CULTURE OF DEPORTATION – SURVIVING THE GERMAN ASYLUM SYSTEM
Aino Korvensyrjä, David Jassey and Rex Osa in conversation with Seda Naiumad
A rapidly growing oppressive structure is unfolding on Europe’s frontiers that systematically criminalises migration. In Germany so called AnkER-Zentren have been established, while the EU is striving to extend its border regime farther southward and beyond European territory.
For refugee activist Rex Osa and others “culture of deportation” is a useful concept to address the persisting coloniality of the border regime. The following conversation among refugee activists and campaigners about the German asylum system starts from the societal consolidation of a “tradition” of deportation and isolation of refugees and migrants in Germany.
REX OSA has been active in nationwide self-organised networks and grassroots struggles for refugee rights in Germany. He is currently setting up a centre in Nigeria to connect efforts and urgent issues around the migration struggle in Africa and Europe. Together with social scientist AINO KORVENSYRJÄ, who researches German asylum and deportation policy, he organises the blog CULTURE OF DEPORTATION which documents incidences of state violence and injustice in German transit camps, commented on by the affected inhabitants and refugee activists, and publishes critical perspectives on EU border externalisation. In collaboration with DAVID JASSEY, who has experienced the oppressive situation in the camps first hand as a refugee activist and member of the Gambian Integration Committee of Donauwörth, they are attempting to challenge the notorious abuse by security personnel and police in Southern German camps and address the systematic violence and racism unfolding in the asylum system.
In the following you can read excerpts from the conversation published in “Ankersentrum (surviving in the ruinous ruin)”, ed. by Natascha Süder Happelmann and Franciska Zólyom, Berlin, Archive Books, 2019
Culture of deportation
Seda Naiumad: Who started using this term culture of deportation?
Rex Osa: The term culture of deportation was coined out of generational experiences, of refugees and migrants, on a tradition of refugee isolation in the German asylum system. Some older activists from The VOICE Refugee Forum and Karawane Network described the situation as a tradition and culture. My understanding of the culture of deportation became clearer in the wake of the 2010 Caravan Festival in Jena under the slogan “Unite against colonial injustice.” The festival aimed to expose the tradition with a call to empower the community of refugees and migrants. From the festival we embarked on the campaign Break Isolation lead by The VOICE. Our mission was to develop strategies of breaking the fear and isolation of refugees in the camps and our challenge was to mobilise unity amongst refugees irrespective of their cultural and national backgrounds, to make them understand that we have one common enemy and that the power of our collective community is solidarity. During this time, the legislation was very strict, like for instance the Residenzpflicht (residence obligation), so the refugees were really isolated in the camp. This could only be worsened by conflicts between different nationalities.
So culture of deportation started to develop as a slogan at this stage. We are all faced with the same problem at the end of the day, which is isolation in the camp, criminalisation and deportation. We emphasised that one deportation in the camp is a deportation against every other person and no one knows who may be next.
Following deeper exchange with refugees and resident migrants, the slogan continued to reveal further meanings concerning the migration deals between the EU and Southern countries connected to deportation. The German authorities’ obsession concerning passports, even for those with a residency permit, confirms that every foreigner is a potential deportee. Even having German nationality is also not a guarantee as this could be withdrawn at any time based on claims that you are suspected of being connected to a terrorist group.
SN: Why did you decide to call it culture and not system, for example?
RO: If you see the situation as a reproduction of an old tradition then you can as well understand how a culture maintains the status quo. A culture is more foundational to the maintenance of the status quo than a system. The system operates on the cultural frame and facilitates the reproduction of the process. It’s a culture because the situation we are faced with does not end with the politics and responsibility of the state. The status quo continues because a larger majority of the society supports it. It is like a mentality of the society, which is a driving force that legitimates the administrative enforcement of immigration and asylum laws. Even many claiming to be in solidarity do not see anything wrong with deportation, as they are convinced that Germany cannot take everybody.
SN: So it’s not just imposed by the administration or government, but it’s also accepted in society and affirmed by society?
Aino Korvensyrjä: This culture also extends beyond the borders of one society. It is connected to the old mentality that Europeans are entitled to go and stay wherever they want, but as soon as somebody “foreign” comes here, s/he is put under the strictest monitoring, to decide whether s/he is harmful or dangerous and therefore should be “removed” as they say. This is the reasoning still inscribed in the German Aufenthaltsgesetz (immigration law). Today both long-distance travelling and control have become much easier by technical means. But the reasoning driving these controls is not new, it is just that today also the controls travel with the formerly colonised populations. In this sense the culture of deportation has a long history, becoming a sort of European common sense.
