Refugees & Protesters Occupy Vacant School Building in Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg
"We hope we will find a way, as we will not find a solution. What the refugees are demanding continues to be the alteration of the asylum law in Berlin, on the federal level, as well as Europe-wide. The district is not going to attain that. "("Wir hoffen, dass wir einen Weg zu finden, weil wir werden keine Lösung finden, denn das was die Flüchtlinge fordern ist ja weiterhin die Veränderung des Asylgesetzes in Berlin, im Bund, wie europaweit. Das wird der Bezirk nicht hinbekommen.")¹ – Monika Herrmann (Bündnis ’90/die Grünen), District Mayor of Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg
On Tuesday morning 24 June 2014 the District Council of Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg ordered the squatters in the vacant Gerhart-Hauptmann School on Ohlauerstraße be relocated from the premises to group housing facilities officially designated to house immigrants seeking asylum in Germany. Those squatters not seeking asylum, for the most part an estimated 21 Roma families from the South-Eastern EU, were set to be temporarily housed in an workers’ hostel.
Several of the squatters residing in the vacant school had moved to the school after dismantling their protest encampment on Kreuberg’s Oranienplatz, where asylum seekers from all over German had gathered, and spent the winter after having staged a cross-country protest march to bring attention to ever more restrictive EU and federal immigration laws many view as unjust, and inhumane.
The already tense European situation is particularly precarious in Kreuzberg, as this Berlin district has often seen political, and human rights protests that have not always ended peacefully. To make matters worse, many refugees living in the Gerhart-Hauptmann School, as well as many of the protesters of the districts efforts to move the squatters out of the school feel that Berlin’s governing body, the Senate, in particular the Senator of the Interior, Mr. Frank Henkel (CDU), have not kept up their side of the agreement that was drawn-up by Senator for Labor, Women, and Integration, Ms. Dilek Kolat (SPD) and agreed upon by the Senate, and the asylum seekers when the Oranienplatz encampment dispersed in March of this year. This agreement was the precondition for the refugees willingness to leave Oranienplatz, and guaranteed among other things, adequate housing, language classes for the refugees, and right of residency in Berlin, and a deportation moratorium until such time as each application for asylum could be reviewed.
Refugees spokespeople argue that language courses were not forthcoming, the living conditions in the group housing facilities provided were intolerable, and there has been not one case of right of residency reviewed in the past 3 months. On the contrary, they see the agreement violated due to the arrest of a 27 year old man from Niger on 10 June 2014 in the town of Burg in the German land of Sachsen-Anhalt. The man from Niger had applied for residency in Sachsen-Anhalt in March of 2013, and participated in the Berlin, Oranienplatz protest encampment. He had left Berlin, in spite of having been urged not to go out-side of the city limits, as the Oranienplatz agreement was only applicable to the city state of Berlin. Though the 27 year old was released from custody the following day, and the presiding judge in the matter confirmed the legally binding nature of the Oranienplatz Agreement, many here in Berlin seem to believe he was deported. An actual deportation was not planned at any time, in actual fact he was to be returned to Italy, the EU country by way of which he entered the EU, in keeping with EU law, where his case would be reviewed.
Alarmed by the eviction of the G.-Hauptmann School squatters, and disgruntled by the perceived inaction of the city of Berlin, and rumors of immanent deportations, demonstrators and refugees have articulated several demands, as summarized here by a supportive organization the Migrationsrat Berlin&Brandenburg:
- An immediate end to the eviction of the Gerhart-Hauptmann School begun on 24.06.2014, and the immediate withdrawal of the massive police presence! (Die sofortige Beendigung der seit 24.06.2014 begonnen Räumung der Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule und den sofortigen Abzug des massiven Polizeiaufgebots!)
- The fulfillment of the refugees’ demands including the granting of residency status by the Senator of the Interior in keeping with paragraph 23 of the Residency Act of the Federal Republic of Germany! (Den Forderungen der Flüchtlingen nachzukommen, u.a. Erteilung des Aufenthalts nach § 23 Aufenthaltsgesetz durch den Innensenator!)
- Ensuring of the protesters’ human rights by the policy-makers: guaranteeing their health and wellbeing including food, clothing, and medical care! (Die Wahrung der Menschenrechte der Protestierenden durch die Entscheidungsträger_innen: Sicherstellung der Gesundheit und des Wohls, einschließlich Nahrung, Kleidung und ärztliche Versorgung!)
- Commencing serious negotiations in the presence of neutral observers and mediators from migrant organizations! (Die Aufnahme ernstzunehmender Verhandlungen und die Hinzuziehung von neutralen Beobachter_innen und Vermittler_innen aus den Migrannt_innenselbstorganisationen!)
- Granting the press unlimited access to the school! (Den uneingeschränkten Einlass der Presse in die Schule!
