I was once asked the question why my criticism of the migration regime is limited to nation states, borders, capitalism, hegemony etc. After all, the “International Organization for Migration” (IOM) is a truly nasty organization that deserves to be the target of resistance as much as the other entities. Obviously there have been, and still are, many people who have grappled with the IOM, collecting information and data and criticizing it. But I felt called out and wanted to research the IOM as another agent who influences how migration policy is being made by states.
I see the racial profiling of people with dark skin by the police as a systematic practice, not because I think all police are Nazis, even though many can be found amongst their ranks, but because of the frequency and the obvious motive to make these peoples’ lives in Switzerland hell. This systematicity gained further significance for me when I read that this practice is part of a concept that has gained in popularity in the last 20 years. This concept is called “migration management” and is now the consensus amongst liberal states of how to deal with migration. The IOM plays an important role in the propagation and realization of the concept which they call a “global strategy”. This article is an attempt for readers to familiarize themselves with the IOM’s concept and to share certain thoughts about it.
“Migrations Management” was developed by the IOM to radically modernize the measure of control over the movement of persons a state can have. They do that by seeking to implement a universal administration in the various countries and the different forms of migration. These forms are divided into three categories (legal, illegal, and forced migration), despite the many personal reasons for leaving a country.
This concept is a reaction to western countries’ perceived loss of control of the state led control mechanisms over migration in the 80s and early 90s. Catalysts for migration which western states felt like they could not handle were the civil wars in Afghanistan or Angola, neoliberal reforms like the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) that were instituted by western states, economic exploitation, political repression or the legitimate wish of finding better or simply different living conditions. Among those who were against a complete isolation from all kinds of immigration was the IOM. Instead they spoke of the opportunities of migration if states managed to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of migration. The implications behind the terms “positive” and “negative” follow neo-liberal logic to a tee. Migrants are split into two groups in respect to their economic exploitability; the “useful” and the “useless”. Those that serve the capitalist mode of production as cheap labor or highly educated specialists are considered useful. Those that find no place in the economy and are consequently criminalized are identified as useless. The latter are at the mercy of the hunting instinct of the cops and border patrol and are jailed or violently deported. Migration is not a danger for the IOM, if anything it can be a lucrative and should therefore be encouraged.
To reap the benefits from the wanted and ward off the unwanted people effectively the IOM stipulates that order must be brought to the subject of migration on an internationally coherent scale. The core of “migration management” is a categorization with which a state can neatly classify human beings:
1.Legal migration that should be supported:
Highly qualified labor, tourists, and students are economically beneficial immigrants and receive visas and further privileges relatively easily.
2. Illegal migration, which should be reduced:
A person not considered a “refugee” in a accord with the Geneva Convention, is criminalized. This person is economically undesirable, has no opportunity for legal work or domicile and has to live in constant fear of incarceration and deportation.
3. Forced migration, which should be protected:
The state should offer help to “refugees” that are officially recognized as such. This way the self-given humanitarian image can be retained by western liberal states.
The IOM is the biggest enforcer of “migration management” on the international playing field and all their programs correspond to this concept. The underlying logic of organizing migration along economical lines is the same in all programs.
The IOM trains border guards for a perfect border regime, conducts “voluntary return programs” – read deportation, helps states in the global mediation of highly qualified migrant labor, and operates scare campaigns with the aim of discouraging potential migrants.
The power and influence of the IOM over the migration policy
The IOM is funded by its member states. However, while all members’ funding goes towards the administrative branch, funding for the operational branch, which is responsible for the execution of the IOM’s migration programs, is optional. According to the list of member states that have funded the operational branch in 2016, the USA is by far the biggest depositor with 533 million US dollars followed by England, Canada, Germany, Australia, Sweden, and the EU, who is not a member. Switzerland contributed 6,699,200 US dollars to IOM programs. These are all states that have a marked interest in reducing migration and would profit the most from the organization’s programs. Welfare states such as these have accumulated their wealth through exploitation, oppression, and the destruction of habitats in other countries whilst having the arrogance to declare their standards and values as universal and forcing them onto others.
An “International Organization” (IO) is supposed to facilitate the cooperation between nations, at least that is often the justification for their existence. This line is parroted by the IOM: “IOM works […] to promote international cooperation on migration issues,[…]”. If this is what cooperation is, then so the wolf negotiating with the sheep over access to the water trough. In my opinion, an IO like the IOM is an instrument used by western states to assert their values and standards. The results of such alleged cooperation reflect the current power relations among nation states. For instance, Western Nations can exert pressure on the migrants’ countries of origin to adjust their migration policy according to the standards of “migration management” without being accused of violating their right to sovereignty. This happens, for example, at the IOM’s “African Capacity Building Centre” (ACBC). The ACBC acts as consultants to African states for questions concerning “migration management”. In effect, they offer training programs to standardize border controls, combatting human trafficking, and passport controls.