SN: The German passport ranks on top in the mobility list, it is basically the most powerful passport in the world. Compared with all other passports, it allows you to travel to the maximum number of countries. And precisely this country has adopted a culture of deportation and systematically prevents mobility for people with other passports. The asymmetry is remarkable.
AK: The Schengen area is in fact operating on a double logic: for the EU-citizens it sets up a zone of free circulation, actually extending over the globe, whereas for non-EU-citizen it builds external as well as internal borders. For asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers this entails internal mobility restrictions, controls and internal border zones within the EU—say racial profiling by the German police in traffic hubs, instruments such as the Residenzpflicht (residence obligation) and the German asylum camps. These German control mechanisms have by the way been adopted in other places, such as some Swiss cantons now applying the Residenzpflicht. At the same time the external EU border often blocks the non-EU-citizen’s journey before stepping on EU territory, even before crossing any national border, for instance at the German Embassy in their country of origin which refuses to issue a visa and forces her to travel “illegally” if she needs to travel. You could also say the EU external border follows the non-EU-citizen anywhere s/he goes, within EU territory but increasingly also for instance on the African continent in the form of border policing. This is at least according to the EU’s plan. Regarding border externalisation, the outsourcing and containment agenda particularly in relation to Africa, Germany is pushing for it as a leader within the EU.
The dramatic asymmetry of mobility rights linked to the visa system, and the current hierarchy of EU residency permits with the EU-citizenship at the top, have their colonial genealogies in the pass laws and the violent processes of painstakingly separating “Whites” from other colours or “citizens” from “natives” and other “non-citizens.” European citizenship as a process of the sorting out and disenfranchisement of the “racially inferior” subject has been time after time underscored by the movements denouncing the culture of deportation, such as The VOICE Refugee Forum and African grassroots networks.
RO: Critics can say that every country exercises this kind of control of who can be here and who cannot to be here. We have to look at the particular way Germany manages this: what access do you have to get into the system? In other countries even within the European Union, you have different possibilities to get into the system, to regularise your stay. But in Germany there is barely any way into the system besides the asylum process. If an undocumented migrant is controlled by the police on the train or elsewhere, he is immediately taken into police custody and taken through the criminalising German documentation process, including detention, interrogation, fingerprinting and deportation, or otherwise referred to the asylum process if the deportation could not be enforced. Asylum in this sense appears as a trap to facilitate the control and criminalisation of unwanted foreigners as long as they are within the territory.
By entering the asylum process, you are in a sort of entrapment that targets you with deportation because your prior undocumented status confirmed through police control stigmatises you so to say as an economic migrant. In that situation how can you defend your presence within German territory during an asylum procedure? You are put into the asylum system where you are soon pushed into the Duldung status (suspension of deportation, literally toleration) based on prejudice and doubt of your asylum claim.
AK: Germany has crystallised this use of asylum in a way other European countries didn’t, at least not until 2015. After that we see a general “asylumisation” of migration control across the European Union. Since the 1990s the EU has of course clearly connected asylum with the control of irregular migration. But the scale on which Germany has produced “bogus asylum seekers” or “economic migrants,” that is, “irregular migrants” through its asylum system seems really remarkable. Already in 1973 when work migration was stopped, asylum became one of the few remaining pathways to enter Germany for non-Europeans. Most of the asylum seekers and de facto refugees were at the time in the country with a Duldung. In the 1990s the number of “tolerated” would sometimes reach half a million at a time. Today this tradition continues.
What Rex just described there, a sort of Abschiebekultur or Rückführungskultur, is a counterpart of the Willkommenskultur. The much celebrated “welcome culture” has promoted Germany as a very refugee-friendly, refugee-welcoming country. But the German asylum system is also effectively illegalising and criminalising the mobility of people from the former colonies of Europe and areas under European domination today. The asylum system is the place where these people are forced when they enter the country, providing also the mechanism of their rejection and deportation. We need the critical counter-concept of culture of deportation to expose this dimension behind the German “refugees welcome” image.
