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A visit to FC Lampedusa St. Pauli’s central midfielder in deportation detention

FC Lampedusa St. Pauli trilogy, part 2

“I know who YOU are, I know who HE is and I know that HE plays football for your team – which I find such a great project”

(Officer in charge at the “Departure Custody Facility” at Hamburg Airport)

 

A visit to FC Lampedusa St. Pauli’s central midfielder in deportation detention.

Since 2016, the Hamburg foreigners’ registration office has been operating its own detention facility.

In this compound, only clerks of Hamburg’s foreigners’ registration office and employees of a private security service work. These clerks detain people inside the registration office; have them committed to their self-operated jail by their own co-workers; and, then, guarded until the detainees are deported by plane – a process that is completed in just four days.

But what does it look like, and how does it feel to be inside the Detention Facility?

After our, FC Lampedusa St. Pauli’s, landing at Hamburg Airport from Barcelona on 30 November 2016 (see part 1 of our trilogy), we immediately called the Detention Facility asking if one of us could come to visit our detained Habibi right away, since we were calling from the Airport. The guy at the other end of the line informed us that the visiting hours ended at 18h00, so there’d be a chance if we make tracks. Who exactly would be visiting? he asked.

“A friend”, I replied. We’ve just landed ­– returning from Barcelona – and were appalled to learn that our bro had been detained. “Yes, I do have an ID with me and would leave the team at the airport, ask them to look after my luggage and take the next taxi” I added.

“But you know that it takes a while to get to the facility as it’s not at the directly accessible from the airport but on the far side of it”, the voice at the other end of the line informed me.
“I do know. Yes, I’ll surely make it before six, though”.

After five minutes driving in the taxi, I received a call back and am told by a male voice that it would be no longer possible to come. “Come again? I’m in the taxi already and on my way”, I replied. He was sorry, he said, but a visit would be – for organisational reasons he wasn’t authorised to explain – not going to happen today. I tried to persuade him to bring our midfielder to one of the gates or a fence – at least – so that I could see and talk to him from the other side. I even promised not to touch him. However, the guy just said that he wasn’t authorised to permit this and that I could come the next day at 10h00. Totally upset, I asked the driver to return to the airport, where I got out again. Alone, in the rain, I was back at the airport.

Thursday morning: I was off to Niendorf, a district in the north of the city, where the deportation facility is located. Through the rain, I passed detached houses and a fence, cross the ground of the local sports club and enter a wood. From this club’s parking lot, I called the number on the washed-out paper, which was covered in a transparent film and taped to the gate: “Deportation Detention Facility Hamburg. Visitors register here” (followed by phone numbers). The man on the line answered: “We’re coming”. Coming to where, I asked myself.

Through trees and underbrush, behind another fence wrapped in barbed wire you can see white-blue containers. Alright, this is what they mean with “where”: the massive iron-gate, through which you can only just guess the silhouettes of three or four people in the drizzle. Behind a fence “secured” with barbed wire.

“I have an appointment for 10 o’clock”, I explained clumsily. “Okay, come in. First go through the gate, then through the entrance door”. The gate opened, closed, the door opened, closed.

Holy shit, what a terrible place they have brought our FCLSP player to. All alone – on top of that!

On the one hand, it is actually a sort of relief to know that this place doesn’t have even more people forced to be waiting for their deportation. In the middle of a wood, behind barbed wire, in a jail made of stacked containers. But an entire jail for just one player of FC Lampedusa St. Pauli? Hard to take, all alone in the middle of nowhere.

He is only the fifth detainee in the “departure custody” that the Hamburg foreigners’ registration office erected near the airport only recently, after “two Azerbaijani, one Armenian and one Egyptian”, according to a local newspaper. For only four days, the registration office is permitted to detain refugees in their own jail.

Then I’m let in with my trolley bag which I – after the return from Barcelona – emptied quickly in order to repack it for our Habibi, so that he has at least his stuff. Into jail, for the plane, to deportation!

There’s not much that he can call his belongings: in about 2 years after having left his home country, looking for, as he said, “for a place where he can just be what he is and where he can live in peace.” Approximately two years of incomprehension, container camps, summons, harassment, rejection, escape, loneliness, speechlessness and the constant fear of getting detained and deported. Back, back to… back to where?

