By Niki Kubaczek
It has been two years that Germany's and Austria's governments opened their borders following the pressure of migration movements. Since then, a lot has changed, and not much for the better. Did the demarcations and enclosures of the nation states win once and for all? How does the present situation differ from the one of 2015? And what has migration got to do with social networks, affect and forms of commons?
On Friday 4 September 2015 thousands of migrants made their way from the train station Keleti in Budapest towards west and hundreds broke out of the so-called reception center, in Röszke. Multiple actions of support followed, which were then celebrated under the term 'welcoming culture' ('Willkommenskultur'). Suddenly, everybody wished to play a part in helping people to arrive or to get further, at least that's how it seemed. Here and there, pictures of furious police officers on the German-Austrian border fighting on the correct interpretation of the border management circulated in the media. Politicians and mass media had wild debates on the proper way of dealing with the cross-border movements. The European migration regime arrived at a crisis point. Borders that seemed unchangeable and unbreakable were suddenly open. A rupture took place, something new was happening.
Not new was the fact that movements along forbidden, illegalized, routes are often accompanied by immense violence, danger and exploitation. Living and moving as a refugee got a lot to do with living a life of crisis, in a state of exception, be it before or after 2015. Hence, what was new was not the fact that refugees suddenly lived under extremely precarious and dangerous living conditions. What was new that summer was the obvious crisis of the migration regime, not the bad living conditions of migrants and refugees. This means that the term 'refugee crisis' is quite misleading, when what is at stake is actually the crisis of the European border or migration regime.
Since then, the European nation states try to regain control over this migration regime crisis, that is, over the migration management crisis, at all cost. Restoring the image of normality is sometimes done through the exercise of repression and at other times through the construction of consensus. One moment it's humanitarianism and inclusion, a bit later it's suppression and state legitimized violence which serves as coping strategies. But invariably, these two sides work in parallel and simultaneously, with different intensities. The terms 'welcoming culture' and 'refugee crisis' are in this sense central elements of these nation state operations insofar as they decisively contribute to a very specific striating and stratifying of the multiple events of the summer 2015. As the term refugee crisis locates the crisis 'in' the refugees, thereby distracting from the crisis of the migration regime, also the term and imagination of a 'welcoming culture' establishes one specific perspective and renders other stories and histories invisible and impossible. The notion of a welcoming culture paints an image of national bodies and national cultures of generosity, that invites the Others, the aliens, the maltreated bodies and passive victims to stay. With the normalization of those terms, it seems as if it was up to a few national subjects, like Germany and Austria, and their generosity, to make the summer of migration happen.
This form of storytelling and history writing hides, not just accidentally, some of the most important points I wish to elaborate here. What initiated the opening of borders was not a national culture of welcoming, but first and foremost the self-determined and autonomous movements of those that were said they should not have been moving in that way but still did so. The cross-border movements that took place despite all the resistance only then brought into existence actions of solidarity, and support for flight and shelter. Therefore, migration didn't result from a supposedly pre-existing national culture of welcoming but the opposite, was it migration that produced those practices, affects, networks and ways of coming together, forms of commons. A certain sociality and economy bellow the grid of the nation state, fleeing from it and undermining it. What was later named and celebrated as welcoming culture - that is, the many and multiple practices of support and helping people’s arrival and moving further, as well as the resulting micro politicizations of the resident population - was therefore not the reason nor the condition, but the result and effect of migration.
This productive and inventive force of cross-border movements can also be read out of a letter written shortly before the summer of 2015 by representatives of the municipality of Alberschwende, a small village in Austria. This letter already implied the politicizing potential of migration: "It brews in the country, it rumbles in the municipality! Through our activity with asylum seekers, we got an insight in the insufficiency of the European asylum system (Dublin agreement). We are no longer willing to join the shoulder-shruggers. We, people on the ground, seem to be more progressive in terms of asylum politics than the discouraged and, in this case, dishonest 'high' politicians” (Gemeinde Alberschwende 2015). This means that not only the migrants were depending on local support, but also those local networks of support depended on the presence of the migrants: If these migrants had not come in the summer of 2015 with their stories, experiences, desires and perspectives, these networks of support would simply never have existed. The presence of those who traveled or fled enabled the support networks to hear new stories and histories. They heard stories first-hand, face to face, which they might have heard before through the mass media but had long forgotten behind other broadcasted horror stories.