SN: The culture of deportation seems to produce a common understanding, that a certain type of migration or mobility is by default illegal while another is natural. It produces a “common sense” about illegality which is then backed by passing certain laws, like for example the Dublin regulation.
David Jassey: By this concept one country or continent aims to sort out and prioritise its own people and economy while denying others freedom of movement and freedom of trade, core ideas of globalisation. This is how we can understand the way the German government considers itself as a victim of incoming migrants grabbing the natives’ property and resources, while instead, it is in fact certain government institutions who are committing crimes.
AK: The discourse on so-called “asylum fraud” is a good example. It suggests that people come to Germany to “cheat our system” and to “take our money,” benefits and whatever. The state is staged as a victim and the people on the move as criminals and illegal aliens who threaten national security, the well-being of the state and so on.
DJ: Exactly. We should not forget that colonisation was simply supremacy in all aspects of life: economy, knowledge, life standards, freedom of movement, power over world issues etc. Now we should ask this ideology of globalisation, whether it is applicable to all countries and continents or is it just for Europeans and Americans? If it is just for them, then there is no freedom of movement or trade, but rather “a plot of convenience” for Europe and America to extract what they need from other continents. In order to facilitate this, the globalisation ideology has to be regulated for the few.
And to continue with how dangerous trade can be: there is hardly an African country manufacturing weapons, yet Africa is today packed with the most recent and dangerous weapons other than nuclear weapons. For instance, think of the mass of weapons and drones showing up in Libya in recent years. We know that the French government has tripled their weapons trade with the Libyan government after Gaddafi while also supplying the rebels with weapons.
However it is the refugee issue that is placed in the spotlight of the media, reporting that they are coming to victimise us, these dangerous and aggressive criminals. They make the whole public hate the refugees.
Curiously, at the same time some countries have portrayed themselves in the international media as if they really welcome refugees, even if the human rights and mobility right protections are totally missing. Simply put, refugees are not really welcomed anywhere.
Movement of goods—movement of people
SN: I was just thinking as you spoke, that Niger is one of the places that is now becoming militarised by France and Germany and the EU is outsourcing the control of the external European border there. At the same time Niger provides seventy percent of the uranium used in France’s nuclear power stations. So while the uranium travels to Europe, the people are stopped or illegalised. Similar legal patterns exist with countries where gold or coltan is extracted.
AK: Definitely, there is an illicit movement or a forced movement of raw materials between continents. And of European agricultural products, like powdered milk, wheat, tomatoes etc. that are massively migrating to Africa, we might say illegally, even if they are protected by the so-called free trade agreements blackmailed by Europe. These products are causing a lot of harm in Africa, by destroying local agricultures and ultimately whole economies and thereby driving people to migrate, from the villages to the city, from there to neighbouring countries and to Europe. Thinking of the late 19th century “Scramble for Africa” it is of course not new that Europe wants to control African resources and the labour force. What we are seeing is a new configuration, perhaps more complex, with China and other actors involved too.
SN: So if we speak of a culture of deportation, we really have to consider all of this as part of it?
RO: I think so. When speaking about the culture of deportation we need to look beyond the frame of Germany.
AK: It is very much a European issue, concerning European integration. As was the management of African resources in the frame of “Eurafrica” after the Second World War, when European powers realised it’s actually much more practical to manage them through formal independence. This project was a collective European enterprise, as the direct colonisation in many ways had been. It was not merely a German or a French interest. Even today, with all the new member states, the European control of African resources is constructed as being in the common European interest.
AK: What do you think about the Gambian oil negotiations at the moment, David?
DJ: I share the critical views of many of my fellow Gambians and the former president about the way EU and American oil companies were scrambling to be given the contract to extract from the newly found oil wells in The Gambia. We thought of the oil pipeline spillages in Nigeria which destroyed a lot of farmland and the US-lead NATO attack and subsequent armed struggle in Libya. For us The Gambia is so small and cannot risk these catastrophes. Our former president was of the opinion that if the Gambian oil is to be drilled, the shares between the drilling company and the Gambian state must be fifty-fifty, and not seventy-thirty as was offered. But with the present Gambian government, all those hopes of resisting cheap offers from oil companies became mere fantasy. Instead the SNE-FAR Ltd will now be drilling one million barrels of oil per day with a percentage of eighty-twenty. Multiply that by 365 days and you can forecast future physical danger both for the landscape and in terms of power struggles. What will be our gain on this mineral resource? Nothing but pain. Never mind the environmental assessment safety studies that have been carried out. Few, if any, European or American companies really care about the environmental repercussions in the aftermath of their businesses in Africa. Clear examples of this are the American giant Shell in Nigeria and the European gold mining firms in Congo and Ghana.
