“At first, I liked this whole ‘refugees welcome’ atmosphere,” he says. “But at some point, I realized that for many people in Germany, we are always just ‘the refugee.’ As if we were a homogenous mass.”
What distresses him most, though, is the fact that his mother and sister live in Turkey and that he isn’t allowed to bring them to Germany. The German Embassy in Turkey wouldn’t even grant them visas for a short visit to Berlin.
Like so many other refugees, Qaiconie needs to live with the fact that his family has been torn apart, a source of melancholy for many Syrians in Germany.
The rules for bringing family members into Germany are strict. Only their closest relatives are allowed to join them, if at all. Adults can apply to bring their spouses and underage children, and minors can usually only apply for their parents, but not for their siblings, no matter their age. It often takes months for an application to be accepted and processed.
In 2018, 21,000 Syrians came to Germany through the family reunification process. Human rights organizations have accused the German authorities of slowing or obstructing the process in order to limit the influx, even for those who are entitled to it. The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the situation.
A Longing for Family
Amal Alburs, 41, barely recognized her son Mousa at the airport in Düsseldorf when he arrived. They had written and spoken via WhatsApp every week, she says: “But that’s different. The day I arrived, he suddenly had a beard.”
She let him leave when he was 12 years old, and now he’s a 16-year-old teenager. She needs to get to know her son again, a boy who has built up his own life in Germany over the past four years. Mousa has friends she doesn’t know. He speaks a language she doesn’t understand, and he feels at home in a city that intimidates her. She doesn’t even know what he likes to eat. Mousa says he doesn’t like Syrian food. “Far too much meat. I can’t even stand the smell.”
When the Alburs family tried to make it to Germany via Turkey, they split up into two cars as they drove to the coast from which their boat was set to leave, Amal Alburs recalls. She was in one car with her husband and two of their sons, while Mousa and his cousins were in the other. The vehicle containing the parents was stopped by the Turkish police, but the boys made it through. They managed to make their way to Germany, while the rest of the family got held back.
For a while, Mousa lived with an uncle near Leer, a city in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, but after an argument, he moved into a group home. Last July, he was able to bring his mother. Since then, they have rented a small apartment in Leer, where Mousa is going to secondary school. He would have liked to graduate in the summer, but school was cancelled too often in the past weeks and months because of the coronavirus. Mousa will repeat the ninth grade after the holidays, after which he wants to become a car mechanic.
A few trees are growing between the red brick buildings in the apartment block. Some doorbells bear Arabic names. Amal Alburs rarely leaves the house, but this was already the case before the pandemic. “I’ve always told her to go out,” says Mousa, “but she doesn’t have the courage.”
Amal Alburs speaks only a few words of German, but her son is almost fluent. She wants to learn the language, but she says she won’t have the energy for it as long as her other children are still in Turkey.
Mousa had submitted applications for the entire family to be reunited. The German authorities approved the visas for his mother and father, but not for his three siblings. The youngest, Asiel, is only four years old. The parents decided that the mother would fly to Germany so Mousa would finally not be alone after all these years. The father stayed behind in Turkey with the other children.
In early June, Amal Alburs received news from BAMF that she would enjoy so-called subsidiary protection in Germany from now on because she was “threatened with serious harm in her country of origin.” This means that she can now submit an application for family reunification herself. But it is unclear how long the procedure will take or whether it will ultimately be successful.
Amal Alburs cries a lot. “Every time we talk on WhatsApp, my little one asks me when I’m finally going to bring her to me,” she says. She’s worried about her child. A few days ago, she says, Asiel was playing on the street and was almost run over by a car. “I’ve been having panic attacks ever since, because I fear something bad might happen to her before she makes it to Germany.”
Amal’s smartphone is her most important link to the outside world. She spends a lot of time on Facebook, keeping up with the situation in Syria and Turkey. “It would be better if my mother wasn’t constantly reading things on Facebook,” Mousa says. “The Syrians are constantly posting horrible images from the war. That just makes you sad. I don’t want to see that.”