Refugee: Safe but lonely, seeking asylum in Germany

Somali migrants seek asylum in Europe, hesitantly leaving behind their families and their conflict-torn homeland.

Yermi Somalia World Refugee Day piece
Abdikafi Mohamed would like to bring his family to Germany from Somalia one day [Yermi Brenner]

Rehfelde, Germany – Abdikafi Mohamed spends his days worrying about events taking place 6,000 kilometres away.

An asylum seeker in Germany since 2013, Mohamed fled his native country of Somalia in 2010, after the armed group al-Shabab accused him of killing one of their fighters and threatened his life. His wife and three kids remain in southern Somalia, in an area that has been repeatedly targeted by al-Shabab.

“My children and wife are staying near the men who want to kill me. How can I not worry about a situation like that?” the 34-year-old Mohamed told Al Jazeera. “You can’t imagine the sorrow I feel when they speak to me.”

Mohamed talks with his family on the phone once or twice a month, only when he has enough money to afford the long distance call. He dreams of bringing them to Germany but said it is unrealistic because of the costs. He is saving money so that he can at least move them to safer areas in Somalia or to neighbouring African countries.

Perilous smuggling route

Even if Mohamed had the money, the smuggling journey he undertook to get to Europe is far too dangerous for his wife and children, he said.

He first left Somalia for Uganda, then he continued north to South Sudan and Sudan. After this he crossed the Sahara desert all the way to Tripoli, where he said he was jailed by Libyan authorities for three days.

Mohamed lives with other asylum seekers in a state-provided dormitory [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]
Mohamed lives with other asylum seekers in a state-provided dormitory [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]

After his release, he paid a smuggler $1,115 to board a boat that crossed the Mediterranean to Italy – a route that has cost thousands of migrants their lives in the past few years.

“It was a very small ship and we were 59 people,” Mohamed recalled. “Water came inside of the boat. It was really dangerous.”

The EU journey

The arrival in Italy was not the end of Mohamed’s journey. He said as an asylum seeker in Italy he had no shelter, no healthcare, no food and no chance to restart his life.

He had heard that Scandinavian countries offer better conditions for asylum seekers so he took a 48-hour bus ride to Norway, and applied for asylum there.

European laws, however, make it illegal for asylum seekers to relocate within the EU. Norwegian authorities rejected his asylum application because the Dublin Regulation states people seeking protection must apply for asylum in the country where they first entered the EU. He was told to return to Italy.

Instead, Mohamed crossed the border to Denmark and applied for asylum there.

The Danish authorities also rejected his asylum request due to the Dublin Regulation, and deported him back to Italy. Mohamed spent another nine hopeless months in Italy, without regular accommodation or any welfare services.

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Desperate, he decided to try his luck in another European country, so he travelled to Germany. 

When German authorities rejected his initial asylum request, Mohamed appealed with the help of a lawyer provided by a local non-governmental organisation that assists asylum seekers. Now, he is waiting for a response, anxious to learn whether he will receive a refugee status in Germany, or once again be deported to Italy.

“In Germany, they give me shelter, they are sending me to school, they give me some money, and if I am sick they send me to a hospital,” Mohamed explained about the difference between his experiences as an asylum seeker in Italy and Germany.

Since 2013, Germany has received more asylum applications than any other Western country.

More than 200 thousand asylum seekers registered in Germany last year, about 30 percent of the total number of asylum claims in the EU. The German government forecasts it will receive more than 400,000 asylum applications in 2015.

Mohamed lives with other asylum seekers in a state-provided dormitory in Rehfelde, a small town with a population of less than 5,000 people, located 40 kilometres east of the capital Berlin. Mohamed shares a room with a Somali man he met in Germany.

Each floor of the three story building has a shared kitchen and bathrooms. Asylum seekers are granted an allowance of $416 per month, a welfare package which includes German language courses, and healthcare services.

“Everything is OK,” he said about his living conditions in Rehfelde. “I have got no problem here in Germany.”

Xenophobic wave

But not everything is perfect. Germany has seen a rise of xenophobic attacks against asylum seekers from non-European origins. Last year there were 150 attacks by German right wing extremists on refugee and asylum seeker accommodations – three times the number of attacks in 2013.

Just last month, a group of asylum seekers were verbally and physically attacked by locals in Neuhardenberg, a small town 30 kilometres from Rehfelde,- in what the police termed a xenophobic incident.

Mohamed said he has not experienced racist attacks or aggression. At the same time, he has not made any local friends either, though he has been living in Rehfelde for 18 months. His improving German is still far from conversational.

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“When I will be able to speak good Deutsch, maybe I contact other people, I make some integration,” Mohamed said.

Although he’s trying his best to integrate into German society, Mohamed still misses his former life as a shopkeeper in Mogadishu. 

He said if he could live anywhere in the world it would definitely be in his native country, as long as it is peaceful and stable.

What keeps him going is the hope that one day, he will have a normal life: with a job, with friends, and most importantly – with his family by his side.

Follow Yermi Brenner on Twitter: @yermibrenner 

Source: Al Jazeera