Therefore, migration brought about a politicization of those that enjoy - seemingly naturally - the rights of the citizen through which a denormalization of the state and the nation took place, irrespective of whether the people affected by this politicization considered themselves as helpers, supporters, activists or voluntaries. Through these forms of connection and of support debates emerged on who should be able to live “here” and under which conditions. Who was to be considered “from here”, who should not be living under certain given conditions, and with whom one wants to live were questions that exceeded the limited realm of law. Instead, these questions were discussed in shock, quiet, shame or fury next to the toilet at the railway station, the sidewalk in front of the refugee camp, during a common dinner, or on holidays at the sea.
The present nation state model of distribution of rights and duties, which enables a relatively good life for some while deporting, incarcerating and criminalizing many others thereby making them even more exploitable, suddenly appeared as no longer the only option. Rather, it stood for what it is: just an alternative among better ones. Thus, the summer of 2015 revealed that political conditions are certainly not set into stone. "To question the state through the detour of immigration leads, in final analysis, to 'denaturalize' what is almost considered “natural”. As a consequence, the state (or that what is within it), infected as it was by a history amnesia, is getting historized again, which in turn means that we are remembered of the social and historical conditions of its formation" (Sayad 2015: 39).
De- and Renormalization
Since this summer of 2015, much effort has been invested in the renormalization of the migration regime. The fantasy of closing and opening of migratory routes proliferates as never before, as if the streams of migration could be opened and closed as a water tap. The ghost of integration is haunting the present as if Kanak Attack, Maiz, 1.März, the many Refugee Protest Camps since 2012, Non-Citizen Conferences, No-Border Camps, Refugee Forums, flight support convoys, smuggling networks, post-migrant theater, Sans Papiers occupations, and many more antiracist and post-national forms of cross-connection of the last years and decades never existed. However, there is something primal to those dreams of control, desires of integration, processing, and job creation that is worth remembering: a force against which to react, that should be governed; a movement that forever differently runs riot, gets carried away, and never lets itself be totally managed. It is a potentiality that will make the water tap leak again and again, no matter how many other taps or how much thread seal tape is added. This resistance, this force, that is continuously challenging government and management, was often referred to as the autonomy of migration. "If necessary, we will find loopholes over mountains, through villages, or through the jungle." 
The autonomy of migration does not primarily describe a kind of heroic practice that originates from just neglecting the existing obstacles and controls. Instead, the term autonomy is an attempt to understand the capability of braving control and confinement in a given moment only to escape in the next moment, to maybe come up with an unexpected story in another situation that is capable of distracting supervisors. Just as it is pointless to wrap migrants or migration in imaginations of pity and victimization, it is also absurd to heroicize and romanticize migration. Repeatedly withdrawing itself from representation and placement, migration is neither victim nor heroine. It is maybe both, but probably something completely different.