Externalisation, laws, policing and NGOs in Africa
SN: Europe seems to hold a power of definition over what is legal and what is illegal. How is it using this power to control African mobility?
AK: Today the EU is imposing, with carrots and sticks, national immigration laws and policies on African countries, even if border control is supposed to be a core area of national sovereignty. It aims to prevent Africans from migrating to Europe and to promote forced migration back to Africa. In this context law is a powerful instrument of state violence and coercion, producing illegalised mobility on an intercontinental scale. Also many other European or European-dominated organisations such as the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) or the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, a German society for international cooperation) are involved in the preparation of said laws and policies for Africans as well as in carrying them out. The situation is reminiscent of how the club of sovereign states used to go to Africa, armed with international law, to take the lands, rights and resources of people not considered to be sovereign.
DJ: These organisations represent European and American interests in Africa in the name of assisting growth and development. Their aid is always conditional. Unfortunately as the NGOs are playing their game, they are also bringing more money for African governments, many of which are then ready to accept their conditions. I don’t know how well they understand that these policies are harming their countries.
SN: Which organisation is responsible for the negotiations with African governments for agreements to take back refugees?
RO: There are always negotiations either on a governmental level or through civil society collaboration with NGOs that project the interests of Europe. Such deceptive rhetoric on fighting the root causes of migration or illegal migration are targeting “human trafficking” to cover up awareness of EU responsibility. This multifaceted approach is geared at creating loopholes for corrupt collaboration, with lures of development aid to ensure African governments endorsement of EU border control beyond the European shores to keep migrants and refugees in their countries of origin.
With IOM as a major participant in this manipulation, deals are facilitated between both state and non-state actors. The GIZ is actively engaged in ensuring Germany’s specific interests alongside many other organisations which include welfare and charity organisations connected with the churches. These deceptive missions are executed in different project phases simultaneously.
In recent negotiations between the Nigerian and German government representatives in Abuja, the host government maintained a strong position against Germany’s plot to bypass the Nigerian immigration attaché in Germany and enforce massive deportations of Black Africans. According to the German plan, rejected asylum seekers who are suspected to be Nigerians could then be profiled and identified at a Nigerian airport rather than by Nigerian officials in Germany as before. The Germans’ promise to return those who could not be identified as Nigerians back to Germany was an obvious deception.
After losing in that bargain with the Nigerian federal government, the German government still continued with a further attempt to lobby stooge state governments to sign deceptive Memorandums of Understanding to create loopholes to undermine the position of the federal government in deportation practices. This tradition of divide and rule was once again evident as the Edo state government, hoping for more European funding, declared its readiness to develop its own migration legislation to challenge the federal government’s stand. […]
Europe’s interior border regimes, Lager, legal violence
SN: Let’s come back to what happens inside of Europe and to those people who have against all odds successfully made their journey here and are now in Germany or another European country.
How does the legal system operate in conjunction with the camp system? As we heard before the main objective for the EU seems to be to prevent integration and deport people as soon as possible. In the camps contact with civil society or solidarity networks is stifled and refugees don’t have access to information or legal advice other than what is provided the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF, Federal Asylum Administration). So called AnkER centres are the most recent tools of isolating refugees and restricting their movement and rights. But they also seem a stepping stone in the systematic criminalisation of migration.
RO: Based on past decades experience it is easy to understand the current politics of the AnkER centres and other reproductions of the tradition. These are only deceits with name changes aimed at creating distractions of the public. The operating mechanism is dependent on the racist status quo. The difference in the situation between isolating either one hundred or up to 2000 persons in camps is perhaps only that more chaos and possible resistance can follow, as we have seen recently in the cases of Ellwangen, Donauwörth and others. The agenda is evil as always, there is still no true integration in this system. An integration policy that undermines our active participation is racist and colonial. The status quo defends that racist position—there can be no room for multiculturalism. The tradition of Germany must be maintained at any cost.
