Picking Up the Pieces, or What It Means to Be a (Privileged) War Refugee

(This post was also published by DispatchesEurope. It’s a part two to How the World Turned Black and White).

Hopeless.
How do you deal with a person who lost literally everything in one short week? The place to live, the salary or pension, the network of friends and neighbours, the structured life? Whose hometown is being levelled to the ground because some crazy dictator expected that the inhabitants will welcome him with flowers and Russian flags?

But they haven’t.

Some of the people stayed, some of them fought, some of them left.
Those who stayed probably face the worst nightmare. But for those who left, it’s not easy too. It’s going into nowhere, relying on the kindness of strangers, living where someone else decided to place you, being a charity case.

I had no idea how long this was going to take, but on Thursday, March 11th, I went to try and register our relatives as refugees. First we found out that the municipal administration center in our neighbourhood doesn’t do that at all and there’s just two places in Berlin that do. Then, after we arrived at one of those two places, took out the queue numbers, waited for an hour and a half and got into the reception room, we were turned back.

Turns out they can’t register people as refugees if said people don’t have a so-called registration of the residence. But I am the main tenant, and I host these people, so I can provide the registration of the residential address, right? Well. Yes and no.

For some unfathomable reason, Berlin decided that the relations of the people who host them won’t be registered according to the host’s place of residence. Instead, the refugee relatives should go to the departments assigned to them based on their birthday month. So, they had redirected us to another neighbourhood, an hour from where we live.

It’s a small thing I suppose, and perhaps it’s my fault because it’s something that I overlooked. (Actually I have not overlooked it. I read about it, but was unable to decipher the principle, so I hoped if we show up at the place of our registration, we’d be accepted. Yeah, no.)

But when we were leaving, my relatives, who don’t understand German and were only vaguely aware of what was happening, said to me: so, we aren’t good enough for them?

Yeah, well. Apparently, when a crazy dictator bombs your home town, you become less worthy.

We went to the other department the next day, and got the residence registration. However, it was just the first step of the quest. The next steps were to get them registered as war refugees — that would get them the temporary residence permit for a year, and then apply for the medical insurance and some kind of monthly stipend — small but better than nothing. For us, the most important thing is the medical insurance, since private medicine in Germany is prohibitively expensive, and private medical insurance policy for an older person can cost 2K EUR per month and more. We can’t afford that; no one can afford that, that’s why everyone I know is either young and healthy, or on a public medical insurance.

The department for residence registration didn’t provide other services, though. They sent us to the refugee center, the one and only in Berlin, that is dealing with all the refugees — not just Ukrainians. We arrived there at around 9AM. The center opens at 8AM.

The guards at the gate told us it was closed.

“There’s too many people and they closed it for today for everyone else”, — they said. — “Come back on Monday.”

“At what time should we come on Monday?” — we asked.

“Oh well. It opens at 8AM but by then, it’s already full. We don’t know. 2AM? 3AM? There’s already a lot of people at 4AM. They say they’ll provide appointment slots online but that system is not up yet.”

My relatives live with us, so we host them under our roof, clothe and feed them. I couldn’t help wondering though, what happens with the people who don’t have that luxury. Who can’t just leave and come on Monday, because there’s nowhere else to go.

I hoped someone out there was answering those questions.

They were because they opened the online registrations that same night, and I, watching the website like a hawk, grabbed one of the first available slots to register. So on Tuesday, March 15th, we went to the refugee center again.

This time, we were let in. Since we had a time slot this time, we weren’t turned back, and they even saw us almost on time. However, as it turned out, what I considered to be step 2 of 3, was only a step 2 of 4.

“So the next thing for you will be to register for a residency permit”, — the nice but rushed lady said. — “You do that in LEA. And then you go to the Social Affairs Office and apply for the insurance and financial help”.

Isn’t it what we were to do here? — I wondered. But, no.

LEA is the National Immigration Office. So it’s another administrative department in another part of town. It’s another appointment to get somehow and another long wait. Oh and guess what? The online appointment system for this in LEA isn’t yet set up, so there’s no way to schedule appointments.

I guess we already know how this game is played, huh? We wait.

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Rabenmutter

In German, Rabenmutter is a “Raven mother” — a mother, neglecting her children. In short, not a very good mother.