Category Archives: BLH Events

March to South Bay Detention Center, June 5th, 2016

International Day of Solidarity with Refugees and Migrants

March to South Bay Detention Center, June 5th, 2016


Social Work and the call for Solidarity with Refugees

Beginning in November of 2015 and ratified in March of 2016 the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) and the European Association of Schools of Social Work (EASSW) called for an international day of solidarity in response to the growing human rights crisis in Europe and around the world. In response to this, June 4th-6th have been designated as international days of solidarity and action for refugees.

Since this announcement, major social work organizations across the world have endorsed this event to draw attention to both the forces that have led to the current crisis, as well as the deplorable conditions and attitudes to which immigrants, migrants and refugees are routinely subjected around the world. These groups include:

International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW-AIETS)
Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC SWEC)
International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)
British Association of Social Workers (BASW)
Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW – UK)

Despite the outpouring of support for human rights in the international social work community, the largest professional organization for social work in the US, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has chosen not to commit resources to today’s efforts. While the organization’s SIG for Racial Justice has endorsed the action, they have fallen short in committing time or people; continuing a tradition of almost complete non-participation in efforts to support this human rights crisis. While we stand here in solidarity with immigrants, migrants and refugees, we stand as well in contrast to our professional organizations, and demand they stop taking back-seat roles in attending to this world-wide crisis. We demand that NASW:

  • Take an active role in organizing the social work and allied professions to mobilize for the rights of migrants and refugees by committing their considerable resources – not mere lip service – to being a serious voice for immigrant rights.
  • Join on-the-ground efforts at home and abroad to bring needed care and solidarity to refugees while using their power and political capital to push back against the 10,000 person cap the US has chosen for refugees from the current crisis.


Why the Suffolk County House of Corrections

The SCHC is home to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) South Bay Detention Center. Nowhere is the US attitude toward refugees and migrants more apparent than in the way ICE has chosen to treat undocumented people. While not all immigrants are refugees, and certainly not all immigrants are here without documentation, detention centers are a symbol of US apathy to its own role in the creation of economic and military instability around the world in places like El Salvador, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. We are here to stand in solidarity with all those who believe that no human being should be denied the right to live in security and safety, and to declare: NO ONE IS ILLEGAL! 


The Crisis

Last year, the European Union received over 1.3 million asylum claims, with an estimated 1.8 million migrants arriving in Europe in 2015 alone.[1] Their journeys have been extremely perilous: in April 2015, over 1,200 people are known to have died en route In Greece, the rise of neo-Fascism has seen a stunning increase in violent hate crimes against immigrants and refugees, including the 2014 shooting of 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers by a farmer who was refusing to pay them for their labor.[2]

The human rights crisis is by no means restricted to Europe.  According to RT, in the first half of 2014, 52,000 children attempted to enter the United States,[3] and as in Greece, white supremacist groups have responded with violence, including armed attacks against migrant workers along the border.

In August of 2015, a homeless man was attacked by two brothers in Boston who believed he was in the country without documentation.[4] In December of the same year, 18 hate crimes were documented in a single week against victims who were perceived to be Muslim immigrants. This spate of violence included a 16-year-old Somali teenager who was beaten and thrown from a 6-story window in Seattle. Characteristic of all of these attacks have been assertions that the victims needed to “go home”.[5]

These attacks have paralleled the state-sanctioned violence of US border agents: in the three and a half years between late 2010 and early 2014, US border agents have admitted to the use of 43 counts of deadly force, 10 of which have resulted in death. In the six months between October 2015 to March 2016, 32,000 families have been rounded up for deportation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).[6] The overwhelming majority of these families came from countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, both of which have suffered enormous destabilization at the hands of US military and corporate interests.


Greece, the Solidarity movement and the struggle for Liberation

The Boston Liberation Health Group was extremely fortunate to be able to host Dr. Dora Teloni from Greek SWAN to speak about the solidarity movement in Greece. Dr. Teloni is a social worker and researcher who teaches at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, in the Social Work department. Dr. Teloni has participated and organized in the solidarity movement from its inception.

Presentations were held at Boston University School of Social Work, Encuentro 5 and City Life / Vida Urbana on November 3-5, 2015. We are extremely grateful to be able to offer this report back and ask that all Liberation Health practitioners find a way to support the movement.

The Economic Crisis

Greece has long been the subject of brutal austerity measures imposed by Troika, a conglomeration of the European Commission (Eurogroup), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). These measures have led to widespread suffering across the country. Following the market collapse in the United States, which was spurned in large part by the subprime mortgage collapse in 2007-2008, Europe experienced a shockwave of similar market crises that left many countries on the brink of economic collapse. The Greek government was forced to accept financial assistance from Troika. In 2010 and largely by design, it became increasingly clear that the debt incurred by the Greek government vastly exceeded Greece’s ability to pay back the loan, with Greece nearly filing for bankruptcy. Austerity measures imposed by Troika effectively shuttered funding for public services, including universities and hospitals. According to Dr. Teloni, 3,000,000 people were forced out of the Greek social (health) insurance program. With 3 million uninsured Greeks and a total population of 11 million, the country was without a social safety net.

