May 11, 2015 Published in Epohi translated for http://www.analyzegreece.gr

Interview with Vasilis Tsianos by Ioanna Drosou

Last Thursday a special summit took place concerning the confrontation of the increased migration flows in the Mediterranean Sea. The Chairman of the Council of Europe, Mr. Tusk stated that “the situation in the Mediterranean concerns the whole of Europe, so we must act together, as one power”. How do you judge the proposals that were discussed?
Before answering your question it is necessary to make a conceptual distinction. The term “migration flows”, especially with the humanitarian disaster that we are currently experiencing at the borders, is at least problematic. It has to be understood that the discussion must turn to the crisis that the security systems are facing, as far as dealing with European asylum policy issues is concerned. The 276.000 arrivals over the Mediterranean that were recorded last year –and which are expected to increase at 350.000 this year– in their vast majority do not concern migration flows, but rather potential refugees. This clarification is necessary because identifying the immigration policy with the asylum policy is politically dangerous.
Europe’s proposal, as it was presented with the ten points of Mr. Avramopoulos, has nothing new to offer. It is the militarized version of a series of programs that have been discussed in the past ten years in the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Europe’s programme is a fiasco

Are you referring to the peacekeeping corps that was suggested to be installed in the countries of origin of the refugees?
It is no coincidence that Mr. Avramopoulos used as a model of intervention the “Operation Atalanta”, an operation at the sea border with Eritrea, the main object of which was to monitor and track the pirate formations in the area. The intention to remilitarize the European policies on border controls is extremely problematic. It reflects the political culture of a large number of experts and of the European technocratic elite of the Schengen system; a system based on a police and military management of the migration and asylum issue. This is why this programme cannot be seen as the basis for the beginning of the debate on a new policy on immigration and asylum policies in Europe either.
It is a fiasco, since it is simply about the existing control policies at the European borders patched together in a frivolous way. It is no coincidence that one of the points on the agenda is the intensification of the dactyloscopic forms of control. It has to do with the political and economic upgrading of the role of Frontex in the Mediterranean. The programme does not have humanitarian characteristics for addressing the crisis in the Mediterranean. It aims at the geopolitical upgrading of the intervention in the Mediterranean and the renegotiation of the relationship between Europe and Frontex, which has a police based logic of dealing with the migration and asylum issue.

These measures are introduced as a solution in order to prevent the loss of lives at sea. Do you believe that this is only a pretext?
Exactly. Although the death of thousands of people is established, what is proposed as a first measure is the acceptance of 5.000 people who have been already saved, and their establishment in European countries. Considering the fact that last year we had 67.000 refugees from Syria the proposal is unrealistic.

A European asylum system is necessary.

On 22.4.2015 the title of Liberation was “Legalize immigration”. Is this a realistic proposal?
There are a lot of things that one can suggest. We are currently having a very acute and immediate problem of humanitarian crisis at the level of asylum and rescue policies of people in the Mediterranean. I believe that is where the discussion should be focused taking into consideration that summer is coming and the arrival of refugees will increase. The issue of migration policy in Europe is huge. The qualitative and numerical relationship between migration and refugee flows is completely clear. Only 5-6% of the populations that migrate are subject to what we call refugee or illegal or unlawful immigration. The majority of the people who arrive in Europe use legal ways like family reunification, or para-legal ways like the visa. So we are actually talking about a very small percentage of migration, which we have also learned to call “illegal immigration”. The asylum issue should be treated differently from the migration issue.
It is no coincidence that the conservative circles of the Commission are always associating immigration with illegal immigration. In other words they produce a conceptual continuity between the immigrants, the refugees and those who are illegally entering a country. This serves exclusively the police based logic that is used in the border controls and the various policies that have to do with the overall mobility in our continent. So far a real asylum system does not operate, although the overall process of the European asylum system should have been completed this year, and what we are experiencing now is the consequence of this thing.

Do you mean that a European asylum procedure should have been instituted rather than be provided only by the national law?
A European asylum system that will manage with fair, transparent and democratic conditions the issues of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has not yet been institutionalized. The necessity for such a system became absolutely clear especially after the Arab uprisings, the Schengen crisis in 2011, and the enormous crisis of the previous Dublin II and the current Dublin III Regulation.

We need a pan-European immigration moratorium.

What would be your proposal on the policy that should be followed in order to address migrants and refugees in Europe?
We need a pan-European migration moratorium. We must finally find a way to talk about immigration in Europe in non-police and non-repressive terms. To this effect, the UN department of immigration and the UNHCR have taken a stand many years now. In order for this to happen, the assessment of the policies that are being used in Europe for the past 10-15 years to deal with migration and asylum is required. In this moratorium programme it is necessary not only for the institutional organs that deal with immigration to participate, for example Frontex, but also local societies, member states and above all the groups of self-organization of migrants and refugees who are already in Europe or are on their way to Europe. Apart from this, refugees should be allowed to reuse legal forms of migration and visa benefits should be democratized and reviewed. Just consider that in 2013 in Syria 23.000 visas were granted for prospective refugees, while in 2014 the institution was abolished and as a result not a single visa was given. Finally we need a radical critique and careful thinking about the Dublin III system. We need an alternative; until we succeed this we must essentially liberate the people who are coming to Europe from falling within the Dublin III system, by giving them the initiative to choose the country in which they will apply for political asylum. Those three criteria are completely necessary in order to control the democratic character of the European asylum and border control policies.

