Latest posts by Hans Blokland (see all)
- Anthropologist Genevieve Soucek new intern at SSW - May 23, 2023
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I am 33 years old and have been living in Germany for more than 6 years now. I live with my husband, my 6-year-old daughter, and my 10-year-old son in a transitional refugee camp in a small town in Teltow-Fläming. We are Palestinians and originally come from a small camp in Lebanon. There were no more than maybe 100 people in the camp, and everyone knew each other. I lived with my mother-in-law; it was very difficult to find a place of our own. My husband didn’t always have work and an income. He could occasionally work in construction or as a gardener, but these were always short-term jobs. At the end of 2015, we decided to go to Germany. Above all, I wanted a better future for my children and had also read on the Internet that women in Germany can work, get an education, and build their own careers. I myself went to school until ninth grade and trained as a secretary for a year, but I would have liked to continue my education and get a job. Of course, my husband also hoped to find work in Germany.
We had heard in 2015 that it was easier to emigrate to Germany. We paid a human smuggler. First, we went to Turkey and then on an overcrowded rubber boat to Greece. I was very afraid that the boat would leak, and we would drown. It only took an hour, but in my memory it is an eternity. In Greece, we were in a police cell for a day and a half. We were given only water and some cookies. After that, suddenly we could leave. We travelled by cabs, buses, and trains through the Balkans until we arrived in Germany. We were mainly traveling at night, and I don’t remember much. My son was four years old and my daughter, whom I held close the whole time, was still a baby. In total, the trip took thirteen days. It was very difficult, and I cried a lot. I don’t remember where I crossed the border into Germany. But the first refugee camp I remember was Eisenhüttenstadt. We were there for about six weeks. After that, we moved into this container villager and have been living here ever since.
We have two small rooms for the four of us. We share the toilet, the shower and the kitchen with all the other residents. This is not always easy. Everyone cooks differently, and the smell of all the other food is sometimes unpleasant. We never cook and eat together; we eat in our own rooms. The containers are made of iron and in the summer the heat is often unbearable. In Lebanon we are used to this heat, but our houses there are not made of iron.
My husband’s health has deteriorated in recent years. He was not allowed to work because our status – we had no papers – was not confirmed. Since he can’t sleep at night, he does it mainly during the day. He smokes way too much and drinks coffee non-stop. He is constantly busy with his cell phone, watching movies and YouTube. He’s depressed, and of course that weighs on all of us. We are all sad. After a long search, we found a therapist for him in Berlin, but then it turned out that he was only allowed to have therapy in Brandenburg, due to the insurance. After that, my husband didn’t feel like it anymore. He also doesn’t want to learn German anymore. One day he says he will, the next day he has no strength to do it. The best thing for him would be to have a job. That would bring structure into his life. But at the same time, I don’t think he can go back to work right away in his current condition. He needs help first. He hasn’t done anything for seven years. One day he says he would like to work, and the next day he says he can’t bring himself to do it.
The last two years were very difficult because Corona prevented the children from going to school or daycare for a long time. There were four of us in the two small rooms. At certain times, when many people had Corona, we were only allowed to leave our rooms to go to the bathroom and shower. We had to cook in the rooms, and the rooms began to feel smaller and smaller. I had to help the children with their homework, which we received from the school via the Internet. The containers are made of iron, so the reception is very bad. I had to hold my cell phone near the window or out of the window to get any reception at all. Also, I often didn’t understand the assignments in German and had to translate them with an app before I could explain to the kids what was required of them. When we weren’t doing homework, we were watching TV. The boredom, the forced inactivity, is very hard.
By now, almost everyone in the camp has been vaccinated three times. The camp director did not put any pressure on us. He explained to us what the vaccination was and advised us to get vaccinated. We asked for time to think about it, and then almost all of us did it. The problem with our facility is that you can’t isolate anyone. In other camps, they have separate rooms or buildings for that. In ours, they could only lock people in their rooms, but since they had to go to the shared bathroom and shower anyway, everybody got infected. This is what happened with Omicron, and everyone got infected.
