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!!!

2 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Hi Daniel,

Your blog makes interesting reading. It is awful that you were treated such a manner. I have some sympathy for your point that people from richer nations can travel relatively freely while others can not.

Wikipedia defines illegal immigration as "...the act of moving to or settling in another country or region, temporarily or permanently, in violation of the law or without documents permitting an immigrant to settle in that country"

Given that you were actually in Germany without a valid permit for a year and you stayed there for a year I would think you fully satisfy that definition. Further, you can not surely expect full access to services within Germany when you are not paying German taxes? I don't think it is true to say that you are not a criminal either. Perhaps just someone who is in a place that they shouldn't be?

Good luck with your PhD!

Hanny dijo...

Hello "Anonymous",

It is truly unfortunate that I have read your comment to this blog so late, since you are probably not going to read this answer. But I must write it anyway.

First of all, it seems interesting to me that you decided not to identify yourself... although your name would not tell me nor the original writer of this blog any useful information, some background about you would have been useful.

For example, What is your nationality? You may take this personal... and you are right, it is personal! Because probably nor you nor your family nor anyone you love or care about has been in a situation were this unfair status had to be accepted (you see, people really do not like to be in this irregular situation where basic human rights are denied).

Second, what is your education background? I especially ask this because answering such an interesting blog article with a quote taken from "wikipedia" on their definition of "illegality" is, at the best, naive -not to mention over-simplistic and empty of any original thinking whatsoever.

I would encourage you to read further on this topic in order to make a sound and interesting argument. For example, are you sure people staying in these countries in an irregular situation are not paying taxes? They do pay a lot of taxes, not only with the services they consume, but also because taxes are usually deducted from their salaries -whether the employer pays them or not, is a different issue. But more importantly than this, they provide a priceless service to these "developed societies" where population growth rate is negative now and where national citizens and others in the "formal" market are not willing to do this work. And immigrants in irregular situation do this at a very low price -sometimes even in conditions next to slavery.

Do you imagine yourself accepting this situation, where basic human rights are denied to you? If your answer is no -and I am sure it is-, instead of asking about the legality or not of this situation, would not it be a more interesting question to enquire why people do this?

As I said earlier, perhaps you will want to do some thinking of your own before accepting, without questioning, the discourses around "illegal migration"... maybe then you will be able to provide interesting insights....

By the way, I'm a peruvian economist with an MPhil in Development Studies. I am a peruvian citizen and have lived in Peru, UK and USA (with various short periods in Spain; in all of these cases, in "regular" situation). I am currently working at the United Nations.