Back to where he, for good reasons, jumped at the first opportunity offered to get away from? Back to where there was and still awaits only incomprehension, harassment, rejection, loneliness and things being even worse? Back to a country and a society that has been broken, torn apart, destroyed, brutalised and traumatised by war and the legacy of it? Back to where there is misery, displacement, corruption, intolerance and hopelessness? Cooped-up and barred at a place where there’s nothing?

The place where he was actually born but doesn’t have to live his whole life. What sort of person is entitled to decide upon where other people may live and where they may not? And who are the people assuming they have the power to decide upon it?

In the office, I’m greeted by two female and three male officers from the foreigners’ registration office. At the door, through which I entered, stands a female employee from the security company, with her male colleague at the other. One of the female registrations office clerks introduces her to me and requests my ID. A phone call is made asking if I’m permitted to enter at all.

“Negative!” – “I’m sorry? Oh, stop it, you sent me away yesterday already. I’m bringing his belongings.” – “But, be happy, ‘negative’ at us means ‘positive’!”

It is, for sure, another world.

She assigns me a shelf in a locker where I have to put everything I’m not permitted to take in with me: my jacket, bag, money etc. Then, all men left the office and a second female security person entered, taking position at the other door. Now, exactly four women are in the room with me. First, I have to remove my shoes, pull down my knee socks, take off my jumper, open my trousers, then I have to stand against the wall. There is a particular piece of carpet you have to stand on. Spread eagled and facing the wall I am roughly frisked at first, like at any FCSP home game, before things turn into a real body search: putting hands down and lifting t-shirt and tank top, showing bare back, turn around, showing bare breast, turn around, hands back against the wall. “It is for his own safety”, the lady did claim.

Without words! In the end, I’m allowed to put my hands down, turn my face away from the wall and to put my clothes back on. But I’m not permitted to sit on her chair again while putting my shoes back on.

Then, the men come back in. They search the trolley case.

All pieces of clothing are unfold one by one, touched and searched and the empty case is checked thoroughly. When I said that it was checked only the day before at Barcelona Airport, someone snapped at me that, “This is Schengen area. Nothing is checked in this.” Well, I do hope it’s not right!

Half an hour later, the (mostly sports) clothing is unpacked, searched and at least somewhat acceptably repacked. Meanwhile, the “suitcase search officer” tried to start a chatting about football – FC St. Pauli, Altona 93 and FC Barcelona. He’d be a football fan himself, he said, and would be familiar with it. “How was Barcelona?” he asked. “You’ve certainly been in Camp Nou, right?” When he told me that I could not take the freshly searched Barça gift bag into the jail, we – after all, we’re “football fans” – agreed on that I could take the Barcelona gifts in their original package into the jail, showing him them, bringing them back outside where he could check them once again and then put them into the suitcase.

So things go – apparently – among “football fans” only!

Then I’m finally allowed in. However, I don’t know where to go as I’m, fortunately, not familiar with this place. Then, they bring me to our Habibi who waited for me inside an unbelievably ugly, uncomfortable, bare and cold visitors’ room. He looked pale, skinny and overtired. No surprise, given this terrible and lonely place. But still he was being brave. We hug and talk about the situation “in there”. He asked about our time in Barcelona and that he didn’t want to spoil our great trip. Which is also why he insisted to us not to tell anyone about his terrible situation. He’d been so sorry, he said.

And how we were sorry. After all, it’s not us being put into jail without warning and facing deportation the next morning. A situation terrible to imagine. However, impossible to be stopped, despite all endeavours of his barrister. What a shame!

And, in midst of all horrors, we also did have an occasional laugh.

Brave young FC Lampedusa St. Pauli player!

But now we really would have to come to an end, as it was past 12 o’clock already, the security person in the corner watching the visit, informed us. I went back to the office, returning the Barcelona gifts and then, to the foreigners’ registration office clerk, who’s authority operates a jail where they detain people for the only purpose of deporting them. Unexpectedly, the clerk tells me that he knows who I am, that he – pointing to the hall, where our dear brother and FCLSP player is standing and looking at me for the last time through the open door, knows who HE is, that he knows what WE do and that HE plays for our team. He’s interested in football as well and finds FCLSP such a great project.

