The asylum hostel

by Emily Dische-Becker

The cafeteria in Building A of the Gesundheits- und Sozialzentrum Moabit (GZSM), where refugees arrive to complete the first stage of the asylum process, knows its clientele. On Monday, the “World Food” lunch option consists of Rinderroulade Hausfrauen Art, Apfelrotkraut, Klösse (beef roulade à  la housewife, apple red cabbage and dumplings.) On Wednesday, in lieu of World Food, there’s a Mediterranean option: pork roast. Culinary assimilation precedes fingerprinting, but comes after a chest x-ray, to rule out a public health risk.

At the GZSM, unlike at the first reception camp where Bassel* was erroneously sent for registration, there are a wealth of Arabic-speaking caseworkers – likely, earlier waves of refugees from Iraq and elsewhere. They conduct an interview in Arabic to gauge asylum applicants’ biographical information; whether dependents, who might later have a claim to joining their families, were left behind; and, most importantly, how on earth these desperate people managed to break into the fortress.

We were discouraged from sitting in on the interview, but succeeded in tagging along anyway upon Bassel’s urging, and sat at an adjacent table. When the caseworker raised the issue of his travel route from Syria to Germany, I politely interrupted and asked whether this information would be used against him in his asylum application. The woman assured me that it wouldn’t. She lied.

And so, he told her: he had traveled overland from eastern Syria to Turkey, then onward to Greece where he spent almost two months waiting to board a ship. The most dangerous and expensive part of the trip was concluded from Greece to Italy, packed in to a crawl space in to the engine room of a tanker with a dozen other men. From Italy to France in a truck, and onward to Germany.

According to the Dublin Convention, asylum seekers who enter Germany illegally by land should be deported to their first point of entry into the EU. In Bassel’s case: Greece. But deportations to Greece have been halted, an advocate for refugee rights I spoke to said, as asylum seekers are not guaranteed basic rights there. And so the buck could pass to Italy, and from Italy to France.

Bassel repeated the whole story to a second caseworker when he showed up for his fingerprinting appointment a few days later. She again reassured him that his itinerary was of no import to his case. She, too, apparently lied.

Bassel is now being put up at a backpacking hostel, because the asylum facilities are filled to capacity. It is mandatory that he stay there for at least three months, possibly much longer, even if he has other lodging options. The state shoulders the cost for his hostel stay: 45 Euros per night, according to the paper I glimpsed, or 1,350 Euros per month  – about 3 times the rent for a decent studio apartment in a hip part of town. Bassel shares the room, which fits five double bunk beds, with ten other men (where the eleventh man sleeps? They hug each other at night, he jokes).

In other words, the hostel room costs the state a total of 495 Euros per night. According to hotels.com, that is roughly the going rate for the 60 m2 Executive Suite at one of Berlin’s most expensive five-star hotels, the Regent in Mitte.

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