Activist Perspectives on the “Made in Germany” Culture of Deportation
In 2013, two men were deported from Germany to the wrong country, after being falsely identified. This case led our working group to create an online archive to present the knowledge, experiences, and analysis of the border regime generated in migrant self-organisation for activists to use in migration justice work.
Break the Culture of Deportation…
In 2013, Yusupha Jarboh (a citizen of Gambia) and Joseph Koroma (a citizen of Sierra Leone) were deported from Germany to Nigeria. They were dumped in Lagos with no money, documents or assistance. At the German authorities’ request, they had been issued Nigerian travel certificates, falsely stating the were Nigerian citizens.
Both had resided in Germany for years with a so-called Duldung (literally, “toleration”) after their asylum applications had been rejected. Jarboh had arrived in 1994, Koroma in 2006. “Toleration” is an act of temporary suspension of deportation which grants a half-legal stay in Germany during the time one’s deportation cannot be enforced, due to some obstacle like a lack of passport.
German administrators had been pressuring Koroma and Jarboh to identify themselves and apply for a passport at their embassies. They had undergone multiple criminalisations, and been deprived of basic rights such as work and free mobility within Germany, as is the case of so many “tolerated” persons. Ultimately they were identified as Nigerians in a mobile hearing of the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin, and deported.
Only with the help of friendly strangers, and donations from activists in Germany, could they obtain the necessary travel documents and organise their travel back to their countries of origin, Gambia and Sierra Leone.
These two deportees’ cases were our starting point. In September 2015, we three activists with media and research skills, started to document how Germany was criminalising migrants through the asylum system, and how this was linked to the externalisation policies of the EU. The blog, Culture of Deportation—an archive of video interviews and protest action documentation, other documents, and a glossary of border control terminology—went online in July 2017. The blog’s central frame of reference is to present the knowledge, experiences, and analysis of the border regime generated in migrant self-organisation and protest.
The cases of Jarboh and Koroma became known in 2013 during protests against deportation, particularly in relation to embassy deportation collaboration between the German immigration authorities and African embassies. The Nigerian Embassy in Berlin had been briefly occupied by activists in October 2012, as part of a refugee protest that also encompassed the occupation of Berlin’s Oranienplatz Square.
Our initial aim was to produce documentation to support a possible court case against the scandalous criminal deportation of Jarboh and Koroma, and to raise awareness of the system of migration control which criminalised them.
With time, we became more pessimistic about the possibility of strategic litigation. We focussed more on exposing the political construction of legality that banned Jarboh’s and Koroma’s mobility. We wanted to provide tools for activists, and for transnational networking against European mobility apartheid. Some questions we formulated: How was the deportation collaboration between German authorities and embassy officials working? How were Germany and the EU criminalising migrants and refugees through the asylum system? What was the impact of the EU externalising its borders in Africa and on the European territory? How can we strengthen transnational grassroots networks, and mobilise solidarity?
… in Europe and Beyond
In 2014, the refugee activist Rex Osa travelled to Gambia and Sierra Leone to interview Jarboh and Koroma, and to meet with other deportees and local activists, accompanied by the video artist and activist Kin Chui. We started to work on the material in late 2015, and conducted more interviews with migrants and activists, both in Germany and within Africa, on the effects of the EU border externalisation in their local contexts.
In the fall of 2015, Germany was living the apogee of “welcome culture” [Willkommenskultur], a state sponsored hyping of their receiving Syrian refugees. Yet Angela Merkel’s government was, at the same time, passing a series of restrictive policies and amendments to asylum and immigration law. These were enabled and legitimated with the help of mediatised moral panics on “criminal” or “terrorist” asylum seekers, such as after the events on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne, and the Berlin terror attacks in December 2016. Even the proliferation of racist attacks after the summer of 2015 was normalised and instrumentalised by the government to legitimise harsher anti-immigrant and anti-refugee laws.
The “welcome culture” moment followed an important cycle of protests against the German asylum system between 2012 and 2014. The Refugee Protest March to Berlin, and the Oranienplatz and Gerhart Hauptmann School occupations in Berlin had demanded the abolition of German asylum camps and the so-called Residenzpflicht (spatial mobility restrictions within Germany for asylum seekers and rejected asylum seekers who were “tolerated”) as well as stopping all deportations. Merkel’s welcome hype temporarily weakened the critical movements that were challenging the structural racism, dispossession, and precariousness produced by the German asylum system.
In 2015, Germany, who was enjoying international “pro-refugee” fame, had also assumed a leading role in the EU response to the perceived “refugee crisis” and the subsequent walling of Europe’s external border. The old strategy of border externalisation, that is, moving Europe’s borders beyond Europe and outsourcing border policing—particularly to the African states—was stepped up in the Valletta Summit in Malta in November 2015, in collaboration with the African states.
Already in September 2015, the EU Commission had released a common deportation agenda that focussed on African nationals. In Valletta, the EU launched a new wave of externalisation policies with a program that promised “development aid” exclusively to countries that would commit to the European migration prevention agenda. This comprised detention centres, camps, and police and border control operations in transit areas in Niger and along Northern Africa, the introduction of biometric national identification in African countries of origin, and an EU-issued travel certificate [laissez-passer] for deportation which would make the collaboration of African embassies unnecessary, bypassing them totally in deportation procedures related to African nationals.
This deadly fortification of the EU border regime was wrapped in ideas of the EU and Germany as saviours and helpers of refugees and migrants “in their own countries”, and the fight against “the root causes of migration”.
Asylum as a Double Bind for Africans
The new wave of externalisation policies aimed to prevent people like Yusupha Jarboh or Joseph Koroma from getting to Europe in the first place. The EU envisioned that if the Jarbohs and Koromas of the world would still manage to arrive, surviving the deadly desert route and the Mediterranean, their deportation would be swiftly enforced with the help of biometric databases and travel certificates issued by an EU-member country. The aim was to reduce the number of persons residing in EU countries with an enforceable deportation order, that the EU called—in a deeply dehumanising manner—a “deportation gap” and low “rate of return”.
For Jarboh and Koroma, asylum had been the only possibility to enter Germany, as work migration has not been possible for most citizens of non-European countries since 1973. To resist immediate deportation after a nearly automatic rejection of their asylum claim, they had chosen the strategy recommended by other asylum seekers: a second identity. They knew that as West Africans they would be rejected and their deportation would be enforced as soon as German authorities would obtain their real identity, nationality and passport. In turn, German authorities used this to criminalise them.
Since the summer of 2015, Germany and other EU countries have, in even stronger manner, instrumentalised the asylum system into a means of targeting and criminalising large groups of mobile people, particularly African nationals, reframing them as “economic” and “irregular” migrants. For those African citizens who have a modest education and/or financial means, and who do not have a European partner, the only possibility to enter Europe is via the asylum system. At the same time, they are mostly excluded from the right of asylum, with only rare exceptions. Today, the logic of precluding them from asylum, and thus from legal residence in Europe, is increasingly exported to the African continent, particularly in the new plans for European asylum centres on African soil.
For more information, see the Culture of Deportation blog at cultureofdeportation.org.