"The only way of limiting and regulating the worldwide circulation of capital and commodities that would be not defensive is the self-determined mobility of people."
(Yann Moulier Boutang in "Papers
for All": Die Beute 13 1/97)
I. "Making migration illegal" tries to describe a state- regulated process. Today there are about 3 - 4,5 million people living within the European Union without any legal papers. More and more migrants are threatened by the loss of basic citizens' rights.This process is part of a wider strategy directed against all refugees and migrants, especially in Western Europe. In some countries, particularly in Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries, we are witnessing a drastic increase in the number of "illegal" migrants. In other countries where, not so long ago, living without a passport did not mean the lack of all rights, it is becoming much harder to survive without any legal documents. In Great Britain, for example, undocumented migrants and refugees were once entitled to welfare payments. In the Netherlands, in France or Southern European countries, registration systems used to be rather slack, so that people without any papers also had access to the (legal) job and housing markets and to the public health and education systems.
Today, under the predominance of the Schengen States (especially Germany) and as an effect of the so-called harmonization process in the European Union, migrants and refugees have to face much stricter controls and strategies of marginalization. A lot of people who have lived in Europe for decades (and some even all their lives) are being forced into the status of pariahs. Refugees and migrants trying to enter a country of the European Union today are more or less forced to cross the borders "illegally", due to stricter visa requirements, the restriction of family reunions, and the so-called "safe country regulation". Even arriving at an airport or crossing the border of one of the Schengen countries without a visa is treated as a criminal act. Some of the refugees and migrants are able to apply for political asylum and so receive at least a restricted residence permit. But since the number of accepted political refugees is constantly dropping, most of them are forced to leave the country or go underground after a short period of time. All in all, the chances of receiving a permanent residence permit are declining all over Europe. Due to that fact, more and more of the newly arriving migrants have to find ways of staying undocumented without any false or borrowed papers.
The lack of rights and the general situation without papers is a rather difficult one, especially for women and families with children. But for an increasing number of people it is the only alternative to deportation and a life of misery in their home countries. Illegal migrants and refugees are not a homogeneous group. They have one thing in common: no papers and no rights whatsoever. Apart from that, there are thousands of different stories, experiences and backgrounds leading to a life of "illegality" in one of the European countries. Some of them are documented in this book. But as much as it is true that "being illegal" is a very complex issue, it is also true that, in analyzing the process of making migration illegal, we find some of the most important contradictions and conflicts inherent in our societies.
II. Paris, March 1996: More than 300 refugees occupy a church to protest against their lack of rights and deportation. "Papers for all" is one of their central demands. The movement of the "Sans Papiers" is born and during the following months we become witnesses of one of the most impressive political struggles in the past decade in Europe.
At the beginning of the 90's, the struggle of Roma for their right to stay in Germany caused a sensation, while house-squatting in Italy by undocumented migrants won publicity. Again and again, people threatened by deportation sought refuge in churches and parishes. At the same time these protests and struggles were only the public activities of much broader and usually "silent" social networks. For the majority of migrants and refugees, networks and communities of relatives, friends and comrades were vital for their survival. When we talk about a new and dynamic process of political organization of illegal refugees and migrants within the past few years, not only in France, but also in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and other places, these struggles have all profited from the vigorous and persistent resistance of the movement "Sans Papiers", which won wide and positive coverage all over Europe.
We consider the multinational collectives of the "Sans Papiers" as the most well-developed political antipode to "Fortess Europe" under the hegemony of the Schengen states. When we acknowledge that the struggle of the "Sans Papiers" and of undocumented migrants in general is pioneering, it is for three reasons:
1. Making migration illegal and taking away basic human rights from refugees and migrants can be seen as the spearhead of a strategy of transforming the western capitalist world as a whole. Within the hierarchy of exploitation, undocumented workers are at the lowest level, one could even talk of new forms of bondage. The lowest wages, without social security benefits, provide not only for extra profit, but also serve as a threat and a means of disciplining all workers. Within the European Union we find different forms of capitalism, but for all countries it is true that the needs of the job market encourage attempts by the state to regulate migration, especially illegal migration. At the same time we can see the destruction of the welfare state as a whole and an attack against minimal living wages and the basis of people´s livelihood.
In Germany, for example, certain groups of refugees have been barred from entitlement to welfare payments,while other groups have to fear that the same thing will happen to them. But it would be wrong to expect these different social groups to automatically build new alliances of solidarity. Often the contrary is the case: with new forms of exclusion and the annexation of rights by certain groups, new kinds of aggressive identities are formed. The image of the so-called "illegal and criminal foreigner" serves, especially on the local, national or European level, as a new scapegoat and is in many countries responsible for the formation of new waves of vicious racism. The most important challenge for the anti-racist movement in Europe would be to fight these ethnic structures and to denounce the interplay between racist propaganda and the law, as the modern stigma of Western Europe.
