Migration and Struggle in Greece

– Counterarguments to the 3d Forum on Immigration & Development (nov 09)


The text below presents, in the briefest possible form, counterarguments to the 3rd Forum on Immigration and Development (GFMD2009) that is taking place on the 4th and 5th of November 2009 in Athens, Greece (after two preparatory «Civil Society Days» on the same subject hosted by the Onassis Foundation). It intends to decode certain points that are kept vague in the rhetorics of the GFMD2009, as are the «root causes of migration in light of the current global economic crisis», «migrant integration, reintegration and circulation for development», as well as «policy and institutional coherence and partnerships», the three topics of the GFMD2009 roundtable discussions.

1. From the concealed massacre to the externalization of the European borders.

That is what they mean by “policy and institutional coherence and partnerships”.

After creating thousands of victims at the border since the mid-eighties, the main strategy of the EU for dealing with the circulation of migrants in the last few years is the creation of a purgatory zone outside its territory.

Italy, Malta and Spain, main countries of entry and transit from Africa, assigned the task of detaining and exterminating migrants (through a eugenic ‘natural selection’ of able labor force) to the outposts of Europe –Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia– in exchange for arms, know-how and ‘development’.

Greece is persevering to achieve a similar readmission relationship with Turkey, a much more demanding partner, while Cyprus, the Ukraine and Eastern Europe are implementing the safer policy of totalitarian silence.

At least 14,850 people have died since 1988 along the european frontiers. Among them 6,441 were missing in the sea. 10,861 migrants died in the Mediterranean sea, and through the Atlantic Ocean towards Spain, and 1.691 lost their life trying to cross Sahara desert in order to reach Europe.

On August 9, around 300 prisoners, mostly Somalis tried to escape from the detention centre for undocumented migrants of Ganfuda, Libya. The repression of the Libyan police was terrible. At the end, six refugees were dead and a dozen reported to be missing.

2. The recent draconian laws and military operations do not aim to stop migrant flows to Europe altogether, but to filter, regulate and recycle immigrants.

That is what they mean by “migrant integration, reintegration and circulation for development”.

The aim of developmental policy is to control migration flows (through the FRONTEX patrols and detention centers) as well as to regulate them (through 5-year rotating work permits, the annulment of asylum rights), in order to keep a stable proportion of productive inhabitants within the increasingly ageing, unproductive populations of Europe.

In other words, recycling the migrants will keep the indexes of development in check, development being the systematic and bloodthirsty pillage of lives and resources, time and space.

According to the “UN Population Division report on replacement migration”, if the Europeans want to keep their ratio of older people to active workers at the 1995 levels, the Union will need 135 million immigrants by 2025.

This demographic issue is only part of the story, and maybe not the most important. Neoliberalization inside Europe has meant a weakened, destabilized labor force. It’s not just that capital wants selected migrants because it needs more workers, it wants migrants because they are powerless, unorganized, low-paid workers for whom there will be no job security, no health care and no pensions.In other words, they are far cheaper and less troublesome workers.

There are high unemployment rates all over Europe (and the official figures probably under-report real unemployment), but these officially unemployed people are much more expensive workers than migrants. So, capital is happy to keep unemployment rates high, which means that “native” workers are likely to continue their xenophobia (“The boat is full” was the anti-refugee cry in Europe in the 1930s), which then makes it easier for the state to continue its vicious eugenics while using the demographic reports as official justification (“The boat is empty”).

What today is being presented as inevitable due to the crisis, was being planned and promoted since some time before the crisis, as part of the then fashionable rhetoric of the “war against terror”. In October 2006, the G6 countries decided to focus on “the war against terrorism and illegal immigration” and to promote a common policy in the EU.

In June 2008, the European Parliament adopted what was called the “Outrageous Directive”, imposing draconian laws.

In October 2008, at the EU summit in Brussels the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum was ratified introducing the controlled ‘circular migration’

United Nations projections show that Italy would have to add about 9 million immigrants by 2025 – about 300,000 a year – to keep its population at 1995 levels, Germany would need to import 14 million people – 500,000 a year – France 2 million and the European Union as a whole about 35 million. If the Europeans wanted to keep their ratio of older people to active workers at the 1995 levels, the union would need 135 million immigrants by 2025.

3. Crisis is the profiteering system itself, not its momentary dysfunctions.

This is what they are not saying when they talk of the “root causes of migration in light of the current global economic crisis”:

The wars for raw materials in Africa were not a crisis, they were ‘internal conflicts’, post-’89 deaths due to poverty in Eastern Europe or the suicides of Indian peasants indebted to multinationals were not a crisis, they were development’s ‘collateral damage’.

What they mean by crisis is a certain unpredictable deflation of possibilities for wild profiteering.So their response to the energy crisis is nuclear power, their response to the food crisis is GMOs, their response to the economic crisis is a full-blown attack on workers’ rights and immigrant lives.

They are not saying that capitalism itself works in cycles of crisis production and crisis management. For global capital these “crises” are actually its cyclical opportunities for radical restructuring.

So, capital doesn’t just manage crises, it directs them. Capitalism itself is the root crisis that is destroying humanity and the planet.

For an in-depth analysis of the crisis, see Midnight Notes and Friends, ”Promissory Notes: From Crisis to Commons’

4. Immigration flows are not the outgrowth of happenstance,  they are the product of the Fourth World War.

In the Fourth World War “illegal migrants” are the new dreaded enemy, gradually phasing out Al Quaeda and its “international networks of terror”.

After the breakdown of the so-called communist bloc, military neoliberalism* launched an unprecedented assault across the whole planet, imposing structural adjustments and debt policies of the IMF, as well as local military action, to ransack the earth for raw materials and create devalued labor force.

