|Living near the Border
|The Involvement of the Borderpopulation into What Can Be Called
the German Border-Regime at the German Polish Border
The German border regime rests on three pillars. The first is a matter of foreign policy, namely the functionalization of Germanys Eastern neighbors as door-keepers of the EU. The second pillar is the rearmament of the German Border Police, the "Bundesgrenzschutz" (BGS), which is a federal police force, backed up by increased and far-reaching powers. And finally we have the growing involvement of the border population into border-control. There is also a fourth party playing a role in this concept, but it is concerned only with those lucky people who managed to cross the border secretly. The administration of foreigners and the German legislation concerning asylum seekers and foreigners, is part of a system which is increasingly becoming a means of keeping out refugees and migrants, or freezing out those who are already here. To give you an idea of what German border-policy means I just want to give you a short explanation of the first two points before I come to the main topic, the involvement of the population into the persuit of "illegals" and border violators, or whatever you may choose to call them.
a. Using the neighbour-states as buffer states
Since the modification of the German Constitution in 1993 there is almost no chance left for refugees to apply for asylum in Germany. The so-called "Save Third Country Regulation" [German immigration regulation] makes it possible for the German administration to reject nearly every application for asylum immediately, because the asylum seeker traveled across one of the neighbor states. All the trouble of handling migration and refugee movements is delegated by Germany and the EU to their Eastern neighbors, which are given clear rules of good behavior in order to get admission to the EU one day. The paragon of this relationship of ordering and obeying is Poland. According to the German-Polish Agreement of May 7, 1993, Poland got 120 Million Deutsche Marks for building up its own border facilities, such as boats, helicopters and technical equipment, and also for creating a BGS-like border police and establishing its own asylum-procedure. Since then, there spread a dense net of detention prisons for foreigners. For example 1.5 Million DM flew into the restoration of the detention center in Leznowola, a guarded camp. Poland now has 25 detention centers for deportees. But not only the system of expelling rejected asylum seekers, or by the BGS, returning secret immigrants via detention, was copied from the German system. Also a firm system of readmission agreements was established with the neighboring countries in the East, so that something that could be called Domino deportation occurred. People who were rejected or sent back by the German BGS are transported, with often a very long stay in a detention camp, to one of the Eastern neighbors such as Belorus or Ukraine. In 1996 1,453 persons, nearly a third of the 4,848 border violators sent back by the BGS, were immediately expelled by Poland to a neighbor state or deported to their home country. Most of these domino deportations are carried out within a 48-hour period. On the 27th of June 1997 the trip from the German border to the Ukrainian border ended up with a serious accident in which two of the deportees died. The driver of the vehicle fell asleep after 14 hours non-stop driving. The new Polish asylum and foreigners laws of 1997 make it even more difficult to apply for asylum at all to prevent deportation. Poland is learning its lesson.
b.The armament of the German border-police BGS
The number of officers and administration personnel has been greatly increased. There were 2,400 BGS officers in 1992, compared to todays figure of about 5,800 border police officers, and for the near future there is a projected increase to 7,500 BGS personnel. These figures relate to Germanys eastern borders only, which are said to be those with the highest density of guards in Europe or even the world. At the Polish and Czech borders (excluding the Bavarian-Czech border), there are on average 2.4 officers per kilometer. At the US-Mexican border there are only 0.18 officers per kilometer. Including the office staff of the BGS there are about 10,000 officers and employees working for the federal border police at the eastern borders. Additionally since 1993 there has been a border police support unit of about 1,200 employed officers. But there are even more officers working at this border, namely the customs officers and those of the ordinary state police forces. These figures may give you an impression of the manpower Germany is ready to commit to create a "watertight EU border". The governmental budget for the BGS increased from 1.3 billion DM in 1989 to over 3 billion DM in 1997.
We get most of our statistics and figures directly from the German border police. We extract them from the annual report of this institution. Other material is difficult to obtain. The respresentative of the BGS center in Frankfurt/Oder, in the state of Brandenburg, pointed out publicly that 50 percent of all the arrests of secret immigrants are due to tip-offs from the border population. The BGS representative of the town Rothenburg on the river Neiße, in the state of Saxony, even spoke of 70 to 80 percent of arrests being due to German informers living in the border region denouncing the trespassers. We were stunned by these figures and tried to get some more information on the role that ordinary people there play in border control, and how much importance the federal border police places on these volunteers, as well as to find out what kind of propaganda persuades people that it is right and necessary to denounce migrants and refugees.
