If my continent weren’t so ruthless with African “economic” refugees – Part 2 (3/2020)


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If my continent weren’t so ruthless with African “economic” refugees is a wide-ranging investigation in three parts. It primarily addresses the migrations of African “economic” refugees to the European Union (EU) within the broader context of migrations from non-EU countries. It dissects the way in which the EU deals with this issue while focusing on the French position. It scrutinizes the actions of the EU and its member States both at the external borders of the EU and in Africa, explaining how these actions are connected with the current situation of refugees. This piece of investigative journalism encompasses a lot of original facets. Among them, it examines some overlooked economic causes of migrations; it analyzes the political ideas of people who help refugees; it gives an overview of France’s vital resources to welcome millions of “economic” refugees.

Who are “economic” refugees or migrants? The European Union (EU) and its member States tend to put people fleeing their countries because of various predicaments in this category. In short, “economic” refugees or migrants are people confronted with a high probability of acute poverty and reduced life expectancy because of one or several of the following scourges: food shortages; the absence of decent healthcare; severe environmental damage; the lack of arable lands; the impacts of global warming (e.g., dwindling water resources making decent living conditions impossible); non-lethal conflicts related to these different scourges, etc. In this investigation, I use the expression “economic” refugees rather than “economic” migrants because the word migrant has a tendency to downplay the hardships and suffering these people have to go through.

 

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Part 1: Widespread contempt

What kind of respect do African “economic” refugees get in international law implemented across the EU? All EU member States relegate a huge majority of refugees fleeing squalor, malnutrition, the impacts of climate change and environmental disasters, the lack of arable land or decent healthcare in only one category: that, precisely, of “economic” migrants or refugees, by definition unworthy of genuine respect. As such, they can be deported back to their country of origin.

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees empire of rejection

Part 3: Empire of rejection

This third and final part of my investigation on African “economic” refugees is by far the richest; it is critical to fully understand the situation and stories of refugees in their human, economic, geographic, political, social and legal dimensions.

Photojournalistic trailer

This trailer was made during the summer of 2019. Each part of my investigation is updated until the date of its release.

II.1. A usually hellish migration

AL NASR REFUGEE CAMP IN LIBYA, JUNE 2019: A Nigeria-born woman said these few words about her experience as a refugee trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea:

[From 00 min. 19 sec. on this video] We spent like three days in the sea even though our boat wanted to capsize. We almost died. But glory be to God, we saw rescue from Italy. We thought that they [the Italian rescuers] were going to take us to Italy, but they returned us back to Libya (Andert, 2019).

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2020 if my continent weren't so ruthless with african economic refugees part 2 woman stranded in libya
This woman from Nigeria was returned to Libya by her Italian « rescuers », in accordance with EU laws and policies.

Although in sharp decline since 2016, the Mediterranean Sea remained an important migration route throughout 2018 and 2019. 363,000 people crossed the sea to take refuge in Europe in 2016. The previous year (2015) was exceptional with 700,000 refugees from three war-torn countries, primarily from Syria, but also Afghanistan and Iraq (UNHCR, 2019 [b]).

117,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean in 2018. 102,000 people did the same in 2019, including about 17,000 from three North African nations (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and nearly 17,000 from five Sub-Saharan States (DR of the Congo, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal). Thousands more refugees came from other African regions in 2019. A small minority of African refugees travelled across the Atlantic Ocean that year (and were counted as sea arrivals). Greece, Spain and Italy are by far the main European countries of first arrival. Some 55 percent of the people who took the hazardous Mediterranean route in 2019 were men. A lot of women (18 percent) and children (27 percent) also risked their lives on the same maritime route (IOM, 2019 [b]; UNHCR, 2019 [a], 2019 [b] and 2019 [c]).

Over the last four years, the EU’s and EU member States’ anti-migration policies have contributed hugely to the decrease in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean. I describe and explain those policies and their impacts in part three of this investigation (Empire of rejection). Many refugees never set foot on European shores. From 2015 to 2019, La Grande Bleue, as the Mediterranean is called in France, was the final resting place for more than 15,000 refugees. The real number is probably significantly higher, since a number of crossings go undetected. In 2019, 1,283 persons died or were reported missing at sea during their crossing (Forum réfugiés, 2018; IOM, 2019 [b]; ONU infos, 2019).

