Autonomous rear Entrances to Fortress Europe? Antiracist Perspectives in regard to G-8 Summit 2007

Autonomous rear Entrances to Fortress Europe?

Antiracist Perspectives in regard to G-8 Summit 2007

For years there has been a deep divide in the (antiracist) Left when the issue of flight and migration comes up. While one side is talking about „Fortress Europe“ and mainly concentrates on attacking the ever more sophisticated regime of borders, camps and deportations, the other side favors the concept of „autonomy of migration“ as the archimedial reference point. According to this concept one should not fortget that despite all efforts to close the borders each year hundreds of thousand people enter the European Union on an irregular basis who organize their survival under self-determined, however rather precarious conditions. Migration therefore should be deciphered as “social protagonism”, i.e. resilience; it could even be termed the “most successful social movement”.

It is relevant to find answers to the questions and problems that arise from both positions – not only for principal reasons, but also in regard to the politics of the movement. Current background is the G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm (North-Eastern Germany) in 2007. A variety of groups and networks are of the opinion that “migration” should become one of the central issues of the anti-G8-summit resistance. But the perspective from which this should happen is open. Additionally, other groups that are also taking part in the mobilization, are keeping rather quiet when it comes to the issue of migration. The most prominent example is attac. Therefore one should emphasize that the issue of migration is at the center of a large number of struggles for global (civil, political and social) rights. In other words: It would be rather shameful, if one didn’t take the opportunity to systematically examine the interdependencies – also in regard to the cooperation of the different segments of the protest movement that everyone is talking about and aiming at.

To talk about Fortress Europe is aiming at three developments at the core: First of all, that fewer and fewer people manage to come as asylum seekers to Europe. Second, that in most countries of the European Union it is almost impossible to be granted political asylum. Third, that between 30.000 and 50.000 people are being deported each year from Germany alone. This number doesn’t even take into account those 70.000 people who – in the language of the bureaucrats - “voluntarily” leave Germany; most of them solely in order to escape their enforced deportation. This increased escalation of a dynamic of repression has been enabled by a large number of legal, administrative and institutional tightening measures or new developments since the early 1990ies. Therefore it is rather fitting that the European Union has incorporated the concept of so-called “safe third countries” which originates from the repressive German asylum policy into its recently ratified regulations for asylum procedures. According to this concept, refugees who enter the E.U. via a so-called “safe third country” cannot invoke the right to asylum. In the future, even countries that haven’t ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention such as Libya, Mauritania or the Ukraine are going to be classified as “safe third countries” for the European Union. One of the immediate consequences would be that Italy’s practice for some time to illegally deport boat-people refugees to Libya could soon be legalized under these new regulations. On top of that the plan is to immediately and directly send back all refugees and migrants who are apprehended at the outer frontiers of the European Union – this is the context in which the so-called reception camps or rather deportation camps that have been built with the support of the European Union in Libya, Mauritania or the Ukraine are operating (the key word is outsourcing of the protection for refugees). One also has to mention that for more than one-and-a-half decade now a massive neo-liberal propaganda campaign has been going on which has been proclaiming the end of the fordistic social-welfare state model and has massively incited the willingness of large segments of society to exclude certain segments of the population for racist reasons. As a result you can not only see the so-called “nationally liberated zones” in Eastern Germany, but also the never-ending integration debate on headscarves, school yards in Berlin or pseudo-homo-friendly citizenship tests.

In contrast to this point of the view, the protagonists of the autonomy of migration are drawing a much brighter, even opulent picture. For example, they claim the allegation that today less refugees and migrants are coming to Europe is simply not true. To the contrary, from their point of view it is however correct that the technologies of migration control that are detailed in the Fortress-Europe discourse have changed the conditions for migration. Concretely: A “change in the form of migration” has occurred (Transit Migration ). People don’t even start the hardship of a rather senseless asylum procedure with no hope for a success (if they have the opportunity at all to file a claim for asylum), but they still come to Europe. They come as undocumented migrants, hundreds of thousands, and mostly for the same reasons than before. This circumstance points to the core of the autonomy of migration: “that migration entails a moment of independency from political measures which aims at control” (Transit Migration). Background is that refuges and migrants are not coming by themselves but with the help of community networks. “They are being supported by a movement which owns knowledge, which follows its own rules and organizes its practice collectively.” (Yann Moulier Boutang ). The fact that refugees manage to „circumvent, to escape and to disable migration“ controls (Transit Migration) does not only have something to do with autonomy of migration itself. According to this line of argumentation it is equally important that the aim of modern migration policy is not complete sealing-off as the Fortress Europe discourse claims. The aim is rather to „produce an active process of inclusion of migrant labour through their clandestinization“ on the basis of labour-market oriented policy and calculations of requirements. (Sandro Mezzadra ). Accordingly, the qualitative position of refugees and migrants is more important at the border than the quantity of migration. Because it is only their (hierarchically organized) disfranchisement which turns them into labour nomads who are flexible, available and more or less easy victims of blackmail. And still: Even if the residency status, the employment and the living conditions are very precarious, one issue shouldn’t be forgotten from the point of view of autonomy of migration. If one talks about the struggles of migrants, one talks about the daily strategies of survival of refugees and migrants which the state has a hard time to control. These struggles very often don’t express themselves politically (which often wouldn’t be so easy anyway), but they are a continuous challenge to the status quo; their mere factual existence continuously changes the European societies – whether these societies like it or not.

