The No Border Solidarity Network can be traced back to the late 1990s and started as a loose collective of organizations whose primary goal was to support the free movement of people across Europe while also resisting against borders and migration control efforts that were sweeping across Europe and Africa. The official No Border Network was founded in 1999, fourteen years after the Schengen Zone was created which largely abolished internal borders for countries who signed onto the agreement. The initial No Border movement was in response to what activists saw as increasing risks to the ideals portrayed by the Schengen agreement of the free movement people and aimed to establish collectives of activists across Europe to fight against any new migration control efforts.
However, going back further, the No Border activism projects stretches back further to the founding of the European Union and the European common spirit that rose out of the ashes of World War II. European countries vowed to have no repeat of the atrocities that happened then and created systems in place to protect European citizens from further atrocities. One of the main tenants of building a more cohesive Europe was to allow the free movement of European citizens across borders so citizens of Europe could get to know their neighbors better. The emphasis on open borders was in response to this need of wanting to get to know their fellow citizens more and No Borders became a hall mark of European integration. However, now with the rise of anti-refugee sentiment, European countries are actively closing borders and and aiming to prevent individuals from traversing Europe.
In 2015, the No Border Network saw a rejuvenation of its mission as the Refugee crisis had gripped European borders and countries created migration controls to limit the flow of refugees. The No Border Network fused with numerous Refugee Solidarity networks to fight against rising anti-refugee sentiment and exclusionary tactics promoted by states. The new collective organized trans-national marches and vigils while also collaborating with organizations across Europe to provide essential services for refugees. This led to the creation of the current solidarity movement where activists and refugees are working together to march against rising anti-refugee sentiment while also creating links across Europe to provide essential services to refugees.
The political context that the refugee solidarity movement has existed in has been the the greatest foe and inspiration for activists across Europe. Refugee Solidarity activists have had to battle with rising tides of anti-refugee sentiment and Islamophobia that have not only been promoted by right wing activists but also governments across the European Union. Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland have actively rejected any imposition of a quota system on them, leaving activists in these countries left to battle state sponsored rejection of refugees. This has made their work incredibly difficult but has also inspired great activism work to counteract the harmful narrative being promoted about refugees and inspired solidarity activist groups across Europe to work together to help refugees.
Moreover, one of the greatest political challenges of the refugee solidarity movement has been the battle over the political message of refugees and the narrative surrounding their movement. Refugee Solidarity activists have highlighted the incredible danger that refugees have had to escape in order to come to Europe, as a tool for encouraging countries to take in more refugees. However, one of the most contentious and difficult actions of the movement has been the challenge against hateful narratives promoted by civil society organizations and governments who actively promote dangerous messages about refugees. Viktor Orban, President of Hungary, has repeatedly warned over the "Islamification" of Europe's Christian identity, if Europe took in more refugees. The Refugee Solidarity activists have had to battle this dangerous political narrative that has the support of numerous EU governments and attempt to showcase their version of refugee solidarity in a time where not only are they ostracized by many right-wing groups but also do not have a sympathetic ear in government and are considered outsiders and enemies of their own state.
An example of the dangerous political narrative is below where in the wake of the Cologne Sexual Assault scandal on New Years Eve, refugees and migrants were blamed for the more than 100 sexual assaults and robberies were reported against women in Central Cologne. Below is the response of many right wing activists in the city and across Germany had with many blaming Germany's welcoming attitude towards refugees for the crimes committed on New Years eve and calling for a complete end to Germany's asylum and refugee resettlement scheme.
The Solidarity Network has had to work against incredible opposing forces from right wing governments who stoke anti-refugee sentiments to the ineffectiveness of trans-national NGOs and their inability to provide essential services to refugees. Their outcomes have generally been limited by the rising anti-refugee and Islamophobic sentiment that has gripped Europe with many refugee solidarity groups particularly in Eastern Europe starting off on a weaker footing than those of anti-refugee groups who not only have greater resources but also have insider status with many governments such as Hungary and Poland and thus are able to achieve much more in stifling pro-refugee sentiment.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the solidarity movement has not been the physical services they have provided to vulnerable refugees but rather the connections they have built between solidarity activists across Europe and Africa, and have reignited the passion to create a Europe without borders. The Refugee Solidarity network has connected organizations across Europe and Africa with each other and allowed these organization to share expertise on activism and ways to provide effective services to refugees. There has been a large growth in the number of activists aiming to help refugees through solidarity mechanisms including by actively providing physical services but also through engaging in activism and protests that support refugees. Thousands of people have joined marches and vigils across Europe in show of solidarity with political and economic refugees seeking sanctuary from conflicts in Syria and elsewhere. The European Day of Action has been yearly in September and has brought thousands of solidarity activists onto the streets of London, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Vienna and Athens in support of the thousands who die trying to reach European shores and the hundreds of thousands others who are met with squalid conditions and governments who oppose their very introduction into Europe.
Alongside, direct action, solidarity activists have provided key services that meet the immediate needs of refugees that NGOs and government haven’t been able to. Instances of this include the previously mentioned No Border Kitchen, No Border Classroom, and legal aid which provide essential services but this also extends to ordinary activists providing whatever services they can. There have been instances along migrant routes where activists have offered refugees food, shelter, warm clothing and other essential services to ease the difficulty of their migration. The outcomes have truly been centered on individual activists providing whatever resources they have available with the movement acting as a collaborative network to aid and assist refugees across European borders.