Postcards from Europe 03/13, Sprengel Museum Hannover, 2013
Postcards from Europe
work from the ongoing archive, since 2006
variable number of archival pigment prints on boards, 68.6 x 83.5 cm, shelf, postcards
Palazzo Selam, Rome. A group of men and women were standing around outside the Palazzo Selam. I asked the way to the comitato. After a while a tall, taciturn man asked what I wanted and told me quietly that they’d had enough of people coming here, taking photos, asking questions and leaving again. Activists, politicians and journalists had come from Germany, Finland and many other countries, he said. The comitato had files documenting every single visit. They had all toured the building and spoken with residents, but nothing had changed. The whole world knew what conditions they were living under. So what did I want?
Journal, 7 November 2012
Postcards from Europe 03/13, slipcase with 20 archive plates and texts (English/German), 29.7 x 40 cm. Kehrer, Heidelberg, 2013.
Abandoned Anti-Aircraft Base, Seeligstädter Wald, Germany 2014
At an event organised by the Seeligstadt Local History and Nature Society on 11 May 2014, a former lieutenant colonel showed several hundred visitors around the abandoned East German military site in the forest of Seeligstädter Wald. As reported on the community’s website, the event allowed plenty of time for ‘fascinating anecdotes’ and answers to questions like: ‘Were there really nuclear warheads on the base?’ and ‘Did local mushroom-pickers have to watch out for the Stasi?’ The task of the air defence unit had been to guard East German airspace and ‘detect and destroy’ intruders, the article reported.
From 1992 to March 2012 the buildings in Seeligstädter Wald were used to house asylum-seekers. In 2008 Amnesty International petitioned the local authority in Bautzen, demanding immediate closure on grounds of grave structural and sanitary deficits and the facility’s isolated position. The mayor of Großharthau and all the parties in the local council opposed the closure. The 140 refugees counted as local residents, for whom the community received transfers through the local government financing system.
Amnesty International, petition of 14 June 2008; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2 July 2008; Gemeinde Großharthau website, 11 May 2014; Wochenkurier, 15 May 2014; Alles-Lausitz.de, 4 August 2014
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany 2014
After a week-long hunger strike at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, eleven African men requested sanctuary in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on 11 May 2014. Because they had entered the European Union via Italy, which is classified as a safe third state, they faced deportation. The parochial church council sought dialogue but rejected their request on the grounds that the church was not above the law. In response the men, supported by a group called Asylum Rights Evolution, camped in front of the church demanding a secure legal status for themselves and the abolition of travel restrictions for all asylum-seekers. Berlin’s internal affairs senator rejected this form of resistance and declared that the city would not be blackmailed into negotiating over law and order.
On 20 May, over one hundred police evicted the camp, which was registered as a political demonstration, and transported the asylum-seekers to the reception facilities in Saxony-Anhalt to which they had originally been assigned. The church hierarchy condemned the unanticipated police operation. The pro-sanctuary group Asyl in der Kirche Berlin criticized the criminalisation of refugees through travel restrictions. Other German state governments, it said, were seeking to relax the travel ban because it violated human dignity and the human right to freedom of movement.
Berliner Zeitung, 11 and 20 May 2014; Der Tagesspiegel, 13 and 20 May 2014; Asyl in der Kirche Berlin e.V., press release, 22 May 2014; Zeit Online, 24 May 2014
Schöllnstein, Germany 2014
On 22 July 2010, eighty-seven asylum-seekers refused to board a coach ordered to take them from their structurally unsound hostel in Landshut to a residential facility at Schöllnstein, about 100 kilometres away in Lower Bavaria. The vehicle departed empty, to the applause of the asylum-seekers and more than fifty supporters.
In February 2011 the local priest described the situation in Schöllnstein as “like on the island of Lampedusa”. At that point there were seventy-one locals and ninety refugees living in the village, which has no school, no doctor and no shops. The Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the mayor as saying: “The blacks are very enthusiastic about saying hello, but we don’t understand them.” And a refugee from Somalia: “We go crazy, there’s nothing here.”
A spokesman for the state government said that the situation in Schöllnstein was extreme but not unique, because Lower Bavaria was a very rural region. The state government had informed the mayor that integration was not necessary because most of the asylum-seekers were going to be deported.
