DAY 225 Dreams and nightmares

September 10th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


I acquired a poet to help me get some order into my flat. It may need more, and at the time I had extra problems like no folders or practically none to sort the mountain of paper and worse no will or intellectual ability to make all those decisions about which documents of twenty years back have now passed their sell-by date and should be binned. As you know – do you have this problem? – it’s not even the pausing, taking time to read the old stuff (‘Gosh! I had talent when I wrote that, where’s it gone?’) that’s a killer –  it’s the indecision between binning and keeping. I should honestly delegate the whole thing.

But, as a next best, I’m employing  – for the essential if menial task of asking whether to bin, and binning if I say yes – the famous Calais Sudanese poet Mohamed Omar AKA DreamScreen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.25.48 who I met (we think, these things are often uncertain) at Jungle Books and who now hopes to follow a course in creative writing – not that he needs it. I’d better interpose one of his poems:

Be like the stars bright on a pure sky,

like the moonlight in the deepest darkest night

fabulous you can’t see the way,

and be like a mesmerising sunrise

among overlapping and crashing waves,

that dancing with the sand on the beach

like staring on the clouds,

staring at the sunset your love on everyone.

You can see how he and I will complement each other, as I could never come up with something like that. But also the poem could frame some (borrowed) thoughts about where we are, how we’ve come to be there, and where we are going. Because I don’t see how it will end. In fact, (and perhaps this my main theme if I have one) why do we go on speaking of ‘the refugee crisis’? It has become the constant, and constantly worsening, condition of our lives. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the frightening latest moves by Europe to outsource the African ‘migrant problem’ to criminal gangs based in Libya. Much more forcefully than I, and with more authority, MSF have now made a statement; it goes like this.

An open letter from MSF International President Dr Joanne Liu to European government leaders
6 September 2017

Dear European Leaders,

What migrants and refugees are living in Libya should shock the collective conscience of Europe’s citizens and elected leaders.

Blinded by the single-minded goal of keeping people outside of Europe, European funding is helping to stop the boats from departing Libyan waters, but this policy is also feeding a criminal system of abuse.

The detention of migrants and refugees in Libya is rotten to the core. It must be named for what it is: a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion. And European governments have chosen to contain people in this situation. People cannot be sent back to Libya, nor should they be contained there.

MSF has assisted people in Libyan detention centres in Tripoli for over a year, and has witnessed first-hand the scheme of arbitrary detention, extortion, physical abuse and deprivation of basic services that men, women and children suffer in these centres.

I visited a number of official detention centres last week and we kDJIPF8PWAAAdwVWnow that these official detention centres are just the tip of the iceberg.

People are simply treated as a commodity to be exploited. They are packed into dark, filthy rooms with no ventilation, living on top of one another. Men told us how groups of them are forced to run naked in the courtyard until they collapse from exhaustion. Women are raped and then made to call their families back home asking for money to be freed. All the people I met had tears in their eyes, asking again and again, to get out. Their despair is overwhelming.

The reduced numbers of people leaving Libyan shores has been lauded by some as a success in preventing loss of life at sea, and smashing smugglers’ networks.

But with the knowledge of what is happening in Libya, that this should be lauded as a success demonstrates, at best, pure hypocrisy and at worse, a cynical complicity in the organised business of reducing human beings to merchandise in human traffickers’ hands.

The people trapped in these well-documented, nightmarish conditions in Libya need a way out. They need access to protection, asylum and increased voluntary repatriation procedures. They need an escape to safety via safe and legal passage, but to date, only a tiny fraction of people have been able to access this.

This horrific violence against them must stop; there needs to be a basic respect for their human rights including access to sufficient food, water and medical care.

Despite declarations by governments that improvements need to be made to peoples’ immediate conditions, this is far from happening today.

Instead of confronting the vicious cycle that their own policies are creating, politicians have hidden behind unfounded accusations towards NGOs and individuals who attempt to help people in dire straits.  During its Search and Rescue operations at sea, MSF has been shot at by the European-funded Libyan coast guard and repeatedly accused of collusion with traffickers. But who is colluding with criminals here? Those seeking to rescue people, or those enabling people to be treated like a commodity to be packed and sold?

Libya is just the most recent and extreme example of European migration policies which go back several years, where a primary objective is to push people out of sight. The EU-Turkey deal from 2016, what we have seen in Greece, in France, in the Balkans and beyond, are a growing trend of border closures and push backs.

What this does is close options for people who seek safe and legal ways of coming to Europe and pushes them further and further into the smugglers’ networks, which European leaders insist they want to dismantle. Safe and legal avenues for people to cross borders are the only way to eliminate the perverse incentives that allow for smugglers and traffickers to thrive whilst at the same time fulfilling border control objectives.

We cannot say that we did not know that this was happening. The predation on misery and the horrific suffering of those trapped must end now.

In their efforts to stem the flow, is allowing people to be pushed into rape, torture and slavery via criminal pay offs a price European governments are willing to pay?