The perils of migration across Africa might even be deadlier than across the sea. This is what the United Nations is claiming. But only rough estimates of deaths and disappearances are available. According to one of them, 253 migrants either died or went missing “along the migration routes in Sub-Saharan Africa” between January and July 2019 (Deutsche Welle, 2019; IOM, 2019 [a]).

In Europe, other hazards are lying in wait for African “economic” refugees. After landing on the Italian coast for instance, a lot of them try to make their way north to France. To get there, refugees can take a train on a railroad that snakes along the Mediterranean shoreline. Others prefer a less conspicuous but riskier way across the Alps. These refugees do not hesitate to take various mountainous routes in the dead of winter nights. One of them climbs a small winding road to the Echelle pass (col de l’Echelle) at 1,700 meters above sea level.

At night, winter temperatures up there often drop below -15°C. Some refugees die in the Alps because of excessive exertion in subfreezing temperatures endured for long hours. Inadequate clothes in these harsh conditions can cause death. Among other instances, a 28-year-old Togolese man died of hypothermia after crossing the Echelle pass during the night of February 6, 2019. He died near the busiest local highway, about 100 meters from inhabited houses strung out along this road. Other refugees get fingers or toes amputated after their winter crossing[1] (La Dépêche, 2017; Le Dauphiné, 2018, 2019; France 3 PACA, 2019).

We are going to leave even if Europe electrifies the sea“. These are the words of Cherif Haidara, the leader of the Mali diaspora. Echoing his words, some people take enormous risks to reach my continent. Their hope for a better life here leads some of them to embark on the most extreme journeys. On January 8, 2020, a child from the Ivory Coast was found dead in the landing gear of a Boeing 777 that flew from Abidjan to Paris (Samuel, 2020; TV5 Monde, 2017, video: 1 min. 27 sec.).

ventdouxprod 2020 nicolas barbier if my country weren't so ruthless with african economic refugee part 2 policecol échelle french-italy border
Winter 2018: A few refugees attempt to cross the Echelle pass at the France-Italy border.

When you are living a nightmare at home with very little or no prospect of improvement, a hellish migration with a low probability of a decent life in another continent may sound like a reasonable alternative. A quick look at key statistics helps understand why so many Africans keep dreaming of a life in the EU. In 2020, 440 million Africans are living in extreme poverty with less than 1.90 dollar a day. According to a study published in Nature in 2019, 47 percent of the urban population of Sub-Saharan Africa lives in slum conditions. In 2017, 58 million African children under five years of age suffered from stunting due to malnutrition (Bhatt et al., 2019; Global Nutrition Report, 2018; World Bank, 2020; World poverty, 2020).

The list of more specific and local data on the causes of “economic” migrations from Africa could go on and on for pages.

II.2. An administrative nightmare purposely designed to be that way

Meanwhile, within the wealthy European Union, social inequities are mind-boggling practically everywhere. The causes of African migrations are not uppermost in the mind of the ordinary obedient European citizens. In Europe in 2017, the top 10 percent of all income earners pocketed 34 percent of the total European income while the bottom 50 percent received 21 only percent of that total. Even in European countries with the lowest income inequality like Denmark, enormous differences still persist: in 2016, the top 10 percent of Danish income earners collected as much post-tax national income as the bottom 50 percent. I am not even tackling inequality in terms of personal assets such as bank accounts, housing, or land… (Blanchet et al., 2019, p.36-37; World inequality database, 2020)

How many European citizens living out an economic “dream” of sorts would be ready to share “their” dream with African “economic” refugees in a meaningful way? Putting aside African refugees, how many upper- and middle-class Europeans would refuse to make significant efforts to reduce the burden of the 110 million Europeans (in 2018) at risk of poverty or social exclusion? How many of them resent living in neighborhoods right next to these Europeans in economic insecurity? How many of them vote for legislators who accept excessive housing prices? In the social environment that is prevalent in Europe today, most African “economic” refugees quickly become outcasts (Deloitte, 2019, p.17, 25; Eurostat, 2020; Eurostat, 2019 [a]).

