Impressions from the No Border Camp in Thessaloniki

Demonstration in Thessaloniki

In dozens of announced workshops and informal meetings activists from all over Europe and beyond started last weekend with fruitful exchange and a lot of discussions on practical projects and initiatives to struggle for freedom of movement. 

Groups from Skopje, Sofia, Belgrade, Budapest, Zagreb and Ljubljana but also from Izmir and Istanbul, Tunis, Zurich and Malmö, from various italian, austrian, german and of course greek cities came together in a two days Balkanroute Networking meeting. In a great transnational composition it was possible to evaluate the last months developments and to think and plan for future initiatives. Three examples: Selforganised refugee activists from Thessaloniki presented their new call center project from refugees to refugees, friends from Serbia and Hungary promoted together the campaign against the criminalization of the Röscke 11, the idea for a common alarm- and info-phone across the whole Balkan was drafted. 


Of course the attempt of a new military coup in Turkey was a big topic, the friends from Istanbul and Izmir were and still are confronted with an uncalculable Situation in which they have to return after the camp. Nevertheless they tried to share their estimations about an even stronger and more repressive Erdogan regime and it was possible to reflect the EU-Turkey Deal and to discuss steps of further resistance. Also first direct actions took place in these first days, for example in front of a main TV station to get more public attention to the demands of the stucked refugees. 1200 activists were on Friday activists on the campus in the meanwhile, after 5 buses with 270 people coming from the Spanish state arrived as well on Monday (19.07.16).

Transnational activities against Frontex and Dublin, the question of sustainable activism or the idea of an multilingual online platform for the collective memory of migrant struggles: a wide spectrum of experiences and proposals could be rediscussed also on Monday and Tuesday, while every day convois started to visit the isolated "relocation camps" with thousands of stucked refugees and migrants. All the time the printed version of the great trilingual noborder newspaper could be distributed and used to invite refugees to join. Many took the chance and came to the Noborder Camp at the university area to share their experiences, to raise their demands, to enjoy the cultural program and the common time to build more contacts all over Europe. Of course it is not easy to bridge the various realities and interests all the time and some conflicts came up to handle the responsibilities for all visiting refugees and mainly due to their limited opportunities in the prepared program to speak about their daily problems. But finally more workshops and assemblies of refugees could be established as well, improvisation and spontaneous self organisation anyway is the challenge in such a huge Noborder camp.

On Wednesday (21.7.16) morning, 20 big buses and additional vans and cars in a convoi to protest in front of two detention camps in northern Greece in Paranesti and Xanthi to express our solidarity with the refugees and migrants against their planned deportation. In front of the first one it could be negotiated with the blocking police, that a delegation of 20 persons are accepted to enter and to talk to the arrested refugees and migrants. In Xanthi it went different. After a while of a kind of siege around the blocked entrance a short clash with police happened and tear gas was shot to disperse our crowd. But all people found together again in a near by waste land, from which - through shouting, chanting and clapping - a direct contact to the imprisoned refugees and migrants could be established.

„We came today here to open the borders - in our dreams!“ The young syrian woman had a clear perception, when she participated in the migrants pride demonstration on 21st of July in the frame of the noborder camp Thessaloniki. As ten thousands of refugees and migrants she is stucked in an isolated relocation camp without a concrete chance to go on to her country of destination. But her dream is vivid and reason enough to join the protest, as it was done this day by many refugees, who were invited and picked up from the remote camps by busses. It probably was the highlight of the noborder camp actions, when about 4000 people took the main streets of Thessaloniki, a colorful and very powerful march led by hundreds of refugees and migrants, chanting again and again the trilingual slogan for freedom as mentioned above. To bring together refugees and locals and internationals, to communicate and protest in such a mixed composition, was the main aim of the noborder camp. Every day of the whole week a convoy started to visit the camps and singular cars went out as well to build and to deepen more contacts. It never can be enough or perfect, but the mobilization last Thursday was a clear sign and expression for a successful process of communication.

