Day 1: Messestadt (Munich Trade Fair)


September 10, 2015 by Karim Hamed

Last night from 1 a.m. to 10 a.m., I volunteered at the relocation center on the premises of the Munich Trade Fair (Messestadt) as an Arab-speaking interpreter. When I was not interpreting, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the refugees, an opportunity not available to most of our volunteers due to the language barrier. Once the refugees knew I could understand them, many began telling their stories without me even having to ask. I found them interesting and hope these stories are also of interest to others:

  • Where did the refugees come from?
    From Syria (Raqqa, Damaskus, Idlib, Daraa) and Irak (Bagdad).
  • How did they come to Germany?
    All of the refugees to whom I spoke escaped via Turkey and crossed the sea in boats provided by smugglers. After that, they crossed Serbia, Hungary and Austria before arriving here.
  • What were their plans?
    Several refugees came with diplomas in their backpacks and planned to have them recognized here in order to find work. Many asked me for advice on the cities in which they had the best chance to find a job. Only one person asked me questions about receiving government benefits.
  • Which problems were the refugees facing?
    – Many told me about relatives who had been brought to in-country hospitals and whom they were subsequently not able to find. They were in despair over these relatives because they had not been able to find anyone to help them locate their loved ones. This is an issue for which I hope the police are going to find a solution.
    – Many refugees did not understand the admission approach at the main station. Some either did not receive a wristband or had removed it. Those people had to return to the station in the middle of the night for re-processing.
    – Many wanted to journey on from Munich because they had relatives in other cities. They did not know, however, how to get where they were going and whether they were even allowed to make the trip.
    – Nearly all of the refugees were confused by the uncertainty about the asylum procedure and were missing information about the steps ahead.
  • From where did they escape?
    The refugees reported that they escaped from Bashar El Assad in Syria, from the barrel bombs, and from the assassinations in Baghdad. IS was never mentioned specifically.
  • Where do they want to go?
    Five refugees to whom I spoke wanted to go to Hamburg. A group of six hoped to go to Hanover, one family to Saxony-Anhalt, another to “anywhere” in Germany, except to „the East.” Three wanted to go to Sweden and one family to Finland.
  • How long did their journey last?
    Between 15 and 30 days.
  • Who were the people?
    I asked five people about their previous jobs or professions. They were a doctor, a math teacher, an electronics engineer, a biologist and an assistant to a government member.
  • Which situations were especially difficult to you?
    – One older woman was accompanying an 8-year-old child; the child’s mother had to stay in Syria.
    –A woman with two children did not know what to do and implored a policeman to bring her to Saxony-Anhalt. She later asked me to smuggle her outside and did not believe it when she was told that she was allowed to leave the premises at any time.
    – A blind man with two infants had been waiting for two days for his wife to return from the hospital. However, he did not know how to contact her or to what hospital she was taken.
  • How do they feel about being in Europe?
    The refugees’ comments were mainly about the countries through which they passed on their way here. There wasn’t a good word for Hungary and Serbia (nor for any country before for that matter). They said that, in those nations, they were treated worse than animals. However, they said that Austrians and Germans were very respectful, compassionate and correct persons. They all were extremely grateful for this.
  • What impressed me personally?
    The strength of the children to bear all this.
    When I showed some of them the way to the central bus station and helped them to purchase their tickets, they insisted on inviting me for a meal and paying for it. It was very hard to convince them otherwise. They are all very proud people, who did not seem to come to Europe as beggars.
  • My conclusion:
    These refugees are strong people who made an unbelievable effort and — even if only for that — deserve great respect. A marathon or even the Tour de France is nothing compared to their struggle. They arrived here exhausted and it is our duty to give them a warm welcome and any help we can. I, at least, feel this is my duty.
    These people have great respect for Germany. In my opinion, the welcome they received has nothing to do with so-called „Gutmenschendenken“ (an artificial word created by political opponents and meaning „exaggerated well-meaning“, especially towards refugees). Much more than that, it is a valuable investment in humans who will be enriching our country in the near future and contribute to the prosperity of this nation.
    They are not supplicants with the goal of claiming financial support from Germany.
    After what happened in Heidenau and Co (a place in East Germany with some previous right-wing riots), Germany showed its other face in its treatment of these refugees. It is a beautiful one, and I hope it stays like this forever.

Translated by Andrea Schmitz

More english articles here.

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