Laila Keeling & Anjali Zyla
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We want to thank Malik for being so open and willing to share his story with us. It is often particularly difficult for Chechen refugees to tell their stories, because if they criticize Chechnya after fleeing, their families back home could face serious consequences. Due to these concerns, we have changed many personal details such as names of locations, ages, etc. to protect the identity of Malik and his family. For more information regarding the beliefs and experiences of Chechen refugees, we have linked an article here about workshops we conducted with Chechens in 2019.

We also want to note that throughout the 2.5 hour interview conducted in German, we noticed huge improvements in Malik’s ability to speak the language. As he states in the interview, despite living here for more than 2 years, it is his first time speaking openly with a German person. This interview thus illustrates once more the importance of open conversation between refugees and Germans.


I come from Chechnya. It is very difficult for me to talk about my country, and I almost never speak freely about this subject. But I can speak a little bit about Chechnya in general. In Chechnya there are people, maybe 20% of the people, who support Putin and his policies. Then there are about 60 or 70% of the people who don’t want to support these policies, but the violence that exists in Chechnya keeps people in fear. That’s why people are fleeing Chechnya. For example, I came to Germany because it was my only option. For other people, sometimes there are other possibilities, like Turkey or Ukraine, but of course there are problems with Putin in Ukraine now as well.

Yes, in my home there are very many problems, people can’t live freely there. In my home we have a dictatorship; a very strong dictatorship. If the authorities say something, you have to do it, otherwise there will be violence. For example, the authorities might come to me and say, “go to this mosque.” But I don’t want to go; I don’t want to have anything to do with these people, with this violence. But then I have many problems; then maybe the police will come to me, and will torture me. I can’t say the name, but in Chechnya there is one person, and all the police and all the power listens to this one person. Not Putin, but I can’t say who. All the people listen to this person, and then the police is his left and right hand.

Many people have problems there because they have no freedom. I also have problems with this authority. I am not criminal, I love rules. Rules make all people human. To live right, everyone must follow rules, but in my country there are no rules, it is a dictatorship.

The decision to come to Germany

Five years ago, my wife and I were in Germany for the first time as refugees. My cousins and uncle have been living in Germany for six or seven years. I have a cousin who is 25 and works in the dentist’s office. The first time I went abroad, I was very scared and I didn’t know where to go. I knew that I wanted to live near my cousin. So we came to Germany. We were in a refugee home in Eisenhüttenstadt for 3 months, then another three months in another home. After three months we received a tolerated status (Duldung). Then we got deported. The police came and took us to the border of Poland. In Poland we were in a closed shelter for one month. This shelter was like a family prison. My wife was very ill during this time, but we did not have a child yet. It was just the two of us in Poland. During that time, my family and friends told us that we could come back to Chechnya because there were fewer invasions. So we went back home, and lived there for two more years.

We lived these years, from 2016 to 2018, very peacefully. I worked a mini-job in 2017, in a school as a computer specialist, because I am an IT programmer by profession. In 2018, I got a full time job, as an IT specialist. In 2019, it got bad again with the home invasions. The authorities were looking for a lot of people, all over Chechnya, and they arrested a lot of people. They had no reason to arrest these people; it was bad.

Six of my friends were kept in prison for anywhere from two weeks to six months. There they were beaten a lot. The authorities would not let them go until they signed a paper. On that paper would be some lie that my friends would then have to sign. There were a couple of categories: It could say my friend has a gun, my friend is a terrorist, or my friend has drugs, even though my friend would never do those things. My friends and I are Muslims; we don’t smoke, we’ve never held drugs, we don’t have guns. There is another category – that my friends use criticizing words about our president. But we are way too afraid to speak freely with other people about our president. So my friends would never say criticizing words about him, that would be way too brave. My friends are brave, but these people have many weapons. They can just kill you with their guns. But you don’t get released from prison until you sign this paper.

My friend was in prison for two months, and when he came home, you could see that he had been beaten everywhere. He then escaped to Poland, had to wait maybe two or three days at the border, but then he was allowed to enter. The authorities were looking everywhere for my friend, everywhere in Russia. They threatened his parents, saying they would beat them to death if they didn’t tell them exactly where he was. But by then he was already in Poland, now he is in France, I think. I haven’t heard from him for one or two months.

