‘Until further notice’: life under lockdown in a German asylum centre

‘Until further notice’: life under lockdown in a German asylum centre

Since the 2016 military coup attempt the number of applicants from Turkey in the EU have five-folded to a record high. But what is life like for these refugees, especially in the troubling times of the corona crisis? Writer and RPM volunteer Wim Peumans published an article on their experiences in the Belgian newswebsite MO*. Salim (a pseudonym), a young Turkish man who is staying in an asylum centre in Germany, writes a diary about his life under lockdown. Asylum seekers and refugees are one of the groups hit hardest by the pandemic. Salim’s notes give an insight into the feelings of hope, frustration and insecurity refugees experience on a daily basis.


‘Day 97 in the asylum centre. I don’t have a reason anymore to get up early. German language classes are cancelled due to the pandemic. I lost one of the few things that motivated me every day. Now I am studying on my own. That might sound easy, but actually it is not. We share a room of 30 square metre with four people. Amongst many other things, this rooms functions as our bedroom, living room, sometimes even as our kitchen. The room has a small desk, which, because of its size, only two of us can use at the same time. The others have to wait for their turn. Our only “private” property in the rooms are our beds – in this case we have two bunkbeds – and our small metal lockers.’

‘I live with three other Turkish people. All of them left because of political reasons. Before I stayed with Kurdish Turks, with similar political problems. I’m happy with my flatmates, two are younger and one is the same age as I am. We get along well, which helps a lot in these kinds of situations.’

‘Everything was okay before the coronavirus crisis hit. I used to leave the centre early in the morning and cycle to my language courses. Every day I would attend classes for three hours  and afterwards I’d pop by the supermarket on my way back to the asylum centre. This gave me a daily routine. At least it felt I was doing something while waiting for the asylum procedure to end. I had never thought I would miss my routine in Turkey, where, as a doctor, I sometimes had to work 300 hours per month. Everyone complains about their daily routines of going to work and cooking at home, … but look at me now: this is what I miss most! Cooking at home, studying at my desk, sleeping in my bed, even stepping onto my carpet at home.’

‘While we already have many stressfactors to deal with in our lives here, the corona crisis really makes everything more difficult. One day in March stands out for me in that respect. I had my application interview planned that day: it had been postponed before due to workoverload at the immigration service. I prepared myself legally and mentally and I went there only to find out the interview was being postponed again. Only fifteen minutes before my appointment I was informed the interview could not take place because of the coronavirus. To me this felt worse than last time as I was not given a new date. “Bis auf weiteres”, “Until further notice,” was all they could say. All these unexpected developments are pretty stressful and annoying. There is nothing for me to do besided waiting and seeing what the future will hold.’

‘The measures definitely changed our day-to-day life in the centre. Some of them, such as social distancing, are important and I’m grateful for them. The administration provides us with bottled water. There are other measures that don’t make sense to me. Because of social distancing there are really long queues – up to 30 metres – during mealtimes. There are 300 people in our centre, so it takes a long time for us to get food. Before we had food two times a day, now we get it three times. Every day, three times, the same queue of 300 people. Sometimes I skip a meal, no one cares anyway. The food is prepared by a Pakistani company, which makes the food so spicy it’s not always easy to appreciate. I don’t know why I’m making this into an issue. Is it because I am Turkish and used to different types of food, or am I just acting spoiled? I have money, so I sometimes prepare food myself, even though we have limited access to cooking utensils.’

‘At the beginning of the lockdown they put up bottles of handsanitizer all around campus, which was nice. I felt people cared about our health. But after one month they stopped filling the sanitizer. I asked why they stopped and they said it was too expensive to refill them. However, there are sanitizers in the administration building. I find this hypocritical and even discriminating.’

‘I’m a doctor. When the crisis started, my first instinct was to help. There are many other Turkish people in the centre who, like me, fled because of political reasons. I wrote a text to inform them about how to prevent the virus, how to keep their room clean and so on. A list of preventive cleaning procedures. I sent this text through whatsapp, because I felt responsible for their wellbeing. After I informed them, Turkish asylum seekers paid more attention to cleaning their room, using bleach and in what quantity they should use it. We clean our rooms pretty well and we pay attention to social distancing. But at the end of the day, we are here with many people from different countries and everyone has a different sense of cleanliness. We use the same bathrooms and toilets, so I’m not always sure the preventive cleaning measures will work, if they are not shared by everyone on the campus.’


‘Day 98. I get a lot of messages and calls from friends and family. People ask for advice about the coronavirus and I try my best to inform them. I feel better when I’m helping people. I feel useful and functional. Today the world seems in a kind of war. No one leaves their house, many people are dying. It makes me sad knowing I can’t help while being stuck here. I feel like a doctor in a war-like situation, but I can’t do anything. In Germany there’s a lack of medical staff. Therefore I decided to go to the social department and sign up as a volunteer. In Turkey my days were so busy, so the fact that I can’t help out as a doctor in this situation makes me sad. This is what motivates me most to study German at the moment: being able to work as a doctor again in the future.’

‘A new corona virus measure has just been implemented at the centre. Before we had to scan our card at the gate to leave the centre. Now the security only lets one person go out every 2 or 3 minutes, which causes long queues. It takes up to 45 minutes for me to leave the centre. As long as we pay attention to social distancing, I don’t know why we have to wait 2 or 3 minutes before each of us can leave the campus?’


‘Day 99. There’s good news. German language classes might continue online, every day for two hours. There’s also a rumour going around that the city library might reopen.’





Illustration: Mounir Eddib (@geniuschild)

Thank you to the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) that helped with translation from Turkish to English


This article was originally published in Dutch on the website of MO* magazine.

Translation: Wim Peumans

Original article: https://www.mo.be/wijzijnhier/tot-nader-order-het-leven-een-duits-asielcentrum-onder-lockdown