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Pambazuka: Isolated from Society, Refugee struggles in Germany from a woman`s perspective - Bethi Ngari

After having overcome various obstacles on their dangerous routes, migrants and refugees are confronted with bad living conditions in isolated housing facilities in Europe. Refugee women are especially affected by this, as they are double victims to both systematic racism and sexism.

During the long journey to Europe we go through numerous risks. Fear accompanies every single border crossing we are trying to achieve and gets even stronger when we manage to do so. We live in constant anxiety for deportation to our countries of origin because we are officially discriminated and termed as an economical refugee, and in fear of being deported within the EU from one 'safe' country to another for the umpteenth time and in anxiety of even worse living conditions in these countries. We struggle every day with the fear of physical assaults and any other racist attacks in the streets of Europe. Every day, all of us have to struggle with all these kinds of fear and anxiety.

Coming from an African country it is not a secret how difficult it is to overcome these obstacles and as a result many young people are dying on their way to Europe. This migration is a result of how the European governments, multinational companies and the so called developed countries are affecting, directly or indirectly, the economies and governance of these countries. Of course to the common European, it is easier to reason that their governments are giving financial aid to the poor African countries, their multinational firms are providing employment to people in those countries. They try to ignore history and of course the price African countries are paying for these grants and the way their governments are exploiting Africans and their countries.

Bad living conditions for those who seek asylum

After experiencing routes full of dangers, pushed around throughout Europe, housed from one collective centre to the next, often far away from residential areas, schools, shopping centres and train stations, these are just some of the first experiences the asylum seekers face. The housing facilities differ from tents to containers, former military barracks to blocks of flat where one room is occupied by 2-4 asylum seekers depending on the size. The system isolates you with no perspectives of learning the language, working or further education. We don´t have contact with the German society in this separated world. Especially us women feel and are in danger in these conditions because of racist aggressions.

Living in these isolated collective homes means sharing of rooms (one is entitled only to 6qm², depending on the German Federal State you are living in, it could be less), kitchens, bathrooms, toilets, long corridors etc., and most of all lack of privacy. Workers in the collective homes can enter your room anytime without knocking, not caring of whether you are dressed or naked and you are not supposed to have visitors. When allowed then they should leave before 10pm, and if they stay overnight then they have to pay a fee. At night one hardly sleeps because of the noise going on in the long corridors. Children of school going age cannot concentrate on school work. These shared facilities usually are a source of quarrels between the residents which results in fights, women being sexually harassed and physically abused.

Racism is a daily occurrence on the streets as well as in the structural system. In the collective homes, workers, officials and other refugees discriminate asylum seekers by i.e. classifying them as those who are criminals and coming to Germany because of the social welfare and have nothing to look for here. The officials decide on who gets what from being housed to specialised medical care such as psychological attention. As a result of these living conditions of hopelessness, many asylum seekers end up suffering from stress and added depression from what they are already going through.

Useful” and “not useful” refugees

Asylum seekers are sorted by the criteria of usefulness: doors wide open for young and highly qualified, closed borders for all others.

Even the asylum applications are influenced by the economic interests of Germany: For Syrian refugees there is now a fast track procedure as their asylum applications are assumed to be 'obviously founded”. This is a good regulation, but why is this not applying to war refugees from Chad, Sudan or the Congo? It's simple: A high proportion of Syrian refugees have an academic education. In contrast, Asylum applications of Roma refugees from the Balkans are now rejected collectively as 'obviously unfounded'. They are marginalized in their countries of origin from the education system, and therefore do not bring attractive qualifications to the German economy. For those who don’t belong to the “useful” refugees, the disadvantage is worsened by the daily experience of racist discrimination, police profiling and attacks and racial abuses by members of the German society.

Asylum seeking women have very little chances in this unfair selection system: for they have in many countries around the world little access to education. Whether it's work bans or integration, refugee protection or deportation, detention or the right to stay. The whole German asylum system splits refugees and migrants;
Where once all refugees and migrants were deprived of their rights, we see now a residence and asylum law by hierarchical categories: 'Useful' migrants, who can be integrated, 'real refugees' who need at least temporarily protection and supposed cheaters, all are sorted into different drawers. At the same time many regulations and special laws are aimed to isolate asylum seekers from other parts of the civil society.

Discrimination against women

Refugee women are double victims to these circumstances and living conditions. They suffer the most, because they are the ones who take up the responsibility to ensure that their families function in these circumstances. In addition they struggle not only as refugees or illegalised persons, but also as women. Many women do not know their rights and are afraid that by being politically active, they are spoiling their chances of getting recognized as refugees. In other cases they just want to live in peace after going through so much before and after they arrive. The political movements and fights are dominated by men and they do not consider women issues important. Women are not only faced by the racist’s laws governing refugees but also face sexual violence and harassment and physical violence inside and outside the camps. These are issues which are not discussed in the mainstream refugee groups. Because of these experiences we decided to organise ourselves to fight for our rights from a woman`s perspective. We decided to inform ourselves about the laws governing refugees so that we could inform other refugee women and give them tips on how to go about official and social problems. We decided to give seminars and workshops to educate the women on their rights and to nurture empowerment. Our fundamental political goal is a just society without exclusion, discrimination and the abolition of all laws discriminating asylum seekers and migrants.

*Bethi Ngari was born in Kenya and has been living in Germany since 1996. She is founding member of “Women in Exile”, a self-organisation of refugee women. Contact: www.women-in-exile.net

This article was first published in German by AfricAvenir and Südlink on March 7, 2016. It was written as part of the project “Why we are here – African perspectives on flight and migration” conducted by AfricAvenir in 2015/16.

With the friendly support of the Landesstelle für Entwicklungszusammenarbeit and Engagement Global.

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