If this is the case, then he should release our central midfielder right now, I say.

“Well”, THIS he, of course, couldn’t do – but why can’t he?

The next morning, on Friday, 2 December 2016 at 7 pm the FC Lampedusa St. Pauli player, our Habibi, our bro and friend, was deported by plane from Hamburg Airport.

On a home game day of FC St. Pauli!

(Original version(s) available on http://fclampedusa-hh.de/?cat=2; English version: Thomas, Nick)

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While some of us are celebrating, others are deported…

Barcelona, Tuesday 29 November 2016, dia cuatro, in the evening.

The Coaching Crew of FC Lampedusa St. Pauli have swapped their tracksuit tops for little black dresses. Half an hour later, the hairdo is perfect too. The makeup conjures some brilliance in our slightly overtired eyes. Months of planning are finally coming to fruition: the result of hundreds of emails exchanged between us and the organisers of the City to City Barcelona FAD Award, and the Foreigners’ Registration Office. A heap of paperwork had to be completed in order to make it possible for 11 of our players to make this journey with us. In addition, just two days before departure, there were frantic negotiations with the airline – in a sudden attempt to thwart our plans in the eleventh hour they were refusing to accept the papers of some of our players. However, after fantastic teamwork with our hosts, the City of Barcelona and the FC Barcelona, the airline eventually confirmed that FCLSP could travel with all our registered players. This confirmation coming just 15 hours before we were due to fly.
Never did we expect that an airline would doubt travel-documents that were issued in Germany. You never stop learning. On top of this, two of the young players, we would also have liked to take with us to Barcelona, were forced to leave Germany during the application process. That alone was bad enough.
The players were freshening up too, and we looked forward to seeing which of them would win the “shirt of the day contest” – one of our favourite competitions at FCLSP.
In five minutes time, our fantastic hosts would pick us up at the hostel’s reception and bring us to the presentation of the City to City Barcelona FAD Award 2016, the actual reason of this trip.

“Bing! Bing!” – a WhatsApp message comes in. It is from one of our FCLSP players who had an appointment with the foreigners’ registration office in Hamburg earlier this morning. He hadn’t got in touch with us all day and we were already worrying that the reason for his silence was him having switched off all his phone in sorrow, after being ‘asked’ to leave Germany within one week.
Reading the first sentence on the lock screen already did enough to bring us back to the harsh reality:

“…it’s not a good situation, I’m in a closed camp right now near the airport. I have to stay here till 2/12/16 and then they will deport me…“

We try hard not to burst into tears and to keep calm. There’s no time for a second makeup session.
Why now, during our stay in Barcelona? Why did he not get another extension? He already had to be at the foreigners’ registration office every Monday anyway, getting his short-term permit extended for another week? Why does it seem to be unwanted that FCLSP can properly bid farewell to its players?
Why is the new “Deportation Custody Facility”, which the City of Hamburg operates at the airport, filled with our midfielder while we are here – in the limelight – being presented an award for “outstanding project work”? Why do deportations take place on a home match day of FC St. Pauli?
And why on earth is our habibi locked up in this new facility as only the fifth person ever to have been detained there? ALONE, apart from twenty around-the-clock present employees of above mentioned office and a security service, while we are in Barcelona, feeling like we are being carried on hands, because our project made it to the final three of the City to City Barcelona FAD Award 2016 competition, out of the 100 entries submitted?

What on earth is wrong with our world?

At least, the memories we share with this player reeling in our mind’s eye prevent us from sinking into a sea of tears. You grow with your tasks, as the German phrase goes. But it is still so unfair!
Of course, we knew right from the start of this project that this sort of pain would be involved, but still Hamburg’s Ministry of the Interior, Youth and Sport somehow manages to ever produce new variations of an ugly face. The more arbitrarily the deportations are scheduled, the more brazen the methods get. But sitting there wailing has never helped anyone.
We do not want to be just another set of “do-gooders” providing only help. However, we can only achieve integration within structures which allow us to do it. The mere fact that Hamburg’s Ministry of the Interior, Youth and Sport is ONE municipal authority speaks for itself. Maybe it is even the reason why our habibi, in his first reception container camp, got a room with a view of the FCSP training facilities? Sometimes, when nothing else helps, it is cynicism that can still make us laugh.

