On July 4th, there took place a public discussion at a squat in Nea Filadelfeia, Athens, entitled “The immigrant solidarity movement beyond the limit of state humanitarianism”. The text below was the introduction to this discussion.
There are many perspectives with which it’s worth viewing the events that we experienced lately, as well as the present and future prospects of migration. Our perspective, in this discussion, concerns the position of the movement in Greece inside the whole issue, and its relations with state manoeuvres, the NGOs, the volunteers, the huge wave of humanitarian aid, and, of course, the people who are called refugees or/and immigrants, with neither of the terms being able to descibe correctly their condition, let alone the division between them. Our perspective concerns our demands about what we should do, our abilities, weaknesses etc, in relation to this issue.
The text below, in the form of an integral presentation, presents the points that we want to discuss. It was preceded by a short video about immigrants’ struggles, which remind us that immigrants are connected to our struggles for a world without borders and nationalities.
In spring of 2015, when the mass exodus of migrants to Europe began, EU’s strategy was to let enter Europe only those immigrants who had had the necessary physical and educational skills to man some specific jobs. The first screening stage of labour power is the fence at the Evros border. Since most migrants enter Europe crossing Turkey to come to Greece, sealing the Greek-Turkish borders in Evros is the first hurdle for any “aspiring” migrant who wants to enter Europe, as Evros is the only terrestrial border between the two states. The only “path” that was left open was the sea path which, being more dangerous, constitutes the first “sieve”: the elderly, people with disabilities and families with young children might not be tempted to cross it, and even if they try, in a case of a potential “accident” they are less likely to survive and arrive at the Greek islands. Also, the “sea tariff” of the traffickers is higher, thus excluding the weakest economic strata. Since early December 2015, the Turkish state began to patrol its coastal borders more rigorously so as to reduce migration flows. Moreover, with the promise of direct relocation of Syrian refugees [who are currently in Turkey] to European countries, migrant flows were reduced even further. Only those who had no hope to be relocated were arriving at the Greek islands: Afghans, Pakistanis, etc. From 8 March 2016 on, NATO launched border patrols in the Aegean Sea -in order to support the Greek and Turkish patrols- and since then migration flows are almost reduced to zero. In essence, the borders were sealed completely: the first phase of the European entry screening was concluded, the available “positions” for “migrant candidates” were covered.
In order to execute the second phase of migrant screening, Greece had to abide to the Dublin Regulation concerning the registration of migrants. But the Greek state decided to turn itself into a transit country, making a blind eye and bypassing the formal institutional procedures, letting migrants (at firs,t from any country of origin) to cross its borders and head to other European countries. Although the other EU states criticised and threatened Greece, the Greek state was pretending that nothing was happening. Therefore, the EU’s central migration strategy collapsed and every state followed the example of Greece: operating under its own interests by opening or closing its borders at will.
We see that the Greek state ignored EU’s policy and developed its own, trying to “get rid” of as many migrants as it could from its territory – and while new-coming migrants were passing through Greece, a significant number of undocumented migrants who lived and worked for years in Greece found an opportunity to leave the country, hoping to arrive at a country of Northern Europe. This course of action that the Greek state followed may at first glance appear unusual, since for more than two decades cheap migrant labour power has been an important condition for the profitability of Greek capital. However, when referring to labour power in today’s Greece, we are talking in terms of widespread precarious and undeclared work, even for a permanent condition of unemployment for some. We are not dealing with a simple extension of precarity, but with an extremely flexible “normal” wage labour: employment is becoming increasingly unstable with increasing temporary work and short-term contracts, if any. The above, combined with the development of the so-called community service programs (the name that the Greek state gave to workfare), have made the distinction between employment and unemployment, in qualitative terms, quite unclear. The deregulation of labour relations has led a considerable part of the “native” proletariat to work in conditions similar to those which previously were exclusively pertaining to migrant workers.
The above, combined with the diminution of available job positions, mean that if a large number of migrants were to be trapped in Greece, they couldn’t be absorbed by the domestic labour market. Therefore, the Greek state tried for as long as it could to set the minimum of possible difficulties to the massive migration flows from here to the countries of Northern Europe, even if this meant that it later would be found accountable by other European states. Because of its inability to manage a possible settlement of a large number of newly-arrived migrants in its territory, the Greek state tried to give them a free pass outside its borders in order to reduce the number of migrants that might stay in Greece.
