Refugees Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Much is being said about the refugees; now they are speaking up for themselves. At the International Conference of Refugees and Migrants in Hamburg, those affected spoke about asylum laws, the situation at the borders, self-organization, and sexism. They shared personal experiences and made clear demands of society and politics.
Robert Bosch Stiftung | March 2016
Much is being said about them, but at the International Conference of Refugees and migrants in Hamburg at the end of February, they took the floor themselves. Over 2,000 refugees and migrants spoke about their view of the issues that directly affect them at the self-organized meeting - issues such as asylum law, the situation at the borders, self-organization, and sexism. The motto of the conference: "The struggle of refugees - How to go on? Stop War on migrants!"

A Platform for Networking and Exchange

It was not a conference of grand speeches, but rather a collection of numerous stories from those who had fled their home countries. Stories of violence and war, flight, language problems, and frustration with German bureaucracy and politics. But there were also stories about living in freedom, mutual assistance, and hope for a better future. The prevailing mood: we want to tell people about our fate but not resign ourselves to it.

"It’s about networking people and showing that migrants can contribute something to society," says Ali Ahmet. He belongs to Lampedusa in Hamburg, the group that organized the conference. They were supported by volunteers as well as Kampnagel, a center for cultural events, which also served as the venue for the three-day conference.

"As a refugee and foreigner in this country, I found it really positive to be welcomed at this conference and to be met with so much respect," says Sherey, who came to the conference with her family.

What the Visitors Say

(for transcripts and translations, see track description on Soundcloud)

Women Reclaiming Their Space

Women Reclaiming Their Space

Overnight accommodations for around 800 people, with 100 spaces at Kampnagel itself, were available to guests from out of town. The children were supervised in the preschool and food was provided. Refugees were also able to get personal legal advice.

The participants spoke - as part of over 30 workshops and podium discussions - about various topics such as mental health, deaf refugees, unaccompanied minors, language courses, violence at the borders, and racism. The podium discussions were translated into eight languages by volunteers. "It is a platform for people to exchange ideas and views. That’s exactly the way we wanted it, and it’s great to see people embracing it," says Ali Alasan, one of the organizers of the event.

Some workshops took place in the "Women’s Space," a protected room a little apart from the other spaces. For some women, this meant that visibility was too low. They stormed the stage in the main auditorium with the slogan "Women’s space is everywhere," which tied in with the discussion about self-organization.

What the Speakers and Organizers Say

Demands on Society and Politicians

Better networking, a ban on deportation, and freedom of movement within Europe – those are the three main demands of the participants. The organizers are planning to present more findings soon.

"We have seen that the conference is a fantastic platform for networking people and getting an overview of the situation in various cities," says organizer Abimbola Odugbesan. "It’s a powerful tool for coming to grips with the European system and reaching the politicians. That’s why there should be more international conferences." A major meeting in Berlin is planned for this fall.

The conference was financed with support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung and other foundations, as well as through donations.