Ahmad Ghrewati is a 34 year old activist who fled from Syria to Germany via the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. In Hamburg, he volunteers with the local “Seebrücke” group. KOPFZEILE spoke with him about his work and the current political situation in Europe and on the Mediterranean Sea.
KOPFZEILE: Hello Ahmad. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them how you came to the Seebrücke?
Ahmad Ghrewati: My name is Ahmad and I’m from Syria. In 2015, my brother and I fled to Germany. We had to cross the Mediterranean Sea, from Izmir in Turkey to Greece. I was forced to take this route and leave Syria for political reasons. During my flight, which lasted about two weeks in total, I already noticed the lack of humanity and the brutal treatment of the refugees by the border guards. In Germany, I was then isolated for two years in refugee shelters, often on the outskirts of the city, until I found an apartment. At some point, I met the group “Diaspora Salon” in Hamburg and was able to become politically active again and engage in exchanges with society, especially on the topic of (anti-)racism. In 2018, I saw the big demonstration organised by Seebrücke at the Landungsbrücken . Everything was orange, in the colours of the Seebrücke. For me, that was the first time I got to know the organisation. In 2022, a friend told me that she was working at Seebrücke. Since about 10 months I am also active there and a part of the local group in Hamburg. I am also part of the supra-regional press AG as a supra-regional contact person.
KOPFZEILE: Can you further elaborate on your role at Seebrücke?
Ahmad Ghrewati: As a national spokesperson, I continuously follow the developments in asylum policy and on the escape routes to Europe, as well as in the sea rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, in order to inform society about them. This includes the deteriorating humanitarian situation of migrants in Libya and Tunisia and the racism they are also exposed to at the European borders. As part of the local group in Hamburg, I make my contribution as an activist against racism and hatred. Together with my comrades I fight for a humane immigration policy based on solidarity and human rights.
“Seebrücke is a broad civil society and anti-racist movement that advocates for sea rescue, safe escape routes and humane reception of refugees and the right for refugees to stay in Germany and the European Union. Seebrücke organises demonstrations and actions to draw attention to the situation at the European borders and to demand political change.” – Ahmad, Seebrücke Hamburg
KOPFZEILE: What does your local work here in Hamburg look like?
Ahmad Ghrewati: We support any movement that supports safe escape routes. We organise demonstrations and participate in the demonstrations of other groups. We try to participate in every anti-racist action. Recently we participated in a play at St. Catherine’s Church, and afterwards there was a panel discussion with climate activist Elisa Baş and Dariush Beigui, the captain of a rescue ship. We also held a vigil for the 76 people who drowned while fleeing a few weeks ago. In addition, we are taking action against the brutal deportations that we see time and time again.
The main thing is, that they can deport everyone
KOPFZEILE: Almost 12,000 people were deported from Germany in 2021. How do you perceive the ever stricter deportation laws?
Ahmad Ghrewati: There is no more mercy. There are deportations to Turkey to the earthquake areas.* There are deportations to Iran, where the revolution is still very fresh, where people are still in the revolutionary phase, where women have no rights at all, where people are murdered and tortured if they resist the Islamic Republic.** People land here in Hamburg or in Berlin at the airport to apply for asylum and then that is rejected. They fled from this oppressive system and they just bring them back. Nancy Fraeser (SPD, editor’s note) is now considering to carry out deportations to Afghanistan. I read that and I couldn’t believe it. We are talking about a planned cooperation with the Taliban regime. Humanity is being violated all the time. Sometimes I think: They really don’t care. They would cooperate with the devil – the main thing is that they can deport everyone.
* Kopfzeile reported on a series of lectures about the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey on Feb. 6, Feb. 20 and Feb. 27, which killed more than 56,000 people.(English)
** You can read texts about the revolution in Iran published by Kopfzeile here, here and here.
KOPFZEILE: What are some ways to support people at risk of deportation?
Ahmad Ghrewati: We report on it, on social media and our website. We organise and participate in actions, including blockades at airports. On February 21, 2023, Hakkı was deported to Turkey, although he lived in Germany for almost eight years. He comes from the earthquake zone and has no shelter, no chance to live there. More than 46,000 people have died because of the earthquake. Many survivors fled to the north of Turkey. The cities there are at maximum capacity, they are in a catastrophic situation. The decision to deport him to the earthquake area was a big shock. Two months have passed since the earthquake and to date only 46 visas have been granted to Syrian refugees from the area. Don’t they deserve asylum after the earthquake destroyed the remains of their homes and possessions? It is one trauma after another. The police then arrived half an hour later than planned and chose a different entrance to confuse people. Despite our blockade, Hakkı was then already on the plane, they managed to deport him. A petition was started to get Hakkı back.
I can imagine that we will see more police violence.
KOPFZEILE: How great is the risk of state repression during blockades and other actions?
