It was after lunch, the phone rang and a friend asked me if I could accompany an African woman to LAF (the institution in charge of deciding about Asylum), she was not well treated the day she went alone, also she speaks only French as European language. My answer, “yes, of course”. So next day in the early morning we were meeting at the Ubahn (the metro), we chatted a little bit until we arrived at the place. She told me first day she was alone and had been a bad experience, after she had gone with another friend and things changed just because she was being accompanied.
We arrived, showed the corresponding papers; they ask me if I’m accompanying, “yes, I am”, they show us the way to the first floor, I asked to go by lift, the security looks at me with a strange face, I wonder why, I’m accompanying a pregnant woman, on her 7th month. My experience from inside this process starts but noone tell us when is it going to be our turn, there are no numbers, so we can not move, they will call us at some point. My, already by now friend, starts explaining that she has had other appointments, she tells me with a lot of confidence, although it looks almost empty (a very big room was completely empty apart from us) upstairs we will find people and they will keep us here for hours. Now we are sitting here but then we will have to go to one office, then to another one and like this four times. I feel quite surprised that she understands so well what is going on, she has just arrived to Germany, she does not know the language and she has been almost to all the appointments alone and most of the times there are no translators.
First call, they take my friend to one room, when she comes back she tells me that they asked her “What’s your name?” “What’s your surname?”, “Where do you come from” “Date of birth?”, “Father, mother, sisters, brothers name”, “Date of birth of them”, “Are you married?” “Do you have children?”, this very same questions will be asked at least 3 more times during the same interview, “Are you married in you home country?” “do you have a husband in your home country?” … they filled in a form and that’s it, but is took around 45 minutes.
We wait again, in between they bring some sandwiches and drinks, food only for asylum-seekers, but they gave me some water. Sandwiches were really bad, I start thinking of what comes next. Suddenly someone comes and asks us, “What can I do for you?”, we look at each other and we are confused, they should know what they have to do, right?, we say “We are waiting”, ok, woman gone. We’ve bee waiting for at least 2h. Finally someone comes and shows us the way to the next office, it’s a counseling office from the Sozialdienst, they are there to tell us what is going to happen next with the asylum process. There is a translator, with not a friendly face … I smile a lot, as to say, come on, you can relax a bit … no luck, she did not smile. The counselor starts, blablablabla … at some point says, she must know she has rights, and that’s why I’m here for, to let her know … the translator decided to skip that part, I guess, why should be important to tell an African woman that she has rights … I try no to think too much, I prefer to think ok she just forgot, too many things to translate, the counselor continued, she looked at me a lot, I was wondering why, I was not asking for asylum and I was not the translator, never mind, it was good for me, it made me be focused … “she must know she has the right to …” … again the translator skipped that part … mmmm…. I started thinking not that well about the translator, also I must say that it was not a good translator, skipped most of the details and did some free translation giving advice, nothing very crucial but …. I’m not native French speaker but I do understand it pretty well, so. It was 13:25h the translator decided she had to go, but the counselor had not finished, she looked at me and said, then you can continue … “mmm ok, well …”.
Back again downstairs, they needed to ask some more questions “What’s your name?” “What’s your surname?” “Are you married?” “Do you have a husband?” “Where are you from?” … the translator was there again, somehow someone had called her again or probably she was friend of the person working behind the desk. We waited a bit more, my friend told me, you know all these German people never smiled, they have this face, she looked like constipated, then she started to laugh openly and I joined, I think is the very first thing we all migrants think when we arrive, why do people not smile. Still an unanswered question.
By now we had three out of four boxes ticked, that means the interviews/forms/offices through which we had gone through. The last one for today, medical check, the form was in German, and well I don’t even know the name of most of the diseases in my own language, I can assure anyone I have no idea what they mean in German, the translator said she won’t come. The medical person says, wait a translator has to come, I say “well, she said she is not coming”, the medical person looks at me as if I was saying nonsense, “ok”. Three minutes later, “well there is no translator, maybe you can help”, mmmm I can accept to translate about general things, you know “Whats your name?” “Are you married?” “Which is your home country?” “Do you have a husband?” but to deal with health issues is another thing, I don’t feel comfortable now, mmm how do you say kidneys in German?Spanish? does it sound something like in French? … mmmm … well we showed the medical pass that my friend had due to her pregnancy, her doctor talks French, she will ask her this questions. Phewwww!!!. Now a blood test to check about tuberculosis. I go outside.
By now is 14:30 we had arrived at 9:30, I’m tired of seating, my back hurts, I decided to walk around, the big lounge is completely empty, there are only around 6 security people (but remember there are no French translators), a woman cleaning a clean floor and nothing else. I start moving, 2 minutes later one of the security guys tells me, “can you please remain seated?”, I’m not sure if it’s a joke, I understand they are bored, so I smile and continue walking, then he asks me the same again, then I reply “But why? there is nobody around and I’ve been already 5h seating”, the answer “maybe comes someone from the office and sees you walking, they don’t know what are you doing and then they will call us to order” I could not react, what did this exactly mean? people have gone completely stupid, their souls have been stolen? … I decided to go to the toilets, then I had an excuse to walk. They show me where are the toilets, they are outside, it’s a container. I start thinking, now, it the so-called summer in Berlin, but in winter, I mean I month ago, had people to go outside just to pea or wash their hands?. No comments.
By now I was too tired, astonished, amazed of what it means to go through the long process of bureaucracy, and this is just the first step, the next day continued.
Next day, 8 o’clock in the morning, standing in front of the door. A couple of pregnant woman but no chairs. One by one we start entering. While entering they register our things they check if we have knives, probably so that nobody commits suicided while going through the process, but I must say, the security a very big smile, I wondered. Inside, also only 2 chairs, I ask for another one (it belonged to the security but they said ok, we could use it). This time they guided the pregnant women and the people with them to go upstairs on the lift . Another big waiting room. 7 people of a security company, around 30 asylum-seekers.
