“I need my father more than ever before”
For a good three months now, the Berlin association SolidariGee has been holding consultation hours for young adult refugees who arrived in Germany as unaccompanied minors. All support measures and care services fall away – with drastic consequences – as soon as these people come of age.
SolidariGee is busy this Monday afternoon. In bright rooms in Friedrichshain, there are flowers on the windowsills, there’s coffee on the large table and the words ‘my strengths / my weaknesses’ are written in Edding pen on the flipchart in the corner. As one young person says goodbye, another puts his head round the door. “You’re still here,” says Maryam Kirchmann, laughing. “Shouldn’t you have been at football training ages ago?” Maryam is head of the one-to-one counselling service at SolidariGee, an association that looks after refugees who arrived in Germany as unaccompanied minors. You can tell that this professional educator has known and supported many of these young people for quite some time already, and she is warm and intimate towards them. Sitting next to her is Uwais, a 17-year-old Syrian who came to SolidariGee a year ago via a sport and fitness project for young refugees that referred him to the association. For Uwais, it’s no longer about support for leisure-time activities but about helping him to build a life in Germany. He has a legal guardian, lives in a supervised shared flat at Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg and goes to a grammar school where he’s enrolled in both a welcome class and a normal class. When he leaves school, he wants to train to be an automobile mechatronics engineer and technician, and then study mechanical engineering. “Maths is easy, even in German,” he says. “I almost fall asleep in biology sometimes as I need so long for a single word,” he adds, laughing. “It would have been much easier in Syria, I’d have done a university entrance certificate and studied at university. That’s very complicated for me in Germany. In Damascus, I’d now be in my high school certificate year, whereas here I’m in the intermediate school certificate year.”
Continuous dialogue with the young people makes it possible for SolidariGee to work on a needs-oriented basis, focusing on what the young adults genuinely require. The non-profit association started just under two years ago with sport and leisure-time offers for minors who have had to escape their homelands. It has now expanded its offer, mainly towards education – and this to cater for the young people who have been here a while already and who need to develop a long-term perspective. There’s extra tuition, German courses, career advice, training for application processes and also cultural offers, for example the Heimatkino (homeland cinema) project. In January this year, SolidariGee launched the Jugendhilfe – und dann? (Youth support – and then?) consultation hour. The advisory service is aimed at young adults like Uwais who will soon be coming of age. “What happens when our young people turn 18 is dramatic,” says Maryam. “All support measures break off at once and that’s a big problem. They’ve come of age but have no family or social network to fall back on.” Advice and youth support measures for unaccompanied refugees who are minors – for example arranging guardianships and accommodation in stationary youth centres or supervised shared flats – are organised by the youth welfare office. While the supervision offer for minors is set up in a relatively structured and close-knit fashion, this support ends when the young people come of age. Since the start of the year, Maryam has been helping around 20 young people who would otherwise have been on their own. “We take over the tasks that social workers did before,” she says. “We give young people advice on school, exams and training, help them to prepare for meetings in the asylum application process, or to search for a flat – as they also have to move out of youth centres or shared flats as soon as they come of age.”
Uwais’s voice goes soft when he talks about his family in Damascus. He came to Germany alone to avoid being dragged into the army. “A bus just comes and takes all 16 to 30-year-olds away,” he says. “You don’t know where you’re going or what happens next.” His father loaned him money to escape. Uwais would like to apply for family reunification but that will be difficult as soon as he’s 18. He doesn’t understand the logic behind these laws. “Yes, I’m no longer a child, I’m a man and I have to make my own decision, but I have to learn how to do that, it’s not something I’ll know overnight,” he says. “I feel like I need my father today more than ever before,” he says, looking at the table in front of him.
Even for Maryam, this practice doesn’t take account of reality. Every day at work, she sees that a hole opens up once youth support has ended and it can’t be filled via any official route. It’s a turning point in the lives of the young people: they have to leave their familiar surroundings, take care of schooling and training themselves, and are faced with major financial insecurity. It represents an immense psychological burden in which previous traumas often play a role, too.
It is precisely at this point that SolidariGee steps in. “We’re very happy that we’ve managed to get the one-to-one counselling service going,” says Maryam. “Our aim is to help our boys find their identities and help them along their career paths, to signpost the way to a positive future in Germany.” She smiles encouragingly at Uwais as she speaks. Even with lots of support, it’s a long and difficult path for the young adults – but here in Friedrichshain, you get the feeling that SolidariGee can actually help them do it.