A three-month visa and a few hundred euros: That is what 300 men from Africa had in their luggage when they went from Italy to Hamburg, Germany at the beginning of last year. They had lived in the street for months until some found a church that gave them shelter. Most of the refugees began their odysseys in countries like Ghana, Mali, Togo and Niger; from those places they’d traveled to Libya, where they had worked as artisans or in factories. But when the revolution began in 2011, and war broke out, many tried to leave the country. As black Africans, some became victims of racial attacks or were accused of being supporters of Muammar Qaddafi or the opposition. They fled Libya by boat and went to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they lived in what they describe as inhumane conditions. After two years, many had no jobs and lived on the streets. Overwhelmed by the refugee problem, Italy gave them (and several thousand other Africans) a Schengen visa – good for most of Europe – and a few hundred euros. It was an indirect offer to leave the country.
In June, St. Pauli Church in Hamburg became home for approximately 80 of these refugees, all men. (Their motto is, “We did not survive the NATO war in Libya to die on the streets of Hamburg.”) The neighborhood has provided support, and volunteers attend to them daily. But lack of medical care and of a long-term solution are causing stress. And after the September elections in Germany, the senate of Hamburg started putting pressure on them, saying they have no future there. This has outraged the refugees and their supporters, even if left-leaning lawyers and politicians see a chance for a group solution. Ultimately, as more refugees flee, questions like this must be solved on a Europe-wide level.
For the winter, the church bought some of the men temporary homes and put them in the churchyard. The situation remains unresolved.