On Friday (22.7.16) another demonstration with about 500 people took place in Thessaloniki. „Solidarity with people in Turkey fighting against government and repressive militarization“ was the slogan on the leading banner, and the demo was one outcome of a series of discussions with turkish comrades in workshops in the days before. How far Erdogan could utilize the attempt of a military coup to stabilize his power and to extend repression also to the progressive movements? How dangerous it might become when islamist-nationalist demonstrations dominate the streets and even ask to be armed? How it is possible to keep communication and to (re)strengthen progressive critical parts of society (the „alternative turkey“, which of course still exists in social initiatives, in unions, in the kurdish movement…), when it is not possible to meet in the streets in moment? And which way we - as solidarity movement involved in various initiatives to support refugees and migrants all over Europe - can use these structures as well for turkish and kurdish comrades in case they have to decide for temporary or longterm exile in the incalculable situation of coming months? We had a lot of productive common reflections and people were aware, that a protest in front of the turkish embassy has a lot of limits, that a demo is only one visible first solidarity (re)action in these days of noborder camp… and as expected through many experiences in Thessaloniki in the past the march could not reach the turkish embassy as it was blocked before by police.

On Saturday (23.7.16) the noborder camp activities ended with the announced protest and a short clash near the Evros fence at the greek-turkish border, after the police blocked the demonstration in the last village before the border. Less people than expected joined this action, because they considered the possible outcome of this protest as too limited to have such a long traveling by buses (of about 14 hours!). Moreover some conflicts came up in the days before about the meaning and methods of militant actions during noborder camp and nearby the campus, and a lot of people lost some trust into a common approach of the whole camp participants. Looking for alternative actions another group prepared a protest in the airport of Thessaloniki at Saturday evening and for more than one hour the entrances could be blocked with banners and chanting and singing.

Some more actions took place in the second half of the noborder camp, to be mentioned at least another squatting of an abandoned house in the city center. And beside the direct actions still and again a lot of (follow up-) workshops, smaller networking meetings and cultural events took place at the campus. Of course a deeper evaluation of such a huge noborder camp and all the various aspects has to be done next weeks, but what we can say for our group and networks for sure: the 10 days of noborder Thessaloniki were an important space of convergence, a real transnational frame for productive exchange and mutual cooperation in longterm initiatives and practices against the border regime and for freedom of movement.

Thanks again to all the efforts and great preparations of the local organizing team.

no one is illegal, Hanau
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From a feminist perspective the camp has to be criticized, though. There was a lot of cis_sexism which made feminist intervention necessary. The problem was later racistly blamed on refugees and drug dealers by many voices in the assembly without acknowleging the sexism of white male activists (which again was luckily criticized by others).

At the camp there was a visible hierarchy bewteen activists and refugees (who were brought there as guests from the relocation centres). The main reason for this might be a lack of transparent communication and also the failure to organize sleeping places for refugees early on. This seems to have been discussed and reflected on during the camp, though.


Overall, feminist self-organization by the participants of the camp went pretty well and empowering - e.g. a bathroom for women, lesbian, tans*, inter* was established, a working group for awareness and support was founded and also a safe-space for anyone suffering discrimination was created (even though men from the orga team tried to undermine these needs). Feminists managed to ban a few abusive men from the camp, but the overall situation didn't turn any better. Many had to leave the camp early because they did not feel safe there - due to their fellow male comrades.

At this occasion: Many thanks to everyone who participated in the reproductive infrastructures of cooking, cleaning, security etc., as well.


July 18th:

"Today there was a protest against transphobia, sexism, and homophobia by the Women*space. The demonstrators marched around the camp, dropped a banner, and read a statement in English, Arabic, and Greek. They visited two classrooms where workshops were being held to read this information. The march was widely supported and the statement well received. There will be multiple discussions and dialogues to come to further eradicate discrimination at this camp.

Already, trans* folks at the camp have been harassed and intimidated verbally, physically, and emotionally and made to feel unsafe. In addition, there have been multiple instances of sexism, racism, and homophobia against people of color and women*. As a result, some individuals have already left the camp and others will leave today.

A safer space has been created within the university building for anyone who has experienced or is experiencing discrimination. Women*space members who support this action are wearing the anarchist "A" on their arms with the symbols for trans*, intersex, women, and men. All who are against transphobia, sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression here at the camp are invited to join us and wear this symbol on their bodies."

I like the idea of safe spaces. But what was done against the permanent stealing of stuff inside the camp?

As far as I know, nothing. Even a whole tent was stolen, as shoes and money bags.

these are two entirely different topics.

you set your tent in the middle of a city it's quite obvious there will be stuff stolen, simply because poverty exists. so don't leave money in your damn tent.

also there was a lot done against stealing, no need to bring up this question.

What was done there? I did not see it. There were even people on a demonstration who tried to steel.

Also I did not like the idea, that small shops were damaged at a demonstration. 

I think this is abolishing solidarity in society towards our movement.