Terrorism and Migration

Please re-post or forward. I have never asked for this, but I feel this time it’s urgent.

Those in Europe who advocate the rights of refugees and migrants worry that the attacks in Paris last Friday will be used against immigrants and asylum-seekers. There is no question that security concerns in Western Europe play into the hands of those on the Right, who – for reasons unrelated to security – have tried to raise fears of migration ever since the influx of refugees from the Middle East began.

Starting when the (gradually-growing) stream of migration suddenly became a mainstream media issue over the summer, immigration hawks have suggested terrorists or militants are among the women, children and men seeking asylum. In discussions, I have always insisted that is unlikely. Why? Logically, the so-called Islamic State (IS) has the money and resources needed to put its fighters on flights straight to Europe, if that is what it intends. It would avoid the risks involved in crossing the Mediterranean and undertaking the long, hard and uncertain route via the Balkans to Western Europe – during which the fighters must travel among all the victims and enemies of the IS. Furthermore, such radicals may not even need to be imported from Syria or Iraq to France, if they are already there.

There is, however, a real connection between terrorism and migration: terrorism created the current wave of migration. Paris experienced on Friday, in a horrible way, what people in Syria and Iraq have experienced for years: the wanton killing of innocents to spread fear and create subjugation. Millions of people are fleeing that.

So what if one of the attackers actually did enter the EU via Greece? What if one person among the many thousands was a terrorist? What would closing the borders and halting the flow of migration achieve?

First, it would divert future attackers onto alternative routes. If it turned out that cheap flights from Egyptian holiday towns like Hurghada were used by the attackers to come to Europe, would those flights all be stopped – and would that be a reasonable response? Short of making all travel from the Middle East and North Africa impossible, nothing can guarantee that radicals with homicidal intentions don’t enter Europe to join those who are already there.

Second, the weakest, poorest, and least-desirable countries (from a Human Rights perspective) will be left to deal with the many thousands who are stuck between Syria and Western Europe. Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc., don’t have the same capacity to shelter and feed displaced people as France, Germany, and the (currently deplorably insular and self-centred) United Kingdom. Those who would suffer most are those fleeing terror in the Middle East, and who are effectively natural allies of the West; they have chosen (under duress) between the IS’ and Assad’s vision of the world, and the vision proposed by the West. The chaotic, inhumane, improvised camps in the Balkans which would spring up would be places where hatred and disillusionment with the hypocrisy of the West could grow.

Third, the so-called Islamic State would win. Apart from the inevitable propaganda victory, what the terrorists want is for Europe to show (as they see it) its “true colours”: an enemy of Muslims, a talker of Rights but denier of Rights to non-whites, a weak and hypocritical society unable to stand up for its principles. It would, in a sense, succeed at proving that Western ideals of liberalism, rights, and solidarity – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – do not pare up to the IS’ more practical ideas.

The attacks in Paris were an attack on the idea of Paris, as a free and multicultural place; an attack on the idea of Human Rights, which originated from Paris (1789); an attack on the peaceful coexistence of human beings regardless of beliefs, origins and heritage. The attackers aim to say “there are them, and there are us, and Muslims must choose sides”.

The free world must remain the more attractive force, for tactical as well as intrinsic reasons. France has closed its borders, which is a natural knee-jerk reaction, but it will have to open them again, and accept many refugees from Syria and Africa; people who will be grateful for the chance to enjoy life and liberty, and will not tolerate terrorists in their midst.




(Sorry for whatever advertisement they may be showing below.)

This is Europe’s Shame


Not Afrtica’s shame. Not the Middle East’s shame. This is on us.

71 suffocated in a freezer lorry. Austria’s Interior Minister has stated publicly: “We have to build legal ways to Europe.”

How many more of these headlines, how many more bodies, until that happens?

On the current situation

Image. DW/N. Barnets (http://www.dw.com/en/greek-island-community-finds-private-ways-to-help-refugees/a-18578098)

With my trek last summer I sought to support the rights of refugees and migrants to travel, and financially supported three organisations working for the cause. I explicitly advocate an unconditional Right to Migrate. But I’ve found the right of refugees to seek asylum is easier to communicate, so I feel a small duty to comment briefly on the present European refugee crisis (one overview here).

