Call for solidarity with the imprisoned refugee-activists
Published originally in German by solidarity against repression in January 2014
Under the name “Refugee Movement Vienna” different types of struggle for freedom of
movement and residence have developed since the protest march from Traiskirchen to
Vienna in November 2012, and the subsequent protest camp and hunger strike. All the
actions under this name are just one spark—but a strong one—amongst many, attack-
ing the injustice of fortress Europe from below.
Even though the media does not show press conferences, supporters or big demon-
strations anymore: the struggle for freedom without borders will continue. Every day
refugees—many of them so-called “asylum-seekers”—resist the racist system, that
divides people in two groups—those with and those without papers. This resistance
occurs at many places: in the camps, at the borders, in “everyday life”, in police stations
Like in many other European countries the demands of refugee activists have gained
increased attention in the public and the media since October 2012. Still, the political
authorities in Austria—unlike in other states, where refugees went on strike—have
hardly shown any willingness to negotiate.
At the end of July 2013, after months of protest, eventually eight activists got deported.
Close to the climax of the election campaign, this clearly was a politically motivated
act of repression by the Austrian authorities. Despite massive protests the deportations
could not be stopped.
What follows, is a wave of state repression and criminalization, that reminds of the
so-called “Operation Spring” from 1999.¹ This police operation was launched after
protests had emerged in solidarity with Marcus Omofuma, who had been killed by the
authorities in the course of his deportation. More than hundred predominantly Black²
people were arrested, supposedly suspected of drug trafficking. Hundreds had been
under surveillance and had been wiretapped. Even though the investigations were far
from successful for the police and the prosecution, most of the arrested were convict-
ed to long prison sentences in a highly questionable lawsuit and based on dubious
In the summer of 2013 the protests against the deportation of activists again generated
public attention. As a direct response, a number of people of the refugee movement
and from their personal environment got arrested and put into prison on remand. They
are accused to be part of a “criminal organization of people smugglers” (§114 FPG),
which can be punished with prison sentences of up to ten years. The public (above all
the media and the minister of the interior) happily jumped at the story of “ruthless
chiefs of a people-smuggler gang” who were living “disguised as refugees”. Even though
the court files, which were partially published in the ‚Falter’, soon revealed that these
were mere chimera of the minister and the media, the coup had been successful in
discrediting the movement in the public view. The arrested are now „waiting“ for the
date of the trial, which still is to be announced, for almost six months. These were six
months in extreme conditions of detention, which led to massive physical and mental
ailments. Six months, in which the contact to family members had been denied, six
months of very restrictive visiting allowances, in an attempt to break the solidarity with
the prisoners. After a few months visiting was made further difficult by moving the
prisoners from the prison Josefstadt in Vienna to a prison in Wiener Neustadt.
Prison is – besides the national borders – part of the racist and repressive system, which
legitimates and maintains injustice and inequality. Here, once again the hypocrisy of
the political system and the asylum policy become obvious. The Austrian and Europe-
an migration policies create a system, which illegalizes people: “Legal” border crossing
is only possible for “privileged” people.
The right to asylum is defined very narrowly, so that many do not have the possibility
to claim this basic human right. If people do not match these stringent criteria, they
will be denied basic rights such as the right to free movement and the right to freely
choose one’s place of residence. They remain without a permit to work and without any
chance to build up an existence in Austria.
The paradox of „Legality“
The “legal“ solution of this problem is the deportation of illegalized people. This is
based on the idea, that certain human beings and all their activities within the Austrian
borders can be considered as “illegal”. Consequently it is “legal” to imprison them for
weeks, and finally set them into a plane against their will, to deport them to a country
they have fled from. The racist and repressive laws that consider people to be “illegal”
and deportations to be “legal” have to be refused.
The freedoms of movement and residence have to be universal, and not only valid for
privileged citizens of the EU. According to the same logic also a border regime, that
illegalizes cross-border movement, has to be refused. This very border regime excludes
people without the right papers from “legal” traveling and limits their possibilities to
cross borders to dangerous and often life-threatening “illegal” options.
