(warning, long read… this is a resume of just a few days of intense, personal, experiences…)
The past week I traveled against the stream of the refugees, saw the actual situation in the improvised camps & talked to a lot of local and international people on the way.
I’m no journalist. Just a simple human being. I have hardly any words for what I saw, getting off the train in Budapest, seeing the border situation between Hungary & Serbia, the people literally sleeping on the streets and in parks in Belgrade.
Again and again, I bumped into a heavily changing situation. In Budapest, the border fence being closed, and arriving while the people were protesting “this is not my country”. Leaving Budapest at the moment all the trains in the direction of Western Europe were stopped. Entering Serbia, and the now closed border at Subotica. And on a smaller scale, the first rain & cloudburst in Belgrade, and the refugee camp being soaked.
If you witness this, you can do three things. And I did all three. I’ve cried. I’ve hardened my heart and walked on. And I did some small things, to help just a few people…
But basically. Don’t panic. Organize.
Ok, let me make one thing clear from the start. No matter how desperate the situations of the refugees sometimes was, what is so frikkin great is the amount of support, both material, moral, political and in many other ways. . And no matter how bad the politics of a country seem to be, and Hungary is unfortunately one of the greatest examples, this does NOT represent, at least what I witnessed, and from the people I talked with, the general opinion of the people.
Of course, I might be biased in who I meet. But also in the hostels where I was staying, and I seemed to have a great talent for picking hostels where the refugees literally slept in the doorway, I’ve not heard one negative word about them. More a lot of understanding, and a wish to help… And this is seen everywhere in Europe.
There is no migrant or refugee “crisis” (statistics told us this long ago). This is not even a political crisis, though a xenophobe minority tries to present it that way. It’s a politician’s crisis.
Every time some politician shouts “not in my backyard” or screams to close the borders, there’s an uproar from all corners of the people they should represent. Every corner. Even the most unexpected ones.
Football-fans holding up huge banners with “refugees welcome”. The frikkin Bild-tabloid starting a campaign in favor of refugees. The people from a far-from-the-heat-country such as Iceland who put up the middle finger towards their government which only wanted to take up 50 refugees. People in germany starting an “AirBnB”site for refugees. The rich-people-village of Haren in the Netherlands which as one of the first communal governments says to the dutch national government: no, closing the borders and deporting people is not the solution, stick it with your laws, send them here, to us, to our backyards. People from Austria who, after 5 people were arrested in Hungary for bringing refugees over the border (no, these were not the money-grabbing smugglers, these were dedicated people) organized a convoy for next Sunday, and already over 2,000 drivers (ok, it’s facebook, so maybe 100 will actually show up….) have said they will join the convoy to go to Hungary and load the refugees in their cars & vans.
Don’t panic. Organize.
This is not even counting all the initiatives I have seen popping all over my facebook timeline. For Calais. For the refugees on the LaGeSo in Berlin. To protect the refugees there, where they are unfortunately met by aggression and intolerance in small villages in Germany. People who physically block the cops trying to deport refugees in Germany and Holland. All the stuff happening after the eviction of the refugee camps on Oranienplatz, and all the small initiatives in every neighborhood to “support your local refugee”, also after a refugee’s request is denied and his stay has become illegal. The huge turnup a few months ago when the “Center for polical beauty”decided to literally turn the lawn in front of the german parliament into a graveyard, and thousands of people digging makeshift with their hands, and peacefully protecting this “cemetery” against the cops.
I saw the pictures from when the refugees started walking from Budapest to Austria, how many individual people decided to bring food and water on the route. I’ve met the people who, even in not very wealthy countries, work their asses off to support the refugees with food, shelter and clothing. I’ve met people when traveling who risk their lives and their freedom to get refugees over the border, who break the fences again, and who have been to northern Africa and on the Mediterranean sea to literally pick up refugees and save them from drowning. They showed me the pictures of children, up to age 13, in overfilled prisons in Northern Africa… They told me stories, how they visit the deportation centers, and people shouting through the small holes in the doors: “I’m a doctor” “I’m a teacher”… They are imprisoned for fleeing a war.
Because Europe, the politicians say that “we”, the people, don’t want them here. Which, seeing the enormous amount of support, is simply NOT TRUE.
