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Refugee Crisis

The Speakers and Moderator of Panel VII (credit: Tamar Maare)

Organized by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam in co-operation with numerous esteemed institutions including our very own Bard College Berlin, the three-day conference titled The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime brought together researchers, artists, historians, academics activists, journalists and students from all over the globe to reflect, act and help resolve current issues facing Europe’s outdated migration structures and discourses. Divided into 7 discussion panels, performances, and an art exhibition, the conference aimed to tackle highly politicized and controversial questions surrounding how Europe’s migration regime is reacting to recent demographic changes and migration movements. The conference challenges the regulation of migration and further complicates the notions of ‘integration’ and diversity by looking at the history behind global migration movements.

Chaired by Dr. Kathrin Kollmeier (ZZF Potsdam), Panel VII on Crafting New Narratives considered how the forms in which migration narratives are verbally (re)produced not only influence the way academics conduct historical research but also how humans, as active cultural agents, conceive of and perpetuate hierarchical social structures and categories of knowledge. The speakers examined the interwoven nature of discourse, politics and identity by tracing discursive labels throughout history and analyzing the views of the employees in the Ausländerbehörden (Immigration Offices), ultimately putting forward a redefinition of ideas of national belongingness, collective identity and inclusion.

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Baynetna (Credit: Eva Johnaon)

When I was asked to write a piece on Baynetna, the only existing Arabic library in Berlin, I was immediately interested. I have always found deep reserves of empathy and solace within the texts of others. I believe literature is one of the most radical mediums of communication that humans possess, as it allows conditions of existence to be relayed viscerally through language, therefore facilitating greater understanding of experiences that lay beyond the individual. All literature is, in this sense, an act of translation. Often, when I read a work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, it is hard to pinpoint the specific site that triggers my fascination. It is as if the non-normative use of language transforms everyday reaction to stimuli into something more spiritual, emotional, and accessible. As a child, my favorite books were stories of adventure and survival. These narratives often occurred in contexts spatially and temporally disparate from my own, and yet somehow managed to be relevant to my own experience. From this vantage point — but, as an American, knowing relatively little about Berlin and its sociopolitical structure — I spoke with Muhanad Qaiconie, the founder of Baynetna, about his ongoing project.

Muhanad explained that Baynetna is, above all, a place for exchange — of languages, culture, ideas, resources, and support. The idea for the library came to him when he was in a camp in a village outside of Munich, waiting for his residency papers, with nothing to do but scroll through Facebook and wait. He found an article by a German journalist that translated to Arabic. Having enjoyed the article, he friended the journalist on Facebook, and they started to talk.

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Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa was arrested in 2011. The protests against the Assad regime had begun to heighten in frequency and intensity, with riots regularly breaking out in different Syrian cities. The Syrian authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on protesting in an effort to quell the rising dissent against the government, arresting many civilians. Amongst these were students who were dragged into prison for their activism, including Wafa Moustafa, now a BA1 student in the HAST program at BCB. “It was hard,” she says to me. “At this point, they didn’t arrest girls very often, so they had no idea how to deal with us appropriately.” After being beaten many times for disobedience, she decided that she would go on a hunger strike. But that, combined with serious asthma and an undiagnosed stomach condition, didn’t end well. “They summoned a doctor who force-fed me with syringes. Doctors here don’t help you, they’re all a part of the regime.”

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Rendition of a Socratic-style seminar at BCB (Credit: BCB)

Rendition of a Socratic-style seminar at BCB (Credit: BCB)

In the Fall semester of 2016, Bard College Berlin officially launched the Program in International Education and Social Change. PIESC aims at supporting students coming from areas of economic and political crisis who intend to take advantage of their liberal arts education to serve the public good. PIESC follows in the footsteps of PIE, the Program in International Education, established at Bard College in Annandale soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The original focus of PIE was to bring students from countries undergoing democratic transitions to Bard for a year to introduce them “to American political and social systems” while also learning from the students’ diverse experiences. PIESC differs from PIE in that it provides support for an entire four-year BA degree, and it incorporates the element of social change to which the recipient students must be committed. PIESC relies largely on financial contributions from donors and currently works in close partnership with the Scholarship Network, a fledgling fundraising initiative pioneered by the action alliance “Wir Machen Das.”

Three of the five recipients, Ahmad Mobaiyed, Muhanad Qaiconie and Wafa Mustafa, revealed their intentions for their liberal arts education with BCB: All are civically engaged and passionate about their plans.

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BCB student Clara Holder in discussion with other participants (Credit: Tamar Maare)

BCB student Clara Holder in discussion with other participants
(credit: Tamar Maare)

Over the past couple of months, students of Bard College Berlin have been instrumental in setting up an ongoing program for the mutual cultural exchange and language development process between refugees, students, teachers and anyone from the neighborhood or Berlin community at large who might want to drop by. This program, Campus Conversations, is currently run by Bono Siebelink (BA2 HAST), Clara Holder (BA1 HAST) and Kerstin Weil (BA1 EPST) on the Bard College Berlin campus and is overseen by our Admissions and Recruitment Officer and Civic Engagement Coordinator, Xenia Muth. The current focus of the program is on German language learning, but it has the potential for much more than just that. As their page on the BCB website outlines, “we plan on diversifying the types of lessons offered as more people become involved.”  

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