Demands, problems, perspectives of the refugee movement
This text uses the legitimately criticized term “refugees” for simplicity’s sake. I also often refer to myself as “we.” Feel free to comment on any other sins against language awareness or journalistic prudence below.
During the entire protest camp at Oranienplatz, the main demands of the striking refugees in the German asylum process were:
1. Abolish Residenzpflicht
2. Abolish Lagers
3. Stop Deportation
The left-liberal paper TAZ calls this makeshift catalog “pretty big.” In fact it’s just “pretty.” A major weakness of our modest demands is that they disguise the German legal codes that impose Residenzpflicht, internment camps and arbitrary deportation. Compared to the US Civil Rights movement, a carnival for itself, we are currently demanding desegregation of water fountains. And how far have Civil Rights progressed? Obamacare, 2 million prisoners, BET, “white flight” & “urban blight” and a handful of imperialist wars at once…
So how does segregation in Germany work? Similar to US segregation against immigrants – by turning “them” into aliens and keeping them out of the nation legally (not geographically). Germany’s apartheid system for non-citizens works by subjecting “them” to Ausländerrecht (foreigner law). Its main components are Zuwanderungsgesetz (immigration law) and Asylverfahrensgesetz (asylum procedure law). The categories we use in our daily work, such as “German refugees,” “Schengen refugees,” “migrants”, “German citizens”, “EU citizens” are created by these laws. Although I suggest to avoid “word wars” and focus on practical problems, we should know the source of our terminology.
The full title of Zuwanderungsgesetz is “Law for Control and Limitation of Immigration and Regulation of Residence and Integration of [European] Union Citizens and Foreigners.” So the first obvious purpose is to control immigration, the second to segregate EU citizens (called “Zuwanderer”) and foreigners (called “Einwanderer”).
The part of Zuwanderungsgesetz which applies only to “aliens” is called Aufenhtaltsgesetz (residence law). It applies only to non-EU citizens and second-class EU citizens from the new member states. The explicit purpose of the law is to protect the economy and labor market of the Federal Republic of Germany and to “fulfill humanitarian commitments.” It also decrees that immigrants need to “integrate” before they can even think of working underneath Germans.
Unlike the US civil rights movement, we do not demand more rights for excluded citizens, but citizen rights for non-citizens. This is not to say that all Germans drink milk and honey, but German authorities actively persecute non-citizens. It’s still their nation vs. the world. In the narrow national setting, we simply want the Grundgesetz to apply to all residents. In the narrow national setting, the German state even does a fairly good job of protecting its citizens. This might be why loyalty to the nation always trumped cross-border solidarity – even among immigrants. Whether you hate it or love it, being loyal to Germany pays, that’s why its government bonds are among the best-rated in the world.
People of non-European citizenship are turned into humanitarian cases – because charity victims do not “participate” in the economy. Politicians smear labor migrants as Armutsflüchtlinge (refugees fleeing poverty). This evokes stereotypes of “Afghan Eyes Girl” and “African Water Belly Boy,” but most people who “flee” to Europe are not nomadic shepherds, just average manual or administrative workers who need as much “integration” as an English Lord in Calicut.
The reason why policemen, beekeepers, doctors, car mechanics, IT workers, tailors, engineers cross the Schengen border on deadly boats or under trucks and not via Air Berlin is that, even if they can afford it, it is illegal. Perversely, Air Berlin does provide authorities with charter planes for deportations. Imagine it were illegal for German tourists to fly to Sharm El Sheikh for EUR 39.99… They’d probably call the Bundeswehr.
Likewise, the reason asylum seekers don’t have regular jobs and proper housing – as they had under fascists like Gaddafi, Al Bashir, Ahmadinejad – is not that there are no jobs or houses in Germany, but because it is illegal. So for one, the situation of people in their home countries really has no relevance for their legal status in Gemany. The wars in Sudan and Lybia, for example, are directly influenced by NATO, but the legal treatment of refugees from Lybia and Sudan in Germany is a German issue.
The “asylum cheaters” are the European masters, because they lure migrants into the refugee trap. If you aren’t entitled to citizenship by blood law, your only chance to enjoy the products of your birth country is to declare yourself a humanitarian victim of the anarcho-capitalist regimes installed by the IMF and NATO.
