Racist agitation and inhumane laws – refugees say enough is enough. As loud as ever women are involved in the protest. An encounter with the fighters of Kreuzberg.
Racist agitation and inhumane laws – refugees say enough is enough. Women are involved in protests more loudly than ever before. An encounter with the fighters of Kreuzberg.
(We publish this article from the current issue of Missy due to a current event: After some of the refugees from Berlin’s Oranienplatz moved yesterday to a winter shelter provided by the city, Berlin police tried to clear the camp.
District Mayor Monika Herrmann (Greens) had been trying to find accommodation for quite some time. Only the info tent, in which the group had informed about their demands for a different asylum policy, should remain at Oranienplatz, according to the agreement. On Friday, the refugees had agreed to move into the former Caritas senior citizens’ home "Zum guten Hirten" in Wedding, which CDU Social Affairs Senator Mario Czaja and district mayor Monika Herrmann have provided. So everything is fine? Unfortunately no.
The 80 places made available there were quickly full on Sunday, and further refugees could not be accommodated. More important, however, is what Napuli Langa, spokeswoman for the group and protagonist of Carolin Wiedemann’s report, told the taz: "We don’t want to leave here, the camp is our battlefield against camps, deportations and the residence obligation."Only because there is now a house as accommodation, none of these demands is fulfilled yet.
Missy supports this demand and the activists of the camp. Here is the post…)
Napuli? The two men at the information booth of the protest camp at Oranienplatz nod: "She’ll be back soon, she always comes back." And there she is, on her bike, pedaling hard, waving and grinning. "Sorry, I’m late," she exclaims. She was just at Alexanderplatz to campaign for the cancellation of the controversial TV format "On the run".
Napuli Paul Langa, in her mid-20s, joined the refugees’ protest tour of Germany in fall 2012 and has been camping at Oranienplatz in Berlin-Kreuzberg ever since. The tour and the camp were the prelude to a self-organization that surpasses all previous refugee protests in size, public perception and clout – and in which women are also centrally involved for the first time: They loudly draw attention to their situation and the double discrimination, as for example at the conference "Refugee women say: enough is enough!". They appropriate space, like in a former school in Berlin, or they even keep the protest going, like at Oranienplatz, where Napuli invites politicians to talk to the camp, manages donations and organizes working groups.
A good year ago, a bus of protesting asylum seekers stopped in front of the camp in Braunschweig where Napuli was quartered. She had only spent a few months there, much less than most of those who did not dare to leave the area. "But I knew I had to leave here," she says. "You are thrown into a cage, a high fence runs around the outside, guards inside, and you have to wait, sometimes up to 15 years, always in fear of being deported. This makes people crazy."
"That people seeking protection are treated like criminals, that’s unbelievable."
In response to the suicide of an Iranian asylum seeker, refugees had set up the first protest camp in Wurzburg in early 2012, camps in other cities followed, including the camp at Oranienplatz. Then in September 2012, 20 men set off from the camp in Wurzburg to walk from Bavaria to Berlin-Kreuzberg. At the same time, a bus tour in western Germany mobilized for the action.
28 days after the start of the march, 200 protesters arrived at Oranien-platz. Since then, the activists there have been waging their fight against the placement in shelters, the ban on work and the residence obligation: a regulation that defines the radius within which asylum seekers are allowed to stay – and which does not apply in any other European country. "That those who often flee already traumatized, from Afghanistan, Syria or African countries, are treated like criminals where they seek protection is unbelievable," says Napuli, who fled Sudan.
On Oranienstrasse, she is greeted by passersby. In English, she tells how they set up the camp: Decentralized, grassroots and open it should be. More and more people joined; others left to continue the protest elsewhere. Napuli is the only one at Oranienplatz who was already on the protest tour and stayed on. She has struggled to ensure that individual groups do not dominate the protest – as was the case with earlier refugee movements, in which exile communities often joined together in view of their respective national fate of persecution – or men, as was also the case with most earlier movements. Napuli gives awareness training for this in the camp: "We discuss what sexism is in the first place, that even certain ways of speaking exclude or discriminate against women." This would also make it easier to work with the women from the school.
For 15 years there has been protest against the conditions in the homes. It changes: almost nothing.
