Tag Archives: migration

Spanish exile: future beyond the borders


The future for the youth of Spain is one of the darkest in Europe. As youth emigration hits record levels Aida Pelaez explains the current difficulties that young Spaniards have to go through on a day to day basis.

“In the current situation I think it would be a mistake to return to Spain”

“The chances of emancipation are almost nil, so you make up your mind and hop on a plane”

“When you leave because there is no other choice you feel a little exiled”

These are direct quotes from young Spanish emigrants who have told their stories on camera for the future documentary “Spanish Exile”.  Rubén Hornillo is a young Spanish filmmaker and is living and working in Los Angeles. His documentary “Spanish Exile” will show the first-hand testimonies of young Spanish people who have seen themselves been forced to emigrate because of the economic crisis; showing the reality of a country that is seeing its qualified and educated youth leaving the country because of the lack of possibilities.

Spain faces one of the highest rates of emigration in the recent decades of its history, but rather than focusing on the number of migrations, different movements were born in the country to express their preoccupation and outrage about the situation and reasons for the exodus of young Spaniards. Juventud sin futuro (youth without future), La Marea Granate (the maroon tide), No nos vamos nos echan (We are not leaving, they kick us out); are the names of these movements.

Youth without future was born in 2011. Their slogan: “without a house, without a job, without fear” summarizes the demands of this organization whose purpose is to demonstrate the precarious situation of youth in the labour, educational and social fields.

“We are not leaving, they kick us out” is another a movement who denounces the precarious situation of Spanish youth, but it is focused on emigration; they defined Spain as “No country for young men”. This initiative criticises the forced exile of the precarious Spanish youth; their calls have gone beyond the Spanish borders by demonstrations that have taken place in different cities of the world such as Rome or London. The young Spaniards who live there as immigrants have shown their dissatisfaction with their own country that has failed to provide them a future.

The most recent platform  is “The Maroon Tide”, named by the color of the passport as a symbol of forced migration it is a transnational movement formed by emigrants from Spain who struggle from outside the Spanish borders against the causes that have led to the economic and social crisis which in turn caused them to migrate.

All these platforms seek the reasons for the Spanish youth exodus, but they are mostly trying to give a voice to all the young people who have seen the need to emigrate from Spain to look for work possibilities. But, on the other side of the table, the authorities of the country have not shown much concern about youth emigration. The government has not presented a clear answer for the increasing rates of emigration of skilled labour among the youth. The Spanish General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration, Marina del Corral, explained last November the reasons for the emigration of the younger part of Spanish society; she mentioned the economic crisis, but she also emphasised the adventurous spirit of young people as a reason for their migration.

The different movements concerned about forced migration, the stories of Spanish emigrants in foreign countries narrated in first person, show a different reality that contradicts the adventurous spirit expressed by the Government as a cause for migration. They point at the search for an sustainable present and future which their own country has not been able to provide them with; the crisis has made them exiles.

The Danish view on the Ukraine: Danish Fast News

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

Denmark is characterized by high taxes and high welfare benefits. However the Danish government worries, that EU legislation is making it possible for outsiders to exploit the Danish system. Tinuke Maria Iyore highlights the most important Danish news this week. 

The influence of EU-laws on the Danish welfare system has caused an explosive debate the past week. According to EU regulations, EU citizens can earn the right to unemployment benefits in any EU nation and take these benefits with them across the union. Danish politicians are concerned that this will lead to exploitation of the generous Danish welfare system.

Denmark and Finland are the only EU-countries that require vetting for foreign citizens to receive unemployment benefits. The Danish prime minister recently announced that she wants to tighten these rules, making it even harder for EU-citizens to obtain benefits in Denmark. However this might be a violation against EU’s laws on discrimination and freedom of movement.

The Danish welfare system is funded by a high income tax, and EU-citizens working in Denmark are obliged to pay this high income tax, but are not given the same rights as Danish citizens.

Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party, adds that the Danish government wants to increase control with EU-citizens exploitation of the Danish welfare state, in order to prevent welfare tourism. “The free movement in the EU creates economic growth and jobs, but we have seen an increase in EU-citizens, particularly from Eastern Europe, receiving unemployment and social benefits. We take this development seriously, and must make sure that EU-citizens can meet the requirements for receiving benefits in Denmark”, she says to Danish newspaper Politiken.

More useful degrees

Eight Danish universities will be working towards lowering unemployment rates by comparing programmes to employment statistics. This year the regulation of admissions will be a cooperative effort from these eight universities. Some universities have previously made similar attempts to prevent educating young Danes on career paths that lead to unemployment. However this cooperation between universities is a first. The programmes will be assessed each year using the same procedure, ensuring that Danish universities are educating according to business and industry demands.

