AntiNote: We have been heartened in recent months by the amount of positive attention that street-level solidarity structures in Greece have been getting in English-language media, even from dominant legacy outlets long skeptical and dismissive of informal, extra-institutional aid and justice projects. The customary silence has persisted, however, around similar projects elsewhere on the Balkan peninsula (and in Europe more broadly). The contrast in results in terms of material consequences on the ground, comparing Greece to Serbia, could hardly be more severe. This is what happens when we surrender solidarity missions to the security state. This is why we must look, speak, and support self-organization—persistently, insistently, and consistently.
The following are two difficult testimonies from refugees, recorded and published by comrades at No Border Serbia, as well as a statement by No Border Serbia itself in advance of last month’s mass refugee squat eviction in Belgrade, which went down the way they said it would. Lightly edited for clarity.
We Will Struggle for Every Moment of Freedom
by Asa for No Border Serbia’s blog
3 June 2017 (original post)
It has been eleven months now that I have been passing these hardest days of my traveling. I am a refugee from Afghanistan. As we know, freedom is the right of every breathing being. Right now I am in Belgrade, Serbia. I came here to save my life and be a real servant to humankind but today we are facing a lot of problems by the orders of governments. They destroyed the place [the squatted warehouses behind the bus station in Belgrade] where thousands of refugees had passed their nights during their journey, and they sent us to camps. But “camp” is only a name; in fact it is like jail. They don’t let us move freely, even for shopping. Even the bus drivers don’t want to take us.
It seems like we are the enemy of Serbia. We have many problems around the camp. There is a group of local gangsters; every night they try to beat, rob, and extort refugees. We cannot move safely in the area outside and around the camp. Inside the camp, we have the commissariat; those people also behave with refugees in a very inhumane way. In fact they forgot about humanity. Everyone in Serbia has a pet—if we would touch their pet they would be ready to put us in jail forever. Think about that! We are also human. We have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. What will happen to them?
Everyone says that smugglers are bad people. The first thing I want to ask is: What caused smugglers to start their jobs here in Serbia? The second thing is: Who is the bigger smuggler? The government, or those who bring a kilo of hashish, when the government today is making business with the lives of thousands of humans? But no one can say anything opposed to this. Why?
Today it is us who are in this problem, but if these laws stay in power, maybe tomorrow you will be in my position. We accept that for most of you, refugees may look like a problem for Serbia, but putting pressure on us will only create more problems. Remember one thing: what you are doing today with us, we will remember forever. Please, for the love and respect of human kind, let us be free. We don’t want food, we don’t want clothes, we only want to move freely, just free movement.
Some more details about the camp in Obrenovac, shared by people who are forced to live there:
The conditions in the camp are still as bad as in the beginning. There is no warm water. Some people go to the river to wash themselves. There is no more cooked food in the camp; people are not allowed to use the camp’s kitchen, so they cook for themselves over a fire outside, in the yard of the camp. Since people were sent to the camp [after the eviction of the warehouses, which are now completely demolished], this camp has been a place where people are being threatened not to be able to leave or have had difficulties going out. A few days ago, the camp administration implemented a system that only certain people can leave the camp: those who receive a “shopping paper” (they only give it to one person per “group”). Outside of the camp, there are police patrolling all the time. When they find migrants outside of the camp, police threaten them to bring them to Preševo [a closed camp near to the Macedonian border from where pushbacks are regularly happening]; there have even been cases of beatings. People report specifically about a worker for the commissariat called Mohammed who physically abuses people, beats and humiliates them. Everybody knows about his sadistic behavior, but obviously he has protection from above, plus as usual all those “experts on refugee issues” don’t give a shit about it. There is a cell in Obrenovac camp where people are locked up without food for 24 hours as a punishment. Racial segregation is visible on public transport; people are refused entry onto buses, or are forced to pay enormous amounts just to get to Belgrade.
On 27 May, the camp administration locked the front door and all exits of the camp. They gave out only a few of these “shopping papers” and announced they would not be giving any more permission papers. During this month of Ramadan, people usually buy food items in the market and cook for themselves in the forest outside the camp for the fast-breaking at night. When people started to organize and were ready to show resistance to this closure, the camp administration decided to open the gate.
Down with all prisons! No to segregation and isolation!
Evictions of the squatted warehouses in Belgrade
by No Border Serbia
11 May 2017 (original post)
On 5 May 2017, the Ministry of Labor, Social and Veterans’ Affairs announced it would relocate migrants who are staying in Belgrade to reception centers all over Serbia. According to Nenad Ivanšević, state secretary of this ministry, the plan was to complete this mission within twenty days. As of now, on 10 May 2017, the information at hand indicates an intensification towards a quicker eviction than first announced. Also, although it was announced that “force will not be used to transfer migrants; instead they will be offered the move to a reception center ‘in a humane manner,’” the commissariat for refugees already announced it would start the eviction and demolition of the barracks by tomorrow at seven a.m. Furthermore, several kitchen collectives were told that they have to stop providing food by the end of this weekend.