There are those who see the IOM as a completely autonomous agent with its own degree of power, independent from the interest of various nations. While I personally do not think that the IOM is purely an instrument, speaking of the IOM as an autonomous agent frees nation states from any responsibility and allows them to delegate migration programs that are in violation of international law or UN conventions to the IOM. This way they can preserve the image of a humanitarian country that upholds human and constitutional rights while simultaneously raising an admonitory finger at others without losing credibility. There are plenty of examples that western states do not give a shit about the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” or international law, but like to hide the fact if the occasion arises.
There are enough men and women in academic circles who are devoted to the question whether IOs are just instruments or autonomous agents. I do not really feel like taking a stand on the issue and subscribing to a theory just to think that I can explain how the world works.
The more I read about the international level of migrations and its agents the more I see it as a cynical playing field for various agents (statesmen and -women, IOs, NGOs, economical stakeholders). All of this however, have real-world implications on the lives of people who are slowly being erased in this theoretical mess. Maybe they will appear more clearly in relation to the IOM if I introduce one of the IOM’s programs, the “voluntary return”:
Deportation is considered as a state-authorized handling of people who are not citizens but are national territory. It is popular practice in western states because this way they can ban migrants who do not meet the criteria for asylum from state territory. Despite its legitimacy, it is often not the most elegant practice for a humanitarian country such as Switzerland, for it is forced and violent and results in unpleasant stories and pictures.
The IOM offers a much better sounding alternative: “Voluntary return and reintegration”. The basic idea here is that with financial incentives and technical support, migrants will assist in their own deportation. According to the IOM, this way “migrants, who cannot or choose not to remain in the host country, have the opportunity for a humane return to and reintegration into their home country”.
They advertise it as a “win-win situation”: With the financial return assistance migrants have a positive outlook in their country of origin and the state has a cheap alternative to “forced repatriation”.
In Switzerland, migrants receive 500.- for a voluntary return at the “Empfangs- und Verfahrenszentrum» (EVZ). After three months of staying the amount is raised to 1000.-. Additionally, it is possible to receive a 3000.- assistance package for a so called “integration project” in the country of origin. To help set up a bakery or a kiosk, for example.
Instead of conducting these voluntary returns by themselves, the IOM offers their services to states and receives contracts like a business. Switzerland also employs the IOM’s service. For instance, the “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Program” for Nigeria that exists since 2005 is financed by the “Staatssekretariat für Migration” (SEM) and conducted by the IOM Bern. This program has a lot to offer: Return consultation in Switzerland, preparation of all necessary information and documents for a return, the organization of the return and the reintegration on the country of origin.
Even if the IOM speaks of a “win-win situation”, what Switzerland stands to profit is so big that it is hard to identify what the migrants win exactly. “Voluntary Return” is economically very lucrative for Switzerland. While a migrant costs 4000.- at worst for a “voluntary return”, a level 4 deportation costs between 8,000 and 10,000.-. On top of that, each day of detention pending deportation costs another 140.- and can culminate in 70,000 for the maximum 18 months.
There are countries that do not allow their citizens to be returned by “forceful repatriation”. “Voluntary Returns” are often the only possibility left for a deportation. People who come from such countries are left with no choice but to accept a “voluntary return”. The means to achieve this are manifold: up to 18 months in detention pending deportation, fines (high ones at that), prison sentences due to “illegal immigration”, banning from all kinds of work, around 8.- of emergency relief assistance per day, sleeping quarters in civil protection facilities often subterranean and the list goes on. It is funny how the voluntary and deliberate aspects are so highly praised with this program.
This system so full of freedom of choice even allows for the migrant to be made responsible for their own deportation. After all, Switzerland gives them the opportunity to leave out of their own free will and top it off with some cash. Urs von Arb, state secretary for migration, shows his regret that there are people who do not want to benefit from this offer and force him to make use of “forced repatriation”:
But unfortunately, there are people who do not want to leave voluntarily. So we say, listen, we’ll book you a flight. But they still refuse. They won’t be accompanied to an airplane by the police. So the police says, they must be deported on level four.
