Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dying on the threshold of Europe

A lot more refugees than previously thought die on their way to Europe. 
This was found in the first systematic research by journalists working 
for big household names in the continental European mainstream 
media. 

According to the newly completed research it is certain that between 
2000 and 2013 23,000 refugees perished on their  way to Europe 
from Africa or Asia. Earlier estimates had been pegged at a  number 
of "only" about 17,000 deaths
Big incidents, like the drowning of almost 400 undocumented people 
off the coast of Italian island Lampedusa last October, made 
international headlines, while smaller tragedies remain unreported. 
For example, the 100 people heading for Europe who died in a lorry 
when crossing the Sahara dessert between Algeria and Niger less 
than a month after the  Lampedusa incident did not make it into the 
news. 
 
Most of the immigrants who died on their way to Europe over the 
past few years, an estimated 18,000 of them, died while traversing 
the Mediterranean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean in small, unsound boats. 
However, overland smuggling routes are not necessarily better. For
example when trekking over the mountains between Iraq and Turkey, 
every year refugees die from the cold.
 
There is no single European instance compiling statistics about the 
number of dead among those trying reach the continent. Whereas 
Frontex, the EU agency for border security, maintains a record about 
how many undocumented individuals are being arrested, deported 
and detained, a Frontex official stated off the record that deceased 
refugees are not being registered. As long as these individuals 
have not entered Europe they are not yet undocumented, and thus 
they are not included in Frontex's statistics.
 
In the meantime, an almost unnoticed huge humanitarian disaster 
is unfolding on the borders of Europe.
 
Translated from:
http://nos.nl/artikel/630253-sterven-op-de-drempel-van-europa.html

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Crimea - Some history

I typed out a short article about a part of Crimea's history, which I will post below. Nothing to do with recent developments there at all, it is about a time period which I find much more appealing: the last few hundred years before common era.
Again, it is the epoch of the Scythians that I chose. I blogged about them before here. The Scythians are a steppe people who had come on horses and with wagons from Central Asia, where they were attested already 2000 years earlier. After having reached Crimea, the former nomads got sedentarized and were living of stock breeding and agriculture.

Scythian Priest Warriors depicted on a vessel from Crimea
While the Greeks had come to Crimea for a long time, following tuna and other types of fish across the black Sea from Asia Minor and the territories of what today is modern Greece, it was not until the 7th and 6th centuries BC that the first Greeks came to settle down there. At first only men arrived, and this after, of course, having consulted the oracle of Delphi in their homeland!
Thanks to their military power the coming wave of Greeks could occupy land and set up cities, the first of which being Kherson. They constructed their cities in the same way as the cities of the Greek motherland were conceived: with pre-drawn, parallel streets and quarters all the same size in rectangular shape. Away from the the cities, Greek farmers cultivated land, for example for making wine. But the Greek colonizers also traded with the Scythians, especially by buying large quantities of their grain and selling it to cities in mainland Greece, bringing back gold to pay the Scythians, thereby bringing prosperity.

The Scythians later made cities inspired by the Greek model, including city walls and towers. Because of enmity with the Scythians, the Greek cities in Crimea entered a confederation against them, which came to be called the Bosporan Kingdom. Its capital was Panticapaion, in the east of Crimea at the mouth of the Azov sea where the modern city Kerch is located.
Another enemy of the Kingdom were the Sarmatians, a loose confederation of different Iranian tribes. It was against them and the Scythians that the Bosporans sought protection from Mithridates VI, king of the Pontus, the region on the densely wooded South-Eastern shores of the Black Sea, today's Northern Turkey. In this way Mithridates became the leader of the Bosporans, enlarging his own empire which at that moment, the height of his power, extended over most of modern Turkey and parts of Greece.

A modern view of Mithridates hill in Kerch; the stairs were built in the 19th century
Mithridates vanquished the Scythians, but, being a clever diplomat, he did not crudely subjugate them, and instead gave them the status of allies. So enhancing their self-esteem, this improved relations for both sides.
Meanwhile, a new enemy had appeared on the scene: the Romans, who had to be fought in three bloody wars. When Mithridates lost the final battle, he committed suicide on the hill above Panticapaion which today is bearing his name: Mithridates Hill.

