Refugee Protests Leave Berlin Divided

Painting banners in Berlin's Oranienplatz square
Painting banners in Berlin's Oranienplatz square
Constanze von Bullion

BERLIN — A refugee slams a briefcase down on the table, snaps it open and takes out a series of plastic cards. “Here,” he says, “health card from Italy, residence permit, identity card. We have everything. Our asylum cases are complete. We’re allowed to move around in Europe, but we’re not allowed to work, not at all.”

It is Thursday morning in the Berlin district of Wedding. We are in a former retirement home that is now run by charity organization Caritas, and houses 80 refugees. Almost all are men from African countries. Many made the perilous journey from Libya to Lampedusa, and from there were sent on an odyssey through Europe. They were most recently living in tents on Oranienplatz square in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, protesting against deportations and unfair asylum laws.

Those asylum seekers who are still waiting for approval are not allowed to work. For those who do have papers, their efforts to find employment are thwarted by a lack of language courses and strict laws governing their movements. In Germany, refugees are subject to residency regulations that require them to remain within the area governed by a particular local authority, so they cannot go further afield to find work.

Inconsistencies in asylum policy across the EU, coupled with disagreements between northern and southern members over the number of refugees each country is expected to accept, have caused conflict since the Lampedusa disaster. And it seems that the EU is no closer to finding a solution.

Because the weather is turning cold and there are signs of trouble, Caritas has taken in the refugees. The tents, on the other hand, have been left behind, and have become a flashpoint in Berlin politics.

The left-wing scene in Kreuzberg seems to be prepared for conflict over the camp in the Oranienplatz square. They want it to be dismantled within a few days, right down to the information tent, as the refugees have been bundled off to Wedding. But as soon as the police began taking down the tents, new refugees turned up to occupy them, along with a few hundred supporters who mounted a spontaneous demonstration. More than 30 officers were injured, with both sides using pepper spray, and now the local mayor finds herself in a difficult situation.

Police action in Orianenplatz — Photo: Libertinus

“No border, no nation, stop deportation”

Monika Hermann hasn’t been mayor of Kreuzberg for long, but she is proving to be a tough woman. The Green politician is struggling to maintain a delicate balance as the political climate heats up. Many Berliners don’t understand why Kreuzberg is granting residence to a rising number of refugees. Asylum seekers were recently placed in an unused school, but a fight broke out and there were stabbings. Even the mayor admitted that the project had failed. As winter sets in, patience for the camp is wearing thin.

Interior Senator Frank Henkel has threatened to clear the camp if the local government doesn’t do it first. He gave a Dec. 16 deadline, saying that otherwise he would resort to using the Berlin Senate’s powers to remove the tents.

After the chaotic attempt to dismantle the camp, Mayor Hermann witnessed the refugees’ reaction first-hand on Wednesday afternoon. The local parliament was meeting in the town hall when 250 young people stormed in wearing woolly hats and holding banners. They occupied the stage and lectern, smoking and swearing as they climbed around the room and chanted, “No border, no nation, stop deportation.”

Cooperation over confrontation

The mayor tried to speak over the racket but to no avail. When one of the reporters asked her what she thought of the interior senator’s ultimatum, she replied, “The situation has not improved. It has gotten worse, and in the next few weeks it will continue to get worse.”

The mayor is sympathetic towards asylum seekers, but the Senate is more evasive. “It is an illegal situation, but we want to resolve it through cooperation rather than confrontation,” spokesperson Richard Meng said. He didn’t mention the pressure that has been added by Henkel’s ultimatum. Hermann is reluctant to try and clear the camp by force. “Should I drag people out of the tents?” she asked. “Should I send 500 people into battle? No.”

Christian Hanke, mayor of the Mitte district in Berlin, agrees that threats are not the way to resolve the situation. On Thursday he visited the retirement home where the refugees are living and spoke with some of those affected. He says that the communities are being left alone to deal with a problem that belongs to all of Europe.

Caritas director Ulrike Kostka has also had enough of the chaos. “We need strategies for dealing with this in the future,” she said. Kostka suggests setting up a round table discussion with refugees and churches involved. She says it would be possible to do it before Christmas. But it’s clear something needs to be done, and soon — because the problems with Europe’s asylum policy will not be so easy to dismantle.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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