The German campaign No one is Illegal is preparing to mount a week of action against Fortress Europe, organising camps at the EU frontier between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Dutch activists have also organised a border camp and in Poland anti-fascists will demonstrate at the central border police station and at the border with Ukraine, highlighting the ‘shifting border to the East’. Activists will draw attention to the human cost of Europe’s cruel and deadly border policy and the fact that the highest density of border guards in the world patrol the Polish and Czech borders, pushing more and more asylum-seekers into the hands of traffickers and dangerous methods of travel.
Deaths at the border
UNITED, which keeps a list of all deaths caused by Europe’s ‘fortress policy’, estimates that there have been 1021 deaths of migrants and asylum-seekers since 1993. US human rights activists believe that between 1993 and 1997, at least 1600 migrants died at the US’s southwest border. ‘Every day I expect deaths to go up not by one but by three,’ says Leticia Jimenez of the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee, which has used its links with Mexican migrant groups to stage the Exhibition of the Crosses. Claudia Smith, director of the Borders Project at the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation is calling on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an immediate investigation into over 400 deaths attributed to the government’s border control strategy for the San Diego sector.
Launched by president Clinton in 1994, Operation Gatekeeper doubled the number of border patrol agents along a 14-mile stretch of the US-Mexico border heavily used by undocumented immigrants. According to Leticia Jimenez ‘Operation Gatekeeper has done absolutely nothing to counter “illegal immigration” but has served instead to speed up the rate of deaths,’ by pushing migrants away from a relatively safe coastal corridor towards the mountains and deserts that straddle the border east of San Diego, and are characterised by deep canyons filled with rocky scrub, virtually no water and peaks that rise over 6,000 feet. Over the Easter weekend this year, 16 migrants died at the California border. ‘While eight migrants were freezing to death in the mountains, the others were dying of heat stroke in the desert,’ Claudia Smith told CARF. ‘Crossing the border illegally in search of work should not carry a death sentence.’
Fighting popular racism
Deaths, though, will not be the only issue European activists will draw attention to during their week of action. Hagen from the Hanau branch of No one is Illegal warns of the popular racism, fuelled by the media and an ‘atmosphere of denunciation’ which is growing up in German border towns. ‘The BGS [border police] is now the biggest employer in many border areas. It has a special telephone number where people can phone in with information about illegals. The result is that all black people are suspected, so they are constantly stopped.’
From the Austrian province of Carinthia (bordering Slovenia) where Haider’s Freedom Party has notched up its biggest ever success, to Karst in Italy (also bordering Slovenia), where the Northern League has set up border patrols to search for illegals, the far Right is benefitting from the racist culture of border towns. And this is one of the reasons why the organisers of the summer camps have printed 20000 newsletters, written in both German and Polish, to be distributed to locals during the week of action.
Many anarchists and anti-fascists from eastern Europe have registered to take part in the summer camps and Hagen, while recognising that eastern and western perspectives will not be the same, anticipates an interesting exchange. For this meeting of anti-fascist activists across Europe’s eastern divide is an important initiative. ‘Cross border organising strengthens links, but the obstacles to cross border organising are great’, warns the US magazine Corporate Watch, in an editorial on justice on the US-Mexico border. ‘Activists must bridge the gap in unequal resources, cultural and linguistic differences and face the slow pace of change.’
And what about Europeans, both east and west, linking up with activists from the USA and Mexico? ‘The initial idea for simultaneous camps to take place in the USA and Mexico wasn’t realised’, comments Hagen ruefully. Next year, perhaps.
In a substantial blow to laws against aiding illegal entry, an appeal court in Belgium has quashed the conviction against Bridget Seisay. Yet her case, taken up by ARA and Fair Trials Abroad, is only one of many and we must build on it if we are to galvanise support for other innocent people languishing in jail in Britain and Europe after falling foul of laws designed to criminalise solidarity.