the purposeful humiliation and degradation of refugees and therefore the preventive deterrence. On the other hand the accomodation in camps is an expression of a politically "wanted separation and exclusion" of refugees. Because the more they are allegedly uncapable of integration and therefore stigmatized ('The people from the camp'), the easier deportations can be carried through. Under these conditions not much resistance has to be expected of the majority of the population. On the contrary: The accomodation in homes and camps is rather suitable in order to stir up and intensify racist resentments.
2. The philosopher Biorgio Agamben who is a lot discussed in Italy mainly deals with the italian variant of Ausreisezentren and deportations camps respectively (here the people interned have to be deported or released within 60 days): In an interview with the newspaper jungle world he said that camps were places of "state of emergency" and that being denied the status of legal subjects, the internees are reduced to their bare existance - bare of all citizen rights. This is the result of the fact that from a juridical perspective the internees are regarded as persons "who are already subjected to the measure of deportation, but for whom this measure could not carried out." Therefore deportation prisoners are actually, that is as bare existences on italian territory, but not from a juridical perspective, that is as persons with "a subject position in the civil right". This juridical paradox would be possible, because in a "biopolitical" purpose camps aim at the "regulation of the streams of population". It is only before the background of this that one can understand why deportation prisoners are deportated people "who are no longer there, but imprisoned". From a political perspective deportation camps would question the ruling concept of citizenship.
3. In contrast the historian and antiracist activist Sandro Mezzadra, who is also teaching in Italy, criticizes, that 'labour' plays no role in the observations of Agamben, although - according to Mezzadra -, there is a "basic connection between the current deportation camps and the extensive restructuring of the labour market in the global capitalism". The deportation camps are there to "reduce the pressure and to scatter the tension which has build up on the labour market". Concretely this means the following: First, deportations would be a means of avoiding the adverse social effects of too great an increase of unemployment. Secondly the deportation camps would produce irregular workforce, that is workforce which one can exploit even more, on a massive scale (after all about 40% of the internees are released after 60 days). Thirdly the violence of the deportation camps articulates symbolically and widely visible the "despotic" claim of global capitalism to demand work force only according to the actual demand and to control its mobility. It would have to be more investigated how valid Mezzadras theses are in detail. Still his observations seem to be extremely helpful, because they show that the necessity of a re-economisation of antiracism definitely needs to include the global camp system. On the one hand side, because increasingly (irregular) migrants are affected by the internation in camps; on the other side, because the camps constitute a central part within the ruling politics of migration which primarily orientates itself according to economic criteria.