After him, the Bosporan Kingdom came increasingly under Roman influence, all the while continuing to fight the Sarmatians, until after a few generations it came to be headed by one Sarmatian, or at least a king who used a Sarmatian tamga, or royal emblem. Before its decline the Kingdom lived through another period of prosperity. Only in the third century AD the Scytheans on Crimea as well as the Greek Bosporan Kingdom were supplanted by other peoples, Celts, Thracians, and Goths.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Russia-Ukraine

 Some fear-mongering Dutch newspaper last week titled with a blue-eyed soldier clutching a machine gun, annotating him with the headline “the Russian danger”. In a big double-paged article on page 2 and 3, they printed a selection of opinions culled from individuals on the streets. The question posed was whether they were afraid of a coming war on the outskirts of Europe. Such a question primed those asked in an obvious way, inviting answers that expressed concern about the prospect of a war, although, obviously, with several degrees of intensity.  This kind of manipulation of the coverage of the Russian invasion of Crimea in order to try to whip people into a frenzy reflected the wider atmosphere created by the Dutch media.
A couple of weeks later still, young, educated people trying to have an opinion on the issue talked to me about US anti-missile shields in Poland (which are perfectly real of course) and about the nearness of an actual war in that region of Eastern Europe (not that quickly). I don't want to know what they had been reading.

Don't believe it

American press talks about Putin's propaganda machine. One of my pet peeve's is the prejudice Westerners hold against the Russian press. The idea that the Russian press is controlled or censured by the Kremlin is common in the West. In my university studies I read great quantities of Russian newspaper articles. I can say that in Russian newspapers Putin is abundantly criticized, sometimes virulently so, especially by liberals. The greatest joke was maybe Dick Cheney (or some similiar US politician) writing an article for Pravda last year. Pravda may have been the main newspaper in times of the Cold War -evidently the epoch Cheney remembers best-, but is a decidedly minor one in the contemporary world. The opening lines of his article were something like “I am writing now what no Russian citizen could publicly write, an open criticism of president Putin” and made me roll my eyes immediately. There was certainly intent behind the fact that the article was simultaneously printed in the New York Times as it was in translation in Russia. This was to feed the image in the West of the all-controlling Russian dictator keeping all freedom of expression in check - may this image have any correlation to reality or not. Propaganda is also a tool of the West. The Western press is also subject to great constraints, especially in the world of corporations and monetary interests, which is something Westerners maybe should examine with intent rather than pity “the poor Russians”.
Already in 2008, when Russia was called for help by the South Ossetian people in defense against an offensive of the Georgian military and entered South Ossetia and Georgia, the facts were strongly manipulated by the Western press: Russia was portrayed as the attacker - when really the aggressor in this case was without any doubt Georgian president Saakashvili. Is it by chance that Saakashvili is a US ally?
In Ukraine, using Putin as the boo-man also serves to cover up US deeds which can be judged more grave than those of Putin, like sending blood-soaked Blackwater into the country.

As for Crimea, let's delve a little bit into history. Soviet president Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in the 1950s, when the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as far away as it seemed absurd. In the context of the federated Soviet super-state, it was of little relevance to which administrative unit the half-island belonged. No one could even imagine, that Ukraine would be an independent country seperate from Russia one day. One thing which betrays the historical innocence with which Khrushchev executed this gift is the fact that the headquarters of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet – today Russia's Black Sea Fleet- was located in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
In Crimea almost the entirety of the population's mother tongue is Russian. When I visited there four years ago, I understood that many felt affinities with Russia and felt oppressed by the Ukrainian state forcing nationalizing policies on them. For example all television channels had to be in Ukrainian which is only partially intelligible to the Russian ear.