In addition to that,we need to develop a political approach that would come close to what the "Sans Papiers" in France have called a "movement of the ones without": without papers, without a job, without income. Activists of the Sans Papiers, together with representatives of unions and unemployed organisations in France, have been trying to build new coalitions between the different social movements. They invite each other to their conferences and meetings, discuss and make demands together and support each other at demonstrations and public activities. The attempt to resolve constructed identities can only be successful if these comprehensive social and political initiatives can be further developed.
2. Migration as such is confronting the Western World with the worldwide system of exploitation and oppression caused in part by the politics of the European Union. Since 1989, the prosperity gap has constantly widened between western and eastern Europe. And criminal exploitation of assets and raw materials in the so-called developing countries has never ceased or lost any of its brutality. Migration to the European Union can be seen as a direct result of the worldwide processes of destruction and expulsion, the programs of the IMF and World Bank, and the oppression and civil wars caused by dictatorships and military governments that are often backed by the Western World. At the same time, migration reveals an offensive aspect, since more and more people come here to fight for the right to exist and for a better income. Refugee movements are, in most European countries, a phenomenon of the 80's. Solidarity and support campaigns by the left have a rather short and changeable history. Those who expected the refugees to turn out as the better human beings, or even as the new revolutionaries, were soon disappointed. This picture was rather a functionalistic one or was mixed with positive racist projections. But the motivation for the anti-racist movement and support projects should not amount to purely moral obligations. Even if the poor, the old, and families often fail to come to Europe due to the increasing risks and costs of the long journey, the migration movement gives expression to the general demand for a better livelihood. Transfers of money back to the families in the home countries and the development of chains of migration by familiy reunions are quite common today.
Therefore, migration as such has an egalitarian character, because an important mechanism of exploitation is being undermined, even attacked. All that with a greater or lesser degree of success.
3. The European Union and its politics of deterrence are guided by one credo: "The fight against illegal migration". This fight is firmly in the centre of the harmonization process of "Fortress Europe", even if the history of migration and the balance of power are quite different in the countries concerned. While, in Great Britain or France, migration is closely connected to the history of colonialism, Germany after the Second World War developed a system of recruitment of so-called guest workers. Linked to that are different systems of naturalization and citizenship, in Germany for example the predominance of the "jus sanguis" until today. Amnesty campaigns for undocumented migrants in France, Italy, Portugal or Sweden in recent years, as well as different ways of dealing with deportation, show that there is still some "scope for action in the nation states". Due to the variety of national practices the conditions of illegal migrants for surviving and fighting back differ from one country to the next.
Nevertheless, the harmonization process is continuing within the European Union, with a combination of strategies of integration and exclusion. The "fight against illegal migration", particularly in securing the outer borders of the Schengen states, is the pacemaker of the common migration policy. No other field of politics has been dominated by such a massive process of adjustment within the past few years, including stricter visa requirements, the construction of the so-called "safe country", carrier sanctions and a lot of other adjustments of migration and asylum laws. With the "Schengen Information System" (SIS), the first supranational search system was invented, focussing mainly on one special group: illegal migrants. Almost 86 percent of the data records of the SIS are about migrants, who are stored as illegals or as deportees that should be not allowed to enter the EU again. The role of Germany as one of the driving forces within this process becomes clear when we look at SIS: two thirds of the data is stored by German officials. Several closed committees within the European Union follow and analyse routes of migration in order to stop the last means of entering without visas. By officially prosecuting organized groups of traffickers, it is the refugees themselves most of the time who have to suffer from the policing of migration. These secret committees are responsible for setting the agenda for European or international conferences, forcing the Eastern European countries, as so-called transit countries, to be submissive partners of the Schengen states.
One of the main preconditions for becoming a member of the European Union is the adoption of a very tight and strict migration system. The struggles of migrants in Europe and the uncompromising fight against all deportations are undermining the politics of deterrence in the capitalist centres. The demands for "Circulation libre", for freedom of movement, the active support of refugees, and the slogan "no human being is illegal" are symbols of the incompatibility with contemporary border practices.
III. The reports on different countries in our book try to look at the process of making migration illegal, not only from a detached analytic point of view. The goal of our publication is rather an exchange about ongoing struggles and discussions in various countries and about ways of organizing community structures of migrants and support projects inWestern Europe.
Our claim to place political self-organization and social community structures in the forefront of the articles, in conjunction with support projects, could only be partially realized. On the one hand, public and political organizations of illegals are poorly developed in many countries, and on the other, insights into social resistance, into the inner life of the communities, remain limited for outsiders.
The first contribution - by which we begin a brief survey of the articles in the book, and which is concerned with France - is an exception. It provides both an inside view of the Sans Papiers movement and describes, critically but supportively, the development of this unique autonomous organization of illegals. In the first part, the author sketches the conflicts emerging from French immigration history, which help to explain the initial conditions and prerequisites for the Sans Papiers movement as a highlight of immigrant resistance in France.
The second contribution comes from Great Britain. Based on an interview project with illegals of Polish and Turkish-Kurdish origin, the main emphasis lies here in the description of social survival structures. "Paperless" people who have managed to enter the country, or have become illegal in the course of time, have a range of possibilities open to them, compared with those elsewhere in Europe, to organize their lives. Police checks and raids prompted by skin colour are still not socially acceptable in Britian. Above all, there is still no administrative or computer-based surveillance system, which is essential to identify, exclude or deport illegals. They are able to move almost legally in many social spheres.
