For the Right to Mobility and Equal Rights for All

Toward a Coalition of Solidarity 
Contested Spaces
Today, we face a strong political and social polarisation – all over Europe and beyond – and we, once again, find ourselves at the crossroads. Right-wing, populist and racist currents grow, become louder, and more brutal. More and more authoritarian or even proto-fascist governments reinforce what the neoliberal rationale instigated twenty years ago: deterrence and exclusion through a deadly border and visa regime, the erosion and deprivation of rights, and the criminalisation of migration in combination with a regime of selective inclusion, productive of an exploitable migrant workforce. We say NO, we say ENOUGH.
We will enact our disobedience by building a new transnational alliance, an additional counter-pole based on practical solidarity. From the external borders to the inner cities, we see contested spaces and undeterred daily struggles therein. By inventing and multiplying practices of solidarity, we want to intervene, all over Europe and beyond.
Reigniting the Spark of 2015…
During 2015’s long summer of migration, the EU border regime was literally overrun and its Dublin system collapsed. Though certainly spatially and temporally limited, through their sea-crossings and the March of Hope, refugees and migrants successfully opened a corridor, from the east to the west and north. Accompanied by a huge wave of ‘welcome’, these movements produced a different reality in Europe: one of spontaneous solidarity in many cities, of no borders, no ‘smugglers’, and no criminalisation. A reality of freedom of movement from Athens to Stockholm. We will never forget these historic moments, and we will keep them alive as the inspiration and as the spark for what is possible in the future.
… and we continue in the Spirit of the Charter of Palermo
Higher fences and more illegal push-backs, dirty deals with transit countries and those of origin, hollowing out the asylum system and ongoing racist propaganda: while governments and right-wing forces escalate the roll-back of the border regime, we continue to build a counter-narrative based on our manifold counter-practices. In the spirit of the Charter of Palermo, we demand the right to mobility and an open Mediterranean space. We do not accept categories and divisions, and we want to break the link between residence status and employment contract. We stand against deportation and exploitation. We are all human, we are all equal.
Toward Corridors of Solidarity
We are active in municipalities and church groups, we belong to migrant communities, non-governmental organisations and human rights initiatives, we are lawyers, researchers and activists, we are self-organised and supporters. We all build and spread novel structures of disobedience and solidarity. From sea rescue to solidarity cities, from access to housing to medical care and fair working conditions, from legal counselling to protection against deportation: we prefigure and enact our vision of a society, in which we want to live. And we ask the civil society to join this process: to create corridors, spaces and projects of solidarity, crisscrossing and subverting all internal and external borders of Europe.
We call for safe passage, safe harbours, and safe transit to a dignified life at the places of arrival. We are all humans and we want an inclusive and open society with the right to mobility and equal rights for all.
Palermo, June 2018
Leoluca Orlando (Mayor of Palermo); Aurélie Ponthieu (Médecins Sans Frontières, Brussels); Fr. Mussie Zerai (Agenzia Habeshia Rome); Veronica Alfonsi (Proactiva Open Arms, Italy); Ignasi Calbó (“Barcelona, refuge city” programme’s Coordinator of the City Council of Barcelona); Judith Gleitze (borderline-europe); Ruben Neugebauer (Sea Watch, Berlin); Miriam Edding (WatchTheMed Alarm Phone Hamburg/Foundation :do); Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo (Associazione Diritti e Frontiere); Azza Falfoul (WatchTheMed Alarm Phone/Mediterranean Migration Movement, Tunis); Lorenzo Pezzani (Forensic Oceanography, London/Trento); Yasmine Accardo (Campagna Lasciatecientrare, Italy); Andrej Kurnik (Klub ČKZ, Ljubljana), Polona Mozetič (Second Home, Ljubljana); Maurice Stierl (WatchTheMed Alarm Phone); Kiri Santer (WatchTheMed Alarm Phone/Moving Europe, Zurich/Tunis); Davide Carnemolla (Welcome to Italy-Guide/Antiracist Network Catania); Laura Colini (Tesserae, Berlin/ EU Urbact Program); Petra Barz (Right to the City Hamburg); Hagen Kopp (WatchTheMed Alarm Phone/Solidarity City Hanau); 
 
