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international bordercamp strasbourg

source: New internationalist

No borders! - Vanessa Baird reports on No Border Camp in Strasbourg

08.Aug.02 - ‘No border! No nation! Stop deportation!’ The cry came from more than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Monday 22 July.

Activists from all over Europe and further afield are currently taking part in scores of protests and spontaneous actions springing from the No-Border camp established last Friday on French-German frontier and lasting until Sunday 28 July.

During a demo against detention centres on Wednesday, police used teargas and rubber bullets, injuring several protesters. Twenty-four were arrested.

The Prefecture of Strasbourg subsequently issued a ban against any further demonstrations until midnight on Saturday 27 July. Bans of such length are rare in France. The ban is being resisted.

In solidarity with refugees and asylum-seekers, the No-Border activists are demanding freedom of movement and settlement. They oppose the current drive within the European Union to ‘harmonize’ (read ‘tighten’) border controls and keep tabs on the movement of migrants and refugees by sharing computerized data and surveillance information.

Startled by the rise in support for far right parties in recent elections in France and Holland, many liberal western governments appear to be moving further to the right in their policies towards refugees.

‘Freedom of movement is a basic human right,’ said Gaston, a spokesperson for the Voice, an organization of refugees in Germany. ‘Europe criticizes Africa for its human-rights abuses – but it does not look at its own.’

Violations of the human-rights of refugees take various forms in Europe today – and further afield in Australia and North America too.

• Refugees are held in detention centres, without charge and for indefinite periods.
• Asylum-seekers are barred entry to countries of refuge.
• Refugees are restricted in their movement between countries and even within countries.

In Germany – which takes in more refugees than any other European country – residenzpflicht laws restrict the movement of refugees to within the small area in which they live. A trip to a neighbouring city, to visit a friend or relative or even attend a hospital, may result in fines and ultimately deportation.

‘It is form of apartheid,’ said the Voice’s Gaston.

The protesters outside the European Court of Human Rights requested that a delegation be allowed in to explain their case. But the police-guarded gates – and the imposing plate-glass and iron court building – remained closed to them.

So from outside, and with help of a PA system, a spokesperson from the Collectif Anti-Expulsion interrogated: ‘What are these human rights you claim to stand for? The right to dehumanize humans? The freedom to exploit?’

Meanwhile a group of German activists donned cleaning overalls, brought out their bottles of disinfectant and began cleaning the gates of the court compound. Smiling French police looked on. One even had his gun-holster cleaned for him.

To the accompaniment of the London-based Rhythms of Resistance Samba band (complete with large and lurid emerald and cyclamen wigs) the noisy and colourful cavalcade moved on to the Council of Europe.

Here again a delegation requested – and was refused – entry. Italian anarchists, dressed in black, confronted police guards with ‘Police! Assassins!’ – a reference to the killing of 20-year-old Italian activist Carlo Giuliani by police at the G8 summit protests in Genoa exactly a year ago.

Big Brother and SIS

Strasbourg is a potently symbolic choice of location for the No Border camp.

Apart from being a border town and the home of the European Parliament, it also houses the Schengen Information System (SIS). This international database has tens of thousands of terminals across Europe. The SIS can be instantly consulted to determine whether a person is wanted for deportation or arrest as well as providing other information used to monitor an individual's movements and activities. It is not only used at border checkpoints, but may be used for surveillance anywhere.

In the first days of the camp there was considerable emphasis on activists taking care not to put the few refugees attending the camp at risk. Everyone had the right to take whatever action was appropriate – including violent militant action, but they should think of the possible consequences for the sans papiers or ‘undocumented’ people among them.

As one refugee from Africa said: ‘It’s not so bad for you if you get arrested. But for us it’s very dangerous. We have taken enough risks coming here.’

But as arrests started to be made, mainly as a result of spontaneous actions by small groups, the temperature began to rise and differences in approach became more marked.

The arrest of three German protesters, subsequently charged with tearing down and stealing a European Union flag and two French ones in the city’s main square, led to the protest of 200 or so activists outside the police station.

Later, around 100 people blocked the road bridge over the Rhine and into Germany, causing long tailbacks of trucks and commuters (largely – and probably fortunately – unaware that this was a ‘freedom of movement’ protest). The crowd dispersed at the arrival of a large number of police in riot gear.

Back at the camp there followed a long and heated debate on strategy. ‘We need to decide,’ said one, ‘does the camp want an escalation of tension with the police? Do we want to provoke? To play cat and mouse?’

Policing in the first days of the camp had been low key. It could not, in the words of one activist, be described as ‘repressive’. But others called for a mass blockade of the frontier, with fires, until the detainees were released. ‘We need to make it quite clear to the police that we accept no arrests! It does not matter how few or how many people,’ said one woman. Any police action against any activist constituted repression, several argued.


The relationship with the media has been another vexed and contentious issue for the No-Border camp. Co-operation with mainstream media has been minimal – resulting in very scant coverage. A press conference – held at the opposite end of Strasbourg at exactly the same time as the big demo outside the European Court – was attended by just two journalists from small local papers.

It was decided early on to ban the taking of photographs on the campsite without consent. People were also urged to send any mainstream ('bourgeois' or ‘profit media’) journalists they found on the camp to the so-called ‘Welcome’ tent, where they might or might not be able to carry out interviews depending on whether anyone was prepared to talk to them.

In light of some of the negative coverage social justice and anti-globalization protests have drawn from the mainstream media this defensive attitude is understandable. But even indymedia / free media journalists encountered difficulties. One seasoned German-speaking indymedia journalist was threatened with physical violence by a group of French activists if he did not leave the camp. He left – in disgust and as an act of protest.

Such anti-media attitudes raise some important questions. How can the ideas and ideals of such social movements be communicated to a wider, non-activist or pre-activist audience without a reasonable degree of engagement with various kinds of media? Even as an onside journalist from a radical not-for-profit magazine I felt reluctant to declare who I was, and severely hampered in conducting interviews and functioning properly as a journalist.

To protest against the protest ban fax the Commissariat Central on + 33 3 8823 2821

Other camps

The Strasbourg No Border camp is part of chain of camps that has been taking place in various parts of world including Woomera in Australia.

A large contingent of protesters came to Strasbourg from a similar camp in Jena, which finished as the Strasbourg camp began. The next camp will be on the German-Polish border at Cottbus and run from 4-11 August [ ] which is described as being ‘more theory, less actions’. Another social justice gathering worth looking out for is the European Conference of the Peoples’ Global Action at Leiden, Netherlands, 31 August - 4 September. More info on