A signal to Russia

Denmark’s Liberal Party and other liberal parties in the European council have agreed on a proposal to deny Russia voting rights in the council, due to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.  The council’s purpose is to ensure the respect of human rights and democracy. These principles have been violated by Russia on numerous occasions and the spokesman of the council’s group of liberal parties, Michael Aastrup Jensen, thinks it is important to send a strong signal to Russia. This would not be the first time Russia has lost its voting rights in the council. In 2000, the country was “punished” for the Russian army’s behavior in Chechnya.

Afghanistan to Greece – A migrant’s story

Courtesy of the Paola Project Team ‘The Journey of Aris from Afghanistan to Greece’ tells the remarkable tale of one man’s experiences travelling to Europe.


Being a “stranger” – a hidden story in The Netherlands

The Netherlands is often celebrated for its wide-spread tolerance and is generally regarded as a progressive and multicultural country. Less well known is that the Netherlands has been under attack by Amnesty International and the United Nations for years because of the Dutch immigration policy. Fenne van Loon examines the situation for Pandeia.

In order to protect the Dutch economy, not everyone is granted asylum by the government, leading to illegal immigrants who are referred to as “vreemdelingen” (strangers). Strangers often do not possess any documents, which makes it difficult to send them back, but also impossible to grant them asylum. What happens to strangers that are stuck in between?

According to Dutch law and international treaties, the detention of immigrants who seek a future should be a last resort. However, detention has slowly transformed into standard procedure. For humanitarian reasons, any activity of integration is actively discouraged, as this could only increase hope where there is none. Yet, it seems this system is increasingly taken too far, leading to harrowing situations that can be said to cross moral boundaries of humanity. It is therefore no surprise the lives of strangers are often hidden from society.

Behind closed doors
Some of these hiding places are the four detention centres in the Netherlands. The website of the Ministry of Justice and Safety provides a list of rules for visitors. “Physical contact: It is possible to engage in brief physical contact during the greeting and saying goodbye. During the visit more physical contact is prohibited”. This easily sets the tone of the place.

Zembla produced a documentary (De gevangenen van gebouw 4, 2012) examining the detention centre in Zeist. Through extremely strict access to the detention center, it is clear that the Netherlands officials prefer to keep the ongoings of the detention center hidden from the public eye. Once finally inside, strict rules apply. Neither filming nor interviews are allowed with the strangers or the employees.

The crew reports stuffy air that causes headaches, skin conditions and breathing problems for the immigrants. Two years earlier the health inspection officially stated the air quality was unacceptable. Nothing changed. If anything, the quality has gotten worse since new rules stated all doors must be closed for security. Doctors say it is absurd that pregnant women are living there and the building should be closed.

The use of isolation rooms is another issue. Doctors continuously say the use of isolation rooms is harmful. Everyone will become confused or even turn mad if locked up long enough. Still, a man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was locked in an isolation room for ten days. The doctor was not surprised the man suffered from another psychosis after that. Acute medical health care is lacking shockingly often. As the health inspector voices, “We are a decent country, we even have animal police.” That is why the lack of a humane treatment for these people astounds him and many others.

Getting the message across
The documentary was made two years ago, pledging for improvements in the system and specifically drastic changes in detention centres. However, this did not help to prevent the Russian asylum seeker Dolmotov from committing suicide in detention one year later. Several investigations concluded, all too late that Dolmotov was placed in a detention centre on false grounds. Also, his suicidal thoughts should have been taken more seriously.

F. Daniëls, former chaplain of the detention centre, breaks the silence by stating that detention centres destroy any feeling of humanity. “By saying to someone he is absolutely not welcome, we don’t want to see you here, you are destroying him. They are no longer seen as people, but as an object that needs to be discharged as quickly as possible. And these people end up feeling exactly that way.”

Many immigrants in detention centres experience a sense of hopelessness, become suicidal or lose their minds. Kaba, an ex-detainee, explains in the Zembla documentary how it drove him insane. “You don’t know when you’ll get out of prison. And you didn’t even do anything wrong.” Even though the detention centres are meant to be a last short stop before people are deported, Kaba was stuck there for nine months, all the time treated like a criminal. “At least criminals know how long they will be in prison,” he says.

The rules in these centres are strict; there is nothing detainees are allowed to do. Kaba really wishes to integrate, to be part of Dutch society, but he is not given any chance since he is not allowed to stay. He cannot work or follow any form of education. Most of the time he is stuck in the system, and he says he spent his days doing nothing more than simply staring out the window. He became so depressed and desperate when he was locked up in Zeist that that he cut his arms and wrote with his own blood on the walls: “I would like to stay in the Netherlands.”

Surprising Europe (2010) is a nine-part television series documenting the experiences of African immigrants in Europe. Again the isolation room in Zeist is mentioned. “You have to undress, even your underwear. There you sit in pajamas. They have hit me with a stick. They put a foot against my neck. They held me to the ground that way and they tied me,” one man says, speaking to those who might be thinking of migrating from Africa. “Don’t ever go to the Netherlands. You should never come here. Never. If you come here, you must be very, very stupid.” Ultimately, this is the message the Dutch government wants to get across.

