Statement from Lampedusa in Hamburg.

Response to the Hamburg senate and suggestion to the resolution with consideration for humanity and human rights

Published on  29.10.2013 by  lampedusa-in-hh

We, the group of Libyan war refugees „Lampedusa in Hamburg“, want to try again to bring transparency in the stalled and escalating situation in regard to the future of our lives.

First we want to remind people why we are here. This is now often excluded from reports in the paper and from statements of polititians. But it is because of this that we are in Hamburg and that we demand recognition.

We are all from different countries and went at different times and for different existantial reasons to Libya. From this point onwards our stories and destinies converge. We lived and worked in Libya – even as fights between rebels and government forces broke out. The war escalated in the whole country with the entry of NATO into the conflict. We reached Lampedusa losing everything we owned, death constantly by our side.

We were distributed in different regions of Italy, housed and minimally supported under the EU programme „emergency North Africa“. We went through the process of individual asylum applications and received right to stay and italian documents which offered us protection. But shortly after this our emergency programme was terminated. The Italian government put us out onto the street in winter 2012 and explained that there is no future for us there. They told us to go to different EU countries. This is – in summary – the background to how we ended up being victims and playthings of European politics. Thus we came to Hamburg just as others of us went to different European countries and cities.

In Italy we received the legal status to rebuild our lives and to overcome the suffered losses. Despite this there is no practical implementation of this. A joint responsibility of the decision to enter the war in Libya is being denied us, the civilian, by European governments.

But it concerns our existance and the existance of our families and dependents whom we were able to support well and sufficiently up to the start of the war. It is not power play for us but the only option to fight for the recognition of our rights.

This dispute is taking place in Hamburg for more than six months and many people support us and our request to resolve our existential need. By now there has been an escalation of the situation caused by especially by the police operation against us which was initiated by the senate, which we want to resolve constructively. We think we can suggest a way which is acceptable for all parties.

The senate’s suggestion

We welcome that the senate approaches us for direct dialogue after refusing to do so for six months and we see this as a possible start for a solution. In the current shape this offer does not provide any legal security for us. To understand the suggestion fully, we sketch and analyse some aspects below:

It was confirmed in follow-up conversations between the local government and the senate and our lawyers that the senate stands by its decision that the humanitarian grounds we presented, especial the catastrophic situatino of refugees in Italy, will not lead to a positive decision for our applications. This means that there is still no political will to take responsibility for the practical conversion of our rights.

The decision should instead be made on an individual basis in years-long court cases with uncertain outcome.

Every group member should separately apply for right to stay and then receive exceptional right to remain. There would be an extra counter at the office for foreigners and an ombudsman would be put in place to accompany the procedings. It was said in addition that we would be safe from deportation while the case is being dealt with.

The exceptional right to remain is no right to stay but merely a confirmation about the suspension of deportation. It is usually awarded for various time periods and can be terminated any time.

Although it was confirmed for us that our exceptional right to stay would cover the complete time of our cases. In talks with representatives of the office for foreigners and our lawyers it became clear that the Hamburg senate cannot guarantee that this will be legally binding.

The issue of exceptional right to remain would also mean that we have to surrender our Italian documents, which guarantee the recognition as refugees, that our right to free movement would be restricted and that we would not receive permission to work for at least a year.

We would enter a lenghty process, lose our through Italy awarded status and live for years with the uncertainty of our destiny.

This is not a suggestion which can be described as fair. It is moreover a threat for our lives. Added to this is the threat of the continuation of the police checks against us to force our agreement.

A constructive approach would be to accept that Italy does not guarantee us appropriate refugee protection which is a failing of the Dublin II system and this failure should not be fought out on the backs of those affected in Hamburg but responsiblity should be acknowleged  and a serious exploration of the possibilities of right to stay started.

We have always said that we would not be here if we had had the chance to live and work humanely in Italy. Although we would like to point out that we have been able to integrate more in the short time we have spent in Hamburg than it was possible in almost two years in Italy.

Our situation and the general discussion around European refugee policy

In regard to the intesive exchange in society and the political forums about a necessary change in the European refugee policy, Hamburg could send a positive signal which does not only consist of declarations of intentions. Hamburg politicians could inject the subject into the coalition negotiations to the formation of a new government in Berlin.

We are surprised to hear again and again in meetings with politicians and party representatives as well as recently members of the Hamburg SPD that changes to European asylum and refugee policies and how important our group’s work is while we are still rejected.

