Ali Zavari lives in an accommodation for refugees in Wetzlar. In this interview with Nikolai Huke, he speaks about the consequences the accommodation situation and the pandemic had for him and his family.
What were your experiences after you arrived in Germany?
When we came to Germany, we got a lot of problems. We did not expect this at all. We thought that now a red carpet would be rolled out for us and everyone would say, “Okay, welcome. You can choose how you want to live here.” It was a joke. I know that nobody invited us to Germany and nobody laid out a red carpet for us, saying “Please come in.” We were first in the initial reception centre in Giessen for 40 days, then in Neustadt for ten days, then we were housed in Biskirchen for two years.
Biskirchen is a small village with a thousand inhabitants. On the weekends there is no bus and no other public transport. Our flat was on the third floor. I used to say, “My wife is pregnant, she can’t walk up and down the stairs all the time.” They said, “Okay, we'll tell the boss. Maybe it will take a little while.” Our son was then born on the third floor.
My German course was in Wetzlar and I had to travel 20 kilometres every day, there and back. There was only one bus per hour. That was for a whole year.
Going to authorities was very time-consuming and also expensive. We would have preferred to stay at home, learn German, do sports or something with the family instead of always being on the road to Wetzlar. My wife was pregnant at first and then took care of the baby. Since there were no courses with childcare here, she could not attend a German course and thus wasted a lot of time. My daughter always has to go with her to translate, for example to doctors.
How has life in the shelters affected you and your family?
My daughter was depressed for a few months. She would not leave her room. She needed psychological help and then had weekly psychotherapy. The therapist wrote her a certificate, three A4 pages, stating that the cramped living conditions in the home were the reason why she became ill. The therapist then recommended that she needed privacy, she had to get out of this camp system. But the social welfare office didn’t accept that.
When we came here, she was 12. Children of this age should be able to be children, have fun and not think: “Why don’t we have a flat? We had a very nice flat in Iran, why are we here?” It is not good to grow up too early and have to deal with your father’s and mother’s problems. If my wife has women’s problems, my daughter does not have to know — but she finds out because she must go with her to the doctor to translate. Things like that are not good for a child. And many such small things together become a big problem that one — especially as a child — cannot bear.
What are your current accommodations like?
Now we live in Wetzlar in a shared flat. We share the toilet, bathroom, and kitchen with our neighbours. It is hard to share everything with so many people. This is a small house here, maybe it would be good for a family with two children. But there are ten people living here, sharing a kitchen, a cooker, a washing machine, everything. How are we supposed to keep our distance during COVID? We don’t know where our neighbours go to outside, with whom, in which crowds, do they wear masks or not, whether they wash their hands…
Hygiene is very important to my family and me, not only because of the pandemic, but also in general. We attach a lot of importance to it. That is why we have taken on many cleaning tasks here in the accommodation. In the common rooms, bacteria or viruses can spread very quickly. That is why we are in this role, so to speak, that we also clean for the others to protect ourselves. However, during COVID, we got new neighbours here in the house every month. And that is dangerous.
I find the hygiene situation here in the home more difficult than in the initial reception centres in Giessen or Neustadt. There, there were rules, security guards who say: “Do this! No, don’t do that.” Things like: “Don't make this dirty! Please, not so loud.” They make sure that they clean regularly. Toilets and showers are always clean.
In the home, you must do everything yourself, but together with neighbours, some of whom we hardly know. No one is responsible or in control. Someone cleans and others come and make it dirty. I know that it may not be possible to rent a private flat for all refugees, but you should at least separate the toilet or bathroom. Otherwise, there are always problems — even more so now.
How much private living space do you have for your family?
As a family, we occupy two small rooms here with our son and our daughter, who is now 15. They can’t sleep well or learn well because of that: one child wants to sleep, one wants to learn. I also want to learn German, but it must be dark because we have no other place. My daughter attends school online at home, she is in ninth grade because the school is closed because of COVID. For my wife there is no German course since the pandemic started.
Outside our rooms it is often dirty. But our little boy always wants to get out, because a room is like a prison for a child. We then always must scold him: “Oh, why are you going out?” We must clean his feet, then wash his hands again and again and again and a hundred times. That wears us down psychologically. It is not good for our health. And it is not like this for one day, two days, one month, two months, but always!
We are quite afraid of COVID and have a lot of worries about the future. We do not know what is to come. We do not even know when our situation will finally improve. You know, sometimes it would be better to be in prison. Then you would know, “I have to stay in prison for five years.” But the way things are now, it is unbearable. We don’t know when this will end, and our situation will improve.
What is your professional situation?
It is difficult to find a job because everything is closed in the sports and rehabilitation sector where I am trained. All the offices are closed. No one answers emails, no one answers the phone. All we can do is be patient and wait. Everything takes even longer because of this.
I do not have a work permit. I am allowed to work, but the immigration office always has to approve the job. I have lost many jobs because of this. Why? The employer needs a worker tomorrow, but I must fill out a lot of papers and send them to the immigration office — and then the decision only comes after four or six weeks. The employer does not wait that long.
I recently found my dream job: a big centre, all sports, gym, pool, sauna, massage. Many well-known people or teams, football clubs come to train there. This is my dream job. It absolutely matches my qualifications and skills.
I have the possibility to do an apprenticeship or to work directly. They would like to employ me. But for two months now I have not received an answer from the immigration office. Let’s see how it goes, the centre has lost many members because of the pandemic. But at the moment they still say, “We are waiting for you.”