10 years of the protest camp at Oranienplatz … No reason to celebrate
I don’t want our history to be falsified: When you commemorate the protest camp on Oranienplatz, which started in October 2012, remember correctly!
Remember Mohammad Rahsepar! At the end of January 2012, Mohammad Rahsepar took his own life at a refugee camp in Würzburg. He had already expressed suicidal thoughts in December. Therefore, doctors had recommended to the responsible authorities to improve his accommodation situation. He wanted to join his sister in Cologne, but the authorities refused this because of “Residenzpflicht” – obligation of a residencefor asylum seekers. His death triggered a wave of protests throughout Germany.
His friends and housemates set up a protest camp on the street to draw attention to their situation: Camp accommodation, the voucher system, Residenzpflicht, the ban on employment and constant uncertainty. Their protest quickly spread to many cities all over Germany. Here in Berlin there was also a protest tent on Heinrichplatz.
Remember the ‘Residenzpflicht’! The ‘Residenzpflicht’ does not exist in any other European country. Its origins go back to the colonial times. The National Socialists made residence obligation in a law for forced labourers in their police regulation of 1938. In 1982, the legislators revived the regulation again and integrated it in the ‘Asylverfahrensgesetz’ (Asylum Procedure Act) for asylum seekers. Until the end of 2014, all asylum seekers had to get a permission from the immigration authorities every time they wanted to leave their district. Sometimes they got permission, most of the time they did not.
At the end of the 90s, the authorities used the residence obligation to prevent asylum seekers from engaging in political activities. For every demonstration, every congress or meeting, we had to find a way to deal with controls. At the end of 2014, the residence obligation was relaxed for some of the asylum seekers. After the first three months in Germany, it is now allowed to travel in the whole Germany without a specific permit. At least in theory. Because there are numerous reasons for exclusion from this supposed “freedom of movement”. Refugees with ‘Duldung’, in particular, remain subject to arbitrariness of the authorities. The immigration authorities can chain them to the district at any time.
By the way, the first demonstration against Residenzpflicht was in 2000, organised by the ‚Karawane für die Rechte von Flüchtlingen und Migrantinnen‘ (Caravan for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants). Since then, many refugee self-organisations, for example the Voice Refugee Forum or the ‘Flüchtlingsinitiative Brandenburg‘ (Refugee Initiative Brandenburg), have fought against the Residenzpflicht. Those who talk about the protest camp at Oranienplatz without mentioning the other protest actions of refugees in 2012 and the past of our struggles are not showing solidarity but are rather ignoring us.
Remember the Refugee Protest March! In September 2012, a group of refugees started the REFUGEE PROTEST MARCH from Würzburg to Berlin. They protested against the ‘Residenzpflicht’ and took their protest to the political leaders in Berlin. On October 5th 2012 – after one month and 600 km of walking they reached their destination. A group of activists in Berlin supported the protest march by organising a camp at Oranienplatz as a place for arrival. The camp was planned for some weeks in order to organize a big final demonstration and to plan further actions. None of us planned a protest camp that would last over a year.
Remember correctly! Oranienplatz was never occupied. Again and again there were negotiations with the district mayors that led to the Oranienplatz remaining tolerated. Those who claim that Oranienplatz was occupied are ignoring our work, the work of the activists who prepared the camp and who negotiated for years.
Many people from all over Germany came to the demonstration at the end of the protest march on October 13th 2012. It got really big. After that, there were different approaches to further actions: While one group started a hunger strike on Pariser Platz, others stayed on Oranienplatz and used it as a starting point for different actions.
In the winter of 2012, refugees from Italy joined. For them the protest camp was primarily a place of survival. They fled homelessness, hunger and a lack of prospects in Italy to Berlin. That is how Oranienplatz became a symbol for the inhumanity and cruelty of the German and the EU asylum policy. Unfortunately, we have only managed to link the different groups and interests of the refugees at Oranienplatz in single actions. The asylum system has divided us. And there were also power struggles and divisions among the supporters.
Remember correctly! Oranienplatz was not evicted by the police. It was refugees who cleared the tents of other refugees. The Senate – also with the help of so-called supporters – managed to divide the refugees at Oranienplatz.
Let’s learn from the old mistakes instead of repeating them. Governments and parliaments are dividing us with their racist migration policies. We have to oppose this and grow even closer together.
And finally: Remember that until today some refugees who were at Oranienplatz back then still don’t have residence permits! As long as that is the case, there is no reason for me to celebrate.
Bruno Watara, July 2022
taken from the upcoming issue #10 of Daily Resistance