A Refugees Welcome flag flies in Berlin | Photo Courtesy of Leif Hinrichsen

A Refugees Welcome flag flies in Berlin | Photo Courtesy of Leif Hinrichsen

With the first snow of the season falling this past weekend in Berlin and across Europe, winter has officially arrived, traditionally conjuring up images of festive Christmas markets, white-capped trees and, if you’re lucky, crackling fireplaces. However, for many of the over 700,000 refugees who have claimed asylum in Europe this year, the coming winter will signify a different, more difficult reality.

The recent influx of refugees throughout the Middle East and Europe has been called the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II and is expected to continue throughout the winter. This Sunday, November 29th, eight young Berliners will host the Refugee Support Flea Market Fundraiser benefitting refugee organizations in the city from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm at the Nowkoelln Flowmarket in an attempt to help address the crisis unfolding before us all.

The Refugee Crisis in Berlin

The majority of refugees in Europe are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, fleeing war and violence caused by terrorist organizations like ISIS, which claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad that left more than 180 people dead earlier this month. These refugees are seeking new homes in Europe, with many traveling by any means necessary, using boats, trains, buses, cars, and very often their own feet to traverse the continent, with Germany as the end destination for many.

In August, Germany announced that it would wave United Nations rules that require refugees to apply for asylum in the first European state they enter, instead pledging to allow migrants to apply regardless of how they arrived in the country. While Germany estimated that roughly 800,000 refugees would take up the offer, some expect around 1.5 million people to arrive in the country by the end of 2015. In October, the Guardian reported that an estimated 10,000 people arrived in Germany every day. Based on that figure, the number of refugees entering Germany in October alone would have been 310,000 people. And of those entering Germany, many refugees find their way to Berlin, the city I’ve called home for the past three months.

Help Berliners Help Refugees

In September alone, 12,000 refugees applied for asylum in Berlin–more than the number of applicants from 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined. The city cannot keep up. For that reason, citizens like Murat Adash have stepped in to help their new neighbors by organizing a flea market along with colleagues and other friends to benefit refugee relief organizations in the city. Their first event raised more than €1,200 ($1,300 USD) for the organizations Moabit Hilft, Medizin Hilft Flüchtlingen and Train of Hope. And this Sunday, November 29, they’ll be at it again, holding an even bigger event to help address the humanitarian crisis unfolding outside their front doors.

To better understand the upcoming event and the people behind it, I asked the Refugee Relief Fundraising Team, composed of Murat Adash, Bianca Clifford, Tanya De Souza-Meally, Sarah-Michael Jackson, Nine Yamamoto-Masson, Anna Matussek, Sybella Stevens and Monique Upton, a few questions about the flea market, how we can get involved, and why our support is necessary.

MC: Where did the idea for this flea market fundraiser come from, and why did you feel compelled to help?

The model of a flea market fundraiser ticks a lot of boxes. Many people in Berlin and indeed the world want to get involved, but feel they don’t have the means, the time or that they don’t know how to directly help. And many organizations have issues with funding, manpower and storage space especially with donated items that are not needed immediately or perhaps are not needed at all. We wanted to set up a project that would allow the greater community to get involved in a variety of ways. A flea market is a great way to involve people into the refugee support work through something as simple and personal as donating clothes and bric-à-brac to be sold at the stall or by buying from our flea market stalls. We could then give support organisations the money that we raised on the day of the market in order to ensure they continue their important work.

Also during the organisation and sorting through of the donations received, we were able to select specific items which we knew were in need, such as baby clothes, winter scarves and coats, which we then donated directly instead of selling them at the market. In this way our project is kind of like a bridge between people wanting to help and organizations that are already involved; Plus, the people who come buy things at the flea market get to treat themselves to really nice things for cheap, and there’s a great community feeling. It’s really win-win-win!

MC: What were the results of the first event you helped organize?

Our first flea market was a big success. We designated three local businesses in Berlin where some of us work for people to drop off their donations. After collecting all the donations and sorting through them, we donated some items directly to refugees (winter coats, baby clothes, etc), some we gave to charity and the rest we sold at our flea market. We raised over €1,200 that day, all of which went to the following Berlin-based organizations: Moabit Hilft, Medizin Hilft Flüchtlingen and Train of Hope. It was a wonderful day, and we would like to give a huge, heartfelt thank to everyone that came down, bought something, donated something, or otherwise showed their support.

