International Roundtable Conference 2023

An overview of the conference topics, public and internal program of Revolutionale – International Roundtable Conference 2023. You will also find essays that delve deeper into some of the topics, featuring keynotes by Oleksandra Matviichuck and Seán Binder, and compelling video interviews with our participants.

“We are not alone” Stories of commitment

On October 9, 1989, shortly after six o’clock in the evening, the doors of Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church opened after the weekly prayer for peace. Its visitors streamed out and met thousands of others waiting with candles in their hands. Around 70,000 people gathered in tense silence and demonstrated peacefully in the city center of Leipzig. It was the beginning of the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR, which brought about the collapse of the state socialist dictatorship within just a few weeks. Thirty-four years later to the day, also on a Monday and around the same time, the doors also opened and visitors of the prayer for peace streamed out of St. Nicolas Church. Most of them had visited the prayer as the opening of the annual commemoration of the Peaceful Revolution and then continued with the Festival of Lights on the streets and squares in Leipzig’s city center. Some visitors of the prayer, however, chose a different way to keep the memory of the Peaceful Revolution alive after the prayer. They came to Leipzig for the REVOLUTIONALE – International Roundtable Conference  ( ) which took place from October 9 to 12, 2023. For the third time the Foundation of the Peaceful Revolution ( ) had invited for this bi-annual event that aims to combine the memory of the first peaceful democratic revolution in Germany with the strengthening civil commitment to human rights, democratic values and social change in Europe and beyond.

About one hundred human rights and democracy activists from over 20 countries followed the invitation including also many local civil society actors from Leipzig. Among those that gathered in Leipzig were people like Kanstantsin Staradubets of the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna, whose founder Ales Bjaljazki is the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and political prisoner in his home country. Francelia Ruiz Lopez came all the way from Venezuela. She is involved in the women’s empowerment organization Nosotros por Todos, alongside actors such as Roman Avramenko, director of the Ukrainian NGO Truth Hounds that documents Russian war crimes, or LGBTIQ+ activist Ana Tavadze, organizing the notoriously endangered Tbilisi Pride.. This booklet will introduce you to some of them. Working under challenging conditions in their home countries or in exile. A primary goal of the International Roundtable Conference is to provide a forum for international exchange in a safe and welcoming environment. The opportunity to leave familiar working conditions for a few days and exchange values, experiences and working methods with like-minded people serves to promote international networking. Equally important is the empowering experience to see that there are many committed people working for human rights.

The conference theme Telling Stories reflected the intention to facilitate intensive exchange between international activists but also with the public. Keynote lectures provided the participants with thought-provoking material at the beginning of the conference days. The Ukrainian human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, also Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2022, called in from a hotel room in Philadelphila at 4 a.m. local time to speak about the importance of civic solidarity. She pointed out that only thanks to the commitment of numerous volunteers, Ukrainian society was able to fight for democracy and freedom in the Revolution of Dignity in 2013/14 and, despite the Russian war of aggression initially in the east and since 2022 throughout the country, was able to preserve it. This could happen because “ordinary people did extraordinary things” as Oleksandra put it.

The de-heroization of human rights work also permeated Seán Binder’s keynote speech the following day. He spoke about his work in rescuing and providing first aid to refugees on the Greek islands and how authorities criminalized this help for people in need, which he saw as a basic necessity. You will find revised and shortened versions of both keynote speeches on the following pages.

Centerpiece of the conference were the roundtable discussions on overarching themes such as encroaching authoritarianism, maintaining democracy and rule of law, achieving equality, and the impact of war on societies and civic engagement not only in the countries directly affected by war. Practical issues were discussed, such as how storytelling can be a tool for engagement, how to improve press and media freedom, and how to implement practical means of working in exile. Altogether sixteen sessions took place.

Workshops accompanied these topical discussions with input focusing on NGO working environments, such as how to strengthen intersectionality in the work or improve digital security. Finally, the “our space” slot reserved space for topics of our participants and varied greatly in terms of format and content: Members of the Poland based College of Eastern Europe jointly prepared a discussion panel comparing recent developments of anti-European authoritarian movements in the European Union together with the Leipzig based Else Fraenkel Brunswik Institute for Democracy Research. The Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA)-Vanadzor reported on the recent developments in Nagorno-Karabach and Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, gave a compelling account of his work fighting China’s transnational repression of minorities.

