After a long break, IWS RADIO returns with our first program in 2021. We pick up where we left off: discussing the brutality of the EU border politics. Jennifer is joined by Zahra and Anna – two Berlin-based activists – to talk about the inhumane living conditions created by the EU border and asylum policies in Greece and Germany. Zahra shares her experience of living in the Lesvos refugee camp with her family and her time organizing with the women’s group at the camp. Anna explains how migrants can become illegalized in Germany – often after coming from an entry country like Greece – and what the Legalisierung Jetzt campaign is doing to fight for legalisation for all.

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Transcript & translation

JENNIFER
Hi everyone, you are listening to IWS radio, a podcast on the migrant women experience. We are happy to be back after a long break. From now on, we will continue releasing one episode every month. In today’s episode, we are continuing to talk about the EU border politics and their direct impact on refugees on the EU outer borders and here in Germany. We are a feminist, anti racist group comprised of refugees and migrant women and women without this experience, and with the IWS radio, we want to both shed a light on our lived experience, and also on the general situation of migrant women living in Germany today. My name is Jennifer Kamau, and I’m here with our guests for today’s show, Zahra Mousavi and Anna Kimani, welcome you two.

ZAHRA
Thank you so much.

JENNIFER
So in today’s episode, we want to focus on this colonial bloody European border policies, and its failure to meet the basic human needs and dignity, living conditions, and circumstances for refugees in the border camps in Greece, and also here in Germany. In preparation for this program, we already met with ZAHRA and ANNA and talked about the image created by the mainstream media, which is not focused on the living conditions and circumstances or as to why they flee, but the so called violence among refugees in so called camps on European border and beyond. Let’s be clear, which violence are we talking about? The media is not reporting about the structure of violence and border regime that isolate and violate not just the dignity of human beings, but also their bodies. The European Union, and countries have been not just completely silent about the human rights violations being implemented every single day before our eyes, they are also actively preventing all support to violate the refugee body and hinder any support that comes to help the refugees. Meanwhile, the EU Commission points their fingers to other European countries on human rights violations. And with this, I would like to start with our first guest, ZAHRA. ZAHRA, I would like you to introduce yourself.

ZAHRA
My name is Zahra – Zahra Mousavi. I’m one of the refugee that I arrived in 2019 in Lesbos and in one month that I’m here.

JENNIFER
You’re only here since one month?

ZAHRA
Yes.

JENNIFER
Okay. Welcome to Germany.

ZAHRA
Thank you so much.

JENNIFER
And for us to understand, what is the process, what she can tell us more about the process of arriving at Moria? And what was it like to live there?

ZAHRA
Yeah. First of all, that we can say if people managed to cross the sea, and they do not push them back, and if their boat doesn’t sink, the process of expecting them will begin. First day, they will ask about their information, the basic information like their name, and these kind of things, and the date of their birth. Most of the time that they’re saying that if you have any problem in this detail and everything that at the end that you can change it. But it’s not true. That the first day that you arrive, that whatever that they’re writing about you – you will have for your whole life.

JENNIFER
So when they take your data, any data you enter, this is what they will use for the rest of your refugee application.

ZAHRA
Exactly.

JENNIFER
Okay.

ZAHRA
And because of this, all of the refugees that they were in Greece, the date of their birth is first of January of 2000 – I don’t know.

JENNIFER
So it has been generalized, that if you’re born in January, they don’t indicate the dates? They just write January.

ZAHRA
Yes.

JENNIFER
And then the year.

ZAHRA
Yeah.

JENNIFER
And that’s it.

ZAHRA
That’s it.

JENNIFER
Okay.

ZAHRA
And after that, they’re taking picture, they’re putting the fingerprint, but in the beginning, if you tell them clearly, that is not the place that I want to be, want to stay or leave. And I don’t want to put the fingerprint then they say okay, then we will deport you back to Turkey. All of the people that in the first day that they said clearly that we don’t want to stay here. But they said, okay, you don’t have any chance. The other thing is that they’re taking pictures, I told you, they’re taking picture, putting fingerprint, and they’re asking for if you have any health issues or anything. And you have to tell them, you have to give the documents about it. In that moment that you can, they can accept you, if you have a really, I don’t know, severe case in your family, that you have a proof to tell them otherwise that they are not accept you as a vulnerable people, we can say. Then we can say in 2019, the time that I arrived, after one month that they gave them, they gave people Ausweis, after two or three months they started to support them financially. But nowadays, the new arrival, after one week they are giving them Ausweis, and after in that first month they are giving – they are supporting them with money. Yeah.

