Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Psychology of Eight Weeks of Refugee Camp

I sat and watched a three-minute piece on the German evening news last night on some refugee camp.  The camera guy was lead around....covering probably twenty moments of the camp and showing mattresses on the floor....some military-style cots....water containers with paper cups....and the chow line for some meal.  In some ways, pictures tell more than actual words can convey.

Having sat around a military camp on a couple of periods of my life, I can relate to this atmosphere a bit.  I know the various angles of negativity and stress.

In the case of these people....the arrival day at the camp is a thrill beyond imagination.  It's an indicator of arriving at the destination and finally getting some glimmer of hope.  The evening dinner will be some point of celebration....better days ahead.

By day three....they've walked the entire camp over.  It's not that big and the Germans seem somewhat friendly but guarded.  Paperwork has been necessary and the Germans indicate it's the first step toward possible immigration being granted.  Somewhere in the conversation, the German bureaucrat kinda hints that there are 'filters' to immigration and that some people don't get accepted.  He will try to suggest that each case is different and studied for it's own merits. This is the first uneasy point for the new guy, with his belief for weeks and weeks that if he just showed up....they'd let him stay.

Between day seven and ten, some reality starts to hit.  Sleeping on a cot was OK for the first couple of nights and certainly better than sleeping on the ground as they walked across half of Europe to reach here, but there's some frustration over this cot and camp atmosphere.  You start to mingle and talk to others, with a dozen-odd people who you frequently bump into and swap life stories.  They hear your pain and suffering drama, and you hear out their verbal memoir.  They are your companions on this road to a new life.

Around day eleven, you get friendly with an Iraqi couple.  The guy was a certified diesel mechanic in northern Iraq when ISIS came.  His wife had been a librarian with the local school and spoke three languages.  They have their two kids with them.  They relied on two family members to get them from Iraq to Romania, and from there...they walked for a week before catching a train to near the Hungarian border. They've been waiting ten weeks now for some approval.  It's been an uneasy wait.

On day twelve, you need cigarettes and have encountered an Albanian kid who sells them loosely (not in a pack, hand-packed).  With bits of English, you communicate back and forth with the kid and arrange a deal for six cigarettes with the pocket money that the Germans issued you on day two.  The kid is seventeen and has been in camp for ten weeks.  He has aspirations of a taxi job in Germany, and a better life than what was existing in Albania.

On day fourteen, you encounter both the Albanian kid and the Iraqi couple.  The Iraqi couple was accepted finally, and were told to pack up by tomorrow morning with what belongings they have and pick up a box lunch at the breakfast setting.  The bus will leave by noon for their new life in some town which they can't pronounce, has only 2,000 residents and two hours away from any major town.  They are happy but slightly dismayed over the selection of the town.

The Albanian kid?  Well....he was disapproved and told to be ready at 6PM today for a bus which will pull up and take him back to Albania.  It's a twenty-four hour ride.  He's angry, frustrated, bitter and admits absolute defeat..  He asks why the Syrians are virtually guaranteed immigration approval and why he has virtually no chance. You just nod and try to stay positive.

By day twenty, you've seen forty people get approval or disapproval situations.  You kinda realize now that Iraqis and Syrians have a ninety-nine percent chance of getting approved.  For everyone else, it's less than ten percent.  There is a certain unfairness to this.  You can't understand the Germans and why everyone can't be approved for immigration.

On day twenty-two, it's dark and stormy day.  The Germans say summers are like this.  Everyone is centered in the big building and the air inside of it has a funny smell. It's obvious that certain groups of people aren't bathing each day and there's not much that the Germans can do to force them into regular hygiene situations. A German walks around to nudge people who are smoking inside of the building.....'das is verboten' is uttered a good bit and he wants you to go outside into the rain, if you smoke.

On day thirty, you encounter a fight between four Albanians and two Iraqis.  The Germans call the cops and peace is restored.  The cops stay for the rest of the day,and there's talk that a police team will be around the facility from sun-up to sun-down.  The cause of the fight?  Some Albanian insulted the Iraqi guy's sister.  The fact that neither spoke a language that the other could understand is underscored here.  Somehow, an insult in one language works itself across in any language. Who would have known that?  The necessity of insulting the guy's sister?  Maybe just to pass the time of day or some form of entertainment.  You can't understand it and just try to avoid the Albanians whenever possible.

On day thirty-four, you encounter four Eritrea men, between the ages of fifteen and twenty.  They've been at the camp for eight weeks now and seem to smile and grin over each passing day.  If you could measure zeal and energy....they'd rank up at a maximum of 'ten'.  No one in the camp acts like this and you question their sanity.  They remark....where they've been and what they've seen....anything can be better.  They spend six hours a day grilling each other on German language and customs.  The German integration person is amazed at their wiliness to participate.  They sit each evening and watch German soccer teams on the big-screen TV and get pumped up over the game itself.  Each talks about the future and how they fit into Germany.  Personally, you think they are crazy....but you kind of envy them.  They are different.

By day forty, camp life is getting to you.  It repeats itself daily.  Some new people arrival and some people leave.  There's growing frustration now by the Albanians and the Kosovo folks....they are sharp-tongued on the Germans and their rules.  They point out the big sheet at the entrance of the chow area, which lists thirty-two rules of living in the camp.  It's in twelve different languages and covers just about every single area that might upset people.

By day forty-two, another fight occurs.  Oddly, this is strictly between two Syrians.  One accuses the other of having been an ISIS member.  The Germans come and collect both men.  There's some curious nature by the Germans over this accusation, and the accused guy has to explain some things.  He's been at the camp for twelve weeks and expected approval any day now.  Another Syrian comes forward to make accusations against the suspected ISIS guy.  The Germans decide it's not safe for this guy to remain at this they want to send to another camp two hours away.  After the guy leaves, the one German guard at the front gate is talking to you and indicates that the guy probably won't be approved now.

On day forty-nine, some friendly but naive German group arrives with big truck of used clothing and German books.  They are helping to organize some games for the kids and offer two hours of German language training each day.  You understand their sincere nature but you think they seem awful naive.  No one from the southern European countries trusts them.

On day fifty-four, you've hit a pretty negative period.  Several heated discussions occurred today with various groups of people.  A bus came and picked up forty people....taking them south to their former homeland.  Some were vocal about the treatment they received by the Germans and felt it was a very unfair situation.  As they said....there's nothing in the south of opportunities.  Others just laughed....they would be back in four weeks...maybe to the same camp....and get free food and medical treatment again.  They'd repeat this process over and over, until the Germans let them stay.

On day fifty-six (eight weeks into this situation), you have many doubts and kinda start thinking of plan B.  Should you just escape and try to make it to Britain now?  If you get sent you have the stamina to make another trip?  Would a fake passport from Pakistan help?  Who makes these German rules about who will come and who will go?  Why are there so many rules?  Who designed this camp?  At lunch, the German bureaucrat guy who does approval papers asks for you to come by after you finish eating.  He smiles.  Maybe something positive has occurred?  Maybe you got approved?  Maybe you can finally leave this terrible camp atmosphere and go somewhere to really live and start this real life in Germany?


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