FECL 10 (November 1992):
PFE participated at the 3. Conference of the European Civic Forum which was held in Forcalquier (France) in August 92. The PFE workshop, initially planned as an annual gathering of its participants with a defined working program turned into something quite different. Due to an unfortunate accumulation of problems such as health, schedules, no visas (for Eastern European participants), many of the initiators and most active participants of PFE were unable to attend.
On the other hand, up to 20 "new-comers" participated at the workshop. As a result, the initially planned programme was dropped in favour of a more spontaneous round of information exchange, debate and contact knitting corresponding to the wishes and concerns expressed by the persons actually present.
As many of the participants proved to be involved in asylum defence activities in their countries, a whole day was dedicated to European refugee policies.
There was common agreement on the fact that an effective individual legal defence aiming at preventing deportation and obtaining residence for particular asylum seekers is becoming all but impossible throughout Europe. In a number of countries, particularly those confronted with a strong influx (e.g. Switzerland, Germany), asylum legislation and practice have become restrictive to a point, that a chance to a fair asylum procedure is all but non-existent. In several countries the rejection quota for asylum seekers is over 95%. Countries with a formerly more liberal practice, as for instance Sweden and Austria, appear to be in great hurry to "harmonize" their policies along the most restrictive models. Racist campaigns, often tacitly encouraged by biased governmental information policies are not only threatening the security of refugees but are also leading to a dangerous political isolation of citizens groups defending the rights of refugees and foreigners. In a time of economic and social crisis these groups are confronted with the growing discontent of the needy in their own countries who lack understanding for any activity of support for "foreigners" at a moment when the number of nationals threatened with social exclusion is increasing.
There was agreement among the participants that the European movements defending the rights of refugees and immigrants are doomed to rapid and total failure if they do not succeed in linking their struggle with those opposing economic and social exclusion in our own industrial societies. Without this broader approach the political preconditions for the effective use of law in the defence of Human Rights will simply cease to exist.
However, this does not mean giving up the defence of individual asylum seekers. Indeed, going public with particular cases is still a means to confront public opinion with the reality of persecution and the hypocrisy of current governmental asylum and immigration policies. It is further an opportunity to create personal human relations and understanding between refugees and the national population as opposed to efforts of immigration authorities to segregate refugees from the population by for instance placing them in isolated camp facilities.
The use of law in the political defence of Human Rights was the theme of a paper presented by Christopher Pollmann. With a number of examples Pollmann demonstrated the conflict between Human Rights as a legal abstraction and jurisdiction. Among other things he mentioned the insistant reference of Western states to the freedom of travel, at a time when inhabitants of communist countries were prevented by their regimes from traveling to the West. Since the collapse of the communist regimes the same Western states have set up a new "iron curtain" of legislation and policing in order to prevent Eastern Europeans from leaving their countries.
Stated equality often turns into inequality. The citizens' right to vote for instance implicates the exclusion of all non-citizens.
Pollmann further pointed out that abstract legal provisions provide the possibility to compare their application in reality. In times of rapidly changing social and technical conditions the meaning of abstract legal provisions can change in a way not foreseen by their creators. Legal security thus tends to become a very relative thing.
In Pollmann's opinion there are two preconditions for the successful use of law in the defence of Human Rights: Legal action must be accompanied by political action of a social group and the individuals constituting the social group must feel that common political and legal action serves their very own interests. A movement tending to forget these premises will not get far.
Pollmann's conclusion confirmed the workshop's analysis of the failure of the asylum defence movement to gain wide public support. This led to a discussion on how to create individual concern among European citizens for an issue as asylum which many view as having nothing to do with their own problems. How can one demonstrate that undermining the civil and human rights of refugees will end up in undermining everybody's legal security? The continuous call for legal and political charity is obviously no answer to this question.
Europol: A mere "message switching" organization or a centralized European "general staff" of police and security with own executive power and operational role? Nicholas Busch briefed the workshop on recent developments in Germany towards 'pro-active' policing based on new legislation on data exchange between police and secret services, on organized crime and the creation of the KGT (Coordinating group for the combat against terrorism), a sort of a permanent general staff for urgency management uniting police, justice, intelligence and government representatives under the leadership of the BKA (Federal office of criminal investigation). Germany has played a leading role in the creation of Europol. Is Europol to become a European BKA, respectively KGT?
The provisions on police and intelligence cooperation as well as on data collection in the Schengen Agreement, the provisions and the declaration regarding police cooperation adopted at the Maastricht summit and the fact that, once again, the setting up of a genuinely European body as Europol is confided to the fairly secretive TREVI group in the framework of intergovernmental agreement and thus outside EC institutions and parliamentary control, paves the way for such a development. Strong public support for the European Parliament's claim for democratic transparency in this domain is urgent.
