martes, mayo 23, 2006

Kein Mensch ist illegal!!!
(No human being is illegal!!!)

„Ihr sollt wissen, dass kein Mensch illegal ist. Das ist ein Widerspruch in sich. Menschen können schön sein oder noch schöner. Sie können gerecht sein oder ungerecht. Aber illegal? Wie kann ein Mensch illegal sein?“
Elie Wiesel

I thought about creating a blog after I got deported from Germany this year on March. Quiet a good reason eh? Well, that made me reflect about how nationality can define the respect and geographical borders for a person. As a Peruvian, I have experienced this throughout my life, but I only perceived the magnitude of this problem when I got deported from Germany. I’d like to note first that I will talk about Germany because I was a victim of its system but the problem is bigger and extends to other countries in Europe and North America.

On the 6th of March my girlfriend, a friend of my girlfriend and I tried to cross the German border with Netherlands in a car. I had stayed almost 1 year in Germany without a valid permit and I was going to Amsterdam to take a plane back to Peru. In Peru, I needed to get a student visa to go back to Germany and start doctoral studies at a university in Berlin. Unfortunately, we were not able to cross the border. The Netherlands police stopped us before the border and asked for our documents. Suddenly I realized that my whole plan had failed. I could not believe what was happening and the next hours went by like if everything was a dream, a nightmare in fact.

I had planned very well my exit from Germany. While I lived in Berlin I talked to a lawyer and people who had lived without a valid permit and had managed to leave the country without being caught. They suggested that to avoid the risk of deportation I should leave the country by car and not by train or airplane. I followed everything they said, maybe I was even too careful, but anyway, it did not work.

The driver of our car (my girlfriend’s friend) couldn’t believe we were being stopped by the police. He lives close to the border, crosses it frequently and had never been stopped before in his life. My girlfriend had also crossed that border many times and it was the first one she was controlled. The police asked me if I knew I did not have a valid permit. Of course I did. They said they were enforced to hand me to the German authorities and asked us to follow them in our car. Once at the German police station I felt like inside the devil’s house. I had been avoiding the German police for almost 1 year and I couldn’t believe I was at their place now.

The police immediately started with what seemed like some sort of protocol for these situations. For those who don’t know it, individuals without a valid permit are considered criminals in Germany. They are referred wrongly to as “illegal immigrants”, regardless of whether they have actually engaged in any criminal act. The political discourse and the law consider these individuals as a potential danger to society, a threat to national security and society’s identity. Police treat these individuals as criminals and for sure they did with me too.

They took me to a small room with a metal door and a white bed and asked me to take off my clothes. It was a horrible place. I stayed only in my underwear inside this detention room while a policeman with gloves outside examined my clothes and personal things and asked questions about everything I had. He looked at each of the papers I had in my wallet and asked about every name he saw and the people I had met in Germany. It seemed as he was looking for drugs and traces of the rest of the mafia. I told him I wasn’t a criminal and most of the names and numbers I had in my wallet were from friends and family, probably like the names I could find in his wallet. I felt physically and psychologically abused and protested while the process lasted.

I explained I had lived a normal life in Germany. I never committed any crime but not having a valid permit. I did not even work in Germany, I had worked doing distance consulting for research institutes in Italy and Canada and that is how I funded my life in Berlin. I had been accepted at university in Berlin with funding and just wanted to go to Lima to get my student visa and come back. Unfortunately understanding was very limited and even a policeman asked me why I did not apply to my student visa in Germany and had to go back to Peru. The poor knowledge of the matter really sounded scary to me.

They made me sign a few papers regarding the criminal act I had committed in Germany. Similarly, my girlfriend and her friend had to sign a paper in which they stated that they had helped a criminal and a legal process against them started too. I was so ashamed and frustrated about that. While we were signing papers, policemen and civil citizens inside the station talked about my situation. They all seemed to agree that if I had stayed a couple of months without a permit it was not that bad, but since I stayed almost one year then it was very wrong. The logic seemed to suggest that the more you stay the more you are a threat to society, which did not make any sense to me. Moreover, I would say that the more you stay without access to work, health, education and law in general and you manage to survive, the bigger hero you are.

It was for me as if they had all stopped using their common sense. What they were doing to us and especially the way they treated me did not have any real justification. I told the policeman who was working on my case that a human being can not be “illegal”. That no one should be treated like a criminal for not having a valid permit. He replied that I was talking about another story that didn’t have anything to do with this situation. I wonder then which story are we living now? He also said he was only doing his job. He kept saying that I should have a better understanding of the law and norms in Germany.

