Crimes of solidarity: such an expression appears as a contradiction in terms, a real oxymoron. Nevertheless, it conveys very well the meaning at the heart of a two-fold conflict, which sees, on the one hand, the criminalisation of European citizens who are mobilising in support of migrants in transit and, on the other, the strengthening of solidarity practices and networks in border areas and in many urban centres.
While we are witnessing asylum seekers being preventatively illegalised in Europe and containment policies multiplying on the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the autonomous infrastructures created to support migrants in transit are not only capable of giving rise to a logistics of resistance against the security policies of border controls, but are also able to produce more or less temporary or permanent fractures in the militarised space of “Fortress Europe”.
The Italian-French border-space
In a context marked by unprecedented criminalisation of solidarity practices, we are witnessing a disturbing escalation of institutional and street racism. The arbitrary interventions of police forces and border patrols are more and more frequent and acting in the name of the joint fight against terrorism and “irregular” migration. Last in time, but first for the intensity of the diplomatic shock it produced, is the story of the armed raid carried out by five French Customs agents within the premises of the railway station of Bardonecchia, in order to perform a urine test on a Nigerian boy who had legally travelled from Paris to Naples. In this instance, the Nigerian citizen was detained and subject to anti-drug control under the pressure of French armed officers who effected it exclusively on the basis of racial profiling, a practice unofficially regulating control practices on the trains crossing national borders. What happened in Bardonecchia is an attack that must be understood and framed as part of a series of acts of intimidation carried out by police forces, against citizens mobilising in support of migrants blocked or rejected at the borders.
Since March 24, migrants and activists have occupied a room inside the church of Claviere, a few kilometres from Bardonecchia on the Italian-French border. “The problem is not the snow, it’s not the mountains; the problem is the border”, they declare. The occupants are protesting against the emergency register. They repeat over and over that it is not the bad weather conditions, which is causing fatal deaths. It is the very existence of the border and its currently functioning system. In this context, building solidarity networks means rejecting the vocabulary related to the idea of migrants’ “management”. The action must focus instead on the opening of common spaces of struggle and permanence – say the occupants of Claviere.
From Catania to Calais and from Melilla to Edirne, our hopes are nurtured by a diverse and wide movement of solidarity with migrants, which includes Catholic groups, individual citizens, NoBorder militants and Guides sans Frontieres, the alpine guides in the French Alps. The heterogeneity of experiences and practices of solidarity represents the true richness of the movement in support of migrants. This movement is animated by organised groups as well as by citizens who autonomously decide to mobilise in order to react to the criminalisation of solidarity. Among the latter, the case that more than any other attracted public attention is that of Cedric Herrou, a French farmer from Val Roia who in 2016 was accused of having helped migrants to cross into France from Italy and of hosting them. It was then the turn of the French researcher Pierre-Alain Mannoni, accused of rescuing three Eritrean women.
According to the “Code of Entry and Stay of Foreigners and Right to Asylum” (CESEDA), those accused of having “facilitated or attempted to facilitate the entry, circulation or irregular stay of a foreigner” are punishable by the French authorities with fines amounting to 30,000 Euros, as well as up to two years in prison. Along with Mannoni and Herrou, dozens of citizens have been (or are still) on trial for providing food and hospitality to migrants. These accusations rely on national laws that refer to the European Directive of 2002 related to “Favouring illegal entry, transit and stay”. In some places, such as Calais, the emergence of autonomous infrastructures of solidarity and material support to migrants has brought to light contrasts, hitherto not apparent, between the different institutional levels: local administrations against the judiciary, national government against the power of attorneys.
The “fight over the showers”, that is to say the dispute initiated by spontaneous groups and local associations for the provision of hygiene services to migrants passing through Calais, has become a true icon of the solidarity movement with migrants trying to cross the Italian-French border. The European policy on the criminalisation of solidarity and the suspension of rights in the areas of humanitarian emergency is therefore answered by the multiplication of spontaneous and organised initiatives of active solidarity (both individual and collective).
European Union, Turkey and repression of the right to escape
The institutionalisation of the criminalisation of solidarity practices is not limited to the space within the borders of the European Union. In Turkey, the case of two European citizens has made jurisprudence. In September 2015, they were near Edirne together with other volunteers and non-governmental organisations to demonstrate solidarity and provide logistical support to Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees who organised themselves to cross the border with Greece claiming the right to use safe and legal channels to reach Europe rather than embarking on life-threatening journeys. By violating the principles of freedom and security guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, the Turkish authorities did not provide any official explanation to justify the arrest warrant and the expulsion. To make matters worse, the two activists have been lynched by pro-government media, which published pictures linking the events to their participation in the 2013 Gezi Park uprising in order to accuse them of international espionage.
In the “new Turkey” of Erdoğan, every form of political dissent – and solidarity with dissidents – is now legally defined and widely accepted as support to terrorism. The management of migratory flows is an integral part of the political consensus building process of an authoritarian state that continues to largely exploit the strong feeling of national belonging to expand regional power. So far, Europe’s reaction to the abolition of the rule of law and violations of human rights has been limited to bland reprimands, which confirm Europe’s reactionary order. The mildness of the reactions certainly depends on the Union and some member States’ economic interests in the war industry, infrastructure and energy sectors, but also on the threat of reopening the border with Greece.