While these parts of the conference were mainly reserved for participants, a number of evening events addressed Leipzig’s public. In her lecture performance Cyber Elf, the Polish theater director and journalist Magda Szpecht invited for an excursion into the digital struggles of cyber activism against Russian trolls and their disinformation campaigns. A panel co-hosted by Stiftung Forum Recht and Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig discussed the limits and opportunities of the German Code of Crimes against International Law to bring war crimes in Ukraine and other places to justice. A Storytelling Soiree opened up the view to personal backgrounds and motivations behind activist work. And the conference closing event gave conference participants the opportunity to present their work to the public and social and political multipliers and to start a conversation about it.

While this booklet is not capable to cover the full thematic range of International Roundtable Conference 2023, we have chosen to concentrate on two omnipresent themes of the conference: The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine with its global repercussions, and the European migration policy and its consequences for migrants, refugees and activists engaged in assisting them. While both issues are enormously complex in their own right, they are linked by the urgent need for international solidarity. On the following pages, we aim to provide an exemplary overview of the conference debates, reflections of the diverse fields of work of the participants with texts and photographs, complemented by a selection of video interviews with our guests.

We thank this year’s participants and pay tribute to their personal commitment, their strength and resilience, their courage to act, and their motivation to bring about global change. We would like to thank all institutions, organizations and individuals whose support and sponsoring made this important exchange, mutual empowerment, and inspiring contributions possible.

The Revolutionale Team

“The knowledge transfer and the opportunities for networking between human rights activists from different countries that this conference facilitates are what makes it so special. Especially the situation in Eastern Europe as regards authoritarian developments underlines the importance of a critical culture of remembrance, learning from phases of transformation and civil society participation and empowerment.”

Dr. Gesine Märtens

State Secretary , Saxon State Ministry of Justice and for Democracy, European Affairs and Equality

Meet Dolkun Isa

President of the World Uyghur Congress, a Munich-based transnational Lobby organization for the human rights of Uyghur minority in North-West China and Uyghurs in exile, nominee for the 2023 Nobel peace prize

“I was also a student leader in 1988 in my homeland in East Turkestan, demanding equality because the Chinese government has been implementing a policy of discrimination against Uyghurs for many years […] That’s why I was house-arrested and kicked off university. That’s why I learned from demonstrations like the one in Leipzig […] I was a peaceful revolutionary. But I was punished. But here I learned when 70,000 people came together: This is the power. I believe that civil societies play a major role and have a strong power.”

I Believe Much More in Solidarity and in People than in Political Leaders and their Decisions

by Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Ukrainian lawyer, human rights defender, women activist and civil society leader based in Kyiv. Oleksandra the founder and permanent head of the Center for Civil Liberties, the first-ever Ukrainian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2022). According to Financial Times she is one of the 25 most influential women in the world.

States that experienced totalitarianism have a common characteristic. They may have a large population, but still a small number of citizens. Living in fear produces a certain way of thinking, like “I’m an ordinary person, nothing depends on me, and anyway these are not us who take any decisions”. This is a “learned helplessness syndrome” in action. A person voluntarily renounces his or her subjectivity. The person turns into a control object, “a simple cog in the mechanism” as Soviet propaganda said. A person becomes a citizen not upon receiving a passport, but when the area of responsibility begins to encompass broader categories than him- or herself or the family.

The countries in transit can be an example of the consequences of this. An active minority, if it is organized, determines the direction of the country’s development. However, the speed of this movement depends on the passive majority. Therefore, it is not enough to pass the right laws or create formal institutions. The values of society will be stronger anyway.

Democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are again about a way of thinking, about a certain paradigm of world perception, which determines the way a person thinks and acts. Therefore, knowing or hearing that they are important is not enough, convictions are formed through actions. It is necessary to practice democracy daily, and not only by the citizens of the countries in transit.

The problem of our region – of Europe – is not only that the space of freedom in authoritarian countries has narrowed to the level of a prison cell. The problem is that even in developed democracies, the powers that cast doubt on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights get stronger. There are simple reasons for it.

The coming generations replaced those ones that survived the Second World War. They inherited the values of democracy from their parents. So, they began to take rights and freedoms for granted. People are increasingly manifesting themselves not as carriers of these values, but as their consumers. They understand freedom as choosing cheeses in the supermarket. Therefore, they are ready to exchange freedom for economic benefits, promises of security or personal comfort.

