Samba Bah, an activist with Refugee Struggle for Freedom, recently spoke with Nikolai Huke about his experiences with racial profiling, deportations, and the COVID-19 situation in accommodations for refugees in Bavaria,
How is life in accommodations for refugees in Bavaria?
Life is very hard for refugees in Germany, especially here in Bavaria. People must stay in camps for a long time. Some people are here for more than two years and still live in the camps. Sanitary conditions are poor. Sometimes men and women must share the same toilet, the same bathroom. When a woman enters there is sometimes a man in there. Furthermore, 100 people only have two toilets! You will see people making a queue just to have access to the toilet.
If you ask for admission to a hospital when you are sick, they will not allow you. If you ask for school and education, they will not allow you. If you ask for work, they will not allow you. It is very painful and hard for everyone. And some of the refugees in these camps receive only 100 euro per month.
The food in the camps was tea, tea, bread, tea, bread. Do you think somebody can survive with that? Tea, bread, tea, bread. Also, in the camps there is a limited time for you to eat. If you do not eat that time, there is no food for you. Because in the camp they open the canteen from 7:00 to 9:00. If you miss breakfast, you won’t have breakfast. Lunch is from 11:00 to 14:00, if you don’t have your lunch, it’s your problem. Dinner is at 6:00. Just imagine — 6:00 in the evening. If you don’t have your dinner at that time, that’s your problem. You must see for yourself how to survive and there is no money for you.
If you don’t live in the camps, you do not have a right to enter the camp. Because there are bad things happening inside, they don’t want anybody to go inside. You are checked when you go in or out. I don’t know why. Even prison is better than these camps.
How was your experience with security and the police?
Security guards sometimes come and grab you, beat you. We have had many of these cases. They broke the hand of a refugee twice. They provoke you, and when you react they harass and beat you. After beating you, they will keep you there, handcuff you, and the police will come and take you.
Police brutality is also a big problem. Sometimes they come with their dogs inside the refugee camps late at night. They don’t think of the kids who are sleeping inside the rooms. Kids will cry. Even during the pandemic, they are deporting mercilessly. Yesterday, they deported a lady with two kids and both kids were born here. All these days, there are deportations going on. How can you have a family deported during a global pandemic? People who have nowhere to go back to, whose kids were born here. What situation will they be in after deportation?
Refugees that do not have a passport will be asked, “Okay, bring your passport.” “I don’t have passport.” “Because you don’t have passport, you have to pay 2000 euro.” If you do not pay within the given time, they will take you to prison for seven months. Seven months only because you didn’t bring a passport. Many people have gone through that. They have been taken to prison like that.
The police also humiliate us in public. One time, there was a demonstration with 50,000 people. After the demonstration, more than 20 police stopped us, because we are Africans, because we are black. They said, “Someone has put a metal under the police car, but we don’t know who it was.” I said, “Okay, you people don’t know who put it and there are more than 50,000 people here. If you stop us like this, this is because of racism, because we are black.”
We were kept there for more than an hour after they checked our passport. In the end they said, “No, sorry, you have not done anything. It is just a metal was under the car. You are free to go.” We say, “No, we cannot go like that. Because you cannot just keep us here, you humiliate us for more than an hour.” So, we asked for the head of the arrest to give his badge number.
Sometimes you will receive a letter with a fine after they arrest you and you will not know what you have committed. We are arrested just because we are Africans, we are black. They will arrest you in front of everybody, they will search you. If someone does not know you, they will say that “Hey, these people are criminals.”
What changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID made things worse for refugees. People with COVID are sometimes not separated from those who don’t have it. If you say someone has COVID-19, why can’t you separate him from the other people? Some people have been in quarantine for more than two months. If you quarantine people who you suspect of having COVID and people who you do not suspect, and you put them together, that means that COVID-19 will spread to everyone.
Masks are another problem. Everybody is supposed to use one, but you receive only one mask from the government. It is a disposable mask that you should only use for one day, but you will use the same one every day anyway because that is the only one you are given, and you do not have money to buy another one for yourself.
People were complaining to me, calling me asking for masks. Among the refugees, we have some professional tailors, they sew. So, I took my personal money to let them make masks to distribute in the camp. Some people asked for two so that at least maybe you can wash it and use the other one. We collected donations, bought cloth, and made more masks. In total we made 24,000 face masks which we distributed in camps all over Bavaria.
The government does not care about the refugees. We said, “Take care of the refugees because if the refugees have contracted COVID, people who are working there will also have COVID and they will die.”
How did you get involved in political activism?
Our initiative, Refugee Struggle for Freedom, started in 2016, when a container in our refugee camp caught fire during the night. Nine or ten people from different nationalities joined together: Gambia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, Cameroon, Nigerians, and Ghanaian refugees. We occupied Sendlinger Tor in Munich for two months.
After two months we walked from Sendlinger Tor to Nuremburg by foot. We walked for ten days. Just by foot — no car, no train, no bicycle. We walked to the main BAMF office in Nuremburg and told them about our problems. We came back, we saw that nothing changed. After no one helped us, we decided to launch a hunger strike in the same place at Sendlinger Tor. This struggle was the starting point of our movement. We started doing actions all over Bavaria concerning refugees’ problems.
Currently, deportations are a big struggle for us. If people are deported and we know it, we normally go to the airport and conduct an action inside the airport. But the problem is that now they put people in a deportation prison. If you have a lawyer, a lawyer will be working on the case, people will try to work on the case. But they do not inform you about the time they will deport you, nobody will know.
People in the government here in Bavaria have no respect for refugees at all. The way they are treating people is very painful and hard. We protest and make all kinds of actions. But the government, they do not want to listen at all. You cannot change it.