speech from the congress "United Against Deportation"
Why we promote the slogan "We are here because you destroy our countries" for the 'Caravan for the Rights of the Refugees and Migrants' by Dr. Anthony Edeh of the International Human Rights Association - Bremen speech held on Friday 21.4.2000
On behalf of the refugees in Germany, the Human Rights Association in Bremen, the VoiceAfrica in Jena, and all the good people who have been supporting the struggle for the rights of the refugees and migrants, I welcome you all to this refugee congress in Jena. No doubt, I believe that this is already a well known fact, that the situation for the refugees today has been getting worse and deteriorating with every turn of the new laws. Not only that but more and more laws are being passed every day to exclude us from norman German society. More and more measures are put in place, to make it impossible for us to live in Europe. The latests inovation in such attacks is that the policy of exclusion and prevention, is now being organised on a Europe-wide level. As these new measures are being increased and sharpened against us we the refugees are forced inevitably to come together to fight for our rights together.
It was only recently in 1998 through the caravan movement that we refugees for the first time found our voice and started to express ourselves politically. With the slogan we have no vote but we have a voice we travelled through over 44 German cities in 35 days. In this caravan tens of thousands of refugees, men and women were able to come together politically to express their collective determination, to fight for our rights. One cannot over emphasise the fact that the caravan project has helped us in no small way since then to shape our effective basis for refugees and migrants from Africa, Asia, Middle East and South America and German anti-racist groups to come together for a common course.
At a more appropriate time during the course of this meeting we shall endeaver to evaluate what we have already achieved and also articulate new strategies for sustaining and strengthening the caravan project.
Of course there are many reasons for us to rise to the challenges facing us today in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. But before we go deeper into discussing these conditions and articulating our strategies of resistance, it is important that we first and foremost remember why we were forced to flee our countries in the first place. German and European politicians are adamant to deny that there are any justifiable reasons for us to come to Europe. They have invariably argued that Germany has no responcibilty whatsoever in the causes of the problems of the world and the economic crisis. Nothing can be further from the truth than such political denials. In fact there is a very direct connection between Europes multinational and economic political interventions in our countries and the creation of refugees. Cheap oil and gas coming from Nigeria to Europe as a result of the neo-colonial partnership between multinational co-operations like shell and the succesful military dictatorships that have ruled and ruined Nigeria for the past 32 years. In 1956 in was western interests that drove the 1966 military overthrow of Nigeria's constitutionally elected government. That coup marked the destruction of post independent democratic measures which had given rights for example to the Ogoni ethnic people in the Niger delta. This systematic destruction of democratic measures and the political and the economic disposseion of the Ogonis paved the way for the ruthless expolitaion of Nigeria's oil resources for the past three decades. Today the Niger delta is in flames, while billions of dollars worth of natural wealth has been take away overseas.
I have concentrated on my own country, but the speakers in this section of the congress will explain not only the situation in Africa but also Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. And as more more refugees join the Caravan movement we will develop our understanding and will be able to take a political position on other areas of the world.
Most people have heard that Otto Schily the Inner Minister from Germany has embarked on the road to dismantle the asylum rights completely. Otto Schily not only expresses this aim on behalf of the German state he also expresses the general tendency in European politics. Schily's concept is to throw out of the window, all considerations of political persecution and human rights violations as a reason for flight and limit the criteria to enter this country purely to the economic interests of the German state. Ironically, refugees fleeing persecution know very well what happens when the economic interests of countries like Germany are given free reign in their homelands - corrupt dictatorships, terror and persecution of those who try to fight for human and social rights and against the destruction of the environment.
Helmut Kohl, argued that 'yes there are problems in the world' but 'why do refugees have to come to Germany?'. Otto Schilly has gone one step further. He argues that asylum laws themselves are outmoded and unneccessary because with neo-liberal economics are accompanied by liberal politics, so he argues that the days of dictatorships and human rights violations are receding.
Our position in this congress is that claims that the neo-liberal economic plans are already producing democratic roots is not true at all. These arguments by the rich countries are being made in the case of Nigeria and it has several objectives. First is to say that there is a new democratic government in Nigeria and therefore everything is going well, so therefore new investment opportunities are available for rich countries and further refugees do not have to come here from Nigeria. But the recent events in Nigeria points towards the opposite. Not only that the Niger delta crisis is escalating because the multinational countries that suspended their operations several years ago are attempting to come back, other problems, sparking religious conflict are threatening to plunge the country into civil war.
