Sahba Salehi

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I am twenty-five years old, from Afghanistan. I come from the Herat province, but not Herat itself. We lived in a village 70 kilometres away from Herat. I moved to Iran in 2019, and from Iran I went to Turkey. In 2020 I entered Greece and in 2021 entered Germany. I think it has now been about a year that I have been living in this camp. I came here with my wife and my daughter. I used to live together with my wife, but she left me six months ago.

Before leaving Afghanistan, I was working there. I worked in customs and when cargo came from Iran into the country, I would unload and move stuff. Then we decided to leave Afghanistan for good and we went to Iran. But life was also difficult in Iran. We lived there for seven months, but because Iran did not give any [residency] documents to us, and because there were deportations going on, we got scared and moved to Turkey. We didn’t know anyone in Turkey, and we didn’t know the language. We spent two months in Turkey, sleeping on the streets or in the stations. It was very difficult, so we again decided we wanted to leave and seek asylum in Greece. I would turn to anyone, and they wanted to take money from us to help us leave. We were told not to give them money because there was a chance that they would scam us. Then finally we found a smuggler to take us to Greece.

We were in Greece for five months, on an island, before we found out we got accepted. When we entered Greece, we were first placed in a camp called Moria. This camp was just in the forest, and some time ago it caught fire. We were just living in a tent, and it was hard to live. After this, we were told that we should leave the camp and live on our own. Since I didn’t know the language, we didn’t have much money, so we went to Athens. In Athens we stayed in Park Victoria for seven days, we slept there. The police saw us and took us into a prison, where they would only feed us every ten days. They didn’t do much to us in the end; they just told us not to go to the park again and warned us that the police would be harsher with us next time. After this, the police took us to a camp called Schisto. We were there until we got our ID cards from Greece, but the living conditions were very difficult for us and for our child. Because of this, we decided to come to Germany and applied for asylum here. I am now waiting for the response on my application.

I never thought I would end up in Germany one day. I was on the way to Iran, and from Iran I somehow ended up in Turkey. Now, thank God, we are happy about life here. I just can’t explain the decision to come to Germany … sometimes I ask myself, how did you end up here?

Life in Germany

When we came to Germany, we were in München at first, then we came to Berlin and applied for asylum. The asylum case was ongoing there, so we were sent to Eisenhüttenstadt, then to one other camp, and now here. After we got to this camp, my wife separated from me. She used to come visit our daughter every month, or every two months, but now it’s been almost three months that she has not come.

When we arrived in the camp here, they gave us stuff and furniture for the room. They have given us a card for going to the doctor, so we won’t have to pay the fees. They have also given us an ID card. A couple of months ago there was a class here that we went to twice a week and studied for one hour. I’m not sure why, maybe Corona, but this class was cancelled later. It was a nice class; I was learning. Every week I could learn some words there, but now it has been shut down. Since then, I have been here and nothing has really happened. We got the documents when we arrived and have been in our room since then. We’re just waiting for now.

It’s one year since I have been here. I would love to study something. I don’t know the language now and a language class has not been found for us. I did go to Berlin a couple of times with a letter from the office of my camp. There they told me I need to have a document to be registered in class. I have been talking to the office for some time now, but they couldn’t find a class yet. Other than that, I’m always in the camp, I do not do anything special. Because I have a child, I can’t just go to work; I’m bound by her. I have also asked the office for a kindergarten place for my daughter, but nothing has been found. We are both waiting for classes to be arranged. So that we can learn something.

It’s really difficult not knowing the language. I am suffering because of it, because I can’t speak. I am getting depressed. When someone comes from the office or some post comes, I cannot understand what they are saying. I should go to someone to get help and ask them to translate for me, but it’s very hard. I have a neighbour here who speaks my language; he’s a nice guy. When he is not at work, I can go to him to get help. When there’s a letter in post, he tells me what it is and helps me. With the other residents here I just have neighbourly greetings, nothing more.

We are from a war-torn country. It was very difficult for us in Afghanistan, and we had to leave the country. Thank God we are in Germany now. I am happy here, both with the people and the government, and the services are all very good for us. Because we have come from a country where we only experienced hardship and misery, I am happy now here. I can study here, I can make something for myself, for my daughter. If we were there, I couldn’t have done anything. I don’t mind this for myself, but it’s worse for my daughter, because she’s a girl. In Afghanistan, women have nothing. But here, even if I don’t achieve anything, my daughter can become somebody.

