Of buses that collect children at night and disinfected teddy bears

An FC Lampedusa St. Pauli trilogy, pt. III

On Friday, 2 December 2016, at 07h00, on a home match day of the FC St. Pauli, another FC Lampedusa St. Pauli player was deported after three days of detention in the so called “deportation detention facility“, of the Hamburg Foreigners‘ Registration Office located near Hamburg airport. He was only the fifth detainee inside in Hamburg’s history and had to sit there all alone until his deportation at dawn.

Monday, 5 December 2016. We –  two of the FCLSP coaching staff – go to the first reception centre for refugees located in Niendorf, one of the northern districts of the city. For this we even hired a car so that we could take the belongings our deported player with us.

We called them in the morning: “Hello, we are friends of R., who was, as you know, deported last Friday. The deportation detention facility sent his keys back on Wednesday, I was told on my visit there on Thursday. I have been authorised by R. to collect his belongings. Can we come around at 14h00?… Hello? Are you still on the line? … Hello?“

The woman on the other end of the line – let’s call her Petra – answers in audible shock: “What did you say? No, I have no idea about it whatsoever. That’s terrible! Deported? Last Friday? What? Deportation detention? Since Tuesday morning? No, we weren‘t informed about this, I have no idea, how terrible. What was the name again? You want to come around, you have an authorisation… deported… how terrible. Okay, come around at 14h00.”

Our hired car is equipped with a navigation device so we know that our route takes us roughly in the direction of the FCSP training facility and then through a sort of “wilderness” to our destination: the first reception centre. On the left and right side of the street, we see taken down hoardings and on the righthand side a row of single floor containers with small alleyways and colourful clothes waving in the cold wind – typical “Hamburg weather”.

We have to turn left. On a hoarding, covered with green plastic foil that prevents you from seeing through, there is a sign “ASB Flüchtlingshilfe” (Refugees’ Help). We are a bit confused. “Refugees’ Help”?

We pass a massive – open – roller door to the container that hosts the security. Two men in security officers’ uniforms stand on the left and right side. Speaking through the window, into the inner side, we try to explain who we are and what we want. “We have an appointment with Petra” we say. Unfortunately, we’d written her surname down wrongly. To find out, we wonder, ask, make suggestions and phone calls. Then there’s the answer through the “doorman lounge” that someone would come and pick us up and that we should register our names on the visitors list. There we stand jittering in the cold and wet December weather, watching a boy playing football with a broken ball. Playing alone is boring somehow, he seems to think and starts to kick the deflated thing to and from one of the security guards, who has his hands in his pockets and earplugs. Before long, the ball wobbles in our direction and so we three begin to pass it around. A situation that seems bizarre – maybe it’s not.

Before long, another small boy joins in. The two of them play together, but soon some argy-bargy starts and they begin to fight a little. The security guard takes his hand off his pockets, grabs the crying, slashing five-year-old, holds his arm firmly and tries to soothe him. The other boy – of a similar age – tries to explain to us that – of course – the other boy started it. A confusing situation – watching the uniformed mediator at work – there appears a degree of irony to the sign on the hoarding that states: “Refugees’ Help”.

Finally, Petra arrives, totally distraught and very apologetic at having forgotten to call us: “Right now, it would be impossible to collect our player’s belongings” she says. His roommate was out.

I beg your pardon? Again, we insist. We took a day off to come around; hired a car; drove up here… but – as this compound is not a prison– it is possible that people can move and leave freely. Because of this, it would be useless to assume that the guy would wait in his room for some people collecting belongings of some other guy who hasn’t been seen for days. Well, but there’s the right to privacy… no, really. Petra, for instance, has never entered a room when its occupants are out. And this, she really cannot do.

We look at each other first and then around. Here we are now: a huge container camp erected on a former BMW dealer’s parking lot: bare ground scattered with huge, deep puddles. Two storeys high each, the containers stand narrowly side-by-side with some narrow alleyways in between. “On both sides of the street live 850 people altogether,” Petra says.

Whoever wants to go through the rolling door must produce his/her ID at the security and enter his/her name, the time of the visit etc. on a list. No matter if they want to get in or out.

We’re still outside, standing in the drizzle. Our feet and hands are cold and dusk is about to set.

But, at the end of the day, we don’t intend to leave without our player’s belongings. Full stop. Punkt. Basta.

Well, in this case, we’d have to ask her superior. So, we’re off to the office container together where a sign reads “Flüchtlingshilfe-Büro” (Refugees’s Help Office), waiting in the cold while a man is being called to see us. Well, the thing is that no one working in this facility was informed about the deportation, no one knows about it and, above all, they’d never be informed about such actions in general. If he could have the authorisation of our FCLSP player, he asks. Also, he assumed that we’d be in possession of his keys and, even more importantly, the key to his locker.

He himself wouldn’t know about anything and asks for our friend’s name…

Well. Again. From. The. Start. Slowly.

On Tuesday, 29 November, in the early morning, our player was apprehended inside the Foreigners’ Registration Office, taken to the so called “deportation custody facility”, held there for three days and, on Friday, 2 December, at 7h00 DEPORTED!”
On Thursday, 1 December, one of us visited him in prison, where:

  • an authorisation was written on behalf of our player which permits us to collect his belongings,
  • it was claimed by the prison management in a direct talk (i.e. vis-á-vis) that the keys of the first reception centre were already returned to the accommodation since “the guys” would otherwise always take them with them and,
  • it was promised to call and send a fax the facility where he lived resp. to inform this facility and to make it known that friends of the deportee would come around on Monday to collect the detainee’s and than deportee’s belongings.

Of course, none of that happened!

Erm, well, if this is the case, he told us, he would call the deportation prison and inquire, since he wouldn’t know either what to do in such a case exactly. After a while, he returns from his office, returns the original authorisation and tells Petra and us that the deportation custody facility has confirmed the deportation and that the key should’ve been returned. So, he would now call the facility manager with the general keys. Meanwhile, we could go ahead and wait inside the container. After all, it was quite cold and wet. Good idea!

We cross the way to one of the other containers and wait for the facility manager. A young man arrives, carrying a large crowbar. Oh, there’s no general key? “This one is for the locker” we are told. Erm, wait, the room is on the upper floor. We go out again, up the iron stairs, through the door and into a narrow hall, with the large crowbar. The present “occupants” get scared of us, staring at us almost in panic. A man wants to go back into his room but doesn’t dare to pass us. We notice it and step aside to let him through. Two unknown women, one employee and one man carrying a large crowbar.

Now, we’re having the worst scenario: refugees who are scared of us. Pure nightmare!

“Really, no,” Petra says. She’d never been in a room in the absence of the occupants; it is something she cannot do. We soothe her by saying that all his belongings would be in the left locker, that we wouldn’t touch anything and would know precisely what’s inside that “piece of furniture”. Alright. The facility manager opens the door to the room and we point at the left locker. The room is tiny, just providing space for two beds, a table, a chair and two lockers. But if you look outside the window you could watch the FC St. Pauli  players at training. Poor young FCLSP player so close and now so far. That one, exactly. Inside is an ugly Germany U21 fleece jacket, a gift from Christopher Avevor, a (now ex-) player of FC St. Pauli.

We look at each other, then at the facility manager and then at Petra – these lockers actually cannot be locked. They just have knobs. So much for that.

We ask the facility manager to turn the knob. He complies with our wish and pulls the Germany jacket out the locker. Yes, these are the clothes of our FCLSP player and these we will now take with us. It’s not much. Quickly, we pack the few sporting clothes from Christopher Avevor’s clothing donations, some washroom items and some papers into a bag and leave the container, including a heavily unnecessary crowbar, so that the people are no longer scared of us!

Outside again, Petra tells us that this refugees facility accommodates 850 people altogether and that she finds it so sad that some of them are suddenly gone, without notice. Then she points at the one-storey container camp on the other side of the street and says: “And at night, buses come to collect the families with their kids!”


It’s true, she says, they’d never be informed about it at all. And at night, the buses would come and collect the children. The morning after, only the teddy bears are left. These, they would disinfect thereafter, so that they can be passed on.


It’s true, and then these teddy bears are given to the next children – until they are collected at night, too, and only the teddy bears are left, and are disinfected, again. What could she and her colleagues do? They do not know about it, as they are never informed by anyone.

We are shocked. You certainly can imagine the associations swirling in our heads hearing this. “This is unbelievable, you cannot really work here”, we say to her. Saying this, she is close to tears.

This is the family area, most of them from the Balkans, she says quietly. And then the buses come at night. Thereafter, the families are gone and only the teddy bears are left behind. Petra looks at us with sad, desperate looking eyes.

No Petra, you cannot work here. It’s impossible!

You cannot be a part of this!

You cannot work in a refugees’ facility where children are being collected by buses at night.

Where only the left teddy bears remain – which then disinfected. NO WAY!

Distraught, we walk through the dusk carrying the bag full of aftershave, soap, sweatpants and THAT Germany fleece jacket to the gate, de-register ourselves from the list, uttering a brief “Bye” towards the uniformed group, we are back on the small street.

Again, we look to the other side of the street, over the covered hoardings, to the rows with containers with the wet clothes on the lines.

The home of the disinfected teddy bears.

How many children must they have tried to comfort – until the buses come – soaked with disinfection agents – the sad teddy bears – if only they could speak!

Before we get into the car, we take a look back.

“Refugees’ Help”, the sign still reads!

Breaking News: A few weeks ago one of the coaches of the FC St. Pauli Youth Department was coming to our training by exident and she told us, that because of the reception center is straight behind the trainings ground of the FCSP they started to give training to the kids of that facility in the morning.

In the morning? Don’t they have to go to school?

She told us that they not go to school outside the camp, there is some kind of school coming to them inside. So the children have no contact to other children from outside- but as long as they have to stay there they have football training at the FC St. Pauli, and thats fantastic!

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