Report of the camp committee
Report of the committee „Neues Haus“ on the living conditions of the asylum seekers, 31.03.1998, Archive Refugee Council Thuringia.
This document is one of several reports by the refugee committee of the Tambach camp. The committee was founded on the same day this report was written. It consisted of an international group of activists living in the camp. They founded the committee as a circle within the Thuringian refugee council to ensure the legitimacy of their actions. Many of the members had been political activists at home and brought their experience in the organisation of protests to the fight for the closure of the camp. Some of the activists in the committee are portrayed in the documentary on the visit of the Karawane. They wrote their reports on the living conditions in the camp in English or French. The depicted report was translated into German by the Thuringian refugee council.
„Neues Haus“ in Tambach-Dietharz is a place, where asylum seekers suffer a lot. Our living conditions are miserable and it is more than a prison.
2.Our social services
Our social workers are our mums, to whom we should always reveal our problems, so they can help us resolve them. But unfortunately, they are the first among our spies and they put us in even harder conditions. A mother who doesn´t love her child can easily kill it, since instead of caring for us and controlling everything we eat in the canteen, these issues don´t matter to them at all and they distribute food to us, which already expired.
3.The hygiene in the camp
We live in a house, which is dirty, and no one cares for our health, because the toilets and hallways are not being cleaned every day. They are only cleaned two or three times in a week, even though we are more than 500 people in the house. Under these circumstances we are forced to fall sick and if you are sick, they have always the same medication to give to the one, who has a headache and the one, who has a stomach ache, and the same thing for the one, who has a cold. Let us take the example of three of our brothers, who were ill and went to the doctor, who gave all of them the same tablets. The three cases were:
Mr. X, who slipped while walking on ice during the winter and whose head hurt after that. When he went to the doctor the next morning, he gave him two tablets, on which was written „Berlosin”. Mr. Y. had a cold and went to the doctor. He gave him two tablets Berlosin. Z. had a stomach ache and he was still given the same tablets.
And another of our brothers hurt his knee while playing. The doctor gave him a tape to bandage that part, but until now the person is suffering from the knee. After all these observations we went to the social service, to explain everything to them, that happened. The answer was that here in Tambach they only have Berlosin to give to us.
Above all, in case of a fire in the house, we have no mean to defend ourselves, because there are gas boxes but they took the gas out. This is very severe.
The canteen, a place, where we eat, and which should be clean is also part of the filth. The canteen is opened at 7 am in the morning for breakfast, which is composed of bread, butter, almost expired jam (a few weeks before the expiry date) and milk diluted with water. The lunch always starts at 11 am and is always rice and potato with a sauce and cream or yogurt, which are always short before the expiry date. One example is the yogurt, which was given to us on the 24th March 1998, and which expired (original: inspired) on the 27th March 1998. There are other examples. And in the evening there is bread and sardine, and sometimes an apple as well.
For the journey from the camp to town we have a bus coming three times a day and one pays 1,50 DM per head, but to get to GOTHA (foreigners police) for prolonging our identity cards, it takes 40 DM to go there and 40 DM to return, but our allowance for one month is only 80 DM.
Das asylum camp of Tambach „Neues Haus“ is a place, where people suffer a lot, and therefore a lot of attention needs to be given to their camp and to their living conditions.
(Translation Emilia Henkel, 22.09.2022)
What do you notice about this letter?
Which part do you find important and which not?
What questions do you ask yourself after reading?
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What strikes me about this report is:
- Presentation of the social workers: very drastic judgment about the social workers: they should actually be close people, take care of clients, accusation: they don't care, make life more difficult, abuse trust
- Transport: inhabitants of the camp are not allowed free mobility
an impression that stays with me: the representation of social workers collides with the social image/self-image of social work
The mixture of very personal examples and experiences as well as radical images, such as the mother killing her child, can very well illustrate the despair and powerlessness that these people must have felt. At the same time the way factual representation is interspersed into these strong, emotional images is striking to me. I think the asylum seekers chose this style of writing to achieve the greatest possible effect. However, especially the demand for more attention at the end of the text seems to me to be insufficient in view of what is described in the report.
It made me personally realize how little I know about the living conditions of the refugees in my home village and how much I ignore it.
I noticed that many of the descriptions focus on the living conditions and less on structural aspects of the asylum procedure in Germany or accommodation in an isolated camp. The language of the letter dispenses with abstract terms or theoretical classification, but describes everyday life using real-life examples. However, no list of requirements is derived from the descriptions. Instead possible improvements are pointed out rather indirectly.
After reading, I asked myself who the authors were, how the group of the committee was composed and what political-biographical experiences the members were able to bring to the organization of the protest.
I have no relation to the place. I got to know its story through Emilia's work.
I found the position on the social workers particularly irritating. To my knowledge, social workers always move in an ambivalent role in which they are representatives of state structures on the one hand, but are concerned about the individual well-being of their clients on the other hand. However, according to the report this basic contradiction seems to be resolved to the disadvantage of the refugees, who perceive the social workers as hostile. I would be very interested in the question of the cause of this perception. Was it because of a really problematic attitude on the part of the social workers, was the ambivalence of the role not sufficiently communicated, or were there alternative reasons?
A second irritating point is the food provision, not so much the non-compliance with the date of expiry but the desolate supply of fruit and vegetables.
I was surprised by the constant alternation between subjective experience and normative description of life in the asylum accommodation and, on the other hand, a rather sober description of the events. It almost seems as if the author wrote the text in different moods.
I am thinking about the comparison of social workers with mothers. A mother, who kills her child – that is a brutal metaphor. Does it fit here? One way or the other, this comparison highlights how vulnerable and helpless the authors of the report must have felt. By comparing 20 their social workers with mothers, they are at the same time likening themselves to children, which conveys their disenfranchisement and infantilisation through the camp structures very vividly. To me, the comparison illustrates how little agency and room for improving their situation themselves refugees had in 1998 in camp Tambach.
I grew up in a village only 5 km from the camp since 2002, but only found out about its history as an asylum camp by chance in 2020, when I researched racist violence in the 1990s. Since then I have been trying to understand more about the place.