Re-thinking Migration: Greece

Greece is one of the most topical and relevant places to discuss when thinking about migration, especially within the European context. In the past decade, there has been an influx of migrants coming in from Middle Eastern and African countries to Greece with the hopes of finding a stable and secure home somewhere in Northern Europe. For many of these people, Greece is just a transitory point. Owing to its geographical location, close to Turkey and Asia, asylum seekers come into the islands of Greece hoping to be sent to the mainland from where they can build a new home in one of the Nordic countries.

However, lately the issue of migration has been securitised in political rhetoric, with conservative governments all across Europe, and especially in Greece, making it harder for asylum seekers to get a refugee status. Just like most socio-political phenomenon, this issue around migration impacts women and unaccompanied minors disproportionately. It was this topic, “Women and unaccompanied minors,” that was the subject matter of the workshop that this article explores.

In the one-week long workshop held by Inter Alia, a non-governmental organisation in Greece, with the help of Kairos Europe, we discussed more in depth the various factors affecting the migration situation in Greece. Our group consisted of ten participants coming from diverse backgrounds and having a similar interest in migration patterns across Europe.

On the first day we had a brief introductory meeting with one of the co-founders of Inter Alia, the host organisation in Greece. It set up a solid prefatory basis for us to start our workshop and gave us a framework of what to expect in the week to come. During this time, we were also able to network with the rest of our team members.

Day 2: Understanding the Migration Issues of Southern EU Countries

On the second day we were provided with a premise on the migration discourse through the two talks that we had with Elina and Ruby, both of whom were working in non-profit organisations facilitating the rehabilitation and integration process for asylum seekers. We learnt about the AMKA and white card applications along with the different refugee camps that are operating both in the mainland and in the islands of Greece. This workshop gave us a good prefatory basis to start more research work into the issues surrounding migration. It gave special focus to the conditions of women and unaccompanied minors in refugee camps and their specific needs.

Day 3: Greek example – solutions by institutions and practitioners; visit to refugee centre

On our third day we learnt about various organisations operative within Athens that deal with rehabilitating refugees. On visiting one of the Municipality Clinics we found out that due to the transitioning government in Greece, pro bono doctors weren’t available to check up on refugees even when they had gotten their AMKA card. This made me realise the precarious position refugees are often put under during times of elections. If pro bono gynaecologists aren’t available for consultation, pregnant refugee women often have to rely on their migrant diaspora for support, but the lack of professional advice does put them at a position of risk.

We also visited the ACCMR office where we talked to a brilliant academic on the importance of rehabilitating refugees and integrating them within the Greek system. Through this we were able to learn about the unemployment crisis of migrants in Athens.

After this, we visited a Danish organisation called FAROS that deals with housing unaccompanied minors. It was very interesting to learn about their specific housing needs along with how educational facilities are set up in order to best integrate them within society.

Day 4: Recognising hate speech, and educational opportunities for migrants and refugees.

On our fourth day, we visited the Afghan Community Centre, one of the most active migrant community centres in Athens. This visit allowed us to directly get in touch with a migrant community active in Greece and it allowed us to see the human aspect of all the migration policies we had been studying so far.

We then had a workshop on Media Literacy at the Inter Alia office. This was very interesting as it helped us analyse the contemporary phenomenon of populism and hate speech and how that can be incorporated into media to promote right-wing policies against migration.

Day 5: Sociological dimensions of integration; social exclusion; economic migrants and refugees; the “gateway” to Europe

On our fifth day in Athens, we tried to understand the space that migrants were occupying through photography. Xenia, a member of our team, led a photography workshop which helped us to take a step back and explore Exarchia in a way that we would otherwise not have. We looked at all the political graffiti on the walls, we saw the migrant families at Victoria Square, and we looked at remnants of political activism all over the city. It helped me understand the value of art and activism and how important that is for the discourse around migration, especially since it helps to escape language barriers.

We then watched a documentary produced by Inter Alia on the topic of refugees coming into Europe from African countries. It was informative as it allowed to us to see conversations taking place between different refugee communities in the same country and how these communities were being impacted by conservative migration policies.

