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ortress Europe: the transgression of its borders by refugees, who call upon Europe’s much proclaimed "responsibility to protect," has revealed a crisis at the heart of the Fortress—terrifying for the rifts, contradictions and hypocrisies it is laying bare. Instead of tackling those contradictions in the interest of the safety and security of refugees, Fortress Europe is currently pulling up the drawbridges. Fences up, problem "solved"? Can the violence of drawing borders be so easily ignored? For those now stranded in Greece or elsewhere, on multiple global refugee routes and in many refugee camps, or for those providing humanitarian aid that the "global community" of states has (for many years) so insufficiently delivered, accepting the increasing erosion of asylum rights and the normalization of Europe’s failure to uphold them, will not be easily possible. It will also not be easily possible for those journalists, activists, artists, scholars and others who seek to give voice to those stranded and drowning along Europe’s shores, to retain a critical consciousness of our connectedness to the devastation caused not just, but to a significant extent, by European (and NATO) politics.
It is difficult to know where to go from here. The scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, especially when our concerns extend beyond issues directly on our doorstep. Volunteers cannot make up for the lack of a coordinated, international humanitarian response and, even as states fail to deliver such a response, some forms of volunteer support have become criminalized.
Further, there seems to be a new level of fear that, in my case at least, affects my readiness to speak on these issues in a public forum, as an identifiable individual, not least because hate mail has become part of the process of normalising and upholding the new condition. Right-wing violence is also on the increase in Germany. Clausnitz and Bautzen are sadly not an exception: even before including all registered cases, the German Federal Crime Office reported a 30% increase in right-wing crimes from 2014 to 2015, up to 13,846 cases. Of these, 921 cases were violent attacks resulting in injuries to 691 people. Being seen to differ, speaking up against racism and working to provide support to refugees (as around 10,000 volunteers in Dresden do, alongside many professional staff), has become an even more political act than it already was before last autumn.
I mention this to acknowledge the context in which some of our research and academic debates currently take place. If we decide to leave the relative safety of our institutional environments and the formats through which we mainly produce knowledge, to feed research insights into public debates, we are taking risks as individuals. Not everyone will be willing or able to become "politically relevant" in this way, and when research leads to complex understandings that do not map easily onto some of the fault lines of dominant political debates, it can be hard to know how exactly we should enter those debates. Yet, to stand by and hope that others will carry the burdens of taking those risks, can also be an impossible choice.
Over the last few months, I have responded to this as a private individual rather than as a professional geographer or academic. While drawing on institutional support and much help from friends and colleagues in our discipline and beyond to collect donations and share insights as well as concerns, I have contributed mainly as a private individual rather than as an academic to voluntary activities and to political actions and debates.
Yet, geographers and scholars from cognate disciplines do, I believe, have much to contribute to the current discussions. We have the privilege of being able to take a step back, in our academic practice, from day-to-day politics and we can use that privilege to analyze the wider, intersecting processes from which racist and sexist violence arise as well as the normalizations and dehumanizing stigmatizations that result from racist discourses and the national territorialization of human rights. Geography can and does, further, co-produce insights and ideas that are relevant for the development of new visions of living with difference, and I wish us, in the discipline, the energy and patience to continue co-producing, learning and sharing those insights, so that we may feed geographical understandings of connectivity, of inequality and of the complexities of de- and reterritorialization processes (amongst other issues) into contemporary debates.
We can also (continue to) use our privileges to create more spaces for the voices of those who are silenced most in the current asylum discourses, to provoke discussions about the lived, embodied geopolitics of (in)difference, to continue debating what an ethics of care and a less violent politics might entail. Within my current context, educational, cultural and research institutions are playing a major role in clearing such spaces and I personally would hope that more of the institutions which represent us professionally, including as geographers, would contribute to this.