Germany is known for being a good place to live and work and is therefore a very interesting choice for people in other countries, whether it is the mechanical engineer who quickly finds a well-paying job or the temporary worker who ends up working for a wage barely sufficient to eke out an existence.
Germans generally see migration as something positive, an effective remedy against skills shortages and the ageing of society and welcome foreigners with open arms, but there is still a part of society, as in many other countries, that believe migration leads to additional burdens on the social system and social conflicts.
According to the Central Register of Foreign Nationals, around 11,4 million foreign nationals lived in Germany by the end of 2020. We both make part of that figure, and we can both say – with a hand on our hearts – that we have always felt the warmth of our host country. But we are privileged in that sense. Others have not had the same luck.
In early 2021, we talked to five people with refugee status who told us about the many difficulties they had gone through in terms of work, education, housing, health and last but not least, racism.
Selahattin Abis – Lawyer
Selahattin Abis had just started his career as a lawyer in Turkey when he was forced to leave his country for political reasons. He now lives in the outskirts of Berlin and has assumed he will never work as a lawyer again.
“My language was my everything,” he told us on a cloudy spring day in 2021. “Once I got here I realised I had lost everything,” he added. But he has not given up. While learning German, he has also found an alternative for which “language doesn´t play such an important role”, that is, computer science.
Momen Tareq – Ophthalmologist
The case of Momen Tareq is quite striking.
An ophthalmologist from Iraq, he fought the German bureaucracy for two years before he was allowed to practise.
“In the worst time of the pandemic, Germany urgently needed doctors,” he said. “Without the right paperwork, we were not allowed to help,” he added, frustrated. “There are 5,900 doctors in Germany from Syria and Iraq who greatly contribute to the German healthcare system,” he stated, hoping for a softening of the certification validation process.
Narges Tavakkoli – Student, Artist and Activist
Narges Tavakkoli, from Afghanistan, has a dream: she wants to be an astronaut. She is now 18 and is happy to be studying to reach her dream.
“My girl-friends who are still living in Afghanistan are done with school,” she says. “They are now married and are not getting any further education,” she adds. “I would like to show, by getting an education as a young Afghan girl in Berlin, that we can break this stereotype of women having to stay at home.” “I want to show that we can do whatever we want”.
But work and education are not the only issues newcomers have to face when landing in Berlin.
Rachel Yaw – Student and Housewife
Housing has become a critical issue as well.
“Berlin is so expensive! If you get 1500-1600 euros a month but have to pay 900 in rent…What is then left?” Rachel Yaw, a student and mother-of-two from Nigeria, asks herself. At the time of our interview, she was still living in a refugee centre in Rohrdamm but had just received good news. “I was so lucky! I met a lady who was moving back to Nigeria after living in Germany for 10 years and she decided to rent her flat out to me, I am so happy!” she said, with a big smile on her face.
All of these interviews took place in the time of strict coronavirus restrictions (2021), as doctors everywhere were struggling to contain the pandemic.
Bashar Hassoun – Businessman
The last issue we talked about was a rather difficult one: racism.
Bashar Hassoun, a young businessman from Syria who owns a rather successful restaurant in the heart of Berlin, was very open about this uncomfortable topic.
“I had a project and I now employ several people. I pay taxes, like everyone else,” he said. “I have a responsibility to be part of this society, and I act accordingly,” he added. “But some people just don’t see me as part of this society.”
“And there is always this feeling of ‘we’ and ‘you’,” he said, referring in particular to politicians and people in the administration. “I would like to see more empathy among civil servants dealing with migration topics so that I and many others can have an easier life here.”