Wednesday, 2 July 2014

On Migrants

I've been thoroughly unsettled over the past few days by the escalating conflict over refugees in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Nina Rossmann has a profile of a refugee and some background information on the protests at Slow Travel Berlin, while Philip Oltermann wrote more generally on the developments in the Guardian and Sharon Dodua Otoo called out the international press on its lack of reporting.

It's a complicated issue, with wrangling over political responsibility seemingly slowing everything down further. Refugees whose cases are being processed elsewhere have contravened the (ridiculous) ban on leaving the administrative territories where they applied for asylum and come to Berlin to protest their inhumane treatment. And they've been protesting (mainly) in Kreuzberg, where the local council is responsible for evicting them from the school they've occupied. Only it didn't issue an eviction notice until the police forced its hand. A number of refugees are now camping out on the school's roof and refusing to come down until their demands are met (which were officially granted after the previous occupation, four months ago, but have not been put into practice). So we have a national – indeed, global – issue being tackled on a local basis, with local residents and other supporters protesting at the refugees' treatment and subjected to brutal treatment by a municipal police force.

I don't understand why the protest is so divisive, nor why it has erupted into violence. I have always understood post-WWII Germany as a country that has profited socially, culturally and economically from migration and has a moral obligation to take in refugees. Not that any country does not have that moral obligation to save people from persecution elsewhere.

It's enough, I think, that those of us who have come to Germany are people, but some of those people are particularly creative and have contributed great things to the culture. At the Berliner Büchertisch, Jana Weiß has started a column on Berlin writers and their city. One of those she portrays is Mascha Kaléko, who arrived in the city from Polish Galicia at the age of 16 in 1923. She adopted and adapted the Berlin dialect for her poetry until she was banned from publishing her work, being Jewish, in 1935 and in 1938 emigrated to the USA. How can people fail to make a connection between persecution in Germany then and persecution now in other parts of the world?

Words Without Borders also has a new issue up, focusing on migrant labour around the world, something that has shaped today's Germany. Please read Mely Kiyak's memories of her father, one of the guest workers from Turkey, translated by Rebecca Heier. How can we treat people as statistics when we can read stories about them as individuals? If you read German, your next stop should be Kiyak's latest column for the Gorki Theater, in which she talks about doormen who choose who to let in and who to keep out, and asks:
On the roof of the school, which has been widely cordoned off for days, there are people who are prepared to jump to their deaths if we don't allow them a life worth living in Germany. The state does not want to be seen as giving in to blackmail. My question: is blackmail the right word when the ransom to be obtained is humanity?
Humanity is a door that is opened. But our state is standing in front of it like a grouchy doorman, waiting. Waiting for what? I don't understand it.
Nor do I. 

If you want to do a tiny thing that might help, you can sign a solidarity petition at Or you can show support via @Ohlauerinfo in various ways.

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