Rally outside the camp in Horst | 23rd September 2010
11 days ago, a young refugee decided to go on a hunger strike to protest against the inhumane conditions in the camp in Horst. Other refugees joined him, and together with supporters from the outside, the pressure on the camp management has been increased. So yesterday, the camp management invited government officials, political parties, the refugee council and selected journalists to visit the camp in order to counter the images the public have seen in recent days with their propaganda.
It soon became obvious that the journalists who were invited were those who had written negatively about the camp. A photographer and a reporter from the magazine “Spiegel”, as well as other major news agencies had to obey the ban on visits that had been in force since the hunger strike began and had to wait outside.
Solidarity groups had organized a rally outside the camp to make sure that the journalists would see and hear the messages of the refugees. Immediately the refugees joined them, children drew pictures on the ground and others put up banners. Their demands were read out in Farsi, Serbo-Croatian, English, French and Arabic. Hearing their demands through the PA system gave people strength and as soon as the music played, the children started to dance. It didn’t take long for the rest to join and all the people who had told us their stories in the last few days were able to dance away their worries for a moment. People were singing, the fence was covered with banners and all that was missing was the delegation.
The delegation came precisely at 2 pm in expensive suits and equally expensive cars. They were ushered inside to avoid any contact with the refugees. But the refugees followed them with their banners and told them about their demands. Soon, the delegation disappeared behind a building. We found them squashed together in a corner where they were told that they were not to leave the prepared route. We had the impression that they were being ‘protected’ from the refugees to make sure they didn’t talk to them.
The first stop was the sick bay, which was squeaky-clean and tidy. What the delegation didn’t get to see was this: This is the place where for years the doctor has neglected her duty and maltreated her patients. Where the only ‘treatment’ consisted of painkillers.
The second stop was the canteen. None of the refugees were allowed in and of course again, everything was squeaky-clean. Everything looked nice and there was a bottle with water on every table. The highlight was the specially prepared meal plan for the week. What the delegation didn’t get to see: The meal plans had absolutely nothing to do with the food that was being served. They weren’t posted anywhere in the camp either. The delegation also couldn’t see the queue of 400 people outside the kitchen that was designed for 150. They didn’t see the shop – the only opportunity for the refugees to buy their supplies without having to walk all the way to the next town. And how little the 40 Euro the refugees receive per moth buy them at the shop. No receipts either, so someone is making a healthy profit here. A young man from Afghanistan said that he wished the delegation would come more often because at least on that day they were given good food.
By this time, some members of the delegation were getting tired of the lie the management were telling and started leaving the tour to talk to the refugees.
Next stop was the clothes supply, which miraculously had filled up with all sorts of clothes. What the delegation didn’t get to see: refugees wearing t-shirts because they weren’t given a sweater. And the book that records every item that was handed out.
The guided tour went on to a ‘showroom’. What the delegation didn’t get to see: the fact that the doors have no locks so that the staff can enter at any time without warning. The fact that mothers can’t cook meals for their babies, because there are no facilities for such things. The fact that many women are afraid to sleep in a room that can’t be locked.
The next stop was the kindergarten. What the delegation didn’t see: a 9 year old child had to leave the kindergarten because it was too old. However, the child isn’t allowed to go to school, so the kindergarten is the only place it can go to. There is nothing to do for children in Horst. An ex-inmate told us: “If we are supposed to learn the language and integrate ourselves, we need to be able to live with you. As long as we are locked up here we will never learn the language.”
What the delegation didn’t get to see in the living area: the day before, a young man from Afghanistan who had just received notice that he would have to stay in Horst for several more months, had thrown himself against a glass door. He was badly injured and bleeding and was taken to hospital. Many others saw him being taken away but didn’t know what had happened, so they were scared. Last night the police came in the middle of the night to arrest and deport two men from Algeria.
During the tour of lies, the people outside demanded that the delegation speaks to the refugees instead of listening to the fabricated stories from the management. Finally some delegates talked to them. The refugees had high hopes that something would change. But most delegates left the camp quietly through the rear entrance – they probably knew that they would have to face awkward questions at the front.
After the show was over, two refugees pressed charges against members of the camp management. One complaint was against a medical staff member who had verbally abused the Somali husband of a sick woman for having sought medical help outside the camp after she didn’t receive any treatment inside. The outside doctor had ordered her to be treated in hospital urgently. The second complaint is against a staff member for telling one of the hunger strikers that he might as well stop because he would get deported anyway.
The refugees told us that yesterday had been a wonderful day with good food and plenty of joy. A day with people who are on their side and who listen and sometimes even have answers to their questions. A day where they could forget their worries for a few hours and be happy together. They asked us if we would continue to come and support them once they stopped their hunger strike. We assured them that of course we would continue to come and fight with them to break their isolation until the camp has sunk into the ground. Not just here in Horst but everywhere.