It happened to me, too. These people came to my house and asked my mother and grandmother where I was. But I was no longer at home, and my grandmother said that she did not know where I was. When I had heard what happened to my friends, I hid in my uncle’s house and did not go anywhere. Nobody had lived in that house for almost three years, so I quickly renovated the house so we could hide there, and then I lived there. With my wife and our child. There were really a lot of invasions that year.

My friends all went abroad, and I wanted to do it too. Some of my friends went to Poland, or to France, many friends went to very different countries. They were also not all in Europe, I have a friend in Turkey and a friend still in Russia, but I don’t know where he is. He has almost disappeared. I haven’t heard from him for six months now. I decided I had to try again, to escape from my home country. But I had no idea where to go. Then I heard from my friend that there were ways to get to Germany. So, we tried this way.

We also considered maybe going to other countries abroad, but we still chose Germany. It was October 26, 2019 when I left my home country and I arrived in Germany a week later. From Chechnya I flew to Turkey, and from there I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina. From there, I came to Germany by plane. The whole trip was only about a week, I was in Turkey for only a few hours, and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina for just a few days.

Arrival in Germany:

When I arrived in Germany, they looked at my data the European way with the Dublin procedure, and saw that I had been to Eisenhüttenstadt before. So we went to Eisenhüttenstadt. We were in Munich for two weeks, then three months in Eisenhüttenstadt, and then in Wandlitz for four or five months, then to this home. We have been in this home for almost two years now.

In one of the homes I met two people, very nice people, they helped me a lot. The most important thing you need when you arrive abroad is not money, not even food, but the most important thing is that people say nice words to you. Support. These two people supported me a lot. Their names were Max and Johanna, they were both social workers and I think they both still work there. They were both very kind with me. For example, when I first arrived at the home, there was nothing there. However, I heard that there was a fitness room in another building nearby. I am very interested in fitness, so I went there, and Max was working there. I asked Max if I could do fitness there and he said yes, no problem. Then we started talking a lot together. Max was quite old and he had a very friendly personality. I think he was almost my friend.

Johanna also worked in the fitness room and I met her there too. This room needed to be renovated, it needed to be repainted. I offered my help. Max said yes and he also joined in. Then we were always there together and talked. For me, the most important thing in this home was just to speak. In the first month it is maybe not so important to talk, but in the second or third month, you are alone and then you have to talk.

Talking has always been hard for me. I am afraid. In my home country, it is hard to talk to other people because there are two sides. There are people who are for Kadyrov and people who are against him. So it’s hard to talk freely with other people because maybe they belong to the other side. There are other people in the refugee homes who are also from Chechnya, but I am a bit afraid of other Chechens. With other German people I can speak more freely. But I can’t talk normally with German people or families yet because my German is not so good. With the problem of the two sides, maybe it is better to talk with Germans, but I am not ready yet.

For me and my wife, there are two or three families in this home that we can talk to freely – they are also from Chechnya. There are very few people who can speak Russian or Chechen here. In the home, there are a few Ukrainian people, but they are all women. We are Muslim, and for Muslims it is not right for a man to speak to a woman without a reason. In this interview, it is ok that I talk to two women because there is a reason; we are doing an interview. But usually it’s difficult. But for my wife it’s ok, she can talk to the other women.

Life in the home

I have four children now, a few weeks ago my new child was born. When we arrived in Germany, my wife was already pregnant with our third child. Now we have four children. My children are not in daycare because there are no daycare places. A few months ago, I filled out a paper so that maybe later my children can get a place, but so far we have had no success. My oldest son is five years old, and I really want to find a daycare place for him. He is too old now to be in the room all the time. It is a stress for him to stay in the room all the time. I try to go on outings every day with my sons. There is a small sports field by the train station, and there is a playground outside, or sometimes I go on little bike rides with the kids. My second son can still keep himself busy playing with toys in the room, but my big son is not interested in that now. He needs to play with other children, and talk to other children. That’s why I want him to get a daycare place.