[Digression: I want to make clear the effects of this propaganda by taking a closer look on the myth of racketeers and traffickers: The picture that the media and official announcements draw of the trafficking of foreigners is the picture of especially unscrupulous and brutal criminals who exploit the poorest of the poor, that are bringing in drugs, weapons and criminal forces into the country, and that are likely to be a branch of the Russian, or some other Mafia. For this image of the traffick in foreigners, the incidents and accidents in which refugees and migrants die are useful. One of the most serious of these occurancies was the suffocation of 18 Tamil refugees in the back of a huge lorry. No doubt there are criminals involved in this business, there are women forced into prostitution or other people brought into a slave-like state of indenture. However, from our research and interviewing of refugees and migrants about their trafficking experiences, we found that the majority of all acts of trafficking in foreigners is responsibly planned within the format of a real and regular business. As long as it is useful to blame the traffickers, the refugees are welcome victims who were duped by false promises, deprived of all their families' scant money, and than forced into an extremely dangerous, illegal and exhausting trip to Western Europe, only to find themselves exposed to a racist society that does not welcome them - a misery. The fact is, however, that the trafficking agents work like other businessmen, they have to take care for their reputation, which could be spoilt by the deportation of too many of their former clients. The price that people have to pay to be brought to Germany from Sri Lanka ranges from 12,000 to 15,000 DM. The people decide to leave their home country to try to obtain money for their wider family, who often put together all available savings to buy a chance and a life perspective for at least one family member. Then they get in contact with the well known agent and the thing is negotiated. Then the trip which is mostly legally done, goes via Moscow, Kiew or Vilnius to Poland and to the Polish-German border. Often only the crossing of this border is against the law. To give you some perspective, there are statements from the German Supreme Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, from the nineteen seventies, in which the court holds it to be correct to help people crossing the German-German border and to take fees of up to 40,000 DM for this service. The traffickers were called "escape agents" then and it was a heroic deed to help one of the former GDR inhabitants, a classic case of a "refugee for economic reasons", to cross the border illegally. In the German income declaration forms of that time there was even a special column for the fees for escape agents, which could be deducted from tax. The vast majority of all professionally organized migrations or flights are a good deal, a real business and responsibly carried out. Often the communities themselves organize the "journeys" of their compatriots. Often the last step across the border is carried out by Polish, Czech or German scouts who know the landscape (in 1996 there were 387 traffickers arrested, of whom 226 were Polish, 77 German and 18 Czech citizens). One additional piece of information shows that the dependence on professional help grows in proportion to the distances people have to travel. People from Eastern Europe most often try to cross the border off their own bat. People from Asia, Africa or other distant countries need the help of traffickers. All in all, however, the proportion of people using traffickers to help them cross borders secretly does not exceed one quarter. (Figures for 1996: 10,586 people were arrested for illegal immigration at the German-Polish border; only 1,674 of whom traveled with help - that is 16 percent; 387 traffickers were arrested.) But at the very moment these victims of traffickers enter Germany or the EU they immediately turn out to be offenders and criminals, just as the propaganda requires.
The fact is that for nearly every criminal deed foreigners are blamed. People even talk of the fear of moving around at night because of violent foreigners everywhere: this fear is especially absurd because the only people who are in danger of being attacked in this region are the foreigners, the non-German-looking people themselves. [but I dont want to go deeper into the growing danger of neo-Nazi groups that control whole cities in Eastern Germany, and play an important role in what could be called a racist atmosphere in the border region - we heard about that in the report from students yesterday].
