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Speaking of #Moria: Solidarity, Not Charity! Personal experiences on the Balkan route – “Summer of Migration” [Part1]

In this text, a comrade reports about the events during the “Summer of Migration” 2015 and the practical support work of comrades on the ground. Further reports have been announced and will follow in the following issues of Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ.

Originally published by Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ. Translated by Enough 14.

German (Deutsch) version: Apropos Moria: Solidarity, Not Charity! Persönliche Erfahrungen auf der Balkanroute „Sommer der Migration“ [Part1]

Many people seem to think that the fires in the Moria refugee camp were an accident. A failure of EU policy that needs to be corrected. But after years of experience on the so-called Balkan route, I cannot confirm this. Moria is the result of a deliberate and planned policy to scare off people from coming to Europe. Including deliberate atrocities. Moria is the true face of Europe. A report on six years on the European external borders.

Six years ago, when I stood in front of one of the border fences in Ceuta and saw the rags of clothes and shoes hanging on the barbed wire, including a view of watchtowers and military vehicles, the Fortress Europe became very tangible to me. The hypocrisy of some Europeans was then once again made very clear when I walked past a huge Christmas tree in Ceuta 10 minutes later. In Europe, the celebration of charity only takes place for those who have the right passport.

A few weeks ago the media was full of whitewashing reports about the “Summer of Migration” in 2015, a “German fairy tale” that I remember quite differently. In that summer of 2015 I received an e-mail from a good friend from Slovenia.

“We have a really bad situation here. A group of refugees is stuck in no man’s land between Croatia and Slovenia. The army and police are here, they won’t let them in. We don’t have enough people and we think it might help if people from Northern Europe would come to support us.”

A few hours later I had organized a car and drove to the Slovenian-Croatian border near Bregana. When I arrived there, I encountered riot cops with helmets, armored vehicles and military helicopters. Behind the border crossing, I saw a group of about 300 refugees. I first talked to some Slovenian friends to find out how the situation developed, how they assess the situation and its further development and what our role in the coming events might be. None of us exactly knew, the excessive number of cops at the border was simply too big. The first night after I arrived, a small child died, partly because she was refused treatment in a Slovenian hospital. The reason was that she did not have a valid visa. Welcome to Europe. Welcome to the “Summer of Migration”.

Meanwhile, pressure on the Slovenian authorities increased, and a few hours after the girl died in no man’s land, the border was temporarily opened, but for now only for the group that was already there. Several buses arrived, but the cops refused to inform people where the buses would take them. The cops also told us that it was forbidden to follow the buses. On what basis, they could not, or rather they would not, tell us. We decided to follow the buses with our cars anyway, which was not that easy. Plainclothes cops who were in the convoy stopped almost all of our cars and took them out for some time. Long enough so that the buses were too far away. I myself had kept a relatively large distance to the busses when I noticed how the cops pulled out the first cars from our group. Therefore I was able to follow the busses for quite a long time. The buses drove to a camp near the Austrian border.

Then I drove to Ljubljana. While I reflected together with Slovenian comrades on how the past days on the Slovenian-Croatian border had been, new information arrived. Near the Hungarian-Austrian border the Hungarian cops had started to arrest refugees in a field. In Hungary, refugees were (and still are) systematically detained in internment camps, so it was important to prevent the cops from continuing without interruption. At least in this case.

This all happened before the “March of Hope“, before the fairy tale of the “Summer of Migration” had really begun, i.e. before the refugees themselves had enforced various border openings through massive civil disobedience.

It is important to remember that EU states did not open the borders voluntarily, but this was enforced by refugees who acted beyond appealing protests. They crossed the border fences at the Serbian-Hungarian border in larger groups and shortly after several thousand refugees set off by foot on the freeway towards Austria. Unfortunately, many Austrian and German leftists did not take this historical event as an example, many of them continue to get lost in appealing protests and are therefore not able to push through their demands. And this also applies to the current situation.

When we arrived at Neuheiligenkreuz on the Austrian-Hungarian border, we first asked some local people to inform us about the situation. The cops were still busy arresting as many refugees as possible in a field on the Hungarian side of the border. We decided to go there. I informed my backup comrade that I would switch off my cell phone in the next few hours. So we drove and crossed the border, but not at the border crossing near Neuheiligenkreuz, we had decided to go to a very small border crossing a bit further away. There was only one driver in each car, and we were damn nervous. We didn’t know what exactly awaited us. When we arrived on site we briefly assessed the situation and then acted immediately. The cops hadn’t completely surrounded the field, there weren’t any cops on the side from where we arrived. But we could see that on the other side of the field they were bringing people in busses, which then drove in the direction of the inland. The people in the field immediately rushed to our vehicles. According to the rumor mill, we don’t know anything for sure, the events that night might be legally punishable, they got into the vehicles and were brought to Austria. This is said to have been repeated many times during this night. Anyway, I could not activate my phone again until the next morning.

After I had slept for a few hours, I went back to Germany. In the following days I met some people and soon after that the “Cars of Hope” collective was founded. The name refers to the night in Hungary. Shortly afterwards we drove to Slovenia in a convoy. The cops accompanied our departure in Wuppertal with several vans, but they left when we were out of the city. In the meantime the so-called “March of Hope” had taken place in Hungary. The borders were more or less open. At least for a short time. But that doesn’t mean that refugees on the Balkan route could expect a humane treatment during this time.

