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“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know from what you do.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

"My dear. A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears. "
- Violet in Downton Abbey

04 november 2015

Refugees Tell Us What Their Lives Are Like After They Make it to Germany



All photos by the author
"I thought Germany was supposed to be paradise. Everyone used to think that as soon as you got to Berlin, everything would be OK," says Ahmed Kanaan. The 19-year-old Syrian migrant is one ofnearly 1.5 million new refugees who are expected to enter Germany by the end of the year. Though the young man feels fortunate to have even made it to Berlin—around 3,000 have died crossing the Mediterranean this year—now that he's there he's asking the same question as countless other migrants: Now what?
The EU Migrant Crisis has been one of the most problematic and complicated global issues of 2015, with millions of people leaving war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Kosovo, thousands dying in the flight to safer lands, and countries like Germany and Austria grappling with how to handle the influx of displaced people.
But as the political leaders deliberate about who should be allowed in and how they should expedite the procedures, innumerable people who spent weeks risking their lives and abandoning their homes just trying to get to Berlin are continuing to suffer in a Kafka-esque nightmare as they drudge through a complex, erratic system of German bureaucracy in order to gain asylum. And they still might get deported.
No two refugees share the same story about getting to Berlin, and no two refugees share the same purgatorial experience while they they wait to actually start a new life in Europe. It takes days for some, and months for others.
Each person, however, starts by making his or her way through the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), or the State Office for Health and Social Affairs. LaGeSo handles refugee issues related to housing, health insurance, and BVG passes. The organization also lets individuals know when they can officially apply for asylum and German residency through Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, or the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees—a status that's needed before they can get an apartment or a job. If the multiple office set-up sounds confusing to you, imagine being a shell-shocked refugee who doesn't speak German or English. Essentially, LaGeSo is the first of multiple bureaucratic checkpoints that refugees need to hit before they can legally stay in the country.
Outside the LaGeSo office, refugees are given a number and are told to wait in lines from early in the morning to past sundown in hopes of getting called to be registered so they can gain access to slightly better accommodation at overcrowded camps in the suburbs of Berlin that the organization manages. But their number might not get called for weeks, forcing refugees to wait outside the LaGeSo building for hours on end as it gets colder and colder by the day. Once at the camps, the refugees must wait and live there until LaGeSo helps them apply for residency with the Federal Office for Migration and Residency—which could add months to the migrants' displacement.
But even the waiting game is high stress. The amount of people who are called each day fluctuates, and if you leave line for even five minutes, there's the possibility of missing the chance to get moved to the suburban camps. Plus, language barriers, racial biases, and extreme stress among the migrants, government workers, and volunteers combine into a ticking time bomb of emotional distress and confusion.

On weekends, LaGeSo is closed, so instead of waiting in line to be processed and hopefully get moved to nicer housing, the refugees are often left without options. To compensate for a lack of governmental infrastructure, ordinary citizens of Berlin have begun multiple grassroots organizations in order to provide more reliable housing, food, and other donations for refugees.
As they anxiously waited to gain official entry to Berlin, photographer Alexander Coggin and translators Qudsija Ansary and Yasmine Jamal spoke with a variety of migrants stuck in various stages of the asylum-seeking process. Some had made it through LaGeSo and were living in the refugee camps, others had been staying outside the government building for days waiting for their numbers to be called so they could get into the camps, and a few extremely lucky ones had made it out of purgatory and were just beginning to start their new lives. These are the stories they told us about their journeys to Berlin and what's happened to them since arriving.


Sarah Kohestani (right), 38, from AfghanistanDays since arriving in Berlin: 14
"On our way out of Afghanistan, there was an accident. We were traveling in a truck with 40 people, my leg got burned by the motor of the truck. I was sitting on the motor and it got hotter and hotter, but I could not move because it was so overcrowded and my leg got burned for almost two hours. This was at the border of Iran and Turkey, so there were no options for a doctor for the rest of the journey. I was not really able to walk and the wound got bigger and bigger, but no one cared. Everyone told me to go immediately to Germany because there were a lot of doctors, but no one is helping me and we've been here two weeks. There isn't even medicine for us. I just want to have a place where I can really sleep and see a doctor."