Yes, Russia moved its military. Anyone anti-authoritarian would be against this armed branch of the state, I am, too. However, practically, what did they do? They did not kill anyone and walked around armed and uniformed on a foreign country's territory. The only thing they can be said to be infringing is what? Borders that I don't believe in?
I am no dupe to the fact that Russia does not care so much about the people of Crimea, as about the port of Sevastopol. Yet, on the scale of military invasions of the past 20 to 50 years, this one should go down as a minor disturbance of the international order. Actually, even in the context of the uprising-turned-civil-war in Ukraine which made over a hundred deaths this could go down as a minor event. However Western powers jump on the occasion to cast Russia in the role of the enemy, greatly exaggerating the threat that this incursion really represents. Every power, every oppressor needs an enemy to stay in place.

And the Left, in this case, goes along with the game. A part of the hacker group "anonymous" did an attack on Russian state media Russia Today. Social media are full of left-wingers whining about how terrible the evil Russians are.
Russia takes turns with another country to play the international boo-man: Iran. Strangely, this other usual enemy No. 1 receives more indulgence from the Left. There is even a current which goes so far as to try to stifle the expression of criticism of the crimes perpetrated by the Iranian state by other Leftists, because they say it would feed American "bomb Iran" rhetoric. In no case do I support this kind of hypocrisy, and would I go so far as to say we should shut up about the anti-gay law in order not to buy into the logic of a divided world our “leaders” want to force down our throats. However, does there need to be a bomb-threat for the Left not to uncritically adopt the mainstream viewpoint? There is a lot of things deeply objectionable about Putin and about the Russian state.
But let's not pander to Western mainstream ideology by demonizing Russia.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Barricades and Arrests

Last June, for a few idyllic days, Taksim square was freed of police and the domain of the people. In order to keep the police away, barricades were built on all streets surrounding the square.
Especially if a building site or ruined building was near, people worked like ants all together, and in no time, out of nothing, the barricades were made. Some barricades were made by forming lines of individuals handing bricks or cobblestones or other material from hand to hand.
Most barricades were around two meters high, some being huge, wide things. Only a very few were rather small, just some more or less symbolic mounds of cobblestones.
In the biggest ones rubbish containers, the posts of traffic lights or street lamps, billboards, iron beams, and canalisation pipes were used, at one point even a burnt-out city bus. 

 

The most impressively barricaded street was the windy broad road down from Taksim square to the historical Dolmabahçe palace on the Bosphorus. It was barricaded every five to ten metres, on the whole some 20 barricades obstructing passage.
Still three weeks after events in the area, you would walk a lot on sand instead of paving material in the area. Where the paving was renewed, the usage of cobblestones was foregone. This time the city council put large sheaths of poured cement out, lessening the risk of having them taken apart and used for throwing or barrication.

Behind the barricades, people fought with stones, molotov cocktails, catapults, the so-called "Palestinian slingshot", and the occasional self-made potato gun. In one legendary incident, someone used one of the excavators supposed to take apart Gezi park to go against the police. The water cannons facing the crowd turned around and fled in the face of this kind of opposition, but ultimately, the driver of the excavator was made to flee with tear gas.
The biggest clashes happened on the third day after the beginning of the Gezi park occupation. One person described like this to me: "I have no idea where all these people came from, but out of nowhere they came, in those early morning hours. Suddenly we were thousands. The fighting lasted for 18 hours that day." People who had never participated in any demonstrations learnt about things like anti-acid solutions against tear gas on the internet, but they could learn how to fight only from others with experience in this. In Turkey there are many radical Leftist groups with such skills to share.

Some guy put it like this, "You are fighting the police at the barricades, and you are looking back over your shoulders you have 20,000 people there filling the street behind you. There is really no feeling like this. The masses roar, they shout and sing. And along the street, the building sites and pavements are being taken apart, many hands are busying themselves to make all the material arrive in your hands at the frontline."  

The use of tear gas, as is widely known by now, was inordinate. It became a joke that protesters would  call the going-ons the ‘Istanbul Gas Festival’. It is well known that the police fired their tear gas stock for two years in 20 days. 
From one source I heard that during all the protests in the whole of Turkey 130,000 teargas bombs were used in all cities together. The guy who told me this said that he alone probably saw an estimated 3000 of them. Usage was most intensive the first few days of the riots. The stuff is expensive, so of course when the police realized the protesters were adamant to continue, they started to save them.

