Example10 Example11 MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003
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People Example11

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.

Ali, Dana & Juan

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 01 Marcia Chandra

Ali, Dana and Juan, Baynatna Library
Mitte, Berlin, September 2018

An Arabic library in the heart of Berlin — this is a political project just by its very existence! It’s also a project of identity, of narrating ourselves differently, as newcomers to the city, not as what the media like to label us — refugees or whatever. We are new to the city, and we are creating new things in Berlin. This is a library where the newcomers have become the hosts.

You have to fight the media. I mean, this library can be described so differently depending on who writes the story. This is why we try to use our own platform on Facebook to talk about the library on our own terms and we’re very selective about interview requests. When people support a creative project because it is for or by refugees, even though it helps to spread the word, it disrespects the creative act itself. We want the initiative to be judged on its own merit, on the cultural value of its experimentation.

(digital skills, Berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 02 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 03 Marcia Chandra

Baynatna was the result of frustration, desire and need. Being on the train, and seeing everyone around me reading a book in German or English, I felt like I had nothing. Arabic speaking communities have been in Berlin for over 30 years and yet there was no Arabic library, not even a proper bookshop. So we worked on creating a library where we could find them. Our first spot was in a communal space in Kreuzberg, one day a week, now we are in the Central Library! It’s been like this 'let's do this' momentum that has kept going.

(hope, berlin)

MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 07 Marcia Chandra

From the day the library was first conceived until this day, it has all been a completely volunteer-led effort. In Kreuzberg, a coffee shop next door offered free beer to anyone helping us weave carpets. People were coming for two months, bringing their kids, bringing food. One architecture student and her mum brought an oven and made fresh Turkish lahmahcun for everyone! The architecture school helped with the design of this furniture. It’s cool because it all folds away when we’re not using the space. We also have theatre workshops right now being run by a highly regarded playwright, for free. Their trust in us, their willingness to give their time and energy to collaborate, it’s amazing.


MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 06 Marcia Chandra

A lot of people come in asking about Rafiq Al-Shami, because I think he is the only Syrian writer who writes in German. And German speakers come in looking for Arabic book translations. Even the Central library sends people to us! We only have two shelves of Arabic books translated into German or English. Translation is also about exporting and sharing our literature, culture and everyday life. Why did I read Shakespeare translated into Arabic in school but modern Arabic literature is not translated into European languages? That’s crazy! And Arabic literature is amazing by the way – just saying!


MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 05 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 10 Marcia Chandra

Most of the people who come here are extremely open but not all. This guy who heads an initiative on social integration commented on my clothing once, telling me I was “confusing him as an Arab woman.” These things really frustrate me, like how can a person running a cultural project for social integration make a comment like that? It shows just how much we know about European cultures, while they don’t know something as basic as there are non-Muslims in the Arab world, that there are Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics.


MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 08 Marcia Chandra

We don’t need to write social media posts about stigmatization. Everyone who comes to the library with a stereotype will see that what they are scared of doesn’t exist. We're not going to take your job, we're not going to eat your food. There is enough space for everyone. When we started in 2016, it was a really good time because there was a lot of support for creative projects. Now, it’s an important time to continue to exist, because of the growing threat of the right.


MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 04 Marcia Chandra
MCH LSE Digital Cityof Refuge Berlin Baynatna 09 Marcia Chandra

But this model is not sustainable. We’ve been trying to get funding for a year now. We have this space from the Central Library, it is a form of support but it’s not financial. And all our books are donations so these are not always the books that are actually needed, like for students. We want to feel sure the library will survive, even if we leave and go elsewhere.


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