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February 16, 2014 12:21 AM   Subscribe

"In early 2013, roughly 300 West African refugees reached the German city of Hamburg, following a long and perilous journey from Libya...The Lampedusa refugees hoped to receive refugee status from the German state. But German authorities, deferring to EU guidelines, refused to provide them with any sort of accommodations, instead attempting to expel them from the city. As refugees, of course, they had nowhere else to go. So they decided to organize a solidarity campaign to counter the intimidation and bullying of the authorities."

"What no one could have predicted in Hamburg was the immense, spontaneous wave of sympathy and solidarity their campaign generated."

Major cultural and social institutions in the city mobilized behind the refugees. Churches and mosques opened their doors. Squats and left-wing cultural centers made space for the Lampedusa to stay. Eighty refugees were taken in by the St. Pauli Church, next to the famous squatter village in the Hafenstraße and Park Fiction."

(via Jacobin magazine)
posted by all the versus (39 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I am seeking refuge from harassment and intimidation. Succor from prejudice and ill-feeling. My journey has been long and hard and terrifying. I am not moving again."
posted by infini at 12:46 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


"What no one could have predicted in Hamburg was the immense, spontaneous wave of sympathy and solidarity their campaign generated."

As someone living in Australia, I am kind of in a state of disbelief right now.

This sort of thing is exactly what "our" policy is designed to stop. And I can only assume this sort of thing will cause tensions down the track.

But I am curious: how did 300 West African refugees get from Lampedusa, offshore Italy, all the way to Hamburg?

Why Hamburg?

And why did the refugees’ presence in Hamburg violate European law? Aren't the EU member states signed up to the UN asylum conventions? (Not that that means anything, as our esteemed leaders can attest).
posted by Mezentian at 1:02 AM on February 16


Mezentian: "And why did the refugees’ presence in Hamburg violate European law?"
Because Lampedusa is in Italy.
The Dublin Regulation aims to “determine rapidly the Member State responsible [for an asylum claim]” and provides for the transfer of an asylum seeker to that Member State. Usually, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.
posted by brokkr at 1:28 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


brokkr beat me to it, your first questions sort of answer your last question. For the sake of clarity (because the Wikipedia article is not Wikipedia at its best), here is the "official summary" of the Dublin II Regulation.
posted by howfar at 1:38 AM on February 16


So, to expand, "As refugees, of course, they had nowhere else to go", is a potentially misleading sentence, depending on whether the Italian authorities were prepared to take responsibility for them in accordance with their legal duty.

This is no comment on the politics of the situation, or on my sympathy for the individuals concerned. I believe in open borders, but we don't have them. We *do* have free movement of people within the EU, and no border controls within the Schengen Area. Given the combination of these circumstances, some process for assigning responsibility for irregular migrants is inevitable.

Having said that, the Dublin system appears, according to those who know more about the specifics of EU asylum law and practice than I do, to be a demonstrably flawed way of managing the assignment of responsibility. See here and here.

Which is itself not necessarily to say that the Dublin system was, in fact, functioning in a flawed manner here. But morally, it seems to me a miserable state of affairs that requires people to stay anywhere just because they were born there. I was born in Peterborough, for fuck's sake. Should I still be living there?
posted by howfar at 1:55 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


It's worth pointing out that Germany already homes the highest number of refugees in the EU by quite some margin, at over half a million. This is partly social; the southern med countries are somewhat less welcoming to african and muslim refugees; partly economic, given Germany is also the wealthiest nation in the EU; and partly locational, as they received a LOT of refugees from the balkan area such as Bosnia, Albania, ex-soviet republics, and currently Syria (escaping through the Balkans). They are widely known to be amongst the most welcoming EU state for refugees at the personal level (particularly from the political Left), so the open-heartedness of the Hamburg people shoudn't be quite the shock the article paints it as, though it is of course highly commendable.

Given free movement of peoples inside the EU, the dublin regulation was intended such that refugees (both political and economic) wouldn't immediately all flock to one or two countries; the idea being that 'any port in a storm' should apply. How fair that is to individual refugees is another matter of course, and a more complex problem.