Also on an official level there are what we call denouncing coalitions established between state offices such as the labor office and the social welfare, who work together closely in an informal manner to find illegal workers or persons without a legal status, and also between such non-governmental institutions as guilds and chambers of commerce. The BGS in Pirna for example met with representatives of the Taxi Guild of Saxony, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Dresden, politicians from border communes and the county and the colleagues from the state police. They came to an agreement as to how to work together to stop illegal immigration. The results of this meeting were made public. The background of this meeting in 1997 was an unheard-of wave of trials against taxi drivers in the county of Zittau-Libau in the border triangle of Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany in Eastern Saxony. What happened here was the reverse of the example of involvement of the border- population in border control. Through the courts heavy sanctions are imposed on people who dont wish to act as deputy sherrifs of the border police. There must be some agreements also between the three powers in order to improve border-security. The courts there in Zittau and Görlitz are playing an important role in creating an atmosphere of terror near the border. Since 1996 there have been several sentences passed against taxi drivers, of not less than one year, without suspension, who were accused of bringing illegal immigrants into the country! The circumstances of the trials are scandalous, not only because none of the drivers brought anybody across the border, but because the prosecutors are only working with vague evidence which is always interpreted to the detriment of the accused taxi drivers. Currently there are investigations in progress against 22 of a total of 73 taxi drivers in that county. The first defendant, sentenced to 1 year in prison without suspension, and whose appeals all failed, has been in jail for two weeks now.
The arguement of the prosecutors is as follows: It is not necessary to actually cross the border with illegal immigrants, but just to pick them up near the border and to bring them out of the 30-kilometer zone of responsibility of the BGS, for example to the next bigger city such as Bautzen, Dresden or even Berlin. It should be the taxi drivers duty not only to recognize who is a foreigner without status, but also to deny the service and/or denounce the clients to the BGS. The above mentioned meeting between BGS, and among others, the taxi drivers guild included the provision of a notice for the driving colleagues with some hints as to what they should do. Having picked up some suspicious strangers they should either control the papers themselves - which is against the law, though this seems to be suspended for border-security - or call the BGS by means of a code-word. Many taxi drivers from all over Germany protested against what this means for the future. They are not willing or allowed to control their customers. They are obliged by law to transport every person regardless of who they are. Now they should, for the purposes of the border police, suspect every persons who does not look like a German compatriot of being an illegal foreigner. There have been protests in Görlitz during the first trial. I witnessed one trial in early 98, where at the question of how a taxi driver was supposed to recognize the illegal border crosser, the prosecutor shouted: "These people were dressed in a typical Eastern European manner." This shows, how a stranger is constructed by (social) discriminatory or even racist rules that refer only to the phenotypic appearance. Please believe me, that these trials which I myself witnessed were absolutely ridiculous in what could be called fairness of justice, or with regard to a high principle like "in dubio pro reo", and similarly with appeals. What they are trying to do is to make an example of all those who refuse to play the game of border control. These taxi drivers now are put in jail, their driving licenses and their taxi licenses are retracted. In short, the defendants, most of them perfectly well-behaving heads of families, without any police record, are ruined forever. And for what? For having transported illegal foreigners: this act - done accidentally or on purpose - is made a criminal offence, which is out of proportion to the actual damage they have done. Two weeks ago, in the latest case, there was one taxi driver sentenced to more than one year in prison without suspension, which is a real mystery, because nobody knows who he carried. Simply because his colleague was stopped while transporting one foreigner on the same route, it was assumed that he must have had illegals on board too, resulting in a prison sentence. These scandalous verdicts prove that this is no independent judiciary but a willing helper in favor of the of Inner Security and border control.
We have documented the sad list of victims of the German border regime and foreigners' policy: 88 refugees died at the borders, 67 at the Eastern borders alone; 54 detainees committed suicide because of their impending deportation, at least 95 were seriously injured by trying to do so; 4 refugees died during deportation, 33 deportees were injured; 4 people were killed in their home countries after deportation, at least 86 were arrested, maltreated or even tortured by military or police officers in their country of origin, 11 of those deported disappeared without trace.
Thesis 2: The German border police make use of the racial prejudices of the people to encourage them, where it seems useful, for their concept of involving border-residents into border-control. I hope that I could demonstrate this with this report.
no one is illegal c/o Forschungsgesellschaft Flucht und Migration e.V.,
Tel: +49.30.6935670, Fax: +49.30.6938318, <email@example.com>, <www.contrast.org/borders/kein>.