Sahba Salehi

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We conducted this interview with a couple from Afghanistan, Sharif and Arezo. They complemented telling their life story together. However, for the ease of reading, their talks have been put into separate sections.

Sharif

We left Afghanistan a long time ago, in the time of the Soviet. We went to Pakistan, lived there for a year. Then we went to Iran. We left Afghanistan when we were very young and became immigrants, and we’re still immigrants until now.

In 2015 when the borders [in Europe] were opened, we decided to come here. Everyone was coming this direction and we did the same. Our children moved to Europe and we stayed in Iran. We split into two halves basically. Our children left with some family members. Then we decided to leave too. When we were at the border, they arrested us and deported us back to Afghanistan. They kept us first in a camp for one night and then we were deported. It was a difficult life.

In Afghanistan, on the way to Herat we had a car accident. This was in 2018. My wife was in a coma for ten days. We took her to Kabul to an Indian hospital. She couldn’t keep here balance. They said there is a blood clot in her head. Finally, she got better a little. She doesn’t remember anything. Even now, she forgets things every five minutes. For example, if there is an appointment she will forget. My children always send her a voice note on her phone to remind her. In the accident, I also got thirty stitches to my head. But I was awake. My wife, though, had a blow to the head but there was no blood. Then we went to Iran and lived there for a year. And again, for the sake of our children, we moved here. We went to Greece, took a boat there, onto the Lesvos Island, and stayed there for six months. We lived six months in Athens too. A year and a half ago we reached Germany, submitted our ID documents, and asked for asylum. We have a daughter living close by. She lives five minutes from here. I’m not sure exactly, but I guess it’s about 14 months that we are in this Heim.

It’s difficult for us here in the camp. My wife needs to go back and forth to the kitchen here (at the end of hallway). Using the toilets here is also difficult. There are only two toilets for all these people living here.

We have tried to register for getting a house. We were told that so many more people were before us in the queue. If we have a house, we won’t have the problems we have here. I have developed this skin condition on my head. I would wash it every day but it doesn’t go away.

There was a German class here for two hours every week. It got closed down later. That helped me so that I can now read the signs. I learnt the alphabet in this class. But it was cancelled and now we have been to Berlin to register for the language class. We made an appointment and next Friday we will go there to register. That class is four times per week. It would be easier if we go there and study.

I was a farmer and gardener back in Iran. My wife stayed home and did sewing. We lived for over thirty years. Thirty-six years.

She was tailor in Iran. But now … she has pain in her hands. She does go to physiotherapy. I don’t know if it is because of that accident or not. But when the doctors saw her in Iran … we went to visit a very good one in this hospital. He said he was surprised that she was even on her feet. Because with that blood clot …. God had helped her with that. In the past when she was a tailor, she had such a sharp mind that she wouldn’t put numbers on the black chadors she had sewed [customer’s orders]. Each one would come and she handed in their order. But now every five minutes she forgets things.

To get a job, we need to know the language. First, I need to learn a bit of it. That’s why I haven’t done much to find work. You can’t do anything without the language. The class we had here for two hours per week was not helping that much. But now with the new class starting, four times a week, that will be good. We’ll learn something. That class was the only activity thing we would do. Other than that, we don’t have much other activities.

My wife sometimes goes to her daughter’s place. Another daughter of ours is in Berlin. She is doing an Ausbildung in dental care. She comes here weekly to visit us. We have a son in Munich. Another one is in Dortmund. They’re all over the country. We also have a brother, a sister, and nieces and nephews here … we are not in touch with people other than the relatives. There were some German ladies who taught us in the language class before. They would come and visit us from time to time. But we don’t understand their language. For doing the paperwork, our daughter who lives nearby tells us what to do. She has a child herself.

It’s almost six years that our children are living here. They arrived in 2015 or 2016. Almost six. They were all born in Iran. We have been to Afghanistan and back (before when the children were small). They think it is a good place there in Afghanistan. But they were little and don’t know anything. We know how it was to live there.

Three of the children finished school and one of them got his bachelor’s degree. He graduated from a university in Iran, and left because he really suffered so much harassment. Everywhere he went, they told him you are Afghani. Or they would pick on his clothes. For instance, if he was wearing short sleeves, the clerks in governmental offices would tell him to go, change, and come back another day. He was fed up with all this and left.

