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Oct. 2013 protest in support of Lampedusa refugees in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Oct. 2013 protest in support of Lampedusa refugees in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Tonia Mastrobuoni

BERLIN"You're the ones who created this mess I'm in..."

Mohammad points his finger at me, and doesn’t even want to tell me his real first name: "Call me Mohammad, we are all the same to you racist Italians anyway."

His age, though, he does tell me: He's 47, but looks a bit younger thanks to the dreadlocks framing his face and the sweatshirt he's wearing. Another man who is standing behind him approaches as he hears the word "Italian," but only to spit a few inches from my right foot. Then he yells a few words at me in Arabic, and leaves.

A small group of people has begun to gather around me, and they're not friendly. A tall guy as skinny as a Giacometti statue sums it up for the others: "I hate Italy. You gave us 500 euros and expelled us with that damn document that doesn’t allow us to work here."

This is happening in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of the German capital. Years ago, when people spoke of Berlin as the "third largest Turkish city," and before the gentrification began, this neighborhood was the heart of the city's foreign community.

One of the main squares of the area, along the channels of the Spree river, is Oranienplatz: It was occupied last year by hundreds of immigrants who built cabins, an outdoor kitchen, common areas with recycled sofas and chairs. Many who gathered here here had arrived after experiencing the inferno that is the sea journey to Lampedusa, like Mohammad, the anonymous Giacometti and Ali did.

"No man is illegal," reads a sign on Oranienplatz — Photo: fotokorth via Instagram

I catch a glimpse of a less hostile face, while the others continue to rail on against Italy. He nods his head inviting me to follow him. "I'm Libyan. When you started to bomb Libya, I fled. And now I'm here." He takes me to his hut made of four tin walls at the bottom of Oranienplatz. Inside there is just enough space for a bed, a table and a small heater. Outside on this late March day, it is still cold, but inside it is steaming hot.

A pro-Gaddafi carpenter

Ali tells me the obvious: since the group from Lampedusa was “received” in Italy and because of the abstruse European rules, other countries can safely wash their hands of the problem. "I am not asking for much: a job, a normal house."

To go to the bathroom or to take a shower, refugees have to go to the Caritas headquarters, situated behind the square. Recently, they've been also allowed to cook there, while before food was prepared directly in the square.

Only last week a preliminary agreement was reached between local politicians and representatives of Oranienplatz, after months of exhausting negotiations: Berlin promises to take care of each one of them, in exchange of the evacuation of the square.

But Ali, like the other “Lampedusiani,” rejects the agreement. "It does not solve our problems," he explains, saying the issue should be solved at the federal and European level.

Paula Riester, representative of the Green Party in Kreuzberg argues that Germany “could give these refugees a so-called "Duldung" which is a permit to stay, "making an exception to the European rules."

In the hut of another North African refugee, a carpenter named Ibrahim says he's proud to be a "Libyan Loyal to Gaddafi.” The table next to the bed is dominated by a big stereo always switched on, sharing space with a white teddy bear that reminds him of home.

"You Italians have treated me badly," he says. "I have been hunted and now I'm here praying the Germans give me a job. How can you come to Africa, dethrone Gaddafi while preaching for human rights and then treat us like this?”

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Geopolitics

Minsk Never More: Lessons For The West About Negotiating With Putin

The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the louder calls will grow for a ceasefire . Stockholm-based analysts explain how the West can reach a viable deal on this: primarily by avoiding strategic mistakes from last time following the annexation of Crimea.

"War is not over" protests in London

Hugo von Essen, Andreas Umland

-Analysis-

Each new day the Russian assault on Ukraine continues, the wider and deeper is the global impact. And so with each day, there is more and more talk of a ceasefire. But just how and under what conditions such an agreement might be reached are wide open questions.

What is already clear, however, is that a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine must not repeat mistakes made since the open conflict between the two countries began more than eight years ago.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Contrary to widespread opinion, the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreements of 2014-2015 were not meant as a definitive solution. And as we now know, they would not offer a path to peace. Instead, the accord negotiated in the Belarusian capital would indeed become part of the problem, as it fueled the aggressive Russian strategies that led to the escalation in 2022.

In early September 2014, the Ukrainian army suffered a crushing defeat at Ilovaisk against unmarked regular Russian ground forces. Fearing further losses, Kyiv agreed to negotiations with Moscow.

The Minsk Protocol (“Minsk I”) – followed shortly thereafter by a clarifying memorandum – baldly served Russian interests. For example, it envisaged a “decentralization” – i.e. Balkanization – of Ukraine. An uneasy truce came about; but the conflict was in no way resolved.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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