The “jungle” at Calais near the Channel Tunnel; the chaos on the Greek island of Kos; the new Hungarian border fence (reminiscent of the Iron Curtain); the numbingly-repetitive numbers of drowning or suffocating people on boats; the tent camps growing in German cities – these are all part of the same crisis. Europeans need to face two realities:

  • One, the gates of hell have opened nearby. The world outside of Europe is much worse than a few years ago. Syria, Iraq and Libya are in full-scale civil wars. And the régimes of countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Iran are (in different ways) doing their best to make life unbearable for their opponents. Not to mention the “Islamic State”.
  • Two, the countries of northern and western Europe are politically stable and wealthy, and they are vocal proponents of peace and democracy (their deeds, of course, may vary).

The present strategy – pursued more tacitly by many countries, and more openly by some others like Hungary and the United Kingdom – of making migrants’ quest for asylum as difficult as possible through various hindrances, and using countries like Italy and Greece as buffers, is proving ineffective. People fleeing for their lives and seeking to protect and help their families won’t be stopped by this. To really prevent people from seeking asylum in northern and western Europe, as granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would only be possible (if at all) at an immense human cost.

European countries must create safe and legal ways for refugees to migrate to and claim asylum – here, now. These refugees will, for a time, be a (fairly insignificant) financial drain. Over time, when the situation in Syria etc. stabilises, many will return. Those who stay will enrich the countries which granted them asylum and to which they are grateful.

To resolve the present crisis will require Europe-wide coordination and effort of the type which evidently is only feasible when the objective is to bail out banks and punish southern European debtor states. The present refugee crisis could be an opportunity to humanise Europe again. What better way to restore confidence in the European Union as a humane and worthy project, than to work together to guarantee their human rights and ensure the social burden is distributed fairly?

Meanwhile: throughout Germany over the past months arsonists have burnt down multiple refugee accommodation buildings (and one can hardly escape the impression that some local authorities didn’t mind all too much). A simple and poetically-just suggestion for dealing with the perpetrators, if caught, would be to deport them to Syria without a passport. Does that seem like harsh punishment? If so, it clarifies what it is like, right now, to be in Syria without a European passport.


NoBorderTrek in numbers

It took a while, partly because of technology problems. But now, at long last, here is a decent visualisation of the NoBorderTrek.

You can use the button in the top left corner of the map to hide some of the layers (for instance “Places”) to get a clearer view of the route. You can expand the map with the button in the top right corner.

Here are some summary numbers of the trek:

  • 66 walking days / 74 total days on the trail (nearly 11 weeks/) *
  • 1,570 km total distance walked (nearly 1.6 million metres)
  • 68,230m altitude (ascent)
  • 67,300m altitude (descent) **
  • 23.8km, 1,034m ascent, average day
  • 9 hours average walking time per day (including breaks)
  • 36 walking days with (at least some) rain (6 with incessant rain)
  • Toughest day: day 7 (Tarvisio-Nassfeld/Pramollo), 36.5km, 2,080m ascent, 1,290m descent (plus one very scary thunderstorm)
  • Longest day: day 36 (Liechtenstein-Taminatal) 37.4km, 1,250m ascent, 2,540m descent
  • Shortest day: day 12 (Kartitsch-Sillian) 7.8km; 90m ascent, 360m descent – my 30th birthday
  • Fastest day: day 38 (Flims-Tavanasa) 25.5km in 5 hours (walking super-fast because of incessant rain)
  • 8 countries visited (SLO, IT, AT, DE, LIE, CH, FR, MCO)
  • 17 international border crossings (I entered and exited Italy 5 times)
  • Highest point: 3315m, Theodulpass (CH/IT border
  • Lowest point: -1m, swimming in Villefranche-sur-Mer (FR)
  • Wildlife seen:
  • >20 Ibex
  • dozens of chamois
  • probably hundreds of marmots
  • 0 bears, wolves, lynx (luckily)
  • 2 snakes (probably not poisonous)
  • 2 or 3 eagles***
  • 4kg (ca. 6%) weight loss (despite eating as much as possible)
  • 5% to 11.1% change in body fat
  • 4 rockfalls witnessed (never very close by)
  • 4 slips and falls (all harmless)
  • 0 serious injuries
  • 1: number of times I got really lost (and scared)****
  • 0: number of times I regretted going on the trek

Thank you, once again, to everyone who supported this project! As the events of the past month have demonstrated, the cause behind this trek, of humanising European immigration policy and knocking down the borders that divide us, is as important as ever.