The term “traffickers” has a military character

There is also political exploitation of the issue resulting in societies becoming more conservative. As you notice the parties that express an anti-immigration rhetoric are gaining influence of the electorate. Why is this happening?
The neo-fascist or the extreme right-wing movements and parties in Europe no longer focus their anti-immigration discourse on the stricter treatment of migration flows; rather, they focus on the issue of managing the alleged internal mobility in Europe. The big problem of the extreme right-wing parties in Europe has to do with Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Albania, and more specifically it has to do with the way that the dynamics of European integration are at the same time producing new intra-European migration forms of mobility. This also partly concerns the new Greek migration towards central-European countries. In other words, the intra-European migrants are the target of the new extreme right-wing parties and movements in Europe. And it has to do with the fact that over the last 20 years we made the people think that immigration is something illegal. We must also admit that the European vision for intra-European mobility never managed to escape from the neo-colonial perceptions of the subject of international migration.
Unfortunately, the migration issue and racist discourse on the alleged non-control of migration were used in populist ways in order to reframe a hegemonic project of the extreme right-wing in Europe. We can see it clearly in France with M. Le Pen. We can conclude that what we essentially need is a reconceptualization of the issue of citizenship and society and we also need to reconceptualize the discussion around this subject in terms of democratic control. We must learn to talk differently.

As far as this is concerned the media should have a leading role. Instead, they reproduce hate discourse and, despite the fact that use of the term “illegal migration” is less frequent, the term “human trafficking” has relaced it.
The use of the term is not new. It appeared for the first time during the first big crisis of the European asylum system in the 90s’ and during the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, and was also linked with the effort to reconceptualize the mixed nature of migration flows. The term “trafficker” or “human trafficking” are misused. The official term is “smugglers”. The term “human trafficking” condenses preexisting forms of migration control that have to do with anti-trafficking and the fight against sexual violence in the late 90s’ and early 2000. The term human trafficking was introduced in Europe by an American think tank in the 90s’ and was used a lot in NATO’s effort to shape its own policy in the Balkans, a policy parallel to the European asylum policy. Thus it created the moral objective of migration policy, which was to combat trafficking and, indeed, in the name of defending women’s and unaccompanied children’s rights. By what is a “human trafficker”?
Unfortunately, there is not one single research in Europe that focuses on the real dimensions of the figure of the smuggler and the alleged trafficking formations. The only data we have are based on police analyses concerning arrested traffickers and the reports of Frontex observers. The term “trafficker” is unfair and misused. Among the alleged smugglers there are fishermen, migrants, refouled refugees, refugees who in their majority are trying to help.

Migration is not a crime

The new Greek government has established a ministry of Migration, while the policy it announced abolishes detention camps, accelerates the asylum procedure etc. What is your opinion for the moves that were made so far?
I must confess that I am very positive and almost excited about the first moves of the government, although I might disagree on some individual issues. We are witnessing a migration policy that might not just simply have humanitarian elements- everyone can say this- but it also has the mark that a left wing position on the migration issue must have. It is very important to delegitimize the carceral nature of the obscene camps in Greece and to also delegitimize the problematic character of the Greek port and police authorities, as far as dealing with migration has to do. We have to realize that migration has nothing to do with the police and port authorities. They are neither responsible nor can they cope with something like this. A police based management of the migration issue has a surveilling and punitive character. We need to get away from these things.

The new-right wing discourse on migration

However, the political opposition and the media are promoting the opinion that this policy encourages the waves of immigrants and refugees. Their main argument is the phrase “Greece is becoming an unfenced vineyard” which in other words means that there is no control and everyone can do anything. Is there a base for this view?
This argument is part of the new-right wing discourse on migration and how to address it. We are all aware that migration flows do not immediately communicate with anti-migration policies, but have a deeper horizon. What I mean is that the refugees who have to abandon Syria or Eritrea do not follow the moves of any Minister of Migration or any Minister of Internal Affairs. What they try to monitor is what circumstances apply at different points across their way to Europe. They have absolutely no understanding of the changes that are made to control procedures. After evaluating the data of Mare Nostrum we learned that there is no causal relationship between police control of policies aiming to address the humanitarian crisis and the increase of migration flows. More specifically, before Mare Nostrum, which rescued 150.000 people, we had 30.000 more refugees in Italy than during the implementation of the annual programme. After Mare Nostrum ended a reduction of the number of refugees heading to Italy and Greece was recorded. Migration is not something that you can control –let alone prevent– because migration is not a crime, but rather a classic form of non permissible mode of transport in the territory of another region.

The political party Potami also made ten proposals on the migration issue. One of them is to strengthen Frontex. How do you comment on this?
Before the elections Potami gave a clear message by raising the issue of how many immigrants Greece can receive. Such positions belong to the extreme right-wing of Europe. There is no need for further comments on such parties.

Vassilis Tsianos is a researcher at the faculty for economics and social studies at the University of Hamburg. He published “Escape Routes. Control and Subversion in 21st Century” (2008).

Photos:Vassilis Mathioudakis ( From Gavdos, Greece, April, 9, 2015. where 200 refugees (Libya, Sudan, Syria) found lost in an isolated beach of Gavdos island, south of Crete.)
Translated by:Thomi Gaki
The original text was first published on:Newspaper “I Epochi”, 26.4.2015


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