Sahba Salehi

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I am from Ahvaz, province of Khuzestan in the south of Iran. I am 38 years old, married and have a 16-year-old daughter. I arrived in Germany in 2019. In Iran, I had an interior design business. I worked there for 15 – 16 years. Since I have been here, I did a German course for a year and the integration course. Then it was Corona and everything closed. After that I started to apply for my driver’s licence. I got my licence, and now I have been waiting for a work permit for a few months. I don’t know, I think the immigration office is too busy with all the Ukrainians who have arrived here. So, I’m just waiting.

I arrived here at the beginning of 2019. At first, I introduced myself in Berlin. I was in the Spandau camp for a month, and then Eisenhüttenstadt, and then Doberlug, and now here. I have been here three whole years.

My [asylum] application case was totally a real one. You could search it on the internet; all the names in my case were real. I have two uncles killed by the Islamic Republic. One was in prison in Iran in the early 2000s. They first announced his release and then said that he had committed suicide. The other was shot to death. My family have changed their surname, but because we are Arab, there is a family tree, and it’s all documented and real. One other [relative] was also killed in the 80s, during the 88 mass executions [of political prisoners], in a prison. He was a cousin of my father.

[In the interview] they asked me when I had converted to Christianity, and I said that I had not. They asked me where I had been going to Church, I said I had never been to church. Whatever I said was the truth. And I told them about the problem I had faced when in the country. Because of my job, I was in contact with different people and different offices. I had a customer who was a Sepah (IRGC – The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) employee. We became friends and got really close in a short time. We learned a lot about each other. We got into a disagreement with each other, and it got worse and worse and had nasty arguments. One day, he got hold of my mobile phone, and he had seen me use the password several times, and he saw the stuff I had on my phone, and based on that started threatening me. I moved my house to another province, but the threats did not stop. People told me it was getting really bad. I thought when I got here, and could save myself, then maybe I could bring my family soon. Now I have been here for more than three years. My family is still in Iran. I was on the way for about four months, through Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and then into Germany.

In the interview I had at BAMF (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge), they told me if you just close your eyes, and you are back in Iran, what would happen? I said I would have a stroke out of fear. They said, then will you preach/promote Christianity? Like teaching it. I said no. They asked why. I said because I would be afraid, it is dangerous to do it there. And then at the time [in Iran] I had less knowledge on Christianity. I’m not saying I know it all now either, but I know much more than before. So, I told them that no, I would be scared to do it. And then they asked what about doing it here? I said if I know enough and I have the competency to do so, because this is a free country here, I wouldn’t be afraid, and will be happy to do it. That was it. And there has been no response [on the case]. I asked my lawyer, what should happen now, that the court has requested this stuff. He said we’ll hope that we’ll get an appointment early in the next year, in 3 to 4 months into the new year, hopefully a court appointment, or a one-year residency permit, some news. And no news has come.

And here, unfortunately, no matter how much you try to live a good life, and observe the rules, and not go against the law, do everything the right way, you won’t reach your goal. I don’t know, this is how I have understood it from living here, maybe it’s not exactly correct. I have now been waiting for 3 to 4 months for the work permit, and there are people who have been working in the black market during this time, and have made like ten thousand euros. It’s not like I’m jealous of the money they are making. My problem is that I came here with the idea that it will be fair here, there will be no discrimination, and if you observe the law, then you get supported. But sadly, you see that [it’s not like that].

I have had high anxiety even before, in Iran too. Both anxiety and stress. I had a medical case there, and took medicine. Living in the camp here has taken a toll on me, but they won’t give us the housing permit. I had two roommates who were addicts and would use heroin in our room. I was asleep in the room, and they were taking drugs. And I got into trouble with them. I told the Chef here several times. They changed my room. Then the roommate who slept above me would secretly use heroin. He left and became homeless, and then I got another roommate. All these problems at that time got me hospitalised and they brought me to a psychologist from Potsdam. And I told them I won’t go to the mental hospital and won’t take the prescribed medication either. I had high anxiety but I didn’t have a mental issue that would cause me any problems. Then I made a promise to go see a doctor myself. I never did that. But I just want to get away from this subject. I am escaping from this stress, and sometimes it is really bad, but I try not to speak of it, not to think of it, and that’s why I never followed up on it to have proof for my case.

