Melanie and Ahmed
The following is an edited excerpt of an interview conducted with Melanie, a German-Chilean social worker working with young migrants in one of the largest public sector charities in Germany, and Ahmed, a Syrian refugee who agreed to be part of the conversation.
(M) I am a social worker, working for an organisation called Diakoniewerk Simeon, in the department that deals with young people under the age of 27 who have migrated to Germany. We support all kinds of migrants, including asylum seekers.
Mainly we support people with work, school, German classes, counselling services, studies, and ausbildung (apprenticeships). A big focus at the moment is family reunification.
(A) I am from Syria. I am a musician, specialised in wind instruments, and I have been in Berlin for the last 2 years. Melanie and me, we met because she was working in the refugee camp near the flats where I live.
(M) Ahmed lives in a mixed house, flats for refugees from the nearby camp, and flats with German people.
(A) For me I had a visa here, and one day I decided I stay here. It was not in my plan. Some of my family members are in Germany too, but other members are still in Syria.
Here in Berlin, it’s not easy, but it’s a nice place. I used to live in Hamburg, but it was very difficult for me. People weren’t very welcoming. But in Berlin it’s good, because it’s very international, lots of people also from Arabic backgrounds.
In Hamburg, I had an ausbildung place in a wind instrument repair shop, but work there was difficult. The language is not my mother tongue, you see. So there were many misunderstandings, also cultural misunderstandings, with the Germans working in the shop. Also, I am a musician and I knew these instruments well, but my German colleagues did not know them. So it was not easy because I had this ausbildung status and my German was not good, so that made it difficult because the others would not really listen to me. I then left, and came to Berlin. It’s much better here.
There are a lot of Syrian musicians here in Berlin. There is a special orchestra here too, where we all meet together to play classical and Arabic music together. And here I will try to study. I would like to study musicology in Humboldt University. But first I have to improve my German.
(M) But the challenge in Germany is there is a lot of support for finding work or training opportunities, but many people coming here don’t know where they should go, what they are eligible for, or what professions require ausbildung and more training before they can work in their profession. They have to find out if their beruf (profession) is recognized or not. So for example you have people coming from Syria as electricians. But in Germany, you can’t just work as an electrician, first you need to do these 2 or 3 years of ausbildung. But if you are a carpenter or a barber, you can work as that right away. You can’t own your own shop right away, but you can start working in that beruf without doing an ausbildung. And of course with the ausbildung you need to also show that you have German language skills, and school qualifications. So for Ahmed, he has studied 4 years at the conservatory in Syria, and 12 years of school before that. But if you are from Afghanistan and you only had 5 years of schooling, then it is very difficult to do the ausbildung programme if you need mathematics or writing skills that you don’t have.
(A) I would say that this system is very good, but it’s just for the German people.
(M) But on the other side there are a lot of small companies, for example electricity or carpentry companies, and they are recruiting refugee people because they don’t find German young people to do the work. So they know that there are a lot of young people who have come over the last 2 years to Germany, who are really tough people and really educated people, so they like to hire them. Then they give them an ausbildung place. There about 150 ausbildung professions here in Germany. And if you know where to access this information, you find out how much they will pay you the first, second and third year, it’s like a progression, and what is involved in the training. You have to find out what the requirements are (prior education and so on), and then you can apply. Of course then the next problem is cultural misunderstanding and resistance.
In Germany everything is organised through the agency for employment and work in Germany. And all refugees have access to this information, but the problem is the language. Everyone is allowed to ask about this information related to work, but the problem is so many people they don’t know about this. They think they have to wait. But everyone can get information. And at the moment, everyone can get German classes, which is new. It used to be that only certain people from certain countries could access language classes, but now everyone can.
Now we are speaking about people who ask for asylum, for others it is different. If you come from certain countries, like Eritrea, Syria of course, Palestine, Irak and Iran, you can have access to this support and such classes. Those asking for asylum can also access ‘integration’ classes too. But if you come from Afghanistan for example, you can’t have access to these classes, or you have to pay for them on your own, but it’s really expensive.
Most people from Afghanistan that are here, they may be denied their asylum claim but the German government won’t send them back to their country, unless they are criminals or something. But these Afghans then are not allowed to access the same support as some of the other asylum seekers, but they are not really kicked out either. They are told they can’t stay but actually many do. So when they are denied asylum, they may get a duldung status, which means a temporary suspension of deportation. It is like a certificate issued for refugees who are obliged to leave Germany, unless they have legal reasons for needing to stay like illness or not having a passport or a way of leaving.
(T) This explains why many of the Afghan men I have met in Paris have come from Germany. They say they are no longer welcome in Germany and have to leave. Many of them speak very good German, and have spent at least two years in Germany.
(M) Perhaps it’s a mistake what they are doing, because they cannot ask for asylum in France either, and they will only be considered as illegal migrants without papers, so I don’t know why they go to France.
(A) The system here can be good. It depends for whom. In general there is a lot of support, economic support, like some social welfare support and access to healthcare. But the problem is for the people that are still living in the refugee camps. Some of them have lived there for many years. They are getting sick, not just physically, but also psychologically.
(M) What I see in my work is that there are many social workers who really care and do their best, but it’s not enough, because there is a structural problem. In the camps, you can go out after 3 months, unless you are from the Balkans. Those people cannot go out. That is a new norm. Almost every 3 months there are new laws related to refugee and migration law. Almost every week we have to learn a new law because they change everything so fast. So there are exceptions for people coming from the Balkans for example. They say there is no political problem, so if they ask for asylum, it is only to get money, not because they have to leave their country. So they say these people come from safe countries, and for them there are different rules.
Always it’s political. Because perhaps they say if you come from Syria or Eritrea, you are welcome because the government in Germany recognizes that you are in danger in your own country. But of course if you come from the Balkan countries and you are a Roma person, perhaps you are also facing political problems and unsafe if your country, so it’s all political. But this is not recognized. So for some people it can be really good to come to Germany and they get a lot of support, but some for other people not. There a structural discrimintation. And if you have no education and you don’t have any family or friends here and you don’t speak German and you have not enough education to understand what is happening and to fight against unfair legal structures, it is difficult to find your way.