Many of you will have heard and read about the influx of war and political refugees Europe, and particularly Germany, have seen in the recent months and weeks. Berlin is among those cities who have had the most arrivals of people, often whole families with babies and small children, from countries like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. So many of them have arrived at once that the city was overwhelmed with the influx and unable to take appropriate care of the situation. A certain number could be accommodated in emergency shelters but far too many, hundreds, if not thousands were left without any roof over their head – and still are. They simply get by on the mercy and kindness of strangers, people who want to help and take people up in their private homes for a short period of time. Day after day refugees camp outside the ‘Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales’ (the state agency for health and social issues, in short LaGeSo) waiting for answers on what will happen with them.

Call to action

It did not take long until my Facebook timeline was inundated with friends’ calls to action. Food was needed! Clothes! Wheelchairs! Strollers! Diapers! People I remembered from parties we attended years ago were now spending 16-hour-days with the refugees, each night posting on Facebook on behalf of those who desperately needed a roof over their head and a hot shower, even if it was just for one night. Their engagement has left a deep impression on me and not a day goes by when I don’t feel extremely grateful for those who put their own lives on hold to make someone else’s go on.

#bloggersforrefugees

It was Madeleine Alizedah of the Austrian Fashion Blog dariadaria who first made me realize something I have always been aware of, but have never felt a more urgent need to exercise – our voice as bloggers. From the first moment Madeleine got involved helping with the refugee situation in Austria, she shared her experience on her popular blog, thereby reaching tens of thousands of her readers. Her descriptions were heartbreaking, her words powerful. She put this pressing issue right in front of those who usually come to her blog for cute outfits and DIY tutorials. Normal people – like you, like me. Exactly the type of people who should be paying attention because WE ARE the ones who can help.

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For this exact reason I decided to get proactive. I signed up to help with the childrens’ room at the emergency shelter in Wilmersdorf, a place where kids aged 3 to 10 can come to play, read or do arts and crafts.

When my friend Romy and I arrived at 9am on a Sunday morning, two other helpers were already there but no kids yet, so we decided have a look around the building. We got back cheerful, hoping a few children would have made their way to the play room and indeed two had. A little boy was playing puzzles in the corner with Rafaele, a helper and father of 2 from Italy. The other was a little girl, who lay cradled into the lap of Saskia, another helper who had never worked with children before. The girl had buried her face in her hands, quieltly crying. The sight hit me like a hammer. “What’s going on? Why is she crying?”, I asked Saskia. She shrugged, the girl had suddenly stood in the doorway.

I had to leave the room, the tears came way too quickly. One more time, the monstrosities that these kids had been through left me feeling paralyzed. I thought of the stories I heard about babies being thrown overboard refugee boats for crying, about the 17 people that recently suffocated in the back of a van and the 54 who had to sit on top of the dead bodies. I thought of how terrible the situation must be back in their home country for them to risk all this just for a shot at a new life in Germany, a country they didn’t know would welcome them. A destination they were not sure they would even reach alive. All, these people came with was their hope.

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One woman’s journey

Across the hallway, in the women’s room I meet Hana who strikes me with her kind eyes and the adorable baby on her arm. “Sit!”, she ushers me to her table with a smile. Hana is a teacher from Syria, she came together with her husband and her 4 kids, aged 9, 6, 4 and 7 months. She offers me pomegranate tea. “Very good!”, she raves and I wonder if there is pomegranate tea in Syria. Upon my asking she tells me about their one-month journey to get to Germany. We communicate with hand and feet, a few English words and a pen and paper she uses to draw a boat, a truck and a map of Daraa, her home town, and the place where the uprising against the government led by President Bashar al-Assad first began in 2011. She’s 36, only 3 years older than I am but the war has clearly left its mark on her face.

To get to Germany she and her family first had to cross through Turkey and Greece, in Macedonia they had to bribe the police to be let through. They took cars, buses and boats. Part of the way they also had to walk, sometimes for many hours on end. In one arm she held her nursing baby, in the other her 4-year old daughter’s hand. Her husband carried the 6-year old son on his back. In Hungary they were thrown in jail for 10 days without enough food and drink.”Hungary was so bad. So bad.” she recalls, stroking her daughter’s hair. It was only due to their begging and pleading that the Hungarian police let them go, enabling them to eventually arrive in Munich via truck. 60 people on a 7 hour ride, within 30 minutes everyone in there was soaked in sweat. When they reached the border they were discovered but not rejected. After a week at a refugee shelter in Munich they were sat on a train to Berlin. She wanted to pay the police for the train ticket but they wouldn’t have it. “Germany, so good!” she says, touching her chest. I can tell her gratitude runs deep.

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Right now the future is a big unknown to Hana, she does not know what will happen to them next. What her hopes for a life in Germany would be, I ask her. “My heart is in Syria”, she says, “but for my children there is no future there. I only want a good life for them”. A mother’s plea. Any mother’s plea.

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Back in the children’s room I spontaneously call out an art project. I put some paper roll on the hall’s floor, quickly mix together a few colors I brought from home. The kids love pressing their painted hands on the white paper, the result looks beautiful. We later hang it in the hallway as a reminder that beautiful things can be made if we only get together.

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The little girl who was crying an hour earlier was now smiling, but a lot more has to happen until she can laugh those carefree laughs again and live like any child should – free, safe and surrounded by a loving family as well as a supportive community.

You can help

If you want to help too, there are a million big and little ways to do so. You can donate money here, any little bit helps and 100% of it go directly to the refugees. You can also provide material goods like clothes, food and more. For Berlin, find the list of what is needed here. If you are in Berlin and want to get proactive yourself, simply show up in front of the LaGeSo between Monday and Friday, there is always something to do. To help in Wilmersdorf sign up here.

But even if you don’t have cash to spare or clothes to give or live near enough to help out in person, you can still use your voice! Talk about the situation! Make it known that you do not agree with right-wing views and the hate that the refugees are confronted with. If you have a blog, consider writing a post using hashtag #bloggersforrefugees (or in German #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge) or simply share this blogpost. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you let everyone know: #refugeeswelcome.

 

All photos by Katja Hentschel.