But refugee or “sex tourist,” any justification for your “trespassing” is futile. The reason for your migration is secondary to your origin. It doesn’t matter why you’re here, but where you’re from. A French citizen could flee to Germany to escape government persecution – this happens – but German law will not treat her as an asylum seeker. According to their states of origin, people are either granted freedom of movement and (almost) equal rights with Germans or the slim chance to apply for asylum and “enjoy” humanitarian hospitality.
The reform of the Ausländerrecht was concluded around 2004, under the Red-Green government, which also started the invasion of Afghanistan and thereby triggered the mass escape from that region. As part of the reconstructionist reform of foreigner law, most affairs of non-citizens were delegated to the local Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office). For example, non-citizens now no longer apply to the JobCenter for a work permit, but directly to this “special” office. This allows the state to deny non-citizens the right to work guaranteed to German citizens under Article 12 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz).
By centralizing decisions, the state can reject applications systematically. The rulers advertised this as “one-stop government.” In reality, it is a “dead-end government.” Most immigration stories end here. Although still in peacetime mode, the Ausländerbehörde is the institutional successor to the Reichszentrale für jüdische Auswanderung, a Nazi office tasked with accelerating the “voluntary” emigration of Jews before the war.
This bureau enforces all the dirty details of Apartheid – exclusion of foreigners from the Grundgesetz, their uncertain residence status, exclusion from the labor market, the legal basis for deportation. These persecutions make it is impossible and unbearable to live in Germany as a non-citizen. Many non-citizens prefer to emigrate voluntarily. So while Germany can claim to protect the rights of its citizens, it effectively keeps out those that pay for these privileges. Oppression is outsourced, profit is nationalized.
The Germans who work for this authority seem to enjoy their deadly occupation. Once I dealt with a case worker who had in her office a vacation poster of the Namibian desert, the location of the first modern genocide committed by Germans. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Nothing and nobody is illegal in Germany. Racism is not a personal fault of certain unemployed hooligans, it is the basis for the legal system, which gives civil rights only to German citizens and “humanitarian” rights to “strangers.” The body of laws that legalizes the crimes of the Ausländerbehörde is Ausländerrecht, so it is not enough to demand abolition of some minor aspects, such as Residenzpflicht, Lagers and Deportation.
We cannot be too demanding, too ideological, too radical. Our ambitions should go beyond the borders of our local Landkreis. Many people who participate in the Refugee Strike do so, because they hope that some protesting refugees may trigger the social revolution Europe’s “little people” so often failed to achieve. This is a lazy projection. Why should the less privileged be more powerful than we? “National liberation” of the colonies did not spark the class war in Europe and neither will the refugees’ individual liberation from their national prisons.
Many rookie supporters only realized through the protest the scope of the “refugee question.” Restricted movement here, neo-colonialism there, Nike-sponsored freedom everywhere. A chorus by Romanian pop star Connect-R goes: “I can be want I want to be / Losing my identity / Cause I got a lot of life in me / Let me live my Americandrim.” Of course your identity is not your choice and your share of booty from the “American Scheme” depends on your market segment. You don’t choose to be rich or poor, black or white.
Yet every other petty trader aims to be the next Donald Trump. Identification with social superiors not only cements the class compromise but nurtures abhorrence against social inferiors. (Yes “we” can speak of superior and inferior people, because every society has a hierarchy; unless we aren’t equal in practice, it is cynical to proclaim theoretical equality. Inequality is not abolished by proclamation.)
After struggling for equal rights with Germans, some refugees may ask: “Why are we here begging them for improvements when we could be preparing the funeral of their empire at home?” The refugee movement was first an empowering awakening to the powers that rule us, then a sobering awakening to the limits of our own power. In the belly of the beast, you eat what you get. Often enough you get what you can take from those weaker than you.
It is obvious that even the small demands we started with will not be fulfilled. The “master race” is unable to reform itself, we are either unable or unwilling to reform it and thereby prolong its rule. The refugee movement is growing. Every external threat strengthens us, mobilizes the activists, every lazy compromise throws us into lethargy and infighting. Such compromises are not just backroom deals with the party that helped draft the current foreigner law, but also sustain the uneasy tolerance between the competing interests in our own movement.
