Bicultural Urbanite Brianna Refugees welcome: Hitting integration for six
On the remote island of Australia, it seems possible to hold much of the world’s chaos and turmoil at arm’s length. Although war and conflict are standard fare for local news bulletins, it’s easy to feel disconnected from all the death, despots and displaced people. The same could be said of many European countries. So when millions of asylum seekers began arriving in Europe in 2015, it was as if the fourth wall had cracked. The grim reports from far flung places were suddenly playing out on our doorstep. During the height of the crisis I donated warm clothing and signed online petitions, then a year ago I decided to become directly involved by becoming a refugee mentor.
The mentoring programme I joined is run by Integra, a Berlin-based company that primarily focuses on integrating people with a disability into the workforce. The programme was established in response to the refugee crisis and is designed to help asylum seekers take advantage of educational opportunities and find work in Germany. When I signed up, I wasn’t sure how much assistance I could offer as a non-German freelance translator and copywriter with a limited understanding of Germany’s employment market and vocational training system. But soon enough, I was introduced to my potential mentee: Abdul Hasib, a 24-year-old asylum seeker from the tribal north of Pakistan. I knew very little about that part of the world, aside from its reputation as a Taliban stronghold. However I knew that Pakistan and Australia share a particular sporting obsession. “Do you like cricket?” I ventured. A broad smile spread across Abdul’s face. Bingo. I had found some common ground to get the ball rolling. The German mediator was unable to follow our conversation about “batting” and “Shane Warne”, but was delighted that we appeared to be getting along.
Abdul Hasib and his friends in their German class. | © Abdul Hasib Bajawri After a five-month journey marked by fear, hunger and loneliness, Abdul ended up in refugee accommodation in Spandau. He didn’t speak a word of German, but could communicate using Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and his limited English (which consists largely of cricket terminology). When I met Abdul, he had already completed various language courses and internships designed to integrate asylum seekers and refugees into German life. I was impressed not only by how much he had achieved in two years, but also by the extensive social services and support Germany offers its newly arrived migrants.
GERMANY WELCOMES REFUGEES – AND CRICKETMuch to my surprise, Abdul had found a local cricket league and joined a team with other Pakistani and Afghani refugees. I had no idea there were any cricket teams in Germany, or that Afghanistan – not a former British colony – had developed a love of the sport. Many of the millions of Afghanis who fled to cricket-loving Pakistan in the 1990s have since returned home, leading to a surge in the game’s popularity. While cricket pitches are by no means a common sight in Germany, there are now 320 teams and “new teams are formed nearly every week,” according to the Tagespiegel.
Playing cricket at Tempelhofer Feld with a Commonwealth crew from Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and India. | © Brianna Summers Although Abdul would probably prefer to spend our meet-ups watching online videos of Shoaib Akhtar clean bowling hapless batsmen, we generally spend our time together interpreting official letters, composing emails and researching educational opportunities. As fellow immigrants, we swap stories about our homelands and discuss the idiosyncrasies of German culture. I often accompany him to job fairs, official appointments and generally help him wade through the endless paperwork of the German bureaucracy.
FINDING WAYS TO STAYJust two months into the mentorship, Abdul was notified that his asylum application had been rejected. He had 30 days to leave the country. After a flurry of phone calls we managed to organise a lawyer and appeal the decision. The lawyer explained that Abdul’s appeal would almost certainly fail, because Germany’s bureaucrats consider Pakistan to be a ‘safe country of origin’. Yet the appeal would buy us valuable time – if Abdul could improve his German and begin a three-year Ausbildung (vocational training course), he might be issued a Duldung, meaning that his deportation would be suspended for the duration of the training.
Integra has been incredibly supportive in Abdul’s search for an Ausbildung. The organisation provides training for its mentors, as well as workshops and excursions for both mentors and mentees. This free education has taught me a lot about the range of educational programmes, welfare benefits and support available to asylum seekers in Berlin. It’s impressive stuff. There are free integration courses, German language courses that focus on specific occupations, internship programmes, computer skills courses, occupational counselling, special job fairs for refugees, funding for the recognition of foreign school and university certificates and much more. Abdul’s refugee accommodation is admittedly quite bleak, but it’s free and he also receives 104 Euro each week (161 Australian Dollars) and a huge discount on public transport tickets.
Cricket training on an indoor soccer pitch. | © Abdul Hasib Bajawri
GERMANY VS AUSTRALIAIt’s hard not to contrast this with Australia’s secretive and punitive offshore mandatory detention centres, or the measly 227 Australian Dollars per week benefit that is supposed to cover an Asylum Seeker’s total living expenses. According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), this maximum weekly entitlement is well below the poverty line (which is 412 Australian Dollars). Although I’m not familiar with the ins and outs and refugee resettlement in Australia, I get the impression that the federal government doesn’t provide a great deal of funding for community-based services and welfare organisations, and that NGOs like the ASRC are often left to pick up the pieces. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
I’ve learnt a great deal as a refugee mentor. Not only about German immigration law and Pakistani fast bowlers, but about village life in Bajaur and the realities of fleeing conflict. For Abdul, things are looking up. He still hasn’t been summoned to court to contest his appeal, which means he still has a chance to secure a future in Germany. He’s been offered a six-month Einstiegsqualifikation at an internationally renowned hotel, which is a stepping stone towards an Ausbildung in Hotel Administration. Abdul tells me he never wants to stop learning; he would like to get a degree and one day run his own business. “What kind of business?” I ask. “I’m not sure yet. But I have a plan,” he grins.