AK: I also think that in the last three years, during the so-called crisis, the narrative of the illegal, criminal Black or Brown asylum seeker, enemy of the German society or state has really sort of gone viral and also consolidated. This discursive criminalisation finds its counterpart in the policies, in the forms of state violence and in extralegal practices. One example is the large scale police raids in Southern German asylum camps in 2017 and 2018 that took a specific form and were repeated over and over again as a mediatised spectacle.
SN: You have been using the term legal violence to describe certain procedures. Can you explain what you mean by legal violence?
AK: Legal violence is supposedly justified violence effected by and through the law, legitimised and naturalised by the law. The US sociologists Menjívar and Abrego have used the concept to refer to the effects of punitive immigration laws, enforcement actions, and the stigmatisation of migrants, which taken together, harm them both in the long and the short term. The criminalisation of migration is a key logic here. In a violent operation the legal framework turns people who use their mobility rights into “illegal aliens,” suspicious guests or intruders. The German asylum system forces most non-EU migration into the asylum system, while at the same time denying the possibility of asylum status for most applicants. Particularly in the so-called AnkER centres, the applicants are categorised along predetermined asylum recognition rates into those with and those supposedly without a “perspective to stay.” The latter are labelled as cheaters and fraudsters, and their basic rights are curtailed: they are banned from working, schooling and health care, get no pocket money, cannot leave the city limits and are also otherwise deprived of even the minimum of personal autonomy, like the possibility to cook or to receive guests. Whether walking the street or sleeping in their beds, they are exposed to criminalisation and police and security guard violence.
Many dimensions of legal violence—the structural, symbolic, directly physical and discursive—are manifested in the way the Duldung is managed and policed in discretionary spaces or grey areas of administrative power, like when somebody is accused of breaching his or her Mitwirkungspflicht (obligation to cooperate) and is subjected to sanctions. To use Walter Benjamin’s concept, these are in fact spaces of a law-making violence, they are not merely about law enforcement.
I know that many people would object to my argument of law as a tool of violence, and for good reason. Many anti-racists and people negatively affected by racism are making demands within or towards the legal system to claim their rights. That is mostly very necessary. But it is always a double situation, involving the master’s tools and the question, what can you really achieve with them. […]
SN: After the big police raids in the camps of Donauwörth and especially the spectacular raid in Ellwangen in early 2018, the second half of 2018 saw major police attacks in the AnkER camps in Bavaria almost on a weekly basis, in Bamberg, in Stephansposching near Deggendorf, in Fürstenfeldbrück. They have become like a new norm: heavily armed police enter the camps sometimes including support by Sondereinsatzkommandos (SEK), dogs and helicopters, smash the doors, violate, beat and arrest people. The reasons often seem arbitrary like identifying camp residents, controlling fire regulations, checking the rooms for dangerous objects, basically reasons that don’t justify the presence of 500 heavily armed police. In Fürstenfeldbrück a water cooker and CD player were confiscated, in a later raid in Donauwörth a kitchen knife. In the course of these raids, basic constitutional rights like the right to assembly, the right to voice your opinion, the right to privacy in your room are suspended. Often, the raids seem to be a punishment for organising or for protests in any form. Could we go through some of the concrete things that happened in the camps? For instance, what happened in Donauwörth earlier this year?
DJ: We experienced one of these police raids in March 2018. The background is that since November 2017 we got organised in the Donauwörth camp as the Gambian Integration Committee. We were around 350 Gambian refugees who were facing a lot of trouble in the camp as Black Africans, ranging from security aggression to discrimination. Being the majority among the nationalities in the camp, we Gambians thought it was wise to focus on integrating ourselves in German society instead of lamenting on the situation.
We were new to each other and started with informal gatherings which included games and dancing. Then we started holding weekly meetings on Thursdays. We decided that we would not have leaders, but that all 350 Gambians were part of the Integration Committee. We selected an executive which was to coordinate meetings and to represent the Committee externally.
Our two main objectives were first to facilitate our integration into German society, by visiting schools and kindergartens and organising a discussion with the adults and elderly at the City Hall and offering community service, like cleaning public places. Secondly we wanted to negotiate with the authorities to solve our problems and channel our complaints. We wrote letters to the government representatives in the camp, requesting solutions for basic issues: we needed our pocket money back after it had been blocked, equal treatment by the camp workers of Black people—Gambians, Senegalese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, etc—and those of fairer complexion—like Turkish, Syrians, Pakistanis, Georgians. We also demanded that the police should stop controlling and searching our school-going colleagues who were terrorised by these controls at the train station. We demanded that the foreigners’ office stop crossing our Ausweis (ID card) out with a red line and writing ungültig (invalid) on it. And we demanded access to health care for our sick colleagues.
