On Tuesday 23rd April 2019, the Bremer Rat für Integration (BRI) organised a public event “Resonance of Cultures” at the Bremen Theatre where leading Bremen politicians from all major parties where invited to discuss the topic of Integration and Participation amongst other topics. At the event, Together We Are Bremen (TWAB) showed up with over 50 people to participate in the event, to question the politicians and ask them to explain the apparent discrepancy in their position of preaching Integration but actually practising Exclusion and Isolation. Soon after the event began, members of TWAB took to the floor to express these. We unfolded a Banner that also bore these expressions and after some exchanges, the event went as planned as the politicians had their say on the various topics that were raised. At the end, the then Mayor – Mr. Sieling exchanged contact with us and promised to meet us to further discuss some of our grievances.
Making a point: no discussion about us without us
We decided as an alliance to intervene at the panel discussion with the politicians because, we believe that the topic of “integration” should not be exploited for pep talk or discussed without those who are being systematically excluded and hence affected. The supposed integration efforts and empty declarations like “Bremen is a safe Harbor” for survivors of the Mediterranean by politicians were placed in contrast to the practical and obvious exclusion and segregation practices, which many members of our alliance experience. For example, when they have to live in accommodations like the Lindenstraße; where they are continuously harassed and beaten by security officials, when they are “transferred” or deported and when they are denied school places even as youths. These perspectives were obviously not represented in the preparation of the podium discussion and neither were the topics of schools, work, finding home in Bremen amongst others for this group of people.
Therefore, we intervened in this debate and for us it was clear: we want answers to the questions that are urgent for people affected by so-called “integration policy”, we wanted to make clear what the consequences of the current policies are on the lives of many people, particularly young people who survived the horrors of the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea and who now live here in Bremen but are being deliberately excluded!
At the event
our intervention initially caused some confusion as our unexpected presence already made the politicians and BRI moderators nervous. After the introduction and our intervention, the event continued as planned by the BRI. We engaged in the debate with questions and short speeches, but did not disrupt the course of the event – which we could have done. Apart from one of the politicians present on the panel, none of the panellist could seriously answer any of our questions, as they were all basically ignorant of our situation. This showed us how little the focus of integration policy actually lies on the realities of those affected – a further justification for our intervention.
The moderators of the event (both from the BRI) reacted very harshly to our intervention and demanded that we return to a “civilized discussion”. Our questions were only hesitantly admitted and the demand to the politicians for political decisions to issue of “Duldung” or the withdrawal of transfers was met by one of the moderators with the annoyed answer, that the situation would already be examined “for single cases”. To say the least, we were disappointed by how much the BRI tried to block our presence and contributions at this event by attempting to answer questions that were posed to the politicians. This showed what had already been visible in the invitation. It was formulated exclusively in German, kept abstract, and thus basically incomprehensible to people with basic knowledge of German. Translation options at the events were not offered in the invitation, which is why we had to organize this amongst ourselves.
our intervention at this event, the Bremen Rat für Integration has been increasingly antagonistic to us and conducting subtle campaign against TWAB. First of all, we were repeatedly informed and saw how the Bremen Rat für Integration tries to hinder us, for example, in generating donations or sleeping places that those members of TWAB, who are still denied any possibility to stay in Bremen, are essentially dependent on.
We find it completely incomprehensible that the so-called “Council for Integration” which prides itself in representing migrants in Bremen and whose mandate obviously must include representing refugees in Bremen does not and could not explicitly welcome and embrace the participation of this marginalised group in Bremen. Especially for a “Council for Integration” such a podium discussion MUST be understood NOT as a photo op but as an opportunity for migrants and refugees to ask questions to politicians, hold them accountable for their actions and policies and lay bare the consequences of their policies.
Our rallying cry for the day: “You preach integration and practice exclusion, segregation & deportation” – which was boldly displayed on a banner at the event – was cynically but pointedly confirmed by the BRI when it contends that members of TWAB, who are struggling to stay here, should follow the transfers given to them and get out of Bremen – in other words, to piss off, you don’t belong here.