*The blog numbering went to 67 because I mistakenly counted one rest day (in Innsbruck).
**Ljubljana is 300 metres higher than nice; the rest of the discrepancy is GPS measurement error.
***It’s hard to be sure, but these were very big soaring birds.
****Between Tarvisio and Nassfeld/Pramollo (day 7). Bad map, nonexistent (Italian) trail markings, stubbornness, tiredness, and fear of an approaching thunderstorm led me off the proper trail and into a jungle of larch trees, where I nearly panicked. Lesson learned: if lost, turn around, instead of seeking a short-cut.

Below are the detailed numbers for each day, in case anyone ever chooses to hike parts of the trek.

Day Distance Ascent Descent
1 26.528 960 640
2 31.750 1.290 270
3 31.036 230 1.150
4 19.721 2.020 580
5 27.341 1.220 1.910
6 21.023 90 490
7 36.494 2.080 1.290
8 16.033 750 770
9 26.897 1.310 1.570
10 31.856 1.390 1.590
11 30.505 680 290
12 7.809 90 360
13 17.662 910 180
14 26.571 2.120 1.570
15 19.326 1.120 870
16 12.410 480 1.540
17 29.079 1.110 1.600
18 29.305 1.620 530
19 21.812 1.030 1.120
20 15.426 1.330 590
21 23.666 220 2.260
22 0 0 0
23 15.269 1.680 970
24 30.029 2.050 970
25 16.804 1.030 1.310
26 18.089 1.020 2.120
27 32.563 1.690 600
28 25.442 1.790 1.580
29 20.213 1.710 1.560
30 16.131 1.080 1.270
31 21.366 870 1.690
32 12.690 450 20
33 27.934 920 1.890
34 18.174 1.640 160
35 15.361 940 1.220
36 37.428 1.250 2.540
37 35.535 1.390 1.070
38 25.528 240 470
39 33.799 950 170
40 16.702 920 0
41 11.777 30 1.410
42 22.273 1.400 130
43 32.086 1.060 2.190
44 9.490 90 280
45 12.290 1.340 10
46 30.912 1.110 2.520
47 23.004 560 380
48 32.362 2.010 100
49 13.204 320 1.340
50 19.825 1.560 1.070
51 17.511 550 1.390
52 24.218 170 1.240
53 36.364 2.050 40
54 20.487 1.120 930
55 29.504 120 1.430
56 16.461 850 540
57 30.107 1.700 1.860
58 31.706 720 540
59 23.138 1.280 920
60 25.112 1.200 1.140
61 27.661 1.910 1.900
62 28.113 1.890 1.540
63 26.881 30 1.200
64 19.498 50 510
65 32.048 0 370
66 29.441 920 1.020
67 23.161 520 520
Total 1.569.941 68.230 67.300
Average 23.786,98 1.034 1.020



Europe has to open its borders, and step up its help to refugees and migrants.

With several major conflicts raging on its borders (Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Iraq, …) it’s no wonder masses of people are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, even in the dead of winter in near-zero temperatures. Out of over 7 million displaced people from the Syrian civil war, Germany has taken just 40,000 refugees, and next-up Sweden a mere 18,000. A joke.

To believe that a fortunate-to-have inland sea, some external patrols, and some more internal policing will prevent those people whose lives and health (and those of their families and children) are immediately at stake, from seeking shelter in the world’s safest haven, is also a joke. If you or I were from Syria, we would be trying to get to Europe right now.

As the Guardian reports: »One survivor from Wednesday’s disaster told their rescuers: “We know what fate we’re going towards and [we understand] the probabilities of dying, but it’s a sacrifice we consciously make to have a future.” «

A friend from Basel is involved with this amazing initiative (Watch The Med) which aims to monitor and investigate the cases, and get help to migrants on the high seas before it is too late.

My strange nobordertrek year ends…

with a slight sense of guilt. For nearly three months as I trekked across the Alps I drew upon the support of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances through this blog. I posted nearly every day because it helped me feel in touch with the rest of the world, despite being alone on the trek. Feeling people’s support gave me part of the strength to push through. Then, when I arrived at the end of the trail I simply stopped writing. I’m sorry. The reason was that at the end of the trail some brutal realities awaited, which I’ve had to face up to. A broken 8-year relationship. Newfound loneliness. A career setback. Things which I couldn’t foresee when I started out on the trek. Of course these things happen. But the shock kept me from wanting to communicate. I didn’t feel like pouring my heart out here; neither did I feel like writing as if all were well.