In regard to the extensive solidarity in all its variety, the growing awareness about the causes why we had to leave our continent – from Libya via Lampedusa, Italy to Hamburg – and the respect for our public opposition for the defense of our lives, we think: it is time to start a concrete process for the realisation of our right to stay. Many organisations, professionals, institutions and ten thousands of people in Hamburg and beyond support our demand for recognition under paragraph 23. Groups that are engaged socially, politically and culturally have been housing and supporting us with the necessaries for months.

Our suggestion to a political solution of the escalation situation and our disastrous position

We want to introduce a suggestion which takes in consideration the senate’s willingness to engage in talks and is practically implementable:

We want to remind people that we are of the solid conviction that laws are made for people and not the other way around. The exiting European system for the acceptance of refugees breaches human rights, which we as the ones who suffer can attest to. It is not enought to just speak of constitutional legality and interpret the laws to our disadvantage. Paragraph 23 of the residence act offers a solution for our exitential distress for example.

Why should we be forced to indiviual cases/appeals? This takes a lot of time and requires high funds.

We have not had any peace since the war and the NATO intervention in Libya in Spring 2011. We do not want to lose any more time before we can start our lives over again. We are recognised and with Italian (i.e. European) documents provided refugees. We have been through the whole process already.

Why should there be many individual cases if we all have the same background and the same refugee story – starting from the war in Libya where we were civilians and workers.

Why should tax funds be spend on hundreds of individual cases?

Paragraph 23 of the residence act was created to avoid exactly this, which is how we understand the German law reasoning.

It enables right of residence for a specific group which fulfills certain criteria to ensure consistency of law and at the same time prevent lenghty and expensive individual cases. Once an order under paragraph 23 has been made, every individual refugee can then apply for right of residence and prove that s/he fulfills the criteria. We are ready to provide draft for such an order which has been prepared by our lawyers as a basis for further discussions.

What we need is legal assurance which enables us to start our lives anew and get over the grave losses which we have suffered since the war in Libya.

One possiblity would be the recognition of the in Italy given protection as refugees and the permission to work for at least a year. If we were allowed to work in Hamburg, many of us would already be working and pay taxes. Noone of us is interested in being dependent on state benefits and we could imagine to relinquish benefits should paragraph 23 be used. It would be possible in this case that the broad solidarity and support movement would take the necessary replacement responsibility.

For the last six months we have been supported by the hands and hearts of people with the hope and the wish for us to stay, to be able to live here. We have experienced neighboursip and integration especially in St Pauli but also in other parts of the city. A simplified process and a work permit would be beneficial for us and all the people who support us daily and indefatiguable and would be coherent with European conventions of human rights.

Formation of a commision for the development and implementation of a practical solution

We suggest the formation of a commission because the best solution – in our view – is being rejected so vehemently and thus a strong polarity between senate and broad parts of the population has developed. Such a commision which could incorperate the multiple civil groups and institutions who have been supporting us in our need for the last six months could realise the future progress.

In regard to the police stop and search operation and the demand for declaration of our identities to government offices

We have responded to the accusation that we hide our identities in an open letter to the senate dated 16.10.13:

1.      We possess valid passport documents – which puts the whole police operation into question.

2.      We do not hide our identity. We are one of the most present and public groups of people in this city.

3.      We do not apply for asylum because we have already gone through through this process in Italy. A new application is both unnecessary and legally not required.

We want to make a suggestion in regard to this point although we think that we need to progress in discussions first – as we understand the senate’s intention as preamble to deportation. We will produce our documents and passport papers to the above suggested commission. We aware that this step would put us in greater danger of deportation to Italy. We want to de-fuse the escalated and entrenched situation which was caused by the police’s stop and search operation and promote a constructive process. We refuse to make applications as suggested by the senate and we won’t have our current document seized, as explained above.

As some of us are slowly breaking under the pressure and the threats, we will continue to fight for our rights as a group – together with many people who have had enough of empty promises, feigned mourning and pretend humanity. Despite a threatened new displacement, we repeat „We are here to stay“ as the group of Libyan war refugees „Lampedusa in Hamburg“. Every of us longs for peace and quiet, normality and stability but we support each other and with heart and honesty from the Hamburg population just as the St Pauli chant „you never walk alone“

Hamburg, 28.10.2013