They come up against a European administrative nightmare as soon as they enter this continent. “Economic” refugees are faced with administrative violence purposely designed to discourage, overwhelm, stress and at times traumatize them. EU member States and the EU as a whole have carefully crafted administrative procedures for this type of illegal refugees. They use them as part of a psychological warfare against them. 

In France for instance, “economic” refugees do not want to be caught by the French police less than 10 kilometers from the border. They had better not be caught in public transit points selected by the French government either (e.g., international airports, train stations, ferry terminals). Under the procedure of non-admission, if these refugees are caught in these areas, the police are empowered to take them back within days to the first European Schengen country they got to. More often than not, this country will be Greece, Italy or Spain where poor treatment and fast-track deportations are not uncommon[2] (Assemblée nationale, 2018 [a], L213-2, L213-3-1 and L213-9; Conseil de l’Union Européenne, 2002, p.7; Human Rights Watch, 2017; Observatory of the refugee and migration crisis in the Aegean, 2017; Pasha-Robinson, 2018).

Very seldom does a French court cancel a police decision to take back an “economic” refugee to their first Schengen country of arrival. Obviously, such a cancellation won’t mean that the beneficiary will later be granted asylum. That is why so many refugees transiting in the vicinity of the French border hide from the police. And that is why they usually do not spend much time in public transit points either (Assemblée nationale, 2018 [a], L213-2, L213-3-1 and L213-9; Conseil de l’Union Européenne, 2002, p.7).

In fact, what “economic” migrants without a valid visa or work permit are authorized to do in the EU is extremely restricted. 

Under the 2013 Dublin III regulation[3], when they first set foot in a EU country, they have to be fingerprinted by this country’s competent authorities. In most cases, the said country is from now on responsible for examining their asylum applications. As usual, there are a few exceptions. For example, the very small minority of refugees who have a close family member legally residing in a EU country can, as relatives, apply for asylum in this country. Unaccompanied minors are another exception and make up a tiny minority of refugees (see part I.3. of this investigation). Apart from these special cases, what frequent administrative trap “economic” refugees could fall into? (European commission, 2019; European parliament, 2018; European parliament and council of the EU, 2013, articles 7, 20, 27, 28, 29)

In France, the misadventure of illegal refugees first fingerprinted in Italy and later caught by the French police is a classic one. Their case is different from the fast-track non-admission procedure near the border or in selected transit points that I described above. Unlike that procedure, French authorities can transfer these illegal refugees to Italy up to six months after their entry in France (eighteen months if they are on the run). The transfer is subject to Italy’s agreement. In the meantime, illegal refugees can be detained for a maximum of three months. They can also appeal their transfer and benefit from legal assistance. If French authorities do not transfer them within the said six or eighteen months, they normally have the right to apply for asylum or temporary residence in France. However, such an application by “economic” refugees will typically be denied (European commission, 2019; European commission, 2016; European parliament, 2018; European parliament and council of the EU, 2013, articles 7, 20, 27, 28, 29).

On the Côte d’Azur near the France-Italy border, French police officers control who they believe may be illegal migrants at the Menton train station.

II.3. A committed and effective solidarity movement under attack

Considering how psychologically and socially brutal French and EU rules are to “economic” refugees, local help can make a big difference in their lives while they are here. On both sides of the France-Italy border as in other European regions, thousands of people belong to a solidarity movement which brings refugees some relief. On the French side where I live, people give them food, clothes, various equipments, sometimes money. These ones do not have to worry about French or EU laws.

Fewer local people assist illegal refugees in crossing the border, help them evade border guards and other law enforcement officers. This type of assistance is criminalized. Some people welcome refugees in their homes for weeks, months or more. Others renovate buildings for them, thereby providing housing unauthorized by the French State. Refugees are cared for in these shelters. That is, unless the police arrest them (Urbach, 2018).