Deutscher Depeschendienst, 22 July 2010; Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24 February 2011; Der Spiegel, 16 July 2012
Grüne Lunge Park, Bitterfeld, Germany 2014
In their blog entry of 7 August 2013, five hunger-striking asylum-seekers demanded recognition of their asylum claims, leave to remain, abolition of the travel restrictions placed upon asylum-seekers and an immediate stop to all deportations. Their declaration connected their protest with nationwide refugee activities. They wrote that living in refugee centres made them ill and they would prefer to starve than to die in isolation.
In the early morning of 24 August the protesters were verbally abused by five men who threatened to burn down their tents. The police linked two of the men to right-wing extremist circles. A spokesperson for the state prosecutor in Dessau announced that the possibility of a right-wing extremist connection was a matter for the investigations.
The refugees ended their hunger strike after the state integration commissioner promised a working group to seek solutions, and on 29 August dismantled their protest camp in the municipal park in Bitterfeld.
Declaration of the hunger-striking refugees at Bitterfeld protest camp, 7 August 2013; Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 23 and 24 August 2013; appeal by the hunger-striking asylum-seekers in Bitterfeld and supporters, 5 September 2013
Platz des Friedens, Sandersdorf-Brehna, Germany 2014
Since the end of 2013 the municipality of Anhalt-Bitterfeld has been seeking to house most asylum-seekers decentrally rather than creating new hostels. The local official responsible for public order spoke in early June 2014 of great difficulties in finding suitable housing, despite the cooperation of certain housing associations. The Wolfen housing cooperative, which has about six thousand flats in Wolfen, Bitterfeld and Sandersdorf-Brehna, simply refused to participate, he said. Private individuals were cautious, and the smaller the community the less willing its members to provide homes for asylum-seekers. The Anhalt-Bitterfeld local authority expected to have to find homes for another 450 foreigners by the end of the year.
Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 18 March and 2 July 2014; Landtag von Sachsen-Anhalt, Drucksache 6/3117, 19 May 2014
Guitgia, Lampedusa, Italy 2012
About two hundred refugees from Eritrea and Somalia were picked up by the Italian coastguard off the island of Lampedusa on 6 May 2009. They were immediately deported to Libya on the basis of a bilateral agreement, without receiving any opportunity to apply for asylum.
The Italian Refugee Council located twenty-four of them and took their cases to court. On 23 February 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the deportations had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered the Italian state to pay €15,000 in compensation to each of the twenty-two surviving applicants on the grounds that they had been exposed to the risk of inhumane treatment and torture in Libya and their countries of origin. The Court noted that more than 471 refugees had been deported to Libya under similar circumstances between 6 and 10 May 2009.
According to Amnesty International the verdict represented a turning-point for the protection of migrants on the high seas.
European Court of Human Rights, press release ECHR 075, 23 February 2012; Spiegel Online, 23 February 2012; Tagesschau, 23 February 2012; Deutschlandradio, 24 February 2012
Campsite, Haramida, Lesbos, Greece 2011
In August 2009 about five hundred activists travelled to Lesbos to participate in workshops and discuss ‘Facets of the European Border Regime’ at the No Border camp in Haramida. One of the demonstrations organised from the camp was to the Pagani detention centre, a disused warehouse on the outskirts of Mytilene.
In summer 2009 this facility held up to one thousand migrants, including numerous children and adolescents, under conditions that the Greek Deputy Minister of Public Order later described as ‘worse than Dante’s Inferno’. Activists from Welcome to Europe managed to smuggle in a video camera which a group of young detainees used to make a film (later published online).
The detention centre was closed in November 2009 following repeated hunger strikes and protests.
Pro Asyl news, 2 November 2009; New York Times, 18 November 2009; Die Zeit, 5 February 2010; Radio Z, 13 August 2010
Border Exclusion Zone, Nea Vyssa, Greece 2011
The Frontex press officer for the Evros region suggested two possible motifs for the Greek-Turkish border: a panorama of the military exclusion zone from a hill in Nea Vyssa or a staged photograph of Frontex officials apparently on patrol. All photographs of Frontex operations are staged outside of the border zone, he said.
Interview, Orestiada Police Headquarters, 18 April 2011
Attiki Square, Athens, Greece 2011
Reception centres in Greece are overcrowded. As a result several thousand homeless migrants in Athens, including many women and children, sleep in parks, under bridges and in abandoned buildings.
At the beginning of October 2010 residents of the St Panteleimon and Attiki areas formed militant vigilante groups to ‘take back’ their neighbourhoods. Severe attacks ensued.
On 8 October several hundred citizens of Athens held a peaceful demonstration on Attiki Square to show solidarity with the refugees. Police attacked with batons as the protest was dispersing, seriously injuring several Afghans.