JENNIFER
So we also know that there is a failure of the EU to discuss and provide basic human needs in this camps at the borders. And it’s on purpose, this we know it’s on purpose. What do you feel is important for people to know about Moria?

ZAHRA
Okay, vulnerable people, we can say people were categories, according to their circumstance. Vulnerable people is people with chronic disease, or that they were pregnant, or their boat sunk in the sea, or people with mental issue – if it was from 2019. But in 2020, they said that only people with severe case are vulnerable people, and in 2021 and 2022, they change it and they said okay, chronic disease and also mental issue, people with a mental issue, but with a really, really strong paper and document to prove that they have mental issue – they can accept them. And that moment that they in 2019, they just open their card, we have two – three – different Ausweis, and stamps: blue, black and red. The red one [means] you’re not allowed to leave the island and black one is for the vulnerable people [so] that they can leave the island, and blue also, that they can leave, is mostly for the pregnant woman and is for the people that they’re boat sunk in the sea or something like this. And it’s a different people with a different stamp. And people who had a red stamp who are stucking there for I don’t know how long, in 2019, they just giving them a date of interview after one year or two years. But for the new arrivals in these days, they are giving after one month or in one month that they have to do the interview.

JENNIFER
Okay, can you just tell us a little bit more about the living conditions for those who have no idea of how these camps look like, just to have a picture of it.

ZAHRA
Yeah, we can say that I will start by days. I remember the first day that I arrived there. It was a lot of people that they said that don’t come here. Just tell them that you don’t want to come in this camp – it’s a hell, don’t come. And at that time, we didn’t have any choice, we had to go inside. When we went inside most of them they said, “Welcome to the hell”. And it was true. It was true.

In the beginning, when I arrived and I saw that it is impossible. Okay, most of the refugee they had a reason to leave their country and come to the European country because their country was not safe or a lot of things happening there. But at least they have the basic human right. But in the camp, in Moria camp, it was like, you have to stay in the line for a toilet. You have to stay in the line for the, I don’t know, water tap to wash your hand. And the first day I wondered, my mind didn’t want to accept this situation. Sleep under a tent, doesn’t matter that you’re five or six people in the family, in that weather. In 2019, they said, okay, we will give you a tent, go and find your place in the camp. And camp was really full, and we had to go to the jungle area to find the place. And the time that we came and asked for the tent, they said, okay, jungle place, we will give you a tent, but we will not support you [with] the other thing, because it’s not part of the camp. I say that, okay, we couldn’t find any place. If you find any place inside, you can tell us, we will go there, doesn’t matter. And they said, “No, no, it’s not our job to find a place for you. Can’t find”. Also it is true that my country is not safe, as I told you before, but it was not that much. Women, for sure, after five or six in the afternoon in the camp, they cannot go out alone. For sure that they cannot because the number of rapes and harassment was high there.

JENNIFER
In these camps?

ZAHRA
Yeah.

JENNIFER
And how was the situation when you are going to the dining hall? At some point, I think you explained to us. Tell us a little bit more how the situation was when you are going to make the line for the food.

ZAHRA
Okay, for going to the food line, most of the images, you can check in the Google or something that they have a lot of picture of the camp, but some of them didn’t show real clearly there. Most of the people, they have to stay in the [line] for five or six hours to just take the food. And always the food was not enough. Most of the people they just fight because of the food, because they had to take the food doesn’t matter how. And I’m telling you, it’s not their fault. You know, it’s not their fault, because they need food. They didn’t have any electricity, in that moment, to cook something. The new arrivals for two or three months, they didn’t have any money. Okay, then they have to be in this line.

JENNIFER
Yeah, we know how they use the basic human needs, for example, food, to kind of impose their form of control. So the use the food, which people really need to survive, and torment people with that lack of it or they create situations around the aspect of the things that people really need.