Helping refugees at night in the southern French Alps.
The Echelle pass road on winter nights: Members of the solidarity movement stand by in case they could assist refugees in crossing the France-Italy border.

“Chez Marcel” is one of these places where refugees can feel good. It is a big house overlooking the Alpine city of Briançon, about twenty kilometers from the France-Italy border. A few African refugees spoke about their experience in this place. A man had this to say about it:

[from 6 min. 35 sec. on this interview] I feel at home here. I have not paid for my clothes, my food or anything else since I arrived here. Even when I am sick, these guys [who run Chez Marcel] are always here to help us. […] I think that for all of us here [he speaks about the other refugees present in the room], this place is the first place where we have been living in peace since the beginning of our journey. […] We feel at home. We can do everything we want here[4] (Radioparleur, 2018).

A 24-year-old African woman tells how she has been able to cope with her painful past:

[From 19 min. 00 sec. on this interview] I have had more pain than happiness in my life. To avoid thinking about it, I sing. You can also read, play, or work, but you need to do something. So I keep my mind active. Anyway, I speak, I do something, I sing. […] In Italy, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist who told me to talk about what happened. I told her that I did not want to talk about it because it would come back, and then you start thinking all day and it’s painful. The past is the past. So I sing. […] Frankly, as far as I am concerned, it works[5] (KainaTV, 2018).

So far, “Chez Marcel” has been left alone. One of the reasons is political: in the département of the Hautes-Alpes, sixty mayors and deputy mayors, town and département councilors, and regional representatives of the French parliament, took a stand together on the issue of refugees. Let’s be clear from the outset: there was absolutely nothing radical in their stance. Above all, these elected officials wanted to avoid harsh conflicts within the local population related to the presence of refugees. They signed a public statement in 2017 that said:

We support citizens who provide migrants with food, housing, moral and material assistance (Elus des Hautes-Alpes, 2017).

The sixty officials from the Hautes-Alpes went on to emphasize their disagreement with the forced removal of refugees to the first Schengen country they get to. There is little doubt that this statement has deterred some arrests and forced removals (Elus des Hautes-Alpes, 2017).

But for all that, the elected officials’ statement is not tantamount to a warm welcome for “economic” refugees. In fact, nowhere has this group of officials declared that people fleeing acute poverty, devastating droughts, squalor, loss of arable lands and other calamities should have the right to settle in France and become citizens. Besides, their statement does not mean that they will refrain from working with governmental authorities if the latter demand their cooperation to apprehend refugees swiftly and en masse. Although a few elected officials may take part in some actions carried out by the solidarity movement, the latter and the group of elected officials are two very distinct groups.

In November 2018, the criminal court of Gap (southern French Alps) sentenced five members of the solidarity movement to a six months’ suspended sentence of imprisonment, pending appeal (still pending in March 2020). They were prosecuted by the French State and convicted of helping illegal migrants cross the border between Italy and France. In October 2019 and for a similar action in the region, another person was given a two months’ suspended sentence, on appeal that time (France 3 Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, 2019; Isnard-Dupuy, 2018; Rivière, 2018).

In November 2018, two other persons were sentenced to four months in prison because of other circumstances related to their solidarity with refugees. One of them is 36-year-old Mathieu Burellier who got prison time because he rebelled against his arrest in an open-air cafe. He was arrested in April 2018 following his participation in a demonstration at the France-Italy border around Montgenèvre pass (Isnard-Dupuy, 2018).

The demonstrators protested against the presence of a far-right group calling itself génération identitaire (identity generation) at the same spot shortly before. Members of génération identitaire put up a temporary border fence, rolled out xenophobic flags and used an helicopter in order to show their rejection of illegal migrants (Isnard-Dupuy, 2018; Mediapart, 2018).