We do what we always do in situations like this: we keep calm. A short phone call with the solicitor and the fiancée of our midfielder and then we have to leave for the awards ceremony.
The players notice that something isn’t okay. Some ask us, others do not. We do not want to spoil the first and – perhaps – only holiday of their lives. Their anxieties and sorrows left in Hamburg for a couple of days will be with them again on their return. The players shall enjoy themselves during their stay and forget their problems for a while
The absurdity gradually sinks in. For three years now, you’ve given your all to a project which has become internationally renowned, wins awards… and then you’re brought back to reality in such a terrible way. Over the last three days, we were having so much fun; had so many wonderful people around us; shared great conversations and experienced very positive press coverage of our trip.

And the City of Hamburg? Puts one of our players, all alone, into a jail which they don’t even want to call a jail and fabricate disgusting terms like “departure custody” for such thing? In particular at a time, when we are out of town for a couple of days? One of our habibis?
A guy to become only the fifth person to be put into the new deportation jail at Hamburg Airport.
The reel keeps running in our mind’s eye.

In front of Barcelona City Hall, Christmas decorations sparkle. The timetable is tight. No time for a cool down cigarette or another make up check. The waterproof mascara fortunately stands the single tears. In the outer office of Mayor Ada Colau all the winners and award presenters are gathering. Everybody approaches us: “What a great project”, “So good to have you here”.
Actually, we should be grateful and happy in this very moment. However, we do not really feel like celebrating. We try to hide that feeling. But why should we keep the situation a secret? Jordi Cardoner, vice-chairman of the FC Barcelona Foundation, is the first to face reality. Everyone shakes their heads in disbelief. And so it remains for the rest of the night.
The door opens and Ada Colau comes in. A short reception and then it gets started. We try to focus on our address and go over our speech again, word by word. Our gratefulness for the award and the invitation shall, at the end of the day, be shown appropriately. One of us gives the address in Catalan for two minutes and the other then proceeds in English. Distraction therapy, given the events of the day.
We manage to do it with aplomb. The following marathon of handshakes, taking photos and talks to the press does us good, because it shows that we apparently do something right.
In any case, we continue to pose for photos. “Tell us when you need something”, is one of the central sentences of the night, no matter who we talk to. This does us good, warms our hearts and recharges our batteries for the coming months. Back in Hamburg, we will definitely need 100% recharged batteries.

“We would love to clone your mayor, Ada Colau, and take her with us to Hamburg,” we reply. Usually, we’re at our funniest when things are at their worst, because we know that we mean it.

And then, we go outside for a cigarette and to call the jail – of which it is said not to be a jail, because it has free WiFi…

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We go to Barcelona!

You will not believe where we go on the 26 of November, what we do there and who we will meet. We are so impressed.
Thank you so much City to City Barcelona FAD Awards, FC Barcelona, FCSP Fanclub Catalunya and all who make this happen.

Fanclub Catalunya write:
“FC Lampedusa St. Pauli has been awarded with an special mention in the “City to City Barcelona FAD Awards” and its trainers and some players will be a few days in Barcelona for the ceremony. And, therefore, Fanclub Catalunya have organized a meeting with them!
Sunday 27 November
Place: in l’Octubre, Casal Independentista de Poblenou (86 Badajoz Str, Barcelona)
12:00h musical vermouth aperitif
13:00h talk with one representant of Fanclub Catalunya, one of the “City to City Barcelona FAD Awards” and the coaches of FC Lampedusa
14:30h lunch for everybody (paella)
Then, we will go to the FCBarcelona Sports City to encourage the FC Lampedusa in the friendly match against the youth guys of the Confederation of Fanclubs of FCBarcelona at 18:00h.

We ask you to help us to share this event, please! We want to be a lot of people for supporting to FC Lampedusa in Barcelona! many thanks!”

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