"The hardest part was to watch people having a normal life and not being allowed to do anything. Sometimes I even thought I'm not a human being."
Refugee from Afghanistan
It's late September, the days are getting shorter and colder, it's slightly raining – a typical day for early fall in Hamburg. During the past years Hamid Nader Zada got used to the weather in northern Europe and especially in Hamburg. "It's a bit cold but actually a nice day," he says with a smile while taking a seat on a solid wooden chair at Hamburg's central park, "Planten un Blomen." Between weeping willows and yellow leaves on green grass the young man from Afghanistan starts to tell the story of his journey.
Everything started seven years ago back in Afghanistan, where he and his father's lives were threatened. When things escalated and an attempted murder on his father shortly failed, Hamid's family decided to send him to his sister in Norway - more than 5,000 kilometers away. A long journey for a fifteen-year-old boy who only speaks Dari. Although the family supported him financially, the money was just enough to get to Greece, where he tried to get illegally on a boat to Italy. "You always have to look for good hide-outs, for example on the top of a truck or in the cargo area. I tried it seven times until it worked out," he remembers abstractedly as he takes a drag of his cigarette.
When arriving in Italy Hamid continued traveling up north through several European countries to finally get caught by the police in Copenhagen and be officially registered as a refugee. As nobody took care of him he went to Norway anyway and lived with his family for about seven months until the Norwegian government sent him back to Denmark due to European law. "I had all my documents and even a medical examination to prove that I was underage, but they didn't believe me," he explains while uncomprehendingly shaking his head.
Without any progress and directions the teenager felt stuck in the system. About two years he waited for a – finally negative – decision of the Danish government. "To be honest, I didn't understand what was going on and why the process took so long. I felt that nobody really understood or explained it to me so I got in some serious trouble," he sighs while explaining his past aggressive feelings. After all that Hamid escaped from police again, sold all his possessions to afford traveling and tried to find a place to stay. Two years ago, at age 20, he finally arrived in Hamburg.
With a fresh wave of energy Hamid started a new application for asylum. But it also turned into an ordeal. "It was difficult to be patient, while having all this pent-up energy and not being able to use it," he explains slightly shivering while closing his jacket. Depression, lethargy, uncertainty and fear have been dictating his life during the first year.
As things didn't seem to move forward he asked for church asylum, which is based on an ancient tradition. Even though it's not common the church in some cases is able to protect people from deportation while checking the possibilities for a renewed application of asylum. During six months he wasn't really able to go out, but made the best out of the situation, for example by learning German and improving his language skills while talking to other people at church.
"Sadly this is not a single case. Usually it takes at least a year or even more time until a refugee gets an answer to his application status."
Helga Rodenbeck I Social Worker
Helga Rodenbeck, a social worker at the protestant church in Hamburg-Blankenese, helped Hamid during his time on church property. For 23 years the ingenious woman has been taking care of refugees in Blankenese and is also well connected to the Camp Sieversstücken, a home for asylum-seekers in Hamburg-Sülldorf. "Long waiting times during the application process are not single cases," she says with a serious glance while slightly tapping her fingers on the table. Those days she's under bigger pressure than usual as a lot of people need help.
In her experience a lot of refugees nowadays register in Germany when getting picked up on their way to Scandinavia – not to just take advantage of the system. Families are usually sending their men first with high hanging hopes: They are expected to earn money quickly and clear the way for the rest of the family. Most of the time they borrowed a fortune from family members and friends to fund the journey. While facing the time gap of the whole process they are often dealing with serious senses of guilt and depression.
"Of course we are doing our best to help but it is really hard to find specialists for mental guidance, even if they wouldn't have to speak Arabic," she thoughtfully mentions. At least the church and the organization, "fördern&wohnen," that is running the refugee camp Sieversstücken have a lot of volunteers to help with various other tasks. "It is great to get so much support from the society," she ends the conversation by picking up the phone.
"I'm here since 16 days now, and my first hearing will be in the middle of November. It's a long time but we try to make the best out of it."
A Syrian refugee
In front of the central registration office at the train station Hamburg-Harburg, people are standing in densely packed groups– talking, smoking, playing soccer. Most of them have already been registered and are now waiting for their hearing and want to know what's next. Some of them travelled about 21 days – a rather short time compared to others. Usually it takes several weeks to get that far. By foot, by boat, by bus and by train they came like thousands of other people to Germany – with high hanging hopes for a better future.
"The city of Hamburg also has an international exchange of information about the current refugee situation"
Stefan Herms I Head of Senate Chancellery Hamburg I Europe - International Affairs - Protocol
In the meantime the city of Hamburg is also doing its best to handle the current situation. The main issue is that nobody knows when people will arrive, where they will arrive and how many will come. Besides providing places to stay, food and medical care, the city also faces discrepancies on the side of the administration; so public authorities started another program for specially trained volunteers. By the end of the year, the Senate Chancellery of Hamburg roughly estimates about 35,000 refugees will be in Hamburg, before being redistributed to other states of the country.
The Federal Office of Migration and Refugees recently announced to improve not just the integration system by providing language courses but also the process of application for asylum. According to recently published statistics it takes about five months to get an answer to such an application, so they want to speed up the process. But even if the staff will be increased there are still lawyers missing to support the high number of refugees.
A couple of weeks ago Hamid's application for asylum finally passed through. Now he is about to finish night school, will move into his own apartment in Hamburg-Altona soon and is currently looking for a job. Although his status isn't final yet, he is already making plans for the future. He wants to keep on learning. "Someday," he says, "I might become a social worker or finish a bachelor's degree in pedagogics".
He still doesn't really understand why it took so long, but he is thankful for being able to finally build up a life. His residence permit is just valid for a year and has to be renewed in 2016. "Even if they will reject me again, they can't take away from me my experiences and knowledge," he says while packing his backpack to get to school and pass his final exams.