The same arguments are put forward for Iran. Germany is in fact in the leadership of this campaign to put a mask of democracy on the anti-women Islamic fundemantalist regime in Iran. Our comrade from Iran will explain this later today in greater depth. German foreigners police is blatantly collaborating with the anti-women policies of the regime by forcibly putting veils on Iranian women so that emmergency passports can be made by the Iranian embassy to enable their deportation. As you know the Iranian Embassy refuses to issue a passport to women who do not wear a head scarf. Again Germany achieves two things. By painting a veil of democracy on the Iranian regime it opens the door for even more massive investment in Iran at the same time deportaions to Iran will also increase.
Just as there are two sides to the relationship Germany has to our home countries, - for us refugees too there are two side to our problem and our consciouseness. On the one hand we have to struggle against deportation and social exclusion to survive here and deeply connected to this we will express the terrible problems of our brothers and sisters that we have had to leave behind. The German government accuse us of being economic refugees. Maybe this is what they want us to be. It is probably their hope that the few of us who get the right to stay here become integrated into this economic system that destroys our countries. We will not be as they want us to be.
The 'Caravan for the Rights of the Refugees and Migrants' will show what political refugees are capable of.
Houston Chronicle, April 16, 2000, p. 5-C.
By Robert Jensen
As the protests in the streets of Washington, DC, unfold on Sunday at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank meeting, the focus will be on complex fiscal and monetary policy questions. But the underlying struggle is over more basic questions:
What is an economy for, and what does it mean to be a human being in the modern world?
Is an economy simply a system and set of institutions to maximize production no matter what the cost to people and the planet? Or should the goal of an economy be to create conditions under which free human beings can tap their creative potential and work collectively to fashion a sustainable world?
Is money the only measure of value, or does real wealth come from the living capital of the planet?
Do we judge an economy solely on market values? Or do solidarity, compassion and love have a place -- not just in our families and intimate lives, but in public as well, in the way we collectively define ourselves?
These issues arose when a political colleague and I recently debated two business school professors on the question of corporate responsibility. During the discussion, I talked about the sadness that I so often feel living in a society in which such human values are not only marginalized but mocked because they are inconsistent with the demands of the economy. The most vulnerable -- the poor, children, the aged, the sick -- suffer most from this state of affairs. But we all suffer because the conception of human nature inherent in our economy is so debased.
Make no mistake: The view of human nature that underlies corporate capitalism is inhumane and anti-human. We are told that people will respond only to crass self-interest and greed, and hence our economic institutions are built on that notion. Then, when people often do act on self-interest and greed in a system that rewards such behavior, we are told, "See, look at how greedy people are."
It is our task not to accept such facile logic, to reject former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's famous dictate "There is no alternative." There are, of course, alternatives. There is nothing natural or inevitable about capitalism and its underlying assertions about human nature.
We all have experienced situations in which we put aside crass calculations about self-interest and acted out of a sense of solidarity, an understanding that to be fully human means meaningful connection with others. We also all have been, at some time, selfish and greedy. Both are part of human nature. The question is, do we build institutions that encourage our capacity for kindness or for cruelty?
An economy is the product of human choices. By definition, we can choose differently. For example, we can choose to eliminate IMF and World Bank lending policies that undercut education, health and social services in the developing world in order to maximize profits in the developed world. We can simply abandon these "structural adjustment" policies, which adjust the lives of ordinary people downward.
We can realize that a minimal sense of justice means the First World must forgive the debt it has imposed on the Third World and begin to talk about a real moral accounting for colonialism through the First World paying reparations.
And, when our collective moral imagination has developed enough, we can begin to design a world in which corporations are not allowed to trample over people in pursuit of profits.
That world may not be as far away as we think. After our business school debate, an MBA student came up to me and thanked us for being willing to speak before a group that was so hostile to our message. "I don't agree with everything you said, and I am going to go into business," he told me. Then his voice wavered a bit, and he said, "But what you said touched me."
That moment -- a connection between two people, standing in a building constructed to teach people to honor greed -- touched me as well. It was a reminder of those other values, of the possibility of alternatives. The only question is whether together we have the courage to create them.
Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at email@example.com. Other writings are available online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance.