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.
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”.
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!
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.
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!
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)