People demonstrating their solidarity with Romani people who are threatened with deportation from Germany (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Book Review: Miltiades Oulios on deportation in Germany

The Dark Side of a Cosmopolitan and Liberal Society

According to the Cologne-based journalist Miltiades Oulios, deportation only works in an environment of intransparency. With his recently published book, he seeks to shed some light on the obscurity of this subject. Claudia Kramatschek read the book

Politicians and the media have only just begun sounding the alarm again that Germany is under threat from a wave of poor immigrants of Romanian and Bulgarian origin, most of them Romani. On 19 February 2013, for example, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung headlined with a story on how Germany's social harmony is now under threat.

In the light of this populist propaganda, Miltiades Oulios, an author specialising in the subject of the immigration society, must feel that his theses are being confirmed, namely that foreigners in Germany are only welcome if they are financially "useful"; that some are welcome, and some are not, and those who are not are criminalised and stigmatised as a result; and that this still applies first and foremost to Romani people, although improving their situation is actually on the EU agenda.

Oulios surprises anyone who reads his book Blackbox Abschiebung. Geschichten und Bilder von Menschen, die gerne geblieben wären (Black Box Deportation. Stories and images of people who would like to have stayed) with quite a different perspective on Romanies. For him, the Romani people actually represent "genuine Europeans" because they see themselves as a people that transgresses the borders of nation states and also because – unlike some other migrant groupings – they resist the threat of deportation with coordinated campaigns. For example, as part of the campaign "Alle bleiben" (everyone stays), which was conceived by the Romani Centre in Göttingen, a mass e-mail was sent out on 1 April 2012 announcing the introduction of a European Romani nationality.

In Black Box Deportation, the fate of the Romani people again forms one of many facets surrounding the issue of deportation, some of which are actually quite ludicrous. The book is an offshoot of the eponymous exhibition, which opened in 2011 and toured 20 German cities, making the stories of people who have been deported audible and visible.

It is indeed the case that people are still being deported on a daily basis from Germany, which finally began perceiving itself as a country of immigration in the year 2000. Some of the people who are being deported were born here and some have lived here for 10 or 15 years.

Poster from the 'No Border Camp 2012' campaign (source: No Border Camp 2012)
Everyone should have the right to stay! A poster for the 'No Border Camp 2012' campaign, where activists camped out in tents in Cologne in protest against Germany's policy of deportation


Deportation: the invisible phenomenon

Most Germans are aware that deportations occur, but few actually know people who have been deported or who are threatened with deportation. Even fewer people know what deportation is really all about. As far as Miltiades Oulios is concerned, it is in the state's interest to perpetuate this ignorance: deportation should not be visible, because it conflicts with the self-image of a society that presents itself as cosmopolitan and liberal.

According to Oulios, this makes deportation something of a black box. In other words, deportation only works in an environment of intransparency. This is why Oulios would like his book, which he sees as a kind of monograph on the issue of deportation, to shed some light on the obscurity of the practice. Just how cogent are our reasons for forcibly ejecting people from a country? What purpose do deportations serve in a globalized society? On what basis does the state claim the right to curtail the right of people to move around freely and to make a place their home? These are just some of the questions the writer attempts to answer.

Basing his research on the personal stories of those who also featured in the exhibition, Oulios provides the reader with related facts and figures. What, for example, is the cost of a deportation for the person who is being deported? How many people die while in detention awaiting deportation? He outlines the history of deportation and questions terminology such as "voluntary" departure or "Ausreisezentrum" (departure centre), which the German Language Society declared to be one of the misnomers of the year 2002.

He visits people in deportation centres, people who are detained like criminals in prisons sometimes for two or three months. He talks to what are known as "deportation monitors", who ensure that deportation by air does not end with any fatalities if force has to be applied for any reason.

Oulios says that when this kind of thing happens, the shock and horror it triggers primarily leads opponents of deportation to criticise the practice exclusively from a human rights point of view instead of from a civil rights point of view. Oulios views this as a fatal error.

The autonomous slogan "Deportation is torture, deportation is death" misses the point, he says: "Not because it says anything that is essentially wrong, but because it says too little. And above all, because it repeats the discourse of racism, without mentioning the notion of civil rights, which takes the issue into a more complex dimension."

A Romani family with six children that was deported from Germany living in a one-roomed flat in Kosovo (photo: picture-alliance/ZB)
The side of deportation most Germans never get to see: a Romani family with six children that was deported from Germany in 2010 and now lives in a one-roomed flat in Plementina near Pristina in Kosovo


Harbingers of a global republic

For this reason, Oulios is calling for a revised notion of civil rights that affords migrants the right to freedom of movement and the right to a place to live – for the simple reason that migration is a fait accompli that does not allow itself to be hamstrung by state-imposed measures of control, be they ever so rigid.

He also calls for a change of mindset, namely that migrants are not seen as objects and victims, but as resistant political subjects whose very existence creates a new right. "The revolutionary aspect of migration," says Oulios "is ... not just that it changes the makeup of the population and challenges the self-image of the nation state; the revolutionary aspect of migration is that it necessitates an amendment to the legal framework and puts the formal recognition of cosmopolitan civil rights firmly on the political agenda."

Oulios is of the opinion that when a state continues to deport as a deterrent and to demonstrate its apparent sovereignty, this only amounts to an admission, to a confession that it is anything but sovereign, because it cannot control the migrants who arrive on its shores.

Oulios elevates the status of all those who are deported to harbingers of a global republic that is still taking shape. Freedom of movement and the freedom to travel would be indispensable insignia of such a republic and the testing ground for the further development of a sustainable idea of democracy in the twenty-first century.

As far as Oulios is concerned, this is about putting nothing less than the institutionalisation of forms of world citizenship on the agenda. At the moment, this is still a vision for the future. But for now, Black Box Deportation provides all those committed to realising such a dream with provocative and urgently needed food for thought.

Claudia Kramatschek

© 2013

Miltiades Oulios: Blackbox Abschiebung. Geschichten und Bilder von Menschen, die gerne geblieben wären, published by Suhrkamp.

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

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