By February none of these had been met. On the 12th of February 2018, The Gambian Integration Committee which was providing services within the camp like cleaning, kitchen work, security and laundry for eighty cents per hour pay, decided to stop working and demanded a response to their requests. The government representative in the camp turned the executive back, which had been sent to negotiate. Following an incident in the canteen during the lunch break, as a camp worker had tried to tape us without our permission, we—the entire Gambian group—decided to go back to Italy. We were fed up with security beating us, racist police controls, racist discrimination within the camp, and refusal to treat our sick colleagues.
So really excited, we packed our bags and left the camp. It was snowing but we were shouting with joy. But on reaching the Bahnhof, we encountered police blocking it, and this was the only way we knew out of Donauwörth. It was at this very moment we realised that the camp had a director. He showed up, and persuaded us to go back to the camp and negotiated. He promised to facilitate solving the problems. Yet on the following day, in a meeting in the camp, the director denied all the promises he had made the previous day at the train station. We then intensified the negotiations with all relevant authorities in and outside the camp and requested that the director and the police representative attend those meetings. At the same time the local media was busy writing false information about what happened at the Donauwörth train station.
As none of our demands had been met, on the 7th of March 2018, we went on strike again to show our dismay, so we stopped working and schooling. This continued until the 14th of March 2018. That night at around three a.m., police officers came to take a Gambian individual to be deported. He was not found in his room, so the police searched room to room, waking many refugees up. Later the police drove away and claimed that the refugees had prevented the deportation.
At around two p.m. the same day, we saw a line of about sixty police cars driving into the camp, at their sides officers running side by side while another group of police officers ran to secure the camp’s fence. The police went to the buildings housing single men of all nationalities. They wore body armour and were armed with tear gas, pistols, long batons, metal and plastic handcuffs, pepper spray, ropes, knives and dogs. We were scared but at the same time we wanted to know why they were in the camp. The answer from the police was pepper spray in our faces to the extent that one of our colleagues collapsed and was taken to hospital. During the four hour long operation thirty-two of our colleagues were arrested, but the deportee of the night before was not found. Two were released that evening and thirty were kept behind bars for two months. […]
Dangerousness, Bleibeperspektive, Gastrecht
SN: Security and police often seem to work together in punishing, intimidating and criminalising those who they see as troublemakers, not only in Donauwörth.
AK: The large “transit camp” in Bamberg, today an AnkER camp, is a good example of this. There, in the summer of 2017 the security company set up a so-called Sonderteam (special team) which systematically provoked and violently attacked particularly Black African asylum seekers. When the police arrived at the scene of the aggression, they often arrested the victim or victims, who in many cases then got criminalised by the local court with orders of summary punishment for supposedly having attacked the guards. The victimised asylum seekers stand practically no chance to win in court, even if they would manage to challenge their unjust penalties at the Bamberg local court, as some did. Many victims have meanwhile escaped from Bamberg to other European countries. It has been very difficult to raise the issue in the media, due to the difference in credibility the media sees between the security apparatus and the refugees. This system is still in place to this day in Bamberg. The camp management is aware of what is going on, but their interest seems not to be to stop the violence, as they want to push the residents to self-deport by whatever means. The security company still holds the contract. However many employees of the security service had to leave, after speaking up or just knowing too much.
In Bavaria the Polizeiaufgabengesetz (PAG police law) since 2017 declares all asylum camps as “dangerous places.” This authorises the police to enter any time and perform ID controls and searches without further authorisation. This law also enables the massive police raids. But in fact many state actors and external personnel are involved in the production of danger or dangerousness in these isolation camps besides the police: the security guards, the camp personnel, the foreigners’ offices, courts and the media. We saw very clearly how this machinery works, when trying to challenge the security guard violence in Bamberg and also in the Donauwörth case, when we all went to court together in Augsburg last November.
