Organised resistance in Germany’s capital

A look back on more than one year of refugee-strike in Berlin

by Grüne Jugend

In the beginning of October a protestmarch of refugees, who started in Würzburg (Souther Germany), reached Berlin. Already at the city boundaries, the activists were loudly welcomed by other refugees and supporters. The German capital was the goal of the refugees from the very start, to directly pressure political decision makers here. Maybe also the alternative environment of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg was a factor, because shortly after the arrival of the protest march, the refugees and their supporters built up a (?) camp on “Oranienplatz” in the middle of Kreuzberg (a district of Berlin). The Green district mayor at that time, Franz Schulz, was fast in making clear that the protest was to be regarded as legitimate and that the district will support the camp. Against the demands from the Berlin Senate (the city council), most prominent from the Christian-Conservatives (CDU), the Green were not willing to clear the camp, but wanted to tolerate it for an undefined time.

Initially, there was a real wave of support – volunteers were assuming responsibility for the information stand of the camp, people were donating items and money, mobile sanitary facilities were installed and the media attention was enormous. The camp served as starting point for actions and demonstrations. The biggest of these was the beginning of hunger strike of the refugees, who for this reason moved to the center of the capital – the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately the district mayor of this area – a social-democrat – was not at all open to the refugees and tried to make the strike as inconvenient for them as possible. In addition, the police was assailing the activists with absurd demands and restrictions. It was, for instance, forbidden to lie IN sleeping bags, ON the sleeping bags on the other side was allowed.

But also here the was a huge wave of solidarity. The head of a bus company was sponsoring even a bus in which the refugees hunger-strikers could take a rest.
After some time, political representatives were reacting, too. The refugees were demanding to talk with the Minister of interior amongst others. The Integration Commissioner of the federal government showed up and promised to forward the demands of the strike to the Parliament and the government. Consequently to this, the refugees gave up their hunger strike – without any results.

When winter came, the refugees started to occupy an empty school near the protest camp. The Greens again declared that they are supportive to the cause of the strike and do not intend to clear the school – but under certain conditions only. The building should in the future be available as home to different initiatives and associations. Therefore the old school should only be used as winter quarters, but not for a longer term.

In the course of the year 2013 a counter development to the initial euphoria and the enthusiasm of the refugees and their supporters could be discerned. Conflicts within and without the camp, lack of success and decreasing external readiness to support the refugees changed the conditions of the engagement in the camp as well as in the school. Towards the end of the year winter quarters were found for the refugees. After the majority of the refugees moved into the respective house, the Oranienplatz should have been vacated. That was the way the Greens of the district understood their agreement with the refugees, but these didn’t want to give the camp as the central place of their protest. The Greens of the district therefore further tolerate the camp as it is now. The Christian-Conservatives and the Social-Democrats on the other hand, especially their senator of the interior Henkel, are still trying to achieve the removal of the camp. The Young Greens of Berlin keep supporting the protest of the refugees and their demands and campaign for the self-determination and definition of the protest.

Among the most central demands are:
– the recognition of all asylum seekers as political refugees
– the immediate stop of all deportations
– the abolishment of “Residenzpflicht” (a regulation, that strictly controls where asylum seekers are allowed to go, often they cannot leave the county or region where the collective accommodation is)
– the abolishment of the obligatory stay of asylum seekers in “refugee lagers”

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