Refugees go on hunger strike in Berlin

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11 Oct, 2013 Updated Fri 11 Oct 2013 15:45 CEST
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Refugees began a hunger strike at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday evening. Watched by police officers and tourists, they told The Local why they had given up food to fight for their rights.

Around 20 refugees huddled in a mass of sleeping bags and plastic rain sheets, flanked by crates of bottled water in the very heart of Berlin's tourist area.

Most looked exhausted and weary, but sitting by a banner, their front-men put their points across in impassioned and energetic English.

Akili Jules-Sawa, 29, from Congo, had been on hunger strike for three days. "We'll stay until we get our rights - acceptance in society,” he said.

The protest has grown out of refugee demonstrations in Germany with a march from Bavaria to Berlin last September attracting attention. But the refugees claim they are still being treated appallingly at refugee centres in the country and are being denied work and travel rights.

Describing life in a refugee camp to The Local, Ghlam Vali, 37, said: "You're not allowed to work, move anywhere, to eat what you want. You're not allowed education - it is a prison camp.

“We should be free to travel anywhere we want, live anywhere we want, have education and learn the language- the residence laws should be abolished.”

He added: "When an educated society, a democratic country has this kind of behaviour, keeping refugees and non-citizens like prisoners, it is not understandable.

"Give us [refugees] a chance to play a positive role in society, that's what we want."

Policemen overseeing the hunger strike in Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate told The Local they would tolerate the protest as long as it did not become a camp.

One senior officer said: "It would become a camp if the protesters had anything more than they need in order to stay and voice their opinion.

"If they started using things they don't need for that, like tents, chairs, tables, that makes it a camp. As soon as they start putting up tents and making a campsite, it's all over."

He added: "Everyone wants to use Berlin's streets for something - for football matches, advertisements, public events and things - and they have to pay a lot of money to do so. If you want to put to put up a tent or anything else, you need permission.”

The atmosphere at the protest is not one of a demonstration. Perhaps in a bid to conserve their energy, there is no chanting or megaphones and the loudest noise comes from the languages spoken by usual crowds of tourists.

READ MORE: Germany 'must take in more refugees'

Alex Evans

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2013/10/11 15:45

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