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Aslyum seekers on hunger strike in Munich, holding up poster that says 'dry hunger strike" Foto: Marc Müller/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Refugee hunger strike

Interview: Jennifer Fraczek / ljh
July 2, 2013

Asylum seekers on hunger strike in Munich illustrate one thing - the fear and hopelessness of refugees in Germany, says Günter Burkhardt, head of human rights group Pro Asyl.


DW: In protest of Germany's asylum policy, nearly 50 refugees in Munich embarked on a hunger strike. What do you think about this form of protest?

Burkhardt: Above all else we're seeing the desperation of the refugees and ask ourselves what sort of hopelessness and fear must these people feel to take such extreme measures? A hunger strike is an extreme method, and it's problematic when people's lives become endangered. But it's most distressing to see how cold-hearted the Bavarian government is reacting - or rather that they're not reacting at all. We have appealed to the politicians to address the underlying causes

The Bavarian police cleared out the protestors' camp over the weekend. In your opinion, what does this eviction say about the Bavarian - perhaps even German - authorities' stance on the refugee issue?

It looks like an expression of disinterest in these people's living situations. These problems didn't just appear yesterday. The scandalous situation of refugees in Germany and especially in Bavaria, a lone front-runner of cold-heartedness, has been known for years.

Police evict refugees on hunger strike from their camp in Munich Foto: Peter Kneffel/dpa
Police evicted refugees on hunger strike from their camp in central Munich on June 30Image: picture-alliance/dpa

What makes Bavaria a "lone front-runner of cold-heartedness?"

In nearly every other German state, the residency obligation, or the requirement to reside in a particular place, has been relaxed. Not in Bavaria. There, refugees are still put up in large camps and isolated. We want refugees to earn their own living and be able to provide for themselves. They need to work and learn German. Maria Böhmer, the federal commissioner for integration, supports such integration offerings. In Bavaria, they're resistant.

Protests by refugees are not unique to Bavaria. What's wrong with German asylum policy?

German asylum policy has two design flaws: The first is the policy of refugee exclusion, the accommodations in large collective camps, the isolation and the lack of willingness to develop an integration concept for them. The second point is the lack of a valid European asylum law that really protects refugees. In asylum procedures, the country in which the refugee first arrived is responsible. If someone then applies for asylum in Germany, the process of concealing the escape route begins - otherwise he or she faces deportation to that particular country. The question a refugee hears is: 'How did you get here?' Not 'why?' But the 'why?' is the central question in the process of getting asylum.

The EU recently adopted a common asylum policy. Does that improve the situation of refugees in Europe?

Günter Burkhardt
Burkhardt says European asylum policy is deeply flawedImage: DW/S. Dege

The fact remains that refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. That means the structural responsibility will continue to burden the border countries, with the result that refugees are often detained or sent back. Additionally, various grounds for detention exist in the European system, such as the inability to establish someone's identity. Since most refugees don't have a passport, practically any of them can be arrested for this. That's why we are extremely dissatisfied with this European asylum policy.

According to the latest statistics from the UN refugee aid agency, UNHCR, Germany is only second to the USA as the country where most asylum applications are received. Why do so many refugees want to come to Germany?

In the case of Syrians or Afghans, many already live in Germany, and people flee to the country where they have a connection, where there is a community. Eighty percent of all refugees worldwide remain in their region of origin. Europe actually accepts very few refugees.

Günter Burkhardt is managing director and co-founder of the human rights organization Pro Asyl, which has advocated for refugees since 1986.

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