1 PM Sunday May 18, Kehl – We came running, 26 people from Freedom Not Frontex NL, refugees from We Are Here Amsterdam and sympathizers, all of us activists against the borders, the fortress of Europe. We came running, and we just made it in time after a 7 hours bus drive to this small town on the German side of the river Rhine.
Here, the river is the border, but it’s not as deadly as the human made borders, and we were about to cross that border, with about 300 people that were already gathered in a manifestation in front of the train station of Kehl. They started walking as we approached and we joined them just in time, unfolding our banners and joining in the singing ‘Ooolalaa Ooolelee refugees are welcome here’.
The spirits were high, expectations uncertain. What would happen the moment we set foot on the French side of that border? None of us was carrying any papers. We were a large group of people without identification, in solidarity with those who are undocumented, without rights. I realized then and now that this will never make us equal, no matter how hard we want it. We can leave our passports at home, but we will not leave our status behind, nor will the refugees suddenly gain status. An outrage that is, it is the one we are fighting. However, it is a statement to make: not to carry our passports.
We walked onto that bridge, excited. It was the amazing beginning of the March 2 Freedom. So many people united for freedom of movement. To me, this is the ultimate no border action. There is no place as relevant to fight the borders as on one of them. No Borders, no nations, stop deportations! Singing, chanting, yelling, we walked until right at the middle of that bridge and then stopped. Some people spoke of the struggle, of the right to exist, in different languages, powerful, strong, determined, anyone could feel that, and with this, the language barrier was broken as well. We could all feel it as one of the speakers asked for a moment, a minute, of silence, for all those that didn’t make it in to the Fortress of Europe, or made it, and then were victimized inside Europe. A moment of silence for all those drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, suffocated in the back of a truck, died of any of the many causes, by starvation, suicide, untreated illnesses, by barbed wire and camera’s, by fences and prisons and deportation, that are the result of Europe’s border control, the works of Frontex and Eurosur.
We all sat down. And it was quiet. Not a word was spoken. Banners laid down on the asphalt of the bridge. A lot of us must have thought of someone they once knew, a person searching for a better life, the right to exist. Someone murdered by the European Union, it’s politics, it’s parliament that meets once a month in Strasbourg, the city on the other side of the river. That moment of silence, I thought of a man I once met, shortly before he was coerced to leave the Netherlands, not awaiting deportation and hoping to find his wife. There had been a goodbye meeting and I’d been invited. I will never forget that moment, that man, that one night of goodbyes. Years later he was murdered in Kabul, Afghanistan. Another victim.
And then we got up. We started walking. To cross the border. It was powerful. The silence turned into a massive cheer as we entered France, like a victory. We did it! We crossed the border. This may not be the high fenced and barbed wired border of Ceuta or Mellila, but we did cross it and no authorities were standing in our way. Surely, permission was given to demonstrate from Kehl to Strasbourg, but that did not automatically mean that entering France was allowed without any identity checks. without demanding to see those damn papers we do not want to need. But we were not surrounded. We were not checked. Police kept at a distance. And we continued into Strasbourg, into French. It is hard to believe that by crossing a bridge laws have changed, language is no more the same. But we were there and Strasse became Rue and slogans were yelled in an even larger variety of languages. “Feuer und flamme der abschiebe behörden!” “Liberté pour les Sans Papiers!” And a lot more. We were one, and we were heading for the city center of Strasbourg.
It was a long demonstration. Every now and then we sat down somewhere and there were speeches. It turned out that at the same time there was a marathon in Strasbourg. Some streets were guarded by French riot police. No entrance there. They look pretty heavy duty and someone called them cockroach cops because they carry their protection armor on the outside of their uniform. Seriously, they were standing heavily packed and in the 30 degrees Celsius heat of Strasbourg! To protect what from whom? Even right in front of the museum of modern and contemporary art. Was the art to be safeguarded from us?
Right behind the museum the demonstration ended. There was music and time to relax. That same night there was a theater play. I missed that one. We set up tents near the place where we have all been eating and slept before midnight.
Monday May 19, Strasbourg – Another hot day but even more: another day of action. We went to a ‘centre de retention’, a detention center outside Strasbourg. Two high fences separated us from the incarcerated refugees inside. It was a small camp. From the outside the cell blocks looked like houses, there was a yard in the middle. Quickly upon our arrival, in response to our banners and slogans and our waving people came out. They were mainly men. Since I only speak Dutch and English, I could not talk to them myself, they spoke French, Italian, Arab. Some people managed to get in touch and have a talk. Guards nervously watched us from behind their secure fence. At some point for some reason it seemed possible that people could go in and visit, but the demo had to end and those who could not visit because they did not have an ID with them had to keep a distance. That meant the end of the demonstration. We discussed this, and many people considered this an opportunity to be able to make more contact, to write down the stories of the people inside. Some people were going to a nearby Roma camp (I don’t know how that ended).
How could we be so naïve… Some of us left tot go to Strasbourg. Since I still had no papers whatsoever on me, I left as well. On our way back we saw a little beach with a lake. Right behind the center it was. We were wondering how anyone could enjoy it, knowing that very close to that lake there was that center.
We went back to Strasbourg. There was another action going on by that time, and we wanted to see if we could still join that. Later on we heard that after all, nobody got in the detention center to visit. One person was let in, searched and frisked and sent back out again. People have been talking with the refugees through the fence though. The refugees are being held there for 45 days and then either released or deported. There was one woman inside that had to shower with the men. The showers were only cold water. That doesn’t matter on a 30 degree day, but in the winter it is cold as well… Someone wrote down a lot more. The stories will come out! (read more below the picture)
The other action was on a square called Place Kléber. The List of 17306 documented refugee deaths through Fortress Europe, dated 01/11/12, was rolled out over the square. It reached all the way from one side of the square to the other…
You can download the list here: http://www.unitedagainstracism.org/pdfs/listofdeaths.pdf
The list is not complete. Only recently lots of people died in the Mediterranean Sea, and people will continue to die as long af Frontex and Eurosur have not been burned down to the ground.
On the place Kléber, named after some French first World War hero, represented by a large statue on the middle of the square, colorful slogans and drawings were made with chalk, again in many languages. Activists were sitting in the shade. I added ‘Liberté pour les sans papiers’ to the pavement. People were passing by, walking over the slogans and drawings, passing by the list of deaths. It’s a sad thing to observe, but nevertheless the day ended in high spirits, as some refugees started playing and singing ‘Get up stand up, stand up for your rights’. We all know: this is a battle that will not be won in one day, or one week, one month, or one year. But things need to change, sooner or later.
As most of us from Freedom Not Frontex left that same night, back to the Netherlands, four of us stayed in Strasbourg to walk the march. Before we got on the bus, one of them, a refugee of We Are Here, said: “I don’t care if I get arrested. It’s for the revolution”. That’s the spirit!
Freedom Not Frontex NL intends to take part in the action week in Brussels, June 20 – 28. If you want to join, mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joke Kaviaar, may 20 2014
More info on the march:
Freedom Not Frontex NL:
March to Freedom:
More reports on: