Vox refugee: Ercan

Ercan is a former political refugee who now runs the legendary Cafe Kotti. He talks about using his position to help newly arrived refugees find a place in society, putting people before bureaucracy.

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Photo by Boryana Ivanova

Ercan, met at Cafe Kotti

“I try to help how I can on a human level. To help people, you have to give them the opportunity to be people. The term ‘refugee’ itself prevents us from seeing the real person and what they can do. You don’t see someone as a cook or an engineer – you see him as a refugee, as a helpless person.

There is a constant imbalance between the people who help and the needy ones. There is no institutional backing for Willkommenskultur, no legislation behind it. All actual regulations on a national level are in conflict with it. There’s people who sporadically do charity and then go. I think charity is nonsense.

I remember back in 1982, when I arrived in Germany as a political refugee, the social system and Ausländerbehörde were more humane – at least I could sit in a warm room, drink a coffee and wait for my appointment. Now 1500 people wait in the cold in front of the office – women, children, babies. I got off an airplane and went to Friedrichstraße, West Berlin. Now people come to Germany on foot.

Regardless of what a refugee’s profession back home was, they come here and they are nothing, they start from zero. This is degrading for the person. After I arrived to Berlin, I started cleaning the garden of a hospital in Wedding, despite my university education. This tore me apart. The Social and Employment Offices are now trying to employ people as fast as possible and often they end up in badly paid, dead-end jobs. Businesses are very happy about the situation, of course. For them it’s cheap labour, people who won’t complain because they are too scared. But people should be free to decide for themselves. Refugees should be encouraged to take up jobs that they like and are suitable for them.

With the current refugee wave, the Turkish community can finally say that they are no longer at the ‘bottom of the food chain’. But as a matter of fact, they do have the same position in society – they are being discriminated against. Turkish people have accepted their inferior position. A doctor has accepted that he is now a taxi driver. Discrimination has placed large parts of the migrant community on a downward spiral that is difficult to escape. The only way to prevent the same thing from happening to refugees is to see them as individuals and not as a big faceless mass. Other European nationalities, like Spanish or French, don’t have problems settling down here and making a comfortable life. Often they only use their mother tongue to survive here.

We need to do away with all the categories – Gastarbeiter, foreigner, immigrant, refugee, German with ‘migrant background’. I see a lot of racism going on. I see how when one skin colour goes in, the other goes out. This happens even in Cafe Kotti, despite it being a very multicultural place. I see a lot of subtle racism towards refugees, they are accepted and at the same time they are not accepted. I offer as many jobs at my café as I can and I pay everyone above minimum wage. I go around Kottbusser Tor and speak to business owners and try to persuade them to employ refugees, even if they don’t have all their papers yet. Many of them are afraid that they will get in trouble with Finanzamt or other institutions if they do that, but I tell them that there is always a way around these rigid regulations. Refugees need to have decent jobs in order to start building their new life in Germany. We can’t wait on the government to do the work, they will never get it right. Each and every one of us should take the initiative and contribute with what we can.”