florian schneider on Fri, 9 Apr 1999 01:11:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> milk of human kindness

[below you find a text, which appeared today, april 8th, in the
supplement of the german weekly magazine DIE ZEIT. i wrote that piece
long time before the war started, i post it now in english translation,
since i guess it highlights, how some western european governments and,
first of all germany, were handling the human rights situation in kosovo
over a certain period. up to november last year german authorities
deported refugees from kosovo back to their country. even after the
embargo the bavarian state government tried to deport kosovars via
switzerland. a lot of them escaped into illegality and tried to get to
countries, where they finally were secure from expulsion. the piece is
about an ordinary man, who helped a family from kosovo to enter britain
and how the authorities reacted on such an humanitarian intervention on
very individual level. soon, the text in german/english version and some
very good pictures, the photographer armin smajlovic made, will be
available at <http://www.contrast.org/borders> /fls]


Everything seemed as usual when he left his house in a small Hessian
town in order to work for a few days abroad as a courier. Some minutes
before midnight Kurt Braun climbed up the gray steps to his mother's
small apartment in the attic of a house, where she had lived for almost
thirty years. He gave her his 8-month-old shepherd, which he had
recently bought from a breeder nearby. He hoped to be away for two days
only and to be able to celebrate his 50th birthday at home.

Kurt Braun has not been able to pick up his dog so far, and he can only
talk to his mother on the telephone. If she had climbed on her little
foot stool when her son had left and had looked out of the window - as
she used to do during the day to watch the people in the street - she
would have been surprised. In the middle of November her son got into a
caravan and not into his van as usual.

Late in the afternoon Braun had driven to Kelsterbach, one of the
faceless industrial areas near the Frankfurt airport, together with one
of his colleague at work. At a car rental on the outskirts of
Kelsterbach they had hired the caravan. Kurt Braun was waiting outside
while his colleague was signing the contract. The rent was low and they
did not even need a membership card for the discount because the holiday
season had ended a long time ago. Today Kurt Braun regrets that it was
not him who signed the contract. "After all the whole thing was my
idea." But his colleague, who had retired early and worked for Braun
from time to time to increase his pension, had probably also wanted to
take some responsibility.

It took them about two hours on the highway to Saarbruecken. From here
they had to drive 10 km further to Oberroschen, a little town at the
French-German border. The border patrol station is only occupied during
the day. There is a notice on the door that says where to go in a case
of emergency. Kurt Braun had quite a case of emergency already waiting
for him on the dark parking lot behind the police station: six children
and three adults. A family from the Kosovo, who tried to escape their
deportation by German authorities.

Braun had to bring them to England. Already by then the British
authorities, unlike the German, did not deport refugees to the civil war
in the Kosovo. Thus, those who managed to flee from Germany to England
were safe again. Kurt Braun has a friend who is now living safely in a
small terraced house in the suburbs of London after he had
unsuccessfully pleaded for political asylum in Germany. He has a work
permit and slaves 12 hours a day, which is still better than being
deported to the terrors of the civil war.

It was probably something like a humanitarian instinct that induced
Braun to help the family and not to think much about his own safety.
After all, he is certainly not a martyr and had quite a lot to lose.
Apprenticed to the production of wine and a specialist in cider, Braun
had worked for several companies trading fruit juices. Then 4 years ago
he lost his job. Since he was too old for his former line of business,
he decided to start his own company together with his daughter - a small
trucking company; he had always fancied garage sales. He was working as
a sub-entrepreneur for big forwarding agencies and delivered urgent
smaller dispatches mostly during the night. Today all that is left of
the prosperous company and its three vans is a handy and a lot of debts.

He certainly did not help the family to escape for the money. His
expenses totalled 4.400 DM for the rent for the caravan, the costs of
the petrol, 2 tickets for the Euro-tunnel and the costs for a night in
London. The family had agreed to pay him that amount. Kurt Braun did not
think of the possibility that something could go wrong, and he certainly
did not think of what would happen to him in that case.

Nevertheless, he was nervous when the journey finally started. Today he
even believes that he had a bad feeling right from the very beginning:
wouldn't the border patrol get suspicious on seeing a caravan in the
middle of November. "But where else could I have put so many people?" he
asks as if he had to apologize for a small but maybe pivotal mistake.

The family got quickly into the back of the caravan. The children spoke
fluent German and fell asleep soon. They drove from Saarbruecken through
the Eifel, drove past Aachen and Liege, through Belgium, to Lille until
they finally arrived in Calais.

They had made a small detour but Kurt knew that route by heart. The
highway was empty during the night and both drivers took turns at the
wheel. They stopped three times for the toilet. Twice they crossed
borders, which the travelers only noticed because of the changing color
of the road markings and street lighting. Lonely hills in Germany,
broad, brightly illuminated highways in Belgium, and the start of the
rush hour in France at daybreak.

At about 8 p.m. they arrived at the Euro-tunnel near Calais. At the
first barrier they only had to pay a fee of 700 DM, 50 meters further
the French and English border began. In between there were
duty-free-shops and a huge sculpture that symbolizes the extraordinary
effort that was necessary to connect England and the continent. Both
countries had ceded some of their territory to each other to simplify
and speed up the customs clearance. The French border patrol waves most
of the cars through the control. As Great Britain has not signed the
Schengen agreement, it insists on an independent immigration policy.
Normally the border police has only a quick look on the passports, type
data into their computers, might ask for the purpose and the duration of
the journey. Then the passengers are allowed to drive up the ramp to the
Eurostar, that leaves the terminal every thirty minutes to Dover.

