I am from Algeria and 32 years old. I belong to the Berbers, who live not only in Algeria but also in Tunisia and Morocco, mostly in the coastal region. We have our own cultural and religious traditions. However, these are increasingly suppressed in Algeria: Christian churches, for instance, are constantly being closed and turned into mosques; in areas where Berbers live, there is much less investment in schools and other facilities. With a number of friends, I had become increasingly vocal against this, with demonstrations and publications. We also wanted a separation between state and religion, we wanted fair elections and more democracy.

There was a mass protest against president Bouteflika in 2019 who tried to run for a fifth term. Because of these rallies he resigned and then the elections were postponed a couple of times. In the end, out of protest, only 40% of the people voted. All five candidates were part of the very same elite, against which the people had been demonstrating in large numbers all year long. Other candidates refused to run for office. Tebboune won the elections but he only got about five million votes. In Algeria, 25 million people have voting rights. Tebboune is silently supported by the military.

The elites were afraid for change. They made use of the Corona-epidemic to suppress any opposition. Intimidation in general became prevalent. They pick you up and you disappear into jail. You are there for a day, a week, a month, a year, and then suddenly they release you. There is no trial. Next time, however, you watch out to protest or become politically active.

After more and more of my friends disappeared, I decided to flee for my own safety. I went to Russia, the only country for which we did not need a visa. I was in Russia for two years, and then I came to Germany via Belarus and Poland. To Russia I came on a tourist visa, which expired after a month. Since then I was illegal. I applied for asylum but this was refused. I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg but met a construction entrepreneur in a smaller city who offered me a job. I then worked in construction as an electrical engineer, for which I was also trained. It was a good time in Russia, I had work, a place to live, a car, and friends. But I was illegal, which caused a lot of problems, including the inability to travel and leave the country. I have a younger sister who has been living in Morocco for two years, a brother who has been in San Francisco for a long time (he had acquired a Green Card through a lottery), and another brother who has been in Paris for ten years. Our parents have already passed away. I wanted to move to my brother in Paris. I speak French and therefore hoped to quickly find a job in France and integrate.

I traveled to the border of Belarus and Poland, and spent a week in the no-man’s land between the two countries. On my first attempt to cross the border, I was grabbed by Polish border soldiers and sent back. They first take everything from you, including your clothes, and you are beaten everywhere they can hit you. I first hid half of my belongings, which many do: when you are caught and sent back, you still have something to fall back on. If you do manage to cross the border, you call people who stayed behind and sell your hidden possessions.

Life in this border region is a jungle in which the fittest survive. Among each other, there is no solidarity. Solidarity, sharing food and drink or money, can greatly reduce your own chance of crossing the border and greatly increase the chance of dying. It is every man for himself. However, everyone is determined. One has no choice. The idea that one can persuade Afghans, Syrians or Iranians who, under often deplorable conditions, have made the entire journey into this no-man’s land to go back is foolish: going back means death for most; so one goes forward, and tries every again, no matter how many times one is beaten up.

The second time I managed to cross the border. A Pole was waiting for me with his car – we first had telephone contact. Phone numbers of these helpers or smugglers are exchanged among the refugees. He took me to his house, where I could shower and shave. This also to be less conspicuous. Then he took me with another car to the German border. At Guben in Brandenburg, I walked across the border – there is a bridge over the Oder that forms the border between the two countries. Then I took the train to Spandau, in Berlin. In Spandau I bought a ticket to Paris, on the ICE. Just as the train was leaving, police came and checked the papers of all the passengers. Papers, of course, I didn’t have and so I was taken away.

In retrospect, obviously, I should have taken regional trains. My life would have taken a very different course had I done so.

The police were polite and friendly. I applied for asylum. They gave me food and drink, and told me to report to Eisenhüttenstadt, the refugee camp where the people go upon arrival. There I was for about 10 weeks. Then I was taken to Wünsdorf. I have been here four months now. I already had my interview. It lasted more than five hours. They kept asking why I had left Algeria. I explained to them that I had a steady job, a home, a car, that all my friends are in Algeria, and that I really hadn’t gone to Russia for fun. Now I am waiting for their decision. I will never go back to Algeria. It is too dangerous for me. If Germany does not accept me, then I will try to go to England, or the United States, or France. Algeria, however, is history.

I am an electrical engineer and trained as a train driver, and in Algeria I had ten years of work experience. I also rode on streetcars, from Alstom. I have also seen them in Germany, I could drive off in no time. I would like to work again as soon as possible, it’s not good to sit still, you start thinking. Of course I have to learn the language and I’m working hard on that now. I master French, but I also speak English, Russian and Arabic.

Life here in the camp is ok. When you have been in Russia and Belarus first, you are grateful for everything you get. We share a room with six people; there is not much privacy. You have no control over who you share the room with. I am out a lot and wait until everyone is asleep before I go to bed myself. At night it’s restless here. There is a lot of noise. People scream in their sleep, others argue. Many are not doing very well.

I don’t have experience with Germans, of course. I have only been here for four months and am mainly in the camp. There are no Germans here.

The above conversation was held in the summer of 2023. In April 2024, I talked to Idir again. What had happened since then?

From Wünsdorf, I was transferred to a refugee shelter somewhere near the Polish border in northern Brandenburg. We share a room with two people. The camp has a total of about 85 residents. There is absolutely nothing to do here. There are no sports facilities, there is no community room, no activities or courses take place. We are in the middle of the forest. The nearest tiny village is two kilometers away. There is nothing to do there either. The last bus stops at 6:35 PM. If you miss it you have to walk 7 kilometers. There is a security guard. And four hours a week, Monday from 8 am to noon, there is a social worker. There is then a long line of people at his door with papers from agencies with which something needs to be done. Often the social worker doesn’t come at all. There is a sign on his door saying he is absent. It is unclear when he will come back. I don’t understand how people could integrate over here in Germany. There are people who have been here for almost a year. In that year they have only waited, nothing else.

For two months I have actually been living with my German girlfriend in Berlin. I only go to my refugee shelter to get the mail. We met in a dance hall in Berlin. I have always danced, also in Algeria: Breakdance and Brazilian dances like Salsa and Samba. I used to play Basketball as well. I do that again now in Berlin: I just go to squares where games are being played and join in.

I don’t know the status of my asylum application. I never heard anything more about it and I don’t know when they are going to take a decision. If it is negative, I will appeal. I very much want to work and in principle I am allowed to work, but I don’t get any support from the employment office or the German Immigration authorities. Hardly ever do you get a response when you write them. I was with the Deutsche Bahn; after all, I am a train driver. They asked me to drive on a streetcar (Ider shows me a video recorded with his Handy). All was well, as they concluded, I know my way around streetcars, after 10 years of work experience. But I had to learn German first, I was told. B2 I must have. So I submitted applications for German lessons, but I get no answer or they tell me to wait, because there are no courses available. Meanwhile, I am trying to learn German myself through the Internet, with books and with help from my friend. In Berlin it is not easy to learn German, though, because everyone immediately starts talking English to you. As things are now, I would like to stay in Germany, start working and build up a life.




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