This seems to be the winner argument when it comes to explaining this unfair situation. German authorities, some citizens and even immigrants in Germany truly believe that a better understanding of the law and norms could lead to acceptance and of this abusive situation, this institutionalized form of discrimination. It seems that once you understand the law and norms all this nonsense and stupidity makes sense. I really wonder how. Like I say, even some immigrants, who should be more sensitive towards this situation, believe that staying without a permit is a crime, not only is against the law but implies doing something wrong to society. I guess the stigma is just to big.

After the abusive situation and filling paperwork finished at the police station, I was asked to go to the migration office in the town of Leer. There I was supposed to ask for a permission to go to Amsterdam and take my flight to Peru. The person who received us at the office in Leer was absolutely unfriendly. He made us wait around 1 hour and after gave me a memorized speech of what I had to do. He did not want to discuss anything. He only had something to say and did not care at all of what we had to say. He said I had to leave immediately the country which I was trying to do but I couldn’t. If I did not leave in the next two days they would put me in jail and I would have to pay for every day in jail 50 euros. I have, by the way, documentation on this.

I said I wanted to leave immediately and for that I needed a permission to go to Netherlands where I had to catch a flight to Lima tomorrow morning. I showed him the tickets and he said there was no way I was going to Amsterdam. Thus, I said I could book immediately another ticket to Peru and asked for his help in choosing the right flight, one I wouldn’t have to lose. He said that because I did not have a visa I needed a direct flight from Germany to Peru. I explained that there were no direct flights to Peru and he replied it did not have anything to do with his job and was not his problem. We asked him, almost begged for an alternative, I wanted to book any flight, I did not care, I just didn’t want to stay in Germany and go to jail.

He seemed to be very excited and convinced about being doing the “right thing”. He repeated that it was impossible for me to go to another European country and that if there were no direct flights he did not care and I had to stay, which implied going to jail. While he said that his colleague was listening behind the office’s door with half of the body inside and half outside the office. She only nodded permanently as if all she was hearing made sense and looked at me as if I was a monster. I was for her probably guilty and deserved the worst punishment. I was so disturbed by her image and can remember it clearly even now. It made me think, in which insane world I’m living, my god!

I also explained that I wanted to go to Peru to get a student visa and come back to Germany to study. I tried to show him the documents that supported my acceptance and funding to pursue doctoral studies in Germany, like I did before with the police, but he did not want to see them. He finally said that there were two things that should be very clear. That it was impossible for me to flight to Amsterdam and to come back to Germany in the next year. He said that I should forget that, that I was not coming back this year to study in Germany. After leaving, my entrance to the country would be prohibited. Fortunately, this person, to whom I normally refer to as a pig when I tell this story, was wrong. I travelled to Amsterdam in a normal KLM flight the next day from Bremen and in the next weeks I’m going back to start my PhD in Germany. I should say that he was right in that those two things were not supposed to happen, but I took a couple of risks. I mean, in this insane world, why not?

I arrived to Lima shocked and since then I’ve been digesting this experience. I know I was a victim of a system that has institutionalized discrimination. I travelled to Germany with the idea of spending one year in Berlin after finishing my master in Canada and before starting doctoral studies (I originally wanted to go back to North America for the PhD but I changed my plan in Germany). I wanted to take a break, see another reality, learn another language, expand my horizons and relax for some time. This is an absolutely legitimate idea when you come from the north and go to the south, but if you come from the south and go to the north, this does not seem normal, it is suspicious. That is also maybe why I decided to do it, because I was not supposed to. I chose Berlin because I had heard a lot about that city, about its transformation since the unification, history, cultural life, etc.

For the first time I had the pleasure to choose the place where I was moving to. Before I had lived in other countries because of my family, education or work, but this time there was no reason to move there but a dream. Dreams are, of course, not easy and demand taking risks. In my case, I knew in advance I was going to stay without a valid permit in Germany. Therefore, I was going to be denied some basic human rights: no access to work, education, and health. Also, I would have to cope with the stigma of illegality which gets in between relationships with people. This, of course, in addition to the inherent social exclusion of being an immigrant. So knowing this I prepared well for this journey. I brought with me a couple of consulting projects from Italy and Canada, ask for legal advice in Berlin and found out about alternative medical services for people without papers, which by the way, I did use while I live there. I also learned some German as a part of an alternative project (ex-squat house) and was able to discuss and protest during the whole deportation process in German.