What you, David, have been resisting there with your colleagues are policies legitimated with seemingly neutral legal and administrative concepts like Bleibeperspektive and safe countries of origin, the Dublin regulations and the Duldung, all of them just fig-leaves for racism. Every time I hear you telling the story of Donauwörth, I have to think of this contortion of justice. As soon as you don’t accept what is being done to you in the name of these unjust concepts, it is you who will be labelled as dangerous and as an intolerable security risk, hence you should be controlled and punished even more.
SN: What is the situation now? What happened to the people who were arrested in Donauwörth?
DJ: The police tactics have had a big psychological effect. And they won because our organisation was dismantled by fear and by the transfers of active members to remote villages in Bavaria. Some left to other EU countries, many were deported to Italy. The situation is not easy as most of them were deported without any cash and no Italian address. So they spent time living on the street, waiting for something to come up.
AK: Some of the Gambians did end up picking fruit and vegetables in Italy, one person also in Spain where he moved from Italy as he could not survive there on the street. In general, asylum seekers who get deported to Italy or self-deport from the German camps to Spain are doing that kind of occasional field work, whose products may well land in German supermarkets.
DJ: Many of our colleagues are also still here in Germany, but they’re really afraid to be active now because they were also threatened with deportation, and they have to stay away from the camp, and were kicked out of the system and now they really need support to get back in the system again.
SN: With Dublin and Duldung we see a system of legal means that is so complex and multilayered that it’s difficult to understand. And without knowing the system, you’re basically exposed to its violence, and you can’t really do much about it. And this seems to be intentional. Aino, David, what role do Dublin and Duldung play in the criminalisation of specific refugees?
AK: Sometimes people living in the new Bavarian isolation camps, who have spent years in Germany under deportation threat, pose me the question of what the difference is between Dublin and Duldung. Such is the extent to which they have been isolated from any information sources on the law. Yet they understand the material effects of those two much better than me.
For the legal system, in its own terms, Dublin and Duldung are two very different things: Dublin III is a regulation in EU law which together with the EURODAC fingerprint database determines which member state is responsible for the asylum claim. Usually it is the first state where the person enters EU territory in the South or East. Dublin was in fact to a large extent a German project, designed to protect the North of Europe from asylum seekers cum “irregular” migrants. Duldung on the other hand is a German administrative act of suspending a person’s deportation for a certain time period, in case of an obstacle, such as not having a passport or in case of illness.
Therefore it is remarkable that asylum seekers living in the German camps tend to use Dublin and Duldung interchangeably. As a lived situation, Dublin and Duldung are often referring to the same experience of being under threat of constant deportation and exposed to criminalisation through different means. And surely, they can overlap: you “have Dublin” when the German asylum administration has sent you a letter saying that another member state is responsible for your application, and therefore, any night they might come to take you there. For African people in AnkER camps it is usually Italy. While “having Dublin” you might also be issued a Duldung, a piece of paper crossed over with a red line. Or you might get nothing, as nowadays particularly foreigners’ offices in the AnkER camps prefer to leave people wholly undocumented. In the other scenario, where you have undergone the asylum procedure in Germany and it has decided negatively on your asylum application, adding an enforceable deportation order, you might get a Duldung, if there is some obstacle to your deportation, like not having a passport. Yet here also you might get nothing these days, that is, even no Duldung, which itself is not much of anything. It is not a residency permit, just a paper saying you are still here though you should not be.
DJ: Refugees who are Dublin cases are actually quite helpless. And regarding the German police, in our experience Dublin is the first point of criminalising refugees. In our camp, we weren’t given the Duldung ID in the Dublin situation. The foreigners’ office would just mark per hand a red line, something that looks like a Nike sign across refugees’ Ausweis (ID card) or write ungültig (invalid) with a red marker. This was very scary to us as refugees as it made it obvious that your application had been rejected and you were expected to leave the country or that you had received a Dublin rejection from BAMF (Federal Asylum Administration). This then gave the police the possibility of humiliating these refugees with controls in public, without caring much about the law, performing prolonged body searches and posing questions like: “Why aren’t you going back to Italy?” Or better still, “Why can’t you go back to your country?”
This would often happen as our colleagues went to school. This was in fact one of our demands as the Gambian Integration Committee in the Donauwörth camp, provoked by these maltreatments in public by the police, that the foreigners’ office in Donauwörth should not to mark our ID’s in such a way, but rather, these refugees should be provided with another document which defines their status. Because the Ausweis is the only valid legal document we have in this country and therefore it should not be interfered with.