Yours sincerely

Dr Joanne Liu
International President, Médecins Sans Frontières

This ‘pushing people out of sight’ is the worst now, in that they are beyond the reach of the networks who have been building a focus of resistance across Europe – we could think of Dunkerque, of the Italian border and Germany. As Izzy Ellis says (I quote from a long history centred on Greece and the EU-Turkey deal) ‘the solidarity movement that responded is remarkable, women’s safe spaces and schools have been set up by individuals and funded independently but in terms of its political scope, effects have been limited. Prior to the deal many lost their lives, but many rebuilt them too; a dead child doesn’t represent the torture victims who escaped prisons and started anew, the young people who began college in another language or the single mothers who carried their kids across borders. It’s just that we are conveniently less likely to indulge such images.

If we were moved by such stories, rather than fatalities, maybe we could pave the way for our governments to stop creating them.

It would be an opportunity to embrace those who were lucky, who survived and risked everything seeking refuge, hoping to join the European community that has been completely rejected is representative of something much more frightening than an image of a dead child. It indicates a population not just indifferent but vindictive – for those stranded on the outskirts of Europe may never move on. The police brutality, the cold winters and the hate they endure could still be for nothing. No more is their gamble simply against the sea and an inflatable, overcrowded dinghy.’

Now think, as MSF are pointing out, of what the Libyan ‘deal’ represents. There are no photographers to capture the terrors of the Libyan detention centres;  the chances of escape are that much slenderer; there is little space for the home-based resistance we see in Europe. Failing an unlikely change of heart from the rulers, we can only expect another turn of the screw.

Can we get any comfort (those of us who are poets) from poetry? In Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words (and he thought Mary might comfort him as few of us do):

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”‘
    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

The back story

We should remember, too, that this whole story is a version, like a recurring nightmare, of an earlier one – but on an ever increasing scale. The moral of Izzy’s piece, it seems to me, is that there is not, will never be a plan, simply widening cycles of cruelty.

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods

They kill us for their sport.

Lear was speaking of gods, but he knew (and we know) that it is human actions that affect us.

Ages ago – well, five or ten years – before I or Izzy (I imagine, she must have been a teenager) were aware that Calais was anything but the other end of the ferry, home of the booze cruise, Jungle+2013-2016_600pxwideit housed a jungle and was subjected to police repression; and radical geographers were already studying the population, repression and resistance and referencing Rancière and Agamben. If they, or we, had been prescient (but why would we have foreseen Syria?), we’d have realised that the same jungle would be smashed, rebuilt, smashed again; have grown in two years from a population of 1000 to 10000. This is another story which isn’t finished, can’t finish. As Kim Rygiel wrote in 2011, four years before Nathalie Bouchart ‘gave’ the space for the new jungle to the migrants, five and a half years before she, with the power of the French state, demolished it – not for the first time evidently, there were camps and demolitions and self-organisation in Calais. I quote:

Detention, migrant mobilizations, and citizenship politics

‘Citizenship is fundamentally about the relations of governing ourselves and others (Rygiel 2010a). As Isin (2009, p. 371) correctly notes, ‘Citizenship is not membership. It is a relation that governs the conduct of (subject) positions that constitute it’. Citizenship evokes the language of social relations in connection to politics and subjectivity. citiz
Describing migrant struggles in terms of citizenship focuses attention on how such struggles invoke a notion of politics based on the types of relations we develop in connection to one another as political, as human, beings, based on the possibilities of alternative (and disruptive) futures. If, ‘every politics of border control is an attempt to control the borders of the political’ (Mitropoulos and Neilson 2006), migrant struggles aimed at transgressing border controls are also at least potentially about new imaginings of political community that disrupts the sovereign imaginings of inside/outside, insiders and outsiders. Thus, the attempt to violate or evade the border … is thus a politically significant act. Involving complex relations between heterogeneous agents, not all of whom act for beneficent reasons, it signals a politics of potentiality or of what might be in the face of, and despite, existing geopolitical divisions and territorialisations. (Mitropoulos and Neilson 2006) From the perspective of migrant struggles as citizenship politics, detention is a technology of citizenship that aims precisely to interrupt migrants’ use of social space as a resource in migratory politics in which to engage and make claims to citizenship. It is for this reason that it is so important to investigate camp spaces like ‘the jungle’ not as simply spaces of exceptionality and bare life but as spaces of politics in their own right (Isin and Rygiel 2007a). The rest of this paper develops a politics of the camp by reflecting on three different readings of the camp space in the case of Calais.’

I recommend Rygiel (and many like her) if you can get them through JStor or whatever; they may take your mind, for a moment, off the current disasters and remind you of the fundamental issues which are still around, unsettled. No one knows what to do, or where to go; only casual cruelty seems to provide a solution. But what solution can be even temporary? Let’s look towards the future. Here is Fairouz, ‘Sanarja3ou‘ (We will return) to give us some hope; and here, even more improbably, is the ‘We’re Safe‘ clip from ‘the movie ‘Children of Men’ to suggest that even under total repression, sterility, shooting all around, babies will be born and carried in boats to the future. Ironic or what?


Where am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for September, 2017 at Luke Hodgkin.