The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and unification the following year were not uniformly positive experiences for Germans. While most public discussion focused on the joys of national unity and the challenges of integrating the citizens and economy of the former German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany, far less attention was paid to a terrible surge in racist abuse and violence directed at perceived “foreigners,” whose numbers were rising due to a surge of migration and asylum applications associated with the end of the Cold War. The attacks in Hoyerswerda, Rostock, Mölln, and Solingen were only the most dramatic of untold numbers of everyday violations, which included twenty-three murders between 1991 and 1993. Violence subsided somewhat over the following years as restrictions imposed on Germany’s generous asylum policy in 1993 reduced the number of legal asylum-seekers. Nevertheless, by the new millenium violence, especially against asylum-seekers, was on the rise again. Debates over changing German citizenship law to make it easier to naturalize raised fears of a dilution of “German” culture, and the continuing isolation and dependence of refugees made them an easy target.
The particularly dangerous situation in Brandenburg led residents of a refugee camp in Rathenow to organize and petition for protection. In February 2000 forty-seven residents wrote an open letter accusing the state of Brandenburg of being unable to ensure their safety and demanding to be moved to a different state. Their letter drew some media attention but no meaningful response, so two months later 116 of the 160 residents signed a petition and sent it to the highest officials in the country, the media, churches, human rights organizations, and the UN High Commission for Refugees.
They outline the daily violence they suffer as well as the racist motivations behind that violence; they insist that too many Germans consider them to be “second-class” because they are seeking asylum and that government policies are largely to blame for this. Strict limits on their education (the petition is written in English because they cannot study German), movement, employment, and commerce leave them tragically isolated, subject to caricature, and vulnerable to racist abuse from those convinced they can never belong.
Challenging stereotypes, they define themselves as individuals fighting for freedom against dictatorial regimes, individuals who are enthusiastic about engaging with German society. They sprinkle their appeal with references to Plato and Rousseau. They praise what they imagine to be America’s embrace of immigrants and use German and French persecution of the Jews during the Second World War as a warning of the consequences of being on the wrong side of history.
AN APPEAL FROM THE ASYLUM SEEKERS IN RATHENOW:
We the asylum seekers in Rathenow have the honour most respectful to present our claims. We have thought it very wise that the silent scribble of the pen is stronger than the thunderous sound of the gun. We believe strongly in the power of argument and not the argument of power. Our claims have reduced us to the level of second-class citizens and have made some Germans to consider us as valueless to the extent of always beating us mercilessly. From these racist attacks we incure serious body injuries to the extent of death. We consider these attacks racist because of the words that always come out from the mouth of the aggressors. Exemple: “Foreigner, what do you want here, we hate you becouse you are a foreigner, we are fighting for our land, you should go back to your land and fight all the foreigners there.”
Respectful Ladies and Gentlmen, before we proceed, we wish to use this golden opportunity to make clear a point. Many people have always considered the asylum seekers as outcasts of soceity, as people who have nothing to contribute to the growth of the soceity, as people who left their various countries because of poverty, as people without any sense of direction, as criminals and not as human-beings who left their various homes because their lives were at stake.
Honorable Ladies and Gentlmen, we are appealing to you to consider the asylum seekers as human-beings like yourselves without any barrier in any domain -colour-, nationality or continent. It is a disgrace for us to be writing in english after living in Germany for a long time. WHY? Because we do not have the possibility as asylum seekers to study in Germany. In order to enrich the soceity, knowledge should be distributed. When one has knowledge and distribute it, he or she enriches the soceity without losing a grain of his or her knowledge. When there is a lighted candle in a room, and people come with candles and light their candles from this one candle, the flame of the single candle does not reduce but on the contrary the room becomes bright. Examples are the present U.S.A. secretary of state who went to America as an asylum seeker and Mr. Schultze who left Germany and went to America as an asylum seeker. He ended up as a senator in America. WHY? They met a selfless soceity in the distribution of knowledge. This is just to name a few. From these two examples, you will agree with us that some of us are like the biblical stone. We have something in us that others do not have. The slaves from MENDI, Sierra-Leone, could express themselves and demistify the mystery that surrounded the Spanish ship, THE AMISTAD, in 1839, because they were offered the opportunity to learn.