In late winter and early spring 2016, migration flows from Greece to northern countries were reducing due to border regulations [only Syrian refugees were allowed to leave Greece and go to other European countries], and eventually the neighboring states closed entirely their borders to migrants. It was only then that the coalition government of SYRIZA-ANEL announced that Greece will host large numbers of immigrants over at least the next three years. And it was at this moment that for the Greek state arose the issue of the management of these people. Formerly, migrants who were entering Greece were to undergo the following conditions: wandering in the cities or the countryside in order to find a job and an accommodation, and perhaps depositing a request for residence permit to the competent authorities. Under these circumstances, migrant management was burdened to individual employers and landlords, as well as to local police departments – and, until the emergence of the anti-nazi state, to the Golden Dawn. This model couldn’t work under the current conditions: it’s doubtful whether migrants would find jobs, therefore accommodation. This means that migrants would have to find other ways to meet their daily needs, and that would result in a problem of law and order. It was clear that these people could not be left to their fate with their management being decentralized in accordance with the corresponding local conditions. There was a need for a centralized management.
The current massive and organised state management of migrants is carried out through state humanitarianism: the state pronounces its solidarity to the “misfortunates victims of war”. So, it undertakes their social reproduction, which means that it also undertakes their management and discipline. This doesn’t mean that the state became antiracist, but rather that the state humanitarianism goes hand in hand with racism: the national state, instead of recognising migrants as citizens, simply provides them basic feeding and housing, reserving different conditions for them compared to the natives. State humanitarianism comes to seperate as clearly as possible migrants from native proletariat, placing the former in the margins of the already disorganized social reproduction of the native proletariat and of those immigrants from past migrant waves who were able to acquire residence permits. The Greek national state may currently recognize migrants as subjects -at least, those who meet the legal definition of “war refugees”- and protect them, but it’s still refusing to reproduce them under the same conditions as the natives. This is an integral element of the unity-in-separation on which capitalist societies are based: state reproduces society as a whole, but as a separated whole.
The national state ensures the reproduction of its citizens, and to a great extent relieves them from “inferior” jobs. These are reserved for migrants, who are simultaneously largely excluded from the state-led “normal” social reproduction. Racism is the means by which this racial division of labor takes place. The Greek state through its humanitarianism is able to promote the restructuring of social relations in order to create even more devalued forms of existence and survival, invoking the need for social reproduction (and later possibly even integration) of migrants. And so it does.
Refugee shelters, either “open” or “closed”, sprout like mushrooms across the country and today amount in more than forty. The initial “open” shelters are slowly “closing”, and many of the migrants who live there aren’t allowed to exit the boundaries of the shelter, and the entrance is prohibited to those who “do not have a job there”, with the police taking control of who is allowed to enter or not. Meanwhile, the newer shelters are built by the military, who also undertake their management and soldiers are placed inside the shelters to surveil the residing migrants. Borders aren’t just “scars on the face of the planet”, but they constitute a social relation. Even when migrants manage to cross them, it doesn’t mean that they can now move freely within the country, they remain the others, excluded from the civil community of the national state. And the police and military forces remain the critical apparatuses responsible for their management.
Currently, it is considered completely normal that about 54,000 people are living in tents and containers (many of them are prohibited from exiting the refugee shelters), with the state usually providing them only one meal per day and with the civil society undertaking a large part of their reproduction, always in form of goods (foods, medicines, clothes etc) and never in money form. We are experiencing a new division among the ranks of the multinational proletariat in Greece. As a new bottom is slowly being invented for migrants -at least for greek standards – with new forms of exclusion, the native proletariat is becoming again privileged, enjoying the recognition of the national state. This is the way that precarious, unstable and temporary wage labour is being proclaimed as the new reality of “normal” social reproduction, from which migrants are (semi-)excluded.
We can already get a first taste of the new model of the relations of migrant exploitation which will emerge in order to make their integration to the domestic labour market profitable for capital. In late April 2016, as a part of its humanitarian policy, the Greek government passed an amendment to a new bill of the Ministry of Rural Development. With this new law, illegal migrants who are employed in seasonal agricultural works will be provided social insurance. In order to have social insurance, the individual migrant must have a work permit. Under this amendment, the work permit, instead of being issued personally to the migrant farm worker, will be issued to the employer, who will grant it to his migrant employee. And of course, the issuance of this permit is completely disconnected from an issuance of residence permit, and as a result the undocumented migrant farm worker will continue to live in illegality. And if s/he resigns or is dismissed, s/he automatically loses the work permit. This opens the way so that the employment of undocumented migrants will become legal for the bosses while insurance contributions will flow to state coffers and migrants will continue to live under an illegal status without having their insurance contributions returned to them in the form of pension, unemployment benefits etc. We should note here that the majority of refugee shelters are located in rural areas, and that this law didn’t come out of nowhere but was being planned for several months.
Trying now to demarcate the hospitality and solidarity movement that developed last year in this “honoured” part of the planet, we roughly delineate a period of time between Easter 2015 and March 2016. These two dates are selected not only for quantitative (in the sense that in April-May 2015 the so-called migration flows were increasing significantly due to the spontaneous mass movement of largely Syrian refugees from Turkey, while in March 2016 there is a noticeable shrinkage of these “flows” due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement and the parallel closure of the terrestrial borders of the country) but also qualitative reasons (in the sense that the initial euphoria of “refugees welcome” has given way to the open racism of state management since Fall 2015; and its consolidation and imprinting on spatial level is currently taking place by the proliferation of refugee shelters/detention centers across the country). Our goal is to describe what took place at the level of the movement during the aforementioned time, trying to spark further discussion.
But it’s necessary to describe, in general terms, the background within which this movement unfolds.
Undoubtedly, from an antagonistic point of view, the dynamics of this period is determined by the struggles of migrants themselves. We don’t say this due to moral reasons or out of guiltiness, nor to worship the abstract subject of “migrant”. They conduct specific struggles, with their own particular content, during which communities of struggle are formed, some more ephemeral and other less conventional and recognisable. In any case, however, they challenge the dominant relations and meanings (with the main pinpoint being the demand for free movement and the questioning of borders, and less, and subsequently, the request for renewal of their temporary residence permits) and in some cases (Idomeni) they frontally attacked the forces that were perceived as control and repression of their own lives. In other cases (Chios, Idomeni) they proceeded to blockades of key trade routes (port, railway lines, highways) while in at least one case (Moria) they massively demolished the barbed wire of the detention camp in order to escape. Some also occuppied private fields (Idomeni) and attacked government officials. Certainly, the above are not exhaustive and a special discussion is needed for more detailed focus on this subject. Here we confine ourselves to highlighting exactly issues of content, questioning and practical critique formulated by the refugees’/migrants’ struggles in Athens and elsewhere in the Greek province.
A second point is related to what, in a way, represents one of the central contradictions of the period and penetrates the same social subjects who are called migrants/refugees – and also a large part of the native proletariat. While migrants’/refugees strong expectations for a better life, which prompted them to make this trip, are perhaps clear, it is not clear, however, whether they will actually be integrated in the social formations that greeted them (referring here to the EU countries), if indeed they have the prospect of becoming a labour power with minimum but actual rights, or an excess, and therefore non-labor-power which requires special management including their exclusion and negative integration. We don’t claim here that we possess a well-formed opinion (although we clearly tilt to the view that the second perspective is dominant during this period, and will remain dominant for some time in the future, as the devaluation of labour continues to be the main strategy of increasing the rate of profit). Migrants as potential labour power are at the borderline of this contradiction. And where there do occur extreme situations, it’s the particular logic of the state that undertakes the management of the bodies.
As said above, what might be called state humanitarianism is a constitutive element of the contradictory conditions to which we refer, either as the ideology of the state that accompanies the screening process which the refugees who cross the sea borders (and as an epitaph to the thousands of deaths in Aegean Sea) undergo or as a strategy of the state which makes a blind eye to the “decongestion” of the Greek social formation from many non-Syrian unemployed migrants who cross the borders towards the rest of Europe, or, latterly, as a state justification/legitimation of the openly racist management of the refugees which includes granting asylum under conditions of blackmail and their “free” confinement to the detention centres outside the urban fabric.
In this context, and beyond this rough categorisation, can we speak of “spontaneous humanism” or “humanism from below”, a claim made at the recent poster of the Μigrants’ Sunday School, as something self-sown or, if you prefer, as an independent variable?
Although providing aid to the refugees with someone’s own means was massive and took place almost everywhere in Greece, we don’t think that it managed to have an antagonistic effect, let alone determine what was going on. And that, in principle, because in all of its breadth, in terms of both time and geography, it was determined by its coupling with the desire of moving refugees to leave Greece. Offering food, clothing etc, to refugees fleeing the country looks more like a cordial farewell than an action of questioning dominant social relations. Only in a few cases, material aid to refugees was accompanied by support for rupturing actions from their part. Let alone by joint rupturing actions. It’s one thing to conduct a struggle for yourself and in this movement of yours to meet with other struggling subjects and it’s another thing to support someone else who is struggling, and it’s a third thing to be sufficiently away “supporting”, abstracly or not at all, someone who is struggling. The encounters produced concerned mainly the second and third variants. That is, they considered the distance between natives and immigrants as given, and in a way they reproduced it.
