Ahmed Salihu, originally from Nigeria, worked for an electricity company in Lybia at the time the war started. He is one of the people who has made it across the sea and entered Europe via infamous Lampedusa. A place where he wasn’t welcome and sent away from, because Italy cannot or doesn’t want to provide for all the refugees arriving on their territory. Ahmed still carries the green sheet of paper with him, which materializes the lack of sympathy of the Italian authorities.
I just discovered that ze.tt published a video, where Ahmed from Nigera talks about his life as a refugee in Germany. I watched the video and I instantly remembered Ahmed. About two years back I had the chance to talk to Ahmed, who was part of the activists occupying Oranienplatz in Berlin. It is saddening, that he still has to fight the same struggle. Back then I wrote about the encounter on newswave.eu (inactive). Here I’d like to give you a chance to read more about Ahmed! See the mentioned video below.
“The only right I have right now, is my right to die” – Ahmed Salihu
It’s an unusual sight that people encounter when they pass by Oranienplatz in the very thriving and lively district of Kreuzberg in Berlin. A colony of tents and wooden sheds appears in the park in between the massive apartment and commercial buildings next to busy Oranienstraße. Burning barrels, whose fires have died, remind of cold and uncomfortable winter days. The benches between the two parts of the camp are occupied by inhabitants of the camp, chatting with eachother, reading a book or just sitting alone in the sun. They all have something in common. They are refugees who have escaped their home because of political struggle, war, economic hardship and come to Europe via the death route of Lampedusa. At the moment about 70 refugees live in the camp at Oranienplatz which has existed for one and half years now. The camp is the refugees’ way of fighting for their rights and a residence permit. They have made it clear on various occasions: unless they’re granted the permit, they will not go anywhere.
Ahmed Salihu, originally from Nigeria, worked for an electricity company in Lybia at the time the war started. He is one of the people who has made it across the sea and entered Europe via infamous Lampedusa. A place where he wasn’t welcome and sent away from, because Italy cannot or doesn’t want to provide for all the refugees arriving on their territory. Ahmed still carries the green sheet of paper with him, which materializes the lack of sympathy of the Italian authorities. It’s evidence for the fact, that Ahmed received 500 Euro and the subsequent order to get out of Italy as soon as possible. Ahmed went on to Germany with little hope for a better welcome. Since that time in Italy, he is also the owner of an identification document. It states nothing but the fact that he’s a political refugee. For now it doesn’t help him getting any status or right. He will carry it along, until the day, that the German authorities listen to him and work on his asylum application. So far it has been postponed again and again. Regardless of all his documents being in order and prepared, he says.
I’ve met Ahmed at a theatre performance at Theater Aufbau Kreuzberg, where the stage for human rights performed their documentary play ‘The Asylum Monologues’, which tells the real stories of Ali from Togo, Felleke from Ethiopia and Safiye, a kurd from Turkey. They share their fate with Ahmed as they once also were asylum seekers in Germany. After the performance, which was part of the international weeks against racism, four men were led to the stage by Michael Ruf, the writer behind The Asylum Monologues. They were introduced as members of the group ‘Lampedusa in Berlin’ and had come to talk about their camp at Oranienplatz. One of them was Ahmed, eagerly telling the audience about the bad conditions they have to live with in Germany. Instantly the audience realized that the stories from the play cannot be categorized as some distant event of the past. Asylum seekers in Germany and Europe are also today struggling and fighting for their dignity. It was the night when Ahmed told me, that I should just come to the camp any time, if I wanted to talk to him. He would be there all day.
When I arrive at Oranienplatz the next day, I meet Ahmed at the info point, a tent which provides people passing by with information about the refugees’ demands and the state of their protest. There are two couches in the tent, accompanied by a table with leaflets and another table with a cashbox for donations. There’s a board standing in front of the second table listing the camp’s needs. The list is long and includes among others gas for heating and preparing food, tickets for public transportation and so on.
Ahmed and I sit down on one of the park benches and eventhough Ahmed seems tired, his eagerness, that I had experienced the evening before, lights up again. He has experienced racism and inequality, different authorities have pushed him away, he has suffered during his escape and still does here in Germany. Ahmed cannot move around freely and is not allowed to work. He’s far away from feeling like a human being and says, that the only right he is sure of having right now, is his right to die. That’s why Ahmed lives in a tent, protesting against the constant injustice going on.
In fact the refugees also repeatedly have to experience racism. Recently the camp has been attacked with a foul-smelling liquid by anonymous offenders. The week before a tent was set on fire. Fortunately nobody was harmed physically. Anyhow, it is uncertain how the minds of the camp’s residents are affected by everyday racism. Even if it is ‘just’ some person who walks by the camp shouting ‘Go back to Africa’.
Ahmed talks to me about his anger about politicians, who constantly threaten the refugees’ camp and have announced evacuation several times. Naturally many in Berlin’s government don’t accept the existence of the camp on the public Oranienplatz, which usually is covered with green grass underneath big trees. Ahmed can go on and on about Berlin’s senator of the interior Frank Henkel (CDU), whose biggest mistake is, that he’s encouraging bad feelings between Berlin’s residents and the refugees on the square. Moreover Ahmed says, that Henkel backs the evacuation of the square without making concessions. A recent ultimatum running out in January was in the end only blocked by Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit (SPD) himself.
The district mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Monika Herrmann, a member of the Green party, has so far tolerated the existence of the camp. That has caused a lot of criticism from opposition politicians. One of them, Kurt Wansner (CDU), is saying that the camp establishes illegal structures in the city. Meanwhile political responsibility for the refugees at Oranienplatz is passed on between the mayor, senators, district mayors, politicians and decision-making disappears in the intransparent maze of Berlin’s politics. However, there might be one actual chance.
The senator for integration Dilek Kolat (SPD) is currently negotiating about possible solutions for the conflict and has done so for several weeks now. Moreover church associations have invited for round-table discussions between the conflicting parties. Ahmed cannot tell me if they’re making progress in the negotiations with the senator. Nevertheless some reports have recently been signaling steps into the right directions, namely the individual assessment of each of the 460 asylum seekers that are part of the Oranienplatz movement.
Finally, I ask Ahmed whether I’m allowed to take pictures. I am. So I roam around the camp a bit, take pictures and observe. I’m left behind with a very uncertain feeling about the camp’s future and the refugees’ demands. The only thing I’m certain about is, that I don’t want to be the next one to just pass by the camp.
Check out the video with Ahmed on ze.tt: http://ze.tt/videoserie-letters-from-abroad-europa-ist-kein-platz-fuer-menschen-aus-afrika/