Before we proceed,we will use this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to some officials and organisations in the state of Brandenburg for the role they have played to arrest the racist assaults on us which have not receded but have instead increased:
– The Mayor of Rathenow
– The offlcials of ausländerbeauftrag Haveland and the state of Brandenburg
– The Police
– The churches
– The Media
– Fluchtlingsrates Brandenburg
– Freies Gymnasium Nauen zu den luchbergen
– The county commissioner in Haveland
– The Minister of Education,Youth and Sports
– The Minister of Economics
– The Minister President in the state of Brandenburg.
Honourable Ladies and Gentlmen, although some of these officials have set the foundation to solve the problems of racism we are facing, the physical and psychological torture we undergo, they also appealed to us that they have limited powers to handle our social demands as asylum seekers. That is why as asylum seekers, we find it appropriate to personally present our claims to you. These claims have contributed for the racist attacks we undergo.
Some of our collegues took a trip to some of the asylum camps in the state of Brandenburg to share with the other asylum seekers our miseries. The report is drab, hollow, blick and degrading. From their report, we discovered that asylum seekers are imprisoned for their “Political and religious ideas” back at their various countries. In fact, an undefined prison sentence.
Honourable Ladies and Gentlmen, if you have two friends, one is always sharing your point of view and the other can at times criticise you, PLEASE, “the praise singer friend” is not a good friend. We are appealing to [use] your High offices to improve the social conditions of the asylum seekers in your country. If it is a law, we hold strongly that this law is outdated to suit the taste of time. We are in a new Millenium. Let us avoid a situation where posterity will judge somebody negatively or point a finger at somebody for his or her inhuman treatment towards his fellow human-being. Who ever knew, the almighty Papon Maurice who had all the powers to arrest and deport about 1500 Jews in camps of Nazis extermination will one day have a rusty, sordid and dradful future. Plato, the philosopher, once said: “The foreigner, isolated from his fellow country men and his family, should be the subject of greater love on the part of men and of gods. So all precautions must be taken in order that no wrong be commited against foreigner”.
Honourable Ladies and Gentlmen, in our various countries, we fought against bad governance to the risk of our lives. Had it been we were in some European countries or Arnerica, some of our names will be handed down to posterity as those who practised those sublime of all virtues-disinterested patriotism and unshrinking courage to stand firm against dictatorship. On the contrary, we were hunted away because of our ideas.
Ladies and Gentlmen, we do not know how you are going to receive our appeal but we know we are playing our rational role. William Shakespear once said, “The world is a stage where every body has a role to play”.
1 – NO FREEDOM OF EDUCATION:
Respectful Ladies and Gentlmen,we strongly believe that there are no barriers to the acquisition of knowledge. We are shocked to see that because somebody is an asylum seeker he cannot go beyond a certain level of elementary education, he cannot further his education, he cannot learn any profession. How can people live in asylum prisons for one to ten years without educational facilities. Such an indiscriminate creation of exclusive privileges tends rather to destroy a particular class of people than to construct. For the fact that we are unable to express our selves to the Germans, some of them consider us as pest to the soceity and their response is to attack us mercilessly. Some Germans think we are fools.
2 – NO FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT:
We are puzzled than angry to the fact that we have defined territorial juridition that we cannot go beyond without permission.
At times a ministerial order can rule this federal law. Example was on the 20.04.2000 that some of our collegues were supposed to go to an International Congress of Refugees in Jena. The almighty Minister of internal affairs in the state of Brandenburg circulated a ministerial order not to give any body permission to go to Jena.
Are we living in a military regime? Are we living in a dictatorial regime as back in our various homes? Are we living in a state of emergency? ls that his definition of democracy? – NO freedom of association, NO freedom of movement? Why should we always live on the margin? Our cry although is like a teaspoon of water thrown into the sea. We know we are not living, we are barely surviving. lf you can put the nail on our coffins, we shall no more live to see or to hear dictatorship.
That apart, the question now is, why should we at any moment need permission to travel within Germany? Did we seek asylum in Germany or in Haveland? We are bom free but every second we are in chains.
