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Soha Ben Slama
The Migrants & Refugees March: Between Demographic Revolution and States Exploitation
6 Luglio 2016
2016 Venezia Biennale Architettura
Intervento di Soha Ben Slama tenuto il 25 giugno 2016 presso il padiglione greco durante la conferenza «The Refugee Crisis: Industry VsSolidarity - Alternative Narrations On The Refugee Crisis».

First of all I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of refugees and migrants dead in the Mediterranean sea. And thank Dafni and Maria, for inviting me and Ilaria and Edoardo and Cesare.
As you know, June 20th was the celebration day of the “Refugees”. This year the celebration was named “With the Refugees”. A petition #WithRefugees was posted on the HCR site to appeal to governments to include solidarity and shared responsibility in their actions and a law drafted jointly by the Ministry of Justice and UNHCR will be presented shortly to the Assembly of People's Representatives (ARP). http://www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/

It was an opportunity to remember that behind these figures lurks the suffering and resilience endured by refugees around the world and raise public awareness to the human side of their course. But why making the difference between Refugees and Migrants, as both are running from terrible conditions of life. Misery and war are so much alike, as wars and globalization generated misery. Two sides of the same problem which feed the revolution in march on the feet of millions of people.

As a Mediterranean woman from the other side of the sea, I will question why such extreme despair is bringing hundreds of thousands of youth to cross the sea not caring about death. And what could be done to avoid that, and what should be done for those who already crossed.

After listening to the discussions, and presentations made, I will say that we have here an example of one of the extreme cynicism of the European Union and the States policy regarding Migrants/Refugees issue, it is «A double-edged knife».

I will briefly, speak, about my country, Tunisia.
We have between 1 million and 1.8 million refugees, who came mainly from Lybia, with a direct and immediate impact upon arrival since before uprising, on the living conditions, especially on the growth of the rents, mainly for the single women and the youth, who cannot find, anymore, affordable appartments even to share, together with an impact on market economy, on black market, in all fields, and on medical care. This phenomenon increased after the war started in Lybia, and reached a level that became impossible to manage and reduce. Besides the fact that we are dealing with a tragedy that we have to look at and handle with care and with respect to those who suffer and who run from terror.
While hundreds of thousands of youth have crossed the sea in less than 5 years, we witness, a status of « empty from a side and fill another side ». Villages, rural areas, left behind by the youth, abandonned due to various unfavourable conditions, extreme outcome of the phenomenon of rural depopulation, disappearance of craft trades, and traditional small businesses and appearance of a new black market.
With No concrete policies to improve living conditions (housing, social care etc...). No more hope, leading to a complete failure of the uprising of 2011, held by more than half of the population. An increase of poverty level and dispair, had as a consequence to be open to any extreme. Besides, the money given to thousands of very poor families to send their boy and/or girl to kill in Syria, because they could not afford meal, or because they are disappointed, bitter, lost hope, or looking for an ideal to rise and be «someone».
In parallel, UE, WB were giving Billions of euros, dollars, where did all this money go?
Initially meant for development programs for « youth », but as with no clear procedures to control wether they were used for the development policies planned to be implemented in the regions or not, they were deviated from their path, since the beginning, enriching the « islamist government » and the hundreds of thousands of allies families.
We are here the witnesses of a Demographic revolution on the marche. For decades, youth used to leave rural areas to find a job in cities, to study, in hundreds, now they leave rural areas in thousands to Europe. They abandon old medinas, a patrimony normally to be preserved, now left behind in bad conditions on the focus of speculators.
Why do they abandon their medinas and rural villages, to go and occupy neighbourhoods and old villages abandoned by europeans? Unemployment, war and insecurity, fundamentalism and terrorism, misery and starvation, matched, give desperation, terror, no vision for the future.....only cross the sea.

This Demographic revolution should be an opportunity for a kind of urbanistic change, in a positive way. In the last century, migrants were mainly europeans, migrating within Europe and to the Americas. They have built cities, neighborhoods, but they also lived in slums.

