Mahdi, who decided to flee Iran at the age of fourteen and has been living in Berlin ever since, tells where and from whom he received support during his flight and in Germany.
In the home on the island [in Greece] we were ten young people. Then we all came out together and they left us in a home in Athens, saying that we could register. But we did not do that, we went on to Macedonia. The only person who could communicate a little bit like that was me. The other young people didn’t know English. The others also came from Iran and Afghanistan. But I said that they could stay with me, that we could form a group and protect each other. […]
The first year [in Berlin] was very difficult because I was alone, without parents, and there was nothing to do. I was a bit depressed, I would say, because I was listening to very sad music. There were 60 young people, but I only talked to a few of them. I didn’t get along so well with the others. So I was sad most of the time, but when I went to school normally, it was over.
But I got a lot of support from my teachers. My class teacher was a man of honor, he was very nice to me and always at my side. The grandparents of my German teacher were Jews. She had this whole idea of escape, how to live in a foreign country, and she praised me very much. I liked that very much. The teachers gave me a lot of support. That’s why I finished school. […]
In the first year I had a guardian from the youth welfare office. The man had taken over 20 young people as guardian. It was possible to find guardians privately, but it was very difficult. All the other teenagers except me had someone, I had bad luck. All the others also found shared flats. I was one of those who had been in the home for more than a year. At some point I got to know a woman, also through the youth welfare office. She was my guardian for about eight months. Then she went to Israel to work there and said that another friend of hers could take over the guardianship. She was then also my guardian for six months. Then I turned 18. The guardian had to do paperwork for me, sign all kinds of things, including for school, at the bank, in the hospital … She also supported me personally. She was not my parent, but she was a person who was always there for me and supported me. I was very happy that I got to know them.
Now I live in a flat share, which I found in 2017, in a shared flat for young people with social workers at Mehringdamm. There are several apartments there. In the WG there are two of us, in the past we also lived in threes. All have their own room. It was a bit exhausting living alone and always having to do my own things: Cooking, cleaning and so on. I learned German quickly, so I could get along well with my roommates. […] In between I also had roommates who didn’t speak English or German at all, with whom I couldn’t communicate at all. At that time I also had my final exams. They were very important for me. I did not want to ruin that. One roommate always had a lot of visitors, so it was also very loud during the week. It was very hard, but I somehow managed to do it. Now I live with a teenager who is Syrian. I get along well with him.
My father was not happy that I went to Europe. He said that I would become a different person and forget my religion. But that’s not why I left, but because I wanted to have a better life. But he said that he would not help me, that I had to make it on my own.
Interview with Mahdi A. in Berlin on 15.07.2020.
Mahdi A. was born in December 2001 in Iran, in the capital Tehran. His parents came from Afghanistan, but had fled to Iran forty years earlier because of the war in Afghanistan. Mahdi’s mother died when he was still a child. Mahdi’s father is still in Iran, where he is in a constant state of emergency due to the poor economic situation. Mahdi has two little siblings who also live in Iran.
Since the end of the 1970s, many Afghans have fled the war-torn country to neighboring Iran. Their number is estimated at more than three million, more than half of whom are undocumented. This makes Iran the country with the second-highest number of Afghan refugees after Pakistan. Their situation is very precarious: they work in the informal sector, have no fair access to an asylum procedure and are repeatedly threatened by arbitrary deportation waves. 11For the situation of Afghan refugees in Iran see Grawert, Elke: Rückkehr afghanischer Flüchtlinge aus Iran, in: bpb, 2018, https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/laenderprofile/277617/rueckkehr-afghanischer-fluechtlinge (26.10.2020). And: Human Rights Watch: Iran: Afghan Refugees and Migrants Face Abuse, in: Human Rights Watch, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/20/iran-afghan-refugees-and-migrants-face-abuse (26.10.2020).
At the age of twelve Mahdi decided to flee to Europe because of the difficult political situation in Iran and the racism against Afghans present there. At the age of fourteen, he set off by car and on foot to Turkey, from there to Greece and across Europe to Berlin.
After his arrival in Berlin, Mahdi lived for over a year in various shelters for refugees until he moved into a shared apartment. Mahdi graduated from secondary school and is now doing his vocational baccalaureate at a school for fashion design. Since 2018 he has a residence permit in Germany, which is valid until 2021. Then he has to apply for an extension for another three years. His hope is to study or do an apprenticeship in Germany until then, so that he can get another extension of his residence permit and sometime an unlimited residence permit.
In the interview excerpt, Mahdi tells how he and other refugees of his age supported each other and which outside people he received support from while fleeing and in Germany.
1For the situation of Afghan refugees in Iran see Grawert, Elke: Rückkehr afghanischer Flüchtlinge aus Iran, in: bpb, 2018, https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/laenderprofile/277617/rueckkehr-afghanischer-fluechtlinge (26.10.2020). And: Human Rights Watch: Iran: Afghan Refugees and Migrants Face Abuse, in: Human Rights Watch, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/20/iran-afghan-refugees-and-migrants-face-abuse (26.10.2020).
The interview with Mahdi A. was conducted on 15.07.2020 by We Refugees Archive in Berlin.