Friday, July 18, 2014

On Refugees

Yesterday morning, my kids and I went to the market. It was bright and sunny, and we took Mehmet´s bike to the repair store and then went to the market, to find the marketstand that sells cherries really cheap. We got 3 kilos of cherries to make juice of, and the nice guy at the market gave my kids three tomatoe plants for free.

We then headed off to our favourite café, Harald´s - the one with the really sweet barrista that always makes cheeky jokes with me whom we´ve known for 8 years now.

And while we were sitting in that café, sipping our luxury ice chocolate and debating over where to plant the tomatoes and who was being allowed to get the stones out of the cherries, we met a friend of us.

This friend works at the women´s helpline, she has several kids who are friends with my kids, but yesterday, she had two little boys in tow I´d never seen before, plus a very, very sad and tired looking mom, with a very tiny bag. The boys - two and four years old - kind of reminded me of my own twins at that stage - they were running around, playing very wild, shouting and taking things from stores, and my kids became very interested.

So I said hi to my friend - with whom, by the way, we had a date at the pool that afternoon anyway - and she told me that this woman had just stumbled into her office, seeking her help. Of Ghanaan origin, she had lived in refugee camps in Italy for some time, together with her abusive husband, but she decided she needed to put some distance between her and him, so she had just hid in a train to Germany, and gotten off when her kids woke up and began to be too loud to be kept undetected. And that, apparantly, was when they passed our smalltown.

So I said - wow, that´s a really sad story, and my heart broke for her, with her tiny bag that apparently contained all her and her sons´ belongings, and for her two little sons as well, but I went back to my café table and went on drinking my frappé, now telling my kids about refugees instead of tomatoes.

Meanwhile, my friend and this family stayed where they were - in the middle of our precinct - waiting for the mobile social service, while the two boys continued being two little boys - making a scene. The mobile social service is a small red bus, with a telephone and an intercom and two social workers, equipped to deal with people in need, which definetly applied to this family.

The small red bus came, the woman and her kids and my friend got on, they began telephoning, and we continued our breakfast at Harald´s. They phoned a lot, and from time to time my friend came and asked me to translate, but apparently, nobody felt responsible, and there was no legal ground on which she could have stayed anywhere.
The asylum? Only for people who first applied for asylum from their home countries, and then came here. The women´s shelter? Full. The homeless shelter? Only for germans. (Really? Really???) It was pretty much like Mary and Joseph in the bible.
Legally, as soon as she arrived in Italy, she was under italian responsibility, and though Germany and Italy are partners in the European Union, it is not possible to help a woman in her situation here - there´s no money for that, from no institution, and it quickly seemed the only option was taking her to the police, which would put her on the next train back to Italy.


She looked terribly exhausted and tired and resigned. And I know how it is to ride with kids on a train. It´s tiresome if you only go for 2 hours. Also, she was devasted - under no circumstances would she go back, she´d rather hide somewhere and sleep on the street with her sons.


I can´t let a Mama and her boys sleep on the street and still look at myself straight in the mirror, right? I can´t proclaim that I´d want Germany to take more refugees, but not be willing to open my doors for them when I´ve got a big house, right? You´ve got to be consequent.


So, we took them in for the night. At that point, my kids had allready asked why she couldn´t sleep at our place. And Tim and I had long mourned that we were so out of this whole Couchsurfing business, and needed to get back into the saddle hosting people. I know my husband well enough to know he´d be okay with this. I also know this was in no way a regular couchsurfing issue. But it gave her more time.

Eva and I quickly cleaned Eva´s room, Mehmet and Miro got their old toys and small shirts and Ronja babysat the boys, while I planted the Mama on my sofa, with a cool drink. Then we let her sleep for a while, occupying her really wild little sons so they wouldn´t pull everything out off the shelves and set the house on fire by randomly switching all buttons on my oven - my house hasn´t  been toddler-proof for a long time.

And then we went to the pool, just as I had planned, and we took our new guests with us and met with a whole bunch of our friends, and sat on blankets in the sunshine and let the kids splash with water, which is quite an international fun. We ate together, and we talked a little. I wonder how that felt for her, being there. I mean, Germany is definetly not the promised land. But on a summer day, at the pool, eating popsicles, it might seem like one. I didn´t ask her. I thought she´d tell me if she felt like it.

I tried googling that night, when she was asleep, without much success. If she was paperless, she would have had the right to receive help. But she did have papers. Papers that gave her the right to stay in Italy.

So I told her, and tried to comfort her, and took her to the office of immigration, where I´d never been before in my whole life. And while she´d stayed with us for the night, they had actually found her a place to stay - not for long term, but at least until Monday. And they had found her an official at the women´s shelter who is willing to provide her with contacts to an italian organisation for women who suffer from domestic violence. Who are, by european law, bound to help her. The people at the office of immigration were very friendly, and very helpful, and they really cared for them. As far as they could. Legally.
So we sent our guests off, with some cookies and toy cars and shirts and a hug, and, maybe, some hope.

Maybe we also sent her off with the illusion that life in Germany is paradise, because yesterday, it sure seemed like it, and the desperation that she will never reach this paradise. But at least she can go back with the feeling she has been treated like a friend, not like some nuisance, and I´m happy there´s that.


My original plan for today´s post was to write about the new dress I made, or the super stylish throw pillow, or our instant coke slushy, or Ronja trying to learn Croatian, but...well... this was unexpected, and adventurous, and surely made everything else seem minor. And now you know about my brief encounter with an African refugee family.

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