A few weeks after his conviction by the criminal court of Gap, Mathieu Burellier was interviewed. He talked about the relationships between génération identitaire and the French police:

[from 15 min. 18 sec. on this interview] The identitaires had the gall to play border guards. But they were only able to do that because of their collaboration with police forces. About one hundred of them [identitaires] were there for two days. One or two weeks later, they were still there. Lots of people saw the friendly relations between the police and the identitaires. These people saw that the identitaires provided [the police] with information, and some [identitaires] even arrested refugees, before taking them to the police[6] (Mediapart, 2018).

On their twitter account, the identitaires (who also call themselves Defend Europe) bluntly boasted about their collaboration with the French border police. In a tweet of April 28, 2018, they bragged about reporting the presence of refugees near the border to the police. According to the far-right group, that report allowed the police to arrest these refugees[7] (Defend Europe, Mission Alpes, 2018).

Lisa Malapert, a 23-year-old carpenter sentenced to a suspended prison term of six months, goes beyond the solidarity movement’s response to génération identitaire and their collaboration with the police. She highlights how dangerous génération identitaire can be and the French State’s brutality against refugees:

[from 12 min. 40 sec. on this interview] It [génération identitaire] is a small dangerous group[8]. Because we were worried when we saw them watching downtown and from their cars, our first instinct was to protect the welcome areas [places of refuge for migrants] and take turns keeping watch so that none of these areas would be attacked. [34 min. 50 sec.] These people [the refugees], never mind what they run away from: their reasons for coming here are good ones. [11 min. 25 sec.] What’s going at the border is not police blunders. It’s systematic violence. This is revolting. […] What Europe is doing, all of these transfers and deportations as well as police violence, are nothing short of dehumanization[9] (Mediapart, 2018).

II.4. What kind of solidarity?

Faced with the half-hidden administrative, economic, legal, political, psychological and social violence deployed against “economic” refugees by all EU member States and the EU as a whole, what could be a respectful and peaceful long-term solution? Right now, there is none. The EU and its member States are way too ruthless and intolerant.

Members of the solidarity movement have been trying out and suggesting solutions. In the current circumstances, they can only be local and piecemeal. One member of the solidarity movement living in Briançon in the southern French Alps was interviewed by the Nunatak online magazine in 2018. He uses his nickname (Saxo) for the interview. Saxo looks at his action within the solidarity movement and the situation of refugees with both awareness and insight:

You do this because you don’t want to let these people deal with all this shit by themselves. […] There are positive things that happen at self-reliant places like Chez Marcel or, more recently, Chez Jésus [across the border in Italy], where you coordinate your activities with people you didn’t know before. You experiment different ways of doing things together which go beyond conventional frameworks. You share various things of your life with others. In doing so, you do not cooperate with the French State. […] But then you know that even if refugees manage to go somewhere else, in most case they will get arrested on the sidewalk of some big city, or near a préfecture when they undertake the administrative process [e.g., to apply for asylum or temporary residence]. […] The border is not that line along the Alps that you believe you cross with refugees. In reality, the border is everywhere. Roaming the mountains looking for refugees has its limitations. This is but one fragment of solidarity along a road littered with violence and exploitation. […] Beyond offering refugees places to stay so that they would not sleep outside, beyond roaming the mountains looking for them, and other acts of solidarity, we need to struggle together with refugees. We need to mobilize, organize protests, plan the occupations of places of power, and establish a balance of power with the State which is responsible for both the entire situation at the border and the refugees’ hardships[10] (Nunatak, 2018, p.28-29).

Within the solidarity movement, there is a range of different viewpoints on the whole issue of refugees. Saxo’s opinions are not shared by everyone. Neither do all of the movement’s members think that France should welcome millions upon millions of refugees. From the poor to the upper class, the solidarity movement is also socially diverse. The French middle class makes up a significant portion of it, and probably a sizeable majority.

If needed in the future, how many middle class members of the solidarity movement, not to mention the French middle class as a whole, would be ready to significantly lower their standards of living and purchasing power in order to welcome millions of refugees in good conditions? What is the percentage of the French middle class willing to fairly share sensible jobs, working time, wages, as well as available public funds and arable lands so that millions of refugees could be treated on an equal footing with all other French people? Who is OK to put into practice this level of solidarity and fraternity?