As the eviction is expected to start this morning, a twitter account was just launched where updates about the process of eviction will be posted.
The barracks behind the bus stations were squatted in April 2016 after the commissariat and police evicted the parks around the bus station. Since then, they have been used in a self-organized way both by people living there because they are stuck in Serbia and also by people in solidarity. In wintertime they attracted a lot of media attention due to the bad weather conditions in Belgrade, but although people have been mainly victimized and presented as suffering individuals, the barracks have also been a place where collective organizing, different forms of solidarity and exchange, as well as communication and learning have all become possible. Few people know about the level of autonomous organizing that was happening there (also before the appearance of volunteers and media): collective cooking, a self-organized language school, sports, discussions and exchange of knowledge, simply everyday life in unusual circumstances. The squatted warehouses, together with the resistance of the Timotijević-family in that same area, became the front line in the struggle against the Belgrade waterfront gentrification project.
The plan of the government to evict the squats and move people to poorly conditioned, overcrowded and remote areas is happening in line with overall EU practices. Pushing people out of sight, detaining them in isolation with no possibility to organize, protest, visibilize their demands, and collectively exchange with other people is something that has likewise happened all over the so called “Balkanroute” and in other European countries, too.
This eviction will not be conducted peacefully, no matter what words the authorities use to describe their action. Therefore it may not pass without resistance. The barracks are on the venue of the high-investment project to develop the Belgrade waterfront, so maybe there’s enough political and financial pressure to succeed in evicting the squat, but people will never stop fighting against these dehumanizing and cruel policies.
They may succeed in evicting the barracks, but they will never succeed in evicting the freedom of movement. A concrete analysis, a political statement, and many other forms of protest, monitoring, reports, and actions will be done online and offline in the upcoming days. Keep yourself updated, show solidarity and take action.
Now we are showing our resistance against the eviction of the squatted warehouses behind the train station in Belgrade. Our resistance is a common one, because all of us—locals from this city, inhabitants of the squats, train and bus passengers, students, and people passing by or working in this area—are longing for the end of a world in which our lives are oppressed by capital.
Most of the people squatting these buildings for months moved away from their living spaces because of war. There is another war here in Serbia: the war against the poor that results in hundreds of evictions every year. And the war on the borders, the war that creates those of us without papers (or not the right papers) as second class humans, as enemies.
Yes, we are enemies: enemies of a system of borders that takes away people’s freedom to move, and enemies of those who want to turn cities into places that are only for the rich.
But we are here today. And we are everywhere. You cannot evict all autonomous and self-organized spaces. Even if these squats are demolished and Belgrade waterfront construction progresses—other self-organized spaces of resistance will occur.
The camp system in Serbia, which is being expanded by the state (and its business friends) very quickly, is copy-pasted from other EU countries. Huge profits are being made from the fact that people are put in a place surrounded by walls and fences. The industries around those “humanitarian” prisons are mostly run by organizations that try to make the life in the cage “a bit nicer” by providing food or hygiene material. This is only necessary if people are being put in a position where they are treated as objects who cannot decide for themselves.
No more displacement! Social spaces and autonomy is what we need! Freedom to move! Freedom to stay! Freedom not to be moved!
No Border Collective
We are not their slaves!
by an anonymous refugee (“Number 13”) for No Border Serbia’s blog
17 April 2017 (original post)
Note from No Border Serbia: This text about the fascist EU asylum system, based on a refugee’s personal experience [in Germany], is a call to deepen our critical views and should encourage all of us to wake up from ignorance and speak out against institutional racism and fascist policies everywhere.
Let me introduce myself as Refugee Number 13. I would have liked to put my real name, but I have had many problems (and I still do)!
I came from a Middle Eastern country, escaping from a horrible dictatorship that never ended—and will not end as long as global society is not educated enough to clean up the mess, to kill the ignorance, to fight physically if necessary to protect even themselves. For decades people have been violently slaughtered. Historically, society has been prevented from knowing its rights and the basics of human liberties whatever your country, color, ideology, vision, religion, or name. That is why I always have problems with the systems which are fucking everything up. Wherever you are, laws and rules are made by systems that are not for human beings. It works for some other species, but not all species! From what I have seen, I know how these systems regard people, whether these people are their own people or other people from different societies, refugees or migrants. I am a refugee.
I have heard a lot about the racism, capitalism, and nationalism of Germany and northern European countries, and Germany has done enough that is quite near colonialism during the kidnapping of black people from the continent of Africa to the continent of North America. They also took people as slaves from Africa; Africa and its culture weakened; and even now the consequences of these brutal crimes persist, especially with education, healthcare, and infrastructure. So no big deal. Northern Europe, including Germany, is messing up again! I compare this to the isolation, treatment, and deportation camps that were created for the Jews. The sickness is still living in the cells! History is repeating itself but in slow motion!