SN: When the judge at the court in Augsburg asked the security guards about the Donauwörth night, she focused her questions towards security guard and police witnesses on their feelings: “How did you feel? Were you scared? Did you feel that it was dangerous?” The assessment of whether a group of fifty people gathering in the yard of the camp, being Black and also voicing their opinions is a threat, was based on the emotional state of the security personnel. There is a historical dimension to perceiving the mere presence of a Black body as dangerous from the White perspective. The judge did not seem aware of the racist legacy of this very perception, quite on the contrary she helped reproduce it.
AK: Also in her verdict the judge referred to the Gambians as guests who should behave accordingly and if not, deserve punishment. The idea of the foreigner as a guest who should behave belongs to the German legal tradition and is at the core of the culture of deportation: your presence here is only conditional and probational, even a sort of mercy which might end anytime. It is not even so much about what you do but very much also about who you are, or rather, how you are seen.
SN: In this narrative, you are already seen as a threat or as a danger merely because you have entered Europe. You have already done something illegal: coming here. So anything you might do or intend is already questionable.
AK: The Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad, argued that for the nation-state migration is per se criminal and a disorder. When the nation state is thinking about itself as a state, as a bordered entity, it is also always thinking about migration as a problem. Does a territorial nation-state even exist prior to cross-border mobility? They kind of constitute each other. We are talking about a historical, European or colonial construct. This is perhaps a bit philosophical, but also for me an important political point because, normally, border control tends to be naturalised as a self-evident duty of a sovereign nation- state. But perhaps there is just violence against a perceived other which gets legitimated as an existing order of the nation-state. For the one put into the place of disorder this logic means a double criminalisation, in case s/he happens to draw attention again after the original “crime” of arrival.
RO: This whole process of the criminalisation starts with the registration for asylum. As an asylum applicant you are presumed to be an “economic migrant” coming to feed on Germany’s social welfare. The asylum hearing becomes a sort of moral responsibility, the so-called “due process” meant to legitimate a prior prejudice. Rather than your claims being heard, you experience a tribunal-like situation where your are only expected to affirm that German prejudice of having illegally entered the EU territory. Case officers are often arrogant and abusive, provoking asylum seekers and hindering them from clarifying their situation. Resistance in such cases could be a reason for rejection based on claims of failed cooperation. It would be labelled as a strategy to defend a lie.
After the hearing, a written decision is expected and the time frame could vary from days to many years. With a positive decision, there are many categories of acceptance under different paragraphs with different rights and privileges. With a negative decision, you have an option to appeal at the administrative court within your jurisdiction. There are also different levels of rejection but the further appeal process continues with the traditional prejudice and the subsequent rejection by the administrative court.
At this stage the asylum seeker is delivered from the asylum procedure to the mercy of the local foreigners’ office which enforces the Aufenthaltsgesetz (immigration law) and issues a Duldung. The so-called Mitwirkungspflicht, the obligation to collaborate in the process of identifying oneself for deportation is key to the criminalising process with both physical and mental torture. At every renewal of your Duldung (toleration), you are informed of your obligation to collaborate in your identification, the Passpflicht (passport obligation), and you are then criminalised for the continued refusal to submit a passport without recourse to the conditions that could have been hindering the presentation of your documents. Simply going to the embassy is not considered as complying because in the case you do not obtain a document you are assumed not to have cooperated with your embassy.
Another typical situation is that you are then investigated and interviewed by the police or faced with an invitation to a mobile identification hearing where embassy officials, commissioned by the German authorities, identify persons by their accents or physical appearance, such as facial marks or shape of the head. You could also be taken to court and even sentenced to pay fines or to serve a prison term. All this goes into your file in the foreigners’ central register with consequences at different levels. In your police report, you are presented as having violated the immigration law. If your sentence was more than ninety Tagessätze (daily rates) you count as convicted. With that you can be sure of a series of deprivations and possibly also face a situation of brutal expulsion. But even a lower amount of daily rates can bring immigration law consequences for asylum seekers, like refusal of certain residency permits.
AK: The crime of not giving the full information about your identity or not showing your passport is really among the most evil legal contradictions or traps for asylum seekers in Germany. Because you can only come here when you don’t reveal your identity. And then you’re immediately criminalised. […]