ZAHRA
Yes. Okay, I saw a lot of journalists that they came to the camp, and they did a lot of reports, but the only things that they just publish in media or somewhere else was only the part that it was not really important, because we had the other important things. I didn’t hear, or I didn’t see anything about any journalists who write about the jail or prison that we had in the camp. Most of the people [who] were there [in the prison], it was people with the second rejection. And they [treat] them like a criminal, they did a lot of things, it was a lot of violence against them in the prison. And no one know anything about them.

JENNIFER
What do you say about the second rejection, what does that mean? What was the first rejection and what is the second rejection about?

ZAHRA
The first rejection is the time when you have your interview [for asylum] after some months – it depends to your chance. After some months or some weeks,  they bring your reason – the result of your interview. Result of interview: is it positive or negative? The negative one is you’re getting the first rejection that you can appeal for that. And most of the people, they’re getting the first one, for sure that they’re getting the second one. Okay. And they have to go to the jail for that.

JENNIFER
So the jail was like a deportation camp. What does it mean with a jail, what made someone go to the jail?

ZAHRA
Actually that is a place – they are not, most of the time, they do not deport them directly. They are putting them in prison and then they can appeal there again. And they’re giving the paper to them. And they’re making the situation in the jail or prison really hard for them, and are forcing them to sign that paper – that paper for deportation – and then they can deport them really perfectly, without any problem to their country…

JENNIFER
To make it easier for them to deport them in bigger groups.

ZAHRA
Exactly. I heard this, I’m not sure about it. If they want to deport people, they have to pay themselves, the government has to pay for the airplane [ticket] if they are deporting them to their country. But if [the people] sign it, they have to pay themselves for the tickets, and then they are deporting them.

JENNIFER
Okay, It’s a whole lot of mess there.

ZAHRA
Yes, and a lot of people – it doesn’t matter if that person is woman, or men, that they are in the jail. Most of the time, there’s people that are trying to leave the island illegally. And I know a lot of woman, that they arrest them. And they were in the jail not in the Moria camp prison [but] in Mitilini. In Mitilini, is the worse than the camp. It’s really worse. And for them, it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman, a single woman situation. It was really hard for her. And I don’t know, because that place is not safe, or something, that they are putting them in prison for some months. And then they have to do their interview in the prison. And they have to wait for the results in that moment. They can go out if it was positive.

And the other thing that I wanted to talk about, it was the safety of the camp. The time that I arrived here, in my Dublin interview, the thing that person told me, it was really funny. He said that in Greece, that they protect you, because all the things that’s happening in your country. But it was not true. Because in my country it’s not safe because [of] bombing and everything happening there. But I always – I saw a lot of fight, a lot of violence in the camp. And the time that I asked police, it was a lot of police there, but like a robot, or like a stone, they didn’t do anything to protect refugees. And they were there. I remember when we asked them for help they say that if they attack you, you have to answer. If you want to, you have to go and protect yourself. And they didn’t do anything. I remember, people had their knife and their handmade sword to protect themselves and their family. And they were just walking in front of the police. Police didn’t do anything.

JENNIFER
So the presence of the police was very evident. But they were only there to carry out particular tasks in the times of putting people in jail or deportations.

ZAHRA
Exactly.

JENNIFER
Okay. While you were talking, I had to think of what Natasha A. Kelly said in the sixth episode of our podcast about the dimensions of structural racism in Germany. And I remember she talked about the distinction that today in 2021 is still being made between humans: whose lives matter and whose lives not. Now, we know you were also involved with a self organized women’s group in Moria. Would you be able to share more about how you got involved, what demands you had, and what actions you organize?

ZAHRA
Yeah, I was involved. And the name of this group it was woman space, or WISH. Yeah. The other name is WISH. In that time in 2019, after one week that I arrived, I went to the place that they call that place OHF, or one happy family, it was a place with some language class, and also other class like music and dance for this kind of thing. And it was a place that it was, especially for the women. I went there and I met one of my friend there. It was not friend at moment. But she asked me, “Do you want to work?” I said, why not? It’s better than being in the food line in the camp – it’s really perfect to be here. And the small thing that I want to tell you. In One Happy Family, they distribute food. The food that they distributed there, it was really good – much better than the food that they distribute in the camp. Because of that, most of the people, they just walk for 45 minutes from the camp to this place, to just take the food.

JENNIFER
What was the name of the other place?

ZAHRA
It was One Happy Family.