Does this mean that a level 4 deportation is voluntary return too? Or does the word voluntary in “voluntary return” refer to the decision to “voluntarily” forgo physical violence or to “voluntarily” give in to the pressure exerted by the authorities and the state apparatus of violence? Either all kinds of deportation are voluntary making the word meaningless, or all deportation is recognized for what it is: violent, forced and inhumane practices decreed by the state against people who have the wrong passport.
Yes, the IOM is a nasty organization
It is important to me that the IOM is included in the list of enemies in the fight against the migration regime. Their migration programs organize deportations, improve border security, produce “deterrent films” about Switzerland and much more absolutely shitty things. My main criticism of the IOM connects to that of nation states, of capitalism, sovereignty etc. One thing is clear to me, the IOM is very useful to western states for increasing their control over another aspect of international politics. They try to achieve this control over the migration policies of other countries not just through developing aid or other power games but also by giving qualifying their way of thinking as universal. With the development and propagation of the concept of “migration management”, the IOM dictates what kinds of migration exist and how they are supposed to be handled. “Migration management” is a concept developed by western states that all states should adhere to. It is offered as the only solution to effective handling of migration to the advantage of all parties. And as this definition of migration becomes more hegemonic in politics and our collective understanding, it becomes more natural to lock people in camps and to kick them to the streets because of some faulty paperwork.
For the author this text is a try to present one more actor of this hated migration regime. But it`s also some kind of revenge against the time spent in lecture and seminar rooms. Through academic papers and university lectures, the author got to know a little bit the game of the international politics. The rules of the game and the existence of the players hardly never got criticized but rather learnt as given.
Within the shortest time three refugees died due to police violence in autumn 2017 in switzerland. Subramaniam H. was shot dead by a policeman in Brissago/TI. In Lausanne, the police sought to transfer Lamin Fatty due to a mix-up and – to that end – held him in custody. The man, suffering from epilepsy, was denied medical aid and so he died in his cell. In Valzeina/GR, a young man from afghanistan was chased by the police to the point that he fell off a cliff and died. The silence of the media and the lack of consequences for the murderers demonstrate that, in switzerland, not all lives count equally.
The military tribunal seems to have shared this view when it punished a border guard – standing trial for the stillbirth of female refugee’s child – rather mildly. The border guard in question ignored the pregnant woman’s cries of pain, the blood running down her trousers and her husband’s pleas for medical aid, while they were kept in custody in the rooms of the border guard at the railway station of Brig in 2014. Despite the woman’s state, the frontier guard put the woman on the train to Domodossola and thus pushed off this “problem” to italy. Upon arrival, however, the premature baby had died. That woman was imprisoned, she was forced into the hands of a man who did not care at all about the fact that it was human beings he imprisoned. The woman had no possibility to get medical aid herself, and the baby is a dead human being, a killed child. It is this man, in the meantime standing on the platform and smoking, who is guilty of the child’s death. It is the migration regime treating human beings according to their economic value, that is guilty of this death. This is the true manifestation of the slogan „Borders kill“.
In November 2017, ministers from 13 states and representatives of several intergovernmental organisations met in Bern for the third meeting of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group. Sommaruga told the media how this panel apparently had saved 14’000 refugees from drowning and how it had stood up for better conditions of imprisoned migrants in libya. This sounds great but what is behind all of this?
The truth is that the libyan coastguard – financially supported by the participating countries – got 14’000 people off their boats shortly after they had set sail, and then imprisoned them in libyan detention camps. The fact is that the Contact Group is mainly pursuing a strategy that wants to see the issue of migration as far away from europe as possible. The three most important priorities formulated by the Contact Group correspond to their strategy:
1. To strengthen the libyan coast guard.
2. To increase the capacities for the protection of migrants in libya.
3. To control libya’s Southern border.
It is that exact policy that led to the closing of the Balkan route by means of a dubious deal with turkey one year ago. This policy was continued this summer when the central Mediterranean route was partly closed – much less noticed by the public than back in 2016. The partial closure went through mainly thanks to the efforts of italy’s prime minister Mitini who signed numerous official and unofficial deals with various warlords, militias, the libyan coast guard and libyan mayors. It seems that the various libyan players were successfully persuaded by these deals to prevent the refugee boats from sailing off the libyan coast.
The maritime sovereignty zone of libya was extended to 100 kilometres off the coast of the country. It had previously been 12 kilometres. This means that within this strip only boats of the libyan coast guard are allowed to patrol and save other boats from distress. The libyan coast guard fired sharp ammunition at a lifeboat upon its entry into the 100 kilometre zone. And yet, according to Sigmar Gabriel, there are no alternatives for the eu other than financially supporting that same coast guard as well as the libyan unity government who runs the above-mentioned detention camps.
