Refugee Protests in Europe and Germany

2012 — 2014


Activism & Resistance Citizenship Discrimination & Inequity

Since September 2012, migrants across Germany and Europe have been protesting the precarious circumstances under which asylum seekers and refugees there are forced to live, as well as demanding more just asylum policies. Long-term political solutions, however, remain forthcoming.

Two months after the 2012 suicide of Mohammad Rashepars, a refugee from Iran, in a state-run shelter in Würzburg, a group of refugees in that city began a hunger strike to protest the inhumane asylum policies of Germany and the EU. They established a protest camp and quickly received backing from refugees in other German cities. These protesters articulated similar objectives to those already contained in the refugee political movements in Germany in the late 1990s (Voice Refugee Forum).

On September 8, 2012, a self-organized protest march comprised of refugees and their allies left Würzburg for Berlin. Their demands included recognition as political refugees, a moratorium on deportations, an end to the practice of confinement in shelters and a lifting of the regulation by which asylum applicants are compelled to remain fixed in a given location. The 600 kilometer-long march arrived at the Oranienplatz in Berlin on October 3, where the participants erected a protest camp that would remain in place until early 2014. In several other German and European cities, such as Hamburg, Nuremberg, Vienna, and Calais, protest groups and camps were formed in solidarity.

At the end of June 2014, a group of refugees and their supporters embarked on a “protest march for freedom” from Strasbourg to Brussels, as a demonstration against the EU’s migration and asylum policies. In particular, the Dublin Regulation as well as the role and remit of the EU border agency FRONTEX stood at the center of their critique. [see: Ratification of the Dublin II Regulation, 2003] In August 2014, the activist group “Women in Exile” organized a raft tour from Nuremberg to Berlin, in order to draw attention specifically to the situation of refugee women. As men often dominate the foreground of struggles for civil and human rights, issues such as sexism, sexual violence, abortion, pregnancy and childbirth are often obscured or pushed into the background. “Women in Exile” thus sees itself as a feminist organization dedicated to taking up these issues, informing female asylum seekers of their rights and working with them to develop strategies of action.

These ongoing protests continue make more visible both the precarious situation and the demands of refugees. They have met with broad solidarity within civil society, but have prompted absolutely no support from the political sphere. Rather than taking seriously the refugees’ demands, authorities have criminalized and violently suppressed their activities. Thus, the protest camps and organizations in Berlin on the Oranienplatz, at the Gerhard Hauptmann Schule and the Gürtelstrasse were cleared in major police actions, while new laws were approved by the national Parliament that would tighten further the restrictions on asylum applications and applicants. [see: New regulations for asylum and state citizenship law, 2014] From late 2014, furthermore, local citizens’ initiatives have formed in several German municipalities to demonstrate, together with the members of neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing organizations, against the construction of new accommodations for refugees.