The cross-border movements of people that made their way to a given destination even though they supposedly should have stayed put, crosses as often well as not the secured border lines. Transport is at times expensive and at other times not, sometimes dangerous, other times funny, in one moment quick and full of hope, in the next tough, wearing, deadly and traumatizing. The movements of migration run along very different lines and realities - paths significantly affected by state obstacles, filters and barriers, as well as by violent or pleasant smugglers, by the availability of money, and by information and infrastructure. And all this, depends for sure much on one’s friends. The autonomy of migration lies thereby less in a romantic, independent heroism but much more in getting further “partly-in-common” despite all the opposition - “partly-in-common” because the networks of support are not homogeneous communities of unbroken solidarity and collectivity, neither are they free of exploitation and violence. Yet, the existence of these conflictual and ambivalent networks of support, care and exchange are the very condition to migration. Networks of exchange among migrants (in which, as mentioned above, here and there also non-migrants might be involved) are especially important here because they enable migrants to move faster or to arrive despite hindrance and deterrence. The summer of 2015 has shown us that it is possible that those not taking this governance of migration for granted, this distribution of rights, possibilities and affects, become more both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of differences. At the same time, the summer of migration contradicted this governing and this division in government and governed insofar as it referred to the fact that politics can never be the business of a few professional politicians but rather it is an ongoing work on the question of how we, who are here in this very moment, want to deal with each other and the problems we face together.
Whether migration is welcomed, exploited, included or criminalized, she will carry on by finding new paths; "if necessary“, as stated above by the person at the Belgrade train station. Its capacity to create forms of connection and of commons that perpetually produces social realities, different than those provided and prescribed by the nation state, is decisive for this resistance and persistence. Autonomy thereby lies in the creative and inventive force of uttering new social networks, narratives, and affective connections that repeatedly undermine, surround, besiege and put under pressure the enclosure of the nation state - whether it is revealed or concealed in a given historical moment.
Gemeinde Alberschwende (2015): Manifest Alberschwende URL: http://www.alberschwende.at/fileadmin/Download/Asylverfahren-Manifest_und_Aktivit%C3%A4ten.pdf [12.09.2016].
Kuster, Brigitta (2017): Europe's Borders and the Mobile Undercommons. In: Texte zur Kunst 105.
Papadopoulos, Dimitris / Tsianos, Vassilis S. (2013): After Citizenship: Autonomy of migration, organisational ontology and mobile commons. In: Citizenship Studies 17 (2). 178-196.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (2015): Immigration und »Staatsdenken«. Translated by Birgit Mennel. In: Birgit Mennel and Monika Mokre: Das große Gefängnis. Vienna: transversal texts.
 This text is based on an article published under the name dealen, schleppen, willkommenheißen - Kämpfe um Bewegungsfreiheit nach dem langen Sommer der Migration in the edited volume Der lange Sommer der Migration - Grenzregime III 2016 with assoziation-A.
 For more details, please visit f.ex. http://moving-europe.org/march-of-hope-3/
 This is my translation of the translation of a quote by an interviewee at the central bus station of Belgrade in the summer of 2015. https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article146507736/Wer-die-historische-Grenzoeffnung-wirklich-ausloeste.html
 For more information in this topic see Papadopoulos / Tsianos 2013 or Kuster 2017
by Lukas Milo Strauss
In the coverage of the EU’s self-proclaimed ‘refugee crisis’, some of the most widely circulated images in the Austrian news media concerned the ‘breaking through’ of refugees at the Austrian-Slovenian border in Spielfeld in October 2015. A few containers and mobile fences proved insufficient for containing thousands awaiting entrance under increasingly harsh conditions. The purported state of lawlessness made the successful management of Spielfeld's border crossing a top priority for Austria’s center-right government.
Consequently, the modestly equipped border post was enlarged to a full-fledged militarized camp. Replete with search lights, armed vehicles, the distant drone of a helicopter scanning the area with thermal imaging cameras and seemingly endless police barriers, it created a ‘state of exception[i]’ like no other state intervention at that time. The camp was conceptualized as a “transit camp”, meaning those newly arrived were only to be detained on a temporary basis. A bus service was established to forward the refugees to their next destination – usually the German border or the permanent camp at Traiskirchen – as quickly and uneventfully as possible. Large tents were set up to provide rudimentary accommodation. Bag searches and basic identity checks were conducted separately, whereas a full registration protocol was not in place until 2016.