Palermo Charter Process – Introductional remarks to the Call for Safe and Open Harbours!
On the 11th of June 2018, the Italian government closed its harbours to the NGO ship Aquarius while it was carrying more than 600 migrants rescued at sea. This dramatic and yet foreseeable decision is the culmination of years of virulent attacks against migrants and those who stand in solidarity with them, across the Mediterranean, in Europe and around the world. It is yet another expression of the intolerable violence of borders that leads to the mass dying at sea, in deserts, and within our very communities. It is yet another manifestation of the campaign of criminalisation that has led to the seizure of rescue ships, to accusations of smuggling directed against their crews as well as some of the rescued, and even to the imprisonment of human rights defenders. And it is underwritten by a ruthless deterrence policy and agreements made with dictatorial allies in Libya, Turkey, and elsewhere.
 
Several municipalities as well as non-governmental and self-organised groups active in different cities have mobilised against this state of affairs, against the crimes and atrocities committed by national governments and supranational institutions. Some of us met in Palermo in late May in order to discuss precisely the scenario of closed harbours that has now become a reality. We want to call on others to join forces and mobilise together with us, against this rising tide of oppression. 

Call for Safe and Open Harbours!
Cities of Solidarity and Refuge against the Barbarity of Racism and closed Borders
We are human rights defenders, trade unionists, precarious workers, activists, mayors, lawyers and researchers. We belong to migrant communities, non-governmental organisations, and church groups. We are self-organised groups, individuals and institutions. We live in small and big cities, in communities that welcome newcomers and find ways to live in common. We come together because we want to build and spread transnational structures of solidarity for an open society with equal rights for everybody. What brings us together is a refusal of the racist and authoritarian drift carried by many governments, national parties and movements across Europe and beyond.
Toward Transnational Structures of Solidarity – Safe Harbours Now!
We know all too well that rescue at sea is not the solution to migrants dying on their journeys to Europe. Nobody should have to risk their lives to travel somewhere. But we also know that, in the current situation, we need search and rescue missions, and we know that they depend on ‘safe harbours’, whether these are physical docklands on the coast or just inland communities offering refuge. This is why we want our cities to become safe harbours, which we define as follows, beyond the framework of existing legal definitions and arrangements: 

 1) A Safe Harbour is an open space, where people are welcomed and assisted regardless of their origins, race, gender and class. It is a place that is open to the city, where civil society actors can enter and monitor the situation.

2) A Safe Harbour is a disobedient space, where voices are heard that denounce racist agitation, any attempt to block arrivals, and any policy of deterrence.
 
3) A Safe Harbour is a space where human rights are respected, where people are not exposed to the risk of torture, persecution, or inhuman and degrading treatments.
 
4) A Safe Harbour is a space where the right to mobility is enacted, where people are granted the possibility to stay but also to move on. 
 
5) A Safe Harbour is a place where neither migrants nor those who stand in solidarity with them are criminalised – neither for driving the boat on which they travelled, nor for rescuing people in distress at sea, neither for giving migrants independent information, nor for helping them to continue their journey.
 
We want to turn our cities into spaces of inclusion, not exclusion, of refuge and sanctuary, not deterrence. We struggle for communities of welcome and against those of segregation. As a new alliance, we want to foster intra-municipal and trans-national solidarity that allows people to move freely from their first place of disembarkation to other destinations within and beyond the country where they first landed, beyond any hotspot-, Dublin- and relocation system.
 
Open the harbours now! Open the cities! End the death of migrants at sea!
 
Contact for signatures: wtm-alarm-phone@antira.info 

Migrant abuse (cont’d)

A consortium of associations led by the Coalition for Freedom and Civil Rights (CLID), the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), and Indiewatch confirms earlier findings about the systematic abuse against migrants, including children, at two locations in Sicily and Potenza that were mentioned in a previous post: Lampedusa and Palazzo San Gervasio. The report (English summary here) says migrants and asylum seekers at the two sites have been victims of human rights violations and the right to defence, as well as inhumane living conditions and violence. Specifically referring to Palazzo, ASGI notes what it calls “very serious violations of the right to defence, which impeded the migrants from being assisted by their attorneys during the confirmation hearings.” In the meantime, an attempted escape by 22 detainees from the detention center yesterday has resulted in a mass search operation by the police, resulting in the arrest fr 12 of them. Human rights organisations are worried about the increasing repression of those who remain internalised. A complete report (in Italian) about the joint visit by Campagna LasciateCIEntrare and Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, together with Europarlamentarian Eleonora Forenza has been made available here.