Sometimes friends from developed countries ask me why I can’t travel without a visa to certain countries or extend my visa or apply to student visa from abroad, etc. It seems so strange to them. Even Latin Americans (e.g., from Mexico and Venezuela) who can travel to Europe without visa are surprised about this. On the other hand it sounds crazy for many Peruvians the idea of travelling without a visa. They have assumed this form of discrimination as normal and don’t complain about it. But I mean, if you have never experienced something is less likely that you will understand it or you will be sensitive towards the matter. That is why I’d like to note a couple of things that give ground to my arguments. They might seem very basic but are ignored by many people and I believe this represents the main base in developing an intolerant and discriminatory system: ignorance.

For a Peruvian citizen and citizens from other poor nations to go to many countries, including Germany, you need a visa which you can only get after a very complicated process. Normally a visa expires in three months and one needs to go back to the country of origin (Peru) to renovate it. On the other hand, German citizens and citizens from more developed countries don’t need to apply to a visa. They travel with their passports only. Normally they are allowed to stay more than three months in a country and they can even stay longer if they travel to a neighbouring country and come back. The barriers to stay “legally” in a country, thus, are higher for citizens from poorer nations.

Developed countries have institutionalized discrimination by deciding who can come and can not come into the country based on their nationality. In particular, citizens from poorer countries are not welcome. This is one of the most accepted an assumed forms of discrimination. Moreover, in Germany, a stigma is created towards people without a valid permit. They are referred to as “illegal immigrants” regardless of whether they have actually engaged in any criminal act. The law and political discourse states that these individuals are a threat to society in a country that needs to be “ordered”, “planned”, “organized”. The system manages to create a stigma towards people who don’t have a valid permit or citizens from poor nations. How?

The system excludes individuals without a valid permit from society. They deny basic human rights to them such as work, education, medical care, and law in general. They clearly put them in a vulnerable situation. Given the limited possibilities they have, some of these individuals do commit real crimes or act in a socially undesirable manner, not because of their nationality or culture but because they are in a desperate situation. This reinforces in society the stigma of “illegality”, the idea that citizens from specific nations are a threat to society. In other words, the system succeeds in creating the monster they wish to create.

This is a complex and interesting topic. For many people complaining about this system seems childish. They think that we should always respect the law in order to live in an organized society. They support the idea that at my house I can put the rules I want and everyone should respect them, even if they are unfair. I don’t believe that. I think laws can sometimes even violate basic human rights like in the example I present here. It is fundamental to live in an organized society with clear rules but law should not be our main and leading value. How many crimes in history have been supported by law? So I don’t think this is a stupid denounce and I do think is childish in its spirit, because it is very basic.

I have research papers on this topic, documents on my experience and I’d be glad to help someone without a valid permit with my experience.

My god! More and more stupidity. Thanks blog!!!

viernes, mayo 19, 2006

Banco Continental, el más original

El miércoles y el jueves de esta semana he pasado varias horas tratando de depositar un cheque de mi chamba en Canadá en el Banco Continental, donde tengo mi cuenta. Pensé que iba ser simplemente cuestión de ir al banco, entregar el cheque en ventanilla y listo, pero resultó siendo toda una historia.

El cheque llegó a la casa de una amiga que vive en Miraflores, cerca de Pardo, entonces luego de recogerlo fui a la oficina del Banco Continental que queda en Pardo, cerca de la esquina con Comandante Espinar. Allí me dijeron que era mejor que lo deposite en la oficina donde abrí mi cuenta y no con ellos, porque ellos me cobrarían 38 US$ por ese trámite y en mi oficina 12 US$.

Bueno, entonces de hecho pensé mejor me voy a mi oficina. Agarre mi taxi y fui a San Isidro, exáctamente a la Av. Pezet, donde abrí mi cuenta. Allí, la persona con la que abrí mi cuenta hace un par de semanas me dijo que era igual si lo cobraba en esa oficina o en cualquier otra, igual me cobrarían 38 US$. Sólo si tuviese otro tipo de cuenta, creo que tarjeta de crédito o algo así, me podían cobrar 12 US$. En todo caso no pude depositarlo ese día en mi cuenta porque no tenía mi DNI, todavía no me acostumbro a llevarlo conmigo desde que regresé a Lima.