The island of Lampedusa is the closest part of Italy to Africa - geologically, it's actually part of Africa - so is a primary destination of people smugglers getting people out of Libya and Tunisia. You only have to look at a map to see why. Italy has repeatedly asked for help from the EU with the many refugees, and been turned down; they do deport 'illegal' immigrants back to Libya, which has drawn a lot of criticism.

Sorting out refugees and determining who are political/religious etc asylum seekers (and thus must and should be taken in for safety by international law) and those who are 'just' economic migrants, seeking a better life (who are not required to be accepted) - but who are often met with hostility by host population and governments in southern europe who are already struggling themselves economically - makes it an even more complex social, political and economic situation. And of course, you have the unfortunate individuals stuck in the middle of it, trying to escape persecution, war and poverty.

This is one of the biggest issues faced by the EU, and there are no easy answers.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:32 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


I was born in Peterborough, for fuck's sake.

I am so sorry.

Should I still be living there?

No. But the better question is, should anyone who wants to live in Peterborough be allowed to live there and receive accommodation and food from Peterborough unconditionally, i.e. even without visa, green card, etc., and even if they can claim asylum in, say, Italy?

And what would the people of Peterborough say if suddenly 300 people from West Africa showed up at their doorstep and demanded to stay? Would those people be welcomed like they were in Hamburg?
posted by sour cream at 2:43 AM on February 16


But the better question is, should anyone who wants to live in Peterborough be allowed to live there and receive accommodation and food from Peterborough unconditionally, i.e. even without visa, green card, etc., and even if they can claim asylum in, say, Italy?

I think you missed the bulk of what I said. Dublin II appears to be flawed, but is not purposeless given the current state of the world. My moral objection is to any form of border control whatsoever, not to the management of asylum seekers given that border controls do, in fact, exist.
posted by howfar at 2:51 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


The EU laws on this are purely meant to shield the wealthier parts of the EU (Germany, Benelux, France, UK) from having to deal with too many migrants/asylum seekers, the borders being where they are. It puts the onus of having to deal with African or Middle Eastern conflicts on those countries least able to deal with them. Before these arrangments, the country in which asylum was actually claimed, rather than the first EU country reached, was responsible for handling them.

In the nineties and early naughties this was a recurrent theme in Dutch politics at least, with various xenophobic parties (Centrumdemocraten, LPF, PVV, the more rightwing parts of the VVD and even PvdA) leaping on it for electoral succes. Changing the EU rules on asylum seekers meant making an end run around this subject, lowering the number of people coming to claim asylum here without governments having to take too much erm direct action to persuade people to go elsewhere (though they did that as well).
posted by MartinWisse at 2:52 AM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Serious question, as the article didn't appear to say, but why couldn't they stay in Italy, where they first entered the EU? Did the Italians force them to move? I mean, seriously, they were on an island in the Med! I had to pay to do that, and could easily have stayed there after my holiday was over. It just seems strange to me to want to leave somewhere like that for Hamburg.
posted by marienbad at 3:00 AM on February 16


In the nineties and early naughties this was a recurrent theme in Dutch politics at least

It is likely that it will form one of three major contexts in next year's general election in the UK (perhaps four if it doesn't stop raining). We've reached a quite startling level of self-delusion over "other people coming here to take our stuff"; worse than I have ever seen it, actually.
posted by cromagnon at 3:08 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Serious question, as the article didn't appear to say, but why couldn't they stay in Italy, where they first entered the EU?

Wild guess here (and I need to read the Dublin links): Italy is the point of entry, which means if that holds true most of the African refugees would become Italy's problem.