Tre Titoli

In passing, I mention this art movie produced by Nico Angiuli, winner of the arts and human rights competition for young artists and cultural institutions curated by Connecting Cultures and Fondazione Ismu, which is on display in Rome’s Quadriennale’s exhibition.

The project involves the Tre Titoli hamlet, nearby Cerignola, in Southern Italy’s Puglia Region. It narrates the symbolic intersection of the Ghanese community, which over the last decades has occupied some of the abandoned houses left after the hamlet’s faltered agricultural reform of the 1950’s and 70s, with that of the rural proletarian struggle led by union leader Giuseppe Di Vittorio during that very period.

Aware of these dire conditions, the artist aims at abandoning the usual two-dimensional representation of this African ghetto in the media by introducing practices of self-narration, in order to allow for a more complex scenario of compromise and tension, and thus giving voice to spontaneous micro-processes of resistance against widespread attempts to normalize this marginalisation process of local voices.

The project has been realised in collaboration with Terra Piatta (or ‘Flat Land‘), a program of research and artistic, social and cultural production, curated by Vessel, a cultural platform in Lucera, Puglia, with a specific focus on artistic practices in dialogue within a rapidly changing rural context.

‘Out of Place’

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Further to my blogpost on Boreano yesterday, I’d like to mention this report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which just came out last month: Out of Place. Asylum seekers and refugees in Italy: informal settlements and social marginalisation (the full report is only available in Italian so far).

“Based on research carried out in 2015, the report details the unacceptable conditions in which thousands of people are living in dozens of informal sites which have sprung up around the country. Most are asylum seekers and holders of international protection –and therefore legally present in the country– who have been forced to live in these conditions for months, and sometimes years, due to the inadequacies of Italy’s reception system and social integration policies. They include asylum seekers who have just arrived in Italy and who are being denied the assistance to which they are entitled by law due to a shortage of places in reception centres. They also include people in transit towards other European countries, and refugees who have lived in Italy for years but remain excluded from mainstream society.”

The sites visited by MSF include the former Olympic village in Turin exMOI, about which I wrote before, which continues to shelter over 1,000 people, to the Don Gallo house in central Padua, the “Ex-Set” factory in Bari, and the Borgo Mezzanone runway in Foggia, an informal site beside a government reception centre. But they do not include the many informal settlements like Boreano and Rignano Garganico that serve as permanent labour camps for predominantly African (but also Romanian, Bulgarian and other nationals) farmworkers dotted across the peninsula.

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Death by Rescue

A new investigation by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, accuses European Union policymakers of “killing by omission” after cutting rescue missions in the Mediterranean in full knowledge of the lethal consequences of their actions.
The report ‘Death by Rescue: The lethal effects of the EU’s policies of non-assistance at sea’ demonstrates that, with the ending of the Italy-led Mare Nostrum Operation and the launch of a limited Frontex-led Triton operation, agencies and policy makers enacted a policy of retreat from state-led search and rescue operations. By doing so, they consciously placed the burden of migrant rescue to merchant ships, thus ignoring insistent calls from from shipping industry professional organisations that catastrophic loss of life could occur. Because this decision was taken in full knowledge of the risk, the EU carries a strong degree of responsibility for mass deaths at sea.
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courtesy University of London

In the meantime, Watch the Med, another organization concerned with deaths at sea, has placed an urgent call for donations for its Alarm Phone, which has already saved dozens of lives in the Mediterranean. You may find more information on the organization and the call here.

Cemetery of souls

Lots of news on asylum in Europe these days…

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While European and African leaders are trying to hammer home an agreement in Malta, including a €1.8bn “trust fund” in an attempt to cajole African governments into taking migrants back and stopping them from leaving the continent in the first place, Europe’s individual states are toughening their stance. Sweden, once considered the haven of social democratic welfare and migrant rights, has announced the introduction of temporary border checks. The controls will come into effect from midday local time on Thursday and will last initially for 10 days, the BBC writes.

