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Refugee protest

David Levitz / cgNovember 20, 2012

Frustrated at their treatment at the hands of the German authorities, a group of asylum seekers is protesting in Berlin. They have now been camping for nearly a month in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Refugees camp out in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (Foto: Maurizio Gambarini dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Growing up in Kabul, Fahrid Mirsai dreamt about being a pilot. He has fond memories of his childhood, recalling one day when he marched barefoot and alone to a local school to enroll himself.

“In school my teachers were happy and they encouraged me. They told my parents, ‘wow, it's nice that your son came to school and got registered by himself'," he told DW as he reminisced in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

23-year-old Mirsai says it was around the time he learned to tell the difference between left from right at school, that his life changed forever.

“The Taliban came and war began. Then all we could see was fighting and killing. Killing human beings and blood and nothing else”, he says.

Two and a half years ago Mirsai decided to board a plane to Germany. He is one of thousands of refugees who have headed to Europe recently due to unrest in northern Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Walking for freedom

Now, in a country far away from his homeland, Mirsai has been forced to head out on foot and walk for a better life, again. Mirsai is part of a group of political asylum-seekers who have decided to march from their refugee camp in southern Germany to Berlin.

Asylum-seekers in Germany are entitled to a 134 euros allowance per month. They say this isn't enough. Normally, they are not allowed to leave their refugee accommodation either.

When Mirsai first arrived in Germany, he landed at Munich airport. Carrying a fake passport, and was immediately arrested by police.

Asylum seekers give a press conference in front of the Brandenburg Gate (Foto: Kay Nietfeld/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Asylum seekers give a press conference in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa

“Well, I knew it was a risk, it was a big risk. And I knew what would happen," he told DW. "But I had to do it because I had to save my life and that's why I tried.”

He came to Germany expecting to learn the language, go to school, and find a job. Instead, he was packed into a home with other asylum-seekers. His allowance is barely enough to get by on. His German is still rudimentary and authorities don't pay for lessons.

Mirsai went on a week-long hunger strike before setting off to Berlin. He had to be tube fed at a hospital. When he got to Berlin he went on hunger strike again.

Support from local protesters

For weeks now, Mirsai and a handful of other refugees have protested outside of parliament, near Berlin's famous Brandenburg Gate, hoping lawmakers will notice. Police initially confiscated their sleeping bags, until volunteers brought them a bus to sleep in. Local authorities also banned them from camping overnight, allowing them only to put up banners. So far, the government has not reacted officially to the protest.

“No person is illegal,” protesters chant on this cold November day, in front of the German parliament building, the Reichstag. “Everyone should have freedom of mobility”, they continue.

Activists and demonstrators show their support for refugees on Pariser Platz in Berlin (Foto: Maurizio Gambarini dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
German activists in support of refugees, demonstrate in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa

One Berliner who has come along to join the protest, Christian Beck, says freedom of mobility for refugees should be seen as a human right.

“A lot of people here in Berlin welcome this protest by people who have marched hundreds of kilometers through Germany to explain how bad their situation is", he told DW. "We believe that more space should be created for people who want to start a better life here in Germany.”

When asked how it feels to be in Berlin, Mirsai says he doesn't feel anything, just cold. Then, he admits that he's proud.

“I feel like I came out of the prison by myself and I feel free. I am proud that I am fighting for my rights in this free atmosphere of Berlin. I feel happy.”