Ahmad Ghrewati: I can imagine that we will see more police violence. For example, at the demo for Hanau* in Veddel. That was actually a demo against racism, for the victims. Everything was peaceful, nothing happened, and yet the police were brutal at the end. They arrested two people. There was so much police, on one street alone you could count over 15 police cars. *KOPFZEILE reported on the racially motivated terrorist attack in Hanau here (English).
It’s like a war.
KOPFZEILE: Sea rescue is also becoming increasingly criminalized. What are the consequences?
Ahmad Ghrewati: Fascism is on the rise in Europe. This can be seen, for example, in the fascist government in Italy. Under Meloni, there is now a new decree: each ship may only carry out one rescue operation and must then immediately return to the Italian port. Even if a boat sinks 50 meters next to the rescue ship, the ship is not allowed to stop. For each additional rescue operation, the fine is up to 50,000 euros. Not only that, but the Italian government can dictate which port the ship must dock at. If the port is then over a hundred hours away, people continue to drown during that time. The Italian coast guard ignores calls for help from ships and does not rescue people. And rescue ships are repeatedly seized, including for example the “Iuventa” or the “Louise Michel”. The government blocks sea rescue and this blockade leads to death. Germany is also on this path. You can see from the last laws that the German government also wants to prevent sea rescue, although it claims otherwise. Among them, the last consideration of Volker Wissing (FDP, editor’s note): a new ship safety regulation is supposed to make the lives of refugees in the Mediterranean safer. But it is exactly the opposite, by the law expensive adjustments would have to be made in the equipment and on the ships, which also means that the ships for meanwhile can not be in operation. The question is, why have over 25,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean since 2014? It is not because of a lack of ship safety regulations, but because of laws that prevent sea rescue. This is like a war, a brutal war against refugees, women, children who are forced to flee because of war and hunger.
KOPFZEILE: What are current developments on the escape routes across the Mediterranean?
Ahmad Ghrewati: One is the situation in Libya and off the coast of Libya. The Libyan coast guard forces the sea rescue ships to go back by force of arms, even in international waters where they are not allowed to interfere. They shoot right next to the inflatable boats of the refugees on their way to Italian waters to scare them. Then they collect the people and take them back to Libya. We all know the reports of torture and slavery in Libya. Meanwhile, there are photos and video recordings of all this. All the European politicians have access to it, but they pretend they haven’t seen the pictures. This motivates these groups to continue, with their violence. This is cruel and barbaric and Europe is supporting all this.
I recently read a speech by Buba. He is a survivor aboard the Humanity 2. Buba said, “I was aware of how dangerous it is to cross the sea, but you know, it’s better to die in the Mediterranean than in Libya.” I think we should all think hard about his words.
Another development in the Mediterranean is the immigration from Tunisia to Italy. Migratory movements are increasing and the number of drownings is rising. The reason is the persecution of migrants from sub-Saharan countries by Tunisian authorities after they denied them a residence permit. In March, four boats drowned off Tunisia, there are at least 5 dead and 33 missing. Still, people risk their lives trying to escape. Kais Saied, the president of Tunisia, incites hatred against black migrants, and makes fascist statements about the demographics of the country. That’s why the government there is very brutal right now.
The European regimes do not fulfill their responsibilities.
KOPFZEILE: Right-wing and conservative media and politicians often equate traffickers and sea rescue. What are the consequences of this?
Ahmad Ghrewati: It is a racist fight against humanitarian actions that is being waged in the media. People who have no contact with organisations like the Seebrücke may believe these accusations. This prevents the funding of sea rescue work. NGOs need donations, for equipment, renovation, mechanics. The criminalisation of sea rescue is a crime in itself. The European regimes do not take their responsibility. They do not rescue people. They don’t go there, they ignore the cries for help. That’s why NGOs are forced to do their human duty and take the responsibility that all people should have. This includes donations from people who have political and social awareness.
More and more people will flee across the Mediterranean.
KOPFZEILE: What do you think are ways to achieve more community engagement?
Ahmad Ghrewati: I think what can help is more actions on the streets and reports on social media. And talk, talk, talk – it’s so important that we talk about it. With family, with colleagues at work, with friends. We need to inform others about what is happening in society right now. We have a young generation that pays a lot of attention to climate protection. Climate catastrophes ultimately also lead to migration and flight and hunger. More and more people will flee across the Mediterranean. We need to cooperate as activist groups and connect the issues.
KOPFZEILE: How can people get involved with you in the local group?
Ahmad Ghrewati: We are looking forward to any person who would like to do this humanitarian work together with us. On our website you can find our contact details. Currently we meet up every week. From time to time we also do open plenums to exchange ideas and to show how our work looks like. But people who want to join us spontaneously are always welcome. Every person who supports our political goals is already part of the movement.
In the first three months of 2023, 441 people died while fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea. In 2022, 1940 people died while fleeing across the Mediterranean. 40% of the attempts to flee across the Mediterranean are stopped by the Coast Guard.