We met in Ljubljana with Slovenian comrades and some people from other German cities and also from other European countries. The meetings were a bit difficult, there are still people who act in such meetings, even abroad, according to the motto “the world should heal from the German character” („am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen“). Since I had made good experiences with some Slovenian comrades for years (by the way, the Slovenian comrades are one of the few leftists who managed to create their own narratives in the course of the authoritarian state COVID 19 measures, which is why people in Slovenia tend to take to the streets from a left perspective and why far-right conspiracy theorists and fascists have not been able to get a foot on the ground in this small country in the last few months), I decided to orientate myself more towards them.

At that time, Slovenia had several small camps for refugees and two large ones: in Dobova and Šentilj, several thousand people were detained before they were later allowed to travel to Austria. There were also frequent reports of police violence in both camps. In the meantime, however, it was almost impossible to get into these camps, and taking photographs and filming was prohibited in both camps anyway. The comrades did not get access passes for these camps, not even through official NGOs. Since the NGOs adhered to the ban on taking pictures and filming, nobody knew exactly what was going on there. One of the comrades told about a small camp that was located close to the Austrian border. There the support for refugees was organized by local Red Cross volunteers, and this was the way to get into the camp. The access passes, which one would get, were partly valid not only for this camp, but also for all other camps in Slovenia.

The next day I went to this camp with one more person. We contacted the local Red Cross and got into the camp without any problems. The people there were very committed and we supported the distribution of clothes. The access passes we had received were unfortunately limited to this camp. But we could see that other people had other access passes and that they were also valid for other camps. We tried to find out where these other access passes came from and how we could manage to get some of them. According to the rumor mill, we probably succeeded. In the evening the Slovenian comrades had several access passes for all camps in Slovenia. The first secretly recorded footage from the Dobova camp circulated shortly afterwards in various social media.

It may surprise some people what some comrades and I did, but we acted according to the principle: “Solidarity, not Charity!” That means, we distribute food, sanitary products and other things that people need on the Balkan route, but we also wanted to change the conditions at the European borders. The production and distribution of film material about what exactly happened there was and is essential for this. In the course of 2015, we collected and distributed so much material from different places and countries through social networks that nobody was able to claim that the mess that was going on there was just an isolated incident. Unless people still believe in Santa Claus.

We had agreed with the Slovenian comrades that we would leave Slovenia directly the next day. So the next morning we drove to a camp near Opatovac in Croatia. Taking pictures and filming was also forbidden there, but we did it anyway. Opatovac was also such a horror camp on the Balkan route. Everywhere fences and cops. The cops were walking on an artificial wall around the refugees and stormed down again and again to beat people with their batons. The refugees were “only” on their way to Northern Europe, but even here they were in fact prisoners. When refugees newly arrived, or were pushed in the direction of the buses for their onward journey to Northern Europe, they were only allowed to walk one after the other. If a child stood by the hand next to one of its parents, it was yelled at directly by the cops and sometimes pushed away or beaten. Months later I still heard the sentence “One Line!” in my head. It was shouted by the cops in Opatovac in a continuous loop. That too is part of the “Summer of Migration.

At night it was already really cold in Opatovac, but the UNHCR refused to distribute or at least provide blankets because the camp would soon be closed. So people slept in military tents without blankets or other protection against the cold on the ground. When some helpers discussed the blankets issue with the UNHCR staff and it became clear that the UNHCR in Opatovac had a storeroom full of blankets but would not give them out, some people decided to solve the problem differently. While a few insiders involved the UNHCR staff in lengthy discussions, a few others broke into the UNHCR storage facility and stole many blankets. The cops even caught them doing so, but sleeping in the cold without blankets apparently went too far even for some cops, because they didn’t say anything and just turned around in a demonstrative way. The blankets were immediately distributed to refugees and for me and some others it was time to leave the country after this action.

The next stop for us was Sid, which is on the Croatian-Serbian border. Hundreds of refugees waited at a highway rest stop. They were stuck there for hours, surrounded by cops who were positioned around the rest stop. We were allowed to stay there, but we were not allowed to support refugees. We decided to openly ignore this ban and set up a mobile charging station for the refugees so they could charge their phones. We also distributed water, food and power banks. The cops looked in our direction from time to time, but in the end did not intervene. At this rest stop we supported the refugees for a few days before we went back to Germany.

Coming back to Germany was not easy for me. Many people were euphoric about the reception at the train stations, the helpfulness of many people and what would change everything. But I had come back with completely different pictures in my head and it was also clear to me that the EU member states would close the borders again and would do everything to prevent a recurrence of the “summer of migration”. I asked myself already back then on which analyses the idea was based, that only through helpfulness and appealing protests the situation could change in a positive way.

Shortly after that, the “summer of migration” actually came to an end, the borders were hermetically sealed off again, and more and more fences and border fortifications have been built since then. We have continued our work on the Balkan route under much more difficult conditions, of which I will report another time.

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