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international bordercamp strasbourg

Immigrant workers and refugees

A contribution to the debate about freedom of movement

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14.Jun.02 - The text below is an outcome of a discussion during the preparation meeting in Strasbourg on June 29th. We did not try to produce a common political position, but to analyze two different approaches to a particular issue.

German activists' texts (leaflets, etc) mostly speak about refugees, French ones about immigrant workers. This seems to reflect a difference in objective situations. It is practically impossible to get even a rough idea of the proportion of refugees among the undocumented foreigners or those who are for some reason in a precarious situation. Apart from the fact that no statistics exist, a large number of persons are in intermediate situations. However, it is clear that asylum seekers are a minority among undocumented foreigners in France, notwithstanding the fact that their number has sharply increased recently (mostly because of the situation in Algeria). It is difficult to estimate the situation in Germany, and although much more people ask for asylum in Germany than in France, it seems to be not so different in general.

But there is a clear difference in the character of the main immigrants movements in the two countries. The French sans-papiers movement is principally a movement of immigrant workers while the German The Voice is explicitly a movement of asylum seekers and more or less the same is given for the German caravan-project. One reason could be the harsh proceeding in Germany against illegalized people, who - subsequently- cannot imagine to go to the public. The asylum seekers, in a status of temporary legality, can do, knowing that their status mostly will get lost after some months.

We have spoken about France and Germany not only because these are our countries and we know the situation there better, but also because they seem to present two opposite typical cases. In Spain most immigrants and especially struggling immigrants are workers. Britain appears to be more like Germany in this respect.

The difference may also be a matter of political approach, this has to be discussed. One approach is to focus on political refugees as people who make the link between the struggles for freedom in their home country and the struggles in the country where they seek asylum. Another approach is complete freedom of movement.
These two approaches are not easy to conciliate. The second approach will lead to struggles for full equality of rights, for "economic" immigrants as well as for refugees. The first one refers much more to a global system of racist persecution and -sometimes tactically, sometimes seriously- it uses a human rights argumentation for a protection as well as for an accusation of the rich countries. Political asylum is seen in a broader sense including flight for "economic reasons", but the danger is given to admit the argument that "economic" refugees jeopardize the rights of the "true" asylum seekers, an argument which is widely used in France by the government, but also by NGOs.

During the opening event about freedom of movement at the 21st of July these differences should be pointed out. It is necessary, if we want to understand each other, to develop cooperation or also to know about limitations in the process of working together.