2007 - 2022

Dear President Ursula Von Der Leyen

OPEN LETTER.

C/O The European Commission,

B – 1049

Brussels

Belgium

2nd of December 2021

FOR THE ATTENTION OF PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION URSULA VON DER LYEN

REF: “GOING TO THE GAME”. 

Dear President Ursula Von Der Leyen

I notice that you have been awarded “the global citizen prize for world leader” in December 2020.  

I also notice from your twitter feed that you are a President of action; photos of you making calls to world leaders in every sphere, from politics, medicine, world business, security, and much besides. 

I note too your vociferous support for sanctions against Belarus after the brutal treatment of civilians by dictator Lukashenka.  

I also notice from your CV that you are a physician and a mother seven children. 

Given all of the above I thought you might be the right person to write to on the following matter. 

Could you pick up your phone once again and use your considerable influence to stop the systematic punishment beatings by Border Patrol forces of several European countries that are part of the European Union?  

During the last week of November 2021, I was privileged to accompany Doctor Marco Aparicio, a top flight Professor of law from Girona University specialising in human rights, and a dynamic Serbian NGO called ClikActiv, as they brought aid and legal advice to six unofficial sites of refugees on the Serbian border with Croatia, Hungary, (both EU members) and Romania.  Most of the refugees we met were fleeing the chaos and violence of Syria and Afghanistan.  

In the woods, around simple fires and make shift tents, we spoke to people in small groups of 2 or 3,  and in some places up to a dozen at at a time. 

One moment was particularly memorable; after hearing their stories I asked one group if they had all been beaten by border patrol forces.  Several burst out laughing.  What a strange question it seemed to them.  Of course they had all been beaten up, and many many times.  They looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet…..how could I not know?  

Too many faces come to mind but Ali’s was particularly grey and drained.  As we talked about his attempts to cross into Hungary from Serbia, he told me of his experience at a previous border as he crossed from Turkey into Greece.  They were on a little boat on the River Evros.  Greek commandos threw them into the water.  Ali made it to the Greek side, but his cousin Sarbast Mustafa disappeared and has not been heard of since, presumed drowned.  The commandos smashed Ali’s phone,  stole his money, and then to humiliate the young man even more stripped off his clothes and sent him back to Turkey again in his pants.  

But Ali came back, made it through Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia,  and now confronted the latest barrier, the triple barbed wire fence to Hungary, its Patrol Forces, and their dogs.  

As the sun set and the freezing cold swept over everyone, many would prepare for the next attempt at the border.  A tell tale sign were groups huddling together, plastic bags in their arms, and many sipping on a high energy drink for the battle ahead.  

They called it “going to the game”.  

“Are you going to the game?” echoed around camp fires,  repeated in multiple languages from Arabic to Pashto. 

George, 21, from Cameroon,  was fleeing Boko Haran.  How he made it across half the African continent, deserts, and the Mediterranean sea, I do not know, but as we contemplated the freezing river at dusk it seemed like an unbearable task.  “I’m going to swim it tonight” he said.  He was chuffed I knew of the famous Cameroon footballer  Samuel Eto’o considered one of the best strikers in the world who had once graced the Nou Camp of Barcelona.   He seemed to appreciate a little idle chat before going to the game of a more deadly kind. 

He too had been regularly beaten up, had his phone smashed, money stolen, but for him the most frightening experience was having guns pointed at him at close range  by screaming patrol guards shouting they were going to shoot him. 

Do you think this is an exaggeration?

On consecutive nights I spoke to young activists from two inspiring NGOs, No Name Kitchen, (founded by Spanish activists)  and Collective Aid.  Three young women from Italy one night, and then 3 young women from the UK the next.  One was a young doctor from Florence and she described the misery of scabies for the refugees and how it was impossible to keep clean.  The itch would drive them mad, and the constant scratching would lead to infections.  Libby, a young Geography graduate from Bristol, described the difficulty of trying to treat the wounds from the barbed wire, the flailing tails of which were so sharp they would slice through flesh and leave deep flapping wounds. Infections from dog bites was another grave concern. 

Again, both organisations confirmed the systematic nature of violence against the refugees; from casual beatings, to smashed phones, to robbing their money and destroying their documents. ( I noticed several young men in totally inappropriate plastic sandals.  Many had lost their boots after having them slit open by the Border Patrols looking for hidden cash.  No Name Kitchen and Collective Aid did their best to find boots that would fit the travellers; each item of clothing gratefully accepted like a precious gift.) 

Each phone destroyed, or money stolen, has catastrophic consequences for the refugee and their families back home who would once again have to borrow, sell possessions, or beg for more funds to send to their isolated son, daughter, or partner; the cruelty and consequences multiplied in distant lands. 