Even if the presentation is only tentative, we can already determine that the concept of autonomy of migrations is in many aspects a valuable amendment or rather relativization of the Fortress Europe discourse. First of all, it breaks through the rather narrow focus on refugee policies and widely opens up a political or antiracist space. Secondly, it comes together with the building of bridges into the field of (precarious) labour, which can hardly be overestimated politically: i.e. communication of movements. And thirdly, it openly rejects any form of victimization. Even though to degrade refugees and migrants hardly constitutes a standing factor within the Fortress Europe discourse, it still happens regularly that both in the left as well as in the bourgeois-liberal understanding of the metaphor of Fortress Europe refugees and migrants hardy turn up as active subjects – because the moment of fencing-off is being placed at the center and often comes in an apocalyptic rethorical fashion.

However, the autonomy of migration is not unerring. It also contains gaps and points of radical one-sidedness and it is being characterized rather often – despite all denials – by a verbal glorification of migrant struggles. Or rather, statements from this side are often understood in that sense.
1 The thesis that migration controls could not stop the paths of refugees and migrants, but could only “ prolong or reroute them” (Transit Migration) is rather absurd – at least, if you take it literally. To argue in such a manner tears apart connected issues and turns a blind eye to central facts. First of all, that each year more than 500.000 people are being deported from the European Union or are being sent back (in addition to those who “voluntarily” leave the E.U.). Secondly, that each year tens of thousands of people – and possibly more – do not manage to even get to Europe. Let’s remember the Kosovo War in 1999, when about 550.000 of 800.000 refugees from Kosovo were directly directed to temporary and strictly guarded refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia and thereby prevented from continuing their journey to the European Union (i.e: Regional Protection Areas). Thirdly, that regularly people are dying on their way to the European Union. Since the beginning of this year alone it is said that up to 4.000 people drowned in the sea around the Canary Islands – due to the increased surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea. Fourthly, that flight and migration not only become more expensive because of migration policy measures, but also the risks are higher. The consequences are that more and more people are being deterred and don’t even dare to leave (while at the same time the numbers of those who would be willing to migrate is increasing on a permanent basis). Take for example numerous reports and studies from countries such as Algeria, Morocco or Nigeria, where large segments of the unemployed youths seem to be nearly obsessed by the idea to search for their luck in Europe or the United States. However, when it comes down to it, only relatively few dare to take the leap.

This means concretely, that it is misleading to determine migration policy as a defensive (sic) reaction of the state which primarily aims at illegalizing refugees and migrants (and thereby leave them helpless to overexploitation). So to speak as a compensation for the fact that migration policy is unable to regulate the entrances to Europe more effectively. It might be true that despite all shows of power of European politicians the movements of migrations are characterized by an adorable momentum. And it is also true that the neo-liberal European Union is interested for a number of reasons in (undocumented) cheap labour from the peripheries.. In this setting the thesis gains it specific plausibility that currently a migration regime is developing (in Southeastern Europe) „which institutionalizes the transit and a precarious immigration with its informal economies“ (Transit Migration). But it is equally true that the larger segment of the migrants is not wanted for reasons of political order and for financial reasons – this is especially true for refugees. Therefore migration policy as a whole always aims at both: On the one hand, illegalization, and on the other hand fencing-off – a double-function which is best being described with the term „filter“.
2. Proponents of the autonomy of migration take a critical stance towards political disputes with structural backgrounds of flight and migration – for example, in the way the slogan of the Caravan puts it: „We are here because you are destroying our countries.“ Such a focus would lead to the danger to degrade people as match-balls under objective conditions of coercion“; by arguing in such a manner one would play into the hands of the humanitarian discourse, which would only recognize and accept refugees and migrants as helpless victims but not as social actors who are self-confidently demanding or taking their rights. This criticism is indeed very important, but one should be careful not to erect Potemkian villages. Because voluntarism vs. determination or subjectivism vs. objectivism are incorrect antagonisms and therefore they are not appropriate to describe the complex, sometimes contradictory dynamic of flight and migration in its complexity. In the concrete debate, this is something one can easily agree on – even by quoting Karl Marx: “The people are making their own history, but they don’t make it out of free will, not under conditions which they have chosen themselves, but under conditions that they stumble upon, that are given and that are bequeathed to them.”

