My Experience with Refugees

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


  1. So geht die Flüchtlingskrise 2016 weiter [Translation: (Politics | Germany) Refugees – that the way the refugees crisis 2016 continues]
  2. Deutsches Rotes Kreuz Gemeinsam mit Flüchtlingen, Angebote des DRK zum mitmachen (Translation: German Red Cross together with refugees, proposals from the DRK to participate)
  3. Trapped in Greece: An Avoidable Refugee Crisis, 2016 Amnesty International

Further reading:
The Deafening Sound of War and Peace

663 thoughts on “My Experience with Refugees

  1. From the outside looking in we can think people are different but when we meet them with an open heart we know we are all the same.

  2. There is an Airline that has employees from all around the world working for them as they are a huge organisation and I am told that everyone gets on and works together no matter what religion or country they come from, each person is contributing to the overall success of the Airline.
    And yet in many of these countries there is civil unrest as one religion fights for dominance over another. Too me what this Airline is showing the world is that we can all get on with each other, by respecting cultural differences, and choices because who is to say one religion is ‘better’ than another? To see that there is a bigger picture than just being an individual with religious intolerances.

  3. I love living in London because of the vast mix of different people there. Sticking with ‘your own’ helps create bias which breeds judgement and comparison.

  4. Feeling the inner equality of everyone is so simple when we are connected to our essence, so one day this will become a normal way of understanding that life is about the energy we can connect to as you have shared Janina.

  5. “Why is it not about love, brotherhood and respect but more about provoking the differences between religions so they start fighting against each other…” Our news is saturated with corruption and violence, wars and various difficulties, as a global community we aren’t talking about values enough, things like integrity, respect, decency and love, these are what we need to build together. My feeling is that we will not halt the deep negativity in this world until we begin to live these values together and nurture them in each other.

    1. Absolutely, we need to build values like decency, care, and love, ‘things like integrity, respect, decency and love, these are what we need to build together.’

  6. ‘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.’ Amazing and very inspiring. Absolutely we are all equal and every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. What came to me while reading this was the trauma these people have already been through in within their countries that is huge let alone then getting into an unstable boat to travel over 7 days in cramped conditions leaving all that they know behind. This is like trauma on top of trauma. So it is great that you could connect to some of these people and bring all that you are and allow them to be all that they are.

    1. It is lovely to read how Janina connected with these people and shared her qualities and love with them.

  7. Regardless of our place of origin, we can each find a place in the heart of our neighbour or even better – find place in our heart for our neighbour. I remember being brought up in Bulgaria, we were educated to despise Turkey & the Ottoman Empire. Our whole history revolves around the poor Bulgarian people who were born and lived during the time when the Ottoman Empire had rule over Bulgarian Land. So, I grew up hating Turkish people, so much so that I was beside myself when my parents wanted to go on holiday to Turkey. But come 2008/2009 when my family and I moved to a quiet suburb area of North West London with some Turkish neighbours. These people were so warm, so welcoming and so genuine that my whole perception and everything I had built against Turkish people had to disappear – I no longer had a ground to stand on and say that Turkish people are horrible people. So it really doesn’t matter our place of birth, the history of the country we were born in or whatever else we choose to hook onto in order to hate another nation or a person of a different race – our disconnection and discrimination comes from our own values and perceptions of the world.

    1. I spent some time in Japan over 20 years ago, when I was in homestay with a family the teenage daughter and her friends were in a deep discussion about something, I asked them what they were talking about and they replied that it was ‘about the Koreans and how much they hated them.’ I then found out it was a common thing in Japan to have racism towards Koreans, I’m not sure why but your story reminded me of this and how racism and bigotry can be generational. I’m sure the girls would have been surprised to actually meet Korean teenagers and realise they were just the same, not horrible at all. As babies we don’t discriminate, just meet each other and play together, so we can see from these two stories how beliefs and unhealed hurts can lead to division…. and later war. As human beings we all need to get together with different people and talk and break down these silly barriers that come from our mind, and come back to living from our hearts.

      1. How sad that this changes as we grow older, ‘As babies we don’t discriminate, just meet each other and play together’.

  8. The treatment or mis-treatment I should say of refugees is disgraceful, whenever we treat a fellow brother as being less this highlights the fact that we are still living in a very supremacist society. We need more conversations like these to break down the racism that still exists in the world today.

  9. It is great to clock where I still hold people as different because of the colour of their skin or their culture or language or so on.

  10. We spend so much time focusing on differences and fears (that are often born from ignorance), we really need to remain open to learning and open to understanding our fellow human beings, after all we are not so different wherever we are born. I feel that we have everything within us to work together to bring harmony and support for whole communities that bring in refugees, there is truly nothing we cannot achieve if we work together.

    1. Exactly, we are the same, ‘ in our hearts, we are all the same, and in truth there is no such thing as separate nationalities.’

  11. “I see the refugee situation for us in Germany as a great opportunity to stop staying individual and thinking “What is best for me?,” I totally agree, it’s a great opportunity to stop only considering what is best for ourselves and to begin to really care about everyone else on the planet and begin to ask – what is best for everyone?

