von Ellen Höhne, Florentine Schmidtmann


29. Januar 2018

Cultural Anthropologist Sabine Hess opened the panel with an inspiring paper on “The Evolution of the European Border Regime: A Genealogy of its Crisis and Stabilization”. It presented a closer look on the concept “Flüchtlingskrise” vividly used in German media and politics since the summer 2015. In order to emphasize the migrants´ perspective of successfully mastering the so-called “Balkan route”, Hess instead spoke of the “long summer of migration.” In summer 2015, the EU's border regime temporarily collapsed. The quickly evolving notion of a “crisis” suggested Europe was driven into a “state of emergency”, yet an expression that indicates something surprising and unforeseen. This, according to Hess, is misleading because the regime itself was always susceptible to risk and the system has long been marked as unsustainable in case of greater challenges. Particularly the EU's border regime, as Hess demonstrated, had been externally and internally in a situation of conflict for over 18 years. The recent collapse emerged from a variety of factors, including wars in Libya and Syria, intra-European developments like the increasing juridification of the border regime, the deterioration of situations in refugee camps for example in Lebanon, and the collapse of external migration control in Tunisia and Libya in 2011. But already in autumn 2015 a phase of closure and deterrence followed, an assemblage of military and humanitarian elements as Hess called it. She concluded by sharing the thought of the border regime as a fragile formation that soon may change again.

Anthropologist Maurizio Albahari concentrated on the violent side of the European border regime. In „A Twenty-Year Emergency: The World's Deadliest Border” he introduced the concept of „Crimes of Peace“ which analyzes violent state acts in the name of security which contribute to maintain the status quo. In a retrospective, Albahari pointed out how the migration management of the Italian state committed crimes, reproduced structural violence, inequality and death as an integral part of its border and migration system. During the last 20 years and with continuing references to an alleged “state of emergency”, officials justify possibly unjust deportations. Confronting the public with a picture of the ship Vlora crowded with Albanian refugees in 1991, the speaker pointed out that mass migration and high death rates in the Mediterranean have a long “tradition” and goes far beyond the year 2015, albeit media reports lead to the preception of it as a recent development. Looking at Lampedusa, Albahari stated that each year since 2014 more people died in the Mediterranean and there is no hope of a reversion of this trend. Ideas of respective treaties between the European Union and Libya are, as Albahari said, no sign for change but rather one of European acceptance of the Mediterranean Sea as a death trap for migrants.

In her speech “Traffickers or Escape Helpers?”, the historian and co-organizer of the conference Marion Detjen compared the imagery of former escape helpers for GDR-refugees and todays traffickers in terms of legality and numbers. She pointed out that the terms „traffickers“, „escape helpers“ or „slave traders“ all implied moral and legal notions and have been used interchangeably depending on the aspired political connotation.

As Western Germany never had fully acknowledged the GDR, GDR-citizens counted as German citizens in terms of the West German constitution. People who fled the GDR territory simply applied their right to freedom of movement according to article 11 of the German Constitution. Escape helpers therefore were treated like relocation assistants („Umzugshelfer“) no matter if they were professionals or private persons. The GDR criminal code of 1968 however punished traffickers with harsh penalties with the distinction of private and spontaneous operations and professional escape agents for subversive human trafficking. Still, as Detjen described, even following the highest estimations of the deadliness of the GDR-border regime of killing about a thousand people, the dimensions pale in comparison of today’s deadly escapes at the Mediterranean sea where an equal body count can be reached in just a quarter of a year. In her eyes traffickers are tragic characters and a product of criminalization of migration. Despite there is no firing order at the EU borders, the level of complexity and danger of overcoming the Mediterranean is so high that enhanced by the mixture of regimentation, circumstances, and an undeniable profit orientation, a network of professional and commercial agents has emerged. To conclude, Marion Detjen appealed to take responsibility and to strengthen the right of asylum as the only means to undermine the systematic violence that creates the recent abundance of escape helpers, human smugglers, and traffickers.

The film maker Orwa Nyrabia from "No Nations Films" was the last speaker of the section with an entry on "Rights and Rites of Passage: Loopholes, Creativity, and Legal Migration". For him language is the key to society. Translation tools as well as the invention of social media represent the “magic of technology”. Social media played an important role in the 2011 uprising in Syria as it connected the protesters to each other and to the world. Even if this community today is scattered world-wide it still is connected via facebook. At the same time, facebook seems dangerous to Nyrabia as it creates polarization and misunderstandings among people. The film maker criticized the euro-centrism behind the term “crisis” as it stems from the believe of many Europeans that war in the Arabic world would not be connected to their lives. Four years ago, when Nyrabia came from Damaskus to Berlin others arrived here with severe post-traumatic stress disorders. All of them were being thrown into the “asylum industry”, as he called it, receiving a number, expected to learn the language, work and “integrate”. In a charming way Orwa Nyrabia underlined that the actual crisis was not only about us, the spectators of the discussion, but also about them, the refugees. He suggested supporting the new arrivals to be more than refugees by number and to take them as what they are: artists, film makers, engineers, doctors.

After a long phase of inputs the discussion fell short. Concluding remarks of all speakers underlined the notion of wording and language. All of them struggled with terms like “Flüchtlingskrise” (refugee crisis) or the concept of “integration” and tried to replace it with more adequate alternatives. The artist Orwa Nyrabia concluded the panel with a twinkle in the eye, saying: “I am a dissident and it took me some time to find other dissidents here in Germany.”