At the same time, the eu forced various charities, active on the Mediterranean, to sign a code. This code includes the duty to take an armed policeman*policewoman on board rescue lifeboats. Furthermore, the code forbids any hand over of rescued people to bigger ships. The latter would have the consequence that smaller ships would have to sail to italy after every rescue and would thus not be able to carry out further rescue operations for several days. Fortunately, there were a couple of organisations who opposed this policy and did not sign the code. Medecins Sans Frontieres, for instance, states, that:
This Code seems to be entrenching the view that states can outsource the life-saving response to NGOs, allowing states to concentrate their efforts on naval and military operations.8
Organisations that did not sign the code were threatened with being banned from using italian ports. In addition, there were several cases of undercover investigators and bugging devices being brought on board of rescue ships. One ship, owned by the organisation Jugend rettet, was even confiscated by the italian police. A media campaign then propagated the cynical assertion that by rescuing people from the Mediterranean NGOs actually work as pull factors and therefore bear the main responsibility for the many casualties. Without any doubt, an attempt to defame the charities’ valuable work.
The strategy chosen by the Central Mediterranean Contact Group made a visible impact. Since July, the numbers of attempted passages from libya to italy are permanently low, while the detention camps are filling up. In libya, people are forced into slavery and prison camps, and exposed to rape and abuse. A quote by Sommaruga illustrates the double benefits of this strategy for european countries. On the one hand, the violent treatment of migrants is successfully moved even further away from pacified europe, on the other hand, the european states can show off their cloak of humanity:
We have to be able to get the weakest quickly out of libyan detention camps. The situation there is absolutely terrible. This also affects all the other migrants such as the numerous migrant workers stranded in libya and who are stuck there now. It is them we have to support so that they return to their countries of origin voluntarily, because it is unlikely they will receive asylum in europe, they only risk their lives when crossing the Mediterranean.
The fact that migrants continue to arrive, despite the strengthened repelling mechanisms, clearly shows that europe’s wealth rests on the three pillars of violence, exploitation and war. This, however, does not fit in the picture of europe’s self-perception. In my opinion, the goal of the strategy is to shield europe from the consequences of war and misery for which it itself is responsible. The fact that in pursuing this strategy, europe is not afraid to resort to military means seems nothing but a logical consequence.
europe is at war with refugees and it is a war waged on several different levels. Yes, you read correctly, war. Because it is war. A war at the borders, against migrants; a war that serves europe as means for exploitation and retention of power but also for the pacification of europe and the preservation of privileges. This is shown by the surveillance of the borders by military forces in libya as well as in europe . This is shown by the detentions camps in which people are imprisoned, both in libya and in europe . And it is shown by the people killed by the border regime, both in libya and in europe.
For the creation of this text the writer did some research online. By writing the states’ names in lowercase letters, he expresses his disgust for national states and their border regimes.
I am 30 years old, originally I come from Guinea Conakry and now I live and work in Basel. Ten years ago I have been forced to leave my country because of the dictatorship and family problems. My journey from Guinea to Switzerland took almost eight years – here I can draw a rough sketch:
I left Guinea in December 2006 to Senegal, and then went on to Mali, Niger and Libya, where I did arrive three months later. It was a journey through the dessert and through hell – not every- body of our group did come through. Arriving in Libya I realised, that there were a lot of problems with the police. People could not go out how they wanted. My passport was ripped and I was put in prison for 3 months near Tripoli. In this time I was tortured and abused – I and many other Africans were suffering a lot. But going back through the dessert was not an option; I would not survive it again.
When I was out of prison and arrived in Tripoli it was so hard to get a job and also to get a help when you are sick. Because if you try to go to the hospital they will call the police to arrest you. That’s why many migrants were suffering a lot. Sometimes in the night the police tried to come also into the houses to arrest people. I saw a lot of men, women and children, who always got abused. This is why I think, that Europe doesn‘t have the right to send back people to Libya. And since I was there, it got even more dif cult than before, when Gadha had the power.
I decided to leave Libya and the only possible way was by boat. The rst attempt did end in a disaster – many people died. The second journey took us ve days on the sea. I arrived in Malta on the 18th august 2007 with other 28 people. In Malta the police arrested us and brought us to a detention-center called Alhalfar. In this prison I had to stay for one year, some others were there for one and a half year. Only Africans are treated like this in Malta – others are deported directly back to their countries, others are allowed to live in a camp. The official statement to justify imprisonment is that west Africans can be vectors of infectious diseases and therefore they have to be isolated. The bad thing in the detention-center was that we were not informed what’s going on with us, how long we have to stay there and why we were arrested.