If the Police arrest anybody out of his territorial juridiction, he or she is expected to pay the sum of 125.-DM. How can you tax somebody who is not working to pay 125.-DM? How can you punish somebody who have the right to 80.-DM cash per month to pay the sum of 125.-DM?
3 – NO FREEDOM OF WORK:
Another bomb in the road is we do not have the freedom to work. In our identity card, it is clearly stated “Erwebtätigkeit nicht gestattet”. ln this case, you cannot be employed by any body or carry on any personal activity that can raise money. What do you think will become of a humanbeing that cannot go to school, that cannot move freely and that cannot work? Always eating and sleeping in one room. Many of us have developed nerves problems, gastric and psychological problems because of this inhuman treatment. Worst of all we are hated by some Germans who believe their taxes are used on us. That is why they attack us. Why do you blame the man on the street who beats, what about the law and the law makers? We strongly believe that racism stems from the law.
4 – NO FREEDOM OF COMMERCE:
One of the root causes of racism is the manner in which our shopping system is organised. Exemple is in the state of Brandenburg. The medium of exchange is with vouchers or Smart Cards. We do not have access to money. ln a month, we are given the vouchers to the tune of 310.-DM and money is just 80.-DM cash. Or one can do shopping with the Smart Card to the tune of 310.-DM.
With these systems, we have defined shops, defined goods to buy. For instance, there are Asians or Africans. We have special food stuff that are found in special shops in towns and these shops do not accept the vouchers.
Secondly, in the shops that we are allowed to buy, it is very easy for somebody to identify us with vouchers. This create a lot of problems. We cannot use these vouchers or Smart Cards out of our territorial juridiction. We want our monthly payment in cash. Why? Because at the end of each month, we have to [pay] our lawyers 50.-DM, we have to write our family members back at our coutries, some asylum prisons are not in the same town with the social welfare office. To go there, we have to pay transport too and fro, we have to pay penalties from Police control. With 80.-DM, it is impossible to meet up these demands.
We always create long lines with our vouchers in shopping centers. This has always made people to be annoyed with us: As if that is not enough, we are forced to buy to the tune of 90% with our vouchers. lt is clearly stated on the vouchers that one cannot recieve a balance of more than 10%. Where is the freedom of commerce?
Finally, the vouchers have expiring dates. We are forced to use these vouchers within a specific time of not more than one month. The dates are usually stated on the vouchers.
5 – OUR ASYLUM PRISONS ARE MOSTLY IN FOREST:
As it has been seen, most of our asylum prisons are found in forest. Many people always asked why is it that most of the asylum seekers live mostly at the outskirts of the town? To those who cannot ask, they have built it in their minds that we are good for the forest with the animals. When they see us in town, it is an embarrassement. They point fingers at us, they look at us with racist eyes and they attack us with their normal slogan “foreigner what are you doing here”? In some of our camps,we find it difficult to reach the towns. We are strange to some Germans because they cannot understand us.
In our prisons, we have spaces smaller as six quadrametre. So many people share one room. The German shepherd dogs are respected more than asylum seekers. The dog is entitled to a space above eight quadrametre but asylum seekers about six quadrametre and even that they do not have it. All these aspects have made some Germans to consider us as outcasts of the soceity. Are we not human-beings?
Respectful Ladies and Gentlmen, our problems are many. We cannot write all down.
If really asylum seekers wants to describe their situation, we always use the picture of two men standing in front of us. One is holding the Holy Bible and a knife at his back. He gives the Bible to the other man, as he takes it, turns to go, the other man stabs him from the back with the knife.
Respectful Ladies and Gentlmen, we are appealing to you to use your high offices and reverse this situation. While thanking you for reading, we hope you will answer to our cry for a better life.
Your sincerely asylum seekers, RATHENOW:
26. April 2000.
– The Chancellor of Germany
– The President of Germany
– The Parliament of Germany
– The Supreme Court of Germany
– The Media
– The Human Right Organisations
– The United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees
– The Churches.
[116 signatures follow]
Source: “Rathenow: Appell von 116 AsylbewerberInnen,” Nadir.org (11 May 2000).
German translation by Robin Kendon available here.