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Police take refugees' blankets despite cold
Photo: Jessica Ware

Police take refugees' blankets despite cold

Published: 30 Oct 2012 11:47 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Oct 2012 11:47 GMT+01:00

A group of refugees demonstrating in Berlin for better opportunities to integrate and build a life in Germany say they will stay put, even though police confiscate their sleeping bags every night. The Local’s Jessica Ware reports.

Berlin was cold early on Tuesday morning – not as cold as a day before when it was below zero, but this morning it was wet too, forcing commuters and tourists under umbrellas.

The refugees at the Brandenburg Gate also have umbrellas – but they are on the ground, donated by Berliners and grouped together to create an ad-hoc tent under which 20 people have been living since last Wednesday.

Sleeping on the bare stones of Pariser Platz, as the police arrive in the early hours each night and confiscate sleeping bags, camping mats and even cardboard used to keep out the chill of the pavement.

“The police have been doing this for the past few nights,” a 29-year-old Iranian man says. “We have asked them why they come in and wake us up at 2 am but they say nothing and make us give them our things.”

He, like many of the other anorak-clad refugees shivering in the chill drizzle, walked to the capital from Bavaria to protest how the German government treats asylum seekers.

Fifteen of the group had embarked on a hunger strike, but stopped after a 23-year-old was hospitalised on Monday.

Pitching a tent on Pariser Platz would not be tolerated, a police spokeswoman told The Local. Making an exception for this group would set a precedent for others, she added. And on Tuesday morning there were about as many police officers as protestors in front of the gate.

Caught in a staring match with a line of German activists who are there to support the refugees, the officers move forward to usher back a woman who has stepped into the empty road with a placard.

Click here for pictures of the protest

Around 100 people left their refugee accommodation in Bavaria at the end of September and marched 600 kilometres north to the capital to protest against deportation and the living conditions that asylum seekers face in Germany.

In Berlin, they set up a large camp in the Kreuzberg area of the city and last Wednesday a number moved to the Brandenburg Gate. Dedicated activists from the city have stuck around to keep the group topped up with warm food and drinks but the music and bustle of the original camp appears to have remained in Kreuzberg.

“We will be staying here until the government opens its ears,” the Iranian man said, declining to be identified. “I can't go back to Iran, I faced political and religious persecution there,” he added in perfect English.

“And although I was in a real prison there, in Germany I feel like I am in an invisible prison,” referring to the refugee hostel-style accommodation they are forced to live in, often miles from anywhere.

They are also banned from working for a year and are not offered German lessons, leaving them in an often penniless limbo. Without permission to work and limited opportunities to learn the language, stuck in a hostel miles from anywhere, integrating is almost impossible, he said.

“Of course I want to learn German; I would also love to go back to university.” He graduated in Iranian literature, but would like to retrain in something more useful.

He turned 29 on Sunday, sitting on the icy flagstones in front of the Brandenburg Gate, his fellow refugees and supporters singing in Persian and German. “The experience was paradoxical for me,” he said. Although happy in that moment, he said he was acutely aware of the continuing struggles at home and now in Germany, that had dominated his life.

“Until the government opens its ears we will be here,” he said. But with the winter will soon bring snow and even colder temperatures, while Berlin politicians are pushing for the refugees to move into emergency accommodation.

“So far we are fine,” the Iranian man said. “We have all experienced much worse in our lives than a few cold nights.” Yet at some point they may well be pushed aside to somewhere warmer – and out of sight.

Jessica Ware (jessica.ware@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:05 October 30, 2012 by lucksi
Can police legally take their belongings?

There is probably a law (about what isn't there a law in Germany) against camping on public plazas and I know police have the power to send them off and arrest/detain them if they should not comply, but taking their belongings?

Would be effective against people like me though.
15:24 October 30, 2012 by catjones
german cops are petty bullies and prey on the easy, defenseless targets yet can never seem to find the real criminals who act hurt people.
15:51 October 30, 2012 by ghostwind
This is nothing more than an intimidation tactic by the police. Whether or not these people are illegally there, to deprive them of warmth and their personal belongings is just cruel. If they want to make a point arrest them and be done with it.
18:36 October 30, 2012 by raandy
Thats a good point, Arresting them means you have to house them and feed them, not part of the German program.
19:27 October 30, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
It is possible the police are acting ultra vires (outside) their powers by confiscating their things. There may be a case for judicial review here. The courts can look at the legality of the police actions. Of course that would be the way a civilised society would work. But one would have doubt about the independence of the judiciary in Germany in light of recent rulings in favour of arbitrary government action such as the stolen swiss bank date for example. The executive powers in Germany are getting dangerously close to absolute and are even beginning to expand around the EU.
23:24 October 30, 2012 by mo_slum
If I remember correctly, Germans did give shelter to them in Bavaria (tents and everything). Why did leave all that shelter and go to Berlin?
12:20 October 31, 2012 by gkh50
So let me get this right, The police are confiscating private property.. So its like theft that is indorsed by the state. Just the same as Bavarian Police using illegal Malware to monitor people without court orders..

Ahh, I guess its in the Blood to do things illegal by the state.
13:25 October 31, 2012 by SandyStorm
@mo_slum: They are in Berlin, specifically because Germany gave them shelter, but only in exchange for the deprivation of a countless number of their other basic human rights. A refugee is not someone that's on a brief vacation from their homeland because they feel like it, or because they heard that the beer in berlin is super cheap... these people's LIVES were at stake. A refugee in Germany is forced to live on a compound, in tents/hostels, and is forced to stay within those confines. They are not allowed legal paperwork that would allow them to integrate, therefore they CANNOT WORK, CANNOT STUDY, CANNOT SUSTAIN THEMSELVES. It is ILLEGAL for them to leave the CITY which they are confined to, and this is not a temporary measure...it can be from 8 years until FOREVER (NEVER) for them to be granted the right to apply for citizenship here. These people are here fighting for the RIGHT to work, to have families, to learn german, TO MOVE ON past the atrocities that they have already suffered. Some of the reactions and feedback that i have read regarding this situation is REPULSIVE, at best....and a disheartening mirror being held up to our society. the police are cowards, and so are the people judging these people from behind their macbook pros.
14:34 October 31, 2012 by bwjijsdtd
Sounds like a case of theft to me and any good attorney would agree .... Band together forlks ... there is strength in numbers ...
14:48 October 31, 2012 by saddness
the major problem is not the people get here because the have real issue, the problem are the one come here just for money reasons. And why they come to Germany if they will have to face these problems? go to spain greek...or what about sweden or denmark? I don´t have a problem with people getting here because there live is in danger, but because of the others they get the problems. you can´t make a diffrence in taking there wish to stay here, cause like it happend all are in danger wether they are or not just to stay here. Sure there could be some improvement but to force a state to do more for them is just bad habit. They good a place to sleep, food and the right to move to another country if they don´t like it here, would be nice to know if other countries have to face so many asylum seekers like germany...
15:33 October 31, 2012 by SandyStorm
i don't think 'here for money reasons' is on the list of options for gaining refugee status. if they're seeking asylum, they have to PROVE that their lives are in danger. And, as i said before, they don't have the right to move ANYWHERE except the very place that they fled in the first place.