At first, my wife, my children, and I got a tolerated status. After one year, my wife no longer had this tolerated status, but I still did and I don’t know why. At the beginning, I got a deportation notice, but then my lawyer argued that I cannot go home, because there is a danger in my home country. It is too dangerous. Since then, everything has been calm. That was a year and a half ago. Now I still have a tolerated status. I don’t know if I can get a residence permit, but the director of the home said I have a work permit. Maybe if I go to the job center, they can give me a permit to do a mini job. Then, if I pass my B1-level German exam, I can do an apprenticeship in my profession, as an IT programmer or software developer. But I heard that for this profession you need B2. For me, this is a bit of a problem. But I will try to do a vocational training first, if I can’t find that, then I will find another job. I think this is the best way for me.

I once asked at the adult education center if I could do an A2 course. I was able to learn A1 quickly, but I needed help with A2. I asked, but they told me I can’t do it because I have a red line on my papers – a tolerated status. So, I can’t get an A2 course. Here in the home there are sometimes mini German courses for 1 or 2 months. That’s good, because then I can learn and speak a little bit. But I mostly study alone in my room. I have books in our room, and I can use the internet. So soon I will take my B1 exam.

I was a student in my home country, but I never finished my studies because my last year of university was 2016. I should have taken my final exam during that time, but I had to flee because of the home invasions. I had to leave my home, so I couldn’t finish my studies even though I studied for five years to be a programmer. I could use some help here in Germany with my profession. I would very much like to work in my field, as a programmer. I like the work, I like computers very much. Now I would like to get further in my profession, and work. But it is very difficult because of the language, because I need B1 or B2. For example, in my home country there were very many programming languages that we used, like Python or Basic. I did Python for about half a year, and in Russia I can do coding. But here it’s in German, you have to know at least B1 German and even B1 English to be able to code. IT specialists are needed everywhere, for example in the fitness room, or everywhere. But you have to know German.

My wife got her A2 certificate a month ago. She also learns German a bit with me at home, but I like to learn with books, and she doesn’t like to learn like that. She prefers to learn by talking to other people. She likes to talk. My German, especially my grammar, is overall a little better than hers, but she can speak better. My wife would like to do social work. She has never had a real job, but she did training in our home country in social work.

I like the director in this home a lot. He is a little strict, but for me strict people are very good people. There is also another woman who works here, and when there is a German course in the home, she watches the children. There is a lot of work going on in the home at the moment, they are doing small renovations. And with the Ukrainians there is a lot to do now.

What’s hard for me here is that I’m always at home with the kids. I don’t have any friends. There are other men in the home that I can talk to, but we have different mentalities. They are still very young, all from 17 to 21, so we are just interested in different things. But we can sometimes talk together about some things. Some of them have been here for 6 years. One is already working. They all speak German very well. Sometimes they translate for me when I don’t understand something in German. I am quite happy here, but I would like to have more opportunities. We still don’t have a day care place, and we still live here in one room. A year ago I wrote a letter to the social welfare office, and I just got an answer 2 weeks ago.

What I like in Germany are the rules. I am a human being, for me rules are very important. I said it before, but rules make every person a human being. In Germany there is also freedom, and many other foreigners. Although there are many differences between the people here, all have the same freedoms, and the same rules. The rules actually work, too! In Russia, it is not like that. It is the same with rights. In Russia, only some people have to follow the rules. For example, here all people have to drive 60 km/h. In my country, the people in power can drive up to 200 km/h, and then they cause many accidents, but they are not arrested. For some people, for rich people, in Russia, there are no rules. For poor people, there are rules. In Germany, it doesn’t matter which country you come from, all people have to follow the rules. Personally, I think that’s good.

The future

In the next 10 years, I would like to improve my German, pursue my profession, and find an apartment. There are two other families from Chechnya that we are friends with, and we would like to live near them. They live in the center of the city here now, so it would be nice to maybe live together. I haven’t thought any further than that yet. I think in April I will have passed my B1 exam, and then things will move slowly, step by step, forward. Then I’ll look for an apprenticeship, and if that doesn’t work, for a job.

My cousins live in Cottbus, in Brandenburg. Maybe we can live there one day, or stay in this area, because it’s nice and quiet here. There’s not a lot of traffic here, and I like it. I haven’t seen many other cities, but I think it’s pretty good here. But if I find good work in Berlin, or somewhere else, I’ll go there. I don’t know.