To organize ourselfs is something which is positive, if it‘s happening. But it‘s not easy. Because we as groups are being separated.
I had the very big problem that I couldn’t sleep at night because of worst nightmares. But when I could meet the doctor and tell him about my problem, he always gave me a sleeping tablet. That was not good at all, because even with medicaments you wake up with horrible pictures, you cannot sleep anymore but however you feel weak and powerless. There was also another big problem; there was no translator at all. In that center there was more than one at and every at had three rooms. There were two toilets for over 500 people and we had one TV.
After leaving the center I was working in a hospital for nine months. Because I realized, that I will not get help in Malta to be- come healthy again, I decided to go to Italy. Arriving in Italy they did let me know, that I have to go back to Malta, because I had my rst ngerprints over there (Dublin contract within the EU).
So I had to continue the journey and in November 2009 I did ar- rive in the Netherlands. That was the rst time I discovered that I had a trauma. They did send me to a psychologist doctor and I got the help I needed. I was given medicine and I was sent to school – I learned how to read and write. After two and half year stay in Holland they evaluated me to be a healthy person and sent me back to Malta on the basis of the same Dublin contract.
Arriving in Malta I was put in prison again, because I went out of the country without a passport or any permission. I was im- prisoned another 6 months. After all of this I decided to learn from the past and to share my experience with other migrants, to help them to orient in the new culture, system and society. Ano- ther aim is to inform young people in Africa about migration to Europe and not to leave the school and study a lot to get a good education. So they can grow up in their own countries, change their country for the better and do not have to risk their lives and dignity on the dangerous ways to Europe.
To organize ourselves is something which is positive, if it’s hap- pening. But it’s not easy. Because we as groups are beeing se- parated. For example the Senegalese and the Guinean, or the Nigerians and the Ghanaians, they will not go together. This is a big problem. If you will be able to break this problem between these groups, things could go better. In Malta three main categories of migrants are made – people from
Near-East countries, from East-Africa and from West-Africa. Everyone has different chances to get a legal status. So the East-Africans (who has better chances) will not join the West-Africans (who have almost no chance) to fight against the problems. Only West-Africans are trying to organize themselves. And also within the West-Africans
maybe there are five out of thousand, who know the situation, the people, the country,
so they will not join because they’re afraid to lose their benefit. Furthermore you need to have a specific place where to stay. I remember for example when we were trying to organize a meeting to discuss the humanitarian temporary. We were in a stadium where you can play football. The first meeting was good; we had a lot of people joining in. During the second and third time, there was already police there. Since the police showed up, people didn’t come to the meeting.
In Europe, I was educated; I learned about my rights, I learned that here is some more equality and that one can fight for ones rights. In Malta I went about setting up a Facebook page under the name “R. Know More Network” and then proceeded to roam the open centers, speaking to migrants about the importance of educating themselves and learning about the local culture. The ‘R’ stands for my mother’s name, Ramatah. Many Africans have a tendency of keeping inside the feelings, problems and troubles they have and do not speak about their experience. But we need to tell the Europeans who we are and why we left our home country for them to understand.
In november 2016 i went to Lesvos, Greece. Thats why i was asked to write a text in this paper about the situation there. To be honest: I don’t have much to say. Yes, the situation is fucked. But i met amazing people from different places in the world on Lesvos, which all were trapped there because of the european border regime. Some of them are experts in questions of asylum, migration, routes, refugees selforganization, police brutality and so on. Thats why i asked M., a young guy from Aleppo, if he could write something.
Here is what i got:
Hello europe, hello.
I think you are sleeping, because you are not doing anything for what the refugees are facing here. It‘s time to wake up.
A lot of people flee their countries seeking safety and peace. We left our children, the dreams and memories and came here to the land of dreams, but we figured out its not the land of dreams but the land of nightmares. We have been driven to detention camps, sleeping under hundreds of people in only shity tents.
Dear europeans, imagine this please.
Refugees have lost their hopes. You have closed your borders in our faces. Because of fear. What fear, i don’t know. What danger can our present bring? This person that is only seeking security. You don’t know us. Thats why you are afraid of us. Please try to communicate with us. It’s not that hard and you will see: We are humans, just like you. Try to hear us, only one time. We are all humans, we are all brothers and sisters.
It‘s time to wake up.