An interview with Samee Ullah / Refugee club impulse
[“Art can’t change your bureaucratic and political problems.. but it shows you how to survive and how to resist. I mean, you are very brave when you have nothing to lose. And this is what I feel now, I have no identity, I have no citizenship, I have no right to work. I live an isolated life in refugee camps.”] Samee Ullah
Monday, the second of May 2016 in Berlin. The sun is shining so everybody is exited about the program that day. While most of the activities we engaged in before took place in and around the Kubitz, today we have an excursion planned. We split up in five groups, five persons each.
Every group had a different person and project to meet, one group visited Die Gaertnerei (http://diegaertnerei.berlin/), a multicultural gardening project for refugees where 12 young men are working in the garden and receive German lessons, they also host a multicultural event Cafe Nana. Another group met with Dilan Gülmez, a Turkish – German actor who was involved with a theater called ‘We Are The Play’ (http://sdfprojekte.de/sdf20151213_023.htm), an interactive performance examining the perspectives of immigrants and Germans of other descents from the Fall of the Berlin Wall until today. The third group went to Al-Dar NGO (http://www.al-dar.de/ – Al Dar means Home in Arabic). This NGO has a building where they do integration activities for refugees and other migrants with Arabic background. The forth group brought a visit to Bantabaa bakery (https://www.facebook.com/Bantabaa/), a bakery at Görlitzer Park providing education, accommodation and jobs for African refugees and an alternative to dealing drugs.
Our group took off to the Maxim Gorki theater, a theater in Berlin-Mitte that has a large focus on plays tackling issues like immigration, race and assimilation. At the theater we got ourselves a coffee and sat down at the garden of the canteen, ready for our 3 o’clock appointment with Samee Ullah. Samee is a Pakistani refugee working at the Gorki Theater for the campaign ‘My right is your right’, as well as member and actor in the initiative ‘Refugee Impulse Club’, a self-organized refugee theater collective.
During the conversation we addressed various topics like female inclusion in theater, politics, racism and the meaning of Art. The following is partly a transcript and partly a summary of the 1,5 hour long interview and conversation we shared with him. For stylistic reasons I have adjusted the formulation and grammar of some parts. For full interview refer to the audio-file.
So maybe we can first tell you about ourselves.. We came on this training on migration related issues, especially on non-formal education. So we have different workshops and presentations inside and outside. As part of the project it was today that we divided in groups, and we are one of the groups, and we wanted to get in contact with people and groups that have initiatives or projects in support or solidarity with the migrants, with refugees in particular.
“I’m Samee from Pakistan, and since 2013 I live here in Germany, more than 2,5 years. […] In July 2013 I moved to Germany, and I’m fighting here until now about the right of work, that I could get the equal right of work, that I don’t have.. [..] Its almost three years that I live here with not equal right, I can’t travel out of Germany, I cant work here.. [..] and this is my whole story, myself being a cultural activist, a political activist, this everything is around this work-permission story, this is my actual aim, what I’m fighting for”
We speak with Samee about his life in the ‘heim’ [migrant living place] where he lived for the past 2,5 years together with 350 other migrants.
“In the heim there is no Internet, they don’t allow the guests to come in. In some not at all, others not after 8 o’clock. The journalists at all are not allowed to come in, no playing area for the kids, there is no community area where you can sit together and get to know each-other, like indoor games or table-tennis, there’s nothing like that. So the best activities there are sleeping, and when you wake up roll a joint, smoke it, and when you don’t want, take some whiskey.”
Were you involved also when you were in Pakistan in campaigns or theater or art things, or this came to you when you were here?
“As an artist I have no experience in Pakistan. It might be one or two times that I went to see a theater performance. I never had time for this.. I became artist when I tried to learn how to live the live in these circumstances, when nothing positive is happening. I Have this fear since three years now, I’m never sure how long I’m gonna stay here. Till now I’m still waiting for the asylym interview, I’m not sure if it will be accepted, then I will stay and I can imagine my future, what I will do and how I will live in Germany. But if its rejected, whats the next destination, thats a question mark for me.”
Can you explain more why you became an artist, what does art mean to you?
“Art can’t solve your political and bureaucratic problems, but it shows you how to live, how to survive and how to resist. This is what art means to me, and this is why I’m artist. When I was on stage it was the best place for me to say everything that really I could not say anywhere. All the arguments and discussions that I had with my work-permission, and the answers that I got. So on the stage that was time for me to throw everything on the stage, throw all my anger on the stage. And I felt very well after that. [..]
We started to build up a self organized platform for refugees. We started to work in a refugee camp giving them the writing workshop about the situation here in Germany. The idea was that you had to write a letter, to your mother or your dearest friend back, and write them about the situation here in Germany, and how you feel. [..] we selected seven letters from them, they were seven problems actually what we discovered what refugees feel here.. and the things they want to write back to home, and we try to show that to Germans here on the stage. This production is called ‘letters home’.”
We spoke with Samee about the issue of racism and his latest project, a street theater that took place in Berlin this April.
“From a political point of view, I must say that theater is the best way to reach the people, and if you get into it for the right reasons, and you don’t give up, you are non stoppable. [..] We cannot let the extreme right people go on the top, and make the situation worse. This racism is the very important topic here, and we should talk about it. Racism against Muslim, racism against refugees, everything is connected. And after the letters home project we did this street carnival, and this was a big big success. And when 5000 people came on the streets, and seven theaters came on the streets together for the refugee rights, this is a very good sign. This shows that one party, Pegida or AfD, they don’t represent Germany. This is the Germany, they are the theaters, the street-theaters, they are the activists, those who want their system to go in the right direction, and they want to project on all the things that have been projected in a wrong way”
How do you project those things that have been projected in a wrong way?
“Criticism is important if you want to improve.. we criticize the living situation, of course, we should. Although many people who are into the system, who are making money from this refugee-business, who are using this issue for their benefit, not only political but also personal benefits and the way they are treating the refugees in the camps, will disagree with this.. but we have to talk about these things, we can not live in Germany with these prison-cells in the middle of the cities, holding thousands of people, I mean nowadays you call it refugee crisis, and you taking the political benefit, and people don’t focus on these things. I mean, look in the future, if we think about after five years, when this influx of refugees is over, and everybody is integrated like everybody was in the 70s, and after that we don’t want to see this cell prison in the middle of the city. Why can’t we give the living standard to refugees the same as to the students, why can we not give the living standard the same as what we give to the Germans, why we can’t give them Internet, why we can’t allow the journalists there [In the camp] to see whats happening there? Hundreds of things.. refugees that are living there don’t even know where to complain, what are their rights when living here. They feel this isolation.. so we have to talk about these things. If somebody says they don’t like it, and its risky, we will go for it because its the right thing what we feel, as being part of this society [..] it belongs to my responsibility to talk about this..