2014 was a strange year for me, and I hope 2015 will be better. Without a doubt the best part of 2014 was the nobordertrek; the part which did not feel wasted, which will always stay in my mind. It was a test of endurance and strength which I wouldn’t want to go through again, but which in another life I would happily do again. It was for a cause which I still stand deeply committed to. 2014, at least, I think (and want to believe) was a good year for the cause of refugee and migrant rights in Europe; the injustices of Europe’s migration regime were discussed in the media and politics as much as probably never before. My greatest sense of guilt is for having been silent on this public cause for a few months now, due for my own personal reasons. I want to change this in 2015.

I’m also aware that I haven’t even posted anything like a final tally (or resumé) of the trek. I wanted to do this properly, and will do so soon in the new year. Just very briefly: the trek in total was nearly 1,600km from Ljubljana to Nice, and around 67,000m of up-and-down.

Over the past weeks (in tranches, due to transaction limits) I’ve donated the money I promised to Medico International and ProAsyl (some proof), and will make my donation to the Medibüros in the new year (for fiscal reasons). I hope to have at least done something to raise the visibility of the fine work all of these organisations do.

Thank you very much to everyone who supported me directly or indirectly on this journey, and please forgive me for what must have seemed like an egoistic forgetting of everything once it was done. But this project is not quite over yet.

Camera HDR Studio - 1404124125466

All the best for 2015, and have a great last few days of 2014,


Dying for asylum

Actually, after returning home from the trek, the first thing I wanted to publish was an overview (in numbers) of this summer’s trip. I recently prepared this overview; but it hardly feels appropriate right now to brag about my trek when 700 people recently died in the Mediterranean Sea, including possibly 100 children, after two boats sank.

The death of around 500 people in one boat last week apparently was a deliberate mass murder, committed by ruthless smugglers who rammed and sunk the boat when the refugees refused to obey their orders to get into a smaller, less seaworthy boat, in the middle of the ocean. I hope (with my entire being) that justice will be served, as here the direct responsibility is more easily attributable than in the countless other cases where migrants on unseaworthy vessels have died trying to reach Europe.

But it is easy to forget that the traffickers (however callous or humane they individually may be) only cater to an existing demand. What compels ordinary people – in this case people from the Middle East and Africa – to place their lives in the hands of international criminals on the high seas are not just the conflicts and poverty they are fleeing from, but also the barriers raised by European countries against migration. The traffickers merely offer migrants and asylum-seekers the best deal at trying to get over and around the walls of “Fortress Europe”.

As the head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) explained after last week’s tragedy: “The only way to neutralize these criminal organizations is to start opening legal entry channels to Europe for all people, men, women and children, who flee from their countries in search of protection.” Yes, tragedies like this one are preventable. A little more compassion and respect for the fundamental human right to migrate and seek asylum would allow people to have their cases assessed without dying en route at the hands of ruthless criminals. Europe needs to tear down its walls. It would only seem fair.


It’s been an intense personal journey for me. Thank you all for following it and taking an interest in my trek, my musings, and my photos. Alas, the issues behind the NoBorderTrek remain, so please keep checking back, since I will occasionally be posting relevant things. (I will also clean up the GPS tracks and let you know how far the trek ultimately was.)

Naturally, the fact that some guy named Phil has walked from Ljubljana to Nice changes absolutely nothing about certain social-political issues; it doesn’t help a single soul. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about migrant and refugee rights and welfare while walking across the mountains and borders from there to here.

Sure, with the money I pledged to donate to Pro Asyl, Medico International, and the Medibüros I hope to make a small positive difference, hopefully slightly more than a symbolic drop in the ocean; and of course I wish to animate others to do similarly. But when I get back home I also intend to begin working on the basis of some thoughts which I had during my trek to ascertain whether there could be something more active that I can personally do to help. For that reason this project and the blog will live on, at least for a while.


In the immediate future, however, I’m happy to have finished the trek slightly faster than originally expected, and to now be able to enjoy a week of relaxation in southern France before normal life begins again…

So until then; à bientôt;

Gear check: boots (II)

When I recounted my experiences with the first pair of boots I wore on this trip, I promised to also review the second pair after I’d used them for long enough. So here, as promised, is a second (and less negative) review. When the boots I had bought originally for the trek fell apart after just four weeks, I bought this new pair in a sports shop in Tyrol. I rediscovered my old loyalty to the  Bavarian brand Meindl, and this time, as before, I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve practically had to live in my hiking boots for the past 10 weeks, and these ones have been perfectly livable.