First call, a couple of guys approach to us, “Come”, we stand up and follow them, they ask “She speaks English right?”, “No” is my answer, they look at her an speak to her veeery slowly and a bit loud in English maybe like this she will understand English, I wonder what part of “No” they didn’t get, but still my friend looks at me wondering what does she have to say, I tell them, I speak French I can help with the translation, they guys look relieved, “Fine, thanks”, we go together to this first office, there are 3 chairs and a table, we sit, they start with the form, “What’s your name?” “What’s your surname?”, “where do you come from” “Date of birth?”, “Father, mother, sisters, brothers name”, “date of birth of them”, “Are you married?” “Do you have children?”, this very same questions will be asked at least 3 more times during the same interview, “Are you married in you home country?” “do you have a husband in your home country?” … difficult questions to answer so they have to double check… more questions about the family “how many aunts, uncles, cousins,etc?”, impossible to answer … then comes the observation “can you ask again how many brothers and sisters? you know, sometimes the father is married several times” … I played the role of the translator but I really was wondering what is the purpose of asking the same again and again but to pressure people and to give for granted that they are lying. On the other side of the table we have an apprenticeship, not knowing how to write in German very well, checking on the phone the spelling, being assessed by other guy from his same country of origin, I make a guess, they are contracting the same refugees to work with the refugees asking for asylum, creating a division, drawing a thin line of power, shutting many mouths because it’s a job, the most important part issue to grant integration in Germany…. but well is just I guess, probably I’ll be wrong. After taking around one hour to answer around 20 question regarding personal data, they send us again downstairs, being thankful for the translation, asking me where I come from, and smiling when I say Spain.Ok.
They gave us hope, don’t worry the next interview will be in some instants and before 12 you will be finish. It has 10am, we were there already 2h. We sat down. Around half an hour later they came with the sandwiches, water and peaches. My friend looks at the peach, “what it this? is it an apple?” …mmmm I don’t know how to explain what is a peach, so I just say “Well if they are sweet, they taste nice”, sometimes I come up with some kind of stupid answers but is true, I like peaches when they are sweet :-D.
We continued chatting, she said “they don’t have translator because I’m black, they don’t care about Africans”, I can agree on that but I can also imagine they just want that the asylum process does not work, for nobody. Today she didn’t eat the sandwiches but she had bought some biscuits, at some point she asked me, “do you think I can offer biscuits to the children”, I said “I think so, I don’t think there is any problem” my friend continues, “maybe the mother does no like it”, I didn’t know what to say, it really kind of depends on the mother, she continues “in Africa, or in my country, if a child stares at you when you are eating means that he wants to eat, so it’s not nice if you don’t give the child part of what you are eating. This child was looking at me, and I feel bad if I don’t share it with him”. I didn’t know what to say, for me children just tend to look at everything, and they are really curious about people, how they move, act, so I had not thought about the possibility that when they look at you, it means that they want to eat.”Do as you feel, I don’t think the mother minds if you offer something to her son” but she was shy to do it and she just kept staring at the child, at her biscuits as wishing that it would just happen that the child would get them. Maybe next time she just asks the mum, who knows in what language, but humans are quite incredible when it comes to want to communicate, so I guess there would not be any problem.
Its 11:30h, already 4h, a translator comes and shows us the way to the next office, I go with them, when I arrived the civil servant feels confused, who am I and what am I doing there, well I’m a friend. They don’t know what to do( with a friend!!!) , so they accept me to stay. They start asking some question, guess which ones, yesssssss “What’s your name? and surname? your country of birth?” They wanted to check the form that had been written by the guys that did the previous interview, amazing!!!! The translator asks me if I’m French, I say no, I’m Spanish, another smile, ahhh I go every year on holidays to Barcelona, where are you from?” “Madrid” … then the classical joke “ahh Madrid-Barcelona rivals” … mmm … he continues with the same questions, “do you have a lawyer?” “does he represent you?” uffff … I decide to ask the translator in French, “Where are you from?”, he answers from a country in the north of Africa, “ahhh nice :-)”. The public servant says, “you can only talk in German because I have to understand it and better is you don’t talk” “ups, sorry”.
We are finish, but still one more interview to come. We wait for around 40 min, the translator comes again, this time I cannot follow them, so I stay in the waiting room with the rest of the people, I need to move again, this time they don’t say anything, I try to seat after, “No you cannot seat there, you have to seat on the other area” .. again I’m puzzled, we are all packed in one half of the room while the other half is basically empty, there are no signs indicating the difference. But again I’m already tired, I decide to continue walking, also this morning the phone was very quite, no friends chatting, no groups talking, boring and I was getting nervous I had to go to work, and still we had not finished.
At around 13h my friend came back, guess what, they did her again the same questions, the difference this time was that at the end of the interview they said, “she is telling the truth”. No comments.
I thought we had finish but no, there was still another interview pending, I had to go, so I said bye to my friend and told her that if everything she could reach me by phone, but I really needed to go to work. She phoned me at 15:30h she just had finished, the last interview was for asking her why was she asking for asylum, “because I’m threaten to death”. Now they will send a letter to the lawyer with the appointment for the big, final definitive Interview, key for getting the asylum, and it will take around 3h-4h.
I leave the building, I ask where is the exit, a security show me the way, he asks me “Are you from Spain”, “yes”, “I go every year for holidays to one of the islands”, “nice”, then he asks “Do you want to have a coffee?” … mmmm … “I don’t have time”, “No, I mean another time” . “Well, not really”. No comments.