In most German villages and suburbs, we have houses where refugees live. In 2015, one million refugees came to Germany and in 2016, seven hundred and fifty thousand arrived here (1). I had not been in contact with any refugees before and didn’t know many other people who were, except one colleague at work, who shared with me that she supports a family to go to process their residency applications with the authorities and to go to the doctors.
As I stopped listening to news’ broadcasts and reading newspapers many years ago, I did not have really any idea (and did not want to know) about what was going on in the world, and especially what was going on with refugees from other countries that have to leave their home countries because they are not safe there anymore.
Recently a community house where I run some singing groups suggested to me that I sing with the refugees who live in their area. They had already been in contact with them about the idea recently. The day I agreed that I would be running singing groups with refugees, I felt very unsettled. A lot went on in my body. I could feel the existing attitudes/mindsets in Germany surrounding refugees: the insecurity and fear of other cultures, the possibility of financial disadvantage, like less income as a consequence of so many refugees. I also felt touched by the fact that people have to leave everything behind (their house, friends and often part of their family) and escape to a foreign country and could feel how this is not an easy situation to be in.
On the day, I was taken to a house where the refugees live and introduced to them; it was a great experience to break through the ideals, beliefs and fears I held around refugees. I experienced beautiful and loving people who were very open and welcoming to guests like me.
Two days later I went to pick them up from their house. The two children took my hand and we all walked together to the community house. I remember the feeling of union and brotherhood, and how joyfully we sang on the way to the community house. We had a fabulous time and danced a lot.
Since I started to be in contact with some of the families from Syria and Iraq, I also started reading articles about these countries, as well as articles about the laws and situations of refugees in Germany.
I listened to audios of children sharing their experiences and the long and dangerous journey most of them had to take before finally arriving in a safe country, like Germany. Many refugees have to cross the ocean, which means a journey of seven or more days, squashed in an unstable boat, with no space to move or really sit, no food or drink and the risk of either dying of exhaustion or simply because the boat will not make it.
I read an article from an organisation which mentioned that many refugees have had traumatic experiences when they leave their home countries. Having to travel a long way and undertaking a dangerous boat trip with their children across the sea causes many people to suffer (2).
Journalists and humanitarian organisations are asking for changes to the refugee legislation and to allow refugees in directly, rather than force them to make the journey in makeshift boats. Such changes would remove this risk to their lives, which only adds more to their trauma.
We need to remember that all of us, including refugees, are equal human beings. Because one group of people live in another part of the world, we cannot simply look away and ignore the fact that, for example, 46,000 migrants and refugees are stuck in camps in Greece under conditions we would not even keep our animals in here in Germany (3). In these camps they have few rights or privileges.
I have been looking the other way from this situation for a long time; I did not want to know what was going on in the world. I am now very interested to read about war, violence, hate, rape… it is very confronting and, yes, painful. I have been inspired by the contact I have with the families from Syria, really enjoying being together with them, and I started to open up myself to the whole world and what is actually going on. It is easy to look away as long as our life is safe and comfortable.
But what about all these people who are suffering in the world – is it not our responsibility to support them in whatever way we can? Are we not being asked to start talking about what is going on in our world? What have we allowed or accepted that we now have the consequences of so many refugees worldwide having to leave their home?
Is the fact that so many countries (not only Syria) are at war, where people fight against each other day in and day out and citizens are not safe, a consequence of a worldwide policy where political and economic interests and strategies prevail? Why is it not about love, brotherhood and respect but more about provoking the differences between religions so they start fighting against each other, even though they might have lived harmoniously before?
If there is war in other countries and destruction, is that not a reflection that there is something very wrong in every country? Have we failed as a worldwide society to take better care of each other and have we failed to support countries when it was still possible to do so?
I see the refugee situation for us in Germany as a great opportunity to stop staying individual and thinking “What is best for me?,” and to open up our hearts and see that other cultures, like the Syrian culture, where there is huge valuing of family and supporting each other, can inspire us to live less in separation from other people.
And as we have a shortage of employees in many areas of the job market, let’s welcome people like this and allow them to integrate into our society as best as possible! But we need to work together to do this.
Having met many beautiful refugees, I have learnt that we have to say ‘no’ to racism and hatred towards another fellow human being because, in our hearts, we are all the same, and in truth there is no such thing as separate nationalities. When I close my eyes and open my heart and feel the person, we are connected – we are one.
By Janina Koch
- So geht die Flüchtlingskrise 2016 weiter [Translation: (Politics | Germany) Refugees – that the way the refugees crisis 2016 continues] wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/fluechtlinge-so-geht-die-fluechtlingskrise-2016-weiter/12774248.html
- Deutsches Rotes Kreuz Gemeinsam mit Flüchtlingen, Angebote des DRK zum mitmachen (Translation: German Red Cross together with refugees, proposals from the DRK to participate) drk.de/fileadmin/user_upload/PDFs/Gemeinsam_mit_Fluechtlingen.pdf
- Trapped in Greece: An Avoidable Refugee Crisis, 2016 Amnesty International amnesty.eu/content/assets/Docs_2016/ReportsBriefings/Trapped_in_Greece_final_140416.pdf