I began fieldwork in the region in November 2015[ii], at a time when high-security approaches to border management were gaining prominence in the wake of the Paris attacks. Still, despite its militarized set-up and the presence of large numbers of federal police, Austrian Armed Forces, a private security company and the BVT (the 'Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism'), the camp also involved large civil organizations. Red Cross staff were responsible for providing medical aid, handing out pre-packaged travel provisions and beverages, while Caritas Austria handled clothing donations and the enrollment of lay translators. Also, an activist-operated mobile kitchen was striving to provide hot meals for all newcomers. All three non-state organizations relied heavily on volunteer labor. While the bulk of the workload was carried out by volunteers – usually middle-aged men and women from the region – professional NGO staff were charged with assigning tasks and supervising work routines.
The camp was organized according to a very tangible hierarchy. Refugee-internees and NGO volunteers were ranked at the bottom, NGO staff and contractors at the medium levels, while the higher echelons were constituted by members of the executive. This hierarchy for the management of large numbers of people in the camp assigned concrete and unambiguous locations and tasks to each group. For refugees, this meant staying in the tents until ordered to proceed to the food distribution or pick-up area, except when using the mobile toilets located in small, fenced-off areas on the sides of the tents. For volunteers, it meant having to pre-register 24 hours before starting their shifts and being subject to identity verification processes at two checkpoints upon entering the camp. Just like other camp personnel[iii], volunteers needed to be identifiable at a glance, with colored vests displaying a unique identifying number and their organization. Thus, their assigned tasks and appropriate location in the camp were also made visible. When working a shift, they were expected to stick to their assigned workplaces (food and clothing distribution counters or the kitchen) or a container designated as a common room for NGO staff. They should act only on orders and comply with an extensive set of rules that governed their conduct in the camp, especially their relationship to the refugee-internees. Personal contact was to be kept to a minimum, individual favors could not be granted and volunteers were to stay clear of the refugee accommodation and the border zone. Non-compliance could be punished with immediate expulsion, blacklisting the offender for voluntary work on a nation-wide basis and, incidentally, legal prosecution. Some volunteers were subject to non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from discussing any aspect of their work outside the camp.
The structured organization of the camp was reflected in an information hierarchy that provided camp personnel only with a bare minimum of contextual information. Kitchen staff received word only on whether they should continue their work or pause, and usually didn’t know how many people they were cooking for, or if the newcomers would be allowed to the food distribution counters or sent straight to the tents (and if so, why). Rumor became a primary source of information for all those excluded from the levels of decision-making. These attempts at ‘crowdsourcing’ the truth were not limited to volunteers and refugees, but appeared to include lower-ranking security personnel as well. Among the talk of great numbers awaiting entry, fights erupting and guns being seized, some oft-repeated stories acquired the status of self-legitimizing myths, justifying administrative decisions (or, occasionally, justifying ignoring those decisions). An example was the claim that refugees could never be granted WiFi access[iv], because the deceptive proximity of Germany in GPS-based mapping services like Google Maps would lead them to believe their final destination to be within walking distance, thus provoking unrest and possibly rioting. Similarly, volunteers would interpret the absence of an order to hand out blankets not as a lack of need for blankets, but as a commanding officer not wanting to deal with “the fuzz” (i.e. the commotion about bedding) – only to be informed that if there was not one blanket for each internee, it would most certainly lead to rioting. These stories acquired both their ‘legitimizing’ and their ‘mythical’ qualities against the backdrop of the ‘chaos days’ and perceived lawlessness that had supposedly reigned at the border crossing prior to the establishment of the camp order[v].
The subordinated status of their work presented many volunteers with the danger of their labor power being separated from their political convictions[vi]. After all, they were contributing to and being directed by the state's border management regime, although frequently skeptical of its intentions. Volunteers often seemed to confront this dilemma by introducing their own ideas whenever supervisors and executives were absent or undetermined on how to proceed. Gaps in the organizational protocol would then readily be filled with their own conceptions of how their work should look like, e.g. how much and which food should be given to each person, what clothes should be handed out to whom and what amount of social interaction and additional services (e.g. charging of cellphones, provision of information …) should be granted to each ‘customer’.