Day 6: Support for refugees and migrants: skills, mental health, and homelessness; cultural diversity in Europe; promoting common European values.

On the penultimate day of the week-long workshop, we dealt with some sensitive topics like mental health issues and sexual and gender-based violence affecting women and unaccompanied migrants. During our visit to the NGO, Amurtel, we were able to learn about the pre and post-natal needs of pregnant women. We also learnt about how different migrant communities, like the Afghan community or the various African communities, handled mental health and pregnancy related issues. Overall, we got to understand the holistic needs of refugee women.

After this, we had a group activity at the Inter Alia hospital where we constructed a privilege star. Here, all the team members tried to understand the privileges they have and how that impact their trajectory through society. This helped us develop empathetic skills which allowed us to understand the lack of these privileges within the migrant and asylum-seeking community.

29/10 Day 7: Workshop; reflection and evaluation of the training

Our final day in Athens was very nostalgic as the team had developed a strong relationship. We visited three grassroots level organisation that allowed us to witness how local action can help rehabilitate refugees. Of the three organisations that we visited, Melissa and Amina, both of which are community centres for refugee women, we learnt about the various issues that impact this particular demographic of refugees. We learnt more about gender-based violence and the need for rehabilitating pregnant women and mothers of infants and toddlers. At Melissa, it was very empowering to see refugee women start up a community centre where women could come together and talk about the issues that they were facing, get advice on childcare and reproductive and mental health and also form strong friendships along the way.

One important sentence that the co-founder at Melissa said which really stuck with me is, “we don’t help others because we have more, we do it because we know what it feels like to not have anything.” This sentence really encapsulates the importance of grassroots level work and its subsequent positive impact on migration in Greece.

Overall, the workshop in Greece proved to be very informative and helped us develop skills to better understand the complex patterns of migration in the area along with the different rehabilitation requirements for refugees and asylum seekers. Through this workshop, I was able to build friendships with the participants as well as discover organisations that were operative in the field of acclimatising refugee women and minors.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Kairos Europe, its partners or their employees.

This entry was first published on Kairos blog

 

 

Assam: The cost of BJP’s quest to make India “great again.”

Ever since the Indian Independence, Assamese people have been complaining to the government about the flood of illegal migrants from the neighboring country of Bangladesh. Having formed a majority over the local Assamese population, these illegal immigrants fled their villages in Bangladesh in order to find better work opportunities and to be able to raise their families in what they thought would be a democratic, safe haven.

But Amit Shah, the President of India’s leading party, BJP, has denounced these illegal immigrants as “aliens.” It doesn’t take a lot for this to remind me of the drastically inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants from Mexico by the Trump administration. But what sets India apart from the America’s brutality towards illegal poc (people of color) immigrants is that while America’s policies are increasingly racist, India’s play on the religious divide already existing in the country.

BJP has promised to the local Assamese community that they are going to fish out all the illegal immigrants and send them back to their home countries. But who exactly are these so called “illegal immigrants”?

According to the party’s policies, all those targeted by the immigration officers are made to produce similar authentic identity documents that act as evidence of their Indian citizenship. But most of the people targeted are rural communities who are too poor to possess any documents or navigate their way through the relentlessly hard process of providing proof of citizenship. And what’s more is that most of these communities are largely Muslim.

Moreover, Amit Shah has said to provide means of acquiring naturalized citizenship to some members of the communities, but these are only Indians, Sikhs, or Christians. Muslims have no such opportunity to avail to the government.

This tactic of appealing to religious sentiments is a form of communal politics that has long plagued India and brought into question the validity of it so-called secular constitution.

What will happen to those Indians who have sought refuge in the Eastern borders of India and called this country a home for more than half a decade? They do not have the citizenship of Bangladesh, they are not educated enough to appeal to the international community or fight the religiously segregationist laws of India. Where will they go when the only country they have known as home turns them out?

Indian public needs more awareness of the atrocities that the leading government has been conducting against the minority Muslim communities. We are not going to let BJP hide their Hindu extremism behind nationalism.