In Australia there's a line about how refugees need to transit 20+ countries before they make landfall here, and I suppose similar issues (with fewer countries) apply in Europe.
posted by Mezentian at 3:08 AM on February 16


Serious question, as the article didn't appear to say, but why couldn't they stay in Italy, where they first entered the EU? Did the Italians force them to move?
But I am curious: how did 300 West African refugees get from Lampedusa, offshore Italy, all the way to Hamburg?
According to them: Italian authorities gave them 500 Euros and a residence permit for the Schengen area. They were not forced but this was a a barely disguised call to seek happiness in the rich northern European states. As has been pointed out before this means a breach of European law.
Why Hamburg?
I have no idea. I am from Hamburg but never came across this question and also a quick search on the internet didn't help. Maybe just a coincidence? I try to find out.
posted by jfricke at 3:10 AM on February 16


I mean, seriously, they were on an island in the Med!

Italy transports most refugees to the mainland for processing, especially given the influx from Libya the last few years. Many are then released, as the system for dealing with asylum seekers is totally overwhelmed. Many are supposed to be deported, but 'disappear' - many of them presumably end up 'asylum shopping' in other countries, or at least that's what France accuses Italy of. Once you're inside the borders of the EU, you can travel between countries pretty easily; there are very few border checks, given EU citizens can freely travel between nations. For example, there used to be the infamous Sangatte refugee centre in France which was a hotspot for migrants trying to get into the UK (which still retains border controls) via smuggling through the Channel Tunnel.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:13 AM on February 16


Not to derail, but as an Australian this is providing an interesting, close-up shot of a lot of things "we" talk about, but our refugee numbers are small (if not tiny), but these are things I have often wondered about.

This is that 'best of the web' sort of thing.
posted by Mezentian at 3:13 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Did the Italians force them to move? I mean, seriously, they were on an island in the Med! I had to pay to do that

I presume at no point during your holiday were you forced to strip naked and hosed down with disinfectant. Treatment of asylum seekers in Italy is fairly appalling, for a range of reasons, primarily economic.
posted by howfar at 3:13 AM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Many are then released, as the system for dealing with asylum seekers is totally overwhelmed.

You guys in Europe need a third-world style economy that you can use your awesome economic power to dump "human refuse" on. I hear the South Pacific is lovely.
posted by Mezentian at 3:15 AM on February 16


You guys in Europe need a third-world style economy that you can use your awesome economic power to dump "human refuse" on. I hear the South Pacific is lovely.

I know you meant it ironically*, but we already do, in effect. Most refugees don't make it as far as the EU; when you look at where the most refugees are, places like Pakistan, Jordan, Iran and Kenya host far more refugees than much wealthier EU nations.

Many in the EU of course like it that way, and xenophobic and anti-immigrant (which often focuses on asylum seekers) feeling is proving very popular politically. Golden Dawn in Greece, National Front in France, UKIP in the UK are all examples of populist xenophobia that are growing in strength. UKIP came 2nd in the latest MP by-election, and will probably be at least the 2nd party in the upcoming EU parliament election, which isn't exactly comforting.

*"human refuse"? Really? Even in mocking jest, that's in bad taste.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:27 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


Spiegel report with a photo gallery.

Among other things the article makes the point that Germany's refugee law assumes that if you're being oppressed, it's the government that's doing it. If you're a Ghanaian who went to Libya to work and you're being oppressed by random gangs and individuals rather than the government, you have no claim.
posted by Segundus at 3:37 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


[As always, the "faux offensive" zinger framing of saying something utterly vile under the irony umbrella really doesn't work well here and just makes for bad feelings, anger and derailing. Please avoid.]
posted by taz at 3:40 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Like Mezentian, I am from and in Australia.
I think there is a lot of empathy for refugees here, particularly in the big cities where refugees want to come and live. What there isn't - is the deep conviction that the people of Hamburg seem to have, that the politics of their home belongs to them, the sense of person authority and the faith in in each other that they seem to have, that they can stand up and call out the legitimacy of government and institutions, knowing that others will be at their side. In Australia our cities are so dispersed, not just from each other, the cities themselves are sparse and vast expanses of low density surburbia, that the idea of marching from a football game to the police station is absurd. You can block up the inner city, and unless the media decide to show it, nobody will even know.

