When activists from the Asylum Seekers’ Movement (ASM) held a protest-camp in Dresden to demand equal rights, they were disappointed by the lack of support they received from Germany’s liberal and left-wing activists.
‘They are used to talking on our behalf,’ says Iranian refugee, Mesbah, one of the founding members of ASM. ‘When we talk for ourselves it shows they get it wrong when they talk about refugees’ needs because most Germans have never experienced it.’
When nearly 900,000 asylum seekers arrived in 2015, German activists rushed to support those fleeing violence and discrimination. But two years later, some refugees are asking why they have not yet been better integrated into civil society.
Javid Nabiyev, founder of Queer Refugees for Pride, says refugee-run groups like his are being overlooked. ‘We are not taken seriously by other LGBT+ organizations,’ says the Azerbaijani activist. ‘There is a minority that see us as competition for resources.’
While Nabiyev says he has encountered German groups that have the attitude ‘whiteness is rightness’, others are trying to become more inclusive.
Frankfurt-based charity Rainbow Refugees wants to further diversify its board. The organization is just two years old and run almost entirely by volunteers, says social worker Kate Osgood; currently one of its seven members is a refugee.
‘Finding that time to work without pay is a luxury,’ says Osgood. ‘Refugees have a lot of other things to do, like finding jobs and getting an education.’
Another organization, Plus Mannheim, which has been running since 1999, uses ‘volunteer contracts’ to pay the expenses of three refugees who contribute their expertise.
Malek, a Syrian, is one them. But he believes Germans are better placed to be in charge because they have more local experience. ‘If Europeans came to Syria, I don’t think we would trust them to make decisions,’ he says.