Meindl Air Revolution 2.3 after 39 days of trekking

The boots (Meindl Air Revolution 2.3) have performed very well in almost every way; they’re sturdy, breathable, and warm enough. No blisters ever. Unlike the first boots, their sole has not used itself up, but rather there’s still enough left for another few weeks of trekking; and these boots have walked almost twice as far as the others. And unlike the other boots, these turned out to be genuinely impermeable to water; while with the others I had wet feet after just walking through morning grass for 15 minutes. I was surprised to find that with these I could go through entire days of rain with dry feet.


Seam coming apart

My only criticism is that the seams are slowly coming apart in a few places; one spot in particular has become so large that the other boot occasionally caught in it, causing me to stumble. But a piece of duck tape fixed that for the time-being. Besides, this broken seam never let any water in, which is good. I’ve been told Meindl have a generous repairs policy, so I expect that when I send these boots, they will fix the seams for free or a reasonable price.


Sole still usable

I guess this is one final upshot of my gear experience from this trek: no product is perfect, so the attitude of the producer our the retailer to repairs and complaints is a key issue to consider, not just the promised performance of the product. And finally overall I’ve been reasonably happy with the things I took on this trek, also the ones I didn’t review here. With under 10 kilograms I carried a fairly light pack, which always entails the risk of lacking something; but I’ve found I had just enough clothes, electronics, sleeping equipment, medicines, etc to get me from Ljubljana to Nice. That’s really the essence on such a long walk in the hills: carry enough but never too much, which even applies to food and water. There’s no point in carrying 2 kg of food for four days if there’s a supermarket in tomorrow’s village; or lugging 2 liters of water to the fountain 30 minutes away. The key is to plan smartly, and on that aspect I’ve gained some more experience now.

If anyone ever wants any advice for a trek they’re planning, just do ask.


Day 67 / Monaco-Nice

Yesterday I reached Nice; but since my plan was to visit eight countries on foot (all 8 countries that geologically occupy some part of the Alps), I wasn’t quite done yet. I was still missing one country, and that’s Monaco; that’s why I put (Nice) in parentheses in yesterday’s blog entry…


So well, this is Monaco

What can I say about the area where I’m finishing this trek? Well Monaco of course is little more than a joke from history, a relic of feudalism; two yacht marinas, a palace and a casino. Nice, however is a really nice city, and while the entire region is of course a haven for the wealthy and lucky of France, the city itself feels nicely multicultural; and there is a surprising number of backpackers from around the world here.


View down the coast toward Nice

It all sits on the edge of the Mediterranean sea, that beautiful blue inland ocean which has been a cradle of European civilization for millennia, and connection of Europe with the rest of the world;.but which today serves as Europe’s natural barrier against the rest of the world. The Mediterranean separates Europe from Africa, and as such it may also be the world’s most scenic mass grave. How many refugees and migrants have died in this sea trying to reach the fortress Europe? Unknown.


The bay of Èze

Originally I had planned to finish the trek by looping into Nice from the East, via Monaco. But because of my bad leg I took the shortest possible route. So today, to compete this final part of the mission, I took a train from Nice station out to Monaco and walked back along the shore, taking some time to swim and chill at one of the beaches, in the bay of stunning Villefranche-sur-Mer. Sadly, among the many confusing corniches and roads in between Monaco and Nice I got a bit lost, and took an unnecessary detour up a hill in the midday heat, which cost me at least an hour. Well, it’s not the first time I took an involuntary detour on this trek, but I’m happy to say it’s the last!


The last hill of the trek, in Villefranche-sur-Mer

It’s hot here, and sunny – finally the way things should be. Today and yesterday I probably sweated as much as in half of the days of my trek combined (the colder and rainier half, that is). This was perhaps one positive aspect of this underperforming rainy summer: I rarely had to deal with heat, and had to carry less water.


In Nice

As the symbolic end-point for this trek I’ve chosen a church in Nice. Not for any religious reason at all; no, it’s a church which my great-great grandfather (also named Philip; Philipp) built. In the 19th century and up until his deportation in the course of WW I, he served as pastor to the German protestant community of Nice. So I’m ending the trek by visiting a bit of family history.


The church; Église Lutherienne

Nice and the Mediterranean are at one end of the Alps, and Ljubljana and the basin of the Danube are at the other. It took me 10 1/2 weeks; 67 days of walking and 7 rest days. I’m happy and a bit proud to have made it here!