Politically, there are many reasons to put the concrete situation in the refugees’ and migrants’ countries of origin on the antiracist agenda. Flight and migration are deeply embedded into the global relations between periphery and center. One example, that can be mentioned here, are the dramatic destruction processes of small farmers’ existences that have been taking place since the early 1980ies and have been spurred on especially by the IMF, WTO, multinationals and the agrarian policies of the European Union and the United States. As a consequence of these processes massive flight and migration movements have been set into motion not only in Central America, but also in many countries of the Sub-Sahara and in Asia. . To create bridges between the demands that derive from this situation – such as the „Right to Sovereignty of Nourishment“ – and demands that are linked to migration – such as “For free movement globally” -, would bring social movements together which normally don’t have much in common and they would empower each other. Secondly, in that manner it would become more obvious than before that migration poses fundamental questions of global justice (in dissemination). That would bring about the demand to reject any solutions and strategies that promote euro-protectionism for principal reasons. On the one hand, because such options cannot be legitimized politically and ethically – the key word here is: Global Rights. On the other hand, because social disorders which are also becoming more common in Europe as a consequence of capitalist globalization cannot be cushioned in the short or in the long term by stripping refugees and (undocumented) migrants of their rights and by structurally placing them in wage and other competitions with E.U. citizens.

3. From the point of view of autonomy of migration collectively organized flight and migration movements would belong to the most successful social movements. The reasoning for this line of argumentation is that refugees and migrants manage to temporarily or continuously set foot in the rich industrialized countries – whether stabilizing their status step-by-step, or by marriage or via family reunions, undocumented residency or mass legalizations by the authorities. Even Germany has unwillingly become a de facto immigration country in the past 50 years in that manner – with cities such as Frankfurt, Munich or Stuttgart where more than 20 % of the population have a migration background. In other words, this line of argumentation which needs time to get used it functions on the premise that the term of “social movements” should not be narrowly defined for political reasons, but it should be amended with the dimension of daily, subtle and rather quiet acts of resistance. A concrete result should be to also understand the day-to-day struggles of migrants as political acts of resistance. That means as attempts to break the borders of citizenship, to appropriate new spaces of freedom and equality, to build transnational spaces, to demand or the take the right to mobility and others (compare: Frassanito Network 2006).Most of the time Toni Negri and Michael Hardt are called upon as godfathers of theses. In their book “Empire” they are conceptualizing “desertion, exodus and nomadism” as contemporary “basic forms of resistance”, even as a “powerful form of class struggle”.

But still: There are a lot of reasons to not just easily merge political and daily acts of resistance. Because it is not an automatic step from individual strategies of survival – even if they might be organized in networks – to collectively structured processes of emancipatory social changes. Or more drastically: Someone who crosses borders in an undocumented fashion and there by de facto undermines the border regime is not necessarily a fighter for global free movement (and doesn’t have to be one, either). Massive nomadism might be the central source which feeds the idea of global free movement, however this construction which has been formed in a political and theoretical fashion should not at all be ascribed to and projected onto refugees and migrants as a “conviction via position”. Rather, the idea of global free movement is probably going to develop its impact solely under the condition that its political intention experiences a massive and collective appropriation – either by refugees and migrants themselves or by third parties. When the political and daily acts of resistance are interfering with each other or amalgamating in the context of joint social movement practices and thereby create each other’s resonating spaces (without become indistinguishable), then the prerequisites have been created for substantial changes in the larger power balance of society. There are some examples for the above mentioned: The sans-papiers in France who managed such a synthesis of different forms of resistance and thereby turned the political status quo upside down. Etienne Balibar points to that example in his model works on “incomplete citizenships”, talking about a citizenship concept which is not based on nationality or status, but on activity: “In a paradox sense, the struggles of the sans papiers (…) are outstanding moments in the developments of an active citizenship (or, if you want, in the direct participation in public affairs) without which no community of citizens could exist, but only a formal of state cut off from society and choking on its own abstraction.”

It is this background which at the latest should make it clear where the shortcomings are if migration is being ennobled without hesitation as the most successful social movement – as it happens frequently in the discourse of autonomy of migration. It threatens to inflate strategies of survival and day-to-day acts of resistance. And it threatens to diminish the politically utopian horizon rather quickly to shifts within the existing status quo. Also, the danger exists that contradictions are being put onto the backburner (of the discourse) and in that manner – sort of in a form of a self-fulfilling prophecy spin – to lend additional credibility of the “success” theory. We are talking here – beyond what has already been mentioned - about the horrible working conditions in the precarious low-wage sectors which sometimes resemble the conditions of the Manchester era; or the fact that rich industrialized countries have been dependent on low-wage workers for a long time and therefore it is questionable to label (undocumented) migrant labour as a subversive act of appropriation. Even the much quoted money transfers of work migrants to their families go ahnd-in-glove with effects that stabilize the system. Because in many countries, for example El Salvador, the state encourages money transfers as a highly welcome compensation for the income deficits which the people are confronted with due to neo-liberal policies.

It should be obvious that the debate is not over here. One possibility to continue could be the already started mobilization against G8 – possibly even in regard to the mass action for „global free movement“ and „equal rights“ shortly before the start of the summit which has been proposed by a number of groups. (compare:

This text was first published in a slightly different version in: ak - analyse & kritik - Zeitung für linke Debatte und Praxis / Nr. 506 / 19.5.2006 (ak – analysis & critisim – newspaper for a leftist debate and practice)

Gregor Samsa