Recognize me: Seeking asylum in Germany

You met Ali on our latest episode #dealwithme. Now we want to introduce you to Hashem. He’s another refugee who came to Europe in the hope of a better life. But as soon as he gets a passport, he will be sent back.

Hashem still remembers every single time he has encountered the German police. The first time was when he had just arrived in Germany. It was a bright, sunny day and everyone was enjoying the warm weather. But Hashem was looking for the police.

Walking boldly towards some officers, Hashem, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, went up to the German police officers and introduced himself. “I am from Iraq and I have no place to stay. Where can I go?” he asked. He had heard good things about the German police and was sure he would be assisted. “They were friendly and dropped me off at a refugee center,” he recalls.

The then 27-year-old had just arrived in Germany, having escaped a situation in his home country of Iraq that he felt became unbearable. He left his wife and two young daughters behind and embarked on a long, exhausting journey with the plan that, as soon as he had settled, he would send for them. The first thing he did when he arrived in Germany was to throw away his passport, so nobody could trace his route. In his mind, it was a good plan.

After two weeks, he was invited to the German foreigners’ registration office to be interviewed. But it was then that Hashem discovered things would not be as easy as he had imagined. When he explained his case, the officials didn’t believe him. He says his request was rejected without further explanation and his deportation was prepared.

A new start?

Hashem didn’t want to leave; he was scared of going back to Iraq and ending up in prison – something that he had lived through already because of the persecution his family faced in Iraq. His brown eyes are widening when he relives the moment he was questioned. “I asked the official where he wants to send me,” he says. “I don’t know anyone in Baghdad.”

Days went by and his deportation day came closer when the German authorities realized that Hashem didn’t have a passport.

“They told me to go to the Iraqi embassy and get one,” he says. But there he was told he could not get a passport without his old identification papers. Hashem says the embassy told him he should either return to Iraq or lie to the police and say he lost his passport.

Having already told the German authorities he had left his passport back in Iraq, Hashem couldn’t do either. He was given a permit allowing him to stay until his passport is granted.

He takes his wallet out of his pocket and pulls out the permit, carefully unfolding it and laying it on the table in front of him. It’s his proof of his right to stay in Germany; just a piece of paper, but for this young Iraqi it means the difference between life and death.

Is this really you?

The second time Hashem had an encounter with the German police he was able to show them the document. It was a routine stop and he was allowed to go on.

But then police officers stopped him for a third time a few months ago. This time they didn’t believe the photo on the document was him. From the smiling, handsome man on the picture, Hashem had transformed into a malnourished shadow of his former self, seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“These problems with my papers make me so tired,” Hashem says, his face looking pale and hollow, the old brown sports sweater and washed-out jeans hanging off his thin frame. “I feel the government here is playing with me,” he says.

“I don’t know what I am”

When Hashem was still living in Iraq, the police were even less helpful. They searched his house and arrested him twice. His family was on bad terms with the government; his father had an important position at one of the universities and as part of a Sunni family that led to threats and arrests.

And now that he’s in Germany, he still feels like an outsider. “I’m not a normal person,” he says. “I could live as a normal person, but for that I need papers.”

Without a passport, Hashem is strugglling to define his identity. He is not German, but he is not Iraqi anymore either. Now his identity is defined by the ongoing quest to get a legal status and reunite with his family.
On his computer he goes through the photos of his beautiful wife and smiling daughters. A man is holding them and laughs. “That’s me,” he says, pointing at the screen. “I looked so different then.” His face darkens. “I am an only child. When I married, I was so happy, because I thought that now I would never be alone again.”

Left out in the dark

The loneliness is the hardest part, he says. When he gets up in the morning, Hashem has a coffee and smokes a cigarette. Officially, he is not allowed to work, so he visits a few internet cafés and repairs devices for them. He buys damaged mobile phones, repairs them and sells them again. He never cooks in his kitchen, because he hates eating alone. “I feel like I’m in a game and they are watching and playing with me until I become crazy or die, he says.

Sometimes he thinks about leaving, but he doesn’t know where he would go. His parents and his family fled to Jordan after Hashem left Iraq. And even if he had a passport, the Jordanian government wouldn’t give him a visa, he says.

He smokes another cigarette. Hashem was not previously religious, but in the corner of his bedroom he has the Quran on display – laid out like a small altar. He looks at it. Scanning the rest of his apartment, he takes in his small array of things, and his furniture. It may not be the nicest set, but for a refugee with limited resources, Hashem lives in a relatively big apartment. Three rooms, one bathroom and a kitchen.

Never stop hoping

His apartment is too big for him alone – one of the rooms is completely empty. One can sense that he has prepared for his family to stay here. In the end, this is what keeps Hashem going, despite not knowing how long he will stay.

He points at a toy placed on top of his closet, a black helicopter. “I bought it for my daughters,” he says, smiling. For the first time you can see hope in his eyes. “They always ask me: ‘When will you buy a plane and get us to you?’ For now a toy plane is closest thing I can afford, but maybe one day I will.”

This piece first got published at:  DW Life Links