Die Zeit, 5 February 2010; w2eu, 5 October 2010; clandestinenglish, 8 October 2010
Igoumenitsa Ferry Port, Greece 2011
As I waited for the Igoumenitsa to Ancona ferry, a crowd of several hundred angry residents blockaded the access road to the port, demanding ‘a town worth living in’ and an end to the ‘siege of the illegals’ living on the hillside overlooking the port.
Over a period of several hours while the demonstration was taking place the Greek police fired tear gas at the migrants and their makeshift shelters. At times the air was so thick with gas that travellers queueing for the ferry were unable to leave their vehicles.
Journal, 3 May 2011, Igoumenitsa
Vendicari Nature Reserve, Italy 2010
On 27 October 2007 two walkers came across several shoes washed up on a beach in the nature reserve of Vendicari. During the following days seventeen corpses were found there.
On their own initiative the couple obtained a list of the names of the dead from the authorities, contacted the relatives in Egypt and Palestine and arranged for a Muslim funeral to be held. About one hundred people attended the ceremony officiated by the imam of Catania on 1 November 2008, including relatives of the dead and local police. The events led to the founding of Borderline Sicilia.
RagusaNews.com, 24 October 2008; interview with journalist Roman Herzog, Noto, 23 January 2010
Orange Grove, Rosarno, Italy 2010
In January 2010 the price obtained by Calabrian citrus growers for their Moro and Navel oranges was five euro cents per kilogram. They paid their mostly illegally employed and undocumented African and Eastern European seasonal workers between €20 and €25 for a day’s work. Depending on the variety and the state of the trees a worker can pick between four and seven hundred kilograms of oranges in a day. The business was no longer profitable and many farmers left the fruit to rot.
During the 2009–2010 harvest there were between four and five thousand migrants living in and around Rosarno, most of them in abandoned buildings or plastic shelters, without running water or toilets.
On 7 January 2010 local youths fired an air-gun at African orange-pickers returning from work and injured two of them. The ensuing demonstration by migrant workers ended in severe clashes with parts of the local population, during which cars were set on fire and shop windows broken. Accommodation used by seasonal workers was burned and hundreds fled, fearing the local citizens or deportation by the authorities.
On 9 January, under police protection from jeering onlookers, about eight hundred Africans were bussed out to emergency accommodation in Crotone and Bari.
A Season in Hell: MSF Report on the Conditions of Migrants Employed in the Agricultural Sector in Southern Italy, January 2008; tagesschau.de, 10 January 2010; interviews with orange farmers and seasonal labourers, Rosarno, 27–29 January 2010
SS16 Sliproad, Bari Palese, Italy 2012
On 1 August 2011, protests by migrants living in reception facilities in southern Italy escalated into violence. They were objecting to a new law extending the maximum period for which refugees could be held in camps for purposes of identification from six to eighteen months.
At a reception centre holding 1,114 migrants near the Apulian capital of Bari, several hundred people gathered for a demonstration. Blockades on the SS16 dual carriageway stopped traffic between Bari and Foggia, while protestors brought a freight train to a halt on the nearby railway line. The police fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators and a local bus became caught in the fighting. Eighty people were injured and 29 arrested.
The situation calmed down in the afternoon after the prefect of Bari promised to respond to the demonstrators’ demands.
La Stampa, 1 August 2011; ORF, 1 August 2011; Antenna Sud, 1 August 2011; Wiener Zeitung, 2 August 2011
Palazzo Selam, Rome, Italy 2012
In November 2012 there were 835 mostly recognised asylum-seekers from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan living in the former university building. The occupation, which began in 2006, was tolerated by the city council. Volunteer medics from Cittadini del Mondo, who cared for the refugees, regularly diagnosed complaints attributable to inadequate hygienic facilities. According to Fondazione Integra/Azione, six thousand refugees in Rome needed housing, but the city provided only 2,200 places (out of 3,150 nationally).
In Germany a lawyer representing a Somali asylum-seeker argued in 2011 that the Italian authorities were pursuing a deliberate strategy of impoverishment in order to force refugees to move to other EU member-states. And on 2 July 2012 the Stuttgart Administrative Court ruled that a Palestinian family should be permitted to seek asylum in Germany rather than being returned to Italy, because systematic deficits in the Italian asylum process meant they would face inhumane treatment there.