What Democrats need to bring to the table to defeat Trump in the 2020 Presidential elections

The Democratic Debate which took place on the 27th of June sparked an interesting discourse on the left-wing political structure of the United States. Despite the unity of being under the Democratic Party, every candidate brings a nuanced policy approach to the election campaign. We have candidates from across the political spectrum like the centrist Pete Buttegieg who has been accredited for providing a bridge between Conservatives and Democrats to the populist, left-wing leader, Bernie Sanders. Sanders has, in fact, famously called himself a democratic socialist – perhaps becoming the first presidential candidate to bring with him the principles of socialism into a widely corporate America.

Although the debate brought issues of healthcare and the American economy to the forefront, with Kamala Harris pushing for progressive taxation reforms and Buttegieg criticizing Sander’s “medicare for all,” what lacked was a comprehensive statement from any candidate on their foreign policy stance.

Electoral politics has been inevitably imbedded in all democratic institutions, making it hard to deny the blatant fact that the politicians go where the voters are. For this reason, election campaigns have largely focused on issues that the American public can resonate with and healthcare and the domestic economy are top on that list. For issues to be brought up, they have to have the capacity to be directly related to the common person because at its very essence, that’s how electoral politics works. Quite unfortunately, rarely does foreign policy makes this cut.

But the foreign policy of any country impacts citizens much more than they can imagine, more so if it is in a hegemonic position like the United States. The tariffs imposed on the Chinese government have setbacks for American corporations which eventually affect the prices of products – and hence, inflation – in the domestic economy. The threat of war with Iran, although far from imaginable for the common American man, is a threat that could easily become a reality depending on the foreign policy adopted by the president.   

Most Democratic voters are looking for a candidate who can defeat Trump. They need someone who incentivizes a systematic change away from the political environment that Trump has created. The best way to do this is for these Democratic candidates to bring their foreign policy proposals to the table. They need to be more specific about how they are going to be dealing with imminent foreign problems that will have a trickle-down effect on the American people.

What I want to see, above all else, in the next debate are explicit foreign policy proposals that link to domestic issues, because this is essentially how any Democrat will be able to have a standing against Trump. The candidates need to educate the public about the impact of foreign policy decisions on domestic issues and exactly how the changes that they promise to make will benefit the overall public.

Is India on a One-Way Road to Fascism?

“There is a powerful and continuing nationalism tearing into our national fabric.” – Mahua Moitra

I couldn’t agree more with the words Moitra of Trinamool Congress spoke out so bravely at the Motion of Thanks in the Indian Parliament. In a country riddled with BJP and alt-right Hindu propaganda, it is becoming so hard to find voices online that actually call out the truth of the dire Indian political scenario.

In her speech, she listed out the signs of increasing fascism in India, ones which you cannot hide behind a facade of economic growth. Any political dissent toward the government can quite possibly make you lose your job and have you excommunicated, if not imprisoned. Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution allows the government to restrict free speech if public mobilization could lead to political disruption. I guess in BJP’s case, any voice that might bring down their voter pool is a disruption to the political process. Only in September of last year, a student was arrested for calling BJP “fascist.” (see: Student Sofia arrest for calling BJP ‘fascist’)

Furthermore, the rapid increase in hate crimes is becoming so hard to ignore, and I really wonder how long it’s going to take for Modi’s government to realize the religious war they have incited in this country. Or perhaps that was the motive all along? Turn the principles of secularism to encompass only the definition of Hinduism.

The lynching of Tabrez Ansari is just one amongst many hate crimes that our plaguing our so called “secular” country.  Our country has never had a vacuum of communal violence; electoral politics where Hindus are pitted against the Muslims in order to gain more votes has always been a trend in India. But the relentless exploitation of India’s communal history so as to divide our nation reminds me of only one event in our country’s history: India-Pakistan partition.

Is this what the Modi government is trying to do? Make our country so hostile for any minority that they are forced to leave; and if they stay, then they are tortured and humiliated in front of an agitated, extremist mob held together by a Hindu identity that has lost any meaning beyond its politicization.