These are not secondary issues to be swept under the rug or addressed later. These are essential questions directly related to the collective ability or inability to be a truly welcoming people. There are other pressing issues in relation to refugees. Ideas need to be discussed and some should be experimented with. What kind of ideas? For instance, what about creating several autonomous, just and fair political and economic systems in different territories within France? What about creating them so that refugees with different viewpoints (e.g., capitalists and anti-capitalist environmentalists)  could live well across the country according to both their priorities and ours? (see the [11]th footnote to read the idea that I developed in connection with these questions).

 
Two members of the solidarity movement in the southern French Alps hold a banner that reads: "Smashing the borders".

II.5. A common struggle with refugees?

In his interview, solidarity movement member Saxo (see II.4.) goes beyond the single issue of refugees. He talks about a struggle in which both his movement and refugees are directly involved. As part of this struggle, he brings up the occupation of “places of power” in order to establish some sort of “balance of power” with the French State.

Has Saxo thought through the various implications of this particular struggle? What is the most likely outcome? Right now, the current established order knows how to protect “places of power” effectively with armed forces. The established order is ready for that fight. So applying this idea is likely to maximize the risk of violence with little chance of success.

What about an alternative and long-term strategy, both well planned and thought out? Wouldn’t it be the surest way to effectively weaken the established order? As suggested by Saxo, it makes sense to let refugees participate in the struggle as long as they freely consent to it. And yes, Saxo is right to put emphasis on strikes and occupations. A number of simultaneous strikes and occupations should be part of a good strategy. But targetting “places of power” would probably lead people into a trap, at least for now. Our power as human beings does not originate from any of those “places of power”.  Instead, our power stems from our primary source of life: the lands.

In that regard, there are lessons to be learned from the decade-long occupation at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDDL) in western France during the 2010s. It apparently leads the conversation away from African “economic” refugees. It is a misleading appearance. In reality, struggles like NDDL are connected to the issue of the collective ability to welcome refugees in good conditions in the future.

A largely self-reliant and environmentally-friendly farming community flourished on some 1,650 hectares at NDDL during the 2010s. Most of the lands they occupied were farmland. The local ecosystems also included some woodland and wetland. This area is located near the growing Nantes metropolitan area of nearly one million people. Up until early 2018, the French State set this area aside for a new international airport. The mobilization of tens of thousands of people for years forced the State to back down (De la Casinière, 2019).

But the State did not give up the lands. In the spring of 2018, the French government deployed 2,500 army and police officers to brutally suppress and evacuate the NDDL farming community (France Info, 2018).

Many members of this community gave up and left following the evacuation. Others reorganized but were not allowed to buy back the lands as they wanted to. Public lands make up two-thirds of the 1,650 hectares at NDDL. Despite this opportunity, the remaining members of the NDDL community have only been authorized to lease 350 hectares. As of March 2020, they mainly use these lands as small organic farms. On the remaining one-third of private lands, two types of landowners, who were already present before the occupation, are still there:

  • Conventional farmers, usually rich in land, who did not participate in the struggle and refuse to lease their lands.
  • A handful of farmers who have sided with the remnants of the original NDDL community and chose to lease lands.

So, in the end, the French State keeps control over the lands and keeps protecting rich landowners (De la Casinière, 2019; Guimard, 2019; Leussier and Lusseau, 2019).

Spring 2018: 2,500 army and police officers are deployed to evacuate the occupants at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

In order to diminish the State’s and rich landowners’ control over the lands, what could French people do in cooperation with consenting refugees?

  • The simultaneous occupation of dozens of areas across France for a long period of time would make sense.
  • Lots of (unarmed) people would need to take turn occupying lands.
  • A lot of evolutive planning and strategy would likely be needed.
  • The struggle could be about both public and private lands. The private lands could be those held by rich landowners, that is to say landowners possessing much more land than they need to live well.
  • Both arable lands and poorly managed forested areas could be targeted.