And the support is practical (food, shelter, clothing) but also political. Mostly practical at the moment. I luckily live in a city where there always has been a good “network” of small alternative initiatives. So it was relatively (relatively!) easy for these little hubs in the network to finetune their normal activities (the foodsaving, the huge network of re-using and sharing-economy, the many initiatives which exist to support homeless people..) for that which was needed for example on the LaGeSo.
This isn’t the same everywhere. In many places, the people who want to support the refugees (independent from governmental or bigger official organizations) have to start from scrap. And that’s frikkin hard.
But you know what? These small, unprofessional, spontaneous, local initiatives seem to work a lot better, are a lot more flexible and efficient, than many “official” organizations, let alone the governments. Don’t panic. Organize.
It seems the “general public”, the laymen, have a better idea about how to handle the situation, or are at least a lot quicker to learn by doing, than the, well.. dinosaurs. And though these small initiatives started very local, I don’t know if it is my bias, since I was literally traveling from situation to situation, it seems they are spreading like ink stains, and it slowly seems to become an actual, international, network…
At the moment, I see a lot of initiatives popping up for Calais. The “Jungle” has been there for some time, but now the support truly goes international. I somehow hope (duuuh… hippie….) that my little sidetrip and meeting up with the people in Hungary and Serbia will result in maybe really practical, trying to transport the stuff, of which we have excess, and which is seriously lacking somewhere else. Already friends of mine told me they would like to support the people in Serbia with stuff… (gosh, I want Scotty to do some beaming up…)
It ‘s not that the situation there, or in the other places I saw on my travels, are all of a sudden heaven, just because some people are trying the best they can. In Germany, or at least in Berlin as well as in Budapest the problem is not too little material support, more, well.. too much of things that weren’t needed. But it was quickly coordinated. In Hungary, the political situation is really, really bad. So are the cops and the police brutality. That’s the main problem, at least, my impression when I was there. Material and moral support is plenty. The demonstration against the government because of its refugee policy on Wednesday says it all.
Politics have always been simply ignored in Berlin. Here there’s more the problem of the xenophobes, who are more than willing to use organized violence against the refugees.. after all they’ve been through. And I have to admit, from some of the stuff I heard, I’m happy the antifa reacts quickly, and can be there when needed.
The other problem is, Germany IS for many refugees the end of the journey. But many are turned down. Even if a deportation is prevented, even if for example a youth club refuses the orders of the city to kick the refugees out of their building, they still have nowhere to go in the longer run. And no hope left… All you can do is “emergency help”.
What I saw in Serbia, and I guess it will be even worse further down south, is simply not that many “leftovers” from a consumer society, so many, very necessary, materials are constantly lacking. Also, from what I’ve heard, there’s a very good reason to distrust many of the more official, governmental, support (different as in Hungary, where it seems it’s a “power” thing, here it is, well.. simply money). Corruption is not exactly unknown… Also, many refugees, when they finally manage to cross the border to Serbia, risk losing the last of their few possessions because they are a far too easy prey…
The fences won’t stop the people from fleeing. They will only have a bigger chance of dying, or suffer more on the way. The fence in Hungary is a good example. It is closed, but there’s 1.000s in Serbia who will find means to cross it. The people in Budapest are already preparing for the next wave of refugees. The train station in Budapest was blocked for the refugees. So the people started walking. They will come here. They have hardly any choice. You would do the same in their situation. And you’d prolly try to get as far from the danger, just like they do. And you wouldn’t want to try to seek safety in Saudi Arabia either…
They’re human beings. Not statistics. Not a “crisis”. I’ve seen their children, playing with pink balloons donated by volunteers in front of the station in Budapest, and for a short moment, smiling and playing. I shared a video of the kids dancing in the park in Belgrade. But think of the memories they will have, because Fortress Europe rather sees them drown, tear-gasses them and their parents, packs them in overfilled trains to a deportation center, or forces them to walk along the highway, or how they have witnessed their parents getting arrested for trying to get through a fence…As one of the people I met on my travels, who was a refugee as a kid, told me: your childhood stops, when you become a refugee.
Oh, and yes, I’ve had more than enough discussions about how the capitalist system is to blame, or how we should change the system, or how the situation in Syria, Eritrea, or Afghanistan should be improved so there’s no need to flee. Of course I agree. But that won’t happen over night.
And the people are here. Right here, and right now. And they need support.
Practically, morally, and politically. Again. Don’t panic. Organize.