One protester died in the course of the riots because they were touched by a tear gas grenade. This something that actually happens every year in Turkey, especially in the East of the country. Every year someone loses their life this way. And it is not by accident. As one witness says: “The police take aim so as to shoot directly at individuals. There were a few times that I managed to duck just in time because a gas grenade was flying over my head." Others he knows actually received a charge at their head.

In this extreme situation, people started 'frantically' helping each other and sharing everything they had, be it behind the barricades or in the park. While Taksim and its immediate surroundings were liberated from the police, Gezi Park under occupation turned into a commune of sorts. People organised free meals three times a day for everyone, they played music at any time of day, and collected cigarettes for each other. There was even a barber cutting people's hair for free.
Radical leftist groups who at other times have attacked each other with sticks danced hand in hand. Members of homophobic Stalinist groups accepted rainbow-flag waving LGBTers as their comrades. 
There was a moment when the football hooligans of Carsi made it a point of coming to the feminists, apologizing for the sexist language they used before. “Society taught us this, we just never thought about it before”, they explained.
But the unity between has also be exaggerated and romanticized. Yes, there were moments were Turkish nationalists danced together with Kurds with Abdullah Öcalan flags, or, like in one much distributed photo, ran away from teargas holding hands each clutching their own flag in the free hand. But in general, the split between Kemalists and Kurds or pro-Kurdish Leftists remained near unbridgeable. The distrust is too great on both sides.
Along this fault line, there was the biggest dissent: About what tactics to use, where to go next with this - was it just to save the park, or was it to make a revolution?
The Kemalist groups tried to recover the movement for themselves. Already on the next day after the first large riots, Kemalists called for a stop of the riots, and turn things into peaceful demonstrations.
The youth group of opposition pary CHP started the slogan "We are Mustafa Kemal's soldiers", ironically singing this while staying safely to the back from the barricades.
Others answered loudly from the front lines, "we will be no one's soldiers!".
This call for pacifism is easily explained: Of course the CHP are not really against the police. They just want this police force to be theirs, and not the AKP's. They want to stay inside the system. The call for the president to resign, 'Tayyip İstifa', if used by the CHP, just means that they want to put their own president in place.

Despite it all, the moment the enemy attacked, everyone came together as one.
On Tuesday the 11th of June the police came to seize Taksim square.
One girl described the repression of the past week to me as follows: "Those rubber bullets, they are so hard, if you got one in your neck, for sure you could die from them. And the hardened plastic they are made from, when it hits something, it splinters. These things are so dangerous!", she explained about the weapons used by police during the past weeks. During one of the earlier days of the protests, Ayşegül told me how she was hit by a water cannon in the back. The pain was excruciating when it happened, and she had to be taken to hospital. "There was one doctor, who was a Leftist like us, he treated us well, but he was the only one." She related how other medical staff at the hospital carried out the treatments as roughly and painfully as possible, grabbing and squeezing her arm as they put a drip on her, and afterwards ripping it out, rather than carefully taking it away. The inside of her elbow was badly swollen for a day afterwards. "It has also been proven that ambulances brought tear gas grenades to the police over the past two weeks, people have seen it", she remarked.

People who were hit by the waterthrower said it felt as if their body was on fire. People would move out of the way only when they really could not endure it anymore, after  they were drenched to the bone. Some people became unconscious on the way to the first aid tent, others had to be carried away from the square already. They could not get up and would lie on the cots allocated to them for two to three hours. In this time, they would change their clothes completely down to the underwear two or three times. The sister of a friend of mine said her skin kept burning until the evening, and a deep, incomprehensible tiredness took hold of her for three consecutive days afterwards.

There were riots not only in Istanbul, but in cities all over the country - Ankara, Izmir, Mersin, Adana and in other cities, not least Hatay, which counts two deaths among protesters. In Hatay, protesters also manifested a great degree of creativity – at some point they poured hot, liquid tar onto the streets, so that police vehicles could not pass anymore. In Diyarbakir, waterthrowers coming back from Istanbul were pelted with stones at the entrance of the city. It was however in capital city Ankara that fights can said to be the heaviest, as was repression. One reason for this may be the fact that, since Ankara is the capital city the office of the person ordering all this, the President's office, is right there.
But also, the streets in Ankara are smaller than in Istanbul, so automatically, the effect of tear gas will affect protesters more, there is less space for people to run away.  Yet, protesters were fighting the police every single night without break even for weeks after the eviction of the park. In some neighbourhoods brought down couches or washing machines from their houses to burn them as barricades on the street, and they threw kitchen gas bottle from the windows onto the police.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Arrested in the Riots

Several foreigners were arrested during the Gezi Park riots in Istanbul the end of May and June last year. One of them, a French girl called Elisa Couvert, made it to all the big mainstream French and Turkish newspapers.
 The sad irony about her story is that she can be truely said to be completely innocent. A student in sociology, she was doing an internship with a Human Rights Organisation in Istanbul. Another French girl coming to do some university research in Istanbul, said she knew Elisa from Paris. Elisa, she recounted, was the sort of girl who refused to come to a demo for political prisoners, because some of the prisoners were anarchists interned for breaking and burning things, and Elisa did not want to support such "violence".


She was arrested on that Tuesday morning that the police came to retake Taksim from the people.
Just before her arrest, what happened was that Elisa ran with the crowd to hide from the teargas, and followed one group of people into a building. She had no idea she was running into the front office of one of the most radical groups around today, and the most active at that, a radical Leftist formation of the acronym SDP. This group was the one fighting the hardest from the beginning and until the very end of the eviction of Taksim square that same Tuesday. 

The SDP is in fact the legal branch of an Turkish Left-wing underground organisation having close ties to the Kurdish PKK. Most of the PKK-affiliated Kurds  themselves (the great majority of all Kurds) remained inactive during the uprising, despite their great experience with fighting the police. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan did not make any statements as to the party's stance on these uprising, so most Kurds took this too mean a quietescent phase. This is probably because of the special moment in history that the Kurdish movement is in; the PKK has just started talking with the Turkish government, and this development, it was deemed, should not be disrupted.
The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party BDP on the other hand was present with a tent in Gezi Park.

On Tuesday, the SDP office was soon beleaguered outside by police, and when the group barricaded itself in, it did not take long until the police brought tools to force through the doors. 
When brought to court, Elize had no less than 50 charges brought upon her. These included "throwing molotov cocktails", "anti-constitutional activity", "inciting the people to revolt", "working to bring down the Turkish government","being part of a radical organisation", and, among others, "terrorism", of course. This being Turkey, her master thesis about "Kurds learning Kurdish as adults" was used as proof for all the above.
The judge cleared her of absolutely all charges, yet she ended up staying 11 days in the deportation centre before being deported back to France at the end of the month. 

Now, over half a year later, at the beginning of 2014, a wave of courtcases against hundreds of those who were arrested last summer (according to independant estimates over 600 people are concerned) are taking place
One of the events where a large group of protesters were arrested was the "mosque incident". Those arrested were inculpated with having desecrated a mosque by running into it with their shoes on and with beer bottles in their hands when fleeing tear gas. In the wake of this episode the imam of the mosque, whose stance is that the allegations are unsubstantiated, defending the accused, was transferred to the outskirts of Istanbul.

According to this German newspaper, 31 individuals have been locked up on pre-trial custody since June last year. Between 15 and 20 of them are charged with "attempts to bring down the government". Investigations in the trials are carried out in secret, and defending lawyers are not allowed to look into documents. Members of the football fan club Çarşı for one are accused of having founded a "criminal organisation". A lawyer fears sentences of several years imprisonment might be handed out by judges.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Deportation Centres, continued

Inside these deportation centres, conditions, in various, nefarious ways, are actually worse than in criminal prisons. Rules are more stringent, and bullying behaviour by guards is common - what is worse, it is structural.