JENNIFER
One Happy Family is the name of the place. Okay.

ZAHRA
Because of that, people they are going there. Okay, I said, why not, I want say I want to start working here. Because I don’t want to be in the line of the camp. And they are distributing food here – it’s good for me. And then I start being with them. Okay,

JENNIFER
What kind of activities did you organize?

ZAHRA
From the beginning that we had that place, we had some meetings with the women there. And also we had a lawyer once or two times per week that she came and some of the people if they have any question that they ask. And we had the assembly meetings there because most of the people heard some rumors about deportation or something in the camp, they came in that meeting and said okay, we heard these rumors and these, which one is true, which one is not? Okay, tell us and we had the people that they had the information to tell them. And we had the gynecologist that is related to the women that if they have any question that they could ask. That that place is related to the woman, not for the kids, not for the men – nothing. They had other place for them.

JENNIFER
I can resonate with that because it sounds much more like the women’s space we had in the school in the time of the [Oranienplatz] movement. And it’s interesting to see this concept easily adapted in places where there are very extreme, bad living conditions. I think it’s a mode of survival. What were your demands in this self organized women’s group?

ZAHRA
It was, in the moment that we want to have a safe place for the women. And also, we want the camp be closed, you know. That is the thing most of the demand that they were asking for that. But we want as a woman to ask this directly from the government or from the world. And the other one is to stop pushing back. [What] people don’t know is police, or the other, are trying to push back people [when] the boat is sinking. The only person they are blaming [is] the person that’s just riding the boat. And that person also is a refugee, but they’re arresting that person, and they’re putting in the jail. Why? Because we lost people in that moment. But they are not blaming themselves that they were the people that they’re pushing them back. And most of these people, because that they’re just riding that boat, they have to be in the jail for 30 years, or they have to pay money. And yeah, and no one don’t know anything.

JENNIFER
Yeah, that’s really, really, really, really sad. Thank you very much for your input. We want to listen to a song that you chose and tell us something about the song.

ZAHRA
The name of the song is مي بوسمت, and the singer is Ghawgha, Ghawgha Taban.

 

[SONG: Ghawgha Taban – مي بوسمت] 

 

JENNIFER
We are back now again, and we are very happy to have Anna in the studio. Welcome Anna.

In the first part with Zahra, we talked about the EU border politics, especially being locked up and isolated in camps in the EU outer borders. As we know, many people are arriving through Greece or another entry [country] and then become illegalized, especially through the Dublin regulation when they decide to leave the first country they entered [through] in Europe. Just to shortly explain: the Dublin Regulation is a European Union law. It determines which country where the asylum seeker first entered Europe. The main aims of this regulation is, on one hand, to make sure that people do not make multiple applications for asylum in several Dublin member states, and on the other hand, to make deportations to these member states where people entered Europe for the first time easier and give a legitimation to them. So Anna, welcome to this program. Maybe you can start by introducing yourself.

ANNA
Yeah, thank you so much, Jennifer for having me. My name is Anna Kimani. I am from Kenya. I’ve been in Germany for the last three years. When I came to Germany, I came through Italy, on a Schengen visa. And then I came to Germany and I applied for asylum. They gave me like three months because they were communicating to Italy to see if Italy will accept to me. Italy did not respond and so they assumed lack of response means acceptance and so they issued me with a letter of deportation. On the day they were deporting me, they found me in my room. That is the day I was supposed to go for my social money. So meaning I had nothing in my pocket. And so I was surrounded by so many policemen in my room. They did not allow me even to go to the toilet or anything and they told me you can carry the things. We are taking you to Italy. So they took me to Italy.

When I landed [in] Italy, I had nothing in my pocket. I went through the procedures of – I mean the regulations of the police. I don’t know identification and so on. And then from there you are given a paper to tell you that now, the country is open for you to look for a place to stay. I remember I was in the street alone wondering what to do. I just stayed in one place because I was scared. I was scared of everybody I was seeing around because of the things that I was seeing. I would see so many black [people] taking drugs, and other women who are prostituting. So a lot of vehicles would come stop by me because they see my black color and they presume I’ve come for commercial sex work.