A wave of prolonged occupations in different regions could be way beyond the State’s and landowners’ ability to respond. Refugees willing to participate could help, in part because they have endured terrible hardships. Obviously, they should get enough lands to live well whenever this strategy works (see the [12]th footnote to read the other ideas I developed in relation to land management).

French people trying to apply this sort of ideas and African “economic” refugees come up against big obstacles that are related. Right now, it looks as if both have to overcome insurmountable odds. Both are confronted with the same adamant refusal to share resources in a just and fair manner. That unjust and unfair sharing of resources is orchestrated by the majority of the economic and political ruling classes who rely on laws, armed forces and millions of citizens.

However deleterious the situation is and however corrupt the system is across France and Europe, none of this is permanent. A fair and just future for perhaps millions of African “economic” refugees in this continent means that we, Europeans, test different potential solutions to our problems.

Footnotes

[1] The exact number of refugees who have died trying to cross the French Alps is unknown. Some bodies could be found decades later. 

[2] The Schengen area includes 22 EU member States as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

[3] The Dublin III regulation of 2013 deals with what the EU considers to be illegal migrants or refugees. These are people entering a EU country without the approval of its government, that is without a valid visa or work permit.

[4] “Moi, je me sens chez moi ici. Depuis que je suis en France, je n’ai jamais payé l’habit, ni à manger, ni quoi que ce soit. Même quand je suis malade, c’est des gars qui sont toujours là pour nous aider. […] Moi je crois que, vous [il s’adresse aux autres réfugiés présents dans la pièce] comme moi, depuis qu’on a pris la route, on n’a pas eu la paix qu’on a ici. […] On se sent chez nous. On fait tout ce qu’on veut ici”.

[5] “J’ai plus de douleurs que de joies dans ma vie. Donc, pour ne pas penser à ça, il faut chanter. Ou il faut lire, ou il faut jouer, mais il faut faire quelque chose. Ou il faut travailler. Donc, je m’occupe l’esprit. En tout cas, je parle. Je fais quelque chose : je chante. […] Une fois, j’ai vu une psychiatre en Italie et elle m’a dit que je devrais parler de ce qu’il s’est passé. Je lui ai dit : “Je ne peux pas parler du passé, parce que si tu parles du passé, il revient”. Du coup tu penses, ça te fait mal, tu vas te mettre à réfléchir toute la journée. Si c’est passé, c’est passé, je chante. […] Franchement, moi, ça marche”.

[6] “Les identitaires ont eu le toupet de jouer les gardes-frontières. Mais ils ont pu faire ça parce qu’il y a eu une véritable connivence qui s’est installée avec les policiers de la PAF, mais aussi avec les gendarmes. ça a duré deux jours où ils étaient à peu près une centaine. A peu près une semaine, deux semaines plus tard, ils [les identitaires] étaient encore présents. Il y a beaucoup de témoignages de personnes qui ont vu que les policiers et les identitaires, en fait, étaient très copains-copains, et que les identitaires fournissaient des informations [aux forces de l’ordre], ou carrément procédaient à des arrestations et après amenaient les exilés vers les policiers”.

[7] In January 2019, members of génération identitaire were arrested for an illegal involvement in a public service. But they were released the same day without charge. That arrest looked very much like a (failed) attempt by the French State to politically dissociate itself from the far-right group based on technicalities. Overall, though, génération identitaire and the French State share virtually the same goal about “economic” refugees, that is to return them to where they come from (Defend Europe, Mission Alpes, 2018; L’Express, 2019).

[8] See Al Jazeera’s 2018 documentary Generation hate which shows how violent génération identitaire can be.

[9] “[Génération identitaire], c’est un groupuscule qui est dangereux. Du coup, nous, le premier réflexe qu’on a eu, c’était de protéger les lieux d’accueil, de faire des tours de garde pour qu’il n’y ait aucun lieu qui soit attaqué parce qu’on les voyait faire du repérage en ville, dans leurs voitures et c’était extrêmement inquiétant. […] Ces personnes [les réfugiés], peu importe ce qu’elles fuient en fait. Elles viennent parce qu’elles ont les bonnes raisons de venir. […] Ce qui se passe à la frontière, c’est pas des bavures de policiers, c’est une systématisation des violences. Donc, ça, c’est quelque chose, déjà, de révoltant. […] Ce à quoi l’Europe procède, c’est ni plus ni moins des déportations, des transferts, des violences policières, des déshumanisations”.