Values lose their sense in case their protection is left only to human rights defenders and diplomats. Therefore, a few years ago, I set as one of my priority tasks the creation of simple entry points for ordinary people in order to involve them in human rights activity. During this period, Ukraine experienced several major upheavals., and I would like to share our experience. A and tell you these stories.

Story one. Euromaidan

Nine years ago, the Revolution of Dignity took place in Ukraine. Millions of people bravely stood out against the authoritarian and corrupt regime. They took to the streets across the country demanding the regime to continue moving towards the European civilizational space. They fought for the opportunity to build a state where the rights of every person are protected, the government is accountable, the courts are independent, and the police do not beat peaceful student demonstrations.

They paid the ultimate price for it. The police, then still using their post-Soviet name “militsiia”, shot more than a hundred peaceful demonstrators on  Kyiv’s the capital’s central square – the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. People died under the flags of Ukraine and the European Union.

At the time, I was coordinating the Euromaidan SOS initiative ( ), which united several thousand people to provide legal aid and other assistance to persecuted protest participants across the country. All these months we worked around the clock, hundreds, and hundreds of beaten, arrested, tortured, accused of fabricated cases passed through our hands.

Then we were alone against the entire state machine that wanted to destroy us. Physically. Titushky – thugs paid by the regime – collaborated with the militsiia, the militsiia coordinated their actions with the prosecutor’s office; the special service, the courts, the government, and the vast majority of the parliament – all were against us. Under such conditions, it was easy to give up and say that nothing could be done. Nevertheless, our lawyers and our volunteers fought honestly and devotedly for every person, for each procedural means, as if the law existed. After all, it produced an unexpected result. We started at the legal level but reached a kind of symbolic level, where ideas and meanings were born. Everyone in Maidan knew that no one was immune to anything, that you could be beaten, abducted, or jailed, after all, you could be even killed, but there were people who would fight for you, who would not abandon you and your family under any circumstances. It gave strength. It helped to overcome fear.

This experience has taught me one important thing. I know that in different countries worldwide every day many people also fight for freedom and human dignity. Sometimes this fight may seem to be senseless because the enormous power opposes them. However, the total history of humanity convincingly proves that people should not give up. Even, when we have no tools, our own opinion and personal stance always remain. Eventually, it is not so little.

Story two. Russian war against Ukraine

When the authoritarian regime collapsed, Ukraine got a chance for democratic transformation. In order to stop Ukraine on this path, Russia unleashed this war in 2014, the Crimean peninsula and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and last year extended this war to the large-scale invasion.

For all these years Russia is deliberately inflicting harm on civilians aiming to stop our resistance and occupy Ukraine. Russian troops intentionally destroy residential buildings, churches, schools, hospitals, shell evacuation corridors, put people in filtration camps, carry out forced deportations, kidnap, torture and kill people in the occupied territories. But Russian can’t break the country.

Authoritarian regime perceives the world through a specific prism. Putin thought that he would occupy Ukraine in 3-4 days. Because Russia had much stronger military potential, Russia had a many times larger population, and was considered the 11th largest economy in the world. But Russian officials didn’t believe in solidarity and power of ordinary people. That’s why they misjudged.

Democratic countries also failed to understand this. Unlike the developed democracies, Ukrainians have never enjoyed the opulence of effective state institutions. This is the reason why, since the full-scale invasion, the points of crystallization started appearing on their own in different sectors of the society.

Immediately after the invasion, international organizations evacuated their personnel, and so it was ordinary people who supported those in the combat zone; who took people out of ruined cities, who helped to survive under artillery fire; who rescued people trapped under the rubble of residential buildings; who broke through the encirclement to deliver humanitarian aid.


Ordinary people started to do extraordinary things. And then it became obvious that ordinary people fighting for their freedom are stronger than the second army of the world.

This experience proved one important thing. We are used to thinking within such categories as states and intergovernmental organizations. Nevertheless, ordinary people have much more impact than they think. The voice of millions of people in different countries can change world history faster than the intervention of the United Nations.

Instead of a conclusion

Our world has become fast-paced, complex, and interconnected. Technological development, climate change, invasions of privacy, growing inequality, the devaluation of knowledge and expertise, and other global challenges demand answers that cannot be found in the past. Decades of relative comfort and a growing desire for simple solutions changed the optics of developed democracies. They no longer realize that peace in Europe cannot be preserved without efforts equal to the level of the threat that is posed.