 For one, visiting hours are even more restricted for inmates of a deportation centre than they are for inmates of a criminal prison. One rule stipulates that if you take a child who is visiting you on your lap, you will be body-searched afterwards. Inmates may be body-searched by guards of the opposite sex, and no exceptions are accepted; according to an Amnesty International report, one woman with rape trauma was body-searched by force with leg-clamps for a reason as trivial as the above-mentionned.
In one story well depicting the state of affairs inside, inmates of one deportation centre described how one day, a group of visitors were announced, and everything had to be cleaned. After that was done, and just before the group came, everyone was handed out a can of a soft drink, and a small chocolate bar, something which had never happened before. They were allowed to play board games for the first time anyone around had seen. They were also ordered not to speak to the group. Only later it was found out that the visitors were members of parliament checking on the conditions of undocumented people inside deportation centres.
The most common form of repression of any kind of protest inside deportation centres is putting the person in question into an isolation cell. One activist who experienced a deportation center from inside described with wonderment how she was explained the isolation cell system worked: "You come into the isolation cell if you get punished for misdemeanor, for example when you try to kill yourself."
Isolation cells contain nothing but a matress and a toilet, the light is constantly on, so as to make you lose all feeling for time, and the ventilation shafts are continuously open, meaning you are exposed without respite to a cold draught, on top of which an inmate in an isolation cell is made to wear nothing but a light, scratchy paper-shirt. Left by her- or himself 24 hours a day, even the guards purposefully stay out of eyesight, so that it is often impossible to make eyecontact even with them. It has long been documented that the psychologically very harmful effects of such solitary confinement range from memory loss, impulsiveness and agression to various forms of hallucinations.
In protest to these prisons, hungerstrikes have always happened in the Netherlands, although only in the past few years mainstream media coverage started to cast a brighter light on them, making them known to the public for the first time. Again, it is very common that as repression towards this form of protest, inmates on hungerstrike are put into isolation cells, even if international treaties apparently forbid this. From the deportation centre Rotterdam there were reports of inmates being beaten up by their guards if they showed reluctance to go into isolation cells. From Rotterdam and other deportation centres there were regular reports of independent medical examiners not being let through to examine the hungerstrikers. Hungerstrikers and others reported being harassed in various ways, for example by being gratuitously woken up several times during the night. Sleep deprivation is an attested type of torture in use from Soviet times to Guantanamo Bay.
In 2013 desperation grew so large, that a wave of thirststrikes errupted. Refusing to drink is an even more rapid way to death, the temporal delimitation commonly given being a week. The first man to go on a thirststrike ended up being given a residence permit after his courtcase lasted several days already. After this, some thirststrikers were left free from the deportation centres where they were held, while others were forced to drink again.
One man involved in a group hungerstrike in a prison told about his exchange with a thirststriker: “One Afghan boy here received the letter that he would be deported soon. He stopped drinking. I said to him: 'You really should drink'. He said to me: 'As soon as I am in Kabul, I will be thrown into prison, maybe I will be killed. If I die here in the Netherlands, at least my family is around to bury me'.”
One online article about the practice of force-feeding, or putting someone on a drip in order to stop a thirststrike, laid out very clearly the hypocritical rhetoric used by the state in these cases:
'Consequently, force-​feeding is read as ‘giving care.’ Within this construction, the deprivation of freedom (being detained by the Dutch state) and violence (being subjected to non-consented bodily intervention) are transformed into dutiful benevolence (being cared for by the Dutch state).'
It is the Dutch state's official policy not to heed hungerstrikers' demands, so there were deportations of people who had been on hungerstrike or even on thirststrike. To take one example, rather mediatized at the time in the Dutch media, let me talk of two men who were deported to Guinea back in May, despite their having been on a hungerstrike for the whole of 70 days. They were both judged unfit to fly and urgently needed medical care. Cheikh Bah and Issa Koulibaly both were “body-cuffed” for their deportation. Since the Dutch state did not want normal flight passengers to see the state in which the two men were in, as well as the manner in which they had to be deported, a private plane was hired which cost the state 92,000 Euros.
