German church shelters deportees


Published at Al Jazeera English

The deportation order came as a shock. ‘Be ready at 2am,; the letter read, ‘for a transfer to Dusseldorf Airport where you will be flown back to Budapest.’

Two days before deportation, Caritas and Church Asylum acted. They transported the family by car from temporary accommodation in northern Germany to an Evangelic Church in Cologne, where they were given shelter; the Church Asylum then mounted a legal battle.

“We have no problem to live in a Church, but Afghan people in my village would think negatively; they don’t know Christian people,” Golam Mirzale, the father of four, explained.

Church Asylum organisation is a network of various Christian parishes in Germany to “protect people from deportation, if there is a reasonable doubt about a safe return,” according to the official website.

The Mirzale family were fingerprinted in Hungary, when making their way from Serbia. “We didn’t want to give fingerprints, but the Police were beating us,” said Golam.

Al Jazeera spoke to a worker from the deportation department in Cologne’s North-Rhine Westphalia region under the condition of anonymity: “If fingerprints are found to be somewhere previously, they get sent back – but not to Hungary, because we know it’s very bad for refugees there,” he said.

Currently, there are 303 churches in Germany providing Church Asylum, hosting a total of 473 people, out of which 110 are children.

“Police in Cologne recognises Church Asylum and leaves our people in peace. What we are doing is illegal, and the Migration and Refugee Ministry has the right to arrest us,” explained Pastor Rollbuhler at the Church in Cologne.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, from the Christian Democrat (CDU) party, compared the Church Asylum system to “sharia” in February 2015, for placing itself “above the law” – a statement he later retracted.

“Things can always change and you don’t know what will happen in the next elections – AfD [Alternative for Germany, a growing populist party] is there, Christian Democrats (CDU) have also become very right wing,” added Rollbuhler.

Golam comes back to the modern Thomas-Church from a supermarket. The money is provided by the whole Church community, collected through individual donations.
Golam comes back to the modern Thomas-Church from a supermarket. The money is provided by the whole Church community, collected through individual donations.
Neighbouring children have befriended the Afghan family, and often spend time together. The eldest son, Misa, attends a school - “I love it. Have friends, in fact - many. Everyone knows I’m from Afganistan; they ask - is it better here, how is it back in Afghanistan, and so on,” smiles Misa.
Neighbouring children have befriended the Afghan family, and often spend time together. The eldest son, Misa, attends a school – “I love it. Have friends, in fact – many. Everyone knows I’m from Afganistan; they ask – is it better here, how is it back in Afghanistan, and so on,” smiles Misa.
“This year I have problems with ‘head’” - he points. Inactivity and anxious wait is beginning to have psychological effects.
“This year I have problems with ‘head’” – he points. Inactivity and anxious wait is beginning to have psychological effects.
“I only take it when I can’t sleep,” says Golam. A local psychiatrist has prescribed strong anti-depressants, despite the obvious cause of the anxiety. “I didn’t know he was prescribed those drugs, they are very addictive. Firstly, they need to get the right to stay, then things will fall in their place,” says Pastor Rollbuhler; Golam discontinued taking the medicine in the coming days.
“I only take it when I can’t sleep,” says Golam. A local psychiatrist has prescribed strong anti-depressants, despite the obvious cause of the anxiety. “I didn’t know he was prescribed those drugs, they are very addictive. Firstly, they need to get the right to stay, then things will fall in their place,” says Pastor Rollbuhler; Golam discontinued taking the medicine in the coming days.
Thomas-Church held a community festival on August 28. During the prayers, Pastor Eva Esche told to “always take care of those in need.”
Thomas-Church held a community festival on August 28. During the prayers, Pastor Eva Esche told to “always take care of those in need.”
Golam’s wife Asma, prepares an Afghani dish for the church community festival. She also hastily puts on a headscarf and pulls her sleeves down for the photo.
Golam’s wife Asma, prepares an Afghani dish for the church community festival. She also hastily puts on a headscarf and pulls her sleeves down for the photo.
The family live underneath the Thomas-Chuch. “The journey here was so long I could write a book,” Golam echoes the stories heard many times over from refugees on their way to Europe - overturned dinghy boats, arrests and long nights of walking and hiding.
The family live underneath the Thomas-Chuch. “The journey here was so long I could write a book,” Golam echoes the stories heard many times over from refugees on their way to Europe – overturned dinghy boats, arrests and long nights of walking and hiding.
Misam is the eldest of the four children, and always keeps a watchful eye on his brothers. He also learned to speak a near accent-less German.
Misam is the eldest of the four children, and always keeps a watchful eye on his brothers. He also learned to speak a near accent-less German.
The stack of documents includes 3 deportation orders. The bureaucratic German language is difficult to understand even for locals, and therefore, usually requires lawyer’s support.
The stack of documents includes 3 deportation orders. The bureaucratic German language is difficult to understand even for locals, and therefore, usually requires lawyer’s support.
Golam with three of his four children. The wife, Asma, says from the sidelines: “In Afghanistan I had no independence. I couldn’t even leave the house, had to wear a Burqa.” Her biggest wish in Germany is to go to school, something which even her mother wasn’t allowed to do.
Golam with three of his four children. The wife, Asma, says from the sidelines: “In Afghanistan I had no independence. I couldn’t even leave the house, had to wear a Burqa.” Her biggest wish in Germany is to go to school, something which even her mother wasn’t allowed to do.
Golam observes the prayers during the church festival. One member of the church, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I think people should stay where they came from. But of course there are exceptions - this family, for example. They speak German, they want to integrate.”
Golam observes the prayers during the church festival. One member of the church, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I think people should stay where they came from. But of course there are exceptions – this family, for example. They speak German, they want to integrate.”
Pastor Rollbuhler - “We are a church that doesn’t only get together to drink coffee and eat cake, but also come together to help those in need.”
Pastor Rollbuhler – “We are a church that doesn’t only get together to drink coffee and eat cake, but also come together to help those in need.”
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