What can we do as group of reflexion to change that? What strategy could we think of to put pressure on the countries from which these youth arrive; what could be done for those who did not cross, so that they do not cross? How can Europe help in terms of expertise to stop this flow ! And How to turn up side down this “disadvantage” as seen by so many as an advantage for Europe!
This is why all the actors at different levels should be engaged, including local authorities/municipalities, national governement, European union, organisations and inhabitants networks, and professionals (architects, urbanists, etc...).
The Biennale is an opportunity for us all, from both sides of the mediteranean sea, to seriously think together to how we could contribute and directly find practical and rapid ways to implement the right answers, taking into account both positions from both sides of the mediterranean sea.
Without regulations, all will loose their identity.
The consequence will be the growth of irregular settlements, the new slums, a mixture between popular responses to the lack of adequate public policies vis-à-vis speculators.
States and Supra-Nationals such as EU, UN etc. should be more specific in sustaining states, aiming into new social policies to enhance youth capacity building and social function of habitat.

This is why it is necessary to exchange experiences, debate, dialogue and think together how to implement public policies towards popular housing, rehabilitation, restructuring abandonned buildings for social use (as of Vivere 2000 coop. in Rome).
Social production of habitat is not evicting migrants, but recycling abandonned villages and buildings. It is necessary to have adequate social policies. With high taxation on empty buildings, states could finance social housing, especially the rehabilitation of neighborhood.
There are abandonned villages, that could be revived by migrants, giving them an objective in life.
It is time for us to take seriously our responsibilities towards the future generations from both sides, towards a new urbanistic vision, rooted in human rights, diversity, and solidarity, and not on market values, racism and individual interests.
And it is time for International events such as Habitat III and the meetings of the European Ministers of Housing, to include these proposals, themes, in their agenda, because migration is not a vanishing phenomenon, but more a demographic revolution, which could have a radical influence on the urbanistic transformation of future cities. This is why we organise alternative forums, conferences and workshops, this is why we are organizing the People's Social Forum of Resistance to Habitat III in Quito this october 2016.

To conclude, Intensified border controls, push-backs and reports of abuse won’t stop migrants and asylum-seekers from continuing to try to reach Europe ; Building walls won't resolve the problem. Why don’t we approach the subject from the other side. Here in Venice, there are tracks of turkish, armenian and other cultures. To face racism and homophobia, it is better to show the positive side of this huge demographic revolution, the presence of other cultures, as consequences. But being careful not to transform cities into Slums, that come mainly from speculations.
In both ways, if we do not find immediate solutions, Europe will become, or surrounded by walls such as in the Occupied Teritories of Palestina and shortly in Hungary, or by slums. Is it what future generations deserve to get in heritage?

Soha Ben Slama

Free active and engaged citizen sharing and participating to the main events cultural, political and gender issues at local and on international level. Politically countering the extremists agenda, via art and culture, using her gift as Painter, Ceramist Potter and engraver to reach people where politics and debate cannot.
Her journey in the defense of human rights at the international level, in particular the rights of women and in the MENA region, and the violence against women, started in 1995, in charge of the Maghreb for Mahkamet Ennissa, within the International Steering Committee in the World Public Hearing on Violence against Women at the Huairou Fourth World Conference on Violence against women. Same thing for the Dowry Court in 2009 (El Taller/Vimochana). Co-Founder and ‘previously’ active member of the Tunisian Women Coalition. Co-Founder in November 2012 of the Civil Alliance against Violences and for the Freedom. In 2013, she coordinated the first Conference on the Right to Housing during the World Zero Eviction Days. Co-founder on 2014 of the Global Platform for the Right to the City. Local organizer of last two World Assemblies of Inhabitants under the World Social Forum (Tunis, 2013 and 2015). She's the current IAI coordinator for Tunisia and on that quality she carried out the responsibility of media and culture, engaged also to support the African Network of Inhabitants (Africities VII) and other events within IAI. She's actually member of the Steering Committee of the International Tribunal on Evictions ITE and key point in ITE International Steering Committee in charge of the organization of the ITEAA with the TAAFE/ITEAA Steering Committee. East Asia Tribunal on Evictions to be held on July 1st to July 5th 2016 in Taipei.

31 Dicembre 2016
2 Agosto 2016

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