The Performing Solidarity Project
Letter of contemplation
We live in a time when people are being criminalised for helping those in need.
Save people from drowning in cold waters and you are a human trafficker.
Open a shelter for stranded people in an abandoned train station and you are a
trespasser. Give food to the hungry and you are a threat to hygiene standards.
Criticise rough detentions by the police and your behaviour is insulting. Open
free showers and you are infringing urban law. Protest against a forced deportation
on a plane and you are obstructing a flight.
Oppose repressive laws and you are a terrorist.
This is, at times, part of a more general trend of increased pressure on civil society,
obstructing the work of human rights organisations, activists, and civilians.
In February 2017 a French shepherd Cedric Herrou was condemned to an
eight-month suspended prison sentence and a €3,000 fine for providing shelter to
homeless migrants. Helena Maleno, a Spanish activist, has been judicially
harassed because of phone calls she made to request assistance for drifting
vessels off the coast of Morocco. In Denmark, Lisbeth Zornig Andersen was fined
in 2016 for opening her house to refugee families with nowhere to live.
In February 2017, on the border between Greece and Macedonia more than
60 volunteers from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain,
the UK, and the Czech Republic were subjected to a campaign of harassment
and intimidation by armed police, including threats of arrest and
arbitrary house searches.
Today demanding respect for fundamental human rights, carrying for refugees and
migrants, fighting racism and xenophobia – the very principles upon which the
European Union was founded - have been consigned to the dustbin by restrictive
policies and legislation in various EU States.
“People on the move” are frequently used as scapegoats by political leaders who
blame them for economic and social problems, driven by distrust, nationalism,
or xenophobia. As a result, migration has essentially been framed as a national
security issue, leading to the militarisation of border control, strict visa requirement
policies and increased surveillance, criminalisation and detention of migrants.
NGOs that offer rescue to migrants are being denied their right and obligation to
help and save lives in some EU States. The leap from denial of solidarity to
criminalisation has led to an increase of deaths of migrants at sea. Yet, what is at
stake is not only the survival of migrants at sea, or present political power of the
States that criminalise solidarity. What is at stake in this crisis are fundamental
human traits that stand for the future of humanity and civility, such as solidarity,
tolerance, acceptance, patience to deal with the complexity of the world.
“Feeding people who are hungry has always been the fundamental gesture of
solidarity. It is the basis for a community of equals. Punishing solidarity or impeding
its exercise, regardless of the reason for it, endangers the principles and values of
humanity and civility”.
Imagine a future in which people stop offering help and assistance or defending human
rights because they are afraid of being bullied, intimidated, harassed, fined, legally
prosecuted, or even imprisoned. At this point it is crucial to understand the
intolerability of this inhumane authoritarian drift. Time has come to stand in solidarity
with solidarity itself.
How will you act?
The Performing Solidarity Project