Have you ever looked up the etymology of „asylum“? Well, it won’t be a surprise if you speak Greek, but for those of us who don’t, it sort of is: ἄσυλος means „unrobbed“ and derives from σῦλον, „theft, bounty“. So an asylum is a place of shelter in the sense that you don’t get robbed. Funny, isn’t it. People come to Europe, because entire countries are systematically plundered by an international political system that protects the interests of companies and industries. They apply for asylum, because they don’t know how to make a living in those countries, because they are robbed there. Yet they are rejected and pushed back – as a rule – because, by definition, they cannot apply for „political“ asylum. They are not asylum-seekers, they are called “economical refugees“. I have heard refugees talk about other refugees using this derogatory term: „They are only economical refugees.“ Funny. In its origin, asylum meant protection against robbery; in today’s world, asylum means playing by the rules.
Today’s TATORT (that’s the remaining television format of any social significance in Germany. Funnily, it’s a crime series.) was produced in Switzerland, and I think it was both a very honest and well made film. SCHUTZLOS, which translates as WITHOUT PROTECTION, is set in Lucerne; police commissioner Flückiger, the male lead, is diagnosed with a severe migraine (including hallucinations, fainting and sudden attacks of being sick) and this is the first like I give to screenwriter and director Manuel Flurin Hendry: The state of chaos and disorientation, a kind of trauma is exactly the state the whole of Europe feels in, both relating to the question of refugees and relating to the outcome of the Greek Euro referendum tonight. Okay, certainly Hendry couldn’t know that we’d be in this kind of crisis right now when he wrote and directed the film a year or so ago. Then again, of course he knew about it. As we all did, we saw it coming.
A young guy from Nigeria comes to Switzerland and applies for asylum. He’s underage, so they can’t deport him; in the meantime, he gets involved in drug dealing. He becomes a junky and is exploited by his boss, so he stops sending money home. His sister, who he’d lost in Libya, turns up. Together, they have the idea to steal cocaine from the boss in order to be able to pay their family’s debts (caused by their journey). Although they get the cocaine, the boy is killed in an unlucky incident with another young boy. As it happens, this young boy also is a refugee, an asylum seeker. „Congratulations“, the chief of police goes, when Flückinger and his colleague Liz Ritschard have found out the truth, „So it was just another murder between asylum seekers – we know that kind of thing.“ Ad acta. I told you so. They’re all the same. Well, no. The two investigators don’t think so. Especially Ritschard shows real compassion towards Jola, the sister, tries to help her, finds out that she told the truth about being forced to prostitute herself in Italy before coming to Switzerland – but, naturally, that’s no reason for being granted „political“ asylum either. Just before being deported back to Nigeria, Jola is being killed while trying to sell the cocaine she stole with her brother.
I think SCHUTZLOS succeeds astonishingly well in documenting, on the one hand, the mechanisms of criminalising refugees: They are denied a legal status, they are denied access to work and economical existence and thus pushed into crime; seems cliché but is, sadly, the truth. On the other hand, the indifference of state institutions such as the authority for asylum seekers or the chief of police are perfectly portrayed: We have to stick to the letter of the law. If there’s no political persecution, there’s no asylum, be ever so much sexual, economical and other violence. Naturally, the current situation for refugees differs a lot between the various states of Europe; some of them experience (temporarily) lenient treatment in Germany, some of them experience indifference in Italy, some of them experience state violence in Hungary. What the whole of Europe have in common is that they are trying to deal with the direct problems: How do we deal with the refugees on our doorsteps? How do we prevent Greece from breaking down and dropping out of the Euro?
We all know what really needs to be done, and we all know that we don’t want to face it, because it is so much more difficult: It is the system that caused this situation. It is a system of lobbyism and extortion, and it applies to Burkina Faso in the same way that it applies to Greece: You want money from the IWF? Lower your shields and surrender your ship. Resistance is futile. I feel ill at ease about the outcome of the referendum, because I am afraid of what will happen to the people of Greece in the months to come. I very much doubt that Tsipras has a lot of constructive ideas, and I also strongly doubt his motives. And in all antipathy I still say: Thank God he has stood up against this extortion, for extortion it is. Let us hope, the political crisis will come to Berlin as well and shake the political scene here. And maybe, just maybe, when we get more of an idea of what economical violence means, we might arrive at a new old kind of understanding of „asylum“.
Area of application: Double vision, hallucinations.