The refugee movement is not a classical “left movement.” It is not primarily a proletarian movement or a majority movement. Most supporters are students or academics, many refugees have the financial or social capital to afford the long trip to Europe. In the movement there are strong class divisions. Educated, “political” refugees have easier access to supporter circles, while Roma or harraga (Maghrebi sans-papiers) are shunned. National and linguistic borders are also strong. There are conflicts between “Lampedusa refugees,” who receive no money from the German government and “German” asylum seekers. The movement is almost exclusively male, although there are some prominent female leaders and many female supporters. The reasons are various, the results foreseeable.
German labor partisans, such as unions and socialist parties, may be egalitarian in their charters, but many risk angering their members by endorsing “foreign competition.” Also, while Marx claimed that “workers have no country,” Marxist states have always been enemies of free movement. Most even imposed some sort of Residenzpflicht on their own citizens. They supported “national liberation” movements only to regulate migration between “socialist brother states.” So while our egalitarian aims overlap with some socialist doctrines, they also compete.
“No Border, No Nation” is not a utopian demand, although we may seem like Qixotes for engaging “imperial capitalism.” Maybe we are nihilists, for simply adjusting to the reality of neoliberal anarchism, which dismantles “weak” states and transports the defeated subjects into captivity? Much of our work is practical support, so we cannot avoid moving within the system. Citizen supporters are encouraged to understand their privileges, not to deny or even reverse them. Our primary goal is not to topple or replace the ruling elite, but to raise the living standard of non-citizens – punctually, if necessary. For this, we could be accused of elitism, and we surely don’t enjoy the support of Germany’s laboring masses, whatever their status in the racist hierarchy.
After the obligatory criticism, many positive aspects remain. Our “market” is growing. Unlike the industrial proletariat, our mass base is unlikely to disappear, because migrants will not stop coming to Europe. Imperial epicenters, like Istanbul or Paris, like Beijing or New York, bloat to Babylonian size, because the goods that flow to the metropolitan consumers are followed by their producers. The pressure will increase the more Europe’s leaders use military force. It’s a statistical law: the more people are affected by a problem, the more perceive it, the more will resist. Every wall will fall.
At first, the oppressions seem to be separate – patriarchy here, racism there. But by understanding your “individual” blockade, you can see that you are standing at different sections of the same wall. We feel the rising pressure within our own movement, we feel that awareness for a single issue can grow into consciousness for the greater picture. But we also see how a pat on the head can turn hungry wolves into German Shepherds.
Even if the strike stagnates, we should not avoid formulating bolder demands. We need to be stubborn assholes, fundamentalists with a healthy anger against Germany, Europe and everything they symbolize. The nation whose most recognized celebrities are Adolf Hitler and Heidi Klum claims authorship of the “enlightenment,” but progress was not possible without lightbulbs and those need aluminum, wolfram, quartz. Without material control over resources in other “independent” states, Germany would look like North Korea at night.
For old-school internationalists, transnational networks of migrants in Europe offer another glint of hope. We have no transnational organization at the moment, because laws and language differ, but the problems are essentially the same. Resistance against Schengen, against chauvinism and against state-operated “peacekeeping” forces offers alternatives to the axis of fatherlands that constitute the current Union. We hope to re-import some of the disorder Europe is exporting worldwide. Whether this breaks or strengthens the class compromise within the member states, whether it improves the position of non-citizens “at the expense” of indigenous Europeans depends on their reaction. It’s not our fault if Europe fails to adjust to a historical development.
The army of refugees is the bravest, strongest force of our days. A few dead killing machines plunge the NATO bullies into deep crisis, but refugees die by the thousands every year. Their army includes women and children, they injure nobody, they fear neither bullets nor sandstorms (they have no choice), but they move steadily and their presence is more stable than any occupation by Western mercenaries. Their persecution is so inevitable that they need no theoretical manifesto or international conferences to grow. They don’t even need to gain “consciousness.” As supporters, maybe we realize that refugees will not take over “because they’re awesome people or something, but because they’re the majority.” We, the privileged, are the minority. The defenders of Fortress Europe are defending a wreck, that’s why they’re paid so well, that’s why it’s right to stab them in the back.