Refugees in Europe demand collective solutions
Two recent examples of collective demands by asylum seekers in Germany show that groups of refugees take collective action to hold European countries responsible for their situation, instead of subjecting themselves to the rules of these countries.
Munich hunger strike
On June 30, Police in Munich raided and evacuated a protest camp of refugees who were on a ‘dry’ hunger strike (i.e. they refuse food and liquids). The 55 refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries were taken to hospital against their will and were separated from their supporters. They are demanding that their asylum claims be granted immediately, instead of being processed slowly, one by one. They entered a hunger strike on June 23 and, after receiving no response from the authorities, escalated their actions three days later and also refused water. Then, on June 27, 12 supporters joined in the hunger strike.
The group is holding European countries responsible for the fact that they had to flee their home countries and they deny the German government the right to question their situation and motives.
“We are here because of centuries of colonisation, exploitation and economic boycotts that have destroyed the political and economic infrastructure of peripheral countries. We are here because your governments have forged political and economic friendships with dictatorships. That is why we don’t accept that the German government has any right to question the reasons for our presence, or to judge us according to its own justice system.”
they say in a declaration addressed to German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The raid came after negotiations between the hunger strikers and politicians failed. Several refugees collapsed during the talks and were taken to hospital, yet no concessions were made by the politicians and officials, according to the refugees. The authorities have justified the raid as a ‘humanitarian intervention’, aimed at saving the lives of the hunger strikers. Their supporters accuse the politicians of using the situation for electioneering.
It is unclear at the moment how the situation will develop.
Lampedusa in Hamburg
Thousands of refugees from sub-Saharan African countries who used to work in Libya were forced to flee when the NATO bombing of Tripoli started in March 2011. Unable to return to their home countries, they fled to Lampedusa, Italy where they were processed and given temporary papers, but without being recognised as refugees. With more and more refugees arriving, the Italian authorities built camps and the EU gave out grants to house and feed them. When the EU money ran out, the Italian authorities decided to get rid of the refugees and gave them up to €500 on the condition that they leave Italy. The temporary papers enable them to travel legally within the EU, but they are not entitled to work or to receive any assistance, including medical care.
Three hundred of them arrived a few months ago in Hamburg, Germany, in the middle of winter. Most of them stayed in a night shelter for homeless people which the city provides during winter months. When the night shelter closed in April, the refugees found themselves on the street.
They formed a group “Lampedusa in Hamburg” and wrote:
“We are all victims of a war that had been escalated by NATO to a level that only gave us the possibility to flee because of human rights abuses, war crimes, bombardments and massacres. Most of us are born in sub-Saharan countries and found shelter in Libya after we had been fleeing because of political reasons or the de-stability in our home countries. In Libya we had work that provided ourselves, our families and communities in our home countries.
We are victims of a war in which several European states were involved. We are victims of a European refugee policy that is not in tune with international and European human rights- and refugee conventions.
We, those who survived the war, and formed the group „Lampedusa in Hamburg“, are not willing to let people push us from one disaster into another, because this is no perspective for a living. Since we went into public in May 2013, we witnessed a great wave of solidarity.”
The story has bee covered widely in the German press and has been the subject of a debate in the Hamburg regional parliament. Many people have shown solidarity with the 300 and more than 1000 attended a demo to support their demands.
Some are currently staying in a church, but their temporary papers are going to expire soon. Were they to apply for asylum, the German government would deport them to Italy under the so-called Dublin II accord, which rules that applications for asylum have to be made in the country where the person first enters the EU. Instead, they demand to be granted residency as a group without having to apply individually to the Italian authorities, who have already made it quite clear that they don’t want them.
This collective approach seems to be the only way out of the eternal state of limbo in which many refugees find themselves in Europe.