I don’t have any contact with people really. I don’t speak any German. I just go to the grocery store to do the shopping, and when they calculate the total, I see the number on the thing and pay the money. If it is like twenty euros, I give thirty and then the woman tells me no, that it is enough. I don’t know, because I have never gone to school before. Even when I want to study on my phone, it is difficult because of the child being around me. If she went to kindergarten, I would be able to think more freely, and could try to study something on the phone. But she is with me twenty-four hours of the day. Wherever I go, she has to be with me. She does have some playmates here, but they go to kindergarten until two or three in the afternoon. After they come back, they play together sometimes. She’s just a child, you know. She is now learning a bit of German and can speak with the kids who are here. She’s a child and her brain just works better.

I never studied in Afghanistan either; never learned anything. I am illiterate. In Afghanistan, it was at first a bit possible to study, but then the Taliban sent letters to the school where we were studying, warning parents not to send their children to school and that they would bomb the school. My dad told me I could go to school if I like, but that they might bomb it, something might happen. At that time, I was in first grade and had been going to school for a couple of months, but I never went again. After that I never had a chance to study again. When I was 12 or 13, I started working and was working until I came to Germany. Now the situation is even worse in Afghanistan. Who would leave their country to suffer on the sea and in the forests? We experienced lots of misery until we arrived here.

My family has also left the country. Before Afghanistan collapsed into the hands of the Taliban, they lived there. After the Taliban took over, my family left the country and entered Iran. Now I’m not sure. They called me once and said they live in Iran.

Integration / Living in Germany

It is true that we are coming from an Islamic country, but now that we are living here, when we have been accepted here, we should start living like Germans. We should throw away the thoughts we had while in our county, and live with the conditions that they themselves are living in. It is not possible that the Germans live like this, and I live the old life that I had in Afghanistan. I should become like them, to see how they live, and learn life from them. For example, how they treat people at work, I should learn to be like that. The life we were living in Afghanistan was so different than life here. The living conditions are so different here, so I should become similar to them. We have seen nothing other than misery in Afghanistan. We should learn life from the Germans. They are living a life. We were not really living.

Hopes and Future

I should first go to a class to learn the language. Some time ago they told me I should go to work, to do some training. So, I went to this place for a painting job, I think they call it malen in German. I registered there and they told me I should come to work, but because I am with my child, I can’t wake her up at 5 am and go to work. I just applied for the job there, and I have not heard anything back. They told me I could find a kindergarten for my child, and I said that if I had that, I would have no problem. I would love to start from somewhere, so that I can reach my goal. I told them that I don’t know the language. There was this woman there, and I told her that I can’t understand what she is saying. They translated for me and said she could help me and find classes for me. Maybe one or two times in the week. Then she said we could find some classes for my child in the city I live in. But I don’t have any news from them either. It’s been four or five months. No news.

So, the most important thing is that we find classes for me and my daughter, so that I can learn something and start from somewhere. For example, if I go to work, and they tell me to bring this pen, but I don’t know the language, I don’t know if they are telling me to bring the pen, or the book. It is really difficult. If I could study for four or five months, and communicate a bit with people, have contact with people, I could learn the language faster. Now when I go to the park with my daughter and someone comes to ask me something, I just look at them and tell them I don’t understand. They say “ok, ok” and just leave.

I would like people to know of my experiences. If I share my experiences, people will know life has been difficult for us. If you lived in Afghanistan, or you lived in Iran, maybe you know what the situation is in a county like Afghanistan. But other people don’t. A couple of days ago I went for my interview, and there they asked me why I have lived there for twenty-four years and never studied? Well, I told them that there is always war in my county; the Taliban is there, and they just want people to be illiterate. Now in Afghanistan, ninety percent of people don’t have literacy. Since I have come to Germany, I have realised that I wasn’t really living at all before, I swear to God. The people here are really living, and their children are literate. They study, and they are very different than us, the immigrants. They think of us as people from behind the mountains. We have never had life like this. Little by little, I am seeing now how people are living.

** This interview was conducted in Farsi and then translated in English and German. A summary in Farsi is here: 20220215 Emad_Farsi

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