MC: How do you choose which organizations to support?

We want to support grassroots, community-based organisations and initiatives that are not top-down, that are also largely led by Germans with migration background or immigrants and do not reproduce a saviour-victim dichotomy. The three organisations we chose: Moabit Hilft, Train of Hope Berlin and Medizin für Flüchtlinge. [They] have been around for a long time and/or are run by people who have years of experience in on-the-ground work, fundraising, community organisation and political advocacy. We saw the incredible, dedicated work that Moabit Hilft and Train of Hope do when we were volunteering with them on site. It is difficult to convey the importance and sheer scale of work these organisations achieve on shoestring budgets.

Moabit Hilft are involved in various projects which aim to assist migrants and refugees to settle in. Examples of this include assistance in temporary and permanent housing, German translation, accompaniment to doctors or bureaucratic offices, providing materials and clothing which support daily living. Their action in mobilizing volunteers aims to create community and break down prejudice and fear.

Train of Hope (an initiative by NoBergidaNoRacism) help welcome refugees who are arriving by train at the Schönefeld Train Station, to distribute food, water, tea, SIM cards so they can contact family members, and toys for the children just as they get out of the train and are about to board the buses that bring them to temporary mass accommodation. Daily trains of approximately 400 people arrive and many are worried and tired after a 12 hour journey (and a much longer, very difficult journey to even get on that train). Train of Hope gives food and water, but importantly they greet them with a smile, try to answer questions (many of these volunteers are bilingual, either Germans with migrant backgrounds or immigrants themselves). A smile is goes a long way in helping to alleviate a bit of their worries and can humanise such an arduous journey and process.

Medizin Hilft Flüchtlingen is a non-profit organisation of doctors, nurses and health care professionals who all work for free with the goal of providing quality health services to refugees.  

In each of these groups, everyone works very hard for free, often at great personal cost, donating also a lot of their time and headspace and heart. And they are very modest; They don’t advertise themselves or appropriate refugees for their own self PR.

MC: Do you feel that people are coming together to help refugees in Berlin? Do you know of other upcoming benefit events? How can people help?

There had been a very strong grassroots self-organised refugee movement in Germany and in Berlin for many years already. The crisis didn’t just start three months ago–this has been happening for a very long time. The conditions that asylum seekers have to work under have been appalling for a long time, only that it’s become even more intense and worrying that it already was. Following the suicide of an Iranian refugee in a refugee shelter in Würzburg in January 2012, there were wave of protests against the dehumanising conditions in the shelters and of the entire asylum application process (which can take years) in general. A series of protests and hunger strikes followed (too many to list here). In their own words, the Refugee Movement is a “diverse group of refugees who chose not to accept their disfranchisement by the German state any more and are carrying out a self-organized protest.” This conversation has been a present and passionate one in Berlin for more than three years now.

So yes, as the narrative of the crisis is reported more and more in mainstream media people of all walks of life are starting to become active. I think the turning point was in late August/early September this year: the publication of the heartbreaking picture of the bodies of children who had drowned in the Mediterranean, and especially that of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year old Syrian-Kurdish toddler, like thousands of others before and after him. It was then that the true scale of this horrific situation was conveyed.

Since, many more people here in Berlin are coming together to help. We are trying to do our part, as small as it may be, to support this movement and our new neighbours, helping hands-on with other initiatives or setting up our own little fundraising projects such as this flea market.

The core team of the Refugee Support Flea Market Fundraiser project is composed of Murat Adash, Bianca Clifford, Tanya De Souza-Meally, Sarah-Michael Jackson, Nine Yamamoto-Masson, Anna Matussek, Sybella Stevens and Monique Upton just joined us. Many friends and colleagues have helped a lot as well. It’s been a real community effort, and it’s been great to be able to work together on this. We’d also like to thank all the people for their donations and those who bought items and directly donated money during the flea market.

MC: What are your hopes for the success of the upcoming flea market?

We are already receiving amazing donations by many people. The organizers of the Nowkölln Flohmarkt Berlin have offered us free stalls this time to support our project. We hope that the next market will even be a bigger success so that we can donate to more organizations that work in different areas where help is needed.



Or, find other ways to help refugees in Berlin and organizations to donate to directly here.

Many thanks to Adash, his colleagues, and everyone that has felt compelled to help ease the transition of refugees in Berlin, Europe, and around the world.


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