interviewed René Schuijlenburg of the Enough is Enough team. René is also a Cars of Hope activist and worked a lot on the Balkan route in the last two years.
Image by Cars of HopePublished by Enough is Enough. Interview done by
An interview with René Schuijlenburg about his work on the Balkan route. Cars of Hope distributes food, sanitary products, fire wood and SIM cards to refugees, but also supports the improvement of the infrastructure of other groups who are permanently active on the Balkan route. Cars of Hope also organizes a lot of information events in Germany to create awareness about the situation on the Balkan route.
Image gallery by Cars of Hope
Mohammed: What are the main challenges refugees face taking the Balkan Route?
René: There are many challenges refugees for refugees on the Balkan route.
First, they have to cross the sea (from Turkey) to reach one of the Greek islands. Although the sea crossing is not as dangerous as the sea crossing from Libya to Italy, there are still people drowning.
When they reach the Greek islands they get imprisoned in camps like Moria on Lesvos. At the Moria prison camp the conditions are bad. Last winter there were refugees who froozen to death at Moria. There is also a lot of police violence inside the Moria camp. These kinds of camps shouldn’t be called “hot spots” like European politicians call them, but concentration camps. Although there is no mass murder like in the concentration camps in the 1940’s, there are many similarities with the concentration camps during the second Boer war at the beginning of the last century.
Even when refugees get released from the Moria camp they are still imprisoned. Since the start of the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, refugees are not allowed to leave the Greek islands. So more and more refugees are stuck in huge “open air prisons” like Lesvos. If people do manage to reach the Greek main land, they face the next challenges.
The European borders are closed and there are fences between Greece and Macedonia, but not the only fences. Almost all countries on the Balkan route have build walls and fences at their borders. People are forced to pass the borders on the long Balkan route illegaly and are subject to police violence and illegal deportations in countries like Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Croatia to name a few.
Apart from all the repression, they also have to fight against hunger.
Mohammed: What are the challenges for activists? What are the best and proven ways to engage in this work?
René: When I speak for myself… I am a white and priviliged person from northern Europe. So for me the biggest problem is to handle the images in my head — The suffering of people on the Balkan route. Every now and then I get nightmares and if I am in such a phase I talk a lot with people.
Our group also worked with Out of action. Out of action is a group that support activists who have had traumatic experiences. That helps a lot. People from our group were also threatened with arrest in Greece and in Serbia, but that doesn’t really bother me. Until now none of us have been arrested and we’re highly motivated, so we are not easy to intimidate.
The challenges are more on other levels. Organising the logistics and working with people on the Balkan route at eye level. Important is to understand our work on the Balkan route as an act of solidarity, not charity. I dont work in state camps, as I dont want to support the inhumane policies against people who are seeking refuge. This means that we have to organise everything ourselves, mostly in cooperation with local groups.
I always advice people not to just travel on the Balkan route and start doing something — Create networks, contact local groups and refugees. Be prepared.
Mohammed: On a broader level, what should be done to end the injustices refugees face on the Balkan route and around the EU?
René: Its important to undestand the work on the Balkan route as an act of solidarity. Its also important to act at home. In Germany I am involved in protests against deportations. Our group is active in the Welcome United initiative, which will organise protests against the sharpened asylum laws and against deportations next month. In the past we already did a lot of protests in Germany often together with refugees who live here.
We also organise a lot of info events to create awareness about the challenges people are facing on the refugee routes because of our border regimes as well as the causes why people are forced to flee.
Still I think that’s all not enough — People are dying and the politicians we have elected are responsible for the killings — So we are responsible.
In my opinion we have to organise broader and more resistance against the border policies, the deportations and capitalism, which is one of the main causes why people flee. Thats not easy but the resistance is growing almost everywhere in Europe.
Mohammed: What about the legal situation? The European laws stay the same…
René: We actually don’t only do actions on the street. We also fight against deportations at the courts. Legal battles are costing a lot of energy but every deportation we can stop is worth it.
But this doesn’t change the system, it’s a case by case fight. I also support people during the whole asylum procedure. Nowadays that’s more difficult as let’s say 2 years ago. The migration authorities in Germany are very creative in finding reasons to reject asylum applications. So the number of court cases are growing. Changing the law is very difficult at the moment as most parties in Germany support the border closures and treaties like the EU Turkey deal or more restrictive asylum laws in Germany. The Welcome United campaign next month is trying to influence German elections in a positive direction but it’s very difficult in these dark days. Racism is growing in Europe and it will be a long and hart battle on multiple levels to change that. But we are not giving up.
Mohammed: What Can People Do to Support?
René: Our work is depending on donations so it would be great if people could donate something at our paypal- or bank account or join our crowdfunding campaign (Details below). But we are also always looking for people to join us on the Balkan route. A third thing how people can support the struggle is by joining actions at home or organise some themselves. Not just demonstrations but also little things like banner drops would help.
Support can be given on many levels and its important that we stop the border policies and the deportations.
Feature on German WDR TV (English subs) about the second Cars of Hope mission on the Balkan route in November 2015.
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Image gallery Cars of Hope on the Balkan route: Images by Cars of Hope