Identity Politics – how movements like White Nationalism and Hindutva have given rise to right wing populism

With the BJP winning the recent Indian elections and the US presidential elections just short of a year away, it is perhaps safe to say that we will be witnessing another surge in right wing populism.

Populism has been a political appeal used by politicians and thinkers since the history of politics itself. However, it’s birth can be traced back to the origins of left-wing socialism and communism wherein the economically impoverished were pitted against the capitalists who were seemingly corrupting the foundations of our society. The populist appeal targets the “many” against the “few” or the elites who control most of the resources. While left wing populist campaigns have been overshadowed by champaign socialists – the ethics of which I might not completely disagree with but neither will I dwell on in this piece – the right wing populist appeal is dressed with blatant hypocrisy.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign focuses on white nationalism; mobilizing the white middle class against any “outsiders” who might steal their jobs, albeit through better skills and an intrinsically exploitative economic system that benefits off of cheap labor. Not too dissimilar was India’s Prime Minister, Modi’s, campaign. He rallied the Hindu middle class against any and all Indians who didn’t fit the idiosyncrasies of the Hindu mind. Supporters of BJP would never admit that the rise in Hindu nationalism spurred infamously by the party has led to cases of lynching against Muslims and Sikhs, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath Yogi.

Trump’s advocation of white nationalism and Modi’s backing of Hindutva have created a platform where agitating the citizens of a country through identity politics has become a norm. As someone who is not very fond of the idea of nationalism and the idea of a separate or better humanity that this instills in the 21st century, the very concept of identity politics seems like a failure of the national community in integrating and appreciating diversity.

Populism does not always have to be synonymous with the division of national identities, but the right wing has effectively made it so. How incredibly infuriating that a movement that was started to give a platform to the minority (the economically deprived class) has been turned against religious and ethnic minorities.

Can populism be salvaged from this nightmare? Should it be?

Why there is no room for climate action under capitalism

Climate change is a hot topic of debate as of presently, and rightly so since the only planet known to give life to humans is under genuine threat of irreversible destruction. There are protests drowning the streets, popular media has turned its attention to this devastating crisis, polar ice caps are melting, and people are switching to metal or paper straws. But is that enough? Are all these protests rendered futile if the very foundations of our society rest on a system that is designed to destroy the planet?

Capitalism has grown roots into almost every aspect of our lives, from the exorbitant rent we are made to pay to the prevalence of corporations in both the political and the social sphere. Globalism, which has bought us together and has provided us with access to knowledge and has been a catalyst for free speech, too, has its roots connected with capitalism. It would be foolish to say that it is feasible to do away with this system completely. But still, there are grounds for change and perhaps awareness is the first pillar we need to build in order to combat our own extinction.

The problem with climate action under capitalism is that its very requirement is based on foregoing profit that corporations make. There have been plenty cases of oil companies and land mining companies destroying native land at the expense of indigenous people and the environment. The most recent case that comes to mind is the Waorani people’s long fight to protect their ancestral territory in the Amazon forest from being large-scale deforestation by an oil company. Although the Amazon tribe from Ecuador did end up winning the law suit, they were the exception rather than the rule of what happens to land under a purely profit-driven system.

The capitalist drive is plagued with a sense of efficiency. We strive to make everything, from machineries that produce our products to the services we employ, to be as efficient as possible. While efficiency is usually seen in a positive light, its association with capitalism sadly has a negative connotation as it is pursued for the purpose of maximizing profit, even if that is at the expense of the workers or the environment.

Several indigenous tribes in India have been displaced due to construction of multi-purposes dams which have been heavily destructive to the marine life and the surrounding environment in general. In North America, more than thirty thousand square kilometers of land is taken up by oil corporations, this is more than three times the size of the Yellowstone National Parks. This only goes to highlight that the environmental damage caused under unchecked growing capitalism affects both the developed and the developing nations.

Corporations need to held more accountable for the waste they produce and the rapid rate at which they deplete our limited resources. Economic profit will soon mean nothing if the planet that sustains us is dead.

the aesthetics of emotions // sylvia plath

There is a thick vehemence creaming the reality that surrounds us and it is this vehemence that manifests itself in the form of art. For me, art is simultaneously a façade that shields you from reality and a platform that helps you embrace reality. It is a psychological stimulus that helps you feel what isn’t tangible.

Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, characterizes art literarily by attaching itself to metal illness. My creativity splurges at the times when I feel emotionally shaken. I have realized that creativity feeds off of emotional upheaval and just like a hurricane leaves the muddy ground aromatic with petrichor, we leave our trauma adorned with art.

Set in the early 1900’s, the book revolves around Esther Greenwood’s one year in the bell jar, slowly suffocating in her own thick air and unable to see any happiness in the world. It follows her through her year battling void depression, catapulting against a world were Catholicism and marriage is the norm and trying to find herself in an ever-growing labyrinth of sexism and “normality.”

Many artists have used their paint brushes, their pens, their flutes, and other accessories to propagate for social change. It is something that I do too; through poems and through writing fiction I strive to battle evils prevalent in my society and in this sense, art binds me closer to my community and to my world. This is something that is evidenced in how Sylvia Plath uses the context of her reality to build Esther Greenwood’s character in an attempt to call out against sexism, oppression, and stereotypes against mentally ill individuals. Esther is a woman defiant of the roles that society thrusts on her and constantly questioning the limited sexual freedom that she had compared to men. By simultaneously dealing with depression that makes Esther mentally ill and discrimination that makes the society culturally ill, Plath ventures into a conventionally untrodden landscape of manifesting art as a catalyst of social change.

What stands out to me in this book is the way that sentences like “I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” and “I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself,” are juxtaposed with each other and with the context of the scenario so as to emphasize on the emotions that they convey, emotions which rot and dispel inside of Esther as she tries to keep them bottled in.

In the Bell Jar, Esther distracts herself from her reality by engaging in literary endeavors and producing art as a by product of her depression. This exemplifies how in actuality we use the sole way of making and appreciating art for absconding from our lives. In this sense, art diverts us from the lucidity of truth by giving us a platform to create an alternative truth that only temporarily satiates the thirst of what we want.

This semi-biographical novel culminates with Esther delivering her depression into her writing and after months of being a fugitive of her own reality, she comes to term with the world around her through her love for literature.  This is why I compare art to thick vehemence, it is an intangible fervor that separates and unites us with each other. It is a permanent portal for momentary relief, and a wound that reminds us that we are human.

A degenerate humanity

As I lay down on my bed, a few precarious thoughts scatter my brain: a conversation I had with a group of friends in between lectures, an apple core that I accidentally threw in the recycle bin, and a stranger cutting in my line as I waited to get some coffee. These are primitive thoughts really, some sort of background noise my brain makes before it washes away the dirt of the day as I drift off to sleep.

But these thoughts have a little more depth than the mere factual entity of them constituting my day. The conversations that I have with my friends are largely becoming empty, a self-constructed facade of insincerity blocks any real conversation that we could have had. I barely exist outside of the way stranger, friends, and family perceive me. We mechanically move our hands to conform to a socially necessitated school of thought.

We are moving towards a painful degeneracy – one that birthed out of modernity.

Internet has been a laudable innovation – I am able to write what you are reading because of it, we can now better guess the implications of Brexit on European economy because of it. Bottom line is: the internet was a good inception.

But just like most things that are characteristically vague, the internet is grossly susceptible to misuse. I am not going to talk about cyber safety, Clinton’s infamous email leaks, or the dark web here. We all have read enough about that.

The muddled thoughts in my head instead speak about how the internet is constantly pushing us to be unintelligibly self-aware about our own aftermaths. Why unintelligibly? The spitfire need to stray away from dark comedy, to be perpetually aligned with the changing political and social notions of free speech, and to assert ourselves through a combination of memes and emojis has all but lead to a general degeneracy around our body morphic.

We have resorted to an unrelenting form of insincerity where we breed our insecurity around the silent whispers raging, “who can care less more?” We don’t want to give anything more than we get and we are so utterly afraid of being emotionally available that we completely shut off our thudding humanity and turn to Instagram to watch others live their life through a lens.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite so I must admit that I am guilty of everything that I have mentioned above. A simmer of creativity does sometimes allow me look at the unhealthy state of my own mental being, but the drag of the tends to absorb my attention otherwise.