In the meantime, German chancellor Angela Merkel feels increasingly battered at home and abroad for lack of vision, and for her unwillingness to apply tougher measures. With Schengen in shatters, the European dream has clearly vanished, the European commissioner for immigration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said. In the meantime, a report from the Brussels based Migration Policy Institute lays bare the huge discrepancies between national immigration procedures. Reception conditions vary greatly from country to country, with some offering the minimum standard of shelter, food and clothes (like Italy and Greece) and others offering services for active integration, including schooling and work permits -which causes migrants to ‘shop around’ for better benefits.

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The biggest obstacle, however, appears to be working permits: because European directives only designate the right to work, but not the actual possibility to exercise this right, migrants are sometimes actively pushed back into illegality. Similar perplexities surround the right to housing, on which I’ve written before here: without actual residence permits, migrants are regularly excluded from fundamental rights to health care and other social services, regardless of their paperwork. As long as these rights are not properly defined within a revised Dublin system -which has in any case become ‘obsolete‘ according to Angela Merkel, the European right to asylum will remain largely death letter.

While the European asylum system is disintegrating, photographer Giles Duley reports back from Lesbos as part of his work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He introduces a new series of images documenting the plight of the world’s displaced people: cemetery of souls indeed…

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Hide and Seek

After Austria announced its border closures two weeks ago, Slovenia has started building several fences alongside its border with Croatia -thus forcing migrants to choose alternative routes. Though Reuters has no news on where and when the fence building would start, the Frankfurer Allgemeine (FAZ) mentions several border ‘obstacles‘ at Bregana/Rajec, Gornji Macelj, and Rupa, the main crossings from Zagreb towards Slovenia (respectively to the North, Northwest and East, towards Maribor, Ljubljana and Trieste, in Italy). This means migrants coming from Croatia practically have no alternative then to go straight to Italy -possibly facing another dangerous sea route.

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The Slovenian government says these obstacles are not meant to completely seal of the border but just to “divert” migrants. Already on Monday evening, it took several emergency measures to protect the Schengen area in preparation of the arrival of up to 30.000 refugees to Slovenia this week. The small country has become one of the main transit countries on the so-called Balkan route.

The constant migrant flows across the Balkan route are triggering an intriguing sequence of openings and closures towards the EU, as this interesting map from Reuters (September 2015) shows. In the meantime, an interactive Refugee Volunteer map has been introduced on google, which indicates changing camp sites and possible border crossings.

 

Slovenia and Croatia (which does not belong to the Schengen area) have agreed now to allow a maximum of 1000 migrants to cross the border every three hours, the FAZ writes. On Monday Croatia sent more then 5000 people onwards to Slovenia, which caused the Alpine country to seal off its borders. While the border between Croatia and Hungary is closed, and Hungary has built a border fence with Serbia, the latter allows migrants to cross the country after registration at its border checkpoints with Macedonia. Croatia continues to channel its migrants through several, mobile camp sites -amongst others in Opatovac (which has apparently been closed), and Slavonski Brod, situated on the Sava River.  Ironically, Slavonski Brod served as a refugee camp during the war in ex-Yugoslavia. It was subject to serious shelling by Serbian forces stationed in Bosnia at the time, as this book on war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia indicates. For now, it appears to suit Croatian authorities, who are managing the camp together with IOM, UNICEF and the Red Cross, best because it has its independent railway station to channel migrants in and out of the camp swiftly.

Besides these overlapping borderscapes, European leaders face serious difficulties diffusing the tensions these constant migrant flows to the Schengen area generate. While Balkan leaders continue to scream for emergency measures (Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov was quoted as using U.S. independence hero Benjamin Franklin’s saying: “If we don’t stick together we will hang separately” two weeks ago), EU Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker increasingly attaches assistance to ‘effective border management’ and wants EU-directed migration to be recognised as a global issue. At its upcoming top, he wants the G20 to declare a step up of funding for international organizations dealing with migration crises. Some major battles around the issue of migration are surely ahead of us.

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Association for Borderlands Studies

UnknownThe Association for Border Studies (ABS) has just opened its membership renewal for 2016.

ABS memberships benefits include access to the latest research through the Journal of Borderlands Studies; unlimited access to the Journal’s online database of archived volumes; access to participation at the Annual Conference, the ABS newsletter “La Frontera”, important networking and other professional opportunities. Click here for subscriptions.