Stop Deportations – and the demarcation between ‘peaceful volunteers’ and ‘violent activists’
Arrests and deportations of rejected asylum seekers takes place in a kind of twilight zone outside the public eye. Stop Deportations is the name of an asylum actitivist group that concretely tries to obstruct deportations in airports and make them visible. The following considers this form of activism theoretically on the basis of interviews with activists of the group.
by Søren Rafn
In his groundbreaking work Modernity and the Holocaust from 1989 the Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes the Holocaust as a distinctly modern phenomenon that was unthinkable without modern bureaucracy and instrumental rationality. The Holocaust cannot be explained as a relapse into barbarism, or a manifestation of Hitler’s madness. It is rather a phenomenon that our civilization has not yet rejected. The more advanced technologies and control mechanisms of the modern civilization are still perceived as the shield that defends us against barbaric violence and insecurity. Modern civilization does not eradicate violence at all, however, but only removes it from sight and moves it into what Bauman describes as the violence of ‘the twilight zones’. And by monopolizing violence it gives way for developing the means of violence with out restriction.
Stop Deportations is the name of an asylum actvist group. It consists of a loose network of alternating people who focus on ‘civilized’ society by zooming in on its violent twilight zones. They focus on the asylum camp, for example, where asylum seekers are not only hidden from the public, but where arrests of rejected asylum seekers are typically disguised by the darkness of night. Likewise they focus on the airport where borders are not just a matter of airport detentions and the migration control of airlines, but where deportations also take place as covertly as possible. The group can be said to challenge the state’s monopoly of violence in the hidden zones of violence by means of civil disobedience and direct actions. The declared goal of the group is to stop the deportations or make them as difficult as possible. However, their actions can just as well be understood as symbolic events with the underlying aim to make the invisible violence visible.
Stop Deportations wants to eliminate the passivity that maintains the structural violence of society. The group maintains that their reactions are emotional; based on impulses of helplessness, anger and frustration. They take place on basis of information about future deportations that are available to the group in one way or another. The feeling of helplessness does not lead to pure aggression however (actions have never caused an injury). It intensifies both spontaneity and professionalism. The group plans everything thoroughly; necessary equipment is provided, maps are drawn – and the unthinkable outcome is considered in the action: What is to be done if the freeing of the deportees becomes a real possibility? But the fact that a freeing may rarely be a reality is also considered. Actions are primarily understood as nonprogrammatic manifestations beyond the logic of utilitarianism. They are thus driven by a basic ethical attitude rather than instrumental rationality.
The actions are concretely manifested in barricades, or other attempts at intervention, near the detention centre of Camp Sandholm, Ellebæk. Once the group made a bonfire on Ellebækvej and threw themselves atop a police car before they were pushed away. But it is the airport operations that have become the trademark of the group. Here barricades are made in front of check in, and members of the group chain themselves to the counter. Meanwhile airport staff and passengers are informed of the goings on. In one action the group booked two tickets on a flight with a rejected asylum seeker. This action was a particular success: The two ‘activist tourists’ refused to get on the plane, encouraged by the other activists who informed them that a deportation was going on. This created great awareness of the situation among the staff and in the airport generally. The emotional impulse of the group must be understood in connection to an uncompromising political critique of existing social structures. Stop Deportations took its name from a former anti-fascist group and established itself in 2007. At that time several of its activists had begun to spend time in the Danish asylum camps and became aware of the deportation system that was carried hidden from the public. In particular the group found reason to protest against the deportations because many convicted Iraqis, including people who had atoned their sentences, were administratively expelled. These cases showed a clear legal disfavorment, but they also induced the group to take action against what it perceived as a racist asylum system. The group focused on fundamental rights issues regardless of individual backgrounds. The protests were supposed to express opposition to the deportations as such and thus also to the existence of national borders – rather than just the behavior of the Danish state.
In my opinion the relationship between emotions and criticism built on principle can be seen as follows: Stop Deportations does not react on the basis of specific human suffering, or on the basis of human compassion. It reacts as a matter of principle – and through its actions underscores the existence of an unjust system. But the group still reminds us that it is humans who are affected by the systemic violence through the act of responding to specific expulsions. In this context emotions can be seen to be caused by structural and systemic injustice, but they do not abstract from the concrete human fates involved. In this way Stop Deportations moves beyond both scientific coldness and the nonscientific compassion.
With its fundamental opposition to deportations Stop Deportations addresses the nation state and the nation-state demarcations in a globalized world where borders are increasingly contended and constantly have to be moved and renegotiated. The group focuses on the fact that Danish border control to a great extent is carried out within a European framework; at the borders of Europe – and that the border control of Europe has been moved onto the African continent. Here it is carried out by non-state airlines and other private actors, at least until very recently also in cooperation with North African dictators. All of this happens in a global economic landscape where migrants might be unwanted, but are paradoxically also necessary labor in maintenance of national economic sovereignty. In this light the boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’ become more and more indistinct and constantly have to be reinforced if the notion of national identity shall be maintained. Migration seems an inevitable ‘threat’ that makes the nation state act more and more desperately.