I was given an anonymous flier with the title “WE JUST WANT FREEDOM” at the protest march held on Saturday, 28. June 2014, in solidarity with those occupying the school. The flier went on in German to present the protesters’ grievances. In the last paragraph it states, the demands of the people in the school are “simple and understandable” (German: “einfach und nachvollziehbar”), “Freedom and self-determination” (German: “Freiheit und die Möglichkeit eines selbstbestimmten Leben”. Much as these may be understandable demands, freedom, and self determination are far form being simple demands. If they were, far more people would enjoy these rights, and we would have less occasion to stage a lovely protest like the one on Saturday at which several thousand citizens demonstrated accompanied by scores of police.
The right to freedom and self-determination seldom is granted unconditionally, and it is precisely these (in this case legal) pre-conditions that are not being met by the refugees occupying the vacant school building. Whether we believe that this is justifiably so or not is of course the next question, to which i will come back in a moment. Clearly it would be unwise on the part of policy makers, if they were to allow the impression to arise, they could be pressured (some have even used the word “blackmailed” (German: “erpresst”)) into issuing official documents without due process. Berlin’s Senator of the Interior, Frank Henkel (CDU) is not known to be a conservative hard-liner, however his bureau had taken no action to clarify the refugee status of those protesting on Oranienplatz until last week when the protests in the G.-Hauptmann School began, though this status clarification was one of the primary condition of the March 2014 agreement between the protesters and the Berlin Senate drawn up by the Senator for Integration, Dilek Kolat, as a result of which the protest camp on Oranieplatz was given up by the protesters. Some suggest that Senator Henkel’s bureau was less than co-operative in the above, and several other respects. This has led to a certain degree of mistrust of city officials on the part of the refugees and their supporters.
No matter where one may stand on the current deadlocked situation, the essential demands of the refugees and their supporters would seem to be very pressing: a fundamental change of attitude on matters like freedom of movement, migration, ethnicity and the nation-state, as well as the rewriting of the German and EU asylum laws.
To my great relief the following statement was posted Sunday 29 June 2014 on the Facebook page of Hans-Christian Ströbele (Bündnis ’90/die Grünen), one of our most levelheaded, and legally savvy elder statesmen, stating in essence he has been asked to come in as a moderator between the refugees, and the Senate.
Gesternwar ich nachmittags in der G-Hauptmann-Schule in Berlin-Kreuzberg, wo zahlreiche Flüchtlinge vor allem aus verschiedenen Ländern weiter sind. Die Flüchtlinge hatten bei mir anfragen lassen, ob ich als Vermittler zur Verfügung stehe. Ich habe mich bereit erklärt. Nach einer längeren Besprechung im Bezirksamt bin ich zur Schule gefahren. Die Flüchtlinge haben mich überaus freundlich empfangen und mir auch geholfen auf das Dach zu kommen, um mit den Personen, die sich dort aufhalten zu sprechen. Anwesend war bei den Gesprächen im Haus noch ein Vertreter aus der ev. Kirche. Ich habe meine Gesprächspartner über Diskussionsvorschläge des Bezirksamtes und von Bezirkspolitikern zur Lösung der Probleme informiert. Sie wollten darüber beraten. Wir haben auch darüber gesprochen, welche Initiativen beim Senat und auf Bundesebene unternommen werden sollten, um Forderungen der Flüchtlinge nach Aufenthaltspapieren, Bleiberecht, Ende von Residenzpflicht und Arbeitsverbot geltend zu machen. Morgen werde ich erneut dort sein, um Stellungnahmen der Flüchtlinge einzuholen.
Wegen der auf Dauer unerträglichen Beschränkungen und Belastungen der Bevölkerung in den Straßen durch den massiven Polizeieinsatz rund um die besetzte Schule habe ich selbst bisher nichts erreichen können. Ich gehe aber davon aus, daß dieser Einsatz zeitnah zurückgeführt und beendet wird.
Several videos (in German) that may give insight into the current situation:
Hakan Tas (die Linke), Speaker of the Berlin Dept. of the Interior
Hans Panhoff (Bündnis ’90/die Grünen), District Council – Planning, Building, Environment
Sascha Langenbach, District Press Secretary
Emotion & lack of information
Unfamiliarity with local law and due process & language barriers
Sascha Langenbach, District Press Secretary
¹ Studiogespräch mit Bezirksbürgermeisterin von Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Monika Herrmann (Bündnis ’90/die Grünen): ‘Nervenkrieg um Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule – Bezirk will mit Besetzern sprechen’ on RBB-online Abendschau, 25 June 2014 [http://www.rbb-online.de/politik/thema/streit-um-fluechtlingsheime/beitraege/fluechtlinge-gerhart-hauptmann-schule-in-berlin.html] last viewed 29 June 2014.