[10] “Tu fais ça parce que t’as pas envie de laisser des gens dans la merde. […] Il y a des trucs positifs comme par exemple les lieux autonomes, comme Chez Marcel ou très récemment Chez Jésus où tu t’organises avec des gens que tu connaissais pas avant, tu tentes de développer des manières de fonctionner ensemble qui débordent les cadres. Tu mets en commun des choses de ta vie avec d’autres, ça c’est pas au service de l’État. […] Et puis tu te dis que si les exilés arrivent à passer, ils se feront dans quasiment tous les cas arrêter sur un trottoir d’une grande métropole, ou aux abords d’une préfecture lorsqu’ils entameront des démarches administratives. […] La frontière n’est pas cette ligne qui parcourt les Alpes, qu’on a l’impression de franchir dans l’illégalité avec des exilés, elle est partout sur le territoire. Les maraudes ont leurs limites, elles ne sont qu’un fragment de solidarité sur une route semée de violence et d’exploitation. […] Au-delà de l’ouverture de lieux d’accueil pour que personne ne dorme à la rue, des maraudes et des actes de solidarité, il faut qu’on lutte ensemble, avec les migrants, qu’on organise une mobilisation, des manifestations, des occupations de lieux de pouvoir, instaurer un rapport de force avec l’État qui est responsable de toute cette situation à la frontière et des galères des exilés qu’on accompagne”.

[11] Below is a summary of My idea about new autonomous territories that I also published as an article on ventdouxprod. This idea is just that. Of course, it is not a “magic bullet”. Rather, it is another untried alternative which could be tested and involve consenting “economic” refugees.

Full regional sovereignty

In France or elsewhere, why not draft a project that would give various groups of people, including refugees, full sovereignty over a territory proportional to the population they represent?

  • It would first involve new elections on a regional scale (such as large river basins) and at least a dozen political parties per region. Each party would get a sub-region (or smaller river basin) proportional to the population it represents in the region.
  • In a given sub-region, people would be free to create the governance and sovereign nation they aspire to, or not.
  • Indispensable services and facilities in housing, health care, food systems, transportation, etc., could be maintained until new ones are fully operational on a sub-regional scale (Barbier, 2018 [a]).

Defusing conflicts

  • This political process would defuse lots of conflicts in so far as people would not be subject to one or two parties on a national scale (i.e., two parties when the executive branch of government is represented by one party and the legislative one by another).
  • Instead, people could choose between at least a dozen parties and live in a sub-region according to their political, economic, social and environmental priorities (Barbier, 2018 [a]).

Creating the conditions of genuine peace

  • This new kind of peaceful territories would neither prevent people from moving between sub-regions nor hinder trade or cultural exchanges between them.
  • In France, considering the current prevailing laws and opinions, this process would involve very tough negotiations and diplomacy in terms of land ownership.
  • It would require reorganizations in social programs, the banking system, public services, etc. (Barbier, 2018 [a]).

[12]  My two ideas related to lands can be summarized as follows:

  1. Terres ensemble (published on ventdouxprod) is about people who create an association to buy agricultural or forested lands (private or public) from willing sellers. These lands can be used for small organic farming, the protection and restoration of the environment and industrial hemp production. They are collectively managed by members of the association (Barbier, 2018 [b]).
  2. Optimisation agro-écologique et éco-constructive des terres agricoles et forestières vacantes et sans maître aims at making unused municipal lands available for small organic farming, the protection and restoration of the environment and green inhabited buildings. A large percentage of France’s 36,000 municipalities includes unused municipal parcels of land whose sizes vary a lot. Municipalities can make the decision to sell them to individuals or groups with modest means for a reasonable price. In exchange, these people would develop sustainable activities and land uses. So far, very few municipalities have seized this opportunity (Barbier, 2019).

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