Supervisors and executives were generally aware of this and sought to counter it whenever possible. The volunteers' status as civilians with unclear motivations and agendas – voluntary work lacking the rationale of wage labor – led some policemen and soldiers to regard them as “dangerous subversives”, treating them with suspicion and sometimes open hostility. Other perceptions, especially among some higher-ranking officials, ranged from considering volunteers a “necessary evil” (as being part of “the civil society” that could not effectively be excluded from state operations) or a “welcome support”. Their appreciation of volunteer work was often phrased in disciplinary terms, for example when stating that “the food makes them [the internees] calm down”.
To summarize, volunteer work in the militarized setting of the Spielfeld transit camp differed sharply from other situations where volunteer-activists became involved in refugee arrivals (cf. the ‘Train of Hope’ engagement at Viennese train stations). The joining of civil organizations and a number of diverse government bodies in the hierarchical structure of the camp not only raises questions of governance, it also points to the complexity of state practice in times of crisis, of which civil voluntary work is but one layer. The organizational structure at Spielfeld is by no means self-evident, as even a superficial glance at the transit camps in Šentilj and Bad Radkersburg reveals. Both – Šentilj being Spielfeld's Slovenian counterpart; Bad Radkersburg an Austrian border crossing only 35km to the east – exhibited a different structure, with comparatively little police presence, a stronger emphasis on humanitarian concerns, and most noticeably for me, an organizational ethos that promoted the ordinary over the exceptional in the face of crisis.
[i] Agamben, Giorgio. 2014 . Ausnahmezustand. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
[ii] I conducted participant interviews by volunteering for various NGOs working in the camp. Supplementary data stems from informal conversations I had outside the camp, usually with off-duty camp personnel, residents or regional activists. With several interruptions, the fieldwork process lasted until January 2016, when the flow of refugees was redirected to the Carinthian border crossings.
[iii] Seeing as refugees were the only people in the camp not wearing uniforms, it could be argued that in the closed setting of the camp, their everyday clothes took on the meaning and function of a ‘uniform for internees’.
[iv] The minor Viennese political party ‘Der Wandel’ had provided mobile WiFi access points for refugees.
[v] ‘Myths’ also in the sense that they were employed frequently by people who had never actually experienced the ‘troubles.
[vi] Without exception, the volunteers I talked to perceived their work as political contributions in the specific setting of the refugee situation, rather than general philanthropy or conceptions of ‘civic duty’.
by Josef Kohlbacher
When the so-called “refugee crisis” of summer 2015 became a persistent issue in the media throughout Europe it quickly transpired that most of the popular discourse about refugees in Austria was based more or less on speculation. There was a substantial lack of empirically gathered and systematically analyzed data about the people who were arriving. Depending on the popular mood and political-ideological interests, threatening images of a mass influx of young men were counteracted by those of small children and old grandmas. These extremes dominated the media discourse. However, as in other fields of social reality, human biographies and personal destinies are extremely diverse and the superficial knowledge presented in media reports could not come close to providing satisfactory answers to many of the questions that arised.
Thus, to offer a more objective and realistic image of the spectrum of the reality of refuge, the ROR-n decided to carry out an academic analysis. Based on the available expertise, a qualitative method of data collecting was decided upon. Thus, from December 2015 to March 2016, 60 biographical interviews with refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan living in Vienna were compiled mainly through networking and the use of “snowball sampling”. In each of the three communities about 20 interviews were made. The interview duration was approx. one hour but in some cases also considerably longer conversations could be recorded by native speakers of Farsi-Dari, Pashto, Arabic and Kurdish, who had undergone previous interview training with experienced researchers from ROR-n.
The collected information provided a wide range of insights into biographical topics in the context of refuge, for example, flight motivations and the often traumatic experiences which were made in the countries of descent but of course also during the long way to and in Europe. Most of the respondents had lost relatives, some almost their whole families and many had suffered severe personal or religious persecution. There were Christians, Yezidis, Shiites and Sunnis among them. Some had been persecuted because of their professional engagement in NGOs or government institutions, others were victims of forced marriage or were physically disabled.
