More than a thousand people stood outside the European Council in Brussels this year in late June, before lines of police and mobile barbed wire fences and shouted “No borders. No nations. Stop deportations!” The majority were sans papiers (‘without papers’, i.e., undocumented migrants) and had marched four weeks to Brussels from Southern Germany, through France and Luxembourg, stopping at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg and the symbolic border town of Schengen.
Along the way they tried to engage a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg, which resulted in thirteen arrests. The unprovoked police violence was condemned by the EU ministers themselves, who simultaneously refused to meet with or listen to the migrants.
Before that, most had traveled overland and over water from far further afield to the East and the South. As a true labor movement is constituted by workers; a migration movement is by migrants. There are many different groups representing this idea all over Europe. The March for Freedom was a serious attempt to bring them together.
Never without borders
Has there ever existed a period in history without borders, without territoriality, without concurrent divisions or distinctions between humans and space — a time of no territorial ‘Other’? The short answer must clearly be ‘no’. Yet in a way it also depends on where you come from, quite literally. Some borders have become much easier to traverse than ever before, such as those within the European Union. Others have become much harder, such as those between the EU and the rest of the world. Broadly speaking, one can say that those between poor and wealthy countries in general have become much harder to traverse in contemporary times.
Has there ever been a time of full equity amongst all human beings — men and women, white and black? Despite steady movements and sudden revolutions to this effect, the answer must also be ‘no’. That is of course not to say that equality hasn’t been, and isn’t still, the steadfast goal of so many people(s) the world over. Just because an idea or a principle is in the foreseeable (or indeed perhaps the eternally distant) future unrealistic to be actually or fully realized, does that make it somehow foolish to pursue? Some certainly seem to think so. Others take the determination as admirable, necessary even.
Even if these ultimate objectives are unattainable in our day and age, such basic principles are still what sustain and animate our political struggles for the world that we want to live in. But in our complex times they have a tendency to become easily compromised, offset by the ubiquitous main(stream) arguments citing so-called “real-world” considerations, circumstances and factors.
In the case of migration debates, these increasingly include the overt, populist racism and xenophobia, but even more harmful to any real, humane or meaningful discussion is the mainstream political-economic realism which asks how could our country, as it is, possibly survive, as it is, if we were to down the borders and attempt to open our arms to all whose necessity if not desire leads them to us? It’s just not possible: it’s far-fetched, unrealistic, and indefensible. Our standard of living would plummet, law and order would follow suit.
Addressing those responsible
So, there is that general argument — that centrist sentiment. But let’s not focus here on the compromising effect of those “real-world” factors that work to weaken our ideals, but rather those facts that prove clearly why we need to struggle more, not less.
First, an anecdote: Four hundred refugees and sans papiers accompanied by European supporters were walking through Brussels on their way to “return” (fake) weapons, which had accumulated in Libya, to the NATO Headquarters building. A hot day, everyone is tired, stressed after several long, wrong turns around the city. Arriving at the building (or rather, the police picket ensuring no one gets anywhere near the building) a Turkish trumpet player, sensing the exhaustion turning to prostration, suggests to forgo the typical open mic in favor of a short speech so we may get home to the central Brussels park, up until now occupied by four hundred migrants and activists in the final stages of the March.
“We don’t want to be here,” he tells the police officers who are listening. “You,” he says, addressing those responsible for various and particular aspects of European foreign policy and trade, “are the reason we are here. You declare to the world your commitment to the ideals and first principles of human rights, whilst aggressively pursuing your own economic interests abroad.”
“You have made your own bed,” he gestures, “we are the natural and logical consequence of your actions. And now you have to sleep in the bed you have made; take responsibility for what you have done, for what you have created, for what you have made us. Instead you have decided to initiate the effective militarization of your borders separating us.”
“Now,” he concludes, “let’s all sing bella ciao and get the fuck out of here, we’re tired.”
He was not just referring to the legacy of colonialism, of drawn borders sensitive only to the power politics of their imposers, as well as genocidal interventions. He was also referring to today, to this time and age, where there exists a clear and monumental net resource-outflow from the Global South to the Global North. Whereas capital is flowing more freely than ever before, the actual physical borders for people moving mostly out of necessity are closing behind it.
In the case of the African continent the most recent estimates put annual resource inflows at US$134 billion, predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid. Annual resource outflows, mainly profits made by foreign companies, tax evasion, as well as the estimated cost of adapting to climate change are put at US$192 billion. The result is that Africa as a continent suffers a net loss to the tune of US$58 billion per year. Generally-speaking, the money in part goes to subsidizing the living standards of the European peoples. In particular, it goes to lobbying for the continued reduction of capital and market restrictions the world over: in short, the eternal and persistent search for new markets.
In 2013, during the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the EU trade commission had begun pushing new “deep and comprehensive” (so-called) “free-trade” agreements on the Maghreb region’s still unstable and forming governments. Negotiating as the tremendously powerful single EU market, they were able to extract very favorable terms and concession for EU corporations and businesses from the Maghreb economies dependent on and desperate for European markets to buy their goods and services.
The net effect was actually a lot more market access for EU business — a humungous, imposing Carrefour on every street block in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli, stocked with European products. European civil society has been questioning for some time whether or not such aggressive and Eurobusiness-friendly trade policy actually benefits anyone other than transnational corporations.
Africa’s least favorite export
Meanwhile the “illegal economic migrant” to Europe is routinely viewed and discounted as illegitimate, parasitical. Only “real refugees” likely to face provable persecution on the basis of a particular characteristic are deemed worthy of safe passage. And we continue to watch in horror as this legal, historic right is eroded: even its once enshrined status in the German post-WWII Grundgesetz has not saved it from steady curtailment.
The hypocrisy in creating and insisting upon the very meta-conditions of economic exploitation is made only more disgustingly ostentatious by the narrative that European aid, generously given, is saving Africans. We know that multinational corporate profits leaving Africa far outweigh the total of OECD aid entering it, per year, by a margin of $10 billion. This is the reason that the European Socialist Parties have tried to push for sending tax and trade specialists and advisers to African countries, in place of financial (band) aid.
The economic migrant is rightfully seen as a product of European economic exploitation in Africa, not as a cause of economic exploitation in Europe. This is a contemporary and historical perspective. Before circumscribing migration debates with “just for the refugees” or “how would our country handle all that immigration?”, we should take a clear look at the figures and our global trade and investment structures and ask: What makes some countries rich, and others poor? Who benefits from the selling of guns and military equipment to poor and autocratic countries? Who doesn’t? And what are we going to do about it?
Learn and comprehend at the very least the reasons why so many people die attempting to migrate from the Global South to the North — why some of our countries and corporations continue to get rich, whilst others remain poor.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/march-freedom-europe-migrants/