Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) – Drawn to solidarity – Visualising encounters along the Greek-Balkan Route
In our series of interviews with Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees, meet Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) and their project ‘Drawn to solidarity’:
‘Drawn to solidarity’ is a joint project of the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), an alliance of grassroots organisations working along the Greek-Balkan route, filmmakers, journalists and artists from Broga Doite Film and Brush&Bow. Through a campaign of 12 short films with animation clips, the above organisations campaign to showcase solidarity initiatives at Europe’s borders, building civic consciousness around migration and a tangible space of exchange for refugees, activists and the broader public.
We interviewed Simon Campbell, field coordinator in the border violence monitoring network.
Who are you?
I’m Simon Campbell, and I am a field coordinator in the border violence monitoring network. We’re working together with Braga Dorita, an Italian film and a production group, and Brush&Bow. They are a collective of journalists, illustrators, artists and researchers. They mainly cover topics around migration. We’re working together with these two organisations within BVMN. I work with volunteers who take interviews with refugees on the ground about pushback practices. We also cover internal violence and the situation of camps, but my primary role is interviews and analyses about pushbacks. We also have an online database with an advocacy/reporting structure designed to tackle this phenomenon.
What made you think of the project?
As a network, we have been considering how we put visibility on this issue of push backs on migration for a long time. Still, the Covid19 Pandemic brought that to the fore because there was almost a media silence around migration and the impacts of migration in that period. Then, in the spring of 2020, there were excessive border controls going on, many changes in migratory routes, and the treatment of people on the move in terms of new abuses and escalation of existing violence in camps and the borders. So we thought it was essential to get that message out there.
We have more of an analytical reporting structure that we use, but that doesn’t always connect with the broader public. This sensitises these issues, especially of pushbacks, and the other things impacting people, like their living conditions, asylum rights and such. We felt it was crucial to sit down with people who are doing more public-facing animation film work like this to discuss the topic of migration and also see how we can put something out together.
It became more and more pressing within this COVID period because, again, with the issues around solidarity, which this project is called, ‘Drawn to solidarity’. It became clear that there was a void in solidarity and many people coming forward trying to support people on the move through these very trying times. Many things were taken away from people, but there was a lot of engagement on the ground to try and support those people. So, an essential feature is to encourage solidarity from people who might not know about the situation but might be willing to get involved.
What will your project contribute to Europe, post-corona?
Following on from the idea of engaging solidarity is vital. The issues around migration through the Balkan route Greece are somewhat portrayed in the media, but not with depth and not with adequate information and not from people’s point of view on the media ground.
So that’s one aim of this project. But, still, as much as visibility, we also want to engineer a humane and solidarity-based response from people watching the project and engaging with it. That’s why we engineered this online release and an event in Brussels. So we’re trying to reach out to political stakeholders and the wider public who might be viewing stuff through social media channels or coming across these videos online.
We tweaked the format from what we usually do, which would be very lengthy in-depth reports and policy briefs, into a way of visualising this for people to understand what it looks like. Then engage themselves in the process, whether that’s volunteering or using their platforms to try out pushbacks and on a European level, I think that’s very important. Our objectives and aim are to target people within Europe, as much as people in the Balkans and Greece specifically, because this is a concerted effort on the EU external border to carry out violence. Also, we want to shine a light on the international and local volunteers of these projects. And show them as examples of how you can engage humanely with people, how you can advocate for safe passage and break down some of these racist and violent structures that we currently see at the moment.
How do you envision it to grow from local to pan European?
These short films focus on local settings and portray the interaction between external solidarity workers from Europe with local people and with refugees in a microcosm of a broader story around migration. We’re picking apart quite human and intimate stories but expanding that to allow people to understand how some of these volunteering projects work, how to get involved in them, the kind of work they’re doing and whether it’s information-based legal assistance. So, giving people an understanding of what’s going on in this space.
Also, in terms of how they will be published online through the different mediums that the three projects hold, we’re going to do a targeted event in Brussels as a release. Still, we will use the following three months to do a social media campaign to target audiences across Europe.
The benefit we have is that within our network and these organisations, we are present in most countries, collecting donations for the Balkan route in terms of physical stuff and doing advocacy work in domestic parliaments.
And – finally – how does your project help to make Europe an open and shared public space for everyone?
The project tackles making Europe an open and shared public space on multiple levels.
Our project is there to tell the story of people crossing borders and what they’re looking for, as much as the pushback of violent police and those trying to negate that passage. So, we are trying to advocate and expose the humanity that exists there. And in terms of shifting that narrative in Europe around people’s stories, because there is a lot of fetishisation of awful pictures of massive camps or violence. Part of the story that we’ll be telling will be about pushbacks and violence, but we’ll also illustrate that respectfully, both for the people on the ground, but also not causing people to turn away, but causing them to try to interrogate and engage with this issue.
In terms of openness, there’s been fatigue around migration post-2015. The project will also recap where we’re at as Europeans and the openness that we initially had in the period after this summer migration. Where is that at now? Underneath the fact that there are still processes of solidarity and people who are willing to engage. There are many state forces, economic forces pushing against that, and here are these films showing what you can do.