Life after detention
The officials’ response is that immigrants may leave prison and country whenever they want, as long as they cooperate. According to several experts, this is a lie. Only 25% of all strangers can be sent back to native countries. Another 25% are sent to a different country and 50% of the people are released to the streets without any documents, risking arrest and imprisonment at any time.

The Human Doc. documentary (Lost lives, 2012) follows several illegal immigrants released onto the streets. One man has been living in the Netherlands for 16 years now, four of them in detention. Officials questioned his nationality, and he was therefore not granted asylum. He has been deported to Liberia seven times, and to Ghana four times, always being sent back to the Netherlands right away. Nobody wants him.

Likewise, an Afghan man is not granted his asylum, despite his wife and children recieving theirs. He is officially labelled “suspicious” because he once served in the Afghan military and is accused of war crimes, though there is no proof. He attempted to prove his innocence by requeting his own criminal trial. It was refused because of insufficient proof, and he still remains a suspect. He cannot work and feels that he is missing out on life throughout this long process. “I lost a quarter of my life. It just disappeared, I didn’t do anything.”

A woman with a baby had 24 hours to leave the Netherlands, but nowhere to go. She voices the myth of safety in Europe saying, “Europe, you think human rights, friendly people. You’re finally safe. Nobody is going to discriminate you, or abuse you. All the things I flew away from. And then you come here, and nothing happens.” Many express that the worst part is the feelings of being unacknowledged, unwanted. Having to move repeatedly, always being sent away, with nowhere to call ‘home’.

In one of the interviews an eight year old girl who was born and has lived her entire life in the Netherlands reveals her biggest wish: “To get a passport.” Only then will her life finally be acknowledged.

The immigration debate remains a difficult dilemma that affects many lives. No country will allow free access to everybody. However, what is happening behind closed doors is steadily transcending the issue from an economical dilemma to a humanitarian disaster.

Lithuania: The Emigration Nation

Lithuania is the European capital of emigration. One fifth of the population has left since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. In this feature, one such emigrant, Greta Jankaityte examines the emigration nation. 

The issue of immigration is top of the news agenda. One major question is should the advanced countries just let in immigrants or restrict the flow? However, it bears remembering that every immigrant is also an emigrant. What it is like in a country where emigration rates have for such a long time have been one of the highest in the European Union? Is this situation caused merely by economic factors or are there more complex factors at play?

Last autumn I registered with Lithuanian authorities that I was leaving my country to study in Denmark. This means that, officially, I have become one of hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian emigrants. I joined the one fifth of the population that has emigrated since Lithuania gained independence in 1990.

Part of the culture

Thus it is no surprise that the emigrant status in Lithuania has become a cliché and emigrants as a whole now form a sort of separate social group. Furthermore, the theme of emigration has invaded our culture and discourse. There are TV shows recounting the lives of Lithuanians scattered throughout the world. And news websites have separate sections centred on ‘Lithuanians abroad’.

A couple of years ago a famous Lithuanian playwrite spent three months in London among various Lithuanian emigrants, collecting their stories and turning them into a play. Now it is on its way to becoming the most popular play in Lithuania. As every Lithuanian has at least one relative or friend who has left to seek a better life overseas, the whole nation can relate to it.

But it is not easy to watch this play, as it shows the most unfortunate stories of Lithuanian emigrants. It is about those who left Lithuania full of hope to find something better, but were left deceived, lost and still too proud to come back home defeated. To this day some of them remain stuck between foreign land and home.

When we look at all those unlucky stories, it seems strange; why do Lithuanians emigrate at all? Is it not better to be broke at home than in a foreign country? However, historically Lithuanians have been a emigration-minded nation. In the nineteenth century Lithuanians fled the oppression of the Russian Empire; during Second World War – they wanted to get away from the Soviet Union.

Lithuanians have spent 50 years occupied by the Soviet Union and had very restricted travelling rights. Naturally, after gaining independence many people felt the urge to see what the Western world has to offer. And after joining the EU in 2004, Lithuanians could freely emigrate to countries such the as UK or Ireland. These countries now harbour the biggest share of Lithuanian emigrants.

Leftover children

Nevertheless, economics play a big role. For example, on average a teacher in Lithuania makes around €600. In Denmark you can make this money while working part-time as a cleaner. But why would a person with a higher education be willing to go to a foreign land, to leave family behind and work in a low-qualified job? Well, some are hoping to settle in and work their way up.

But some just emigrate temporarily to make money and send it home, for instance, to pay debts. However, as living costs in UK or Nordic countries are very high, those temporary emigrants, in order to have some money to send home, are forced to share extremely small living spaces and work long hours without any real social life.