All of the above has made me wonder President Von der Leyen if you and all your colleagues in the European Commission know this is going on at your borders?  

I see from your CV that you were once the Minister of Defence in Germany from 2013 to 2019.  I hazard a guess that your connections to the security forces and intelligence are of the highest order.  

A cursory glance at the net shows an impressive array of evidence backing the assertions of the refugees we met at the border last week.  

In particular the work of the Border Violence Monitoring Network  (https://www.borderviolence.eu) made up of several NGOs working on the ground at the border hotspots.  As someone like you with your finger on the pulse would probably know they published a Black Book of Pushbacks in December 2020 collating the experience of 12,654 cases of abuses along the borders of Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungry on the so called infamous Balkan Route. 

Evidence from other bone fide human rights organisations support the above. Since you are such a frequent user of twitter you will have seen footage of Border Patrol beatings put up on the net taken by brave witnesses, and inventive investigators.   

I think we can take it President that you and your colleagues know of the systematic nature of European state violence? Or do you have the brass neck of a Luckashenka to do a Pontius Pilate?

This begs some simple questions. 

What is the chain of command? 

It would be naive to expect to find a live trail, but it is a fascinating question. 

Perhaps it all resorts to the time honoured “nod and a wink”.  You know, I know….we don’t have to ask any questions. 

Hierarchical organisations have order in their DNA.  Somebody has to give the commands to the Border Patrol, Police, Army, Commandos, that turn up for their shifts each day and night, of what is allowed and what is not.  Commanders must be in contact with their national politicians, and national politicians are in constant contact with their European partners.  Or do you expect us to believe that thousands of security forces in multiple countries  have spontaneously transformed themselves into thugs? What a sense of impunity these forces must feel if they can abuse so many so casually.  How many have been murdered like Sarbast Mustafa? 

A nod and wink? Of course it suits the civilised capitals of Europe and the European Commission, and the UK too, when all the dirty work can be outsourced to the woods, the rivers, the seas, and the mountains under night fall.  

But there is something you, and all the nodders and winkers, and the designers of the barbed wire, the night visions, the batons and the entire billion dollar infrastructure of intra-state cruelty do not understand. 

You can see it in the glint of George’s eye as he snaps open an energy drink as he goes to the game.   It is courage beyond words, it is hope beyond the evidence, it is desperation as deep as the oceans they cross; it’s the life force itself.  They will not be deterred.  Yasser from Syria told me as he shivered in the freezing night on the 24th of November by an abandoned milk factory with the Hungarian border fence in view.  “If I go back to Syria they kill me….what choice do I have, so I go to the game.” 

What happens on our borders is a microscope on our changing world. How we treat the refugees is a microscope on ourselves.  Tens of thousands flee war, and now many more will flee the effects of climate change. Already on the African Sahel many are on the move after drought has destroyed their crops. They move or they die.  

Cop 26 in Glasgow made it crystal clear the world faces the interconnected challenge of climate change and mass migration; gargantuan risks of multilayered complexity. 

We face a self defining choice.   Do we have a rational humane plan, (many organisations are working hard on practical policies) co-operate between nations,   share resources, imagine solutions, respect international law, or do we pointlessly inflict more cruelty and misery on our most vulnerable fellow human beings, victims many times over.   Dear President Von Der Leyen, when the numbers of refugees increase, as they will, how long before the game becomes more deadly? How long before shoot to kill?  

Unimaginable, isn’t it? 

Time to pick up that phone.   

Yours

Paul Laverty

 

PS.  If any reader would like to know more about the organisations mentioned or donate, their sites are below.)

https://www.nonamekitchen.org

https://www.collectiveaidngo.org

https://klikaktiv.org

Comments (25)

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  1. H. Neary says:

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42270239

    Justice takes time. The EU is still a collection of members with their own laws and systems, whatever Farage is inclined to spout.

    Speaking of justice, the Iraqi and Syrian refugees should be airlifted to the US and UK. I recollect that the Guardian warned exactly what would happen if Blair went ahead supporting Bush, but of course the xenophobes and bigots do neither detail or history.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      Totally agree. Germany, who played no part in the destruction of Syria, took in 3% of the Syrian population. I remember the despicable Cameron describing this sublime humanitarian gesture as “guilt about the holocaust” (of course, Britain has no guilt – not even about the slave trade, because they’re the “goodies”). He also said he was committed to the rebuilding of Syria and had set aside £2 billion which wouldn’t even have given the Syrian population enough for a carton of cigarettes each.
      What an embarrassment it is to be associated in any way with Tory England.

  2. Meg says:

    Who can take governments to trial?….

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Communism.

