Theatre + Discussion: Oury Jalloh, Oranienplatz, Ohlauer Strasse.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel discussion following a reading of Amy Evans’ play, The Most Unsatisfied Town, which is based on the story of Oury Jalloh. Jalloh died in a holding cell in the Dessau police station in 2005, his body charred. The event was held in the English Theatre of Berlin, and the discussion was in German with simultaneous translation to English. Also on the panel were urban researcher Noa Ha (Board Director, Migrationsrat Berlin Brandenburg, e.V.), politician Canan Bayram (Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen), human rights activist Mai Shutta (Ohlauer Straße and Oranienplatz) and human rights activist Mouctar Bah (Initiative Oury Jalloh). The discussion followed an inspiring reading of Evans’ Play, the cast of which can be found here.
The event was called “Oury Jalloh – Oranienplatz – Ohlauer Strasse”. Event organisers, Amy Evans and Sharon Otoo, astutely connected these three situations, which collectively mark a particular era in contemporary German activism. While Jalloh’s death is broadly understood in Germany to reveal structural aspects of police violence and institutional racism, it is important to realise that Jalloh was also, himself, an asylum applicant. The issues involved in his story cut across a variety of other social issues, which is why the case has been of such political and social import.
Oranienplatz, located in a popular area of Beriln-Kreuzberg, was the site of a tent city set up by refugees in 2012 and demolished by riot police in 2014. Hundreds of refugees from different countries had set up tents and semi-permanent structures to draw public attention to the poor treatment of refugees in terms of the asylum process, reception conditions, and social exclusion of refugees and asylum applicants in Germany. Oranienplatz acquired symbolic significance for the organised struggle of refugees against such conditions.
Around the same time, beginning in 2012, refugees occupied the building that was formally Kreuzberg’s Gerhard-Hauptmann School. In 2014, after negotiations local government, the occupying activists were allowed to remain in the upper floors of the building. This occupation is also an awareness campaign. A particular part of the occupation was the specific appeal to German lawmakers and immigration officials to use Section 23a of the German Residency Law (§23a Aufenthaltsgesetz), which provides immigration officials a way to extend residency right to refugees and asylum applicants, short of granting them asylum status (e.g., humanitarian or subsidiary protection).
The reading and panel brought these three politically important aspects together in an integrated discussion about institutional aspects of policing, migration, and exclusion a public forum. The event was incredibly insightful, particularly because both the play (in form and in content) and the panel discussion used identification with the activists as a starting point for moving things forward, rather than a position that needed to first move from the margins to the centre in terms of ethical and legal consideration. The play is a must-read for gaining insight into the human stories that spin themselves in the context of tragedy, something that activists working within the precarious context of immigration control and state violence regularly face. The issues raised on the panel by the activists, in particular, were bold and inspiring. Follow them and lend a hand at @OhlauerInfo, @OranienPlatz and @OuryJalloh.