The 2008-2009 financial crisis has accelerated economic emigration even further. For example, people were sacked and forced to leave to work in richer countries so that they could pay their loans back home. The money transfers sent back to Lithuania during the crisis made up to 4.6 per cent of total Lithuanian GDP. This helped Lithuania to ease the harsh effects of crisis, caused by job losses or downsized wages. However, such temporary emigration has caused a social problem. Thousands of children have been left behind in the care of their relatives or sometimes even neighbours, while their parents are making money abroad.

Need of more space

However, economics alone do not explain the size of Lithuanian emigration. A portion of the Lithuanian emigrants are young people who go to study abroad and remain there. What’s more, part of emigration is made of young professionals who decide that it would be better to realise their ambitions abroad.

Naturally, Lithuania is a tiny country positioned at the edge of European Union, therefore some talented Lithuanians find it to be too small. But Estonia is more than twice as small as Lithuania and people do not emigrate as much. Actually, while Lithuania’s population is constantly decreasing, Estonians are experiencing population growth.

Estonia has long been better off economically than Lithuania, but there is a cultural and political reasons as well. Young Lithuanians have less space in the creation of the state than Estonians. According to some experts, even Lithuania’s business sector is unwilling to let young professionals in. Since the Soviet Union’s destruction, Estonians have elected governments comprised of young, ‘new’ people. While Lithuanians were too afraid of big changes and have elected a party made of old soviet communists (though they have changed their name to socialists).

Bring them back

To re-attract its population  now is a major issue in Lithuania. It seems that last year there was a breakthrough. There were slightly more people returning than leaving Lithuania. The previous government managed to persuade the most talented young Lithuanians, who had successful careers abroad, by giving them senior positions in government agencies.  A handful of those ex-emigrants contributed in making Lithuania economically stronger. Therefore, it helped to bring back more Lithuanians, who now have bigger possibilities to find a decent job in their home country.

My experience shows that more young people now realise that it is easier to have a successful career in a small country. If older generations do not intentionally stand in younger people’s way, the opportunities to break through, to stand out and to make a difference are much bigger than in ‘megacities’. This is where the competition is much greater and you have to work your way up much further.

Needless to say, after graduation I am determined to come back to Lithuania myself and hopefully join the growing mass of re-emigrants.

Another Brick in the Wall


Chloe Thanopoulou investigates the pressure on Greek borders, where immigrants attempt to illegally enter Europe – increasingly often at the price of death.

‘So why didn’t they drown you all?”,  a TV reporter asked during a press conference following the tragic shipwreck of Farmakonisi islet last week. Nine children and three women lost their lives while trying to cross the Greek – Turkish borders on a fishing boat.

When the boat capsized, survivors swam to the Greek coastguard vessel, but did not get life-jackets or ropes. “I saw one person being hit by a crew member so they couldn’t get on board and fell back into the water”, said a survivor that has lost his wife and four children.

The 16 survivors told the UN Refugee Agency that the coastguard towed their boat with high speed back to Turkey, after its engine failed. However the coastguard denied it was towing the boat to Turkey, but rather towards Farmakonisi islet, 1.5 nautical miles away. Strong winds and waves made the transfer of migrants to the coastguard boat impossible and towing was said to be the only option.

A wall of protection?

The event did not come as a surprise. A November report of ProAsyl, a German N.G.O., accused Greece of having pushed back approximately 2.000 people to Turkey from Greek waters and claimed that officers of the Greek police and coastguard had abused migrants physically and psychologically. Also a great number of international and European organizations have expressed their concerns about the situation in the Aegean Sea.

But let’s take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Pressure from other EU countries and threats of expelling Greece from the Schengen Treaty if the problem of illegal immigration was not solved, has led to the construction of a 10 km long wall in Evros, which has made entering Greece practically impossible. The sea passage cannot be blocked as efficiently and is therefore used as the main entrance route. This is much more dangerous.

As Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, the Head of the Office at the UN High Commission for Refugees in Greece, said, “the policy of guarding the borders is a demand of the European Union towards Greece. It was the threats of our European partners that led to the building of the wall on the northern borders with Turkey. What Europe has to think about, however, is how trying to prevent border-crossing through sea will not create more fatalities.”

Pressure on Greek borders
Unfortunately, the increased numbers of deaths and human rights violations at the borders has not bothered European policy makers. The fact that 50.000 people where kept out of the borders last year because of the wall, was presented as a great success. It seems like keeping people out of the fortress of Europe is the main issue at stake. Since 2013 more than 100 million euro out of the union’s budget was spent on guarding the Greek- Turkish borders.

Indeed, the money was effectively spent; if one regards the ratings. In 2013 there was a 56,9% drop of immigrants entering Greece. However in Bulgaria there was an illegal immigration increase of 500%, and to solve that problem, they too are building a wall.