Then I decided to walk into a police station, it was almost raining and it was getting dark, asking whether they could give me a shelter. And the police department told me that this is not a lodging, go and look for lodging. But I had decided no, I will stay. Another policeman came and asked these other policemen: Why are you allowing this one to stay, I thought I said she should go. This is not a lodging place. Because it was raining, I decided to stay outside the police station until the rain stopped. And then from there, I started dragging my suitcase looking for a place to stay. I didn’t find any place, I found only an empty building. So I said, this place since it’s outside a building and it’s not raining, I can stay here. So I stayed overnight, in front of a certain building. The next morning is when I decided to call some friends in Germany. And they gave me a contact to a person they knew in Italy who decided to house me. And this man in this house, it was two rooms. And he had also so many people who are living there, like more than 10 people and all of them were men. We are only two women sharing one bed. Two women and 10 men sharing one bed. And so I saw this, for me, it was not a situation I could stay.

And so through just this person, I was able again to come back to Germany. When I came back to Germany, I was introduced to a Kenyan lady. The Kenyan lady said I can stay, I can house you as you take care of my my children. And so I accepted it very easily because of my desperation to look for a place to stay and to look for a means of earning money. So she gave me a domestic job. This included babysitting and taking her children to school and cooking and cleaning the house. So she promised to be paying me 200 euros per month. But later on, she changed she started giving me like 100 and then later on, she stopped paying me altogether. And while staying here it was kind of isolated for me because she would not allow me to talk to anybody. Or even when people come to house and they want to talk to me, she would prevent them. I think she wanted me to stay there and she thought that if I talked to people, probably I may go and get a better place to stay. So it’s like she was controlling me. And because I was still traumatized because of the deportation, she still could remind me, you know you are illegal, you know you are illegal, you know you are illegal, so you can’t be deported anytime. So, she she saw my desperation and fear of deportation in me and so she used this as an instrument to even exploit me more and abuse me more.

But later on I managed to get out of this place through my friend. And where I was given a house was not even better because again I experienced more problems there because it was a man’s house and this man wanted to also take advantage of me sexually. Later on, and again through networks like the International Women space, they took me and sheltered me and protected me from all these things that I had experienced in the past. Okay, while at IWS, I have been politically involved with empowering other refugee women through the program of [the] Break Isolation Group. And also, I got to also get involved in another network by the name of Respect which connected me to other women who are undocumented, called Casita. Casita means a little house. So they call themselves a little house. And so there are women who are undocumented and they come together, and they share experiences and they cook together. And they don’t pick the German language and they don’t know English – they only speak Spanish. So they are there to assist in case they want to go to see a doctor or they want to look for a job and they don’t know how to speak their language, so that they can get somebody who can translate for them.

JENNIFER
Thank you so much, because you have taken us through the journey of how you came to Germany, entered through a different country, and how you were deported, how you managed to get back to Germany after sharing the living conditions in Italy, the process of you entering and being exploited through the fear you had of being deported and being illegalized. My question to you would be, can you talk about the living and working conditions for undocumented women, for example?

ANNA
Yes. Many households in Germany, they depend on domestic workers. And without them, they cannot go to work in the productive economy. So work in private homes is highly unregulated and open to abuse and violation of human rights. In most cases, the working duties and hours are not clearly defined. It is cooking, ironing, taking care of pets, taking care of elderly, taking care of children. And you can work up to even 16 hours in a day, and the employer expect extreme flexibility and permanent availability. Despite our contribution to the economy, undocumented people don’t exist. They live in isolation, enduring humiliation, and exploitation at the same time living in constant fear of deportation. Some employers know that undocumented people fear deportation, and may threaten to call immigration authorities, when maybe an undocumented worker decide to complain. And because of our desperation to keep our jobs, we are forced to accept low pay and work long hours even without break. Some employers decide not to pay and withdraw all the wages altogether.

And when we are working in this place, these private homes, we are exposed to occupational health hazards. For example, the chemicals and detergent that we use for cleaning, they affect our skin. Sometimes, there is also workplace accidents. And because we don’t have insurance to cover for medical treatment, we end up not getting the right treatment. There is also a language barrier because when you are living as undocumented person, you are considered an illegal person and so, you cannot integrate to learn the language because you don’t have the necessary documents. And this further drives us into more depression, and more isolation. And in my case, I had to look for networks where I could get maybe connected to in order for me to start now getting places where I could start learning this language on my own.

