Resisting emergency shelters and humanitarianism: Asylum seekers’ struggles for fair accommodation in Berlin


  • Žiga Podgornik Jakil Freie Universität Berlin


long summer of migration, political cultures, Berlin, emergency shelters


This article analyses how local “anti-Lager” activists and asylum seekers challenged the state-sponsored humanitarian approach to refugee accommodation in Berlin, Germany, during the “long summer of migration” of 2015/2016. In line with Germany’s post-WWII “liberal-constitutional political culture” regarding political asylum, the Berlin government framed the setting up of inappropriate buildings such as sports halls as emergency shelters for asylum seekers as a humanitarian gesture. Local activists, however, in line with “alter-globalisation’s social justice political culture”, contested this approach as they found it patronising and marginalising. They decided to work directly with asylum seekers housed in the emergency shelters and to engage with them in a long-term political struggle for fair housing and civil rights. While asylum seekers also protested against the shelters, they mainly engaged in ad hoc forms of a “pragmatic politics of resistance” to cope with their everyday realities and demand better accommodation and equal rights. However, despite differences in the political cultures of local activists and asylum seekers, they organised collective protests against the shelters because they both agreed that state-sponsored humanitarianism ignored the material and civil equality of asylum seekers.

Author Biography

Žiga Podgornik Jakil, Freie Universität Berlin