Peace, progress and human rights are inextricably linked. A state that kills journalists, imprisons activists, or disperses peaceful demonstrations poses a threat not only to its citizens. Such a state poses a threat to the entire region and peace in the world as a whole. Therefore, the world must adequately respond to systemic violations. In political decision-making, human rights must be as important as economic benefits or security. This approach should be applied in foreign policy too.

It is not only a question of how we will protect human beings in the 21st century. Thanks to its multiculturalism and its complex history, Europe has the potential to rethink what humanism means in an era of rapid technological progress and to give new dimensions to the meaning of humanity.

Civic solidarity can play a key role in creating an international system of cooperation that brings together developed democracies and states that are on the path to democracy. This union should be determined not by a shared past, economic development, or geographical continents but by common values and attitudes.

We must respond to the challenges of today’s world. It is the determination to act that gives a society a future.

Meet Nick Antipov

Belarusian human rights defender, LGBTQI+ activist, co-founder of DasHip

“The protests in Belarus in 2020 and Ukraine in 2022 showed us that democracy and freedom, we can’t take it for granted. We have to fight for it.”

War Crime Trials at German Courts. Potentials and Obstacles of Universal Jurisdiction

by Alexandra Kemmerer, senior research fellow and academic coordinator at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, curator of a lecture series on Ukraine and international law and moderator of 2023 public Revolutionale panel.

When the Statute of the International Criminal Court was signed in Rome in July 1998, Germany had been a key driving force behind the establishment of this universal criminal court. In 2002, the German Code of Crimes against International Law (“Völkerstrafgesetzbuch”, VStGB) enabled the German judiciary to prosecute crimes under international law in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction, regardless of the place of the crime or the nationality of the perpetrators. Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes can thus be prosecuted; in 2017, the crime of aggression was also included in the Code of Crimes against International Law.

Since then, international criminal law has been and continues to be further developed in numerous proceedings before German courts, with the judiciary working together with criminal investigation agencies and civil society actors. One example that has received much international attention is the trial before the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz, in which employees of the Syrian secret service were convicted in 2021 and 2022. The fact that sexualized and gender-based violence was also convicted as a crime against humanity is primarily due to the tireless commitment of NGOs and human rights activists such as the Syrian lawyer Mariana Karkoutly ( ), who shared her experiences at REVOLUTIONALE 2023.

In 2002, there was only one public prosecutor at the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office dealing with international criminal law investigations; since 2018, two specialized units have been working in this area, and since 2023, three, with 18 public prosecutors. Somi Nikol, speaking in Leipzig about the practice of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, emphasized the importance of constant international cooperation, with the United Nations, Eurojust, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, but also with NGOs and the Central Office for the Fight Against War and further Offenses pursuant to the Code of Crimes against International Law (ZBKV) at the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt).

The high number of international crimes committed in Ukraine since 2022 requires strong international support in investigations and prosecutions, stated Ukrainian international criminal law expert Kateryna Busol. The Russian attack has triggered far-reaching reforms of the national justice system in Ukraine and enabled an intensity of cooperation between investigative and prosecuting authorities, academia and civil society actors that was previously almost unthinkable in a successor state to the Soviet Union. Roman Avramenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian NGO Truth Hounds ( ), which was founded in 2014, explained how NGOs often play a pioneering role in the development of new investigative strategies for securing evidence.

Kateryna Busol ( ) emphasized that criminal prosecution can only be part of a broader legal-political strategy to achieve transitional justice: “Truth Commissions, judicial reforms, reparations – we need to advance all these components, especially material reparations. There is a great desire for justice, but survivors also need material support, medical and humanitarian aid.”

In November 2023, the German government presented a draft bill that aims to close gaps in the criminal liability provisions of the German Code of Crimes against International Law and also focuses on such a more comprehensive, forward-looking approach. The use of weapons that were previously not covered (permanently blinding laser weapons and minimally invasive fragmentation bombs), sexual assault, sexual slavery and forced abortions are to be included among the offences under the VStGB. Victims should be able to join proceedings concerning certain criminal offenses as joint plaintiffs. And in order to support the further development of international criminal law, important international criminal trials conducted before German courts should be better documented and covered by media. In future, it should be possible to create audio and film recordings for academic and archival purposes in proceedings of outstanding historical significance – in the internationally acclaimed and undoubtedly historic Koblenz Syria trial, the court had rejected this on grounds of possible negative effects on witness testimony, despite the intervention of a group of academics, research institutions and human rights organizations.