Thoughts about Germany

There are some problems that exist in every country, so then it doesn’t really make sense to talk about these problems. For example, in every country there are some people who are not friendly. But others are friendly. This is everywhere. There have been one or two instances where I have experienced discrimination, but we have been living here for two years. Two experiences of discrimination in two years is very little. There are crazy people in every country – in Germany, in Chechnya, in Russia too. It is normal.

The only German people I actually encounter here are the social workers in the home. For me, I have to know someone for a month or two before I can really talk to them. Once I know the people a little bit, and know that they are good people who won’t say or do bad things, then I can start to be friendly with those people. If a German person says “Hello!” to me in a friendly way, then I say “Hello!” back in a friendly way. But I would not meet up with someone, do something together and have a long conversation. It’s not just with German people, it’s with everyone. It’s just hard for me, even with people from Chechnya or Russia. Maybe it’s a psychological problem for me. I have to trust someone before I can just talk to them. I have to know them for one or two months first to build up the trust. Even with the social workers, initially I only talked to them when I needed to. Now, I can easily talk to them, and it is easy for me to ask for help from them.

When my German is better, it will be easier to talk to other Germans. Maybe if I have a job, then in the first or second month I can’t really talk to my colleagues, only very little. But then, maybe later, I will be able to talk more with them. For me, this interview is the first time I spoke freely with a German person. Even with social workers I have never spoken so freely. I liked this interview very much. I can’t talk to other people so often. There is a language café in this city, and I wanted to go there, but I am afraid. I’m afraid that these people won’t understand me, or that people don’t want to talk to refugees. All people have this fear, it’s normal.

There are many refugees here in Germany. For every person, there is a reason to come here. Some flee from violence, others want better job opportunities, to earn more money. There are many reasons. There are also many people from Chechnya here, and now from Ukraine. I read a lot on the Internet about the war in Ukraine and I always watch the news. There are some German people who say “Why are these people coming here. Stay there” and so on. I know there are not many of these people, because when I go to the town center there are many people who want to help the Ukrainians. There are many people who support them. But on the Internet there are people who say bad things. I think about this a lot. People from Ukraine come because of war. Some people from Chechnya and Russia also come because of war. People from Russia and Chechnya come here because they don’t want to go to war, they don’t want to have to murder people from Ukraine. But they also have no options, they have to flee. So far, the government has not said that they have to fight. But maybe later Russia and Chechnya will mobilize their army, and then people will have to fight. So they will have to flee.

Some Germans may think that people come to Germany to collect the social welfare money. Sometimes that might be true. But most people have a good reason; they just want to live free. They want to be happy, and have a chance to live without feeling like they are in danger all the time. The first thing these refugees need is not money, food, an apartment, but simply a friendly face from the German people. They need a friendly relationship with the Germans.

For me it was the same. Max and Johanna were very friendly to me, and I needed that. This is not my home, so it’s very hard. I would like to go back to my homeland, too. Not now, it is too dangerous. I have to wait a few years first, of course, but someday I would like to go back to my homeland just for a visit, like a vacation, just for one or two months. Maybe when we get a new president, and all the laws in Chechnya are working, then maybe I can go home completely. Germany is a good country, and there are a lot of nice people here, and good opportunities, but it is not my home. I miss my mother, my friends. My wife has four sisters at home, an aunt, her mother, and she misses them all very much. But we can’t go back.

Germans should know that the most important thing for us is to see a friendly face. When you are in a new country and you see an angry face, it is very hard. For example, if you go to Turkey, there are a lot of people saying “go home, we don’t want you here”, etc. For me, this would be very hard. No apartment, that’s normal. No food, then you are hungry, but oh well. But for me, the most important thing is how other people treat you.

I remember once in Wandlitz, I was in a store with my wife. An old woman came over to us, and she brought us a little gift. For us, that was a nice surprise. I understand when social workers are kind to us. But this moment was the first time in Germany where a person we don’t know at all was just friendly to us. We didn’t know her, she didn’t know us, but she understood that we are refugees and she wanted to give us a gift. That was very nice. The most important thing is to have a nice relationship with refugees.



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