Aws, 30, from Homs, Syria, and Steven, 24, from Aleppo, Syria
Days since arriving in Berlin: 30
"When we got to Berlin, we looked for a place to sleep but were kept in a camp that had more than 60 people in one room. We stayed there three nights and there wasn't enough food. We went back to LaGeSo and I met one German girl. I told her I was with my boyfriend and that we didn't want to go back to the camp because they will notice [that we are gay] and it is dangerous. She introduced me to another girl who prepared for us a place to stay near LaGeSo. We told them about being harassed once for holding hands during our journey to Berlin and said we were still afraid of being hurt. She helped us find a place and gave us money for shoes. She also helped us buy bus passes and looked over our documents.
We are now living with a guy in his apartment and we are taken care of. LGBT people are helping us. They feel responsible for us. Now we're still waiting for our number to be called at LaGeSo. After we are residents we would like to get married. It's a free country so now we can kiss each other and be openly gay in front of other people. We'd like to work and learn—we didn't just come here to get money from the government. We'd like to be in a free country because we can't be ourselves in Arab countries."

Joud, 24, from Damascus, SyriaDays since arriving in Berlin: 30
"I was on the national Syrian soccer team and decided to leave after my girlfriend got murdered. I left Syria by walking, which took me 22 days. I ended up traveling from Turkey to Greece in a small boat, filled with 37 other people. The waves were so intense that the boat was very rocky and water came in and swept out a child. He was two, maybe three. And the boat wouldn't stop. If they were to stop and turn around, 37 people could die. So I jumped into the water and I grabbed the child. I saw an island called Samos and swam for one hour with the child in my arms. I was struggling to swim because I was wearing jeans and was only able to use my two legs and my right hand. The water was so freezing and I thought the child was dead because he took in a lot of water.
When I got to the beach, I started pumping on the child's chest and the water came out and he started coughing. I took off my shirt and wrapped him up in it to try and give him some warmth. I realized that there was nothing on the island, it was empty. I ate whatever I could get off the trees. I took some water from the sea and soaked my clothes and then laid it out to dry so the salt evaporated and we could drink it. After we were both stable, I carried the child and began to cross the island. I climbed over nine mountains, following paths that animals made. When I finally arrived to the police station on the other side of the Island, they took me to the hospital and I found the child's parents. I went to Athens and then walked to Macedonia. And then to Serbia. And then to Hungary.
On the way to Hungary I went with a smuggler in a truck. There were a lot of people squeezed into the back, but I sat in the front with the driver. The police pulled us over and the driver put his knife up to my neck and put his phone into my pocket. When the police approached the car, he threw the knife. When they saw the phone, they thought I was the smuggler because it was full of numbers from Serbia. They arrested me for one week and continuously beat me, even whipping my back as I was tied up. I eventually paid them 50 euros to leave and they gave me Hungarian paperwork. I went to Budapest and checked into a hotel.
The next day, preparing to leave, I opened my door and there were the police. I was so happy to show them that I had my papers, but they told me they were expired. The papers I was given expired after one day! They arrested me again for two days. When they let me go, I went to Austria. Then I found a smuggler who took me to Germany. When I arrived, the police arrested the smuggler, who was Italian, and took us to the police station. The German police were so good and so different. They even told us, "You are in Germany now. You are safe." I lost many things on the way here, but I will start again. I can do it. Even if it's hard for me. Nothing is impossible. After all this is done, I will start German courses and try to get my Masters in Finance. I can do it."
Continue your reading here as the original article is a long one: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/the-nightmarish-purgatorial-lives-of-migrants-after-they-finally-get-to-germany-111?utm_source=vicetwitteruk



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