The panel was organized by Revolutionale and Stiftung Forum Recht in cooperation with the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig.

Meet Mariam Antonyan

Armenian Human Rights Lawyer, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor legal analysis and initiative department coordinator

“We need international recognition of these crimes. Not only to give money, but also for the international community to recognize the ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh, because it is more important to have hope that one day ethnic Armenians can return to their home.”

“This platform allowed me to share my story as an activist, delving into the strategy of LGBTQ+ visibility in autocratic regimes. the exchanges of ideas and the solidarity amongst like-minded souls fuels the courage needed to persist in our endeavors.”

Ana Tavadze

Tbilisi Pride

On the Criminalization of Saving Lives

By Seán Binder, human rights defender and search-and-rescue activist in the Mediterranean Sea who was arrested in 2018. Since his initial release, he has researched the EU-wide criminalization of humanitarian action and campaigned for human rights in Europe. Seán was found innocent among all 16 defendants at the end of a 3-year trial in January 2024.

© Alexander Shelegov

© Alexander Shelegov

© Alexander Shelegov

In 2018, at age 24, I spent over 100 days in pretrial detention on a Greek island. If found guilty, I still face a prison sentence that would span into the coming centuries. What heinous crimes am I charged with to deserve this punishment? Being part of a criminal organization, money laundering and smuggling.

At some damage to my ego, however, I must dispel any exciting notion that I am a criminal mastermind. My alleged “crime” was nothing more than helping people in distress. Starting in 2017, I spent almost a year coordinating civilian rescue efforts on Lesvos, working with the authorities to provide emergency medical services at sea and on the shoreline. Experts have said that my prosecution amounts to little more than “the criminalization of saving lives”.

But if I am being completely honest with you, that sounds more impressive than it was. I mostly spent my time standing around with a first aid kit in one hand and binoculars in the other. The vast majority of people fleeing war and conflict to seek asylum in Europe are survivors. Even so, the Mediterranean is one of the deadliest seas in the world. As one of the wealthiest continents in the world, when people die in our waters, it is a choice we’ve made. Indeed, instead of offering life-saving humanitarian services, the EU focuses on counter-smuggling and securing our borders.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, that sounds depressing, but what has it got to do with me?” Unfortunately, it has everything to do with you: if I can be criminalized for mostly doing little more than handing out bottles of water and smiles, then so can you.

Imagine you arrive at the scene of a car accident. You see someone lying on the roadside. They need your help. What would you check first: their pulse or their passport? If, like me, you check their pulse first, you’ve committed the same crime I am supposed to have committed.

If I did nothing illegal, why am I facing these charges? The pull factor. The idea is that, even if search and rescuers are not directly involved in smuggling, they indirectly encourage smuggling by making smuggled journeys safer. This argument is so intuitive. When I first read it, I was in prison reading a FRONTEX risk analysis report, and it suddenly dawned on me: I am guilty! The analysis alleged that rescuers cause deaths through this pull factor rather than saving lives. I was stunned. How naïve had I been?

Luckily, I had nothing but time on my hands while in prison, so I could keep reading. Much longitudinal research has been done on the pull factor theory. There is zero correlation between the amount of search and rescue in the sea and the amount of smuggling through it*. There is a correlation between the weather at the departing shoreline and smuggling. There is a correlation between conflict and smuggling. But not between rescue and smuggling.

The EU is trying to stop activities like rescue because it erroneously thinks they are causing smuggling. Ironically, it is EU securitization policies that cause smuggling. Here’s why:

  • People try to escape conflict and persecution.
  • To claim asylum, one must be in the territory of the would-be host country.
  • The EU secures its border, removing safe and easy means of entry.


Well, that leaves only one possible outcome: EU securitization policies drive people fleeing war and human rights abuses into the boats of smugglers.

It’s ironic that a supposed criminal is pining for the rule of law, but I am. What does the law say? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to seek asylum. The European Convention on Human Rights ensures the right to life. International maritime conventions compel the conduct of search and rescue at sea.