      Not the old-style states of the 20th century, but a shift towards global organisation (world government) that can control and regulate the economy in its global totality, as well as limit the sovereignty of nation-states when needed, and a corresponding shift away from the anarchy of the market. We’re already seeing stirrings of this sublation of capitalism into communism in the massive mobilisation of state resources to pay private-sector wages, nationalise services, and direct industrial production during the pandemic, and it’s a shift we’ll see developing further as capitalism reponds to its ongoing serial geopolitical crises and the great migrations they’re producing.

      World government will ultimately hold rogue nations to account.

      1. H. Neary says:

        A bit heavy for me, but there is no doubt now that a small effect anywhere on the globe has the potential to affect all.
        Climate change is well beyond any government too, it would be a challenge with the brightest and best in power, so even before the petty bickering comes in, there isn’t a snowballs chance 🙁

        Sadly in recent times, post Maggie it seems to me, greed is seen as an attribute, not a vice. The urge to mop up a few lifetimes worth of wealth is no longer tempered by taxation and does have a bit of an unsettling effect on populations in the poorer nations.

        Alas I don’t have the answers, but two of them are not Trump or Johnson.

      2. John Learmonth says:

        ‘World govt will hold rogue nations to account’
        How?
        And on what moral principles will ‘world gov’t’ be based on….Communist principles?
        God help us.

        1. Hugh Neary says:

          It sounds unlikely, but nothing should be totally discounted.
          Capitalism has been both a disaster and has also incorporated the means to project the disaster as a positive.

          1. Pontifex Minimus says:

            > Capitalism has been both a disaster

            Capitalism is the worst system for running an economy. Except for all the others that’ve been tried.

            Seriously, there is no effective way to run an economy except one where a significant amount of resource-allocation is done by markets.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            ‘…there is no effective way to run an economy except one where a significant amount of resource-allocation is done by markets.’

            ‘Effective’ of what end? Allocating resources according to contingencies of supply and demand is perhaps the most effective way of running an economy to maximise profit, but is it the most effective way of running an economy to distribute as commonwealth the goods we create through our collective industry?

        2. Mons Meg says:

          In exactly the same way that, currently, national governments hold transgressors to account; by using its monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (i.e. its sovereignty) to deter them from transgressing.

          And no government is based on moral principles; all government is based on law (i.e. on the constitutional conventions that establish the conditions that must be met before the state can deploy its monopoly on the use of physical force to deter social transgression).

          The relevant question is not ‘On what moral principles would world government be based?’ but is ‘How would this world government/universal law be constituted?’ I’d hope it would be constituted democratically, with all the checks and balances a democratic constitution entails. Because only if it were constituted democratically would it be an expression of the general will of global society and not just an expression of the will of a minority or majority interest. It would be the UN with more muscle and no vetos.

          1. John Learmonth says:

            But isn’t democracy a child of the enlightment/western ‘values’?
            Are you proposing to impose ‘western values’ on the rest of humanity, rather ‘colonialist’ unless of course ‘western values’ are in fact ‘universal values’?
            To be fair Marx himself looked down on the ‘non-western’ peoples so I suppose your only following your leader.

          2. H. Neary says:

            Well that would be England out of the running.
            I don’t see how you can have democracy if it’s sold on lies.
            By the time this new world order made the side of a bus, it would eclipse Steven King in the fiction department.

            The lies are not new or the exclusive domain of Bozo. They have just been getting worse or more direct.
            Alas I don’t think that any valid version of democracy should be dependent on which pile of porkies are the most believable.

          3. Mons Meg says:

            Indeed it is, John; as a form of government in which the governed have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation or to choose representatives to do so on their behalf, democracy – the government of the marketplace – is an ideology of capitalism.

            But that’s how world communism is emerging: through the globalisation of capitalism and its cultural forms and its own immanent deconstruction in the global crises it produces. World communism is the success of which capitalism is its own victim; it’s a sublation of globalised capitalism itself rather than any kind of external moral ‘imposition’.

            Our historic task – and the historic task of colonised people everywhere – is to help facilitate this deconstruction through the relentless enactment of immanent critique in our engagements with capitalism and its cultural forms.

          4. Mons Meg says:

            ‘I don’t see how you can have democracy if it’s sold on lies.’

            Democracy isn’t based or dependent on any supposedly transcendent truth, of which lies are a distortion; it’s just the mechanism of social decision-making by which ‘the truth’ emerges immanently as an expression of the general will of the demos. Democracy isn’t the child of truth. Truth is a child of democracy; it’s what we collectively make it.

        3. Alec Lomax says:

          What’s God got to do with anything?

      3. Tom Ultuous says:

        I’ve always fancied a federal world with a single central bank and currency and looked upon the EU as a first step. Taxation would be via transfer / savings / death tax, tax avoidance would be impossible and there’d be a UBI.