    1. I agree Meg we all have to live on this planet, it’s all we have so it would make much more sense if we all got on together instead of highlighting our differences. As someone said in the comments as children we play with each other regardless of colour or nationality. So where do these prejudices come from?

  12. Things have to be really desperate if you are prepared to risk your own life and those of your children in order to flee a country that no longer offers you any safety, it is part of our human nature to accept others and offer a helping hand, however it is always a choice and when we choose love first we welcome others with no judgment.

  13. “But we need to work together” when we meet someone, or people, and connect with them we realise that the language they speak may be different but the language of the heart is the same in all of us.

  14. If we listen to the news and the hype about refugees (both for and against) we muddy our willingness and ability to just meet them as people. As in this blog, this is where the magic of finding we are really all the same can happen.

  15. A super powerful article Janina on how we can be together with each other, regardless of background or culture. Seeing past that to the essence of what is within a person helps us realise that there are no differences.

  16. “When I close my eyes and open my heart and feel the person, we are connected – we are one” – this is so beautiful, and true. We all know this to be true.

  17. Culture is what we have used to divide us – but really we are all the same – we all start off exactly the same and it is our conditions that can shape us. But if we choose to see beyond the environment, there is little difference. It is part of our evolution to see each other as equals.

  18. How convenient it is to keep the shutters down and the sunglasses on and the blinds drawn from the fact that we are simply all one… Because then how on earth could we justify the separation.

  19. Thank you Janina, your experience shows us we are all people first and we are not so different from each other. We are all responsible for the quality of the world we live in and how we treat each other.

  20. There is an energy running in the world that is old and gets fed and recycled here and there: the energy of forceful destruction. Its consequences are always devastating. And, we do not seem to learn that we have to deal with this energy at its root. Instead of asking ourselves, why is this energy still at play, we made it about ‘their’ problem, avoiding looking if there is anything in my life feeding it. Although, not an easy one, and painful as it is, the fight is about the management of the consequences; which is necessary if the energy is not addressed.

    1. Eduardo what you are saying makes sense to me
      “we do not seem to learn that we have to deal with this energy at its root.”
      because none of us want to take responsibility for this energy of destruction by reining it it in, we are all feeding the energy by buying into the false ideals, beliefs etc., which are not ours to begin with but are given to us by this forceful energy, so we are recycling the same energy which keeps us all stuck in the energy of being bigots.

  21. Taking the blinkers off from the abuse in our world is the first step to resolving that behaviour. Only with each one of us seeing it, and saying no longer can it continue will the world change.

  22. When people connect with people they are impulsed to act, to change, to share the atrocities we are choosing not to see. Such is and has been the work of those on the ‘front line’ for eons. Yet within moments the readers, the listeners, yes we, can get distracted by our comfort and forget what is going on out there. The fact we have countries and borders and treat people as less than we would treat ourselves is impulse enough to live a more connected and engaged way.

  23. Things have to be pretty dire at home for people to risk their lives and the lives of their young children, and then to relocate without knowing what the future holds.

  24. Every single human being on this planet is in essence the same, no one is more or less than another, this is not possible as we come from a whole and a oneness which has an identical source. We are all learning to live in brotherhood again and to love each and everyone the same.

  25. “When I close my eyes and open my heart and feel the person, we are connected – we are one.” Such beautiful words Janina, ones that have the power to heal the separation we have created between us. Refugees are people too, just like you and I, and their unique expression has a part in the world, just as ours does. So perhaps if we began to heal the separation within us the separation within countries and people will slowly begin to heal as well. We won’t know until we make the choice to do so.

  26. The refugee problem in the world belongs to all of us and it is up to us to work together so that we end the reason why we have refugees in the first place.

  27. As a very wise man said once… Let us, that is humanity, live without Borders, without separation, just for a while, experience the true connection that is possible, and see what happens.

  28. We are all equal sons of God, everyone deserves to be treated with decency and respect and to be reminded the truth of who we really are, anything less than that creates separation.

  29. When we stand opposite another human being with our eyes closed and allow ourselves to feel the essence of the other and surrender to what our body wants, we all are magnetically pulled towards the other. And it doesn’t matter where that other person is born, lives or what age he/she is when we don’t hold back we just also literally want to be close to another and connect.

  30. The key is keeping our hearts open to other human beings and being willing to learn first hand what is going on, and not letting the media or societal prejudices influence our true nature of connecting in harmony and understanding with one another.

  31. People are people no matter where they are from. The fact that we allow skin color, culture, religion, language and boarders to keep us separated causes us endless misery and disharmony.

  32. “We need to remember that all of us, including refugees, are equal human beings”. If every single one of us lived with this knowing what a different world we would live in; a world based on equality and brotherhood and a world without war.

  33. When we actually meet people and walk beside them we know we are all the same but when we keep our distance and rely on our individual beliefs about others we create separation between us.

  34. When we have experiences such as this, to meet someone who is open and willing to meet us as we are is deeply healing for everyone and shows us the way forward together.

  35. Often we can turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world until it happens directly to us. I feel it is important that we take the time to connect and listen to people’s stories because through this we are able to build understanding and through understanding love, honesty and equalness.

  36. We are indeed part of a worldwide society but prefer to keep our world small and secure, not wanting to make adjustments or sacrifices in our comforts to allow others to be safe and raise their children in an environment without threat and fear. This is confrontational and should make us wonder about what we truly need and how much of what we have we can share with those in need.

  37. Personal contact is key to breaking down these barriers of separation and protection. When we personally connect we realise that we are all people, who want the same thing – to be loved, to love, and to be connected to each other, to the divine and to nature. The rest comes from there.

  38. This shows how words can feed us images. How the word refugee prompts an image of someone who is stranded and yet are we not all a mix of ethnicity? Are we not all from everywhere? But we are not branded that way. At the end of the day – we are people no matter where we are born or what language we speak.

    1. Words do so much harm – or should I say how we manipulate, re-interpret and use words is what determines whether words harm, distract, derail or heal, connect and build.

    2. Yes, we are all from elsewhere true. It is very revealing to look at how a situation or someone is framed and then fed to us, and how that can pollute the truth of a situation. Imagine if a different unifying language was used.

  39. There is much to learn about true Brotherhood from the reflection that refugees offer to all of humanity to be aware of.

  40. As you have done here so beautifully Janina, we have to first put ourselves in the shoes of the refugees and feel what it would be like to have experienced what they have. What always amazes me though is why we as a global society are choosing war based on religious differences in the first place when the results have always been so catastrophic for everyone involved? It seems like total insanity to me, and certainly not in line with a so-called ‘advanced intelligent civilisation’ that we claim to be.

  41. You have touched on some of the main emotions that create an unwelcoming attitude towards refugees. Fear, ignorance and security seem to be behind most of the issues people have with refugees. As with your case, we realise how similar we are and we get to develop understanding when we actually get to know real people rather than having a distant, uninformed relationship with a group such as refugees.

    1. Yes in this sense are we not all equally responsible for looking at our own insecurities, fear and ignorance that feeds the lie that these are actually outside of us, and someone else is to blame.

    2. What I find fascinating about the refugee situation in Europe where countries are closing their borders and not allowing the refugees to enter by building massive fencing that stretches for miles. Is, not that long ago during World War Two the people of these same countries were refugees themselves trying to get themselves and families as far away from the war as possible and many migrated to various parts of the world. So you would think that these people living in these countries would have a greater understanding of what it is to be a refugee? We all need to learn to live with each other whatever the colour of our skin or nationality.

  42. Its easy to be fearful and then not want refugees around when we see them as refugees rather than ordinary people. A great opportunity Janina to not only challenge your own beliefs on this, but to connect to ordinary people who are no different to anyone else. This is super important for the beliefs we have often create difference.

  43. How awesome it is when we open up our hearts the world steps in with more connections and opportunities to learn. We then feel the honesty of what is truly going on in it’s raw state and can choose to avert our gaze or walk from who we are and share and learn together. The world can be one if we but first take the first step to see over the fence and observe the honesty that is standing right before us.

  44. At the moment, the imbalance in the world is truly disturbing, and is a reflection on the extraordinary lack of understanding that we are indeed one, and that there is no separation.

    1. This blog is an example of where we can choose to live from that unites all if we make life about relationships and not border control.

  45. The history of mankind is plagued with episodes where people either were killed or had to flee their home places because their lives were in danger there. We are where we were. Nothing has changed.

    1. Just because the outer world has changed in the sense of infrastructure, technology, medicine, architecture, agriculture, etc, doesn’t mean that we as human beings have truly changed. Just because the outer world is different doesn’t mean we aren’t repeating the same cycles over and over including self abuse, abuse of others, corruption, war, etc.

      1. What you are both saying should be a huge wake up call to humanity because what you are both saying Eduardo and Melinda is that we are repeating the same cycles as eons ago, we have not progressed at all we have involved if there is such a word rather than evolved.

  46. This blog is spot on – we can’t cast people out or treat them differently based on where they ‘come from’ or their history, because underneath the surface we are all the same. Since when did it become a ‘trend’ to discriminate against others because of their identity, anyway? So many people abuse refugees, other ethnic groups or religions not only face-to-face but also viciously online, but no matter how ‘powerful’ or bettered this might seemingly make someone feel, abusing your fellow brothers is not glamorous or powerful in any way. True power is being able to work with others and be consistent in life and in relationships with everyone.

    1. There was a period here recently where the Australian government was promising to turn back the refugee boats to hook more voter favour, and there was a definite air of fear mongering around the word “refugee” by both politicians and in the media. I find that deeply disturbing because true refugees are some of the most vulnerable peoples in the world, fleeing from unimaginable danger.

  47. Thank you Janina for this brilliant article as, although it makes me feel incredibly sad, I reckon it is worth seeing the truth of how everyone is living on earth, and what strikes me about your article is how much more rich and depth-full my understanding has become from reading your first hand experience of the people you are writing about, which brings in to question the current quality and the overall purpose of journalism.

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