Berlin-based activists from Peng! Collective have launched a new online campaign: Fluchthelfer.in, or Escape Helpers, in which they call on ordinary people to give refugees a lift to Europe. The activists have to show some civil disobedience, for helping undocumented refugees to cross EU borders is regarded as a crime today. However, referring to old heroes from WWII and the old DDR, Peng! makes a clear political statement. The law can and should be broken when our conscience tells us to do so. Today, doing what’s right takes civil disobedience, and a lot of courage.
On the Fluchthelfer site, tips on how to find immigrants on European roadsides and connect with them are abundant. Practical tips about appearance, avoiding police and legal assistance are also included. Travelers are for example advised not to take cash (especially from refugees) with them in order not to be accused of human trafficking. Travelers that drive a refugee for the first time are advised to go through the border-free Schengen Area, which means less chance to be pulled over by the police. Drivers are advised to keep the refugee in the backseat, with preferably black windows. However, refugees are also coming from Greece, which does not border the Schengen Area. This trip through the Balkan confronts more obstacles.
“Can it be just to restrict people’s most basic freedoms on the basis of their nationality? Who actually decides who deserves a better life and who doesn’t?”
The initiative is based on the actions of West Germans who helped people escape out of the communist DDR during the cold war. Those caught were criminalized and served long sentences in prison. Now, they are the heroic decorations on the Berlin wall, an example of people that did the right thing when the times were wrong. However, getting arrested is unlikely to happen to Fluchthelfer today, the activists argue. According to their website, “in most cases, even if Fluchthelfer are caught, it is likely that they will escape punishment, or at most get a fine.”
History has taught us that over time, a crime can become a justified act of civil obedience – even an act of heroism and humanity. The activists rightly ask themselves: “how will today’s Fluchthelfer.innen be assessed in 25 years?” When these West German Fluchthelfer who helped East Germans flee became heroes after the fall of the Iron Curtain, “why should helping people cross borders be less honorable these days?” their website says. This proves to be a relevant question.
As the helping of undocumented refugees is not yet seen as a legal act of heroism, Peng! has decided to award its own European Order of Merit, made by Monika Grabushnigg to people that have helped refugees cross a border. As they are not legally supported, they have –let’s say for the time being’ – started a crowd funding campaign creating a legal fund in case anyone gets persecuted. So far, they have collected over 17,000 euros; a safe net for a courageous bottom-up movement that plays with legal borders.