The situation in Germany described in the third article provides a stark contrast to this. A socially and technically sophisticated controlling body allows illegals no legal form of survival at all. As a result of sharp measures to strip refugees and migrants of their rights, as well as escalating deportations over the last few years, the number of illegals has multiplied dramatically. However, anyone trying to get by without papers needs a wide range of contacts and support, which are to be found above all in the respective immigrant communities. Nevertheless, attempts to form political and public resistance groups have also increased amongst the refugees threatened by deportation.
Developments in the Netherlands are portrayed in the fourth contribution. Whereas the situation for illegals was similar to Britain's not even ten years ago, the surveillance today - at least as regards compilation of data - has almost reached German levels. Within just a few years, a computerized social control system has been installed. Although many people without papers, amongst them many "white illegals", were able to be integrated into the employment and social networks with no great difficulty, they are increasingly excluded today from social benefits of any kind, due to cross-checking of data by the authorities. All the "new illegals" now depend completely on informal networks.
While this book is mainly concerned with articles from individual countries, we have included reports on the situation of mostly illegal women, who as domestics or nannies are exploited by countless European families. On the one hand, this important aspect is ignored even in anti-racist circles, and on the other, this "cross-border" contribution helps to correct the fact that in most of the articles there is little to be found on the specific problems of women.
The sixth contribution comes from Poland. It is the only one from Eastern Europe and describes the political adaptation process, with regard to migration, of this candidate for entry into the EU. The execution of these requirements affects not only transit migrants and refugees. The strict visa policy and sealing of the eastern borders also has an influence on the Poles themselves.
Reports from Spain and Italy make up the seventh and eighth contributions. Starting from the brutal and often fatal frontier controls at the southern tip of Fortress Europe, the article on Spain has as its theme the living and working conditions of illegal immigrants. The recent announcement by the government on coupling the even stricter surveillance of the border with Africa with the controlled entry of some 100,000 workers that are urgently needed, is a clear sign of the renewed efforts towards more effective immigration control.
A contradictory development is apparent in the Italian contribution. On the one hand, at the end of 1998 an extensive legalization of immigrants without papers, very liberal by European standards, was introduced. On the other, the deportation policy was intensified shown in part by the creation of numerous internment camps for refugees, something unknown till then. The pressure exerted by the EU or Schengen states also forced Italy to adapt and fall in line, in procedures which did not always run smoothly, as the powerful protest movement since the middle of 1998 has shown.
Switzerland and Austria are featured in the ninth and tenth articles. Even if Switzerland is not officially part of the EU, agreements with neighbouring countries on police cooperation and the return of refugees make up for this. In the article on hand, the interplay between increasing legal restrictions on the one hand and resistance activities by refugees and migrants is described in detail.
Austria was well-known, even before its inclusion in the Schengen states in April 1988, for its extremely rigid asylum and immigration policies. The loss of rights and illegalization of refugees are on the increase, helped by the election success of the Haider party FPÖ, while the death of Marcus Omufuma during deportation in May 1999 set the scene for the first widespread anti-racist mobilization.
In September 1998 Semira Adamu was killed by border police in Belgium during the sixth attempt to deport her to Togo. The eleventh article describes, against the background of Belgian deportations, the broad wave of protests in the months before and the agitation at the time of the Belgian Sans Papiers. But the politicians responsible have kept to their murderous policy: in autumn 1999, almost exactly a year after Semira's death, Roma were hunted down, interned and deported to Slovakia.
The last contribution on an individual country is a summary of the state legalization procedures in Portugal,where a federation of ant-racist groups has existed since 1999, demanding "papers and equal rights for all".
The final article provides a brief survey of current developments in European asylum and migration policy, which have undergone further restrictions in the name of uniformity since the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty on 1 May 1999. To fight effectively against exclusion, illegalization and deportation of refugees and migrants, it is not only necessary to encourage the exchange of information on gaps and loopholes in this "harmonization". At the same time, possibilities of international and common resistance perspectives must be sought.
All these articles are by people who have been active for years in anti-racist initiatives. Some of them have been working together for some time. Others first came into contact through this project.
This book aims to promote this exchange in order to form a practically orientated network. We hope the information, assessments and impressions in the respective articles can be useful to support projects as well as to refugees and migrants themselves.
We have correspondingly added a list of addresses from the respective countries which should simplify contacts and direct exchange of information. We have been gratified to note the continuity of most groups, not only the semi-official ones. To make an international discussion possible and allow migrants better access to the articles, this English-language edition has been prepared.
We offer our thanks to the translators for their support, as well as to all the others involved in correcting, proof-reading and other chores before publication.
Finally, we must mention the fact that the publication on hand has only been made possible through subsidies; we would therefore like to thank the Asta (Students' Union) of the Technical University (TU) and the Free University (FU) in Berlin,as well as the Asta at Frankfurt Polytechnic, for their generous support. [back to top]
Berlin /Hanau, Dez. 1999