Lately, members of the BRI who have shown solidarity with us were being urged by the BRI Chairperson Libuše Černá (bearer of the Cross of Merit on the Integration Ribbon) to distance themselves from TWAB – with the exact same argumentation; that the organized refugee activists in TWAB should accept the transfers, get out of Bremen and go to school and build a new life somewhere else. What is more? The BRI is surreptitiously discouraging others not to support TWAB. By this, the antagonism towards TWAB and the latent lack of solidarity also has very practical consequences.
Ignorant but serving a function
These statements by BRI representatives testify to their ignorance about the reality of those being excluded in Bremen. It can hardly be surpassed. To start with, accepting the transfers means most likely then to be deported to Italy, into homelessness and a life-endangering environment. It means to lose your social and support network, familiar environment in Bremen and it means to be excluded from the right to choose one’s place of residence.
It is clear from the actions of the BRI that it strongly believes that TWAB does not belong to Bremen and its refugee activists have no right to demand acceptance in this city. This obviously puts the ” Council for Integration” on the side of exclusion and deportation. Further, it legitimizes – by the very appearance of migrants’ representation – the state practice that denies the fundamental human rights of refugees organized in TWAB.
With its position, the BRI appears more interested in preserving the appearance of participation rather than encourage, motivate and embrace actual participation. The supposed inclusion of migrant voices appears to allow more critical voices to be pushed out of the public eye and ignored. The BRI has shown its true colours and where its loyalty lies. By insisting that TWAB refugees should leave Bremen, they are trying to be “more catholic than the Pope” because some of those same refugees are still legally here today.
Our expectation… and going forward
we expect, more than any other group, a “Council for Integration” which claims to represent migrants and refugees, to explicitly express its solidarity and to listen to the voices of those who are particularly affected by exclusion and discrimination. We expect it to be clearly positioned against marginalization, isolation, forced transfers and deportations. We expect such a council to welcome, support and, if necessary, initiate critical intervention as an impetus for internal reflection processes. It is a travesty and a tragedy that an institution like the BRI can claim to be a “Council for Integration” when it can stab a self-organized group as TWAB in the back in this way for simply airing our opinion in a public event.
BRI, an institution that is actually of little or no relevance, has managed to become a problem for a migrant group that have to struggle for its members’ existence here in Bremen. We call on all individuals and organizations in the BRI to address the ways in which they help to legitimize and stabilize exclusion, isolation and deportations, and to use their little influence critically with purposeful intervention to show solidarity, to support groups and individuals affected by racism, discrimination and social exclusion!
One thing is clear: TWAB is part of Bremen and we welcome all who join or support our fight for acceptance in this City. We counter the political and social structures that exclude us with resistance. It did not begin with the BRI and it may not stop with them. But one thing is for sure: We are here and we are here to stay. We will stay here with our dignity intact. And if that means having the BRI as an enemy rather than an ally, SO BE IT!!! We have no sympathy for groups or individuals supporting, legitimizing, or otherwise defending the structures that deny us our basic rights. For those who stab us in the back like the “Bremer Rat für Integration” expect us to continue to call you out publicly and we will confront you everywhere and always, and defend ourselves against your attacks.
This situation represents a serious credibility deficit in the BRI. Therefore, we urge all members of the BRI to shift the political orientation of the Council and to use whatever influence they may have to fight against racism and social exclusion. If this is not possible in the current structures, we call on the members of the Council, the people of Bremen and everyone in solidarity, to distance themselves from this institution.
Join and support our struggle for a more inclusive Bremen for all!
Our demand remains completely politically realistic: permanent residence permit for all. Withdrawal and termination of transfers. Private apartments instead of camps/good living conditions in Lindenstrasse etc. Good medical care. Education for all. An end to racist violence. No Deportations. Making Bremen a truly Safe Habour!
Together We Are Bremen, August 2019