The Right to Have Rights

WE’RE DOING IT offers free legal advice sessions in various languages for displaced persons in Berlin emergency accommodation.

von Sabine Hark

Handover of the VW Bus by the Volkswagen AG. The bus will be used for giving legal advice to refugees. Berlin 2016. Photo: private














“We became aware of the existence of a right to have rights (and that means to live in a framework where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions) and a right to belong to some kind of organized community, only when millions of people emerged who had lost and could not regain these rights because of the new global political situation.”

These lines seem highly topical, yet the philosopher Hannah Arendt formulated them almost seventy years ago. The National Socialist policies of displacement and extermination had millions of stateless refugees as their consequence, displaced persons with no rights who were dependent on the goodwill of the states that largely admitted them only reluctantly.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the United Nations in 1948 and the fundamental right to asylum in the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany were both responses to this catastrophe.

Today, the world is experiencing anew that millions of people are losing their homelands and along with them the right to have rights, and seeking protection from violence, tyranny, expropriation and dependence in other countries. Yet very few people are familiar with German asylum law, with our social and labour laws, few know the difference between asylum, suspension of deportation and right of residence, know about the regulations for family reunion and much more. And that also goes for the social workers in the homes, most of whom have very little or no legal knowledge.

WE’RE DOING IT is therefore offering free legal advice services for displaced persons (to date) in the Berlin emergency accommodation facilities. Lawyers specialized in asylum law, supported by many interpreters translating into different languages, provide general information on the asylum process and the so-called Dublin process, give information on the regulations for reuniting families, on how an asylum hearing works, what welfare benefits displaced persons are entitled to, how accommodation is organized, what rights they have to medical care, and more.

However, there are also questions on rights when mistreated or badly treated by security staff or by official authorities. Alongside the general advice sessions, the specific steps in the asylum process are also discussed in individual sessions in the mobile WE’RE DOING IT office. The mobile office is a camper van kindly provided by Volkswagen. Legal advice sessions are currently held twice a week in alternating Berlin emergency accommodation facilities. There is great demand, as the many enquiries show. We are therefore planning to extend the advice service, including beyond Berlin.