After Surviving Libya, Adrift in Europe

African refugees fled the conflict in Libya and arrived in Europe. In Germany, some found kindness in a church – and an uncertain future. Maria Feck

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.

02_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Agyei, from Ghana, plays the pastor’s trumpet; he used to play in services in his home country. Maria Feck

03_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Ibrahim and Steven are from Ghana. Maria Feck

04_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck The refugees’ days are dominated by waiting, boredom and frustration. Maria Feck

05_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Kicking a soccer ball in the churchyard. Maria Feck

06_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Mohammad, from Niger, participated in a music session run by volunteers. Maria Feck

07_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck From June until November 2013, 80 refugees were sleeping in the St. Pauli Church in Hamburg. After that, some moved into temporary quarters in front of the church. Maria Feck

08_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Sieghard Wilm, the pastor of St. Pauli Church. Maria Feck

09_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Mubaraak, a refugee from Ghana, teaches himself German. Maria Feck

10_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck A young man wears a chain with two pictures of himself. “This chain is very important to me. If something happens to me I can be identified,” he says. Maria Feck

11_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Zakaria, from Ghana, is Muslim. He and the other Muslim refugees use the church stairs to pray. Maria Feck

12_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Volunteers relax with the refugees at the beach in summer. Maria Feck

13_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Mubaraak, left, and Andreas are both from Ghana. Maria Feck

14_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck A demonstration for the refugees in Hamburg. Maria Feck

15_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Affou, from the Ivory Coast, addresses refugees in the church, discussing how to stay united and move forward. Maria Feck

16_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Refugees clean the church. Maria Feck

17_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Their food is cooked by volunteers, along with some of the refugees, in a nearby community hall. Maria Feck

18_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck Sleeping on the church stairs. Maria Feck

19_Lampedusa_Hamburg_Feck A refugee sits in a small wooden shelter in front of the church. Maria Feck