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  • Meet the Berlin activists behind the campaign to make Anmeldung available to all


Meet the Berlin activists behind the campaign to make Anmeldung available to all

'Anmeldung für Alle' is a new campaign which aims to make registration easier for everyone. We sat down with the organisers to talk about the migrant experience and their mission.

Photo: Ian Clotworthy

In December, a new social reform campaign launched, one that had been in the making for nearly a year. Anmeldung für Alle (“registration for all”) takes its aim at the country’s requirement that residents legally register their address with the government, an obligation that facilitates receiving official mail, voting, getting a tax ID and accessing healthcare. Many of the city’s most vulnerable residents are unable to find housing that offers registration, which presents a major roadblock to living in Berlin.

“The vicious circle of registration means exclusion from basic rights and services essential for a decent life,” the group’s website explains of the central issue. Jason Bustos and Marcela Camps are organisers with Anmeldung für Alle and members of Ciudad Migrante, a group organised by Bloque Latinoamericano Berlin focusing on migrants’ rights and quality of life in Berlin, which is also behind the new campaign. We sat down with them to find out what the campaign’s mission is and how they might achieve it.

How did Anmeldung für Alle first come to life?

Jason Bustos: We did a workshop for housing issues. It was geared towards migrants. Many people came not precisely to do political action, but more because they have problems with registration or issues of the sort. We were trying to help them, to provide information.

The idea of what we want to change is way more radical than what we actually want to do.

We did a manual that we published in Spanish, but at some point, we also thought that just individual actions, helping one or two people, was not going to cut it. So we thought, maybe something more structural will be something that reaches [further], that can affect policy, will be more successful. We started thinking about how a campaign would look, and it took months of planning.

Marcela Camps: Our goal is to facilitate life in Berlin for people that have a really hard time living in the city – because it’s not just finding an apartment, it’s then finding an apartment with Anmeldung. And then this goes along with problems of finding a job, because you need the Anmeldung for the job. The main goal for us is to have the right to the city. To live in a city where we are not being discriminated against.

Can you explain the problem with the current Anmeldung system in more depth?

JB: It was an issue that we found central in this whole vicious circle of getting a job, getting a tax ID, getting insurance and so on. The Anmeldung is kind of like the roadblock where you encounter a lot of difficulties. Like, a very disgruntled office worker is gonna tell you stuff in German, and it’s not going to be very flexible to you. And that’s an experience you’re gonna have with a lot of places.

So it’s sort of like a microcosm in that way. And it’s a shock for a lot of people, this experience, and also unnecessarily complicated. So many other countries fix this issue in much more efficient ways that you have to wonder if there is not some kind of, I don’t know, other kind of motivation for the complication of the process…

The Anmeldung is kind of like the roadblock where you encounter a lot of difficulties.

MC: Most of the people that approach Ciudad Migrante are people living in very precarious conditions. We have heard terrible stories. Especially from women.

JB: You definitely open yourself to discrimination and gender violence when you have a power imbalance with the landlord. We did some research, and I remember one person who needed that Anmeldung, otherwise they could not sign a contract. That was a very precarious position to be in.

And there have been other people that have been in this kind of ‘either or’ situation, this ultimatum. Also, institutions like the Krankenkasse will not accept that you don’t have Anmeldung, which is a health issue. It’s pretty messed up.

Your campaign has three major demands…

JB: The first one is a universal Anmeldung.

MC: This is a practical solution. We know there are ways to have Anmeldung, for example, for people who live in the streets. There is a place where they can do their Anmeldung and receive letters, through the Jobcenter. We don’t have that right as migrants.

One of our demands is to at least have a solution for people that cannot find an apartment with Anmeldung, but who are still living in the city and working in the city. We do not hate Anmeldung. We do believe that Anmeldung is important, because it tells the state how many people live in the city, which is an important number if you want to, for example, improve the transport systems or do public investment in the city.

JB: The second demand is the decriminalisation of solidarity Anmeldung [the practice of registering a false Anmeldung]. This one is one that we feel strongly about. Many times we have been suggested to do sort of clandestine solutions. You use your connections and your friends to fix a problem that the state should fix. But as migrants, I think you don’t get that leeway. If you get caught, then you’re kind of screwed. Those solutions are good for autonomous groups, but faced with legal repercussions, I think it’s a luxury we can’t really have.

Photo: Cami Vega

MC: We believe strongly in solidarity. And we don’t think it’s bad to give someone else an Anmeldung if they need it. But we cannot do that. It’s dangerous for us.

JB: The third one is a solution to the housing crisis. This one is because our campaign is aimed at being open for many other organisations to join, to sort of articulate these demands in order to express their needs, so to speak, through the campaign.

You have to wonder if there is not some…other kind of motivation for the complication of the process

We thought a lot about this. We would like [partner organisations] to at some point sort of take the lead, organise events, in the name of the campaign will have this without necessarily us kind of carrying it all the way through. And we think that will make it stronger.

Why not focus entirely on the housing crisis in Berlin, rather than the universal Anmeldung?

JB: When you arrive in the city, you don’t really know how the game works. So it’s very easy to scam you. And it’s easier to scam migrants. It’s easy to put them in situations of unbalanced power with the landlords, where you charge people more or exploit them in many ways, or kick them out without explanation.

At least with the Anmeldung, you sort of have a legal basis to defend yourself. So of course we want to solve the housing crisis, but we have to start somewhere. And I do think that fixing the issue will have a structural effect on how the housing crisis is going.

What has the public reaction been like to your ideas?

JB: A mixed bag, I will say. But also very interesting how the bag is mixed. Because on the one side, whenever we meet a migrant – expat, migrant, whatever – regardless of where they come from, they always say yes. Because they have encountered this problem, and they are like, yes, that’s a good thing, what you’re doing.

And whenever we meet a German who finds about the campaign, they ask, why would we like to abolish the Anmeldung? Which is not what we want to do. But even though there has been scepticism on that side, there also has been support. They find it difficult, but they want to extend their support. It seems like there is this general understanding that changing anything in law is extremely difficult. But I think that the idea of what we want to change is way more radical than what we actually want to do.

Photo: Ciudad Migrante

How long do you expect to be campaigning over this issue?

MC: If we want a change in the law, we need a long time. But I would say the easier way is to solve the first part of the problem, giving these temporary Anmeldung. The hard part is to convince people that this is an easier way to go.

When we talked about decriminalising solidarity, they were like, why? Changing the minds of everyone so that they understand the real issues behind what is, in the end, just a change in Anmeldung law – that’s the hard part. But once they understand the real issues, they do empathise with it.

What’s next for the project?

MC: We had a very successful launch [in December]. And then our strategy was to start talking to the organisations that were touched by our campaign and wanted to also be part of it. In January, we had our first meeting with organisations that are taking part in the campaign, and we are having a next meeting in March. Now, in spring, we want to bring attention to the campaign.

JB: There are two poles of the campaign. On the one side, the grassroots, and on the other side, lobbying politicians. I think both things are really important. You need to build pressure. If we were constituents, I think we wouldn’t have to mobilise. I’m very excited because I’ve realised that the campaign resonates with a lot of people, way more than I expected.

  • The next open meeting is April 9, keep up with the campaign here or follow Ciudad Migrante here.