The people are being manipulated and distracted. Ignorance resists the beauty of understanding the media and how it works, and how society regards everything as a result. Society believes all kinds of made up lies, fake stories, and events. Now the people in Germany are consciously and thoughtfully avoiding how other people, just like them—who have hair like them, have legs and arms like them, have sexual orientations like them, have colors like them—are being isolated and used as slave labor. Meanwhile the state congratulates itself for its hospitality and pride. What an ugly ego! I’m talking about the majority of people in Germany, because a lot of that majority sees the wrong and avoids even looking at it. By doing this, consciously and unconsciously, they give the system more chances to fuck up the refugees by any law or rule, not considering that the system wants exactly that for everyone! The system is already destroying its own people by spoiling the idea of privacy (not to mention global climate change). Spying on them 24 hours a day through surveillance cameras and cell phones! That is how people get distracted. These are my opinions and judgments. You could say I am wrong, though I would say: Kiss my ass!
The system has an awful procedure for refugees. They told me that I am not allowed to have more money than two hundred euros. I said, “I do not have that money.” They did not believe me, then they checked me physically. If I had more, they are allowed to take it!
Horst [the camp] is a nightmare. Here is the trick: the translator skipped some things that I said, so I had to be angry with him to fix the shit even though I had asked for an English interview. At the same time, there was a song playing on the radio in the background saying, “I am a human after all / Do not put your blame on me.” Such a song did not make sense to me in such a place. Why are they playing such a song, and it is in English? Why do they not want to speak English with me then?
At one of the offices, I asked in English about some translation and some documents. The employees had been having fun talking in German; they stopped suddenly, looking at their screens in complete silence. They ignored me while I was asking them. When I went louder with my voice, they could not keep their silence any more. One employee said, “Kein Englisch.” There were five of them. Why the fuck do they do that in such a job? Simply because they are fucking racists. I felt like I’m a stinky rat that must be gotten rid of…
The translator gave me a German paper to sign and he was the only one who was translating it to me even though I told him that I do not trust him or any other translator. I had to sign it, because they do not give it in any other language! Fucking awesome.
I spent at least eight hours at the last interview. I was super sick, so I gave them what the doctor wrote to me, to put it in my file. Guess what? They did not put it in my file. Even when I told my lawyer, they still did not put it in my file. The interview was not in English as I asked; they did not give a shit about what I asked. I had given them personal information twice that proved who I was; they do it by communications between them and the person’s government if that is possible. It is always possible except if you are Syrian or Iraqi. I am not either.
The interviewer made many written mistakes. The interviewer doesn’t fucking type—just speaks into a mic, and a PC automatically writes the words. It took two times to correct the written mistakes. The mistakes can really screw up your whole life, but they do not care about our lives. Anyway, they are just faking it. The third time I asked to see it again, the interviewer was fed up and said, “I will recheck it next Monday, then I will send you the interview.”
There was no time left to check it again for real. I did all that because I know my rights as a human being and the law here for refugees and their limited rights. Even though I used as much as I can of these limited rights, I am lucky I have this knowledge! What about other people who know nothing about their limited rights? This is a call for activists to please help.
I went to the hospital many times. The nurses and doctors sort people in lines, while German people watch the show. They were looking at us like we were nasty animals. In the hospital, I got racist treatment, people yelling at me in German; one nurse touched my chin, talking to me arrogantly and mentioning “Deutschland” many times. She did the same to a refugee old man but did not touch him. A doctor came to me after I wrote some polite words to stop them from being racist. The doctor put it away by himself without asking me; when I pulled it back out he tried to convince me to put it away but I refused. Then he asked me if I eat meat or not. I told him that I am a vegetarian and I do not eat meat. Then he asked me about my religion. I said that I do not believe in god, that religion is the way to fascism. Then he said, “Cool, because we do not know what to do with these Muslim people who do not eat meat! Ha, ridiculous!”
Back to the camp. I forgot to mention that there is no privacy at all, and no keys for the rooms. Public toilets and sinks are broken, and some bathrooms’ doors are not working. I moved out from that shitty place to another place where there are two roommates with me.
I got this paper. After my roommates read it, one of them said, “Oof, fuck me!”
My other roommate said, “What the fuck is wrong with these people? We are not their fucking slaves.” The sensations that I got were mixed between sadness and laughing hysterically. The feeling was more sad, but they laughed too. Our situation as refugees is horrible but at least there is still some fun left. We are trying to find a way out of being depressed. The system thinks that we are okay with such racist behaviors, and we must be thankful that we are here and alive, being treated without humanity.
In Horst, the security staff does checks every day. They target anyone who is not organized or has some dust or trash under his or her bed, as a way to cut money off the social allowance. They allow work for refugees in Horst but for less than two euros per hour. It is fucking slavery. And ultimately, the authorities did not want to give me permission to move by public transportation and travel to another place. Fucking awesome.
That is a summary of what I have seen and experienced so far during the asylum procedure. Horst is such a horrible place. Schwerin is so isolated in the forest. It is sad and scary. My friends: you are a minority, but history has been changed by people like you, and still can be as long as you resist. But please, please, educate yourselves more. Do not stop educating and resisting!
I am Number 13.
All images: No Border Serbia