We are not interested in approaching the issue from an emotional perspective. Sometimes, reliance on emotion contributes to mental confusion.
Since, therefore, providing food and clothes was proclaimed into an antagonistic action, we are already talking about the first fundamental victory of humanitarianism, now as a movement. And it would be superfluous to point out that this was exactly the field in which not only the official state, but also civil society as a whole played: from large private companies and the last “sensitive” household to the respective municipal authorities and all sorts of clubs and associations. And it would also be superfluous, if the so-called antagonistic movement wasn’t dominated by views that pretended there wasn’t any matchmaking with the official state policies. It’s the same that was formulated as a private confession: “we became the scullions of the state”. Could it be otherwise?
We think that it cannot be denied that SYRIZA, in the difficult conjucture of the Memorandum, strengthened the dialectics with the “hospitality movement” and, so far, was politically victorious. And without much burdening the state coffers, only 0.4% of the GDP. Let us not forget the multiple connections it had as a party-of-the-tendencies with the migrant and refugee support movement for many years, and which allowed it to restore many channels with the current antagonistic movement. What else allowed the appearance of this mass and grassroots phenomenon of providing material aid to the refugees, if not the enabling of this dialectics from the present first-time-left government?
This development demonstrates, also at this level, that the Greek state wasn’t politically unprepared for the so-called “migration flows”: let us remember the official papers to leave the country that the previous Samaras’ government provided to the first Syrian refugees who had occupied the Syntagma Square in Spring 2014. This applies even more to the experienced cadres of SYRIZA. Let’s just think who Mouzalas is. Therefore, the question is not only “where all that natives’ hospitality was found” throughout Greece, but mainly why the state let it evolve and spread. Far from perceptions that want to showcase the current ruling party as an “enemy of the society”, its modern cadres carefully monitor the developments in the field, and expect to learn from them aiming at optimal interaction. What is needed isn’t repression, but regulation. Or, to put it better, the NGOsation of all interaction with refugees, especially since it was considered that what concerns and can be addressed by the “forces of self-organization” was the management of the so-called “migration issue” and not the questioning of the structuring itself of migration as a problem.
We cannot think of any other time in the history of the Greek social formation that NGOs were of such a social influence. Is this a good enough reason to neglect their history as a defeat of the so-called “new movements” around Europe? Absolutely not, although we are keeping away elitist pronouncements. It’s useless to define what an NGO is and to discuss exclusively at this level. Nevertheless, we can say that, to a large extent, the expression of the solidarity movement so far was determined by the norm of the NGOs’ action, and the surest indicator of this is the gradual dissapearance of the radical contents of the recent past (e.g. “Close the detention centres”, “Burn the borders”, etc.), the inability to express them publicly (with, to our knowledge, only a few exceptions) or the inability to confront the policy of the state at the street level (e.g. the slow but coercive evacuation of Idomeni). The time might have come to target the NGOs and the movement-like glamour that surrounds them, to reveal them for what they are: the arms of an internationalised state management of emergency situations”.
Nevertheless, we believe that antagonistic attitudes were expressed, and these were reflected at the public space par excellence through the housing squats -but not only and exclusively through them- which are already, despite their problems and limitations, common fields of struggles between migrants and native solidaires. In these fields, the encounter is produced on the ground of questioning specific social relations; in this case not only the property relations but also the state monopoly of the reproduction of migrant bodies. This incidentally was also the main reason that some solidarity initiatives were attacked, mainly in the Greek islands, which sought to develop lasting relationships with struggling migrants. In this sense, the eviction of the former Labour Centre of Mytilene from PAME at Fall 2015 is of great importance, as it indicates that the organised working class and the autonomous antagonistic movements of migrants are irreconcilable. At least currently. The housing movement in Europe can provide a field to draw conclusions for antagonistic use. In any case, the, not at all easy, common struggle with migrants goes through the challenging of their relegation to second-class citizens/labour power as it is implied e.g. by the constraint of meeting their needs in the form of goods and their consequent dependence on the individual providers. We may have to break the prohibition of aiding them in money form.
Let us point out one last thing: the political culture of public debate, account and self-criticism of what we do should be diffused among us. Soon, we will publish the Greek translation of a summary report of a conference on immigrants, refugees and solidaires that was held last November in Potsdam, Germany. It is necessary for us to continue to move against everything existing, especially now that the detention centres are here to stay, and new opportunities of encountering these subjects of struggle may appear, let us not forget this.
We conclude with a quote from Raul Zibechi, Autonomies and Emancipations (2008) which refers to the experience of the movements in Latin America:
“From this experience [of the movement for urban squatted areas] I believe that we can draw two higly topical lessons. The first is that the movements that I will call as ‘communal’, in the absence of a better term (i.e., those which express the common will of a territorialised social subject), cannot be defeated by repression -as scary it may be- unless there is a massive physical elimination of their members. The second lesson is that the defeat is promoted by which is usually called “the left”, meaning the set of professionals, NGOs and political parties that undertake the tame and divide the movement. A third lesson is for that to be possible, the individual or collective ‘points of reference’ of the movements must be integrated or overcome.”
1. Let us not forget, of course, the waves of migration flows of the past years, with many of themigrants ending up drowned in the water grave of the Mediterranean seabed due to various shipwrecks. From 2014 until today, more than 10,000 migrants trying to reach Europe have died in the Mediterranean Sea.
2. Lately, there has been a little increase in migration flows from Turkey to Greece, as the EU-Turkey agreement seems to collapse. It remains to be seen if, in the end, the agreement will continue to be active.
3. We should note that, although the relative withdrawal of Golden Dawn from the field of activism after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, both Golden Dawn and all sorts of fascists have carried out such actions ranging from protests at municipal councils to “small-scale” pogroms against immigrants, all over the Greek provinence. But, their attitude against the current reality is quite mild compared to what they could be doing. Golden Dawn doesn’t want to (or better, wasn’t assigned to) play a more major part in the management of migrants in the current period.
4. At this point, it’s worth noting that at Spring of the “distant” 2012, when the Amygdalesa detention centre was created by the Samaras’s government, it was promoted as “migrants’ shelter” by the statements of the then Minister of Public Order, Michalis Chrisochoidis. Therefore, the rhetoric of “sheltering” immigrants in specially designed centres isn’t a novelty of the current government, and it shouldn’t surprise us that the “open refugees shelters” are becoming “closed”. Also, the establishment of such a high number of concentration camps may seem sudden, so we should remember that already back in 2014, the Samaras’s government was scheduling the creation of two new detention centres, particularly in Attica: one at the old OAED [Labour Force Employment Organisation] facilities at Schisto-Skaramagka avenue (in the end, Tsipras’s government created this concentration camp at the old Stefanakis military camp, about 2.4 kms away from that initial plan) and another at the old General Hospital Agia Varvara (where, at least until now, no detention centre was finally created).
5. We should note here that, as the so-called “open refugees shelter” are becoming “closed” and the military and the official NGOs undertake an ever greater part of the reproduction of the migrants confined there, the humanitarian collection of goods for the refugees has declined. The rest institutional bodies stopped the humanitarian aid because the appropriate institution to undertake the feeding of migrants”at last was found”, and so it wasn’t anymore of their responsibility to do so. Independent operational bodies stopped too, because they were prohibited from entering the centres and communicating with migrants.
6. Their social insurance wil be via OGA’s [Agricultural Insurance Organisation] work stamps, which is a method of payment and insurance for agricultural workers. The employer buys the work stamp from their issuing bodies (Hellenic Post or banks), and gives it, instead of a wage, to the worker. The worker then has to return the work stamp to the issuing body, and is given the 90% of its face value. The rest 10% is withheld as insurance contribution towards OGA.
7. We quote an excerpt from an article published by Kathimerini newspaper on 6/9/2015, entitled “What are we to do now about themigration?”: “Also, there will be a need of a regulation of the status of temporary residence [of migrants] who will be trapped in our country, until their departure would be possible (law 3907/2011). We can temporarily utilise this work force at employment sectors where there is a demand [of labour power] (e.g. seasonal work in agriculture or livestock-farming) in specific regions of the country.”
8. See also our text entitled “Syrization”:
9. Ioannis Mouzalas is the Deputy Minister of Migration Policy of the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Recoinstruction. He is a doctor, and was one of the founding members of the Greek branch of the NGO “Médecins du Monde” [Doctors of the World].
10. PAME [All-Workers Militant Front] is a union founded by the Communist Party of Greece. For more informations about the evacuation, see the text “The Significance of an Evacuation”: