Life of Syrian Refugees in Berlin’s LaGeSo

Once, a friend of mine posted on his twitter a comment that he’d overheard on public transport in Berlin. An elderly woman asked (of the Syrian refugees): Is it really necessary for them to leave their country?

This is a much discussed question these days in Germany, as the country received tens of thousands of asylum seekers from Syria. Since Germany opened its doors, more than 31,000 refugees from the Middle East have come to stay in the country.

Before they are given housing and official refugee status in Germany, they are allowed to stay at the State Office of Health and Social Affairs (LaGeSo), the official asylum registration center for processing by the German authorities.

The refugees often spend weeks there trying to get papers in order to live in Germany.

The area where the refugees are gathered is often very chaotic, very different from Germany’s well-known nature of precision. People are wandering aimlessly near the center, most lying in the street and sleeping in the open before they are given accommodation and living permission.

LaGeSo itself looks like a large park with several buildings surrounding it, and every inch is full- crowded with thousands of people seeking asylum, most from Syria. This is not a place where a person can stay comfortably for a long period of time. Here, people are registered, given First Aid, food and clothes and then eventually sent on their way.

Mohamed Ali, 22, has come to Germany alongside thousands of his compatriots from Syria. The young English interpreter was forced to leave his hometown, Homs, with his two brothers and sister.

It was not easy for him to leave his homeland and try to begin life anew.

“I’m lucky that I’m young and can rebuild my life again from scratch. Now I know that I’m safe, but for this I sacrificed my home and my parents, who have stayed in Homs,” he said.

“Two days I spent between Syria and the Turkish border. We had to try and survive. Our plastic boat had broken in the middle of our journey and we had to reach the Greek island by swimming. It was a nightmare for me.”

At the Social Center around two thousand Syrians move chaotically around. Large families with children are living in the open air and sleeping on the frosty earth of Berlin’s early autumn days. Children run in-between open legs, tired men sleep on their feet. 

That’s life at LaGeSo.

Only volunteers are trying to sort with the chaotic situation and help the masses of confused people who have no idea where to start. Most refugees their do not understand German or even English.

Volunteers give them food, clothing, hygiene products and advice how to get the papers they need. Food is provided three times a day, warm food once a day. They have unlimited access to water.

Newcomers are given a piece of paper with a number on it and have to wait their turn- this can sometimes take more than a week. Then they are allowed to register. Only after they have registered can the official asylum process begin.

Christopher is volunteering at the Social Center and has been since the first day refugees started arriving in Germany’s capital city, Berlin. 

“The main problem is integrating these people into a new society. My personal opinion is that the German Government should provide native speaker interpreters to these people to explain the big picture of the current situation, because they cannot understand many things in Germany because they are from a different culture and society and this would ease their integration,” he said.

What about the integration of newcomers into Western culture? After they are granted asylum status they are allowed and supported to study German language and take up low paid jobs for the first time.

After registering, refugees are housed in one of Germany’s 16 federal states according to a formula that takes tax revenue and population size into account.

Housing is simple: shared rooms, bunk beds and washing facilities – but most refugees are just grateful to have even survived the journey to Germany.

Mohamed Kalag, 28, from Aleppo, who has gained refugee status in Germany, has spent most of his life in immigration. He traveled from Russia to Lebanon and finally to Germany in an attempt to find a job for better life conditions.

He could afford to escape from the bombings but his married sister refused to do the same despite the fact that their home is being shelled almost every day. His dream is to get his sister with him.

“In my country being different is seen as a threat. It means that Assad’s government will take away everything; they will seize private property and block any way of development. When I realized I could not even breathe in my own country, I started to find alternative ways to survive and now I am here with big hopes for the future,” he said.

He added “By the way I have a Georgian girlfriend, her name is Mariam and when I can manage my life here in Berlin I will propose. I know she will agree. We will get married!”

The Syrian civil war is considered by some to be the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. In figures it’s estimated that 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war back in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or hiding in Syria itself.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over 3 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbors: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, with 6.5 million being internally displaced within Syria itself.

Meanwhile, around 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000. The vast majority of these resettlement pledges come from Germany. 

Tamar Svanidze

08 October 2015 20:56