The outsourcing of the European borders is partly already completed through the ratification of collaboration agreements that effectively repress the right to escape. On the one hand, the Karthoum process aims at co-opting African countries in the migration control policy; on the other hand, the EU-Turkey deal endorses the premise that Turkey is “a safe country” and shows the partial effectiveness of the rejection strategy. According to the geographical limitations of the 1951 Refugee Convention, Turkey does not guarantee the recognition of refugee status – and therefore the right to asylum – to any citizen who is not European. Asylum seekers wait for years to be resettled in third countries, while Syrians can at most benefit from a temporary protection regime which allows them to live in Turkey as “guests”, but which does not guarantee the full protection provided by the convention.
However, refoulement does not take place only from Greece to Turkey but, even worse, from Turkey to Syria. Human Rights Watch provided reports on the violation of international human rights standards in the border area from 2015 onwards (year of the official closure of the border). Besides killings and injuries, other systematic abuses include detention, beatings and refusal of medical assistance. The complicity of the European Union is proven by the news of a loan amounting to more than 80 million euro in addition to the 6 billion agreed with the deal, which has been used for the purchase of military equipment to patrol the border and the wall sealing part of the border with Syria.
The politicisation of the humanitarian
The criminalisation of autonomous infrastructures in support of migrants’ transit and stay as well as of other practices of active solidarity highlights a “politicisation of humanitarianism” that offers spaces of intervention that movements and transnational solidarity forces cannot waste to achieve a radical transformation of the existing order. Obviously, it is not a question of re-proposing the simplification of an indistinct humanitarian sphere as opposed to state authorities, given that the axes of collaboration between state and security intervention on the one hand and humanitarian measures on the other have never ceased to strengthen each other. Rather, what the ongoing criminalisation of active solidarity practices demonstrates is precisely the internal differentiation marking the universe of experiences that are commonly labelled as “humanitarian”. Not surprisingly, the public discourse is constantly built upon the alternate use of the terms “solidarity” and “humanitarianism”. It is not the intervention as such that is the object of the repressive measures, but the ways in which the reception and the relief are provided, that is to say the transversal alliances – between migrants and non – who leave the official circuits of migration management.
The recent seizure of the humanitarian vessel of Proactiva Open Arms brings to light the contradictions of the emergency policy adopted in defense of the “Fortress Europe”. Created by volunteers in a self-organised way in 2015, the Spanish non-governmental organisation belongs to the minority of humanitarian organisations that have joined the so-called “code of conduct” for the rescue of migrants. The code is a measure that the Minister Minniti adopted in 2017 in response to the pressure exercised by populist and nationalist forces such as the Five Star Movement and the League in Italy with the purpose of further tightening border control. However, adhering to the ‘code of conduct’ did not allow Proactiva Open Arms to escape the repression of Italian judicial authorities. Conversely, it has been used by the Catania Public Prosecutor to justify the criminalisation of the NGO’s activity.
Solidarity ecosystems: for a network of solidarity cities
The case of Proactiva Open Arms demonstrates how disobedience to the policies of criminalisation of solidarity is not an option. Rather, it currently constitutes a choice that is de facto the only forced option available to movements and various forces that support migrants in reclaiming their right to escape and to autonomously cross borders. The strengthening of cooperation within the migrant solidarity movement is crucial in order for such disobedience not to remain isolated but to acquire political value. Following the seizure of the Proactiva Open Arms ship, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, drew attention to the role that local administrations can play within the migrant solidarity movement. They can in fact promote networks to provide solidarity, to protest against the militarisation of borders, and to oppose the politics of fear and hatred that is dominating the European public sphere.
As spaces for shelter, cities and metropolises represent real outposts, hubs and widespread nodes of the movements that resist this politics of repression. Today, cities and metropolises constitute in fact spaces where we can already observe a multitude of mobilisation initiatives in defence of human rights, democracy and common goods, although they are mostly invisible or dispersed. The vitality and institutional diversity of cities and metropolises are the living proof of their constituent potential: not only mayors and administrations standing up to austerity measures but also neighbourhood councils, and above all a widespread network of supportive associations, movements, spontaneous groups and individual citizens. The richness and the variety of these “solidarity ecosystems” makes an essential contribution to the movement involved in welcoming and providing logistical support to migrants and refugees.
On a practical level, cities and metropolises are already playing a central role within the migrant solidarity movement for the right to freedom of movement in the European and Mediterranean space. However, their role can become even more crucial on the political level. In fact, we believe that the political and institutional potential of the “solidarity cities” is not yet valued enough with regard to the possibilities it actually entails. A more incisive and conscious effort to enhance the institutional potential of the “solidarity cities” would be in fact able to generate new constituent spaces of post-national democracy by calling into question the sovereignist position that currently dominates the national borders defense and fortification policies implemented by the European Union and its allied countries. It is only starting from the cities and the metropolises – but also from border territories like the Val di Susa – that it is possible to challenge the criminalisation of solidarity and, at the same time, to initiate a broader constituent process capable of redefining the idea and the very experience of Europe and globalisation.