Dr. Teloni facilitates a question and answer session following her presentation at City Life/Vida Urbana
Dr. Teloni facilitates a question and answer session following her presentation at City Life/Vida Urbana

According to Dr. Teloni,  as much as 30% of the population was living in poverty, with as much as 50-60% youth unemployment. Research indicates that the national suicide rate increased as much as 40% in one year. Dr. Teloni reports, “in the movement, we do not call them suicides. We call them ‘political murders’.” 

This humanitarian crisis was left unaddressed by the rest of the world and up to the people of Greece to find a solution.

The Solidarity Movement

The solidarity movement in Greece grew out of the idea that everyone is in the struggle together. Opportunities were created to help Greek people support one another directly through acts of mutual aid. Solidarity kitchens sprang up to allow Greek people to share food with one another and clothing exchanges were created. To support this movement doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists worked alongside hundreds of other people to form free clinics. Ultimately, Greek solidarity clinics became a model of mutual struggle, with many professionals working 10-12 hours a day and then taking evening shifts to staff the clinics for free. Many such professionals went unpaid completely, as shuttered services couldn’t afford to pay workers. Refusing to let people die, doctors and healthcare providers worked on.

“The Solidarity movement is not about charity. It is about the belief that tomorrow, you could be in the same shoes as the person in front of you.”

This knowledge that everyone’s struggle is connected, Dr. Teloni shares, has allowed for a restoration of dignity to happen during the provision of services. Rather than promoting a distant relationship between providers and service users, the Solidarity clinics include service users directly, allowing people to become involved in the collective struggle. Dr. Teloni reports that while the city remains somber and uptight, laughter and joy remain common in the solidarity clinics despite the hardship.

The EU Migrant Crisis

With the incessant invasion and destabilization of North and West Africa by the United States, the European Union experienced an unparalleled influx of migrant refugees seeking to escape civil war, bombing and poverty. Uniquely positioned geographically to bridge Africa and Europe, Greece has experienced the highest rate of receivership. Due to draconian anti-immigration laws, Greece has become the holding cell for migrants since the crisis began, with little help from the EU. In conjunction with the already brutal austerity climate in Greece, the Solidarity movement set out to provide support to refugees as they poured into the country. The movement has also been forced to mobilize against fascists and the far Right, as groups like Golden Dawn have targeted immigrants and refugees in acts of racist violence.

Audience members at Nov. 5 CLVU event
Audience members at Nov. 5 CLVU event

The solidarity movement continues to press on in Greece. Dr. Teloni reports that services have included: free medical care and psychological services, legal support and advice, free shelter and housing, clothing, and immigration support, including classes in Greek. Solidarity clinics have become so effective at harnessing the power of the people, that Dr. Teloni reports that hospitals have at times referred patients to the Clinic pharmacies, stocked with the overflow and surplus drugs collected from people’s homes.

Fearing corruption, clinics accept donations only carefully and sparingly, and with the condition that no donors’ names will be published. Thus far, Dr. Teloni shared with audience members that this has allowed the movement to remain a movement by the people, and avoid co-optation.

This is not to say that those who work in the Movement do not do so at great cost: they risk serious sanctions or worse for these continued acts of civil disobedience. As in the United States, it is illegal in Greece to transfer ownership of medicines from patient to patient, and it remains illegal to transport migrants without authorized visas throughout the EU. Legal sanctions aside, workers at the solidarity clinics do so at personal expense of time and energy, putting their lives on hold to support the cause and working extraordinary hours for little or no pay, only to do the same during a second shift at the clinics. While social workers around the world should take note of Greece and recognize the example set by the Greek people, we should also recognize that the situation in Greece is a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed immediately and by more than the EU.

Speaking to audience members at CLVU, Dr. Teloni shared that it is a common sentiment in Greece what is causing the massive influx of immigrants: wherever the United States is at war, these are the people that come to Greek shores risking their lives in rafts and boats. It is up to social workers and activists in the United States to place concerted pressure on the administration to stop this endless campaign.

For more information on the Solidarity movement and continued updates, please see the Greek SWAN website. Also see:

Ioakimidis, V. & Teloni, D. (2013). Greek social work and the never-ending crisis of the welfare state. Critical and Radical Social Work 1(1): 31-49. 

Teloni, D. & Mantanika, R. (2015). ‘This is a cage for migrants’: the rise of racism and the challenges for social work in the Greek context. Critical and Radical Social Work 3(2): 189-206.


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