Another example was a man who was deported to Afghanistan despite the dangerous state of health he was in. Last minute at the airport, an independent medical examiner managed to get through to see him (he was already behind customs). She could see that, while in the past Mr. Ghafuri was always an intelligent, articulate man, he now brabbeled and was not capable of producing coherent speech, which was definetely the effect of the hungerstrike. The flight exposed him to the risk of a psychosis or even heart failure, because of his extremely low blood sugar levels. Yet, despite the doctors injunctions not to, Ghafuri was deported.
On a deportation flight, people can be handcuffed, even their feet tied, and their faces muzzled with so-called “bite-masks”. If necessary, a police doctor to administer calming injections is present. Those who are being deported are surrounded, and usually outnumbered by police officers. Children are sometimes seperated from their parents. If they do not keep calm, even children can be handcuffed and have their mouths taped.
Sometimes, deportations are averted. Once the date of a deportation becomes clear, if possible activists start a complaint campaign by telephone to the airline, and picket in front of their offices. They also try to be present the day of the deportation at the airport. One example of a deportation that was cancelled last minute, was thanks to the courage of the 18 year old boy to be deported. Having already borded his flight to Casablanca, he stood up and explained in perfect Dutch to the entire plane that he had come as an infant to the country, and that his mother and sister would stay back in the Netherlands. The passengers collectively demanded of the pilote that he would not take off with Abdullah on board, and the military police had to led him back off the plane (they did so rather roughly, and even taped his mouth, a practice which is actually illegal).
Of course, this was a rare occasion worth celebrating, most deportations are carried out as planned. One detainee of a deportation centre told this story from how people receive the news of their impending deportation: “The people from the 'deportation service' come every day to the corridor between our cells just before half past four in the afternoon. Every one becomes quiet, and we think, “whose turn is it this time?” Then they call out the name, “here, we have a ticket for you, you will be deported on this or that date. Three Marechaussee officers will accompany you to Kabul (the Mareechausee are members of a type of military police).” It is as if you get a death sentence. You wait for the date that you receive that letter with your deportation date. Then you think: I'm lost.”
In 2012, the quota stipulating how many individuals should be deported from the Netherlands was raised for the first time to 4800. This meant people would have to be arrested who were not “criminals”; and this while “criminals” already included those riding on public transport without a ticket, or someone crossing a red light on a bike. In the Netherlands, these are reasons to have your papers checked, and, if you have none, to be interned and eventually deported. As a morbid piece of additional information, let me mention though that the police did not fulfill their quota that year, and for 2013 the quota was lowered again to 4000.
Documentation abounds that many countries to which the Netherlands legally deport are unsafe, for example Afghanistan, Irak and Somalia, to name just the most glaring examples. Somalia was still judged an unsafe country by the Dutch state as for the beginning of the year 2013, but its status was later changed; Iraq was judged safe again already a few years ago. Both nations clearly are still highly unstable and in a state of war.
One man, Said, was deported to Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, a country which he had never seen in his life, and whose national language he did not speak. His story speaks volumes about what deporting someone to Somalia really means. From the airport he was put onto the streets without a place to go to. During the first night he kept his bag under his head as a pillow and it got stolen, leaving him with only the clothes he had on his body. Within a few days after this, he came close to a bombing attack in the result of which he saw many dead bodies, and himself gotwounded at leg and arm. He recounted these events in a mail to his friends in the Netherlands, adding, “yesterday I wanted to commit suicide, but I was held back as I tried to jump off a building.”
One country which at the moment is officially judged too dangerous to deport to is Syria. If you are from such a country, and the Netherlands want to get rid of you, what is then the alternative to being deported? For people whom it is judicially impossible to deport, there is another way to be ushered out, in deportation jargon simply called “the taxi”.
From deportation centrum Rotterdam, the individual to be discharged (rather than “freed”) gets dumped off at Rotterdam Central station with a one-way train ticket to Roosendaal, the last small town before the Belgian border, with a letter in hand that he or she needs to leave the Netherlands within 48 hours. How they are supposed to do so without any money is left for them to solve.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No to Deportations

