The Leftist Movement Solidarity is initiating an awareness-raising campaign among the Macedonian public on the necessity of unrestricted movement for the refugees. The campaign counters the covert segregation and discrimination that mark the regional EU asylum policy, which have also been mirrored in the actions of the Macedonian state institutions.
For months now refugees have been confronted with policies of closed borders and bureaucratized processes of direct humanitarian aid under increasingly deteriorating weather conditions. Across reception centers at the doorsteps of the European Union, activists and volunteers continue to report of a deepening humanitarian crisis since the introduction of the “hotspot approach” for registering refugees, especially in places where nationality is used to determine different approaches for assistance to Syrians and non-Syrians, like Iraqi, Afghani, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Libyans. The different nationality as criterion has been less relevant for Macedonian authorities, the reason being far removed from that of an exemplary humanity.
As the response to the refugee crisis was institutionalized and focus was placed on a rapid transit of all people entering Macedonia at its southern border since June 2015, state institutions in Macedonia have failed in at least two fundamental ways. First, they did nothing to address citizens’ prejudices that continue to fuel xenophobia and racism against the refugees. Thus, following the amendments to the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, which decriminalized irregular border crossing in exceptional circumstances, the state institutions rejected commitments to building an open society which would welcome those disadvantaged fleeing different forms of violence and for whom roads to regular mobility remain inaccessible. As second, authorities in Macedonia committed themselves to fencing off the refugees in camps with the sole aim to speed up the transit of people entering the country. Eventually, the unjust call from June 2015 by part of the public in the border town of Gevgelija to build structures similar to concentration camps and keep the refugees out of their town was supported by most of the Macedonian media and resulted in the form of a dirt, open-air and amid rain, muddied plot, fenced with wire, known as the reception center in Gevgelija. Unfounded segregation as regards the means of transport preceded the mentioned fencing off – a separate refugee train and separate train car policy was imposed to prevent any contact with the local population.
A series of consequences followed this response by the state institutions and the new conditions that also dictated the work of international organizations and local non-governmental and self-organized movements in the country. Among the consequences are violation of the right of registered persons to freely move within the legally foreseen time frame of 72 hours, violation of the right to choose the means of public transport themselves, imposing rail transportation as the only means at a time when Macedonian Railways (MR) have increased the ticket prices by 300%, and only for the destination that is used exclusively by refugees. This has not prevented MR employees from charging the 25 Euro tickets even for toddlers and persons who are entitled to free or reduced-fare transportation. At the same time, the government introduced bus carriers through questionable procedures in circumstances when the rising number of refugees brought to the fore the injustice in the state institutions’ approach, which allows profiteering at the expense of the refugees. Immediately upon declaring a state of emergency in August, the the government imposed through state institutions numerous restrictions and further bureaucratized the delivery of humanitarian aid to the refugees. Self-organised groups of activists and organisations that had been tirelessly helping refugees were subjected to stringent rules and regulations and were denied access to the refugee site overnight.
The Leftist Solidarity Movement has been following these dynamics and has protested against the silent segregation and discrimination that characterize the humanitarianism of the European Union and its regional asylum policy, the negative characteristics of which have been adopted and further developed by the state institutions in Macedonia too. The recent summit in Brussels, which took place on October 25, merely confirms the researchers’ findings that the European Union and its migration and asylum (aside of the financial) system further marginalizes the countries at its geopolitical and moral borders. Rather than taking responsibility for the war interventions and occupations in the Middle East, which led to thousands of refugees, instead of seeking a solution to the war in Syria, reforming the asylum system and opening the borders, in October, the European Commission and delegates of the countries along the Balkan route adopted a new action plan for the Balkan countries. Ignoring any systemic changes, it is shameless that according to this plan mediated by the European Commission, among other things, the Balkan route countries have agreed to use the debt mechanism to implement activities that will offer a more humane temporary shelter and protection for the refugees. All the while the prolonged transit, shelter and rest will continue taking place in a context of considerable intolerance towards the refugees both by the government and part of the population in Macedonia.
For that reason, starting this month, the Leftist Solidarity Movement as part of its regular activities in solidarity with the refugees is launching an awareness raising campaign among the public to shed light on the structures that conceal the social histories of the persons who flee different forms of violence. Kicking-off with posters, the campaign continues with a series of open discussions and workshops with high-school students and youth. The posters are bilingual and free to download. At its base, both the posters and the discussions build on demands for social justice, thematizing the nationalist and colonial history of the concepts of borders in order to problematize the militarism and the sentiments accounted for in the Macedonian public that discriminate against the refugees. The prejudices are a reflection of the national, religious and ethnic intolerance that exists in Macedonia. Putting it in perspective, we are reminded of the discrimination and the violation of the constitutional rights for free movement of the Roma community that has been happening when they attempt to cross the state borders.
The aim of the campaign is to politicize the refugee problem and to encourage uniting and organizing for equality and fairness through a systemic change in the asylum policies and by demasking the international humanitarianism. Making restless efforts, local organizations offer direct humanitarian aid and facilitate the survival of the refugees on the move. Solidarity with the refugees is part of the fight against the political and economic oppression which in today’s global economic system happens to the worker, the farmer, the student and all those who flee different forms of violence and exploitation unrecognized by the international, regional and national asylum policies.
We call for a wider unity and organizing in creating social justice, equality and fairness through a systemic change and in solidarity with the refugees! We also call all media outlets, printed and TV media, organizations and citizens to join the campaign by downloading and sharing the posters.
For the poster design, we are grateful to Koma Design and Zoran Kardula. Robert Atanasovski provided photographs for the design of part of the posters. The printing of the posters was made possible by the German youth foundation Schüler-Helfen-Leben.
Working group on mobility, Leftist Solidarity Movement*
*The working group is composed of members of the Leftist Solidarity Movement and other supporters of activities in solidarity with the refugees and for their unobstructed mobility.