In my slow consciousness I can feel myself relapsing back into a robotic humanity we have all accepted.

“I am. am I?”

Only an alien earnestness can save us now.

Why Am I An Activist?

Why am I an activist? I ask this question to myself sometimes, when the steadfast stress of being politically and socially aware at all times takes a toll on my mental health. I feel like I am angry all the time.

Being a social activist is not easy. It is definitely rewarding, but not easy. I am not aggressively active in politics and I haven’t cut ties from the luxuries of my privileges like some activists have. But even then, the constant spiral of knowing that antiquated stereotypes are continuously keeping certain groups of people from accessing opportunities has the tendency of leaving you feeling a little emotionally exhausted.

I am a woman of color, and that in itself are two categories of people who are subjected to constant discrimination. As a woman and a person of color who is conscious of being negatively stereotyped by society, I don’t have much of a choice other than to advocate against sexism and racism.

But men, white men, white women, these people all have certain privileges over me that allow them to not have to face the same challenges that I do. So when I see a man speaking out against sexist discrimination in the work place like the gender pay gal, even though he was never personally affected by it, it makes me realize how important it is for everyone to be an activist. Everyone needs to feel this same anger. It is only when we are angry that we can rage a change in the society.

I have come to realize that being an activist should never be about what affects you and only you – although that can be an acute motivation – it should be about what affects the society and all the other marginalized sections negatively incorporated in it. Just like I want someone who doesn’t have to deal with sexism or racism to use their privilege to allow me to have a louder voice, I will use my privilege to allow those who do not have a platform as large as mine.

I am an activist because I care, not only about the problems that I have to face, but about the problems that are keeping those around me from reaching their fullest potential.

I am an activist because I believe in equality so notoriously that I am willing to give up the tactile peace of not caring, as should you.

India’s Energy Crisis

The Indian economy has been running on fuel since the very beginning of energy consumption. This fuel has been largely generated by the burning of fossil fuels.

The spike in the use of fossil fuel occurred during India’s industrial revolution, under the probing of the British Crown. Of course during the period when this was taking place (early to mid nineties), the consumption of fossil fuel had never been linked to environmental degradation. In fact, the impact of rapid industrialization had never been seen as a negative prelude to the environment. During this period of expanding economies and growing hostilities in the political sphere (which lead to an increase in the burning of fossil fuel for military purposes) the environment was hidden under the backdrop of economic growth.

But lately, since global warming has been consuming environmentalists and the dire lack of fossil fuels has become a striking truth, it is becoming increasing important for India (as well as other developing countries) to become more conscious about their fuel consumption.

India’s energy consumption presently consists of more than 80% fossil fuels, this essentially means that India primarily relies on the most polluting form of energy for economic and industrial survival.

While India has taken comprehensive steps towards promoting the use of more eco-friendly measures like Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), it’s use nationwide has still been formidably limited.

Developing countries are obliged to look at the needs of their citizens first. With limited resources and a large population at hand, it is virtually impossible for India to make any substantial changes in its energy consumption any time soon.

It is in this period of globalization and increasing international collaborations on environmental protection that I think it is becoming very important for leading countries to look at developing countries as potential investments. It is time to invest in true human security, the security of human sustenance (which is everything that we find in nature) won’t be taken away from us.

If developing countries realize that their duty to their citizens is economic development, then they should also realize that their prime duty is to protect the basic human right: right to life and liberty. We cannot live in a concrete jungle polluted by a consumerist agenda, we need the reassurances than the environment will be protected for our generation as well as generations to come. And for this we need the developed countries, those which have already prospered economically in a period where environmental impact was blindsided, to use their privilege to provide for the developing countries.

Countries like India need substantial aid in setting up hydroelectricity as well as solar power. Sharing resources that can help in leaving a cleaner footprint should be vital to the global goals as well as the international forum. It is through collaboration that earth can prosper safely.