We weren’t allowed even to buy a SIM card there. This despite the fact that our all children were born in Iran and went to school there. My son would ask us, “Why did you give birth to me in Iran?” [laughs]. But of course, not only Afghans had troubles. Iranians themselves got harassed too. We had good neighbours there and liked them very much. They were all crying at the time we were leaving the country.

When we arrived here in Germany, they gave us health insurance. We go to the doctor and don’t pay anything. We get an income too. First, while we were in the temporary camp, we received small money for expenses and food. Then we got transferred to this place and we got benefits again. We received our ID card (Ausweis). For the language course, the Job Centre gave us a letter so that we can study. Before that we could not do that. Now with the letter of the Job Centre we could go and register.

Back in Afghanistan, we never went to school. Then in Iran we took some literacy courses and studied a bit. I can read Farsi / Dari a bit. But only reading, not writing.

In Iran, we had the Amayesh card [recognised refugee status and under UNHCR care] and then we changed it to residency [with passports]. When we were crossing the border to Turkey by smugglers, they arrested us and our papers got invalidated. Because when you get arrested while crossing illegally, they cancel the residency. Then we had no residency and had to leave for here. We were on the journey to Europe for one year.

Despite of my old age, I would like to work. But then you need the language to work here. I need it to manage my own works, and understand people and reply to them. If I start understanding a little, or speak a little I would like to work. I don’t like being idle. It bores me.

My wife was a capable tailor. She had done it for thirty years. But now with the pain in her hands, it’s even difficult for her to sleep.

Because our children had come before us, we knew something about living in Germany. Our daughter who came here, was under age. We were very worried for her. She did not have parents then to take care of her, and lived with her sister’s family. This was difficult for her. We were also getting old and could not live alone. Then we decided to undertake that difficult journey, to come on the boat, living on the Island and finally getting here. Thank God it is good here now.

We had heard that services were good in Germany. And they really were good. They don’t discriminate you because you are an Afghan immigrant. We knew this before, but then we saw its proof too. What they said was true. They gave us the same health insurance that everybody else is using. There is no difference.

The only difficulty is not knowing the language. There is this African lady here. They take turns here to clean the kitchen. They told my wife that you are like our mother and because your hand is hurting, we won’t let you clean. They’re really kind.

When you get older you need to have your children around. If we learn the language, we could visit them more easily. It would be good if I can work until retirement. We would like to move into a house. Somewhere around here maybe. My daughter has made a request for transfer to Berlin, but we don’t have an answer yet.

Arezo

I would love so much to learn the language here. My husband has learnt a bit but I could not. I can’t work because of the accident now, but I still love my job. Sewing. I would love to work if my hand improves a bit. I want to study too. Back in Iran for two three years I was taking medication for the memory loss too. I was also taking medicine for the blood clot to dissolve. If my hand gets better, I like to work. In Iran they told me that the hand’s nerve was severed and I had to have surgery. Then we moved to Europe and I couldn’t have the surgery. It’s three years now since we left. If this gets better, I will first study the language and then get to work. Because of the pain, I can’t sleep on my sides. I go to an Iranian doctor. He says he’s only learnt Farsi a bit from his parents. But he was born here. It’s good to have someone who speaks your language.

Here my only activity is just to go down the hallway to the kitchen and back.

It was nice living in Iran, I didn’t feel being a stranger because we knew the language, but then the government made it difficult. We had left Afghanistan for Pakistan and got married in Pakistan. Some months later after our wedding, we had our first child in Iran.

Some time ago, I had gotten Covid, even after three doses of vaccination. But it was so light that I did not understand it was Corona. They told me I was positive and had to quarantine myself for 12 days. When I got out of the room after the quarantine, I was in the hallway with a pot in my hands. Suddenly this African lady came to me and hugged me and started kissing me.

They say the law here is that you should live three years first in the shelter and then move. It’s a difficult law. My husband’s sister is now in Berlin and doesn’t have an accepted case yet. But they have a house. There was a free flat here, close to my daughter’s. They told us we were on the waiting list. My daughter had gone to ask them for the flat, to say that her parents are old and need a flat. They had told her that no, your parents are still young. There are many others on the list and many are older. They didn’t accept it. They say sixty, sixty-three years of age is young!

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