A few years ago I met a guy who told me a story about himself which, if it is true, made him a hero to me. As a town hall passport clerk, he found it intolerable to be so frequently required to refuse to issue a passport. At a certain point, he started making the requisite papers for anyone asking Dutch nationality without even looking through the dossier. After a few months someone blew the whistle on him. Not only did he lose his job, but he had to go to prison for two years. By the time he got out again, he was only 22 years old.
The IND, the Dutch government agency that handles immigration, puts refugees who are demanding political asylum through harrowing and degrading interviews. Once you come into the room you have a few minutes to tell your story, and any hesitation or incoherence is not attributed to nervousness, but it will be ruthlessly imputed that you are falsifying your story. Any ever so small twitch of your face can be interpreted as indication you are lying. The questions you have to answer are prejudiced and merciless. Rape victims get asked if they fought their attackers hard enough, trafficked women, whether they enjoyed their work as a prostitute. One gay woman was told she did not “look like a lesbian”, another one received the advice that “not dressing like a man could prevent discrimination”. Once the immigration service rejected your request for asylum, you are undocumented, and you can get arrested any time, and put into a deportation centre.

Still only some years ago seeing any article in the mainstream press about deportation centres was unthinkable; these large, terrifying prisons for the innocent were kept out of the public eye. Still a few years back, when the construction site of a deportation centre being built was burnt down, this information never reached the public. “It is amazing that the mainstream media uttered not a single word about any of these incidents. In a country as quiet as the Netherlands, a fire bombing that big might well have been classified as one of the biggest terrorist attacks since WWII!“ He may have been exaggerating a bit, but the core of what he said is true.

This activists' van reads "KLM - Your deportation airline"

In the wake of two years of intensified activism by and on the behalf of undocumented people, that situation has changed. Today mainstream media, after a slow, as if reluctant awakening to the issue are reporting about the situation of undocumented people, most of the time shedding these individuals and the difficult situations they are living through in a positive light. If anything, it is no longer possible to hold deportation centres secret any longer. In the Netherlands, as in other countries, this is thanks to the indefatiguable consciousness-raising activities of the refugees of several public refugee camps in different Dutch cities, and the countless demonstrations and smaller protests being organized around them.

On one of the demonstrations in front of parliament while a law on the deportation of undocumented minors was passed, member of parliament Diederik Samson came out to talk to protesters. He made a show of dramatically, demonstratively, breaking out in cloying, false tears. Afterwards he went straight back into the parliament, and emotionlessly pushed through the law on discussion, improving absolutely nothing about the legal situation in the country or the circumstances of a single person. One of the protesters witnessing the thespian's false tears, the Dutch poet Joke Kaviaar, wrote an article about this entitled, "met tranen doof je het vuur niet, Samson", "You will not douse this fire with tears, Samson". In another of her writings she imagines Fred Teeven, Dutch State Secretary for Security and Justice, as a bullying schoolboy, laughing hard when the child who reacts to his bullying is singled out for reprimand from the teacher, and not himself; “he never grew up”, is her conclusion. As here, the imagery she uses is often a strong one. In 2008 she wrote an article for which she later was sentenced to four months in prison, accused of “instigation to violence”: “Why is there still no Dutch uprising?”, she wrote, “Who wants to come along to the immigration service, pull empty their archives, douse them in gasoline and destroy them with fire?”
Like her, many of the activists busy in the Dutch NoBorder network in 2013, have been active for over ten years. In the nineties, one of the things activists did was drive around the city of Amsterdam in a minibus painted blue and adorned with the words "deportation van", in order to raise awareness about deportations. They used the same van also for protest actions at police stations or deportation centres. One time, to the surprise of all, a fabulous misunderstanding occurred and as they rolled near its entrance, the doors of one of the deportation centra opened as if on command!

There was also a felicitous string of more risky activism. From 2009 to 2011 every year, anarchist groups committed arson of the construction sites of deportation centres, or the offices or other property of a construction company running a completed centre. These anarchist groups operated on the premiss that no living being would be harmed during any of the fires, and doubtlessly they expended the necessary energy to make absolutely sure such an occurence was not going to happen.
What these arsons were meant to harm were purely financial interests.

Because organising the suffering of others is big business. A company running a deportation centre is making several millions of Euros a year, for example Strukton IS, the contractor running the deportation centre at Rotterdam airport, earns just over 7 million Euro a year (starting from 2010 they will do so on until 2035).
To dwell on just one detail, the artist who made the doodle in the visitor area in the deportation centre Rotterdam received an incredible 23.890 Euros for his task.