My name is Jindanooch Wangjai, an exchange student from Mahidol University International College, in Thailand. I visited volunteer planner website and I choose to volunteer at a camp near my dorm, Heerstraße 16. With my little German skills, I can work in the kindergarten.
The refugee hub at Heerstraße is operated by C.U.B.A. (Consulting Umwelt Bilding Arbeit), an NGO operating in Berlin for minimum 20 years (further info: cuba-med.com). There are about 400 refugees and 60 children.
Before I came to Berlin, I had once visited Immigration Detention Center (IDC) in Bangkok, Thailand. There are a lot of refugees and migrants. I do not know exactly whom the police will take them there, but there are also a lot of children. I made an appointment to meet a 18-year-old Somalian girl, who has no parents, relatives and friends in IDC. She cannot access to education. This emphasizes me number of differences of service for refugees in Berlin and my country.
[Kindergarten at Heerstraße 16, photo taking under permission]
My first day of volunteering in the kindergarten is full of impression by almost 20 children playing around. Their age is from 4 to 11 years old. There are two officers taking care of them. The Arab children were dancing and singing german songs. It surprised me that they can speak German quite well. They are arab children who already blend with the German Western culture, seems to me that apart from their appearance, they are German children. Some of them were here because their school closed due to term break. After that there are very few children in the kindergarten that I decide to change my volunteering work later on.
One of the most prominent condition of refugee children here is that they are allowed to go to public school for free. In other words, they get the same rights as German children. This is the reason why they can speak German while all of them are Arabs. For the children whose age is not for school, they can come to the kindergarten to play and study. Once we exchanged language knowledge about numbers, a five-year-old boy taught me and other volunteer about Persian and German. Then he surprised me when he asked us to continue in French. I am happy to see them growing up with lots of opportunities, however, it is still a problem that we never know when their parents will be deported and at that time they will have to leave school again.
It seems to me that refugees here have more freedom and opportunities to resettle than refugees in Thailand. They have seperated family rooms even though some family has to share their rooms with another family, but it is a lot more comfortable when compare to the detention center in Bangkok where people mostly have to live separately from their opposite gender family member in a big room with other 300 detainees. Since our education is not free, children in IDC are supported by Thai government to go to school until primary school or sometimes grade 9 or sometimes lower than that. Opportunities to get a job, to study or resettle for these refugees or what the government calls ‘migrants’ are never fulfilled in this place. It is hard to know that how many of children in Thailand has a dream about their future.
I still want to hear more stories, but working with children does not fulfill my desire to know about refugee in Berlin so much, so I went with a refugee tour named ‘Refugee Voice’.
The tour guide came late about five minutes, but that was good, because I got lost with group. Once I got into the group, he started to talk about Germany history during world war II, which I did not expect to hear. After a while, he connect story to Syria history. We moved to a couple more important places to visit in Berlin, then he noticed that everyone seemed to be so cold under few degrees, as a result we ended up in a syrian restaurant.
The refugee tour guide is from a city near Damascus in Syria. He is in middle age, and is currently studying program writer and working in the same area. He asked me not to mention his name on social media.
Among tour group, there were a journalist from The Guardian who was here to interview and would write a column, two Berlin tour guides to see if they should bring their customers to join this tour, an awesome couple American Jewishes whose parents were from Germany, six western tourists and three Muslim girls including me.
After we arrived the restaurant, he began to talk more about history of Syria and his personal migration and family. The dictatorship took place even before he grew up. After Bashar Al Assad took power, his photos were posted everywhere even in classroom. One day his friends was making fun of the photo, military came to the room and arrest the poor boy who was about only 15 years old.
Since then a lot of children age 9 to 15 years old were arrested to torture and execute to death penalty. Their parents were investigated and punished as they did not teach their children properly. Those detainees were accused of crime against ‘national security’, a familiar word to me. The father of guide warned his son to be more careful about his expression in public. However, guide name was listed in blacklist of government up to three times. Fortunately, there was a man who decided to remain working in government position to help deleting the names of people who are against the government. Unfortunately, the man could not help the guide anymore. Our guide had 48 hours to leave his country. He moved to Libya and studied their for two years then got into trafficking to follow other siblings to Germany. His smuggler got him into car driving across countries, Turkey to Greece. He would like to end up in Germany to meet his sister who already get asylum acceptance in Berlin. His movement to Germany was untold. He applied asylum in Hamburg and lived in a shipping container with other 15 refugees for months and then came to Berlin.
His story reminds me of Alex’s talk that were shown in our Service Learning class that first welcoming refugees by providing them culture and language course to them and opportunities to go out and work will bring them independent from others’ help. Before the subsidiary protection policy, he could not go to integration class, consequently he could not be independent. Once our guide can go out, he came to work and get money and then move out of the camp to live in his own apartment. Secondly, the family reunite policy, Alex resists that family members should be allowed to reunited, it is clearly seen that without the addressing reunite family, smuggler tend to be unworthy common solution for many refugees.
The guid left with very emotional conclusion that as long as refugees is reported in media as ‘refugee crisis’, they will never be welcomed. They will be always seen as problem and burden.
I turn back to Heerstraße 16, after new year break, I talked to head of officers here that I would like to work in other department that I can hear more stories. Social department always needs more people to service them. They need who can speak Arabic or German to translate, which I am not qualified. However, I can work in a computer room to help the refugees who tried to find new place to live in Berlin. I met a man from Afghanistan, he can speak Arabic, Urdu, German and English. Now he is studying to get a certificate for applying to a construction company, which will never requires any minimum education in many countries, nevertheless he still tries to get it.
No matter where I go, I see refugees are searching for a chance to be independent. They really want to be independent, what they want from us just ‘opportunities’.