Berlin, Schönefeld, September 13th

Yesterday, some 30 helpers went to Schönefeld to welcome 900 refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, arriving by train from Munich. We were there because we found out about that RANDOMLY by checking a FB group about trains coming to Berlin. Thanks to private donations, we managed to bring food and drinks. Another group of people had done the same and a couple of others who had also heard about it where here with food to distribute. This is how it happened:

We arrived at Bahnhof Schönefeld at 5pm. The train was due at 5:30. There was a lot of police vans and paramedics. They welcomed us, visibly relieved. We had been told the station was full of helpers, but as we entered a vast and empty hall (the former DDR station), there was only a dozen helpers.

We got briefed by someone, a team of translators was organized: ten people at most. Another ten or fifteen at the food stand. Then there was silence, and some hugs. A woman whom I don’t know stands next to me. I asked her if she volunteered before, she says no, first time. I tell her it doesn’t hurt, she laughs and starts to cry. We squeeze each other’s hand. Nothing ever prepares you to deal with the emotional charge of these moments. We waited for a couple of minutes. Then, someone announced the train had arrived and we all grabbed the first sandwiches and lined up. More silence, and tension.

Then the first refugees began to arrive in the hall. Exhausted, all of them. Families with kids, fathers traveling alone with one child, couples. They follow the stream, and listen carefully to indications given in a language they don’t know. Some look at the sandwiches enquiringly until we say it’s halal. The hall is filled within a couple of minutes. Soon we run out of food but everyone was given something.

They sit on the floor, grouped in families and ethnicities. We walk around, armed with bottles of water, and sweets for the kids. Some send texts, maybe to their families to tell them they made it here. All look relieved to be here but some of them have this lifeless look in their eyes, as if there was nothing anymore that would revive them. They seem to wonder what we have in store for them now. Buses are lined up, and will take them into shelters. A couple of refugees help us and collect all the papers and empty bottles.

An hour later, the signal for departure is given. Everybody stands up their feet again. The crowd is contained by the few translators. The police give instructions to them to announce that families will not be separated, and will be dispatched one by one in the buses. First, single men with or without children. Then, families. One by one, they take place in the buses. About forty people are left out, another bus is requisitioned. They will go to two emergency shelters for the night. They will all have to register to the LaGeSo tomorrow.

It’s 7pm now, the hall is empty.

Thanks to spontaneous initiatives, we managed to feed everyone. But what if we hadn’t found out about that train? How much longer would those refugees have had to wait until they received a meal?
We are just people of good will, we weight nothing politically and have limited financial means.

We also, as it happens, have a life apart from volunteering. A life that we don’t have time for anymore, because we feel compelled to help fellow human beings in need. We do it willingly and because we love it and wouldn’t think of being anywhere else so this is not complaining about it. This goes beyond our own problems because it is an emergency situation, but how long will we have to go over our limits because no one else is really taking charge, and because politics only put their hands in when there is too much pressure and no other choice? We will keep on being here because no one else is, and we are numerous. But we are not enough.

Where are the NGOs HERE IN BERLIN? We need a better organization, it’s not only about putting them into buses for emergency shelters! We need much more; some people are actually qualified, unlike us, to deal with that kind of situation. They organize food distribution, etc. They are also overwhelmed, but why can’t they do better, since they know how to do it in other countries?

This is happening NOW at our doorstep, so why is that that so many people are still so passive?


Some of the 900 refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghans, welcomed in Berlin-Schönefeld on September 13th, 2015

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