Whether you are on the right or left of the political spectrum, we must all agree that nobody should be abandoned to drown. This should not be controversial. Yet, I often get called one of two things. Either I get very colorful messages from anonymous social media users telling me that I should have left people to drown, that I should drown myself, or, in short, that I am a criminal. Or, I get told by kind and perhaps overly generous people that I am a hero. Both are wrong, dangerous even, for precisely the same reason: by framing the act of helping someone as either criminal or heroic, we imply that it is somehow abnormal. In reality, helping someone in need is the most normal thing to do. Saying otherwise risks absolving us of our responsibility.

But who am I to complain? As the marketing adage goes, all publicity is good publicity. I have been given a platform. All this attention has ensured I can fundraise to pay my mounting legal costs. But the vast majority of people I met in prison who were not only charged with smuggling but convicted of it are themselves asylum seekers. Most of them never got a platform, many hardly received appropriate legal advice, and none of their stories are known.

I remember being transferred from a jail on Lesvos island to a prison on Chios island. The prison was unaware of my arrival, and because it was full, I was placed in Chios jail while the prison cleared a bunk (I was eventually put in a solitary confinement cell with someone being separated from the general prison population). Chios jail is one of the worst places I have ever experienced. It was overcrowded, filthy, and windowless. Parasites were in the bedding. The water fixtures were all broken, and there was hardly enough food.

Even in solidarity campaigns, we tend to privilege some over others. In my few days at Chios jail, waiting to be transferred, I met a man from North Africa. He had come to Chios via Turkey to seek asylum. He’d already been in that jail for three months. What crime did he commit? None. I was told that his asylum application had been unsuccessful, but his return to Turkey wasn’t being planned. So, not knowing what else to do, he was put in jail. I was later told by the few lawyers familiar with cases like his that he would likely go through cycles of prison and homelessness for a long time. He may still be in that jail today, even though he was never charged or even accused of a crime. At least I was charged with a crime. At least there is a process. At least I have lawyers. His crime? Seeking asylum?

*Sources and further readings

“Blaming the Rescuers” by Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani, Goldsmiths, University of London, June 2017.

“Sea rescue NGOs: a pull factor of irregular migration?” Eugenio Cusumano and Matteo Villa, European University Institute, 2019 

Meet Marianna Wartecka

Partnership & Advocacy Director Fundacja Ocalenie in Poland, proving life-saving humanitarian work at the Polish-Belarusian border

“Before I started providing humanitarian assistance at the Polish-Belarusian border, I had a boring desk job and I still have a boring desk job because the things that I do at the border are just my form of activism. I’ve met many people like me, just ordinary people doing those things that are not very hard to do and you don’t risk that much.”

Right to Asylum, the Right of all Human Beings 

by Tara Bonyad, member of the Migrant Advisory Board Leipzig

I am Tara, a member of the Migrant Advisory Board of the City of Leipzig, a social worker of the Saxon Refugee Council and a human rights activist, but above all I am a human being who believes in humanity. As a human being, I stand up for Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The right to asylum. For me, this means that I stand up for the right to stay of everyone who arrives seeking protection. I take a clear stance against deportations and immigration detention and am convinced that no person should be illegalized or criminalized.

I would like to point out to you that no one embarks on this long, dangerous and complicated journey for fun; there are always reasons.

Millions of people around the world are fleeing war, political or religious persecution, sexual oppression, torture or abuse, poverty, hunger, drought and natural disasters. Most people who flee never reach Europe’s external borders. But some have made it in the past and, hoping for a better and safer life in Germany, have applied for asylum and finally started to live. They learned a new language and created a new social environment for themselves. They have become our family, friends, classmates, neighbours and colleagues. They can be torn from our lives overnight and go missing, and a week later we read in the newspaper that they have died in a suicide attack in their home country or have killed themselves out of desperation.

Article 33 of the Geneva Refugee Convention codifies the “prohibition of expulsion or return (‘refoulement’)”. States must not deport our fellow human beings to countries where their freedom and lives are under threat. For instance, no employee at the BAMF (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Federal Office for Migration and Refugees), no judge, no member of parliament and no immigration authority staff member would currently travel to Afghanistan. But our fellow human beings who have been assigned an arbitrary passport are deported to a country many of them have never been to.