Are walls and push-backs a viable option for the borderless EU that is so proud of its human rights system? Migration is a natural phenomenon. As Marilena Koppa, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) claims: “Migration comes like the rain, whether we want it or we don’t.” And Nikos Chrysogelos, another MEP, continues by saying that “people who are desperate and whose lives have been threatened; people who search for and dream of a better life, will not stop chasing for a better future because of borders.”

Instead of building walls and causing the drowning of thousands of people, we should therefore focus on creating humanitarian corridors; on creating an effective process which does not put too much weight on weak southern European countries.

It’s not a question of immigration – it’s a question of integration

Multiculturalism, cultural exchanges and shared  knowledge can be argued as key factors to an ever developing society. With that in mind, argues Niklas Jakobsson, Sweden should not only be one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world – they should be blowing the other nations out of the water. What’s gone wrong? 

According to official immigration statistics and a national census, 1.5 million of Sweden’s 9.5 million inhabitants were born outside of Sweden. This makes up for 15 per cent of the country’s population – numbers which are nearly unmatched and unrivaled in comparison to the other 205 sovereign states in the world.

Yet the country is following a worrying European trend with far-right parties gaining momentum, creating animosity and displeasure against immigrants and immigration. Unemployment, a rise in violence, an over-representation of immigrants in crime and ‘benefit fraud’ are some of the catch-phrases and slogans used to shove blame and responsibility on immigrants in Sweden.

A key concept in journalism is to have balance, to respect and cover both sides of a story – and in the case of Swedish immigration there are two very clear sides. In Sweden, you are for immigration, or you are against it. Wholeheartedly. There is little – to no – room for a middle-ground, a sensible debate that not only brings out the positive aspects of a liberal immigration policy, but discusses its flaws and where it needs work.

But ponder the possibility that these problems that have arisen in Sweden over the last decade might not have to do with where the immigrants are from, who they bring with them or how easily they are allowed to enter? What if it has to do with the fact that a large portion of immigrants are dropped in to a society that is closed, cold and requires a lot more effort to be integrated in? What if, integrating immigrants from day one will give them a lot more in the long run than just allowing them to enter the country without prerequisites and demands?

A question of figures
According to Swedish Member of Parliament, Hanif Bali, almost 14 per cent of immigrants are unemployed, compared to four percent for ‘native’ Swedes. This is a relatively staggering figure – and a figure that on its own could lead one to believe that it is unwillingness among immigrants to work that is the main issue. The Swedish Criminal Service does not distinguish between Swedish nationals with immigrant decent and Swedish nationals born in the country. However, they do claim that 32 per cent of prisoners in Swedish jails are foreign nationals with 160 nationalities represented. With all the overwhelming statistics put on the table – what should the debate regarding immigration then be?

The debate in Sweden should not revolve around how many immigrants are in prison, how many are unemployed or what benefits they are getting without fulfilling the right requirements. The debate should be about why immigrants are in prison, why immigrants are unemployed and why immigrants feel the need to claim benefits that could be distributed to other people – immigrants or natives – that are in greater need of them.

Because until the underlying issues behind the socioeconomic problems surrounding the Swedish society and its immigration policy are thoroughly investigated, the current downward spiral will only keep going down. The further down the spiral Sweden falls, the closer it will get to a point where there is no turning back – where the built up anger and animosity against immigrants and immigration will cause terrible events like the ones on Utøya, Norway, in 2011.

Lack of cooperation, respect and willingness to improve
Politicians, journalists and the common man should stop talking around each other and start talking to each other. Realizing that both parties have a common ground – the well-being of Sweden – would be the first step towards working together on an extremely complicated issue. But the way that the immigration debate is going only shows a lack of cooperation, respect and willingness to improve.

Unfortunately, the media plays a large role in creating this clear-cut split between pro-or-2265691662_3bae969475_danti-immigration. A predominately left-oriented and humanistic media landscape shapes a narrative that allows for very little debate and alternative opinions. This has led to a surge in ‘free’ online news outlets which ‘highlight’ the ‘problems’ with immigration. In essence, by excluding and taking away the possibility of a healthy debate, the media fuels these websites, giving people on the fence that extra push towards a ‘news outlet’ which only caters to views that highlight negativity with immigration.

In a world where journalism should bring people together, nourish free speech and the right to an opinion, the Swedish media landscape is shooting itself in the foot. It is not only driving people away from reading traditional news, it is a major factor in the downward spiral that the Swedish society is in when it comes to debate surrounding immigration.

In order for Sweden to fully develop and take advantage of all the knowledge and benefits that comes from a cultural exchange and a multicultural society the country must start with embracing that it is not perfect. With every positive comes a negative. The positive will never be fully appreciated until the negative is dealt with. In the case of immigration, the negative is the lack of integration. If every Swede claims to have the country’s best interest at heart, then start by taking a step towards people with a different opinion rather than further distancing yourself. This applies to every politician, journalist and every other person in Sweden that has a single care about the future and prosperity of the country.