A further important field of investigation was the educational and qualification background of those interviewed. This ranged from university graduates and Qur’anic school graduates to those unable to read or write. The hopes and expectations for a better life in Austria were as varied as the respondents themselves. In particular those, who already had stayed longer in Austria realized that many of their initial expectations remained unrealistic, that gaining a foothold in the Austrian labor market was extremely hard, even for the better educated and in many cases they had to accept some kind of de-qualification . The challenges of integration into the Austrian society proved to be diverse and even such “simple” things as accommodation proved to be a very challenging project.
There was an explicit focus on the particularity of individual experiences during the flight. These unique dynamic experiences of fleeing and integration formed the basis for a comparison and interpretation of the content of the pilot study interviews. It was possible to reveal structures of action and of individual coping strategies to meet the challenges of flight, arrival and early residence in Austria and also the processes of long-term integration as some of the interviewed refugees had already lived for up to one or two years in Austria.
In view of the political importance of the discussion relating to an equal distribution of refugees between urban and rural areas and the different federal states of Austria, the residential preferences of refugees concerning rural or urban social contexts were investigated too. It turned out that there is a strong interrelation between the sending context and residential preferences. Refugees moving from rural areas usually prefer village life in Austria too. Those who moved from metropolises such as Kabul, Baghdad or Damascus wanted to stay in Vienna or other urban agglomerations.
A broad range of different experiences of social contacts between the refugees and the Austrians was evident, obviously depending on specific variables such as gender, level of education, language proficiency and country of origin. Women usually reported different experiences than men, younger persons experienced other interactions and paths to integration than elderly refugees. Only a minority of respondents reported experiences in which rejectionist attitudes of local people were demonstrated against them. This may be a visible outcome of the general mood of politically and medially fostered “welcome culture” which dominated the refugee discussion in Austria until the turn of the year 2015/16. The experiences in the countries of transit, for example Greece or Hungary, were more precarious and a considerable number of cases of violence and financial exploitation were reported.
Many interviews illustrated that it is generally through initial social contacts in Austria that refugees gain a first insight into the modes of interaction with Austrians as well as into the reality and characteristics of the receiving society. One initial setting for such interactions can be found in refugee homes or camps (the refugee camp Traiskirchen was often mentioned) where most of the respondents had to live immediately upon arrival in Austria. Thus, interesting insights into the refugees’ relationships with their immediate social environment in these homes were also collected in the interviews. Some were rather positive, others extremely negative.
Some of the casual relationships with Austrians even proved to be long-lasting and helped the refugees a considerably in gaining a foothold in the receiving society and in establishing a social network in Austria both with compatriots and Austrians, too. Many long-term implications of positive inter‐ethnic relations were reported.
A qualitative and interpretative research approach was used to understand how the refugees make sense of their experiences and networks on their path to social embeddedness into the Austrian society. At the time of our interviews the range of interactions with locals spanned from living together with Austrian friends to a complete absence of social contacts with the local population. The study provides interesting insights in the refugees’ perspective of their situation, their hopes and expectations, specific problem constellations, and the challenges they have met in Austria. These aspects of seeking refuge and refugee life contribute to a deeper and more realistic picture of the living environment of forced migrants.
The research results will be published later in 2017 in a booklet as part of the series “ISR-Forschungsberichte” and will be open access and advertised by ROR-n when available. Based on the results of this project, further research projects have been planned and designed and are currently at various stages of implementation. One project focuses on refugees from Afghanistan and how their values change over time as they live in Austria, another focuses on Syrians and Iraqis, using a participatory approach and involving NGOs and other institutional stakeholders.
 This is a non-probability sampling technique where existing respondents recruit further respondents from among their acquaintances. Thus the sample group is said to grow like a rolling snowball.