The arrest and incarceration of Sean Binder, Sara Mardini and Nassos Karakitsos may seem strange: what could be wrong with providing warm, dry clothes to vulnerable asylum seekers stumbling off waterlogged boats onto a dangerous rocky foreshore? It seems particularly strange given that Sean and his colleagues were always so careful to liaise with all the relevant authorities on Lesvos, ensuring that the asylum seekers coming ashore were processed in the official manner.
One can only make sense of what is happening to volunteers in Lesvos in light of EU policy to criminalise solidarity with asylum seekers.
At a moment when the dominant news story is of reaction against those seeking asylum in Europe, it is important to draw breath and note the magnificent groundswell of solidarity with refugees in Greece and throughout Europe. It has taken many different forms: trade unions, professional organizations in law, education and health care, ordinary individuals volunteering to support asylum seekers and migrants. This spontaneous upsurge in solidarity has worried the EU and member states.
One can only make sense of what is happening in light of EU policy to criminalise solidarity with asylum seekers
It is not obvious as to why the EU and member states are worried about the solidarity and compassion displayed by their citizens. If you talk to other volunteers and look at some the literature you find three explanations.
The first explanation is that the EU and members states are worried because they see solidarity as a “pull factor” encouraging asylum seekers and displaced people to come to Europe. I have yet to see compelling evidence to support the theory that solidarity is a significant pull factor.
The second explanation is that the EU and member states want to reduce the number of witnesses to the deadly consequences of their migration policies.
The third explanation is sociological. Ordinary citizens have acted more quickly in support asylum seekers than has the EU or individual member states. Such has been the scale of this solidarity and compassion that no longer is the EU or individual member states seen to be “providing the necessary conditions for life in the first instance”. One does not need to be an adherent of Michel Foucault to understand that the EU member states might now wish to discourage solidarity so as “to reassert their ultimate sovereign control over the border and their ability to make live or let die”.
The EU wants to reduce the number of witnesses to the deadly consequences of its migration policies
Let there be no doubt: Sean and his colleagues were NOT seeking to challenge, let alone usurp, the EU or the Greek state. Their motives were not political. Earlier this year I bumped into Sean in a supermarket car park in Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos. I recall two things from that encounter. One was Sean’s understanding of the profound importance to people who have been dehumanised of being treated with dignity. The other thing was a feeling of pride that one of our former students was doing this work. Sean is a humanitarian in the very best sense of that word. He reflects well on Trinity and deserves the support of everyone in College.