• Politics
  • John Riceburg: Refugee camp at O-Platz holding out


John Riceburg: Refugee camp at O-Platz holding out

Winter is upon us, but the refugee protest camp at O-Platz isn't going anywhere. An attempt to close it last Sunday was defeated by protests. But what will Kreuzberg mayor Monika Herrmann do?

Image for John Riceburg: Refugee camp at O-Platz holding out
Sunday during the demo against the relocation of the refugees at O-Platz. Photo by quilombofotos

The Berlin winter is upon us. The cold is becoming painful and the puddles are freezing. But the refugee protest camp at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg isn’t going anywhere. On Sunday, they were supposed to move to a former seniors’ residence in Wedding. But the Zum guten Hirten house only had space for 80 people – 70 more were turned away and returned to the camp.

More importantly, the camp wasn’t set up to demand a house – it was set up to demand an end to deportations, as well as the right to work, live in normal apartments and travel. “You can evict us,” said Turgay, one of the refugees’ spokespeople, “but we will occupy a different space tomorrow!” So no one was happy when Kreuzberg mayor Monika Herrmann from the Green Party sent the police to dismantle the tents just minutes after the incomplete move to Wedding.

On Sunday evening, more than 500 protestors gathered in the biting cold to protect the camp. The police tried to stop a spontaneous demonstration through Kreuzberg’s SO36 district – small groups of riot cops rushed into the mass of people, then panicked and thrashed wildly with pepper spray and batons. The police would later claim that 31 officers were injured. But what does “injured” mean exactly in this context? A sprained finger while shoving someone to the ground? A moist eye after running into a cloud of one’s own pepper spray? Unfortunately, the police statement gives no details.

Herrmann has brought herself into an impossible position: since she assumed office in June, she has defended the refugees “right to protest on that square”. Yet she hoped to get rid of the camp, which continuously attracts new refugees, by moving 80 of them out of sight into a house in Wedding. This year, more than 100,000 people have claimed asylum in Germany. They are forced to live in prison-like Lager and are not allowed to leave their county due to the Residenzpflicht. Did the Green mayor really think that 80 beds would convince the refugees to end their protest? “This is not about us,” said the activist Napuli Langa at a press conference on Monday. “This is about thousands of refugees in Germany!” The crowd responded with calls of “Herrmann raus!”

On Sunday, Herrmann tweeted furiously that there had been no police action at the O-Platz, just a “technical help” with dismantling the tents – and even if police were forced to give up on the eviction, the pictures show that heavily armed cops were out in force. Now, Berlin’s Interior Senator Frank Henkel – big on “law and order”, except when it’s about protecting his friends from the construction mafia – has issued an ultimatum that the camp needs to be evicted by December 16. But even he knows that an attempt at repression will create a Gegenreaktion, a movement that goes far beyond Kreuzberg. In Hamburg, school students are planning a strike on December 12 to support the Lampedusa refugees after a crackdown there.

Vincent and some of the other refugees we spoke to in our last issue seem to have left, perhaps heading towards Italy to renew their papers or just to escape the ice. How can they stay in a country that denies them the basic right to roofs over their heads, that even tries to steal the plastic sheets they have been sleeping under? That’s what makes those activists who have continued the struggle so inspiring. The fire in their hearts has kept demonstrators warm for hours – even though it is way too cold to be demonstrating.

How to support the refugees? Go to the demonstration on Wednesday, November 27, at 3pm at Oranienplatz, going to the district parliament in the Yorckstraße 4-11, which opens at 17:30.