A particular meeting of the workshop was dedicated to the improvement of the previously very limited participation of Eastern Europeans in the PFE-network. The presence of a large number of Eastern Europeans at the Congress of the European Civic Forum provided an excellent opportunity. Thus contacts were established with interested groups and individuals from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania.
Ukrainians and Romanians drew a chilling picture of the situation in their countires. The dramatic economical situation seems to leave no other choice than emigration to young people. The problem of "brain drain" was mentioned by Andrei Za‹ats from Ukraine who said that ten of the twelve doctors at the hospital of his home town had left, most of them for Hungary or Slovakia, where wages are higher.
A Ukrainian girl drew a lively picture of Western European efforts to prevent people from travelling to the West. In order to obtain a visa to France, the student had to travel 300 km from her hometown to Kiew, where she had to wait for nine days under humiliating conditions until she finally obtained her visa from the French embassy. Her conclusion: "Freedom of travel is for people with money".
A Romanian participant noted that his country is now confronted with the effects of Western European "Fortress"-policies. Romania has become an immigration problem: Somalians and Albanians most of whom are heading for Western Europe, are trapped in Romania, which lacks all infrastructural and financial means to receive them.
Nonoi HacBang representing the Filipino Migrant Workers said the description of the situation in Eastern Europe strongly reminded him of the Philipines. Misery is stronger than fortresses. No matter how high the barriers are set, people will always find ways to travel. The adventure and risks of an uncertain future as a migrant is still more attractive than "no future" at home.
Within a year, PFE has developed into a nucleus of a European network. The "Circular Letter" is now published 10 times a year. Although the editor has received a lot of encouraging reactions, the circulation is still low and the majority of the readers still do not appear to have understood that the FECL can only fulfill its role with their active participation. We are not expecting readers to become regular correspondents, but to send in (even short) information (eg. press cuttings), papers, documentations, messages, whenever they have the opportunity. Until now, only readers in Britain, Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia have sent contributions in a more regular way.
The lack of at least a French version of the FECL obviously is a major handicap in inter-European communication. But with the present financial situation of PFE such a translation is out of the question.
Once again we had a discussion on the main objectives of PFE. We agreed that besides providing a structure for mutual information and debate, the PFE network should also be used to facilitate the preparation of European campaigns linked to paricular issues and human rights cases with a character of precedent.
Between the workshop sessions much work was done on improving contacts and thinking about bringing together several European initiatives working on more or less the same subject. Proposals on possibilities of cooperation will be worked out in the following months.
The next half-way meeting of active PFE-participants will take place in February or March 93, presumably in Amsterdam.
Since June, we have introduced subscription for the FECL. We call on all readers interested in the further publication of the FECL, to make the little effort and subscribe and to send us address lists with potential new readers (they will receive three issues of the FECL free). It was decided at the PFE-meeting that readers receiving the FECL free of charge will be barred from the mailing list after three months.
In order to ensure a more fair distribution of the coasts and work resulting from our activity, we decided to decentralize the printing, mailing and administration of the FECL. Since September, the FECL is mailed from five centers: London (UK and Ireland), Vienna (Austria and Eastern Europe), Lugano (Switzerland), Berlin (Germany) and Leuven (Belgium and all other countries not covered by one of the centers above). We expect to open further distribution centers soon in Göteborg (Scandinavian countries) and Paris (France). Organizational and technical problems related with setting up the new distribution modus might leed to mailing delays in the beginning. If you don't receive your FECL, contact the editor. Accounts have been opened in several countries in order to make it easier for you to pay your subscription fee. As European harmonisation unfortunately is more developped in the domains of police and immigration than regarding international payments, it is not always possible to add a pay-in slip to the FECL. So please make the effort to fill one in yourself!
Read the instructions on the last page of the FECL carefully.
In order to continue and expand its activity PFE is in need of grants and other forms of contributions. Please let us know, if you have suggestions on whom to approach in your country.
Report based on notes of Eveline Lubbers and Nicholas Busch
Christopher Pollmann's paper can be ordered at: Ch. Pollmann, 28, Av. de Riedisheim, F-68100 Mulhouse. Paper on pro-active policing in Germany and Europol: Nicholas Busch, Blomstervägen 7, S-791 91 Falun. Paper discussing the future role of PFE an cooperation with other groups available at: Eveline Lubbers, Jansen & Janssen, Postbus 10591, NL-1001 EN Amsterdam