Aljazeera. 25 Feb 2016. 20:26 GMT Greece.
‘Refugees attempt suicide by hanging from tree in Greece’
Three days ago two young men, refugees, wanted to commit suicide in the center of Athens.
Mental health issues were assumed, but scrapped.
‘They probably wanted to show their objection to the fact that they cannot leave [Greece].’ (A police spokesperson to Al Jazeera (2016))
What happened here? And why is this happening?
As widely known ‘the refugee crisis’ – for those who want to use the buzz word – or the absolute fail of the European Union – for those who simply want to be honest – has been going on for quite a bit. Certainly, there always have been a lot of tensions, but now the situation got to a new level.
To brief those non-Europeans amongst us: The EU’s migration policy dates back to a time, when the geographic setting of the EU was a complete different one. The EU agreed that the state in which territory a refugee would enter first, would have to deal with the administrative proceedings. If the person would try to pursue his or her journey, he or she would be pushed back to that country (Dublin Regulation).
However, the EU changed. Now the boarders are extended and there is a number of countries that don’t have an EU boarder, thus, it would be simply impossible that they would ever ‘have to deal’ with refugees. Nevertheless, this regulation kept in place for a long time, until 2011 (!), when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that refugees could not be sent back to Greece, because the conditions faced by asylum seekers in Greece amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. Hence, it would impinge international and EU law to push these people back to Greece, so to say, if they would hold onto the EU migration policy.
That’s where this whole discussion about the ‘distribution of refugees’ roots – What should be done with these people that come? Where should they go? Who is responsible for them? While there was no answer found, people continued to come. Border controls started to be reinforced. Measures taken, some of them highly debatable. And only a few days ago my dear home country Austria imposed ‘refugee quota’. Yes. Now it is only a limited number of refugees a day that are able to enter the country and claim asylum. And of course. Every country on the Balkan route reacted. Boarders are getting shut down. – No-one wants to be the country in which all the refugees get stuck. So now it’s again up to the countries on the EU boarder to deal with the situation: Hello Greece.
And this is where we’re standing today. This is the point when two men wanted to hang themselves in one of the central squares in Athens.
We talked about Agamben and his ideas of homo sacer and bare life a few weeks ago, and the situation in Europe at the moment just cries for an exploration through his eyes: People – with diverse background and experiences, with millions of personal stories and reasons for their journey, with families they might have lost, kids or parents they might have left back home – are getting reduced when entering this other European society: Suddenly they are just refugees. People that fall under this word, are being pushed from one country to another, while none seems to feel responsible or care. And this very word, refugee, seems to justify the way they are treated: in a way it detaches these people from their humans qualities. This word implies that they might or might not have the right to stay in the country. It implies that they could be send back to places in which they’re not save. It implies that they do not have rights, that they are just reliant on mercy. In effect, it implies that the state in which they currently reside is able to possess over their lives: To decide what they owe; where they go; what they do; if they live.
But not enough that they lost control over their participation in society and are stripped of their rights, the word refugee and how it is used in day to day media, disconnected the word from the actual people: The word refugee is not associated with personal feelings or humanitarian concerns, but politics. It is a word that distincts people with certain criteria from others, allowing us to do to them what we would never do to us, thus, it is an essential component of the process of the reduction to bare life. Silently, through this discourse, people that actually just need help, got constructed to a burden; a threat. Slowly, they were taken their human qualities. Step by step, they got reduced to a thing, bare life, with no rights, being at the mercy to be pushed back to countries in which they could not survive.
When I read about these two young men that wanted to hang themselves in Athens, Agamben and his notion of bare life immediately appeared in my head. These two young men, ready to take their own lives, did not face mental health issues. They were not confused. They resisted. Stripped of all their rights. Having to rely on gratitude in order to survive. Being pushed back and forth with no place left to go to. Being reduced to bare life, as the only thing left in their possession. And through this possession they resisted – they used it. They didn’t let the state, the discourse, the media occupy their body. They used this very only thing that they had left, and brought it back into politics.
Their body. Their decision to decide on their own over their death. Not to wait for the state to decide over what will happen to them or their visions for the future. They took their own decision. And with this decision, they revealed to what they have been reduced, resisting against this very same fact. On the one side, it is so cruelly powerful. But on the other side, I question myself: Will it have an impact? It certainly triggers something in me. Something that needs to get out. A scream. A resistance. A rupture?
Is the possibility of creating a rupture the real power in what Agamben understands as biopolitics? Is the very fact that through this act, I get so emotionally involved, wanting to scream and resist as well, the power that I seek to understand here?
I clearly cannot claim that what I wrote here is in any way representative for what these two young men have been through or wanted to achieve. All information I’ve got is through the very same media and discourse that I complain against in this post. This is simply an attempt from my side, to try to understand.
Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Homo sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Part Two. Stanford, Ca: Stanford University Press, 71 – 115.
Aljazeera (2016), ‘Refugees attempt suicide by hanging from tree in Greece’, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/refugees-attempt-suicide-hanging-tree-greece-160225191001445.html
M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, Application no. 30696/09, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, 21 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d39bc7f2.html