Let's put this in perspective, because i think people find it difficult to put themselves in a situation that has no impact on their daily lives: let's say during the second world war, you were of jewish decent. you manage to escape germany somehow with your life. your are a lucky one. you show up on the doorstep of england, or america as a refugee (one that seeks refuge). the country you arrive in says this to you: you just escaped a concentration camp, or certain death....so you can stay here, in another camp where you will have shelter and food stamps forever. you're not allowed to start a family, and you're not allowed to have a job or an education, or MOST of the other rights afforded to the rest of our citizens, because you are a BURDEN on us. maybe the first year or two, you wouldn't mind...because you're happy to be alive, but i assure you...that joy would soon wear off.

we're all human beings, no matter what our background or history. if we can't help each other, what's the point of anything? i suggest anyone that lives in berlin, that can actually be bothered, take 20 minutes to go see/speak to these people, and then come back to your warm home and your life of entitlement and think about whether or not these people are just here to steal your money.
15:48 October 31, 2012 by Al uk
Economic migrants pure and simple. You don't arrive somewhere as a guest and then start making demands.
16:05 October 31, 2012 by SandyStorm
@Al: the word 'simple' can apply to a lot of things in life.
16:24 October 31, 2012 by mo_slum
@SandyStorm

You are making it sound like Germans are uncompassionate people. Whatever their cause of fleeing their homeland, Germany is more caring than any other western courtries. If Germany is so bad then why didn't the refugees consider going to US, Canada, UK etc?

My main point is they were given shelter in Bavaria. Why did they leave that shelter and go to Berlin and "demand" more? If they don't like it then they should move on to other coutries who would shelter them by their expectations and standards.
19:40 October 31, 2012 by rwbsolutions
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
14:57 November 1, 2012 by Al uk
@ Sandy Storm indeed it can, (post 13) just like your view of the situation.
17:26 November 1, 2012 by iSlam-mudslime
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
19:02 November 1, 2012 by raandy
mo_slum you need to fly to the USA and Canada, taking blankets from these people during cold conditions does not resonate with compassion.
23:06 November 1, 2012 by mo_slum
@randy - They were given blankets and tents as a shelter in Bavaria. I used USA and Canada as an example. They could go anywhere in the world to seek asylum for better conditions than provided by the German people (aka Government). They could go to Italy or Spain for that matter. I don't like that Germans are being picked on. Like the user in posting #17, are they expecting all those items.

I pray that no one should have to have to flee their homeland. In this case, they WERE given food and shelter in Bavaria. Yet, they want a lot more. Since they are in Berlin, they might approach other Embassies and move to those countries. Something is not right about this whole incident. I would hate to point fingers at the police so quickly.
11:47 November 2, 2012 by raandy
mo_slum, your heart is good. I believe they came here because Germany is a very humane Nation. I also think they need to be temporarily housed and fed, my complaint is the way they are discouraging the peaceful protest by taking their blankets,during these cold times.

I agree people are sometimes to willing to use this issue(taking the blankets) to disrespect Germany, which does more than it's neighbors to help those in need.
02:02 November 3, 2012 by blauaugen63
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
02:16 November 3, 2012 by Lady Daphne
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
11:06 November 3, 2012 by AClassicRed
@Lady Daphne, using the USA as an example? Anglos and others invaded and committed genocide on the indigenous population of which I am descended. Economic refugees turned the wonderfully brown and tan Americas into by majority pale or white-skinned nation. You have clearly and conveniently forgotten the history of the government of the USA, your assessment is flawed and your ending sentiment is pure maliciousness.
17:18 November 3, 2012 by mo_slum
@AClassicRed - I agree with you. The posting #22 sounded very racist. Talking about stonyhearted attitude of a country that has everything, the poster of #22 summed it all up. I will agree to some parts of it but certainly sounded very racist.

Without having to go on a different tangent, the refugees in this case are political and they were in Bavaria, which suggests that they crossed Italy, Austria/Switzerland and other countries to get to Germany. Germany provided them shelter yet they go to Berlin and demand MORE. Unfortunately there are refugees in a lot of places due to war and they are all sheltered in tent cities. In this particular case, they are trying to make the host country look very cold and compassionless. That is totally wrong!!
21:08 January 4, 2013 by blacksunne88
Who are these "refugees" and what are they doing in Germany? There are more than enough poor Germans to take care of in Germany, more than enough jobless, and people living in poor housing. Germany is not a welfare office for the world.
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