When the school is open, I take the children to school in the morning. Then I clean, wash, shop, cook and everything else. I am on my own. I also help the other residents with translation. I speak German better than most, so I go along when they have something to discuss with the camp director, the school, the daycare center, or the authorities.
Whenever I have time, I like to go for a walk outside. I also used to do a lot of jogging. My favorite activity is cycling. That’s great. That’s my hobby. Along the water and in the woods it is beautiful.
We have received a lot of help from a German volunteer named Brigitte. I can call Brigitte anytime. The teachers at the school are also very nice. I also have no problems with the director of the home. I don’t have any German friends, and my husband certainly doesn’t.
We are afraid of the immigration authorities. Every time we had to go there, we couldn’t sleep the night before. Although we always have an appointment, we often have to wait two hours or more in the waiting room. This causes more and more stress. I can’t understand that. The people are very unfriendly. It has happened that while we were talking, they were talking to someone else on the phone for half an hour about something else. But thanks to Corona, we didn’t have to go there anymore. Everything was done in writing. That was a great relief.
I wear a headscarf, and sometimes the Germans comment on that. On the street or on the train, they make aggressive remarks and insult me, even in front of my children. I think that’s the worst thing. You just don’t do that, I think; the children take it all in.
My German has become good. I’ve mastered it almost to the B2 level. Every Monday and Thursday I study B2 from the textbook with Ines, and when I’m done, I’ll take an exam in Berlin. I have been told that it will be easier for me to get an education if I have B2. My children speak fluent German now and they help me improve my German.
My husband is still at level A2. We have been looking for a German course for him in Berlin, but they are too expensive. Since we don’t have a passport, we have received less financial support. My husband and I both receive 170 euros per month. There is no money left for a German course. Since we only have a tolerated status, we are not allowed to attend the regular courses.
The children are doing well in school. My daughter is very cheerful and open. Unfortunately, she has asthma and catches colds very often. However, my son is very shy and finds it difficult to fit in. Sometimes they play with other children on the playground. Occasionally they are invited to play at classmates’ houses. These kids or other German kids have never been to the camp. That is not allowed.
I myself did an internship at the daycare center. People wanted me to stay, and I also liked working there very much. But since our status is not determined, I was not allowed to continue. I want to do an apprenticeship to become a social assistant. Then I can work in a daycare center or as a geriatric nurse. I would like to do that.
We applied for a Palestinian passport at the Palestinian consulate in Berlin. The social worker said that as soon as we have this document, we can work or do training. The application process takes six months. We are waiting for it now. In two more months we will know the results. We don’t know what the chance is to get this document and what exactly the decision will be based on. They have told us that they can also decide against it, but we don’t know why they would do that. We will have to wait and see.
My husband has two brothers living in Germany. One is married to an Arab woman who has a German passport. That is why he can live and work here. He has no problems and can do everything. The other brother was in Berlin from the beginning and not in Brandenburg. We don’t know why, but after two years he got all the papers and is allowed to work. It is different in Berlin than in Brandenburg. We don’t understand why. We have many acquaintances in Berlin, and for them it is different. For example, they get a permit for two years, but we only get one for two months. I don’t know why. It’s just a coincidence that we are in Brandenburg and not in Berlin.
Recently we have been allowed to look for our own little house. We would prefer to stay in the small town where we are now. The children would not like it if we went somewhere else. My son cried for a long time when we told him we might move to another place. But it’s hard to find anything here. Everything is so expensive. However, if there is no other option, we will move to a place where the rents are lower. The most important thing now is that we finally have our own home and don’t have to live in the containers anymore. Then we can both start working and build up a life for ourselves and the children.
This interview was conducted in February 2022 in German. The names have been changed. Akilah has agreed to publish the interview.