Work Permit

I can get a work permit. Any company that I want to work for, the permit should be in their names and on my Ausweis, saying that this company is allowed to employ until this date. When I got here, my case was reviewed in the 4th month of 2019. End of 2019 my case was reviewed again. My lawyer gave me an appointment, and asked me for some documents, what I was doing, and some questions about Christianity and I answered all of that. I gave them all the documents about my charity work with the church. A month later, they told me that the judge had said your church letter is too old. I got a new letter, and since then my case is just inactive, no news of it. The housing permit is also just arbitrary. They give it to people if they want to. In Berlin you see that everyone has the permit. They give it with a permanent job contract and payslips, but it’s not guaranteed. We have people here with the contract who still don’t have the [housing permit].  And there’s also people here who have been jobless for five to six years, and then got their work permit in only a couple of days and their housing permit in a couple of days too. It’s all based on luck. I mean there is no guarantee for anything. They just act as they like. Whereas they should get the housing permit after 18 months of living in the Heim, but I don’t know why they don’t.

I went to my lawyer and asked if it was possible to make a written commitment that I don’t want any pension money from the government, and will support myself financially, but be able to get a house and not stay in the Heim. But they said no, and it’s in their hands, and there has been no response since. I have two major problems. One is housing, and the other is bringing my wife and daughter here. Because if my daughter turns 18, even if I have residency, I won’t be able to bring her. She has had many issues because of me being away too. She is an only child and very attached to us. These past two years, because of the classes being online she could go back and forth to her grandparents, but the distance is too much. Her maternal grandmother has gone to live in another city after the trouble I got into. They were also threatened, and after my father-in-law passed away, they moved to another city. There are so many problems, so many that I won’t be able to talk about them all in just one interview. I am scared for their safety and they have suffered greatly because of this situation.

About living in the Heim here, I don’t care anymore at all. I mean I don’t care about anything. I have had so many troubles that now nothing is important. You can see it here, how it looks, it’s not clean at all. Nothing works properly here. Nobody does their work right. In the first couple of months when I didn’t know any language, I would call my friend and put it on speaker so that they could translate. I have told them of my problems several times, but they don’t do anything. They say it’s not a hotel here. Even one day I was so upset that I stayed and said then let’s wait for the police to come and solve our problem, because we were just fed up. They said if the police came, they would take you back to your countries. I had just arrived and didn’t know much and believed it and then didn’t say anything.

Everyday Life

Nothing special. I just wake up in the morning, and I do some grocery shopping. Then I sit like retired people. I do some Wiederholung of German, to study. And just wait for my case, I can’t do much else now. I don’t have any other plans, just waiting to find a job to go and work.

I have a very old friend who lives here in Germany, has permanent residency, and I have a brother here too, who came around the time I came here. These are the closest people I have, otherwise I’m very peaky and sensitive in my relationships. But there are people that I talk to, but I am not close to them.

The German people I know are the ones who work in charity. I’ve known them for three years. If there’s some work they contact me, or if I have something to ask, I call them. Other than that, just sending greetings, or birthday wishes, or new years and that’s it.

The charity work I have done, it’s been in different places. At the time there was no Corona yet. There was a Gymnasium in Berlin I remember I went to. There we worked a lot; I mean for two whole days we did some heavy work. For the whole big school, we took away all the stuff, and prepared the rooms, and made decorations, or wrapped gifts. The next years with Corona, we did some sorting out of the stuff that people had donated, and sorted them for children to old people, matched them with the people that we had on the list. Last year too, there was a church in Berlin that I painted. This Heim too, I painted here as well. Then yeah, whatever I could help with I did. I have been a member of the Caritas in this town for two years now, but they told me that because of corona they can’t do many activities. I have the membership there too, and I have asked them a couple of times, but they said that there was no work, and they have fewer staff now.

Knowledge on Germany from Before

I didn’t really know anything about Germany, and the fault is with our bad culture. If you talked to some friends who were abroad, like Germany, or Netherlands, or the US or Canada, we have many relatives who live everywhere in the world, because of our situation in the country they have all fled everywhere, I think we always talk in a way not to diminish ourselves.

Yes, the government gives you pension here, but they [friends] don’t tell you how much they will pay you, that it doesn’t cover your cigarettes even, and they say yes, if you get jobless here, there will be pension, yes there is support but to the point that your human dignity is preserved, and this is really good, we don’t have it in Iran, but I mean they make it sound so colourful and dreamy that you get the wrong idea. But they don’t tell you what happens when people do not get the residency, that you might have to live for several years in the Heim, or what is family reunification at all? I mean if I had known these things, … I wanted in the first place to go to the Netherlands, and they told me that no, if you go there, you won’t get an answer, and you won’t have a work permit, and that Germany is different, and so I stayed in Germany. I didn’t know much and didn’t know about the rules and regulations, and the people I had talked to were all praising the country they were living in, and never told the other truth.

