Together in a Small Space

Im Flüchtlingsheim

“I had hoped to finally be free in Germany”, says Fadil, who fled his home out of political reasons. In Etheopia the 27-year-old was part of the opposition and therefore in danger. When he first arrived to Germany in 2010, he was immediately sent to the reception centre in the Bavarian town of Zirndorf. There he had to share a 15 square metre room with five other Ethiopians. “We weren't allowed to leave the city”, says Fadil. Even in the communal housing complex on Wilhelm-Busch Street in Bayreuth, where he later moved to, was he stripped of the freedom of mobility. He was only allowed to leave Upper Franconia under tight restrictions.

Cosima Vogel is well aware of the fact that refugees don't feel all too comfortable in the asylum housing complexes. Vogel, a teacher from Bayreuth, volunteers as an advisor at the Social Services Office in Bayreuth. She accompanies refugees to the doctor, for example, or helps out with difficulties that arise in their daily lives. Such support begins the moment refugees cross the border, when they're registered, and when they're received at the reception centre. There they can wind up staying for up to six months. Only once the asylum process is set in motion are they transferred to communal housing complexes, in which they can live for up to 48 months – a long time.

60 People in a Small Space

Dany* from Senegal is very familiar with the accommodations. Like Fadil, he is also disappointed by the life he’s led in Germany so far. Despite having begun an education in the IT sector at a private institution in Dakar, Dany fled his home in 2013. The 25-year-old fled to Germany from Senegal via Morocco and Spain. In December 2014 he finally arrived in Dortmund, from where he was then sent to Bayreuth via Munich. “Luckily I didn't have to stay the night in Munich”, says Dany. “There were so many people there. Some even slept on the ground”.

Like Fadil, Dany is being housed at the complex on Wilhelm-Busch Street in Bayreuth. A room full of mattresses, 60 people, and a loud commotion. “To me it seemed like they’d dumped a bunch of mattresses in a warehouse”, says Dany in retrospect. Much worse was the fact that when he arrived he was given pork to eat, which is a taboo for Dany, who’s a Muslim. After he started received a little money, he chose never to eat in the housing complex ever again. In the meantime Dany now lives in Lichtenfels – a small city near Bayreuth – where he shares a flat with two Senegalese, three Nigerians, a Guinean, and a Sierra Leonean. They have a bathroom and a small kitchenette, but have neither Internet nor television. And none of them have anything to do to pass the time.

Speechlessness and Boredom

Like Dany, many refugees are bored in their accommodations. Access to the job market is made difficult for them. Language in particular is a large hurdle. It's difficult without knowledge of German to get by in their housing complexes or to make themselves understood with the social workers, let alone find a job. Lucky are those who are able to immediately begin taking language courses at the reception centre. But such courses are only ever offered by volunteers or social outreach services.

Nina from Nigeria, who arrived in Bayreuth in August 2015, also struggles with the language. Luckily she could communicate with Cosima Vogel in English. “When Nina first arrived here she was pregnant and had her four-year-old son with her”, says Vogel. The flat in which she now lives is also inhabited by a Kurdish family, three Congolese, and three young Senegalese. What was the worst for Nina in the beginning was that they couldn't communicate with each other. Today she feels a lot more comfortable because the others supported her in her pregnancy and often watch over her son. It takes a while for refugees to feel comfortable in their new living situations. This is often only possible through the help of volunteers and social service workers.

*Names changed by the editors

You can learn in this video why it’s important to go out with refugees to bars. Anna Warda and Lea Stratmann report on how communal living spaces are often a better alternative.

Rufine Songue
22 years old, Douala
. . . doesn't like it when people pass judgment on other people when they don't really know anything about their lives.