While acknowledging problems, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said it intended to abide by existing repatriation practices on the grounds that Italy possessed a functioning asylum process that satisfied the standards of the European Union.
Pro Asyl, The Living Conditions of Refugees in Italy, February 2011; Süddeutsche Zeitung, 9 May 2011; Verwaltungsgericht Stuttgart, press release, 12 July 2012 (A 7 K 1877/12); Spiegel Online, 13 July 2012; New York Times, 26 December 2012; Cittadini del Mondo, 31 December 2012
Playa de los Lances, Tarifa, Spain 2009
A boat carrying twenty-three undocumented Moroccan immigrants went down off Tarifa during a severe storm on 1 November 1988. The bodies of ten who drowned were washed up on the beach at Los Lances. Nine were never found and there were four survivors.
A vessel with more than thirty people on board sank near Tarifa on 15 September 1997. Six passengers survived, fourteen corpses were found on the Playa de los Lances and an unknown number were lost at sea.
El País, 2 November 1988 and 16 September 1997; Diario de León, 9 October 2002
Ferry Crossing, Melilla–Almería, Mediterranean 2009
On 10 January 2009 I took the Juan J. Sister from Spanish Melilla on the Moroccan coast to Almería in Spain. The seven-hour crossing cost me €19.20.
At least 14,714 migrants died attempting to enter Europe between 1988 and 2007, with 10,740 reported to have drowned in the Mediterranean and Atlantic on their way to Spain.
Journal, 10 January 2009, Almería; Der Spiegel, 7 May 2008; Fortress Europe press release, 10 February 2010
Ladders, Melilla 2006
In autumn 2005 the Spanish government announced plans to strengthen the border defences at its North African enclave of Melilla. Every day during the following weeks hundreds of migrants attempted to scale the fence using makeshift ladders.
According to eyewitnesses the Guardia Civil used stun guns, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. At least fourteen migrants lost their lives, fatally injured in the razor-wire of the fence or shot dead by border guards (according to the Spanish government from the Moroccan side).
A spokesman for Fundación Prodein said he believed that the government had intentionally left the ladders on show to create the impression that there was an ‘unstoppable avalanche of immigrants’ and justify its use of force.
Later the same year, the EU announced it would give Morocco forty million euros, largely for border policing and security.
Der Spiegel, 27 September 2005; interview with José Palazón of Fundación Prodein, Melilla, 6 January 2009
Rostrogordo Picnic Park, Spanish-Moroccan Border, Melilla 2009
The North African city of Melilla has been a Spanish possession since 1497. Morocco declared its claim to Melilla and the second Spanish exclave, Ceuta, as soon as it became independent from Spain in 1956.
With the support of the European Union, the eleven kilometres of border defences have been repeatedly upgraded to repel unauthorised immigration. Three parallel fences up to six metres high are topped with rolls of razor wire and monitored by movement sensors, infrared cameras and watchtowers.
tagesschau.de, 28 August 2000; Der Tagesspiegel, 24 June 2008
Petrol Station, near Szeged, Hungary 2009
Four Afghans were detained at an abandoned petrol station between Szeged and Röszke at 7.30 a.m. on 24 September 2009. They asked for asylum and stated that they had left Pakistan five months earlier, each having paid €7,800 to a smuggler who brought them to Serbia via Greece.
According to a member of the border police, traffickers send migrants to hide and wait in places like these knowing full well that the police are likely to find them there: Once they had received their money they did not care what happened to the migrants. In 2008 1,092 migrants and 54 smugglers were detained by police in the county of Csongrád.
Csongrád county police records for 24 September 2009, Szeged; interview with the Csongrád county head of police, Szeged, 7 October 2009
Maize Field, near Záhony, Hungary 2009
On 25 June 2007 three smugglers and twenty-eight Moldovan citizens were detained in a maize field between Záhony and Zsurk. They had crossed the River Tisza in a line of rubber dinghies and passed the Ukrainian-Hungarian frontier between border stones 356 and 357. According to the police each of the detained persons had paid the smugglers between $1,200 and $1,500. Because they had entered Ukraine legally they were immediately deported back there.
Záhony border police records, 25 June 2007
Hunting Hide, between Beregsurany and Tarpa, Hungary 2009
According to the commander of Beregsurany border post, cooperation with the population is superb: regular meetings are held with local mayors, and citizens are well-informed and keen to help the border police. As this is a hunting region, he said, certain areas are completely covered by hunters’ night scopes during the hunting season.
Interview, Beregsurany border post, 3 November 2009