Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online

Berlin's famous Brandenburg Gate has now been in the capital's daily news for over a month. The reason is one of the longest protest demonstrations ever to be held in front of the landmark monument and it is still going on.

It is being staged by asylum seekers from Iran and Afghanistan who are demanding an end to what they say are the humiliating conditions refugees have to live under in Germany.

In an attempt to deter them from coming, asylum seekers are forbidden to work in all of the country's federal states. They are not allowed to travel, they live mostly in camps and are given vouchers for social services. Their applications are dealt with in a process which can take years.

In February, an Iranian asylum seeker living in camp in the city Würzburg committed suicide. Germany's asylum seekers responded by going on an illegal, 350-mile protest march from Würzburg to Berlin where they arrived a month ago and began their demonstration.

A fortnight ago the protesters went on hunger strike as night-time temperatures dropped to freezing. The police moved in and confiscated their blankets and sleeping bags because "camping is not allowed in front of the Brandenburg Gate".

Political and media outrage has since persuaded the police to supply warm buses for the protesters who have stopped their hunger strike. But they say will go on protesting until asylum seekers get a fairer deal.

In the meantime, Berlin's asylum-seeker accommodation is bursting at the seams as up to 80 refugees arrive in the city every day.