Immigration in Austria – from coercion to cooperation?

Austria has a rocky past when it comes to immigration, but as Johannes Perterer examines, the introduction of one man has changed the landscape of Austrian politics completely.

At first sight, Austria seems to be everything but a comfortable place for immigrants and those of immigrant descent.

The European Migrant Integration Policy Index, which analyses how advantageous or detrimental the legal situation of immigrants in a certain EU country is, puts Austria second-last on the list, with only Latvia lagging behind. In terms of naturalization of foreigners, Austria is plum last.

What’s more, the republic has one of the most vibrant and successful right wing populist parties in Europe. The FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreich), which stands for “Austrian Freedom Party”, with its party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, received 20.5 per cent of the votes in the last parliamentary election in September 2013. The party has been accused of a xenophobic, racist and hostile rhetoric towards immigrants and those with an immigration background. Their well-known formula of success is to externalize the blame for complex societal problems by projecting it on immigrants of all generations.


Ever since the party last made up part of a government – in 2005 – it has been steadily growing. Some observers even suggest that, had it not been for additional competitors on the right and various intra-party corruption scandals, it would have become the strongest power in the last election.

Sebastian Kurz – a game-changer

The burgeoning right’s hostility towards foreigners and those of foreign descent is a major factor in the political landscape which still carries considerable political momentum. But the overall tone of the immigration debate has remarkably changed since April 2011, when the office of State Secretary for Integration was created by the Christian, conservative party ÖVP. Sebastian Kurz, then a 24-year-old law student, was named state secretary for integration.

Kurz copy

Receiving scorn and mockery from the media and even his own party colleagues behind closed doors for his lack of experience and youthfulness, no one took him seriously or expected much of him. An omnipresent media storm accompanied the nomination of the youngest member of an Austrian government in history.

But after six months, the media started to embrace the administration of office carried out by Kurz. As one of the first actions in office, he issued a catalogue of 20 measures to improve integration. His intent was to take actions which would augment the integration process in the long run, making language ability and education his top priorities.

Before Kurz assumed office, the immigration debate on the right was determined by accusations and passive-aggressive claims on what immigrants had to do to deserve to be living in Austria. Kurz ended this vicious and unproductive cycle of aggressiveness and defiance by believing the more immigrants would be better educated and fluent in German, the more they would also wish to contribute and be a part of the Austrian culture and society. He didn’t address these issues in a polemic way in order to gain political capital, rather he came up with plausible solutions, suggesting a second mandatory year of pre-school for everyone and created a new system to acknowledge foreign university degrees in Austria.

Cooperation, not coercion, as well as “integration through achievement” were the maxims he spread during his first years in office. He did something which politicians usually don’t do – he acted with a vision, with long-sightedness, and tried to tackle the problems with integration from the bottom up.

Sebastian Kurz is now the most popular politician in Austria. It is a bizarre thing to praise a politician, as a journalist – a profession which usually prides itself for its critique of domination. However, in this case, one has to give credit to whom credit is due.While the two opposite camps in the immigration debate have shown that their interest in solutions is secondary to ideological warfare to attract new votership, Kurz chose a middle way. He showed that solutions can be found which are less based on emotion and which are more pragmatic and more focused on constructive solutions.

‘Us’, ‘Them’, and the Walls of Order

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years ago this November, many believed that Europe’s final wall had come down. From then on, Europe would unite and borders would slowly disappear. Yet, the idea of Europe as a borderless continent is an illusion as Lisanne Oldekamp investigates for Pandeia: not to mention the rest of the world. 

Francis Fukuyama was perhaps the most optimistic: he announced the ‘end of history’ would shortly follow the end of the Cold War. He expected that there would never again be wars and that people would collectively move towards democracy and capitalism. In the 1990s, this optimism was quickly shattered. And although interstate wars, nowadays referred to as the ‘classic’ type of war, occur far less than during the Cold War, borders have by no means disappeared.

In fact, since 2001, walls have risen all across the world to form an obstacle between one nation and the other. The Dutch online medium De Correspondent devoted an extensive article on the topic, claiming that three quarters of the world’s border walls have been built during the last thirteen years.

Wall against Terror

3941892391_95f5ae330c_oMostly, the builders of these walls use one of two arguments: they are intended either to disable terrorists from illegally entering the country or to stop illegal non-terrorist immigrants. Both arguments are justified by the use or creation of a fear, claiming that those on the other side of the walls pose a threat. Whether they threaten national security or the economic opportunities of citizens within the walls, it is crucial to keep them out – and what better way than to build a wall?

