On the Pursuit of a Home

400 refugees arrive in Hamburg every day and all of them have to be provided with a new home in an alien country. These people are unfamiliar with the new culture and try to fit into
the new environment. The German government gives them primitive accommodation. But is it enough?
Mina is an Iranian woman who came to Hamburg 21 months ago in search of safety and shelter. She has already lived in two public accommodations but still does not have a private one. Absolutely alone after almost two years, she is fighting the German government in order to be provided with an identity and a private place to live.

In July 2015 Hamburg provided accommodation facilities for some 7,000 refugees. These facilities were divided into public and private housing. Only 1,000 refugees were able to get private accommodation which means that they live in an apartment paid for by the German government. Citizens of the City of Hamburg have the right to take a refugee into their home and give them shelter but they have to cover all costs themselves and are not supported financially by the government. The City of Hamburg does not admit refugees to private housing, even if they are entitled to it.
When we first meet Mina she seems happy to be in a safe place but unsatisfied with her housing situation in Hamburg. She sees the camera set up and her mood changes rapidly. We notice her getting anxious. She wants to stay anonymous but still agrees to tell us her story. We are giving her a new name for this narrative – Mina.

Mina has been waiting for a private apartment the entire time she has been in Hamburg as a refugee— almost two years. Seeing that other refugees in a similar situation as hers have already been granted private accommodation, she says: "The situation here is not fair." Mina talks about a new rule saying that refugees should be given a private apartment after 15 months in public accommodation. Although Mina says that she would meet this requirement, she still has not received an answer from any official. Upon asking why she is not being accepted to move into private housing, officials claim that she was giving wrong information: "They say I'm lying."

There are organizations which can protect Mina's rights regarding her accommodation situation. Flüchtlingsrat Hamburg e.V. is one of them. Its member Hermann Hardt notices that there is an enormous difference between what politicians say and what is reality. "Politicians usually claim that after 3 months of staying in a first public housing facility, refugees should be provided with places with better living conditions. But actually this process could take more than a year." Another point is that refugees simply don't get enough money for providing themselves with the necessary basics for their living.

"They usually get about €140 per month, that's why they are not able to cook by
themselves and have to eat only canteen food. Because of it they also have to wear shabby clothes," says Hermann Hardt.

While telling her story, Mina starts to get more and more nervous. "The government does not only refuse to give me asylum in Germany, but I also have to live without an identity in this country. I have to renew an identity card that was given to me every three or six months for the last two years now."

Mina soon explains why it is so difficult for refugees to stay in public accommodations. "It is mostly large buildings where a big number of people from different countries are brought together and have to live without any privacy." In Mina's first accommodation in Hamburg
four women shared one room. Men had to share a room with seven or eight other individuals. The sanitary facilities do not keep up with humanitarian standards and are only cleaned every three days. "Toilets and showers were in a terrible condition. Everything was dirty. It was a difficult situation."


Let's also take into consideration that temperatures are already around 10 degrees Celsius in Hamburg. Winter is coming and almost all refugees are not used to the cold weather in Germany and do not even have any warm clothes.

According to politicians, appropriate shelters for the winter are under construction. "But we are really skeptical about it because even last year during the winter lots of refugees had to sleep in tents or cold containers. This year there are much more refugees so we don't believe it will work," Hermann Hardt from Flüchtlingsrat Hamburg mentions. In Hamburg today there are about 1 million square meters of empty office spaces, so it could be possible to accommodate people there.

The public accommodation Mina is living in as of now is a bit better, she tells us. "Nevertheless it is still a camp." She now has her own room, but as the number of refugees coming to Hamburg is dramatically increasing every day, refugees are aware that rooms will soon have to be shared. Mina has her own key to the toilets and a kitchen that is shared with about 50 other inhabitants.
Mina is one of 10,000 examples that prove that more accommodations should be built for refugees. Now the numbers reach about 6,000 new apartments per year, but according to Hermann Hardt it should be no less than 10,000 a year. "Of course, it takes time to build houses. But there are some empty appropriate buildings in Hamburg that could be used," Hardt says and refers to a huge housing complex completely empty in the Grindelhof area.

@German-Russian Media Exchange
IMC HAW-Hamburg and the Faculty of Journalism at St.Petersburg State University

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