  3. H. Neary says:

    I understand completely, but the choice of the people falls down completely when lies are used.
    I don’t think a single choice being validated, ie the choice of MP is “democracy” if that choice was the result of lies and the lies continue.
    I don’t know what a government based on who tells the biggest and largest number of porkies is called, but I know of one that needs that is long overdue for the title.
    Maybe Bozo’s system of government could be described as Mystic Meggary?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      But the whole point of democracy is that what is ‘truth’ and what is ‘lie’, what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, is decided a posteriori by the court of public scrutiny, not a priori by you or me. All you and I can do is expose what we deem to be ‘lies’ to public scrutiny and let the demos (or a jury thereof) cross-examine them.

      1. H. Neary says:

        But when you allocate power in the way it is in the US and Britain, the truth is suppressed and lies are propagated. Without safeguards this type of democracy is worthless.

        The very media that the populations of the US and UK rely on to tell them the state of play in their country distorts the data reported for their own political and fiscal ends.

        The America constitution I suppose was a way to get basic principles adhered to, but it seems to have fallen flat with Trump.

        As I said, I do not have the answers, but what has happened in the UK and what is continuing is not right or healthy by any stretch of the imagination.

        The only thing that is absolutely clear though, is that when Ideology rules eventually there will be a disaster.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Indeed, the way decision-making is organised in both the UK and the US is hardly conducive to making ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ an expression of the general will of the demos. Democratic decision-making is itself the safeguard you’re looking for. We definitely need more of it.

          As for ‘the media’: perhaps the demos should use the increased diversity of opinion that’s expressed through the multiplicity of media channels that the digital revolution has spawned to form, through critical scrutiny, its own democratic truth rather than rely on this or that particular interest to spoon-feed it with some supposedly authoritative ‘pre-packaged’ truth. Everything you see and hear through the media – whatever its source – should be treated with extreme scepticism. Believe nothing; doubt everything!

          1. H. Neary says:

            Spot on really.

            How do you persuade the vast hordes that want their news in concise simple direct packages that are fully understandable with no brainwork needed and no need to consider if’s, but’s or anything swaying from the message?

            Brexit was an ideal example of lies and half truths being packaged in a cloak of certainty and authority. Most of the porkies were the simplest ever to discount.

            As the damage progresses more will see through the con and a rerun would maybe produce a different answer.

            Democracy has no power over this type of lying though. People still dont want difficult decisions or maybe’s and furthermore the gains Bozo and his party make through the lies so easily spread will be almost impossible to undo.

            The vast choices as to what media streams and the openess of discussion should be a cause for celebration, but alas it seems more inclined to give every kook a platform and band of willing followers a motivation.

            The media needs sorting out but again I haven’t the answers there either. I can see only too clearly whats wrong, in fact I don’t even trust the BBC now, but how it can be sorted is not an easy answer.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            ‘How do you persuade the vast hordes that want their news in concise simple direct packages that are fully understandable with no brainwork needed…’

            You can’t. People generally seek out and find as ‘truth’ the narratives or ‘spin’ that confirm their existing prejudices and ignore or demonise as ‘lies’ those that challenge them. Only philosophers seek out those narratives that challenge their existing prejudices and disturb their peace.

  4. H. Neary says:

    Well that seems to be democracy stuffed!

    Alas I am guilty of the very problem you so clearly describe.

    But when you find that a read of the Mail or Murdochs crud elevates the blood pressure to danger levels, there is a limit to the philosophical ideals.

    There is also the problem that the Beano used to be aimed at a more demanding audience and that failed to excite some decades back.

    I used to see people make the wrong choices in industry and often others would suffer the consequences.
    Likewise with governments, wrong choices abound but they are immune.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Well, not quite immune. When governments make choices that the demos generally judges to be wrong, they tend to lose control of the popular assemblies that keep them in power and those governments fall as a consequence. This is what we mean when we say that governments lose elections. The UK parliamentary electoral system helps the UK government keep control of the UK Parliament, the Scottish parliamentary electoral system less so (but still) in relation to the Scottish government’s control of the Scottish Parliament, and our local council electoral system even less so (but still) in relation to local government control our local Councils. But government in general could be made more responsible to the demos through electoral reform. The problem is that, throughout the British Isles, we have a culture of strong government: only through strong government, and the capture thereof, can any particular interest (left or right) impose its preferred policies on the demos as a whole.

  5. Norman Lockhart says:

    The real nature of the extremely rich and powerful European Union (& UK) is exposed by this account of how we let it deal with refugees & asylum seekers on our borders. It is outrageous that Holyrood can stay complicit by being silent. Let’s make our MSP s tell the EU how disappointing this example is.
    Norman

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