So to appease a specific and desirable voting demographic "our" leaders persist with this fiction that this island is "ours". (to borrow mezentian's inverted commas) That 20 million can have a continent to ourselves with billions just to our north trying to survive on less than $2 a day, and expect to get away with that level of greed forever.
posted by compound eye at 3:41 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Even in mocking jest, that's in bad taste.
you're right, but I think Mezentian means it more in bitter futile impotent despair

posted by compound eye at 3:47 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


It just seems strange to me to want to leave somewhere like that for Hamburg.

Just the streets of Torino, where I was for work last year, are overwhelmed with migrants making do selling candy, incense and flowers. There are only so many street corners and so many spots, I wouldn't be surprised if the local migrant community hinted strongly to them to move on to where the economy was doing far better than it is in Italy (Germany) and try to get a foothold there.

I met an Afghan refugee in Barcelona's streets, he'd picked up Hindi/Urdu from the Indian army contingent he was with (not clear on details there). He was making 300 euros a month! washing dishes illegaly in an immigrant owned restaurant that let him sleep in the kitchen after hours and then selling knick knacks made from old soda cans on teh street during the weekend. He made his way to Spain via Turkey and was hoping to reach Germany or one of the better off nations, since Spain has its hands full managing their own economic challenges.

/posterous has died so the post on his story with photographs is lost and gone forever but I really should share it again somewhere
posted by infini at 5:49 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


*"human refuse"? Really? Even in mocking jest, that's in bad taste.

Be that as it may but I offer mainstream Australian talkback.
I mean, we talk about these people as subhuman shit in our everyday discourse.
posted by Mezentian at 5:55 AM on February 16


Sorry, Taz. But this is THE reality of how Australia talks about 'boat people' which is THE topic of our political discourse. You wouldn't believe, I'm all for controlling immigration and suck, but the way people talk about refugees is so amazingly dehumanising that it depresses even me.

For anyone interested in the refugee experience Go Back To Where You Came From is a good starting point. Series one is the best.
posted by Mezentian at 6:03 AM on February 16


For anyone interested in the refugee experience Go Back To Where You Came From is a good starting point. Series one is the best.

Was this show actually broadcast on Australian TV? As an American, I cannot imagine watching a reality show on TV in which one of the contestants said baldfaced, "I guess I am a bit racist. I just don't like Africans." Which is not to say that our government is all sunshine and roses when it comes to immigration; our racism is just slightly more veiled.
posted by bluefly at 6:26 AM on February 16


Be that as it may but I offer mainstream Australian talkback.
I mean, we talk about these people as subhuman shit in our everyday discourse.


Yeah, I know I do that pretty much on the regular. I discuss it every day with my Chinese daughter, usually at about 7:30 AM. If Daddy has a crushing meth hangover and can't get up right now and get you to school, well, we have the chat later. I am going to ring a talkback station right now. To seek advice.

What's that? She's not a fucking reffo? Well, gag me with a spoon.

Talkback radio is perfectly representative of the population as a whole, rather than the unemployed, the resentful, the old and the stupid who actually have time to spread this crap around, and, frankly, I'm with them.

Vote 1 Liberal, and turn back the boats. It'll be great!
posted by Wolof at 6:30 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


It was. SBS, which used to be ethnic TV (Special Broadcasting Service) and is now now akin to BBC4. Most household could get SBS in most cities and large country centres (it was on UHF) and since the switch to digital (around the time of this) it is easy to get.
posted by Mezentian at 6:32 AM on February 16


Well, this has turned... that way.

Personally, I think it is great that a small number of people in Hamburg (or larger numbers in elsewhere, like Sweden) decided not to be complete dicks.
If more people in, say, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Sri Lanka or the Central African Republic or South Sudan/Sudan, were less dickish, our "refugee problem" wouldn't be so much of an issue.

Unfortunately, as humans, we decided to get in a spot of attempted genocide, or rape, or murder, or rape, before breakfast, because fuck the other guys.