Al día siguiente, es decir, ayer Jueves, estaba haciendo trámites cerca del parque Kennedy en Miraflores y aproveche para pasar por la oficina del Continental en Ricardo Palma. Allí nuevamente intenté depositar el cheque en mi cuenta pero me dijeron que el trámite me costaría 60 US$. Obviamente me molesté, le conté a la persona de la ventanilla que era el tercer banco al que iba, que todo era una confusión, etc. Finalmente decidí no depositar el cheque en esa oficina porque pensé que tal vez en otra me darían otro precio. Una locura pues.

Saliendo del banco llamé al Continental para contarles mi problema. Luego de hacerme esperar varios minutos me dijeron que la tarifa era alrededor de 60 US$ y me la desagregaron en partes, explicándome cada uno de los servicios que tenía que pagar. La tarifa me parecía sumamente alta y como me habían dado otras cifras primero, pensé que tal vez podía pagar menos en otro banco. Total, todo era una confusión y pensé que podía ganar algo de ello.

Me acerqué entonces a la oficina en 28 de Julio, también en Miraflores. Allí causé toda una confusión a dos jóvenes que trabajan en la ventanilla. Primero me dijeron que la tarifa era de 12 US$, yo ya no sabía que creer. Luego me pidieron un momento y regresaron diciéndome que costaba así pero que en la oficina donde abrí mi cuenta. Ya para esto yo no estaba molesto, cosa rara en mí porque este tipo de cosas suelen arruinar mi vida. Pero mas bien el asunto me resultaba cómico y quería ver que me decían en otras oficinas.

Bueno, a los dos patas les expliqué que antes había estado en otros bancos, incluyendo la oficina donde abrí mi cuenta y que sabía que allí no me cobrarían 12 US$. Entonces me dijeron que así debía ser, que allí me debían cobrar 12 US$. Les expliqué que para que me cobren esa tarifa debía tener otro tipo de cuenta, y no sé que más, ni yo mismo entendía que les explicaba porque tampoco había entendido bien las razones por las cuales no me cobraron 12 US$ en mi oficina.

En fin, les pregunté cuánto me cobrarían en su oficina, porque hasta ahora me estaban dando diferentes precios. Y ellos me dijeron que los costos de hacer ese trámite eran variables y por eso pasaba eso. Entonces ya sonriendo les dije si acaso los costos eran variables entren oficinas, porque eso parecía. Y bueno, ellos fueron a hablar con otra persona y regresaron con una respuesta. Me dijeron que lo que me podían decir era que los costos eran de 36 US$ o más. Les pregunte que si incluso podían llegar a 100 US$ y ellos dijeron que sí. El techo o valor máximo de la tarifa no lo conocían.

Además me recomendaron que no haga el depósito en su oficina, que mejor regrese a la oficina donde abrí mi cuenta y hable con el gerente. La tarifa final iba a depender de mi relación con el gerente. Me preguntaron si lo conocía y cómo era mi relación con él. Bueno, les dije que yo sólo tengo una cuenta de ahorros que acabo de abrir hace un par de semanas y que el gerente no tiene idea de quién soy. En fin, me fui.

Luego caminando por ahí encontré otra oficina del Continental, en República de Panamá. La situación era ya cómica. Allí miraron mi cheque y me dijeron que el trámite me costaría 80 US$. Pasu, ya no sabía que decir. Le agradecí a la persona y regrese a la oficina donde abrí mi cuenta, en Pezet.

En la oficina de Pezet me acerqué a la ventanilla y una chica miró mi cheque y me dijo que ese trámite me costaría 72 US$. Dios…Le conté que había estado en varios bancos, que todos me habían dado diferentes tarifas y cuáles eran. Al final se rió y me dijo "bueno, al menos yo fui la más original, nadie te dijo 72 US$ antes". Ya sólo me quedó reírme. Luego hizo una llamada y preguntó la tarifa, contó mi caso y le dijeron finalmente que por ese trámite me cobrarían 51 US$. O sea, ninguna de las anteriores. Plop.

Es decir, en las oficinas a las que fui me dieron las siguientes tarifas en total: 51, 72, 80, más de 36, 38, 12 y 60 US$. Un promedio de 50 US$ más o menos. Sorry, pero por mi deformación de economista tenía que sacarlo. Sería interesante agrandar la muestra y visitar más oficinas del Continental para ver qué pasa. En fin, ahora me pregunto cuánto realmente me cobraran. Aunque estoy casi seguro que será ninguna de las anteriores tarifas.
No hay nada que hacer, hay tanta estupidez!!! Gracias blog!