immoral, failed refugee policy in Europe and subsistence trafficking of fake antiquities by asylum-seekers from North Africa and West Asia

When I was discussing subsistence trafficking of cultural objects by asylum-seekers with students of the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, I was reminded of a case from 2015, when Mesopotamian-style figurines were found in a tent (šotorov) at a reception centre (sprejemnem centru) for refugees (begunce) in Gruškovje, Slovenia. When they were found, they were believed to be ‘Sumerian statues of great historical value that could have been 4,500 years old [sumerske kipce velike zgodovinske vrednosti, ki bi lahko bili stari 4.500 let]’.

Checking for updates, I found an article by Vid Libnik for Slovenija Online (SiOL). Although the police investigation continued in Syria and Iraq at least until 2017, according to Uršula Belaj, a Senior Criminal Inspector (Višja Kriminalistična Inšpektorica) at the Criminal Police Directorate (Upravi Kriminalistične Policije) who was relaying the opinion of experts at the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodnem Muzeju Slovenije) and elsewhere, the three ‘statuettes they [had] found at Gruškovje [were] most likely forged [Kipci, ki so jih našli na Gruškovju, so najverjetneje ponarejeni]’. There is a ‘high probability [velika verjetnost]’ that they are ‘fakes [ponaredke]’.

Paraphrased then quoted by Libnik, Belaj observed: ‘During the refugee wave, many fake statuettes and other objects of cultural heritage appeared, which originated in these areas. “Some even carried tourist souvenirs with them and sold them as originals in the EU [European Union].” [Med begunskim valom se je pojavilo veliko ponaredkov kipcev in drugih predmetov kulturne dediščine, ki izvira s teh območij. “Nekateri so s seboj nosili celo turistične spominke in jih v EU prodajali kot originale.”]’

As is demonstrated by the abandonment of the objects, as well as by the nature of the objects, the carriers of the objects were not criminals by any meaningful definition of the word. They were asylum-seekers who were trying to escape from repression, devastation and sometimes genocide.

When they found safety, they abandoned those meagre assets, even though they could still have sold them for money that would still have been spent on basic goods. This flow of fraudulently-sold cultural goods into European markets is a (morally and materially insignificant) product not only of mass violence under repressive governments and in conflict zones across North Africa and West Asia, but also of the immoral and failed yet persisting refugee/migration policies of European governments, including Slovenia, which have got worse and worse.

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