Collettivo Euronomade, Ugo Rossi, Carla Stoppani, Martina Tazzioli, Yasmine Accardo, Giuseppe Acconcia, Maurizio Acerbo, Mirko Alagna, Rocco Albanese, Giuseppe Allegri, Eric Alliez, Giovanna Amato, Giso Amendola, Gianni Andreose, Francesca Ansaloni, Marco Assennato, Thomas Atzert, Gennaro Avallone, Francesco Auletta, Robertino Barbieri, Daniele Barbieri, Marco Bascetta, Elisabetta Benigni, Ilaria Bertè, Brenna Bhandar, Emanuele Braga, Maria Brucale, Luisa Brucale, Sergio Bontempelli, Corrado Borsa, Beppe Caccia, Valentina Calderai, Valeria Cammarata, Marina Campanale, Pietro Capaldo, Vincenzo Carbone, Enza Caruso, Toni Casano, Luca Casarini, Federica Castelli, Rossana Cataldo, Sandro Chignola, Roberto Ciccarelli, Emanuele Clarizio, Giulia Colajanni, Andrea Cozzo, Chiara Cremaschi, Alice Dal Gobbo, Marina D’Altri, Gairo Daghini, Nicholas De Genova, Girolamo De Michele, Gianmarco De Pieri, Alisa Del Re, Roberto Demontis, Alberto De Nicola, Roberto Derobertis, Simona De Simoni, Matteo Di Gesù, Maurizio Di Masi, Dinamopress, Antonio Di Stasio, Graziella Durante, Luigi De Magistris, Adriana Dzimidzik, Esc Atelier Autogestito, Jonas Erulo, Nino Fabrizio, Silvia Falconieri, Ludovica Fales, Giuseppe Felici, Giovanna Ferrara, Caterina Ferro, Francesco Festa, Rita Fini, Lorenza Fornasir, Maddalena Fragnito, Emanuele Frixa, Davide Fiorotto, Omid Firouzi Tabar, Andrea Fagioli, Eleonora Forenza, Gian Andrea Franchi, Andrea Fumagalli, Luca Galantucci, Davide Gallo Lassere, Stefano Galieni, Glenda Garelli, Dario Gentili, Vincenzo Gervasi, Fabio Gianfrancesco, Federica Giardini, Chiara Giorgi, Gaia Giuliani, Roberto Giuliani, Francesca Governa, Gaetano Grasso, Alessandro Guerra, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Charles Heller, Michal Kohout, Infomigrante, Augusto Illuminati, Orazio Irrera, Ilaria Ippolito, Alessandro Metz, Titta Labonia, Emanuele Leonardi, Enza Longo, MACAO -Milano, Marcello Lorrai, Francescp Pasetti, Calogero Lo Piccolo, Ettore Luzi, Yasha Maccanico, Marco Maffeis, Paola Manfredi, Valentina Mangiaforte, Maria Rosaria Marella, Angela Marchini, Domenico Massano, Costanza Margiotta, Lauren Martin, Nicolas Martino, Giuseppe Mastruzzo, Ugo Mattei, Federica Mazzara, Miguel Mellino, Maria Grazia Meriggi, Sandro Mezzadra, Enrica Mezzoli, Elisabetta Michielin, Paola Minoia, Mobilitazione Generale Avvocati – Ass. Forense, Luca Montebugnoli, Antonio Montefusco, Bruno Montesano, Cristina Morini, Tziana Nadalutti, Paolo Napoli, Yoan Molinero Gerbeau, Toni Negri, Franco Oriolo, Vincenzo Ostuni, Daniela Padoan, Oana Parvan, Franco Palazzi, Francesco Pasetti, Giuseppe Paternostro, Maia Pedullà, Francesco Pezzulli, Livio Pepino, Lorenzo Pezzani, Fiorenza Picozza, Simone Pieranni, Giacomo Pisani, Pino Pitasi, Roberta Pompili, Gabriele Proglio, Biagio Quattrocchi, Francesco Raparelli, Judith Revel, Vincenzo Riso, Tania Rispoli, Saro Romeo, Gianluca Ronca, Antonella Rossi, Stefano Rota, Giacomo Salerno, Pietro Saitta, Cristina Sardo, Alessandra Sciurba, Alessandro Simoncini, Centro Sociale TPO – Bologna, Simona Marino, Sconfinamenti Padova, Sergio Segio, Roberto Serpieri, Cristina Solari, Michele Spanò, Francesco Sticchi, Elettra Stimilli, Associazione Africa Insieme (Pisa), Associazione Teatro Periferico (Cassano Valcuvia), Associazione Transglobal, Federico Tomasello, Alberto Toscano, Giulia Valpione, Benedetto Vecchi, Simone Veglio, Carlo Vercellone, Sergio Viti, Bediz Ylmaz, Gianni Zambon, Francesca Zampagni, Agostino Zanotti, Laura Zanchin.