Hamburg, or bleeding heart lawyer Julian Burnside, or the ACRC just give me hope as a species that we might, somehow, survive.
posted by Mezentian at 6:45 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


[To be honest, I'm sort of completely confused at this point, but yeah, we've had quite a few posts about Australian immigration and refugee problems, so maybe we can talk about the situation in this post instead?]
posted by taz at 6:53 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Mainstream or no, each is a human being, an individual with a life left behind, sometimes the only survivor of a family, whose face lights up when someone, somewhere, stops for a moment and greets them with a smile.

Enough with whatever the shit rubbish out in the down under. Lets take a look at what Hamburg's citizens are saying and doing.
posted by infini at 8:09 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Has anyone read the German "best seller" Germany Abolishes Itself? I'd like to know more about that.
posted by sieve a bull at 10:04 AM on February 16


I saw the book mentioned on a crimethink site, and hadn't heard of it elsewhere.

Wikipedia highlights from the author article:

In his 2010 book Deutschland schafft sich ab ("Germany Is Doing Away With Itself" or "Germany Is Abolishing Itself"), the most popular book on politics by a German-language author in a decade [...] He has explained that his name means saracen (i.e. Muslim) [...] His apparent characteristic smirk is due to an operation he had in 2004 [...] Moreover, he calculates that their population growth may well overwhelm the German population within a couple of generations at the current rate, and that their intelligence is lower as well. [...] On 2 September 2010, he was released from specific responsibilities in a move by the remaining board members [...] decided that Sarrazin can remain a member of the [Social Democratic Party] [...] he had never intended to suggest that social-Darwinist theories should be implemented in political practice. [...] 1.5 million copies were sold. [...] Polls suggest that almost half of the German population (including SPD members) agree with Sarrazin's political views and 18 percent would vote for his party if he started one. [...] With a view of the strong and sometimes polemical reactions against Sarrazin, some have argued that in Germany freedom of speech is being lost, as pressure to conform to political correctness is suppressing and silencing diverging opinions. [...] the Spiegel newsweekly commentator, "If you could accuse him of anything, it’s philo-Semitism, because he wrongly thinks Jews are more intelligent than others,”

If that's too much copy-paste, delete this comment.
posted by sieve a bull at 10:35 AM on February 16


With a view of the strong and sometimes polemical reactions against Sarrazin, some have argued that in Germany freedom of speech is being lost, as pressure to conform to political correctness is suppressing and silencing diverging opinions.

Wait ... his book sold 1.5 million copies (which must have made him a millionaire) and that counts as "suppressing and silencing diverging opinions" in Germany these days? Was the book banned or was there at least a decent book burning like they had 80 years ago?
posted by sour cream at 12:57 PM on February 16


The 'Sarrazin affair' was this massive ongoing row in Germany that I can't explain because I didn't follow it at the time (and, honestly, you might need someone living in Germany to explain it). My assumption is that the controversy drove sales.
posted by hoyland at 1:07 PM on February 16


It's not actually philo-anything to impute racial characteristics to a group, because that typically leads to a suggestion that they be treated differently.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:08 PM on February 16


Here is a Spiegel article (in English) from nearish the start of the row, if I've got the timeline right.
posted by hoyland at 1:15 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


sour cream: "Wait ... his book sold 1.5 million copies (which must have made him a millionaire) and that counts as "suppressing and silencing diverging opinions" in Germany these days?"
It's the same mechanism as the war on Christmas and the persecution of Christians in the US. I.e. old, white conservatives pissed at not having all the power all the time anymore.

By the way the guy was at various times senator and member of the board of directors of the German state railways and the German federal bank. He was most likely a millionaire several times over before he penned his diatribe.
posted by brokkr at 1:16 PM on February 16


I mean, seriously, they were on an island in the Med! IPto pay to do that, and could easily have stayed there after my holiday was over

Racism towards Africans in Italy is at a fever pitch. Support is poor to non existent; they are reviled in the community, blamed for any and every crime; forced to work as little better than slaves in the informal economy, and often forced to rely or interact with mafia and other criminals.

Your canned Italian tomatoes are bundled with indentured labour.
posted by smoke at 1:56 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


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