JENNIFER
Maybe I can also ask you, why don’t illegalized women report this cases of situations where they endure the challenges that you have just named? Why don’t they report?

ANNA
The reason why they don’t report is they fear court proceedings because this may expose their status and so they will end up being deported. And social isolation resulting in lack of support from friends also make them not be able to report. Reporting may also affect their career. And they will lose their their only way of earning a living. At the same time, there is also fear of denunciation and subsequent deportation. Being a woman also there is what we call poor bargaining power so they choose to keep quiet, and in most cases, also feeling embarrassed.

JENNIFER
Thank you so much. What are some of the ways that women get illegalized?

ANNA
First of all, when when people enter European countries, they come with a temporary working visa. And the only visa that they get is a visa to work in private homes, others come with a tourist visa. Once this visa expires, they become undocumented. Some come as asylum seekers, and the asylum gets rejected, and then they become also undocumented. Others come via agencies, which often withhold their identity cards or passports until they have paid their full cost of the journey.

JENNIFER
You’re now in the campaign Legalisierung Jetzt (Legalize Now). What are the demands for this campaign?

ANNA
The campaign Legalisation Now, the major demands are two. The first demand is the comprehensive and immediate legalisation of all illegalised people living in Berlin by granting them permanent resident title using paragraph 23.1, a law that says that a group of people can be given a resident permit based on humanitarian grounds. We see illegalized people as falling under this category because of their living and working conditions. The other demand is to abolish paragraph 87, according to which employers are allowed to denounce the existence of a person who is illegalized and report them to immigration authorities. Those are the two demands.

JENNIFER
Okay. And how do you see yourself connected to other migrants in other European countries? Because I think the case of illegalized people is a European thing.

ANNA
Yeah, nearly all domestic workers in other European countries work without resident permits. And the subject of legulisation also preoccupies other migrant groups in other European countries. There has been significant breakthrough for the rights of undocumented migrant workers in, for example, UK, Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland. So legalisation campaign borrowed the idea to legalise illegalised migrants from women in Spain. And so we started the legalisation campaign.

JENNIFER
That’s very interesting. It’s very good to see how women come together and start fighting for the rights of other women. People say women are not political and I’m wondering, what are we all doing if we’re told we’re not political? I just want to ask you, ANNA, what is being illegalised? How does that come that term come in? What prompts that term of illegalisation?

ANNA
Being illegal in Germany means that you don’t have the necessary documents to be in this country. So if you don’t have any documents, it means you are living in this country illegally and so you are considered a criminal.

JENNIFER
Okay, when you become illegalised, it means you cannot get the the basic needs that you need in order to survive. What does it make people do in these circumstances? What does it force people to do? Is there any reaction, any results as as a means of being illegalised?

ANNA
Yeah, because you need to survive, you do anything. You’ll accept any job that comes your way. You will do prostitution, for you to to get money to feed yourself or money to pay your rent, you will do cleaning jobs, you will be employed as a domestic worker.

JENNIFER
Okay. And in this situation of being ilegalised, is there a way that you are able to get out of it? What does it entail to get out of this thing the state puts you in?

ANNA
The way to get out of this illegalised situation is, for instance, you get married to somebody who has a German residence, or you get a child. You apply [for] asylum and then through the asylum process, if you are lucky and you are accepted, you can be given a residence. Or if you go to school and do your training, maximum three years, you can also get papers to stay in this country. The other thing is what we are doing now, campaigning for legalisation, using pressure to the politicians by what we have done. We’ve written to them open letters, we have done demonstration in the streets, we have done open discussions, and we are using paragraph 23.1 to push for legalisation of illegalised migrants.

JENNIFER
There is a campaign, there is a slogan that we have been saying, “Kein Mensch ist illegal”, nobody is illegal. And I think we will continue to be loud and say nobody is illegal. Now we’re going to listen to a song. Anna, please introduce this song and maybe say what it is about.

ANNA
This song is by Eric Wainaina and it’s patriotic song about my country, Kenya.

 

[SONG: Eric Wainaina – Daima]

 

JENNIFER
Thank you so much for the song. It is a very strong patriotic song. I can see that. We are now at the end of our program. Thank you very much ANNA and ZAHRA for being with us today. We are really, really humbled that you were able to share your stories with us.

ZAHRA  
Thank you for having us.

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