With the realization that our time in Berlin was approaching its end slowly dawning, we began to take on a new urgency and focus in our work. We approached our community partners with ever increasing diligence. The desire to continue our meaningful work with the programs and communities which we had come to love was strong.
The three working at Die Gartnerei rushed about with art supplies in hand, working to finish an interactive visual map of the garden for its many visitors; those partnered with the youth museum gave their final tours to elementary students. The three at Neopanterra painted images from their time at the organization while the Kotti students rushed to sit in on meetings and lead final art projects with students at the local elementary school. Those at Empatti toured the seemingly endless shipping containers at the Tempelhof airfield edge, and I wrote the English flyer to be placed on the facebook page of my organization, Muanana. With all energy focused on completing community partner work, group activities were largely abandoned for these final few days, save for frenzied periods of final presentation preparation in the hostel lobby.
One priority for many of the students was to visit an obscure self-labeled anti-fascist shop off Gorlitzer Bahnhof entitled, “Disorder Rebel Store.” The main item of attraction in this store was a simple black tee shirt boasting the phrase, “Kein Mensch ist illegal,” which translates in English to “no human is illegal.” Relating to the nature of our work and learnings, this shirt and its simple message felt an incredibly prudent memento of our time in Berlin.
As I pulled the oversized shirt over my head before setting out for dinner at the “Ballhaus,” I mused over the meaning of the phrase: no human is illegal. It seems such an obvious concept, that legal status ought never to supersede an individual’s humanity, yet so often in this past month we have been reminded of how this seemingly logical notion is forgotten. I thought of the men involved with Muanana Refugee Sewing Project, my community partner, how they, on account of not possessing the near-unobtainable German work permit, are forbidden from most jobs in Berlin. The social repercussions of one’s legal status-- especially in the case of refugees in Germany-- are vast. Some individuals, unable to secure work, plunge into poverty, while others turn to illegal means of making income. It is often difficult for those who have not experienced the struggles associated with the title of “illegal” to recognize the desperation felt by so many, even in a country considered wealthy by global standards. This challenge of recognition across lines of legality can be attributed to the poor treatment so many refugees face in Europe and beyond.
Refugees are humans. Their legal status and the immense pressure said legal statuses imposes upon them, cannot change this. The only way these legal confines which today so strip refugees of their humanity can be changed is by first recognizing the humanity of the refugee. It is a cycle difficult to break.
No human is illegal. It is amazing how easy it is to forget. As we gear up to leave Berlin, however, “Kein Mensch ist illegal” shirts in hand and memories of community partners in head, I can only hope we will be different. We will be the ones not to forget, the one’s to help break the cycle.