The last meters to the English borders seemed to take ages. Up to now
everything had been more or less a matter of form: an urgent
cargo/freight and some hours to drive in the night - nothing unusual for
a courier. It had been strenuous but compared to the danger that waited
for the family in the Kosovo, nothing worth mentioning. Real danger
lurked only on lay-bys/rest stops where the passengers in the back of
the caravan might rouse the attention and suspicion of policemen. Some
kilometers before the border, the two drivers had changed places once
again and Braun was now sitting on the passenger seat.

Then finally they were on British territory and the family was in
safety. Both handed the passport to the border patrol and then the
inexplicable or rather the very explicable thing happened: by chance,
bad luck, or just by the nervousness of Braun's colleague and the fact
that he was not used to handle such a broad vehicle as the caravan.
However, the caravan touched the corrugated iron of the border patrol
station with his outside mirror. The police got suspicious and demanded
to have a look into the caravan. Kurt Braun had provided for that case:
the six children were hidden on the bed above the driver cabin under a
heap of bed linen. The three adults lay under benches. First, a police
woman entered the back of the caravan and did not notice anything. Then
one of her colleagues got in as well, removed the bed linen and
discovered the children.

For more than a year Kurt Braun has now been sitting in English jails.
He spent his 50th birthday on a police station in Folkstone, on the
other side of the tunnel. On December 27th he was brought before a
summary court and accused of the smuggling of human beings. Braun who
hardly spoke English and had no idea of the British law admitted his
guilt before the law and instinctively took the responsibility for
everything upon himself. He never even dreamed of the consequences that
would follow this decision. Apart from that he could hardly communicate
with his public defender. Three days after his arrest Kurt Braun was
brought to Canterbury where he was to spend the next 12 months.

Behind pretty terraced brick houses there is the jail, far away from the
streams of tourist who invade the medieval town center of Canterbury
year after year. There, Kurt Braun works in the kitchen of the prison
and carves the meat for his fellow prisoners 7 days a week and for less
than 40DM per week. Most of those who are in jail in Canterbury are
accused of border offenses; for example a Vietnamese who has lived in
Germany since 1979 who has got a German passport and 4 children. He says
that he was persuaded by a friend whom he owed 1000DM to bring a Chinese
from Rotterdam to England to pay off his debts. When he arrived at the
meeting place three people wanted to come with him. They were discovered
just as a man from Nigeria who lived in Germany as well and had tried to
bring a pregnant friend into safety with the passport of his English
wife. Germany wanted to deport the pregnant woman back into the military
dictatorship of her native country. Even the public prosecution conceded
that his motives were purely humanitarian, nevertheless he was sentenced
to 15 months in jail.

The British judiciary probably intended to make an example of Kurt
Braun's case. He and his colleague were sentenced to 5 years in jail -
the maximum sentence for the smuggling of human beings in Britain is 7
years. Braun still cannot understand why he was punished so severely. In
Germany where the maximum sentence has recently been raised to 10 years
in prison, the judges would at least have considered his so far
blameless criminal records. The English judge did not even want to hear
anything about them. One year ago a court of appeal reduced the sentence
to three years. And at least the family is in security, "somewhere," as
relatives report "and certainly not deported to the Kosovo."

That may be a little consolation for Kurt Braun; the fact that his life
is ruined, because of a few hours, when he dared to show moral courage,
cannot be changed. In retrospect what he did may seem naive, but the big
and strong man might be the very embodiment of a contemporary hero as
well. Exhausted and nervous at the same time, marked by the difficulties
concentrating which are typical for those imprisoned for more than one
year, he takes a seat in the visitor room of the jail one day before
Christmas. He talks about the turkey legs he has to prepare for the
Christmas dinner, about his tennis elbow, the bad medical service in the
prison. He says that he is soon going to be transferred and speaks about
all the prisoners who sit in jail without any aid from outside, who are
arrested for deeds they would have never believed to be evil.

Until recently, in Germany as well as in Britain to aid an escape had
hardly been prosecuted or was even considered a heroic deed if it fitted
into the political line of the country. Now it is punished as severely
as a capital crime; while the borders in Europe are disappearing, those
who take the promise of the freedom of travel literally get prison
sentences that had normally only been passed for crimes of violence.

Although the family immigrated illegally into Great Britain and has thus
violated against existing laws, they never did any harm or evil to
anybody, wonders Braun's mother and points on a paragraph in a letter
she wrote to the British Prime Minister. "After all, my son did not
bring contaminated animals to England, but he brought human beings, who
were in great danger, to their relatives."

Of course Tony Blair did not answer the letter. Instead, Braun's mother
received a message from the Federal High Court of Justice in Karlsruhe,
which says that her son is now registered also in Germany for a crime he
committed abroad: "trafficking in migrants." Some time ago the same deed
was called escape aid--those who committed it were honored and rewarded
and streets were named after them.

Florian Schneider
Break the logic of war! Desert! Open the borders!

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