The body count of the Fourth World War is greater than the First World War death list of 15 million. And the bloodshed continues.

* For the conception and an analysis of the term in its historical context, see Retort’s ”Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War”.

In Congo alone, the war for raw materials and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people by 2008.

5. Fascism is the rationing of humanitarian help.

The neoliberalization of “old” Europe, and its turning of all social and economic relations into a privatized battleground of alienated individuals, has meant the loss of any sense of commons. And if people within Europe feel no sense of commons with each other under neoliberalism, they certainly won’t feel it with migrants.

The fascist turn in ideology is merely the grimmest version of the increasingly common and naturalized quantitative approach towards other humans: they are too many, there’s simply no more space, what use are they, we need more prisons…

Colloquial discourse filters in the worst strands of dominant programmatic reasoning, preserving those arguments that give neurotic Europeans a sense of power and control over others.

From detached charity to outright racism, all references to migrants are about degrees of tolerance, as if a social relationship were an equity share.

The public mind that thinks in manageable quantities is marvelously manageable itself: It can begin by proposing developmental help to the migrants’ countries of origin, it can be monitored to prolong its patience by granting permits and setting up cross-cultural programs, it can then recede into negotiating even basic rights to life and shelter of undocumented unaccompanied minors and finally it reaches zero tolerance – pogroms and killings.

In the summer, fascists were patrolling the streets and attacking immigrants in Italy and Greece, in autumn the Swedish presidency will be “putting protection back at the heart of the asylum policy” as it declared – both stances are part of the same dehumanizing, objectifying process…

6. The outside invades the inside.  When the excluded meet the included, the social question is reposed.

Afghanistan has reached our doorstep, Iraq is here, Somalia, Rwanda, Congo, Erithrea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, all those stories, all the eye witnesses of capitalist crimes are looking us straight in the eyes.

Can we look back at them? At some point, migrants in Italy threatened to revive the social movements in the country.

This danger is visible every time we see who they are, those who do not come from nowhere, every time they make us wonder how we can change what we are, we who are completely responsible for them.

If the jingoistic hysteria against immigrants is an effort to manage class conflict and prevent social upheaval, the migrants themselves have nothing to lose… How much more can they suffer? Whether they die in Erithrea, Libya or Greece, “what difference does it make”?

We, on the other hand, have a lot to lose – or maybe this is a chance for us to win back some of our freedom.

7. Αn opportunity to get real in the promised wasteland.

We offer no proposal for the proportionate allocation of migrants in the prisons, in ghost-shipwrecks, in the desert, in prostitution, in sweatshops, mercenary armies, waste dumps, construction work, care work for our elderly, our sick, our children.

We will not contribute to this inhuman rationalization of humans. In this Slaughterhouse Society, we are being offered an opportunity to stop choosing between war and “development”, desperation and civilized forgetting, death and the paranoia of competition. We refuse to offer solutions. Io non respingo*, we must disobey the laws that are against human sense and reason**.

It makes no sense to speak about solutions if we don’t identify and address the problem. The problem is the way we live.

Appel à la desobeissance civile

…C’est ici que la solidarité avec les sans-papiers revêt une importance primordiale : elle démontre que les lois répressives d’un Etat, au service du capitalisme qui dévaste la Terre, sont nulles et non avenues quand ce qui est en jeu c’est le drot, non à une survie de bêtes traquées, mais à la vie. A une vie que la cupidité capitaliste détruit dans l’individu et dans la société. La solidarité avec les sans-papiers exprime la volonté d’une solidarité plus vaste, d’un mouvement réunissant dans un même combat ceux qui, lassés du clientélisme politique de gauche et de droite, prennent conscience qu’il est temps d’opposer à une démocratie parlementaire corrompue l’expérience de la démocratie directe.

C’est aujourd’hui qu’émerge, lentement mais sûrement, l’idée que l’humain l’emporte sur la barbarie et sur l’injustice. Si nous ne sortons pas de la réalité économique en créant une réalité humaine, nous permettrons une fois de plus à la barbarie marchande de se perpétuer. Il n’y a pas d’autre issue à la crise que la généralisation pratique du principe : l’humain prime l’économie ; la défense de l’homme, de la femme, de l’enfant et de la nature révoque les lois du commerce.

Raoul Vaneigem, May 2009.

* See the Italian country-wide campaign against returns organized on the occasion of Khaddafi visiting Italy, 10-12 June 2009,

** See Raoul Vaneigem. “Αppel à la désobéissance civile”, Siné Hebdo, No 35, 6 May 2009.

Clandestina network, Thessaloniki

Joseph Matthews, Retort, San Francisco

Iain Boal, Retort, London

George Caffentzis, Midnight Notes, Maine

Silvia Federici, Midnight Notes, New York

Ernest Larsen, writer, New York

Sherry Millner, filmmaker, New York

Zelimir Zilnik, filmmaker, Novi Sad

Andrej Grubacic, sociologist, San Francisco, Belgrade

3 Responses to “– Counterarguments to the 3d Forum on Immigration & Development (nov 09)”

  1. […] (the text below was sent to friends from the American group Retort and other people who we have been in contact with in the last months over the issue of the Forum and co-wrote with them Europe at the Frontline of the Great Enclosure). […]

  2. […] Counterarguments to the 3d Forum on Immigration & Development […]

  3. […] Agency could be a viable tactic for the solidarity movement, but no more. Last November, in a text on the occasion of the 3rd International Forum for Migration and Development we said that immigrants bring home to the EU the reality of global capitalism and thus give us an […]

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