The school is the other central place of protest in Berlin, a ten-minute walk from the camp. Last year, as winter set in, activists from Oranienplatz occupied a Kreuzberg school that had been empty for almost two years, with the intention of making it a center of protest across Germany. When they moved into the building, a group of refugee women and supporters occupied a separate area that men are not allowed to enter: the "International Women Space".
Addressing sexism within the movement to the outside world is double-edged, the protesting women know that. In June, the activists from Oranienplatz, together with those from the school, published a statement condemning sexism on the one hand and reminding people of the power of racism on the other: "It must be acknowledged that the idea that male refugees are more sexist than other men is permeated by hegemonic, racist ways of thinking that portray male refugees as rapists and criminals."But as long as sexism exists worldwide, in the majority society in Germany as in most of the countries from which people have fled, it will not stop at the refugee movement either. That’s why the space is needed only for women, for protection, but also for self-organization, find Anna and Terese, who fled Kenya and have been living in one of the former classrooms in the "Women Space" since March.
On the left are three beds, next to them is a sitting area. The furniture was donated by supporters, as were the refrigerator and two electric hotplates. Terese and Anna each had only one suitcase with them when they arrived, hoping once again that they could finally be a little bit human in this new place. They have put a floral cover over the old armchairs, Terese is standing at the small stove stirring a pot of spinach and anchovies. The rising steam spreads a spicy smell that mixes with the scent of Anna’s body lotion in the middle of the room. She washed over a bucket filled with water from the stairwell toilet rooms.
As she creams herself, she talks about the camp, about being crammed into a small room with other refugees who don’t speak the same languages, who don’t speak fluent English like she and Terese do, about being given food and a bed, like in a cattle farm the same for everyone. "And your life shall be: Eat, sleep, eat, sleep!", she shouts and slips into a short dress. Terese spices things up and says, "People are creative, communicative beings – when they’re locked up, not allowed to decide anything for themselves and have no privacy, they go into. This is psychological torture."
Staff now have to knock before entering the rooms – a small success.
In response to camp activists’ demands, although for the first time consideration was given to paying refugees in the shelters the money they were entitled to in cash and abolishing the voucher system. A system with which, for example, the former Minister of the Interior of Lower Saxony, Uwe Schunemann (CDU), declared "incentives for entry into the Federal Republic of Germany or. to the whereabouts" wanted to avoid. But although there have been constant protests against the conditions in the homes since the 1990s, little has changed there overall – which women suffer from in particular.
Elisabeth Ngari of Women in Exile (WIE), a self-organization founded in Brandenburg in 2002, explains: "There is far too little space in the camps, and women in particular are subjected to assaults, both by the staff and by male refugees." WIE initiated in 2011 the campaign "No camps for women and children. Abolish all camps!" with the handing over of a memorandum to the Brandenburg Minister of Social Affairs. "That was a small success," says Ngari, who herself spent six years in a refugee home in the Uckermark region from 1996 onward. "On our initiative, the Ministry of Social Affairs forbade the home’s staff from entering the refugees’ rooms without knocking, had separate women’s toilets installed in some homes, and thought about housing women in apartments."
But now, with more people fleeing to Germany than in recent years in the wake of the crisis in Syria, for example, Ngari fears that politicians could reverse the trend, claiming that such capacity is limited. In Hamburg Lokstedt, a so-called container village has just been opened, and other cities are also discussing new camps again. The new protest movement, however, gives hope, says Ngari. She wishes refugee women perseverance to continue organizing. Like at the conference in Hamburg in April.
130 women from 29 countries participated. Many had come from refugee homes, shared their experiences at the conference and formed working groups to further strengthen their position within the movement, as with the "KARAWANE Refugee Women’s Movement" founded there. Napuli was also there, she talked about her struggle, about the situation in the camp. Some of the women went back to the camps after the conference, spreading the messages of the protest, telling about the school in Kreuzberg.
Compared to the camp, Anna and Terese live in the Kreuzberg camp like in paradise
Anna gets mending kit from a box to plug a hole in the leggings she pulls under her dress. Terese distributes semolina on plates and adds the green spinach and anchovy sauce. "In the camp, I always thought at first that it was temporary, that they would give me an apartment soon. But then I was transferred to another camp," says Terese. "There we were miles from the nearest bus stop, not a soul living in the area – as if they were trying to hide us," Anna adds. Here they are among people, they can go to the park or to the Maybachufer, to where the people from the neighborhood enjoy life, they can decide for themselves what they want to buy from the donations of the supporters, cook for themselves, choose their own lotion and sew their own clothes. "Compared to the camp, this is paradise." But they are permanently afraid of having to go back.
Currently, the mayor of the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Monika Herrmann (Greens), can still prevail against the pressure of the Senate to clear the camp. But Interior State Secretary Bernd Kromer (CDU) never tires of repeating: "It is the duty of refugees to make a proper application for asylum."Just like Anna and Terese, Napuli would be sent back to a camp according to this law. She will not accept this.
Napuli’s father was a politician in the party of the Sudanese president al-Bashir and thus mostly in the seat of government in northern Sudan. She lived with her mother and siblings in South Sudan, where she fought patriarchal structures as a child in order to attend high school. While studying Development Studies at the University of Khartoum, she became involved with a human rights organization, rising through the ranks there. When the conflict between North Sudan and South Sudan escalated in 2011, her father resigned from office – Napuli’s family was among the enemies of the state. Napuli was captured. After four days of imprisonment in a cellar without light, during which she was mistreated, she was suddenly released; she was supposed to obtain important documents on the non-governmental organizations. She managed to escape to the neighboring country Uganda, where she was soon wanted, then on to Germany.
The authorities are particularly interested in how she got here. According to the EU’s Dublin II Regulation of 2003, refugees may only apply for asylum in the European country they first enter. So within Europe, the German government can often quickly push them back to the countries that offer them the least protection, like Italy or Greece. So, in depth, the refugees are examined, but rarely are they asked sensitively. In the short interviews they have to tell rich in detail, without contradictions and meaning to prove the credibility of their fate. "This is terrible and disastrous for all traumatized refugees, and especially for women who have experienced sexual violence," says Najafi Behsid from Cologne, one of the founders of "agisra," an information and counseling center run by and for migrant and refugee women. Structural racism and everyday racism are interdependent. The outcry against the Nazis of Hellersdorf can’t hide the fact that resentment is also high in the middle-class middle class. In Germany, for example, there has almost always been resistance from local residents to the construction of accommodation for asylum seekers, ranging from letters of protest to politicians to the emergence of a right-wing mob, depending on the location.
"The dignity of man is inviolable – that is mendacious." Mimi does not want to belong to such a system.
Mimi also lives in the Kreuzberg school because her apartment around the corner was evicted and also out of solidarity with asylum seekers, whose struggle she understands all too well. She’s emaciated, her experiences marked on her body. She doesn’t like to talk about how she fared as a child in Kenya, much less how she fared when she came to Germany as a teenager in the 1990s and was orphaned and put into foster care. "As an orphaned foster child you have already lost anyway, the only thing worse is: as an orphaned foster child from Africa in Germany."Mimi has a permanent residence permit, she could apply for citizenship, but she doesn’t want that at all "Human dignity is inviolable – that’s a lie, I don’t want to belong to such a system. Slavery and colonialism have not been dealt with, that is deep-seated."
That colonial conditions continue, the activists of the movement remind us again and again. They not only demand what the Basic Law stipulates, a humane treatment of refugees, but they also make European countries jointly responsible for the conditions in their countries, be it poverty caused by continuous exploitation or murder through the supply of weapons. The motto of the caravan at the "Refugee Tribunal against the FRG" was: We are here because you destroy our countries. "But we sit together and talk. No one would have dreamed of such a thing 50 years ago."Mimi smiles and adds: "A hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote!"
At Oranienplatz, Napuli is on the phone with another activist, talking about another meeting with politicians from the Berlin Senate. After many talks, the Senate administration has promised 60 additional cold aid places by the end of March in the district. The info tent at Oranienplatz remains occupied even in winter. Napuli finds: Protest must continue to be visible, otherwise nothing will change. "If I’m deported, at least I’ll know that I fought for my sisters and brothers, for people to get closer to each other."