I don’t know if I can explain this well, but you see, when the life conditions worsen up to 70 percent, if I am a sensitive person and have not experienced something like this before, it will be 100 percent difficult for me. For someone who has had a hard life, has been through a lot, either financially, or someone who is naturally stronger and with higher spirits, the same condition will be only 10 percent difficult. When you don’t have privacy even in the space you’re supposed to sleep, I feel like nobody is their true self and is not the real person that they should be. When I first arrived here, I had to fight everyone that knocked on the door before coming into the room. Someone was like changing and the guy would just walk in the room. Everyone behaved like that. And when I did knock on doors before entering, they would make fun of me ‘where do you think you are that you knock?’ I would say nowhere, but we are the same people as before, and even if this place is hell, I know myself [to be like this]. This is just a tiny bit of the problems I have. I don’t care anymore really. Sometimes I tell myself that if there was a chance that was no threat over my head [in Iran] I would not stay here.

People here like me, and I help everyone. There is an Iraqi guy here. I only know a bit of Arabic, a handful of words maybe. I teach him German. He’s been to a course but has not learned much. I try to practice reading with him. And he doesn’t know how to read Arabic too, so that he can write the meanings. I take photos of the pages, and I record the text and tell him to listen and practice. He’s getting better now. And when I got my drivers licence, I found a very good driving school for the other guys to go to. I mean people here like me, but I don’t feel well, don’t feel happy.

My brother who lives in Berlin, this month it will be a whole year that I have not been to his place. Although he does invite me a lot, and we are close, we’re just one year different in age. Or another close friend who lives close by, I haven’t been to his place for nine months now. Because I don’t have a place myself, I don’t feel good about going to their places. But if I had a house I would invite them every weekend, and they would invite me too. I don’t want them to think that I’m going to their place because I live in the Heim. It’s difficult one me, but then what can be done?

Future

Because I married at a young age, and started at a young age, and I always loved working, I am used to working. Whether I’m in a good situation or a bad one, I need to work and live like people. But the only hope that I have is for my daughter to come here. I don’t have any other hope, no other hope for living or from Germany. Otherwise, I will live like every other person, with whatever residency status that I have. One should live anyway.

I have read the Bible here. In my interviews they asked me if I had a Bible? I said no. They told me it is sold in Iran. I didn’t know about that. Then when someone here gave me a Farsi Bible, it made a real impact on me. If they had not asked me to get a letter from the church for my court, I would have never done such a thing. Because they want documents to prove, otherwise I think this is against Christianity. I got the letters from the church I went to in the temporary camp in Berlin, and now the one in my town where I have been a member. I think I have changed a lot in this regard. Other than that, my mental state is not good at all. I tried to do everything the right way, but it didn’t work and now nothing matters to me. But I really get upset when I think of it. I only want my child to come to me, because this has affected her a lot.

I haven’t had good experiences at all. Nothing good. I have German friends with whom we gather sometimes for charity work and they are good people, and if I asked them something they would do it for me, but I haven’t done that so far. There are two Ukrainians too, who have been living here for years in Germany, and they are very nice women. But living in the camp makes one totally crazy. There are people who have been traveling from country to country, six years in Iran, 4 years in Turkey, 5 years somewhere else. They don’t care if they live in the camp or in their house. People are different, but it’s really bad that they get treated the same way. Like they don’t care if someone is here trying to integrate, or if someone is just sitting using drugs, they don’t consider this. These things slowly crush me. There are people from Afghanistan who have residency but don’t go to get a house. But for us we would work and pay all the salary but not live in this condition. And there’s also the age differences. There are Afghan guys here, around 18 or 20, they were 15 when they arrived here. They bear with the situation much better. If I had gone here at 15 or 18 here, even if they gave me a house I wouldn’t go and would say I can’t be alone and want to be with my friends. At some point you change. Well, yes, the main issue we have is the housing permit, even if I pay all the expenses myself. And for me personally the main thing is to be able to see my family. Other than that, I haven’t had any good memories from here and the Heim. Perhaps some people are in worse situations, perhaps there are worse camps, but this is how I have seen it.

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