Yesterday evening, the official Facebook announcement of the Senate for Health and Social Affairs had been answered with racist comments threatening us to “come and greet us” at the station. Some of my fellow volunteers are used to such a behavior, they don’t seem to mind. I’m not reassured and hope no one will welcome us with hate-filled speeches – at best – at the station. When I arrive, I’m reassured to see a lot of police forces.
Today’s train brought its lot of very hungry people. Some days, we’re short on food, and just about manage to feed everyone. Others, like today, just feel like you’ll never have enough to distribute.
The train is delayed by one hour, which makes for a pretty relaxed pre-arrival. We’re a team of four going on five sandwich makers. Some of our core volunteers are missing but new ones have shown up. We explain to them how it goes.
In the meantime, an official comes over and tells me that if I want to hand out Berlin maps to refugees today, I’d have to be careful not to give them to people being brought to Brandenburg. I object that no matter where people are brought, they would still want to know where they are. He replies that they won’t need a Berlin map in Brandenburg, which is true. Only that most of them intend to travel further, to other cities. To be on the safe side, I ask him whether handing out maps is illegal altogether. “Not at all, go ahead”, he says. I’m reassured, I can keep on giving directions to people if it stays at that.
A shrieking alarm plays for about three seconds. The translators head towards the entrance, it means our new guests will be here pretty soon. Everybody is in place, and the daily choreography of chaos begins again. A lot of single persons arrive this morning, they leave first and are taken out of the city. I wonder whether it is because they will be better able to fence for themselves in a camp far from everything than families would be. The sandwiches’ piles diminish quickly, too quickly. I go back to the kitchen and we end up making more sandwiches. As we spread the cheese, there is always a waiting hand to grab the freshly made piece of bread. Today, a lot of Kurds and Iraqis arrive. Syrians, as usual, as well as some Afghans.
Only about forty people remain in the premises. I come over to the children’s corner. A young Syrian mother is here, and holds the tiniest baby I’ve seen arriving to us so far. I ask her how old is he. This little boy is barely a month-old, they hit the road as soon as he was born. He is so small, and fortunately seems oblivious to the surrounding chaos. I get a chair for the mother who looks exhausted. She hands me the baby, I’m delighted as I wouldn’t have dared to ask but direly wished to hold him in my arms. It allows her to fetch her elder son, who is five, and her husband. For a moment, everything stops around me. I don’t hear the translators shouting anymore, urging families to gather and get in the buses. I don’t see my colleagues still running around, one for a map, the other for a baby bottle. I don’t see some of the soldiers who sit and stare at the crowd, playing with their phones. I just see this fragile little thing drooling on my jumper, holding on my hair with his tiny hand and not giving a care who holds him as long as he can rest. I cradle him and walk around the volunteer’s area, much quieter. I baby talk to him in all languages I know, and his mother, sitting and resting, looks relieved to be almost at the end of her journey. He yawns and falls asleep in my arms. A soldier comes up to me and wants to know where the baby was born. With the mother, we form a triangle of refugee, volunteer and soldier, with a baby in the middle, as I try to translate the questions he has and the answers she gives.
The father comes over, and I connect him to my WiFi. We start to talk together, in English, before switching to French, which he learned in Damascus. My little bundle is still in my arms and he explains to me that his wife had to be taken to the hospital many times on the way. I can’t find any words apart from repeating him I’m so sorry they had to endure such a trip with such a small baby. Soon they have to go, we exchange our phone numbers and he tells me he’ll reach out as soon as he’ll get a SIM card. I hope he will. The place is getting empty, soldiers are cleaning and preparing the grounds for tomorrow. I go to the kitchen to make a quick inventory. As always, the question “what do we need” is answered by “everything”.
At the kitchen door, a fireman is standing and we talk about today’s events. He says he finds the place really horrendous, and unwelcoming. “It’s a shame, it’s all so grey and glum, it’s so very sad to welcome people like that”, he says. I look up to the walls. I remember having noticed how bad they looked the first times I came, but I probably grew used to it. Now that he mentions it, it dawns on me that it is an ugly place.
When I come back to the hall, I notice a crying woman sitting on the ground with a baby on her lap. I come over and ask her if she needs help, she gestures towards her husband. I had told him to wait to get my WiFi access because too many people were already connected to it. I knew he hadn’t understood why I had told him so, since the five other people using my Hotspot spoke Arabic and he comes from Afghanistan and speaks Farsi. I feel sorry for them as I know it will be more difficult for them to stay in Germany than it is for refugees with other nationalities. I hand over a map but he brushes it off as it’s only written in Arabic and English. He speaks a little English so I keep trying, and after a few moments he tells me that he just wants to know where they are brought, and whether he’ll be able to get out of the camp. He seems relieved when I explain to him that they will be free to move around town once they’ll be registered at the shelter. I feel I’m in a bad movie or back in time, where all people’s liberties would be restrained.
A fellow volunteer takes one of the last buses with a family she intends to help reach the station, as they have relatives in another German city. I make my way back into town. Two hours later, she calls me to ask me whether she’s safe helping refugees. The security staff of the shelter refused to let her in to assist the refugees and took pictures of her. We’ll report it tomorrow to the officials, but for now there is another train arrival to prepare.