It is commonly known that the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks were not from Mexico. Yet, as the Secure Fence Act passed US Congress, the wall on the border with Mexico was considered part of the defense strategy in the War on Terror. This War was used to counter moral objections in the debates on the building of other walls as well. In Israel, the final objections were evaporated by the argument that terroristic attacks would stop if access to Israel was made impossible. India used a similar sentiment while building a wall on its border with Bangladesh.

In Europe, the argument of terrorism is overshadowed by that of massive immigration. The idea of a continent flooded by gold diggers from Africa or Eastern Europe is very persistent in European discourse. The Italian island of Lampedusa has regularly reached the headlines as an example of these arguments. But it is not just the physical border countries of Europe that fear excessive immigration. Although The Netherlands are bordered only by fellow Western European countries, there has been a heated debate on the immigration of Eastern Europeans. After Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on January 1st, citizens from these countries were feared to massively (ab)use the Dutch social benefits system. A majority of the Dutch therefore rooted for closing their country’s borders for these immigrants, causing for opposition leader Geert Wilders to take a traffic sign to the Romanian embassy in The Hague, stating that the ambassador’s fellow countrymen were not welcome in The Netherlands. 8894994986_c8e07061a4_b

Symbolic politics

But are these border walls actually doing what they are intended for? Have terrorist attacks and illegal immigration actually decreased because of the walls? Many scientists argue that the walls are only partially effective, at best. Yes – in urban areas in the south of the USA illegal immigration has decreased. But on other parts of the border, where there is no wall (yet), immigration has only increased.

One clear effect of the border walls is that illegal immigration has undergone some significant changes. Since easier ways to cross borders have disappeared, immigrants cross borders more often in groups. This has lured the attention of human traffickers, who often ask a lot of money to transport groups of people to the other side of the border. There is of course no guarantee for success, and the high death toll of trafficking shows the dangers of these alternative ways of immigration.

Furthermore, since border crossing has become increasingly difficult, numbers indicate that more immigrants stay in the United States permanently – where before the closing of the border, they crossed back and forth. These numbers indicate that border crossing is not a one-way stream: foreign laborers often travel back and forth between the home country and the country they work in.

As argued by associate professor of Geopolitics and Political Geography Henk van Houtum, the fear of The Netherlands being flooded by economic immigrants is greatly overestimated. In an interview on Dutch radio in 2012, he argued that this fear was a ‘classic scapegoat theory’:

“Eastern-Europeans already have access to certain countries in Europe. The numbers show that those countries experience nothing even close to a flood of immigrants: only three per cent of the Romanian and Bulgarian labor force works in Italy and Spain.”

But then at least the walls make a country a better place, right? Wrong. Terrorism is becoming more and more home-grown (Boston marathon; Oslo and Utoya; London subway). The discourse of fear for national security is countered by creating a sense of safety that is mostly illusionary, as argued by Reece Jones. In a phone interview with the previously mentioned Dutch online medium De Correspondent, he states that “there is no proof whatsoever that border walls have a more than marginal effect on terrorism”.

7439932002_72b534d64f_bImagined security

But why, then, have governments across the world grown so fond of wall-building in the past decade and a half? Experts argue that civilians’ sense of security is threatened by globalization. The increasing multiculturalism of (Western) societies has caused for an increasing need to underline a sense of belonging, of nationalism even. And inhabitants of these societies turn to their governments for protection.

But no government is able to eliminate all external threats (whether real or imagined). Therefore, they turn to methods that create an illusion of safety. In the case of the Indian wall on its border with Bangladesh, Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati argues that the measure was as ineffective as it was genius. Since doing nothing would have been political suicide, and a military intervention would have created a massacre, “building a fence was the least harmful way of doing nothing.”

Aside from the many negative side-effects border walls have for those on the other side of the wall, this is perhaps their only function. It creates an imaginary sense of security for the people on the ‘right’ side of the walls. So sleep tight, tonight: Big Brother is walling you.

Photograph: Flickr, Creative Commons by Rakastajatar, Sweet Marjoram, Tal King Photographer, Scott Cawley

The long road to nowhere


Courage, devastation, anger and sorrow all mix together in these stunning stories that represent the migration struggle in South America. Luis Eduardo Barrueto reports from Guatemala the tragedy of crossing the Mexican border that immigrants have to face, bravely risking their lives to reach the ‘American dream’.  

The Faces of Migration 
The producers of the Mexican film, The Golden Cage (La jaula de oro, 2013), decided to portray the story with more than a dash of hyperrealism when they searched for their cast in Guatemalan communities with a high degree of emigration. The selected cast portrays the two Guatemalan youngsters – a boy and a girl – and a Mexican tzotzil boy in their route across Mexico towards the United States.

The cast is composed of non-actors. According to producer Inna Payán, they were very much aware that the story they were portraying was all too real, all too painful.