The same border regime – implemented by the EU and countries like Austria – thus
creates a market for inofficial border crossing, where services are offered to facilitate
the dangerous and risky “illegal” crossing of borders. Just like people and their un-
documented crossing of borders are considered as “illegal”, services to facilitate these
travels are being criminalized. Here we can notice the same absurd logic as before:
deportations are “legal“, but supporting others to cross borders (often denounced as
“smuggling”) is being highly criminalized. To put it differently, if it is sanctioned by the
state it is “legal” to put someone in a plane against his_her will in police custody—of-
ten tied up, sedated, and by using force. But to help somebody to cross a border, who
is excluded from the right to travel “legally”, means that you face prosecution, arrest,
surveillance, remand, and up to a few years in prison.
Assistance to refugees—presented as “smuggling“—is often being depicted as ex-
ploitative and dangerous. In contrast, attempts by the state to criminalize and halt
these activities are considered as positive, useful and necessary. The paradox becomes
even stronger if we remember that for example crossing the border from the former
GDR towards the “western” countries, and helping others to do so were considered as
downright heroic deeds. It is often being assumed that assistance to cross borders—so
called “people smuggling”—includes exploitative practices such as human trafficking
or cheating of the “victims”.
The way how people are crossing borders (hidden in small spaces in trucks; under
extreme conditions; in places where their life is at risk; etc.) is—often rightly—being
considered as cruel and inhumane.
The business of borders
Because borders are more and more being controlled by the police, crossing them is
in fact getting more dangerous and can hardly be done without risk. Often it is only
possible to move from one country to another if you have support by services like
information transfer and provision of contact addresses, especially in highly guarded
areas of the EU.
Like in all free market situations, “people smuggling” can be exploitative and danger-
ous. But we have to keep in mind what causes this problem: The borders themselves
create this “smuggler” market, which is often referred to as ruthless.
If everybody had the right of free movement without being stopped at militarized and
guarded borders, the exploitation and dangers of the “people smuggling” market would
Every attempt of the EU to tackle “smuggling“ and the involved exploitative practices
is hypocritical, as long as it does not aim at the abolition of borders and restrictions
to migration altogether. Looking at airlines which earn money from deportations,
embassies where people have to pay for deportation certificates, or political parties that
use the topic in their campaigns, we should also ask the question who benefits from the
deportation-business. This is a brutal trading with human lives, which is being camou-
flaged by the criminalization of refugees and supportive activists.
The protests of refugees in Vienna and the consequent criminalization campaign have
to be viewed in a wider context. The current accusations of “people smuggling” against
people involved in the protest movement in Vienna are in line with the abovemen-
tioned racist logic of the Austrian and European policies. However, in the specific
case the criminalization has to be considered as an attempt to silence a strong protest,
which is well-covered by the media and has already been lasting for more than a year.
The criminalization will not achieve to stop the struggle for equal rights and against
the excluding migration policies of Austria and the EU. The demands remain the same:
freedom of movement and the right of residence for all, as well as the abolition of the
Solidarity must go beyond words. Silence and ignorance mean agreement with the
dominant racist conditions.
We demand an immediate stop of all deportations and the end of racist motivated
arrests and imprisonments!
We demand to immediately set free all refugee activists that are detained under the
suspicion of “people smuggling”!
Smash §114! Destroy all border regimes!
Resistance is everywhere! Political prisoners are everywhere!
Solidarity with the imprisoned refugee activists in Austria!
¹ Annotation: There is a mistake in the original text, where it says 2000. In fact, Operation Spring was conducted in 1999, in the Winter of 1999/2000 the trials took place.
² Black is mentioned and written in capital letters in this context, to emphasize, that it does not only refer to the skin colour of a person, but to a social status. In our society which is determined by racist dynamics and discourses, this makes a difference. White people as members of the majority are not being criminalized in that way.