Deportations take place either according to the Dublin Regulation or according to the third-country regulation within EU countries or to the so-called country of origin. There are figures and evidence that show that the costs incurred by deportations under the Dublin Convention are significantly higher than the costs that would be incurred if Germany assumed responsibility for the asylum procedure. This alone shows the pointlessness of deportations within the EU. On the other hand, there are many names and stories of people who are deported to their countries of origin and murdered there.

Instead of continuing to shift the exclusion of refugees and the fight against them outward, Europe must take responsibility for the flight and homelessness of the people from its former colonies and from the countries to which it sells weapons, as well as responsibility for the destroyed lives of those deported.

I, as a citizen whose fellow human beings are often in danger, see the guilt of Western countries, including Germany, as so great that we must demand that deportations be stopped and instead arrivals facilitated, that the illegalization of people be stopped and instead life facilitated, that the construction of immigration detention centers be stopped and instead the construction of habitable housing for refugees for decentralized accommodation be facilitated.

I am a human being, and as a human being I stand for the rights of every human being.

“This is a time of change and activists from different generations should transfer knowledge and pass this knowledge to a newer generation […] Now I feel that activists more connected in a sense of transnational and translocal. And I think this is how we can actually be more powerful. “

Nick Antipov


Meet Dilek İçten

Journalist, co-founder and creative content director, research coordinator of the Media and Migration Association (MMA) in Turkey

“When you try to swim in a wave that is so strong and that is coming straight at you, you will not swim directly into it. You actually find rocks to get out of it, or other ways to repel the wave or its strength coming at you. When you try to conduct journalism in these kinds of directly oppressive, totalitarian regimes, you also have to develop shortcuts or other alternative ways.”

“Don’t forget Afghanistan” Revolutionale participant Marina Habibi reports on her work with Mission Lifeline

By Fabian Klaproth, journalist covering the Revolutionale for the SLPB Blog

It is both a warning and a call for help. “I have a message for the German government and the population,” says Marina Habibi at the REVOLUTIONALE. “Don’t forget Afghanistan, especially not the Afghan women. Germany is their only hope.”

Marina is herself from Afghanistan. She currently lives in Hamburg and works for Mission Lifeline on the project BAP, short for “Bundesaufnahmeprogramm für Afghanistan”, the federal admission program for Afghanistan. The 34-year-old attended the REVOLUTIONALE in Leipzig for the first time in 2023. “It’s good for networking, I’ve already made some good contacts,” she says.

Marina Habibi has black hair, wears glasses with black frames and looks alert. A question about the success of her work makes her laugh. “It’s a little bit tricky,” she admits. But Marina epitomizes what so many of the activists at the REVOLUTIONALE radiate: Calculated optimism, perseverance and a belief in change.

At Mission Lifeline, she works on cases of people stuck in Afghanistan who currently have no way to escape. “Many are in danger and are hiding,” she says. This includes people who are under acute threat under Taliban rule due to their religion or sexuality. Together with her team, she collects information about the people at risk and refers them to the responsible federal ministry, which then decides whether the application is approved and the people are allowed to leave the country. In case of approval, the people are first taken to Pakistan or Iran until they receive a visa that allows them to enter Germany.

The website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior states that 44,000 Afghans and their family members have been offered the prospect of admission to Germany. This includes around 25,000 former local employees and almost 19,000 “especially vulnerable” people. However, in her daily work Marina Habibi experiences the gap between ambitions and reality that has opened up since the Taliban took power in August 2021. She reports that 13 cases have been accepted so far, totaling 87 people. In some cases, people have been waiting for approval for more than two years. For the activist, every case she wins is a success, but she also says: “You work hard and do what you can, but sometimes all your efforts are in vain.”

Once people flee to Pakistan or Iran on their own, they can no longer receive assistance through the admission program. Meanwhile, the situation for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, of which there are estimated to be around four million, continues to worsen. In early November 2023, Pakistan announced that people without valid papers would be sent to deportation centers.

Thus, Marina Habibi’s warning remains more relevant than ever.

Meet Freshta Hemmati

Journalist and co-founder of the Afghan Journalist Support Organization

“Any country that is experiencing the same challenges as the Afghan people must understand that when we are outside of a disaster, we are the voice of the people who are still in danger. Being in exile doesn’t mean weakness to me. It was a win for me, at least to be the voice of those who are voiceless or who are kind of stifled in Afghanistan”

Funding and support for IRT 2023