Boats4People-Report from the Station in Tunis (8th until 10th of July 2012)

Sunday, 8th of July: pushback prevented and coordination-meetings
The day in the morning started with bad news: the entry of our young senegalese comrade, who already participated in the westafrica-caravan in 2011, was denied by the boderpolice of Tunis, when he arrived at the airport coming from Dakar. He was suspected – as it is the experience of many subsaharian travellers – to come to Tunesia only in order to use it as a transit-station on his route to Europe. Not the booking of his hotel and not the repeated hint to his participation in the meeting of the world social forum could change the position of authorities: our comrade should have been send back in the same evening. He even was sitting in the airplane, when the presence and protest of a group of B4P-activists inside the airport and finally the direct handover of an official invitation to Monastir by a unionist led to the last minute release of our senegelase friend. He remained without his luggage, but he is part now of our transnational B4P-crowd.

Our group was in Tunis now with about 50 persons and the sunday was used mainly for coordination and preparation of the next 2 days. After a few internal and informal meetings we had a common assembly in the evening with our tunesian contacts from Psycho-Club. They are a group mainly of students of psychology, who participate in the boats4people-project and whose members e.g. travelled several times to the camps in Choucha to support the refugees and migrants there. Psycho-Club also had prepared rooms and workshops for a small conference at the next day.

Moreover some women of our b4p-group participated on sunday in a meeting of an italian womens-group and tunesian mothers and relatives of disappeared. Both together were in preparation for a week of protests in Tunis.

Monday, 9th of July: protest of the mothers and conference
At 10 a.m. a manifestation of the mothers of the disappeared was announced in front of the social ministery. A part of our b4p-group took part and supported this protest with banners and distributing our – well fitting – flyers and postcards.
Unfortunately we as well as the friends from Psycho-Club learned very shortterm about this action, and for 10 a.m. (until 2 p.m.) the rooms for the conference were booked and the event was publicly announced. Thus we had to start in the same time with workshops and speeches about the EU-migration-policy, its consequences for countries like Tunesia and about the situation in the camps in Choucha.
In a second part of this conference up to 80 people – including about 20 from Tunesia – came together for an assembly to report and discuss about struggles and resistance against the borderregime. Beside the presentation of local protests and a few transnational projects and campaigns also the perception of struggles has been a topic. Simply the fact to be a harraga and thus practically to undermine the borderregime should be seen as struggle, or not? Even if this kind of social movement has no direct political articulation. Or is it more desperation than a struggle to try to cross the sea in small boats and to take the risk of death?
Finally the question of a common campaign to abolish the visa-restrictions have been raised and it was commentated from different positions, that the tunesian government recently intended to „open“ the borders within the Maghreb (easier travelling and communal right to vote). Both could not be discussed more intensive as it was too less time and the conference had to be finished.

Tuesday, 10th of July: deepening discussion and premiere of theater
In the early morning a delegation of our B4P-group -10 activists from 9 countries! – started to go to Choucha. They plan to help to coordinate the travelling and participation of refugees and migrants from the camps in the meeting of the world social forum in Monastir.
The both questions from the end of the conference of yesterday – about a possible campaign against the visa-regime and about positions to the „border-opening“ in the Maghreb – were rediscussed and deepened again in a smaller meeting. And mainly the friends from Psycho-Club should get another opportunity to present their estimations and opinions as it was not enough space in the day before.
Concerning the „opening“ of the borders in the Maghreb and the negative sentiments it was explained to us, that many people in Tunesia mistrust in general any government initiative, that some critisize the one-way openings in Tunesia (without similar facilitation in other Maghreb countries), that a protectionist counter-argumentation is widespread (too less working places for Tunesians and now even more concurrences) and also the fear, that an fundamental-islamic influence (for example from Algeria) could grow. Informations are missing and also a well-balanced public discussion to comunicate this in general useful step onto a Maghreb-Union…
Concerning the question of a campaign against the visa-obligations it was mentioned that migration and the issue of freedom of movement is a general and important topic in the whole tunesian society. Students are confronted with fees in european universities, which most of them can never pay, and even business-men would constantly experience the racist exclusion through the visa-politics by border-controls and arbitrarily push-backs. But it should not forgotten, that even without visa-obligations a lot of Tunesians could not travel. Because of a precarious income they simply lack of money. It was consensus, that open borders to Europe of course would not solve all problems and that a campaign against the visa-regime has to be connected with the topic of precarisation and social exclusion of big parts of the population – that such a campaign has to be part of a general transformation of the societies ….

Moreover we have to take into considerations a few pitfalls: the EU offers visa-facilitations, but it is connected with various conditions. Businessmen and students should get easier access, and labourforces, who are needed in Europe, can receive temporary residence permissions. And such facilitations are aditionally tied to the condition, that the tunesian government has to intensify the migration-control against the subsaharian Africa. Insofar the danger is given, that visa-facilitations would be connected with new divisions and we have to explain in a potential campaign, that we demand an unconditional abolishment of the visa-regime in the mediterranean in the frame of a struggle for freedom of movement for everybody.
On a practical level it is the challenge to draft a sensibilisation campaign and new creative forms of actions must be developed. Demonstrations and strikes happens every day, often with brutal confrontations with police, what spreads fear to many people. Which way it is possible to make known such a campaign in the neighbourhoods and how to mobilize? Could an infotour or even a caravan through various cities be an useful idea? With such questions we had to stop this interesting and deepening round of discussion and it was a proposal to try to continue in the next days in Monastir.
In the evening of Tuesday finally the theater performance, which was prepared by b4p-activists from berlin, had its premiere on the roof of a bar near Kasbah (and with a very nice view to the old city of Tunis). With simple methods – and thus to present more or less everywhere – the story of two Harragas on the background of the revolution in Tunesia was presented, a nice first event with an impressive performance of our tunesian comrade. And this theater hopefully will have a lot of follow ups, in Monastir as well as in other places.

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