The action portrayed is thus on the dividing line between fiction and documentary but it struck a cord with European critics when it was presented at the Cannes Film Festival. Its possible that analysing a story that takes place across the Atlantic Ocean allows Europeans to fully understand the logic of the migration that takes place, in a different guise, within their own borders?

La arrocera
One work of non-fiction however, is the story of Paola, interviewed by Oscar Martínez in a project called “On the road”, by the regional digital newspaper El Faro.

Paola, a Guatemalan transexual, was 23 when she narrated the story of unbuckling belts and whispered negotiations behind her back on board a train recently into the Mexican border in her trip (“You go first, then it’s my turn”). These raw comments did not disturb her upheld posture when she decided to interrupt them and without even turning her back to see their reactions, she told them to do whatever they wanted with one condition : “Look, do whatever you want but wear condoms. There are a few in my backpack, the red one over there. I recommend you do that because I have AIDS”. She added a not-so-veiled threat: “I though you were too manly and only fucked women”, despite the fact that she had by then effectively switched identities at the time and did not recognize herself as anything but a woman.

Paola didn’t have AIDS, but what she did have after five years of being a prostitute, was a precise intuition of men’s measure, added to a self-earned resilience. She was left alone, not without being robbed and insulted profusely first, but this demonstrated that her false threat had been effective. Tall and victorious, she took what was left in her red backpack, put on some makeup and a black blouse, and was then certain about that which she had only previously ever been warned of: something always happens in La arrocera. All 45 of her companions were assaulted in this short section between Tapachula and Arriaga, a danger zone for migrants that consists of barely 28 ranches and takes its name from an inhabited rice warehouse that is falling apart in the road.

Unspoken kidnappings
Barely across the border from Guatemala, la arrocera is one of the first hardships that travelling across Mexico presents the migrants with, but it is hardly the only one. Tapachula, Tenosique, Ciudad Hidalgo are all frontier towns in the south of Mexico where abductions are common practice, as Oscar Martinez reports for the newspaper El Faro. Migrants fret, alarmed, asking for someone to do something, as well as asking for anonymity when they speak to journalists as they describe what happens daily in that territory. The Zetas and their allies, in broad daylight, kidnap dozens of Central Americans and place them in houses that are well known to many people – including the authorities.

“The commercial logic is simple”, writes Martínez, “It is better to kidnap 40 people over several days in order to get a ransom of around $300 per person [from their relatives in the United States, usually], than kidnapping just one businessman, who despite delivering the money in one go, may call up the attention of the press and the police”.

Those are the kidnappings whose stories are untold and whose victims remain without proper recourse or compensation. They wouldn’t denounce it even if they could, because that may put them in danger of deportation, setting their whole journey back to the starting point.

The beast
José Luis Fernández, 17, took every precaution, survived the assaults and the perks of such hard travelling. He never imagined fainting from the heat in the last train he boarded from Torreón to Juárez. He boarded and he was sitting in a small juncture where the wagons couple together, and he tells journalist Alejandra Gutiérrez for news website Plaza Publica that “I was sitting, but my feet were hurting from the swelling caused by all the walking. I was thinking about that when the lights turned off and I fell. It was like a faint. Imagine that. I took care of not falling asleep, from not being caught by the migration police, from the assaults, but I never thought that I would faint. The heat in Chihuahua and the fact that I hadn’t eaten in three days made me fall. The train pulled me and I woke up, the train cut my leg and the pain made me reach for it with my arm, which also got caught. I wanted to die because I didn’t even lose consciousness and couldn’t even move to get myself killed by the train […] I’m only alive because a man passed by and immediately called the Red Cross”.

His story is representative of yet another danger posed by migration, caused by the crossing of Río Bravo in the US-Mexican border or in the process of climbing aboard and getting off moving trains, regularly between 10 and 15 trains in total across from Arriaga, Chiapas, towards different points in the northern border. The whole network is dubbed The beast or the Death Train because the falls and deaths are not uncommon, due to a mix of tiredness, famine, and emotional stress. The question remains open regarding what states could change towards their migration policy to make it more efficient, and also, more humane.

A global phenomenon
Though these stories are an attempt to portray migrants’ reality, they are all but fragmentary bits and pieces of an incredibly complex phenomenon with scarcely any systematically compiled information. The way that their episodes are framed in this piece avoids the usual narrative provided by most media’s treatment of migration.

Inasmuch as their accounts can be fully provided with context, they are a representation of a story that is familiar to Central Americans and Mexicans en route to the United States, but also to Cuban balseros, groups of Africans arriving to land in the European mediterranean coasts or Iranians crossing, via Indonesia, towards the Christmas Island in Australia in harsh sea. Despite differences in transport mode, hardships faced and outcomes achieved, the reality of migration is this one: they leave because to die trying is preferable than to remain living, in a land deprived of opportunities.