One can object that Stop Deportations confirms the structure they supposedly challenge, however; by always re-acting, by always running after, by routinely occupying a permanent space linked to deportations as if in a theater play. Thus they confirm the eternity of the system. Rightfully it should be mentioned that Stop Deportations does actions other than spontaneous reactions to deportations. The group held a demonstration against the EU border agency Frontex, for instance. As an example of a different kind of action it may also be mentioned that the group in one case prevented entry to the Immigration Service from outside. They did this by means of simple tools such as glue and matchsticks leaving the following message on the door: “Closed due to racism.” The reason for this action was that a 52-year-old Iraqi woman had been lured into a trap and arrested after an interview at the Immigration Service – as Farhiya Khalid describes February 10 2010 on Modkraft.dk. Stop Deportations wants to explore alternatives to airport operations and in the future react earlier in the deportation process. The group also expresses a desire to work closely with the transnational asylum movement in Europe.
Stop Deportations also wants to connect more to the public and to the broader political asylum protest movement in Denmark. This undoubtedly requires that strategies are reconsidered and new ones invented. This is far cry from saying that the group should assimilate or be deradicalised. Rather, Stop Deportations has a momentum due to their focus on borders – since the border violence in the twilight zone moves closer and closer. As mentioned the demarcation will be harder due to the increased pressure on the nation states by globalization. The nation state can no longer put a simple divide between them and us. Potentially the divide cuts through all people: The status of the undocumented migrant changes between legal and illegal, unaccompanied minors are deprived of their residence when they turn 18 – and Danish citizens may lose basic rights like the ability to bring a foreign spouse to the country. This may occur if the spouse does not have the ‘right’ educational background and adequate language skills. Today we are all potential losers in the casino of global capitalism.
The question is what a group like Stop Deportations can expect from the broader public and the media. When Klaus Rothstein from the newspaper Weekendavisen tried to conceptualize the perhaps upcoming asylum activism in Denmark on Aug 20 2010, he did it by drawing a clear line between a ‘noble project’ like visAvis, who had received the Peace Foundation’s Initiative Prize, and some ‘foolish offenders’ who had thrown paint on the Integration Ministry in protest against a deportation the same day. Thus Rothstein dismissed violence or vandalism as noise; as a nonlanguage that does not require analysis. He did this in favor of a communicative project, visAvis, that conversely found itself dismissed as non-violent and sympathetic. Doing this he forgot to ask himself one important question: Could the people from visAvis who received the Peace Foundation’s prize on a warm summers day in Christianshavn not have been some of the same people who went to the awards ceremony after washing the stains of their clothes from that same morning’s action?
There is a connection here: The demarcation between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – as the simplified theory of the clash of civilizations, of cultures, tries to sum up, instead of drawing the far more complex picture of a global civilization of clashes – this simplification is played
out in the media in the form of a dualistic division of peaceful volunteers and violent activists. Also, among the more humanistic journalists, it seems there is little hope that the the media can and will let go of the safety of demarcations. Rather the question is whether a broader political asylum movement and a new public can and will let go of this safety? As mentioned, there is no doubt that Stop Deportations must connect to the broader political public that works with asylum issues, and that perhaps begins to merge in civil society. But if a political movement shall have more than symbolic significance it is equally important for a broader asylum public to connect strongly to a phenomenon such as Stop Deportations.
L and her three children R (22), A (17) and S (15) were arrested three o’clock the morning of the 26th of October 2010 and imprisoned in Ellebæk at Camp Sandholm. They were released a few days later with orders to stay near Sandholm.
In August 2010 the three police officers appeared in an apartment that belonged to an Iranian girl. They arrested her 70-year-old parents whom the girl took care of in the apartment. The family was sent to Ellebæk. The woman got her arm twisted by the police. Subsequently she had to stay home from work with pain in the shoulder and arm. The father, who has a heart disease, had chest pains, but the daughter was refused to call 112.
Monday the 16th of August 2010 a 52-year-old Iranian mother was deported by force to Iran. She came to Denmark two years earlier after she had been active in the rebellion against the Iranian regime. Her asylum application was refused, and she was arrested and placed in Ellebæk for two months. Three weeks earlier the Danish authorities had tried to deport her, but she protested loudly against it at the airport, and the stewards refused to take her on board. After this episode the woman was finally placed – against her will – on an aircraft from Iran Air. According to another passenger she was overpowered by the stewards and forced into silence on this aircraft.
The second of March 2011 two officers arrived at The Female Center in Kongelunden to escort a 32-year-old rejected asylum seeker from Georgia out of the country. The woman had received a letter three days in advance, but it was said that she was familiar with the letter. The woman asked for a few more days of suspension and tried to explain why she can not return to Georgia, but she was told to follow. The woman then attempted suicide by pulling a knife and stabbing herself twice.
The 5th of February 2010 52-year-old K was arrested in Immigration Service in Copenhagen. She had been asked to show up with her passport here in order to talk about her stay. According to K’s son, A, who was present at the arrest, they waited for several hours while the staff smiled at them and gave them fruit. After closing time the door to the room was locked, the police called. K was arrested and taken to Ellebæk.
The Kurdish-Syrian asylum seeker A, one of the Kurdish Syrians who went on hunger strike in 2010, was deported to Syria on 8th February 2011. He was returned to Denmark by the Syrian authorities the same day. A had been handed over to Syrian authorities by three Danish officers. Since then he was handed over to men from the Syrian intelligence service and whipped as pictures of his back filled with red marks from the beatings showed clearly.